When in 1946 Winston Churchill called for a United States of Europe, so soon after the World War II, many must have thought him still shell-shocked. Then it was unimaginable that a mere generation later there would be a European Union with a single market and a common parliament, or that Germany would not only be re-united but host the World Cup finals in which Italy would defeat France. But even with this living example, to speak of African unification to Africans or Westerners alike is to be seen as an impractical dreamer or simply insane.
One is lectured that Africa is too big, too poor, too corrupt, too undereducated, always at war, undemocratic. In a candid moment, someone might add that with centuries of tribal enmity Africans cannot unify because they are, well, Africans. As if none of these problems existed in one form or another in the Europe of 1946.
This is not to say that the problems are not real. In the Darfur region of Sudan, an agonizingly slow nightmare unfolded as the African Union (AU) idly watched. The heavily flawed Nigerian elections promise more conflict in the Niger delta. In the Congo, where millions of lives have been lost, embers of war keep reigniting. There is worsening poverty, more money being lost through unequal trade than gained in foreign aid, an AIDS epidemic with a genocidal fury, and a leadership without political imagination. This is a continent mired in quick sand.
Kwame Nkurumah of Ghana once said “Africa must unite, or perish”. We are uniting less and perishing more.
But does a Ugandan, for example, see a Ghanaian as an African and in terms that can translate into policy? Kwame Nkrumah’s major failing, which the AU now emulates, is to have seen unification as only between governments and not amongst African people. We have not had a single presidential race on the continent influenced by the question of African unification, or peaceful marches and public debates in favor unification in individual nations. Regional cooperation treaties are signed without consulting respective citizens. In short, Pan-Africanism has as yet to belong to the people themselves.
And Xenophobia is on the rise. South Africans, both black and white, want to protect their borders from the Amakwerekwere, the amaXhosa word for the black peril. In Kenya one finds a caricaturism so ingrained in national psyche that in parliament, members are banned from wearing African clothes. In Ghana, Nkrumah’s failures become a rejection of Africa and in Egypt or Morocco – the horror, are we even African they ask?
There have to be more conversations between African peoples themselves. One of the topics will, of necessity, be the nature of difference. Difference arbitrated the 1994 Rwandan genocide. But a unified Africa does not mean erasure of different cultures and languages; rather it would allow each fluid culture to flourish under equal protection. It does not mean that enmity ends, but rather that there are no ill political winds of nationalism to fan into a full blown war every disagreement.
Unification means access to the best that the continent has to offer and a shared burden when it comes to the many problems. It means having a unified voice in international politics and economics. A unified Africa would take Europe and the United States to task for providing farm subsidies to their farmers that in turn cost Africa millions of dollars each year. Africa would be able to demand that all nations with nuclear weapons abandon them as a threat to a common humanity. Or take a unified stand against pharmaceuticals and manufacturers of generic drugs for AIDS. Africa would be able to create solutions and implement them and not always wait for handouts. In short, Africa would have a bark… and a bite.
In life, individuals die where they stop dreaming. It is the same for countries and continents. Certainly for Africa, death finds new life where the dream of unification ends.
Mukoma Wa Ngugi is the author of Hurling Words at Consciousness (Africa World Press) & Conversing with Africa: Politics of Change (KPH).
The popular political spirit and general aspirations of Nigerians were quiet altered by the big and relentless personality of Fela Anikulapo Kuti. He was an outspoken artist who used his music and mystic to appeal to the conscience of the heads of state. His music was an articulation of dissent. I struggle to remember anyone, political or otherwise, who made anywhere close to the said 356 trips to court that Fela had to. He was even arrested in neighbouring Ghana after a riot broke out in a crowded Accra stadium concert as he sang ‘Zombie’; a people’s call and response song criticizing Africa’s spineless leadership along with it’s running dogs in camouflage uniform. …”Zombie him no go go…, stop…, turn…, think unless you tell him go think.” It is said a prophet is never honoured in his own land; but in Nigerian as in the rest of Africa, the flamboyant Fela is a revered son. His lyrics and legacy is a constant kick in the teeth of politicians who are satisfied with lip service alone!
