Pan Africanism and African Renaissance

Pan Africanism and its modern version, African Renaissance are popular themes in contemporary African discourse. The year 2013, declared as the year of Pan Africanism and African Renaissance, marks the 50th anniversary celebration of the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now the African Union (AU). What does Pan Africanism and African Renaissance really mean and what are the prospects for their consolidation in the future? Let us start with understanding Pan Africanism and then the link between the two.

Pan Africanism

Julius Nyerere, the first President of Tanzania, noted in a thought-provoking statement in 1963: “African nationalism is meaningless, is anachronistic, and is dangerous, if it is not at the same time Pan Africanism.” African nationalists like Kwame Nkrumah, (Ghana) Julius Nyerere,(Tanzania) Gamal Abdel Nasser (Egypt), Nnamdi Azikiwe (Nigeria), Modibo Keita (Mali), Albert Luthuli (South Africa), Amilcar Cabral (Guinea Bisseau), Hastings Banda (Malawi), Houphouet-Boigny (Cote d’Ivoire), Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya), Ahmed Ben Bella (Algeria) and Patrice Lumumba (Congo), were all Pan Africanists. With varying degrees of commitment to the cause or even out of political expediency, as African nationalists, they could not be anything but Pan Africanists.

African unity is closely intertwined with the evolution of Pan Africanism. Pan Africanism has been and remains the most ambitious and most inclusive ideology that Africa devised for itself since the 19th century. The conceptual notion of Pan Africanism provided the philosophical framework for such ideas as a ‘United States of Africa’, an ‘African Federation’, or a ‘Union Government of Africa’ –essentially stressing the need for continental unity as a means to achieve African liberation and development. Over the years, Pan Africanism has become part and parcel of an emergent African nationalism, serving as a beacon light in the struggle for independence, a prerequisite for the formation of regional federations of self-governing Africa communities, which could evolve into a Pan African Federation or even a United States of Africa.

The establishment OAU fifty years ago, on 25 May 1963, in Addis Abeba, was a historic achievement for Pan Africanism. The OAU was established with the principal objective of promoting unity, solidarity and cooperation among African states to achieve a better life for the peoples of Africa. Since its inception, the OAU has not only contributed to the total liberation of Africa from vestiges of colonialism and apartheid but also has provided a unique framework for Africa’s collective action. However, in the late 1990s in the light of the changing global order and the need to accelerate Africa’s integration and unity, member states felt it necessary to transform the OAU into the African Union which seeks to “promote an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in global arena”. The African Union is no doubt playing a crucial role in promoting Pan Africanism and addressing the multifaceted challenges confronting the continent and raising Africa’s profile on the world stage. The establishment of the AU in 2002 may be regarded as a more important step in the historical evolution of Pan Africanism.

The ideological basis of the African Union, like the OAU, is Pan Africanism: the desire to promote unity, solidarity, cohesion and cooperation among the people of Africa and of African states. As an idea and movement, it reflects pride in the African continent and African-ness, and a commitment to unity and self rule. Before independence, common color and shared suffering under European colonialism provided an adequate basis for the development of Pan Africanism. Following independence, however, African leaders only paid lip service to the ideology. The problem of creating political and economic unity in Africa, for which the OAU was created in 1963, remained an unfinished task.

The ideology of Pan Africanism has always entailed the call for political and cultural solidarity among African peoples, both on the continent and in the Diaspora. It is defined as “the acceptance of oneness of all people of African descent and the commitment to the betterment of all people of African descent”. Pan Africanism has its beginnings in the liberation struggles of Afro-Americans expressing the aspirations of all Africans, wherever they may be. The Pan Africanist idea was developed in the diaspora towards the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries by such great Afro-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans like Henry Sylvester Williams, George Padmore, W.E.B. Du Bois, C.L.R. James, Marcus Garvey, and others. From an early emphasis on equality and participation, the Pan African movement later shifted its gear towards the liberation of African people on the continent and the overthrow of alien rule. Before independence of African countries the sharing of a common color and shared suffering under slavery and colonialism provided an adequate basis for the early development of Pan Africanism. Indeed, Pan Africanism accelerated the achievement of political independence for black people everywhere, particularly in Africa.

