The Schematic of Pan-Africanism

Pan-Africanism is an idea, a concept, an ideology, a doctrine, a movement, a process, which promotes the unity and solidarity of Africa and its peoples for the reconquering of their political, economic and cultural sovereignty. Some of the concepts associated with Pan-Africanism are “Africa for Africans”, “African Personality” and “African Community”.

There are four categories of phenomena, which inspire the conversation about Pan-Africanism: the series of systems of exploitation and oppression, a set of racial theories, a number of revolutions, and a series of nationalist movements. The major goals of Pan-Africanism are freedom, justice and self-determination for Africa and its peoples who endured similar systems of exploitation, dehumanization, expropriation and dispossession such as slavery, colonialism, apartheid, neo-colonialism, segregation and neo-liberalism. For their dignity and their survival, they felt the need to develop a spirit of racial solidarity drawn from the common experience they endure under these similar systems of White Supremacy.

Some representatives of the Black community had to debunk racist assumptions inspired by the series of racist theories, such as racism, the White’s Man Burden and Social Darwinism. The spirit of freedom, justice and change carried by a number of revolutions inspired, impacted or framed the narrative of descendants of slaves who sought freedom for themselves. These revolutions are the American Revolution, the 1789 French Revolution, the Haitian Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and the three communist Revolutions of the 20th century (Russian, Chinese and Cuban).

The American Revolution, which brought about the principle of unity, the United States of America, inspired the French Revolution of 1789, which in turn inspired the Haitian Revolution (1791-1804). The Haitian Revolution gave a sense of hope to all slaves in the Western Hemisphere, namely those in the United States who were betrayed by the American Revolution.

The industrial revolution, which led to the exploitation of non-whites’ communities and peoples gave birth to a series of movements including feminism and the rise of nationalisms (1871-1914). The rise of nationalisms encompass Pan-Slavism for the unity of the Slavs, Pan-Germanism for the unity of the Germans and the question of the Italian unity. It was in that context that the descendants of slaves conceived similar concepts: Pan-negroism and Pan-Africanism respectively coined by W.E.B du Bois and Henry Sylvester Williams.

The three communist revolutions contributed to spread the communist and socialist ideologies, which were claimed by nationalists across the globe including African nationalists and Pan-Africanists. Several Pan-Africanists have articulated their respective visions along the socialist ideology. Kwame Nkrumah wanted to build the United States of Africa under the socialist ideology.

The idea of the Pan-African consciousness was present in the struggles to end slavery and colonialism before the actual articulation of the Pan-African movement, which started in the beginning of the 20th century. It was present in the construction of the Quilombos, in the Haitian Revolution, in the revolt of Maroons and in the resilience of the underground railroads. It was also present in three currents, in force in the 18th and 19th centuries and which shaped the process of unity and freedom of peoples of African ancestry: the Back to Africa Movement, Ethiopianism and Pan-Negroism. Pan-Africanism as an articulated and structured 20th century process and phenomenon is a confluence of these three currents.

The creations of Sierra Leone in 1787 and Liberia in 1822 for freed slaves by Britain and the United States respectively, with the support of some members of the black elite were catalytic moments of the Back to Africa Movement. Some of the black leaders who were in favor of the Back to Africa in the Americas in the 18th and in the 19th centuries were Olaudo Equiano, Paul Cuffe, Edward Blyden, Martin Delany, Alexander Crummell, and Henry Mac Turner.  They all wanted to build black-led republics in Africa and promote the Christianization of Africa.

As for Ethiopianism, it is a cultural, religious and political movement, whose essence was the imperative to create black-owned independent churches in the context of evangelical revivalism in Africa for the restoration of Africa’s dignity. It was inspired by the vision of the African Methodist Episcopal Church created in the USA in 1816. Ethiopian churches that began in the Americas entered Africa through Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Cape Colony. Throughout history, generations of religious and political leaders kept alive the idea of Ethiopia, the vivification of the enduring Nubian Civilization, the dreamland of the African people, the promised land of Africa’s redemption. When Ethiopia defeated twice Italy at Dogali in 1887 and at Adwoa in 1896 under the leadership of Menelik II and became the only African country to escape the yoke of colonization, the image of Ethiopia as a land of hope, redemption, and dignity of Africa became strengthened. Ethiopianism became reinvigorated. The Ethiopian churches were at the forefront for the struggle for the decolonization of Africa. Ethiopia devised a flag, which contained the following colors: gold, green and red. Green symbolizes the wealth, beauty, fertility of the land of Ethiopia as well as hope for a better world. Gold represents religious freedom and peace. Red represents the blood of all those who sacrificed for the freedom and dignity of Ethiopia. These colors became the symbolic colors of Pan-Africanism when Ghana, upon its independence, adopted them, which were also claimed by respective African countries upon attaining sovereignty.