Coffin for the Head of State … Observing Fela political life and dissecting his lyrics, it becomes clear that he was a Pan-Africanist. Budding into manhood during the wave of the anti-colonial struggle; as a young and impressionable African, Fela shared the vision of the great African freedom fighters of his era. He styled himself as the spiritual son of first Ghananian president, Kwame Nkrumah.
However, a man after his own heart was none other than Malcolm X. In 1969, four years after the great Muslim leader’s assasination, Fela literally found himself in LA. Black America was then abuzz with the different semantics and images of the Black Nationalist tide that swept through it. In an interview with Lister Hewan-Lowe, Fela recalled those days as “heavy.” A year before he arrived on the scene, the US government had already killed and covered up their role in the Martin Luther King assassination. Around this time the US government, sometimes through the UN, marshalled sections of the US military and intelligence apparatus in an attempt to stop the liberative efforts of people’s leaders like Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Samora Machel and our very own Madiba. Many fell. Many more got corrupted. History recalls America’s role in Africa’s re-emergence from colonial bondage as sinister and bloody. What Fela saw happening in America resonated with his own anti-colonial stance as a Nigerian born African. “Everything fell in place. For the first time I saw the essence of blackism. It’s crazy; in the states people think the black power movement drew inspiration from Africa. All these Americans come over here looking for awareness, they don’t realise they are the ones who got it over there”. Realising early the universality of the African liberation struggle, Fela observed also how we as Africans “were even ashamed to go around in national dress until we saw pictures of blacks wearing dashikis on 125th street.”
Within the orgy of Afros and dashikis, kentes and self-styled revolutionaries, Fela met a dreadlocked woman activist named Sandra Smit, later Isadore who shared with him a copy of Malcolms’ Autobiography, as told by Alex Hailey. That book sowed the seeds that would later distinguished Fela as an African artists among artists. Recalling Malcolm, Fela told Hewan-Lowe; “This is a Man! I wanted to be like Malcolm X. Fuck it. Shit! I wanted to BE Malcolm X.” Through Sandra he also got acquainted with the Black Panther Party.
Witnessing first hand a familiar dark reality of Black life in America must have shocked Fela. That there were two Americas’; one Black and poor, and the other White and privilidged, and that the America’s dream was not free for all. The moment of gaining consciousness effected Fela so much that he decided he “wanted to die in the struggle.” Fate would grant him his hidden wish. Between the Black Nationalism of Malcolm X which rekindled his pride as an African man, and the insightful Pan-Africanist Socialism of Kwame Nkrumah, Fela descovered his life’s mission; “I wanted to make my country African again… and change the whole system”. A quest he spent over twenty years fighting, bleeding and eventually succumbing to. The years in America shaped Fela politically in the same way that they must have influenced Nmandi Azikwe later one of the more progressive Nigerian presidents, Kwame Nkrumah and others as a student there. Fela’s own aspirations for political office never materialized. His candidacy on the wings of his Pan -Africanist party; ‘Movement of the People’ was twice rejected by the government. His second candidature was notably met with more beatings and arrests.
No Agreement … Fela and struggle were not new to each other. He had seen expressions of protest and heard articulations of resistance against systematic oppression from inside his own home. His father, Rev Israel Oludotun Ransome-Kuti, was an Anglican priest as well as a strict school principle. His mother Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti was a member of the Communist Party and the Sixth Vice President of the Women’s International Democratic Federation in Russia. As an active organizer she was very influential and respected among Nigerian women. She was friends with Kwame Nkrumah, met Mao Tsetung while on a trip to China and during her active life won the Lenin Peace Prize. Fela remembers his parents as “beautiful…, they taught me heavy things. They made me see life in perspective.” It was this same warrior spirit that Fela exuded in his music, a warrior spirit similar that of the many Malcoms’ or the many Warrior-Women that set Fela on an irreversible collision with the leadership of his day. He was more than a radical. Years later after one of his American tours he changed the name of his band from Africa 70 to Egypt 80 to make “Africans realise that the Egyptian civilization belongs to the African man, not the Arabs.” He was a revolutionary at heart and in principle who used his voice and sax as a trumpet for truth; as an AK for justice.