Pan Africanism originally arose as a reaction to the dehumanization of Africans by the white men. As Kwame Nkrumah points out, “Pan Africanism has its beginning in the liberation struggles of African-Americans expressing the aspirations of Africans and people of African descent. An important theme of Pan-Africnsim has been liberation from colonialism and oppression. The ultimate theme of Pan Africanism is African Unity which was mainly driven forward by Kwame Nkrumah, first President of Ghana, and in more recent years, by late Col. Gaddafi of Libya. The goal of political unification of Africa as advocated by Nkrumah could not find support among the majority of African leaders in the 1960s, as it is the case today. The OAU, the first major institutional manifestation of Pan Africamism, failed to bring about real unity on the continent. The African Union seeks to promote a more integrated and cooperative continent. Pan Africanism today manifests itself mainly in the form of Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in Africa, some of which are making striking progress in recent years.

African Renaissance

After colonialism and subsequent independence of African states, the current wave of globalization has been compelling Africans to rethink their position in the world. One key aspect of Africa’s redefinition and response to globalization has been African Renaissance, a concept that has been subject to debate among African academia, with some African scholars arguing that it is borrowed from experiences unique to Europe and thus rendering it irrelevant to Africa.

In June 1994, while addressing the 30th OAU Summit in Tunis, President Nelson Mandela noted that Africa is now entering a ‘new era of renaissance’ and that it should be based on our own efforts as Africans to change Africa’s conditions for the better.

However, it was Thabo Mbeki who formally introduced the term African Renaissance in an Address to the Corporate Council on Africa in Chantly, VA, USA, in April 1997 and later in September 1998 in Johannesburg, South Africa. His speech provided a motto of an African vision embraced by participants in the conference. Mbeki’s speech is characterized by an emphasis on the need to advance developmental goals that would bring Africa to a position of a competitor in the global world economy. His objectives included economic growth, social and human resource development, the building of a modern economic and social infrastructure, the cancellation of Africa’s debt, improvement in trade, increase in domestic and foreign investment, expansion of development assistance, and better access to African products into the markets of the developed world. He said the time has come for the whole world to believe that Africa is on the rise again. Consequently this message of optimism about Africa’s future was echoed in many other quarters. In fact, ‘African Renaissance’ soon became the buzzword for the emerging new generation of African leaders. They started using the term as a way of comparing the ‘Old Africa’ with the ‘New Africa’, in order to charter the future in a moment of far reaching continental change.

The idea of African Renaissance embodies the vision of a more dynamic, stable and prosperous Africa. It involved the recovery of the African continent as whole through the establishment of political democracy, breaking off neo-colonial relations between Africa and the world’s economic powers, mobilization of the people of Africa and the adoption of people driven and people centered economic growth and development. Thabo Mbeki believed that Africa is capable of being resurrected from the ashes of the many conflicts, crises, famine, poverty and marginalization in the world. The idea of African renaissance involved the uniting of Africa economically and politically and achieving sustainable economic development, better standards of living for the masses of people and qualitatively changing Africa’s place in the world economy.

Mbeki’s call for an African Renaissance is not essentially new; historically the desire to shrug off colonialism has been characterized as Pan Africanism, negritude, liberation, a freedom fight etc. A prominent philosophy reflective of anti-colonial sentiment and closely linked to the African Renaissance is Pan Africanism, an attempt to mobilize Africans to unite against the tyranny of colonialism by redefining an African identity and freedom independent of colonial influence. In many ways the African Renaissance is redefining the spirit of Pan Africanism. The continuity between Pan Africanism and the African Renaissance is evident also in developments in many related fields such as formal education.

The challenging task before Africa today is to build a strong continental state, powerful enough to keep all intruders out and rich enough to bring prosperity to all its citizens. What Africa needs is a self-reliant Pan African program in order to tackle its present disabilities. The solution to the problems of Africa lies in renewed Pan Africanism. Without creating a strong, democratic, independent and self-reliant ‘New Africa’, the continent will continue to remain an easy prey to external economic and strategic interests. As Kwame Nkrumah rightly noted in 1963:

“Divided we are weak; united, Africa could become One of the greatest forces for good in the world”

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