Pan-Africanism, the tragedy of individualism

Elliot Ziwira @the Bookstore
CREDITED to Henry Sylvester-Williams and Edward Wilmond Blyden, the term Pan-Africanism refers to an intellectual movement that seeks to unify and strengthen Africa into one body, (Adi and Sherwood, 2003). The movement, whose aim is to foist beneficial cooperation between African states on political, social and economic platforms, stretches beyond continental Africans to capture those in the Diaspora through the toils of W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey and Frederick Douglass, Kwame Nkrumah among others.

But does the African really know how to locate himself in the global village? As an anti-slavery and anti-colonial philosophy, Pan-Africanism hinges on the “belief that African peoples, both on the continent and in the Diaspora share not merely a common history, but common destiny,” (Makalani, 2017: Retrieved).

The colonised, who suffer cultural dualism as posited by Bones (1958), struggle to shake off the psychological, physical and emotional traumas of colonialism, as such their double consciousness, (Du Bois, 1903) makes them loiter in no man’s land, and, therefore, there is need for a consciousness, which is African in outlook. Kwame Nkrumah’s Consciencism, though it has pitfalls of its own, draws inspiration from the fact that philosophy arises from and operates within the context of a given society, as such it arises from social milieu and the fact that social contention is always present.

African societies have always been shaped by regulatory behaviour as determined by societal dictates. The individual, though enjoying independent pursuit of greatness, as is the case with Okonkwo and other titled men in Umuofia in Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” (1959),cannot operate outside the community’s regulations on what is considered right and wrong. The incentive to work hard is the reward that comes at the end, and the fact that the individual’s achievements can redeem him from the past failures of his family, pertinently his father’s.

We are told that, “Okonkwo was well known throughout the nine villages and even beyond. His fame rested on solid personal achievements,” (Achebe: 1959: 1). This is in tandem with Nkrumah’s idea that the individual is the end and not the means to an end. In a functional society all men are equal, even though individual good cannot override the community’s good.

This is why, despite all his achievements as a warrior, wrestler and titled man, Okonkwo is banished to his motherland, Mbanta, for seven years, after he accidentally kills a kinsman at old Ezeudu’s funeral. Without being told, Okonkwo knows that he is doomed, because as Okot p’Bitek says in “Artist the Ruler”, culture plays a pivotal role in regulating individual behaviour as African societies have always had their own systems of governance and legal institutions.

He does not have to wait for the egwugwu cult, of which he is one, to preside over his case, for he knows that notwithstanding his personal achievements, killing a kinsman, accidentally or deliberately, is an abomination that he cannot be excused from. Hinging on the social contention of Consciencism in Ghana, particularly, and in Africa generally, Nkrumah seeks to foist an evolution of a body of principles, which, by guiding the thinking and actions of all Africans, will establish a common range of behaviour for all.

Africans share a lot in common, not only destiny as a result of colonialism, but in terms of human values and culture. African literary works like “Things Fall Apart” (1959), Ngugi Wa Thiong’o “Secret Lives” (1964), Pepetela’s “Mayombe” (1980), “Waiting for the Rain” (1975) by Charles Mungoshi, and Mongo Beti’s “Mission to Kala” (1957), though written by artistes from different nationalities, the cultural, religious, social and political issues raised can be read as having been written by a single African citizen; such is the nature of Africa.

Ayi Kwei Armah is of the view that: “Our way, the way, is not a random path. Our way begins from coherent understanding. It is a way that aims at preserving knowledge of who we are, knowledge of the best way we have found to relate to each other, each to all, ourselves to other peoples, all to our surrounding. If our individual lives have a worthwhile aim, that aim should be a purpose inseparable from the way,” (Prologue, “Two Thousand Seasons”, 1973).

Though not denying the impact of colonialism on the African continent, Armah believes that there is still a vision for Africa seen through Anoa’s eyes, as long as the individual buries his dreams in the community’s aspirations. His use of the collective voice “we” beguiles the individualistic nature of man, which is the recipe for societal progress. As a proponent of Pan-Africanism, Armah’s vision celebrates African values, which emphasises the essence of the centre as an all-encompassing pivot where collective effort is required.

As people “of the way, we know the way” because “we are not Europeans, we are not Asians, we are Africans” and “we are not a people of yesterday,” (Armah, 1973). Africans have always known the way, so two thousand seasons of toil will not dampen our spirits. Armah rejects the idea of micro-nationalism because Africa has one identity, and should speak with one voice.

Although “Things Fall Apart” seems to subscribe to Western aspects of narrative style, with the individual at the centre, it can be used to put Armah’s ideas in context, especially when read in juxtaposition with Nkrumah’s Consciencism. Armah is conscious of how religious tolerance can be destructive, thus he refuses to create interfaces like Nkrumah. To him Africa is for Africans, with its rich culture and bowels.

