Role of Pan-Africanism in African liberation

23 May, 2022 - 00:05 0 Views
Role of  Pan-Africanism in African liberation Marcus Garvey

The Herald

Geoffrey T Chada
As Africa Day, celebrated across the continent and beyond on May 25 each year since 1963, draws closer, it is crucial that historical perspectives on the role of Pan-Africanism in the quest for liberation is explored.

Therefore, this instalment aims to provide the role of Pan-Africanism in the quest for African independence through insights into activities of liberation movements, and reflections on economic and cultural freedom.

The need for African cultural renaissance remains alive, as Hegel’s Philosophy of History indicates that the history of the world is none other than the progress of the consciousness of freedom.

Towards the last quarter of the 20th century, Africa watched powerlessly the entrenchment of white minority rule strongly supported by their kith and kin in Western Europe and North America in the face of the African masses who had lost essential human rights, and were increasingly fettered by exploitative political and economic systems.

The white minority regime apologists put forward racist intellectual arguments that the black man was not fit on, or at best not ready to govern himself or appeal for understanding and patience on the part of the critics because of an alleged Gordian knot of historian, social and economic complexities that could only be unravelled in time.

Africans were urged to show realism and resign themselves to the fact that, after all, they were not the best of all possible worlds. Such a position was put forcefully in the face of world opinion by the British Conservative government Prime Minister, Edward Heath, who in early 1971 sought to justify his decision to sell arms to South Africa’s apartheid regime.

His Foreign secretary, Sir Douglas Home, rather lamely assured the critics of the Government that the white rulers of South Africa would be changed by the “civilizing” influences of the outside world (The Times 23 July, 1970) that came through trade, which included the arms deal.

In a speech on 30th October 1970, the Foreign Secretary underscored the British position by asserting that “Normal relations with the world outside, coupled with inevitable economic change within, will work great changes in apartheid overtime” (The Times, 31 October 1970).

What these British apologists forgot was that long before the Europeans came into relations with them, Africans were a developed people, with their own institutions, and ideas of government.

History of Pan-Africanism

Pan-Africanism, which took its roofs from the slave trade, colonialism, oppression and exploitation, was originally propounded by black American and Caribbean scholars.  Political activists should be credited as one of the highest expressions in the prudence era and the backbone of the African liberation movements.

The philosophy of Pan-Africanism was that African people and people of African descent share common interests, experience; and history and should for that reason unite in a common struggle for liberation, be they in Jamaica, Barbados, the US, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, France, England or Spain.  That was what Pan-Africanism stood for in the broadest sense set out to achieve.

The founding fathers of Pan-Africanism include Marcus Garvey (188-1940), who preached the Back to Africa policy to American blacks, and wanted to organise blacks throughout the world into a one united people.

He proclaimed himself President of the United States of Africa.

The first Pan-African international congress representing specifically African interests and aspirations was convened in London in 1900 by a Trinidad lawyer, H. Sylvester-Williams, to protest against the occupation of African lands by Europeans.

This was attended by William E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963), an African American who became a prominent figure in the early Pan-African movement.

He held four more congresses between 1919 and 1927.

The first of these congresses was held in Paris in 1919 at the same time as the peace conferences, and attended by 57 delegates from the French and British colonies and the US.

The congress passed a resolution calling upon the League of Nations to pass a law for the “international protection of the natives of Africa”, and demanding that their land and its natural resources be held in trust for the native inhabitants.

They also demanded that Africans should have as much land as they could profitably develop; that slavery and corporal punishment should be abolished; that Africans must have the right to participate in the government as far as their development permits allowed to the end that, in time, Africa is ruled by the consent of Africans.

The conference also sent a petition to the League of Nations demanding that former German colonies be handed over to international management.

The second congress took place in London and Brussels in 1921, and was attended by 130 delegates, including 41 from African territories and 35 from the US.

In his opening address W.E.B. Du Bois called for the establishment of political institutions among suppressed peoples, arguing that the habit of democracy must be made to encircle the world. The third congress was held in London and Lisbon two years later.

The last congress organised by Du Bois was held in 1922 and was attended by 208 delegates from 27 countries, who proclaimed the right of Africans to the land of Africa and its resources. They demanded the extension of free primary and technical education, the appointment of African judges and the right of Africans to explain their views to the government directing their affairs.

The Pan-African leaders formed the Pan-African Federation in London in 1937, comprising different wings of the existing Pan-African Movement. Included among the leaders were Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, two West Indians; George Padmore and Cir James. In 1944 the International African Service Bureau published a memorandum written by Dr Azikiwe of Nigeria, which called upon the end of the British colonial system.

In 1944 members of the Bureau demanded African independence and unity, an end to racial discrimination, and cooperation between the African people and those who supported their aspirations.

The next important congress was held in Manchester in 1945, the first major Pan-African gathering since 1927. The Congress was attended by more than 200 delegates, including Dr Kwame Nkrumah and George Padmore, Jomo Kenyatta, Joe Appiah of Ghana, Chief S.L. Akintola of Nigeria and T.A. Wallace Johnson of Sierra Leone.