The Nigerian government feared Fela all the time. He was an institution which they did not and could not control. His Shrine, situated in Surulele, one of the more run down parts of the city of Lagos was teaming with nearly a thousand restless and rebellious youth a night. His music and political views were anthemed throughout Nigeria and West Africa. A gifted composer, a damn good saxophonist and an effective singer who sang in pidgin English; an Anglophone fanakalo frowned upon by the elite but understood by illiterates. Fela is one of the most accomplished and celebrated musicians the continent has ever produced. Radical in content as well as in sound, he showed that one could succeeded by creating a home-grown music, and not by copying western arrangements. He packed concerts all up and down Europe with it. He was a little strange here and there, performing and conducting many a interview dressed in colourful underpants only. Still, his popularity and power begun to reveal and surpassed that of the Heads of State. If he had run for president he might have very well won. He told Revolutionary Worker; “It got to be heavy-o. I was making eight albums a year. I was getting very powerful. Very listened to. Very liked. But for the authorities, very… daaaaaagerous!”
After protracted battles with the Nigeria government, in 1977 Fela was severely beaten, both hands and legs broken, unconscious and probably left for dead after a thousand ‘Unknown Soldiers’ invaded his Kalatuka commune. The brutality that followed is unspeakable. Women found in the commune were similarly beaten, then raped and sexually assaulted with batons, machine guns and bottles. Fela’s own 77 year old mother was thrown to her slow death over a second story balcony. The commune was burnt to the ground. Crushed physically but undaunted spiritually, years later when his hands had healed, Fela retaliated with classics like ‘Sorrow, Tears and Blood’… “their regular trademark”. Later after being pressured by the government to re-write and re-record five out of eight rejected albums, Fela came back with ‘(VIP) Vagabonds in Power’, ‘Coffin for Head of State’, and later ‘No Agreement’; “I was singing about, I wasn’t going to agree, to compromise my, my ideology. My people are suffering, I will always sing about it.“.
A year later to mark the anniversary of the attack at Kalatuka, Fela married 27 women who comprised of his back-up singers, dancers and runaways in one day. That bold marriage gained him as much recognition as he received for his music. Although it was a typically Fela thing to do, he did it in part to quiet the accusation that he was leading unmarried girls astray. He must have hoped that his marriage would protect his wives from the naked brutality he and they faced at the hands of Nigeian police both inside and out of jail. Fela’s bold activism, going so far as ridiculing and exposing corrupt government officials, calling some by name, was not without impact and implications. He, his wives, his band and family members were constantly harassed, assaulted, arrested and his mother murdered for any where from frivilous to trumped up charges. Fela would later divorce all his wives upon one of his releases from a ten year sentence. Gen Ibrahim Babangida’s regime freed him after it overthrew the Gen Muhammed Buhari dictatorship. On marriage, he claimed he no longer believed in it’s institution, criticizing it for being “possessive” and “selfish” and done by “jealous” people who “want to control other people’s bodies.” Fela was complex, even unto himself.
Sorrow, Tears and Blood … That Fela was his own man, loved sex, with different women is true. What is also true is that he was a revolutionary, and an Africanist. He spoke against self-serving interests and oppression; Why would he then not sufferer the same aggression as others who challenged the prioritization of Western interests at the expense of their own people? Fela died August 2nd in Lagos from heart failure and AIDS related complications. Four months prior, he was arrested for ganja. He was 58.
The word on the streets of Lagos is that Fela didn’t die from AIDS. Some even laugh at that. They point to the fact that Fela’s autopsy was conducted by his arch enemies. It is said that after Fela passed the wives were tested and none of them were HIV positive. Five years later no news headlines have since declared any of them dead or dying from AIDS related complications. Still, speculations abound even as Fela divorced all his wives years before his death. That Fela would die from AIDS related complications was most probable given who he was and the way he lived his life. He was state enemy number one. If he did die from AIDS, suspicious minds will still wonder if perhaps he, or one, or some of his wives might have been infected with the virus by ‘Zombies’ during one of the many incarcerations they endured; something like a slow puncture. Some of the 1000 ‘Unknown Soldiers’ who invaded his commune in 1977 could have been HIV positive. This train of thought does not require much of a stretch of the imagination given the Nigerian government’s modus operrandi. In separate incident one of Fela’s own brother Beko was after all poisoned in prison after he lead a pro-democracy campaign inside the then military dictatorship.