Pan-negroism is based on the idea that blacks should initiate a racial organization, racial solidarity and racial unity by building black-owned structures if they wanted to become a determining factor in world history. W.E.B. Du Bois believed that that historical responsibility fell on black Americans.

From the early years of its inception as a structured ideology, in the beginning of the 20th century, Pan-Africanism had undergone a gradual evolution. Pan-African gatherings were labeled under specific names by their respective organizers who each time took the movement to an ascending stage. Henry Sylvester Williams was one of those who coined and popularized the word “Pan-Africanism”. He organized the first meeting considered the first Pan-African conference of the 20th century in London in 1900. W.E.B Du Bois was the greatest theorist of the Pan-African ideology. He organized the first five Pan-African congresses, 1919, 1921, 1923, 1927 and 1945, all in western capitals and cities. The 1945 Pan-African Congress took place in Manchester and was rightly dubbed the Manchester Congress. George Padmore seconded by Kwame Nkrumah masterfully led it. Its focus was the decolonization of Africa. It was a reaction and response of Pan Africanists who felt an indignation when Italy invaded Ethiopia, the unconquered, in 1935. The African continent hosted three other Pan-African congresses in Dar-es-Salam (1974), Kampala (1994), and Johannesburg and Accra in 2014 and 2015 respectively. Two antagonistic factions, each claiming exclusive authorship of the label “8th Pan-African Congress” organized respectively one in Johannesburg (2014) and another one in Accra (2015).

Marcus Garvey, the greatest champion of the Back to Africa Movement in the 20th century, was the one who transformed the Pan-African movement into a mass movement with the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). He could claim hundreds of chapters across the globe even in colonies like Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone. He was the organizer of his own series of Pan-African gatherings (Conventions) in the 1920s and 1930s during the Harlem Renaissance.

The independence of Ghana under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah was a major turning point in the history of Pan-Africanism. Ghana was the first country in the south of the Sahara to be independent. It became a source of hope of all the oppressed people of African ancestry. It was the symbol of black capability. Dr. Martin Luther King, who was at the swearing ceremony of Kwame Nkrumah, asked Black Americans to help build Ghana. With Kwame Nkrumah, not only Pan-Africanism returned home, but also it has reached the heights of the State. Kwame Nkrumah was the one who brought Pan-Africanism to the state level by being the first African leader to make Pan-Africanism the foundation of his governance.

When Ghana became independent, in an act of reclaiming the Pan-African heritage, and to continue the Pan-Africanist tradition symbolized by Ethiopia, Ghana adopted the colors of the Ethiopian flag, red, yellow and green. Kwame Nkrumah who was also influenced by Marcus Garvey adopted the black star, symbol of Marcus Garvey’s shipping company called Black Star Line. In the pure Pan-African tradition symbolized by Ethiopia and now carried by Ghana, several African countries adopted the colors, red, yellow and green, in their respective flags, namely Guinea-Conakry, Mali, Cameroon, Senegal, Seychelles, Comoros, Togo, Guinea-Bissau, Burkina Faso, Congo Brazzaville, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Sao Tome and Principe, Mauritania, Benin, Rwanda, Zambia, and Eritrea.

With the support of George Padmore, then his advisor, in 1958 Kwame Nkrumah initiated the series of Conferences of Independent African States and the series of the All-African Peoples Conferences for better coordination of efforts for the decolonization of Africa. The meaning of Pan-Africanism, which was associated exclusively to Black Nationalism until 1958, changed with the organization of the first Conference of Independent African States and the first All-African People’s Conference, which both took place in Accra (Ghana). In the context of Pan-Arabism, a variant of Pan-Africanism for North Africans, of Arab descent, Pan-Africanism linked the struggle Arab-speaking Africans to those in the south of the Sahara, through the Algerian Revolution, which occupied a central stage during these 1958 conferences in Accra.

From that moment, Pan-Africanism became a multiracial identity and philosophy of the peoples of all races living in Africa who claimed Africa exclusively and who were willing to respect the law of the majority on the African continent (the blacks). The semantic of the notion of African Personality also evolved to multiracialism. Tunis (Tunisia) and Cairo (Egypt) respectively hosted the two iterations of the All-African People’s Conferences in 1960 and 1961.

The Conferences of Independent African States and the All-African Peoples Conferences led to the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on May 25, 1963. Pan-Africanism thus reached the heights of the continent. On the political level, leaders and countries under the banner of the OAU supported the fight for decolonization and the dismantling of apartheid. On the economic front, the OAU called for an intensified economic integration of African economies.

As part of the process for African regional economic integration, in terms of community development, the OAU agreed that regional organizations be created according to five geographic regions: North Africa, East Africa, Central Africa, West Africa and Southern Africa. Africa has created numerous institutions namely banking institutions like the African Development Bank, Afreximbank and articulated continental development plans like the Lagos Action Plan, the Abuja Treaty, NEPAD, Agenda 2063 and the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA).