A declaration approved by the Congress affirmed the “right of all colonial peoples to control their own destiny”. It went on, “All colonies must be free from foreign imperialist control, whether political or economic . . . The struggle for political power by colonial and subject peoples is the first step towards, and the necessary prerequisites to, complete social, economic and political emancipation.”

Another declaration called for autonomy and independencies for “Black Africa”, and another demanded independence for Algeria, Tunisia and, Morocco; and their resolution called for the removal of “the artificial divisions and territorial boundaries” created by colonial powers, which were deliberate steps to obstruct the political unity of the West African peoples, among other matters. In 1946, the West African National Secretariat, which was formerly set up by the West African delegates to the Manchester Congress of 1945, convened a conference in London attended by representatives from both French and British West African colonies.

The conference pledged to achieve international autonomy for dependent countries and to promote a West African Federation as an indispensable cover for the realisation of the Pan-African hope for a United States of Africa.

Pan-Africanism: From

Manchester to Accra

Between the Manchester Congress and the first Conference of Independent African Studies in Accra 1958, the ideals and aims which had been promoted in Europe and America began to take root in Africa as African political movements grew in strength, as self-government and independence became the chief questions in African politics.

Dr Nkrumah became the chief proponent of Pan-Africanism in Africa as he pushed for a United States of Africa.

l Dr Geoffrey T Chada is a professor of African history. He taught and trained in Canada before returning home. He was the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust (ZMMT) chief executive officer and executive secretary from 1990 to 2001. He also served as a commissioner and spokesperson for the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC). He chairs the Marondera University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology council.

l He can be contacted on [email protected] or 0718107474.

Pan-Africanism and African


Pan-African ideas and organisations first developed among Africans, West Indians and African Americans living mainly in Europe and the United States of America during the first years of the twentieth century.

These ideas usually included expressions of feelings or rejection and exile from the African homeland, black solidarity in the face of white influence, a sense of the past, a belief in the existence of a distinct “African personality”, and common destiny, as well as a belief in “Africa for Africans”.

By the end of the 1930s, social and cultural movements based on or inspired by these ideas had become increasingly concerned with two political objectives which became the most significant parts of African thinking. These were the demand for independence and majority rule in Africa and the desire for unity and cooperation between African countries once they had achieved independence.

The desire for unity and cooperation was closely linked to some of the problems facing the new African states. These included the fear of the “balkanisation” of the continent into wealthy and less viable states. The risk was that limited resources would be used uneconomically in building up separate national economies when greater advantage would accrue from regional development, and the probability of problems arising out of political frontiers which ignore ethnic boundaries or were not agreed by the States of the area.

Another set of reasons which have been put forward for Pan-African cooperation were the desire to present to non-African countries coordinated and agreed. African policies on such questions as colonialism and majority rule, foreign and disarmaments; which to prevent any weak African states falling under the hegemony of a non-African power; and the desire to promote authentic African cultural and social values and institutions.

Underlying Pan-African policies and institutions was the assumption that Africans from all parts of the continent had sufficient common interests and requirements to outweigh any issues which might divide them.

Nevertheless, in spite of the practical value and the strong emotional appeal of Pan-African ideas and benefits, the obstacles to overcome were considerable.

Among the linguistic, historical and economic difficulties were the following:

Africa south of the Sahara, unlike the Arabic-speaking peoples of North Africa, have no common religion or language, nor do their languages all belong to a closely related group.

The language of administration, the administrative, judicial and financial institutions and practices were based on the former colonial power, all these posed considerable problems of integration and harmonisation when states which were former dependencies of different colonial powers sought to come together.

Present communications often run between African states and their former colonial power than with other African states. Most African states are still chiefly suppliers of primary produce and raw materials to their former colonial powers.

These old alliances make it difficult for the African states to benefit from common markets or free trade areas. Most of these states still depend on tariff and quota preferences, and economic assistance, from the former colonial power and international finance bodies for their economic stability with the support of their former colonial powers.

Many rich African states do not like to involve themselves with poorer neighbours.

The achievement of independence from colonial rule, which was the principal Pan-African aim, created another problem for Pan-African cooperation. After achieving independence, political leaders were faced with the task of creating a sense of nationalism, respect for their own political institution’s and established authority in pursuit of economic and social progress of their own people.

There was, therefore, a double tendency, rather contradictory, of promoting legitimate nationalism and the desire for Pan-African cooperation on the road to unity and cooperation.

Pan-African, therefore, sowed the seeds of African liberation movements, and the Organisation of African Unity which became the pillar of these movements, as will be examined in the next instalment.

l Dr Geoffrey T Chada is a professor of African history. He taught and trained in Canada before returning home. He was the Zimbabwe Mass Media Trust (ZMMT) chief executive officer and executive secretary from 1990 to 2001. He also served as a commissioner and spokesperson for the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC). He chairs the Marondera University of Agricultural Sciences and Technology council.

l He can be contacted on [email protected] or 0718107474.

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