Some people’s lives are so big and broad that it takes another lifetime, or two, to see the Creator’s hand in it. After Fela died, people began talking and questioning practices such as polygamy. Many begun rethinking condoms and rethinking the notion that AIDS is a white or a gay man’s disease. At the time of Fela’s death, most men were only worried about a burning sensation upon urination, when news of the nature of his death broke, he was criticized for not having done enough to educate the people on what befell him. Maybe he didn’t know, AIDS was not then the pandemic monster it is today. None the less, even in death Fela seems to struggled. He helped draw the spot-light on the devastating effect AIDS was having on the continent. Maybe one day new information will come forward implicating Sani Abacha’s government for more than hanging writer/activist Ken Saro-Wiwa. Maybe implication will go all the way to the White House and Buckingham Palace. After all it is only now that we are beginning to learn who really killed Patrice Lumumba. It was a diabolical plot.
Although Fela was great, he was also mortal. Like us, his spirit was strong even as his flesh was weak. If we are to learn anything from Fela’s life and death, let it be this; AIDS is not a promiscuous disease or a punishment for those prone to such behavioural tendencies. While we are still here, what should remain important to us is what Fela lived for, what he gave his life energies to. If we can learn without prejudice we may be privilidged to look into his life and see his personal vices and demons, so that perhaps we may become wiser, and walk around where he became entangled with death. Okusalayo, no-one can take anything away from Fela; his was given by the the same hand that took him away from us. His, as ours was only for an appointed time, yet his music lives, as a rock of ages, still kicking teeth!
Any time is important enough to reflect upon the meaning of those things we hold to be the dearest and most important to us. The circumstances in which thinking and doing Afrika have proceeded over the last century or so, as well as the current context in which such activity unfolds, make it imperative that we pause to consider those assumptions that are at the very basis of this most important question. These assumptions inform the answer to our question. It is upon both assumptions and answer that we in turn base so much of what we think and do, or neglect to think and do, with our lives as Afrikans. Generally, conscious Afrikans place their Afrikan identity at the very center of their thinking and existence. Those who are not conscious are mostly unaware of the issues surrounding Afrikan identity. For such people, these issues may never at all arise in their consciousness and action. Another very powerful factor in our urge to pose and answer this question must certainly be the duty of every generation to re-examine and, where necessary, re-interpret the fundamentals of its own existence. Such periodic reflection and re-examination are critical for renewal and continued relevance, strength and sustained progress.
A proper definition of any people must relate them to their ancestral land, their culture and their history. These are the central factors in the formation of identity. It is the interaction of people and their environment, most especially their land, which produces culture. At the very basis of culture are commonly held values that historically arose from the interaction between people and their ancestral land. These values are in turn reflected in the patterned behaviour they determine. Such patterned behaviour therefore also arises out of that interaction and is encoded by tradition in rituals and ceremonies as well as a worldview that are all distinctive to each culture. A people’s history is their story, the record of what they did and how they did what they did. The combination of all of these factors produces identity, which is the primary marker of origin, belonging and distinctiveness and the major factor in the proper orientation of a people in the world.
An Afrikan is therefore a person who shares with others a common geographical origin and ownership of and spiritual attachment to their ancestral land known as the continent of Afrika, certain physical characteristics, a common history, a common set of cultural values and consequently a common worldview, a common heritage and common economic, political and social interests. These core characteristics amount to a specific identity, set Afrikans apart from other peoples, and ought to determine the interests they pursue.
The origin of the Afrikan people lies in the Nile/Great Lakes region of Afrika. This is also the origin of all humanity, because the first human beings were Afrikans. In this fundamental way Afrikans are the only real autochthons of Mother Earth. Afrikans therefore have the longest history in the world. Afrikans organized the first civilizations in the world at Kemet (Ancient Egypt), Sumeria (Mesopotamia), and at Mohendro Daro, Harappa and other sites on the Indian sub-continent. In inventing civilisation Afrikans gave to humanity its humanity.