The creation of the OAU emulated Malcolm X. After leaving the Nation of Islam, he visited several African countries in 1964 including Ghana, Nigeria, and Egypt. His ideology was Black Nationalism inspired by that of Marcus Garvey, which emphasized self-determination and self-sufficiency of people of African ancestry. He wanted to contribute to building a united front of the African people’s struggle movement. He also sought to internationalize the civil rights movement and to transform it into a fight for human rights.

Malcolm X created a movement called the Organization of the Afro-American Unity (OAAU) to emulate the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Thus, the Pan-African movement organically extended to the diaspora. When the OAU was transformed into the African Union (AU) in 2001, African leaders decided to acknowledge the African Diaspora as the Sixth Region of Africa. Considering the Diaspora as the Sixth Region of Africa was the culmination of the fight of all those who, like Malcolm X, wanted to build an organic bridge between Africa and its people who are living abroad.

Apart from the processes that impact the growth and evolution of Pan-Africanism, it is important to note that there are several manifestations of it. Some of these expressions are:

  • Cultural and intellectual currents such as the Harlem Renaissance, Négritude, the Presence Africaine Movement and the Black Arts Movement;
  • Expressions of cultural unity (music, dance, films, fashion, cuisine);
  • Migration flows, cross-border commercial exchange, intra-African trade and intra-Caribbean trade.

Since the formative years of Pan-Africanism, generations of leaders have had conflicting approaches to the movement over highly critical issues such as the unification methodology, the unification model, the question of race, the question of ‘ideology. Whether for Pan-Africanism or development plans at the continental level, there were many, who advocated the importance of the African cultural fountain, but they did not adopt a specific African civilization to define the contours of the integrated development of Africa. Pan-Africanism was intertwined in the doctrinal wars between capitalism and socialism. The efforts of leaders such as Julius Nyerere who articulated Ujamaa, which he called family hood, were not enough as he translated that as African socialism.

One of the major moments of Pan-Africanism was the Free Nelson Mandela Movement, which galvanized the entire continent of Africa, its Diaspora across the globe and internationalists of all races, who fought for the release of the icon of the struggle against apartheid, Nelson Mandela. He was released on February 11, 1990 after spending 27 years in prison. His release marked the fall of the apartheid system, the decline of one-party system, the transition to democracy in Africa, and the end of the Cold War. He became the first black president of a multiracial and a multicultural democracy after a successful peace and reconciliation process, which stood upon an African endogenous value system called the Ubuntu Philosophy, whose values are humanness, humaneness, sharing, compassion, consensus, solidarity and interdependence. His successor Thabo Mbeki coined his variant of Pan-Africanism “African Renaissance” and made the Ubuntu Philosophy the cardinal pillar of his governance.

With Mandela coming to power, the Ubuntu philosophy took off on the continent at a time when socialism was experiencing a sort of regression and economic liberalism was triumphant. The successful peaceful transition in South Africa and the end of the Cold War were some of the favorable historical factors that gave a prominent place to the Pan-African concept of the Ubuntu Philosophy among the narratives of return. I claim it, in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki, in line with the South African ideological rectification. Ubuntu is only the name in the Nguni languages of a Bantu concept, which extends in Africa from Cape to Cairo and from west to east Africa. It illustrates the cultural and linguistic unity of Africa as articulated and demonstrated by Cheikh Anta Diop. We find this concept with variations in the Bantu and Bantoid languages, which number between 600 and 900 out of the 2000 languages in Africa. It is translated by Burkindi in the More language among the Mossis, by Bomoto in Lingala, by Nmandu in Igbo.  Nmandu means the beauty of life. Ubuntu is called Mpuntu in the Twi language, which the Ghanaians commonly call “Together for development “. It would translate into Arabic as Ummah, which means “community”.

Pan-Africanism is not a static movement. The Ubuntu Philosophy ought to be the endogenous value system upon which to build a new vision of Pan-Africanism and Africa’s integrated development in the 21st century. The participants of the Southern African Regional preparatory conference of the 9th Pan-African Congress which was held in Pretoria on December 4-5, 2023 echoed that stance and rightly claimed Ubuntu as the paradigm of a novel articulation of Pan-Africanism.

Gnaka Lagoke, PhD

Associate Professor of History and Pan-Africana Studies (Lincoln University-PA)
Chair of the Scientific Committee of the 9th Pan-African Congress

* The author gave this lecture on numerous occasions, notably at the launching ceremony of the 9th Pan-African Congress in Lomé on May 22, 2023 and on the second day of the Southern African regional conference of the 9th Pan-African Congress in Pretoria on December 5, 2023.

Follow us

© 2024 | 9th Pan-African Congress