Indeed, if King Mansa Musa I of Mali is still regarded as the richest man to have ever lived, whose wealth at his death in 1331, by today’s standards stands at $400 billion, accumulated through trading in gold and salt, then Africa cannot be regarded as poor. Colonialism robbed Africa of its wealth and continues to do so, because the continent speaks with a disjointed voice, as individualism takes an ugly outlook in the rat race that gives no hoot to the suffering of others. To Armah the land remains communal property, and should not be individually owned, sold or bought.

In “Things Fall Apart” Unoka, Okonkwo’s father, is told by the Oracle of the Hills and the Caves that: “When a man is at peace with his gods and his ancestors, his harvest will be good or bad according to the strength of his arm . . . Go home and work like a man,” (Achebe, 1959:6). The land is central to African prosperity, so it belongs to the community and the hardworking individual simply has to constantly seek fertile lands. And the European comes to demarcate it as his own and put boundaries to separate Africans from their neighbours. But, “If our individual lives have a worthwhile aim, that aim should be a purpose inseparable from the way,” Armah reasons.

In “Things Fall Apart” Okonkwo’s downfall is his individualistic nature. His personal achievement is what drives him because of fear of weakness and failure, and in the end he commits suicide; thus dying on the wrong side of the customs that he subscribes to, which are community-inspired. Even the nature of revolution, inspired by Marxism, which also shapes Nkrumah’s Consciencism, is clearly depicted in Pepetela’s “Mayombe”(1980), Ngugi Wa Thiong’o’s “The Trial of Dedan Kimathi” (1964) and Alexander Kanengoni’s “Echoing Silences” (1997).

There are moral, social and political values to which all the cultural strands in present-day African society should conform. African society values kinship, communal ownership of the land, hard work and respect for the metaphysical. Marriage, wedding and funeral ceremonies and other communal gatherings cement relations. However, colonialism disturbed cultural balance through Western education and religion. The central cog in religion is belief, and belief is determined by customs, therefore, if cultural norms and values of a society are eroded there is bound to be mayhem, as what happens in “Things Fall Apart”.

To counter this problem, Nkrumah, unlike Armah in “Two Thousand Seasons”, concedes that African society today has become a microcosm, with three strands or layers; which are traditional Africa, Islamic Africa and Euro-Christian Africa. He suggests that the good aspects of the different religions should be integrated as a way of interfacing and compromise.

With reference to “Things Fall Apart”, Nkrumah seems to be in agreement with Achebe. Through characterisation, Achebe purveys the need to avoid religious fanaticism. Enoch the new Christian convert, who is a victim of occultism as an Osu or outcast, causes fierce clashes because of his overzealous nature, which leads him to being reprimanded by the liberal Mr Brown. Okonkwo and Mr Smith are also intolerant, although in the end the latter respects the Umuofia’s custom that a man who commits suicide should not be buried by his relations, because suicide is considered an abomination.

Consciencism highlights that it is possible as Africans to live in harmony with people of different cultures and religions, as long as society is egalitarian, and there is a single ideology in the custody of a group that makes sure that individuals adhere to rules, so that in the end quality takes precedence over quantity, as society evolves, because revolutions have to stop at one point.

To Armah as long as Africans are not free of the chains of colonialism, the revolution continues. In “Things Fall Apart”, culture does not only become burdensome on the individual because of its inflexibility, arbitrary and abstract nature, but it becomes a tool of oppression, especially so if it remains static. Christianity becomes an escape route for those at the receiving end of customs, and on the other hand Christianity is used as an oppressive tool because it is linked to colonial oppressive laws and forms of government. It is this that Consciencism seeks to correct so as to give impetus to a new Africa through Pan-Africanism.

Nkrumah regards mysticism and the supernatural as impediments to progress. Unlike the atheistic Okot p’Bitek, or the Christian convert, Kenneth Kaunda and his Humanism, Nkrumah advocates the creation of interfaces. For Armah, like most Africans, as evidenced in their liberation struggles, especially in the case of Zimbabwe, spirituality is of essence. Anoa can be read as Mbuya Nehanda, or Queen Nzinga. The rationale of the African as a spiritual being also obtains in Liang’s “Colour of Hope” (2010). On paper Pan-Africanism as a theory is spot on in its attempt to forge an authentic vision for Africa, which reels under colonial burden, and reliance on donor funds, but its implementation remains a pipe dream, as the continent fails to locate itself in the global village, with its many shades of grey; and Africa being colour blind fails to see the difference.

The artiste indeed has a crucial role to play in shaping the Motherland’s destiny.

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