The peopling of Afrika, and eventually of the entire world, proceeded from the Nile/Great Lakes origin of Afrikans and therefore of all humanity. There are two great trans-continental river valleys in Afrika, the Nile and the Kongo-Ubangi river valleys. These became two great trans-continental cultural highways as humanity, and so human culture, proliferated out from its origin in east-central Afrika to possess an entire continent; later the world. Subsidiary migrations, especially from out of the Nile valley, provide a more complete account of the peopling of the Afrikan continent. Eventually the culture of some Afrikans became so advanced that it has been accorded the status called civilization. This happened first in Kemet, which was a particular expression of Afrikan culture. Kemet is the most known and admired flower of Afrikan culture, but Kemet was not the first flower from this tree. Kemet was organically related to and received influences from preceding Afrikan states such as Ta-Seti, Nubia and Kush, and had extensive relations with the rest of Afrika. Kemet represents the classical traditions of the Afrikan people. Therefore one part of the answer to our question must be someone who is in conscious possession of the heritage offered by Kemet.
The peopling of the continent of Afrika therefore occupies tremendous and varied expanses of time and geography. Variation is a logical and natural consequence of the cultural process, most especially when spread over such vast expanses of time and space. It is astonishing, therefore, that Afrikans have retained a fundamental core of values, behaviours and an outlook that remain much the same for more than four thousand years – certainly from the time of the states that preceded Kemet to now, perhaps from even before the time of those forerunner states to Kemet. Communiality, matriarchy, respect for and even reverence of age, spirituality, environmentalism, a specific naming system, a specific tradition of language and the word are all manifestations of this common cultural core that runs through Afrika and marks all Afrikans, especially but not only where Afrikan culture is undisturbed by alien influences.
The fundamental values of the Afrikan classical tradition were already evident by the time of each of the early civilizations; each of these societies was just another way of living these determinants of the Afrikan in specific places at specific periods in time, just as today each Afrikan person, family, clan or nation must live a particular representation of these abstractions and generalizations we refer to as cultural values and practices. There is therefore no one way of being Afrikan. But if we look carefully with unprejudiced eyes, unrestricted by alien perspectives, we will see the tremendous similarities that define Afrikan culture.
This common culture core is the basis of Afrikan cultural unity and offers a substantial, perhaps the most substantial basis for Pan Afrikan unity also. A focus upon these substantial similarities, instead of an occupation with variations and differences, which are comparatively minor and not as important, will permit Afrikans to be Afrikan in ways that are non antagonistic to each other and so serve the common interest of all Afrikans. In this way each Afrikan can, simultaneously and without any contradiction, have an Afrikan personality, belong to an Afrikan family, clan, sub-cultural group (tribe), to one of the existing states created by foreigners, and to the Afrikan nation.
There is a tradition of Pan Afrikanism that is at lease a hundred years old, if we judge by the formally entitled Pan Afrikan conferences that have been organized from 1900. Recently, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) turned itself into the Afrikan Union (OU). Even more recently, Thabo Mbeki, President of Azania, called for an Afrikan ‘renaissance’. The Global Afrikan Congress was formed in 2002 and has organized a world conference of Afrikans in Suriname from 1st to 6th of October, 2004. The notion of Pan Afrikanism at the basis of each of these developments implies some sort of universality of Afrikanness or Afrikanity, those things that make people Afrikan. It is this Afrikanity that the answer to our question must define clearly.
A proper definition of a people must be clear about who they are as well as about whom there are not. Some Afrikans believe that anyone who lives on the continent of Afrika is an Afrikan. Nothing could be further from the truth. Arabs and Europeans have established themselves in Afrika with much physical and cultural violence leading to the greatest genocide in human history. Eventually they established settler colonies. Today the relationships between Afrikans and Europeans, and Afrikans and Arabs, remain dominated by the cultural and economic subjugation and exploitation of Afrikans by these foreign invaders. The physical enslavement of Afrikan people by Arabs and Arabised Afrikans continues in places like Mauritania and the Sudan, where Arab militias have recently launched genocide against Afrikans in Darfur.
