Saturday, November 25, 2006

Introducing Pan Africanism - Bankie Forster Bankie



Marcus Garvey and W.E.B Du Bois – Founding Fathers of the Pan African movement.

I would argue that Pan Africanism is generally not well understood in Southern Africa. What is better understood in the region is black consciousness. Whereas black consciousness is part of Africanism, Pan Africanism is distinct, in my view from black consciousness, certainly in the Southern African context.Black conciousness seems to have been a particular Southern African reaction to institutionalized racism under apartheid, and should be understood as race based African nationalism, a reaction to state sponsored racism.

In the Southern Africa struggle for emancipation against racism and settler colonialism black consciousness (or black nationalism) was the alternative philosophy to socialism. In South Africa and in Namibia, at least in the first phase of the struggle for self-government, socialism triumphed and black consciousness lost out. This we saw as between the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan African Congress (PAC) in South Africa and The South West Africa Peoples Organization (SWAPO) and The South

West African Students Union (SWANU) in Namibia. In West Africa, in Ghana for example, the absence of settlers meant that the need to assert an African consciousness had no relevance. African identity was only an issue in so far as the foreign policy was concerned. Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of independent Ghana had attended the 5th Pan African Congress in Manchester, England in 1945. He was a practicing Pan Africanist, so that the foreign policy of Ghana in the Nkrumah years was driven by Pan Africanism.In those years W.E.B.Du Bois lived in Ghana.

In South Africa, what appears to have happened, is that despite the early influence of Garvey and Pan Africanism in the period around 1920, and the undoubted role Pan Africanism played in the armed struggle for freedom in Namibia, in South Africa in particular black consciousness was identified in the public mind as synonymous with Pan Africanism. This situation was further complicated by the decision by the South African black consciousness movement, at the behest of Nkrumah, to call itself the Pan African Congress of Azania (PAC).

Over the past decade in South Africa we saw the PAC squander its huge Pan Africanist potential capital in its pursuit of a black consciousness agenda (Biko had said ‘I write as I like’), which had nothing to do with Pan Africanism,but which the public in South Africa perceived was a Pan African agenda. If the PAC had been a Pan African organisation it should have been pre-occupied with developments in Africa and its Diaspora. Politics such as ‘one settler one bullet’ are not reflective of Pan African intent.

Minority communities in Southern Africa and in Africa in general consider Pan Africanism inimical to their interests. It is therefore necessary to contextualise Pan Africanism. For instance the farm murders are associated in the public mind with Pan Africanism. In truth Pan Africanism is not anti-white, but pro African. Pan Africanism, as Walter Rodney stated, is the movement for the unity of the Africans at home and abroad, within Africa and its Diaspora. Specifically Pan African is the movement to unify the African nation at home (being constituted by Africans South of Sahara) and in the Diaspora, which includes both the Western Diaspora in the Americas and Carribean, and the Eastern Diaspora in Arabia and other parts, where people of African descent find themselves.

Another truth which needs to be stated and which is often lost, is that there is only one route to African unity and that is via Pan Africanism/African nationalism. That may appear obvious, but the fact is that few of the people who talk about African unity have taken time to read and study the development of the ideal. The question needs to be asked, why? One would go so far as to call Pan Africanism/African nationalism a political science, or rather a particular area of polical science, or alternatively, international relations. Like any other science it can be studied. One knows of few places in Africa where specific courses in Pan Africanism are taught. South Africa has a number of Africa study centers, such as the Africa Institute of South Africa (AISA) and the Center for African Renaissance Studies at the University of South Africa (UNISA). None of these centers are dedicated to Pan Africanism/African nationalism. In Southern Africa only the Pan Afrikan Center of Namibia (PACON) has in its objectives the dissemination of Pan Africanism – which aim has yet to be achieved.

As South Africa advances in its active role in African affairs it is obliged to adopt elements of Pan Africanism, such as its recently found concern for the African Diaspora. In a world increasingly divided into continental unions, the relevance of the Pan African experience will be an increasing source of inspiration, which cannot be ignored, based as it is on historical fact. We can either build on what we have, or ignore it at our peril.

At the main library at the University of Namibia, in the Journal of Southern African Studies, volume 30, number 1 of March 2004, is found the article ‘Communist and Black Freedom movements in South Africa and the United States:’by Edward Johanningsmeier. The paper begins by making the connection between the Garveyist movement in the 1920’s and South African activists. Interestingly it has no difficulty in incorporating both the socialist and capitalist (i.e. left and right) orientations in one text. Johanningsmeier is clear about the interaction between the African Diaspora and South Africa by way of Garveyism and Pan Africanism and by way of African-American marxists and black South African marxists. The point here is that Pan Africanism embraces both the left and right options.

Prof Kwesi Prah in his paper entitled ‘Capacity of the Southern African states in developing and implementing policies promotive of African unity through Pan Africanism’ delivered in Durban in October 2003, tells us about the work of the Pan Africanist Henry Sylvester Williams in Cape Town around 1903. P rah refers to figures such as Sol Plaatje, Selope Thema and Walter Sisulu’s early politicization by way of Marcus Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) founded in Jamaica in 1911.’The African World‘ newspaper of the African National Congress (ANC) in 1925 published Garvey’s ‘African Fundamentalism’ in an African language.