Arabs and Europeans arrived in Afrika thousands of years after Afrikans named themselves, their rivers, mountains and other features in their environment. Yet Arabs and Europeans claim that they ‘discovered’ these features in the natural environment and renamed these as well as Afrikans in their own languages. The fundamental assumption of such claim to ‘discovery’ and acts of renaming by foreigners is that Afrikans were not human and/or did not exist. Specific examples include the supposed ‘discovery’ of…Falls by Livingstone, who ‘renamed’ it Victoria Falls. The renaming of most of the lands that form states created by these foreigners also falls into this category. Each example is part of a historical process of subjugation and mental enslavement that still imprisons the minds of most Afrikans, both on the Afrikan continent and in Afrikan communities abroad.
The names Europeans imposed upon the lands they looted indicate not only their utter disrespect for Afrikan people, but also the fact that they were interested only in the materials they valued, not in their often repeated claims that they wanted to ‘develop’ Afrika. Such ‘names’ as Gold Coast, Slave Coast, Guinea Coast, Ivory Coast, Mosquito Coast, Pepper Coast and so on tell nothing of the Afrikan people and their distinctive tradition of naming, and much about the greed and barbarity of Europeans. Kwame Nkrumah noted that if the same pattern were to be followed for Britain then it would be properly named the Isle of Coal.
Who names defines. The imposition of such ‘names’ was one aspect of cultural genocide that still impacts massively upon Afrikans the world over. The severe distortion and destruction of cultural institutions and the imposition of foreign languages and religions are also important aspects of this erasure, distortion and falsification of Afrikan identity. In this historical process Afrikan identity has been shifted from a position of centrality to our being, and therefore in our relations to the world, to a position that is peripheral to our Afrikan selves and so in the way we relate to ourselves and to the world. Hence a great majority of Afrikans are Christians, Moslems, Feminists, Socialists first or only – and Afrikans somewhere long after or never at all. Many of these Afrikans would rather be anything but Afrikan and devote much energy to avoid being defined as Afrikans, which is the only truthful definition possible. It is not possible to be valueless, in spite of whether we are conscious of the value system that determines our perspectives and behaviour or whether we choose to announce that system or be silent about it. Therefore in many instances the values that define such Afrikans are foreign values and the victims of this distorted identity remain disoriented in the world, unaware of their real interests and therefore incapable of defending and promoting those interests.
Those Afrikans who were kidnapped, terrorized, enslaved and taken to the west have borne the brunt of European attempts to rename and so re-define Afrikans. Kidnapped in Afrika as Afrikans, they were somehow something else upon arrival in the west. To make matters worse, it was the very demeaning term, ‘negro’ that was first employed by white supremacists to describe these Afrikans. Afrikans in the west struggled hard to maintain their cultural identity as Afrikans, including their collective name and their personal names. Later on the equally offensive term ‘coloured’ was applied to Afrikans. The struggle continued. Then ‘black’ was applied. More struggle ensued. ‘Afro’ was also rejected. Finally, the only real name for Afrikans was agreed. Hence today there are Afrikan Americans for Afrikans living in America, Afrikan Jamaicans, and so on. The basis of the struggle for the name Afrikan is the consciousness, determination and power of Afrikans to define themselves against the intention of white supremacists to define Afrikans. As Richard B. Moore put it, “When all is said and done, dogs and slaves are named by their masters, free [people] name themselves!” (Moore: 1992, p.239).
A significant aspect of the stereotypes that still imprison the minds of countless Afrikans today is the false and demeaning notions of each other that were imposed by foreign oppressors many generations ago. Such stereotypes function to create and maintain mutual suspicion and distrust of each other. Such conditioning often results in open hostility, even violence among groups of Afrikans. This mental condition has plagued relations between Afrikans on the continent and Afrikans in communities abroad. Mutual hostility has also been a dominant feature in relations among Afrikans on the continent. In both instances the root of the problem lies in the answer to our question. When the definition of the Afrikan self has been the result of faulty socialization into a world view dominated and defined by the languages, cultural institutions and cultural values of foreigners, emphasis is placed upon difference and variation and upon the states created by foreigners. A common result of this process is confusion of Afrikan identity with nationality, which is the belonging to one of these states. There is a widespread tendency to over emphasise this nationality to the exclusion of identity.
Such a definition of the Afrikan reduces the idea of Afrikanness to something small and dysfunctional and leads to antagonistic relations and destructive behaviours. In both instances the answer to the problem is the definition of the Afrikan self by Afrikans to place emphasis upon similarities and commonalities of origin, values, history, heritage and interests.
This solution indicates that the proper definition of an Afrikan lies beyond colour or other physical characteristics. Such a conception points us squarely to deeper issues at the very center of the definition of ourselves as Afrikans. These are commonalities of origin and commonalities and similarities of culture, history, heritage, world view and interests.
Self definition is the work of any healthy people. It promotes a positive self image of the group. This in turn leads to a positive self concept for members of that group, to easy and immediate identification of interests, to the vigilant defense and furthering of those interests, to consistent hard work to promote those interests, and therefore to positive transformation of the group and the individuals within that group.
The Afrikan mind remains the most important frontier in the fight to define ourselves as Afrikans. For far too long this important question of who is an Afrikan has effectively been answered by people who are not Afrikans and who never had and do not now have the interests of Afrikans at heart. Afrikans have for too long been mentally enslaved by others in value systems that still define us and determine how we see ourselves and the world. In answering our question properly in their practice Afrikans will free themselves from this vast and deep mental prison, begin to remake their world and develop themselves.
REFERENCES : Moore, Richard B. (1960). “The name ‘Negro’ – Its origin and evil use” in W. B. Turner and Joyce Moore Turner (eds.) Richard B. Moore, Caribbean Militant in Harlem: Collected Writings 1920-1972. London: Pluto Press.
It was almost 92 years ago in 1919 that Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Jr., under his United Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, launched his Black Star Line, a steam ship company, that was part of his programs aimed at improving the conditions of those of African ancestry. At its peak in 1920, the UNIA-ACL claimed 4 million members. Despite Garvey’s controversial mail fraud charge, trial, conviction, jailing and deportation back to Jamaica by the US Government, his UNIA-ACL was the first black movement that showed great potential at mobilisation efforts by people of African descent.
Considered a prophet by the Rastafarians for accurately predicting the coronation of a black king in Africa (Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia) that would be the deliverer of those of the Diaspora, Garvey also influenced the formation of Pan-Africanism, the OAU (now the AU), and, the United States of Africa. He was the first to ever mention the United States of Africa in a 1924 poem saying: Hail! United States of Africa – free! Hail! Motherland most bright, divinely fair! State in perfect sisterhood united. Born of truth, mighty thou shalt ever be.
Shortly before Garvey’s death in 1940, his call was heeded by a young Ghanaian who graduated from Lincoln University, a black school in Pennsylvania USA, and was smitten with the idea of a United States of Africa – Kwame Nkrumah.
During his years in office, and after the formation of the OAU in 1963, Nkrumah, then Ghanaian president and father of the continent’s Pan Africanist movement echoed Garvey’s call to unite the continent into a single political and economic bloc. As a sign of his dedication to the idea of a US of Africa, Nkrumah bought the Black Star Line, got it back on the seas and placed the name “black star” on everything from street signs to the center of Ghana’s red, yellow and green flag. “The emergence of such a mighty stabilising force in this strife-torn world should be regarded…not as the shadowy dream of a visionary, but as a practical proposition which the peoples of Africa can and should translate into reality…We must act now. Tomorrow may be too late,” said Nkrumah.
Yet the then 31-nation OAU didn’t heed Nkrumah’s call. Instead, Balkanization (politically unstable countries) and South Americanisation (politically and economically weak and dictator-ridden countries without organic ties to one another) became the order of leadership in most countries continent-wide. Between 1963 and 2002, the continent suffered: countless coups, dictatorships and civil wars; a severe brain drain, financial mismanagement and corruption; the displacement and deaths of millions of Africans due to war, poverty and disease. Also, during this time, regional economic blocs, ECOWAS, OERS, UDEAC, OERM, EACM, CEAO, CEDEAO* and UEA, were formed.