If the issue of Pan Africanism is raised here in Namibia today in large measure this is due to the fact that Namibian Pan Africanists such as Sam Nujoma were early Garveyists. PACON has a project entitled ‘The influence of Marcus Garvey’s Movement in Namibia’ which will produce a book on the impact of the Marcus Garvey movement in Namibia. As at now the only documentation we have on the issue is the chapter contribution of Tony Emmett entitled ‘Popular Resistance in Namibia’, in the book ‘Resistance and ideology in the settler societies’edited by Tom Lodge, published in the Southern African Studies series in Johannesburg in 1986.

Emmett’s text is the authorative source on Garveyism in Namibia. It teaches us that the UNIA Branch in Luderitz was launched in 1921. In that year the branch consisted of 31 members. Names such as Frtz Headley and John De Clue come down to us from the research of Emmett. By January 1922 a UNIA branch existed in Windhoek. Names such as Mungunda, Maharero, Hoveka and Hosea Kutako were connected to the Windhoek Branch. Emmett explains how the ideas coming from the UNIA brought together the various ethnic groups in the area of South West Africa to oppose German imperialism. Prior to the influence of Garvey, the groups sort individually to confront foreign influence. The birth of Namibian nationalism finds its root in Garveyism.

The two leading pioneers in the Pan African Movement, Marcus Garvey and WEB Du Bois are herewith introduced on equal footing. Earlier reference was made to the interconnection by Johanningsmeier of the African communists and nationalists in North America and South Africa. Whereas there are different approaches as to how to build African unity, the reality is that this movement is by its composition, broad based incorporating all shades of opinion. This is the challenge.

As Prah says in his above-mentioned paper,‘the Ideal of African unity has been a consistent and ever present feature in African nationalist through since the end of the 19th century’.In the unipolar world today, moving to a multi-polar world tomorrow, the politics of unity will be the dominant discourse globally. This discourse for us will be grounded in the soil of African nationalism. However whereas the nationalism which decolonised Southern Africa was in pursuit of the recognition of the states created by the Berlin Conference, none of these states proved viable. The future objective therefore is the unity of the African nation, a larger objective than the nation state project.

The seed of Pan Africanism originated in Africa. It then crossed the Atlantic to the Caribbean, North and South America, where it germinated in the experience of Africans under slavery. In the Diaspora the experience was refined into a modern philosophical ideal, which came back to Africa by way of a set of ideas circulated at venues such as the 5th Pan African Congress of 1945 and via the Pan African Congress series convened by WEB Du Bois. The 8th Pan African Congress will be convened by Chen in Zimbabwe.

The experience of the Eastern Diaspora is now being shaped.Its voice is emerging in places such as Darfur in Sudan.It did not resonate in the past, as did the Western Diaspora by way of Pan Africanism,because of the fact that the voice of Africans in the Middle East and Asia was lost due to their de-nationalisation. We can expect the eastern Diaspora to be more audible and articulate in future, in demanding its space in the Pan African forum.

To go to the essence of the experience of the Diaspora and the lessons to be learnt, these are the practical learning experiences of history -for example Haiti won its sovereignty by armed struggle two hundred years ago. What the experience of Haiti teaches us is that Africans can only expect trials and tribulations as they seek to promote their development. Haiti in its two hundred years of self government has had to contend with invasions , occupations and changes of government, the latest being the forcible removal of President Aristide last year, now living in South Africa. How did Haiti contend with these situations ? Why is Haiti one of the least developed countries of the world – was it because Haitians were lazy? These and a host of other questions provide us with lessons. Everywhere the Africans were taken out Africa, be it Arabia or the West, they found themselves enslaved as chattels. How did they survive in this hostile environment? These experiences in the belly of the beast teach us in continental Africa how best to defend our interest and who our real friends are. Who were Garvey and Du Bois? What did they achieve? How did they implement their agendas? Why did Nkrumah identify Garvey as the best example to emulate? Did either of these define for us the African nation?

Garvey and Du Bois were the Founding Fathers of the African unity movement. They were not the first Pan Africanists but they emerge, by their dedication and commitment to sets of principles, as significant leaders, who unified Africans across continents.

From ‘The Negro almanac- a reference work on the African American’, compiled and edited by Ploski and Williams, published by Gale Research Inc. in Detroit, USA in 1989, we learn that Garvey was born in Jamaica in1887. He dedicated his life to the advancement of the African people of the world through the creation of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) and the African Communities League. He believed that Africans could never achieve equality unless they became independent – founding their own nations, governments, businesses, industrial enterprises and military establishments. Garvey departed this world in 1940, in England. It is said that whereas many in his day rejected the ideas of Garvey, it is clear that subsequently these have strongly influenced the thinking of Africans globally. With time the vision of Garvey goes from strength to strength.

WEB Du Bois was born in the United States of America in 1868. He was an outstanding critic, editor, scholar, author and civil rights leader. He was one of the founders of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) in 1909. He convened the First to the Fifth Pan African Congresses in various parts of the Western World. He died a citizen of Ghana in 1963 and a member of the Communist Party.

Prah in his paper states that Pan Africanism represents the most distinguishing feature of African nationalism as a wider project than neo–colonial state formation, opposing the balkanization of the continent. Countless nameless Africans within our Continent gave of their lives to advance African nationalism. The difference your author has with Dudley Thompson is his Pan Africanism of the elites, of the ‘big’ names. Pan Africanism is made in large measure by the nameless Africans who gave of their lives so that we could be free.

B.F Bankie

January 2005