Cheikh Anta Diop
According to another champion of the Pan African cause, Cheikh Anta Diop, a lot of these groupings failed as they were born; the Union of East Africa (Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya) being a good example. “All of them are giants with feet of clay engaged in trying to square the circle: to achieve meaningful economic unity without political union. No one wants to make the necessary sacrifice to achieve political unity. All hope to gain the benefits of economic integration without sacrificing the selfish interests of their governing groups on the altar of African unity. That is the fundamental contradiction lying at the base of all these ephemeral constructions and unions,” said Diop in his seminal work, Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State.
While these economic groupings were good starts, Diop contended that the reason why they would not work is because they were not legally binding.
“The days of the nineteenth-century dwarf states are gone. Our main security and development problems can be solved only on a continental scale and preferably within a federal framework,” said Diop. Within a federated state, which involved a real surrender of sovereignty, the rules governing such a set up was irreversible, hence legally binding. With parts or all of their sovereignty transferred to a continental parliament, the borders marking these dwarf states proliferating the continent would have, in effect, become mere administrative lines. That would have solved the border disputes, still a legacy of the Berlin Conference of1884-85when Africa was partitioned by European powers, which plagued the continent in the early years of independence. Today, Morocco is not a part of the AU because of this.
Emperor Haile Selassie
Not willing to sacrifice their national interests for the sake of continental unity, most of the leaders at independence regarded their national coffers as personal bank accounts. The lust for more money and power saw them doing any and everything in their power, from the banning of political parties, jailing and killing political dissidents, to encouraging tribal conflicts, just to hang on to the highest office in the land, even for life.
Forced to see the continent’s weak standing in this age of globalisation where their wishes are ignored by bigger economies and blocs, the African countries, who trade more with other countries than with each other, decided in 2002 to form the African Union with the aim of greater integration. After 39 years of making Africa the laughing stock of the world’s peoples, some of the dictators, their handpicked successors and a few democratically elected presidents are now showing signs of seriously turning Garvey’s and Nkrumah’s call for a single economic, political and military Africa into reality. While many observers might see this drive, set for accomplishment by 2015, as the last ditch effort of washed out political icons, it is nonetheless still a possible and viable venture, a win-win situation for an economic, military and political power long in the making. But where should we start in order to get on the Black Star Line?
It took 39 years from Garvey’s poem to the formation of the OAU. It took another 39 years after that for the formation of the AU. So, the talk of a U.S of Africa by 2015, while it is encouraging doesn’t sit so well with me. Most of our leaders have been known for making bombastic speeches and accomplishing very little, if nothing at all. Our way forward is something that most of our political ideologists have surprisingly overlooked for half a century. The advent of a forced and borrowed western style of democracy overlooked the fact that African empires had set up strong political foundations where the separation of power were their strongest points. Instead of restoring the African democratic principles, a principle under which tribalism and blatant corruption, the reasons for all the civil wars and coups that has plagued the continent since independence, was impossible, the post-colonial state maintained western political hegemony over Africa.
“African law must therefore be rescued from the non-law or “customary” law to which it has been relegated because colonialism made it mimic other systems, and pluralism of law must be restored…Although colonial domination disrupted the process of state building, African societies remain plurinational by nature. The pre-colonial nations – that marked out the identities of these multinational states – survived: even though they were parcelled out and often dispersed among several states, it was not impossible to reforge a societal link. Reinstating these nations will make it possible to bring to an end the crisis of national consciousness and identity that is ravaging Africa, and will prevent political manipulation of disputes over nationality,” said Professor Mwayila Tshiyembe of the Pan-African Institute of Geopolitics.
Recognising that the state/continent is made up nations/tribes that have to work together for the common good of the state/continent, while simultaneously allowing individuals to be proud of their nationalities, religions and other orientations, should be the first step. This set up was here before colonial domination and a proper restoration of our past makes for a better future. And while our leaders are still arguing over the modalities of coming together, it would take the vision and selfless passion of the founding fathers of Pan Africanism to accomplish this idea of continental self-interest. If China and India can rule more than a billion people from different nations/tribes, so can the United States of Africa!