Marcus Garvey and Kwame Nkrumah - Photo by Underwood Archives - Getty Images

By Sipho Seepe

By way of acknowledgement, this article has benefited immensely from Professor Okopu Agyeman’s paper, Pan Africanism which was delivered on Africa Day 25 May at the University of Zululand.
25 May of every year, and the Month of May, occupy pride of place in the hearts and minds of people of African descent all over the world.
The day and month have been set aside to celebrate the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) on 25 May 1963. The founding of the OAU is an expression of a commitment – a covenant entered into by Africans and their leaders to free Africa from centuries of colonial subjugation.
Undergirding this covenant was a “pan-African vision for an Africa that was united, free and in control of its own destiny”.
At the time of the founding of the OAU, 32 countries had attained their political independence. This was a major achievement considering that five years earlier there were five independent countries. Today, thanks to the persistent struggle against colonialism, all of Africa’s 55 countries can be said to be relatively free from colonial rule.
With South Africa’s attainment of political independence in 1994, the OAU had fulfilled some of its mission. This development led to the establishment of an African Union (AU) in 2002.
The AU is tasked with the responsibility of “accelerating the process of integration in the continent to enable Africa to play its rightful role in the global economy while addressing multifaceted social, economic and political problems”. Africa’s problems have since been compounded by the onset of the pandemic and the never-ending negative aspects of globalisation.
In a sense, the celebration of Africa Day, and Africa month, provides also an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come. At the same time, it provides us with an opportunity to recommit ourselves to the unfinished business of total emancipation.
This reality was not lost to our founding fathers. In his book Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela wrote: “I have walked that long road to freedom. I have tried not to falter; I have made missteps along the way. But I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment here to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back on the distance I have come. But I can rest only for a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not yet ended.”
For his part, the late Oliver Reginald Tambo was equally foresighted. Political freedom would invariably lead to a focus on the need to wage an economic struggle.
Addressing the South African Communist Party’s anniversary meeting in London in 1981, Tambo argued: “It is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the country to the people as a whole. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the roots of racial supremacy and exploitation, and does not represent even the shadow of liberation.
“It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy and our drive towards national emancipation must include economic emancipation.”
That said, it can be argued that the challenge faced by almost all of Africa’s countries is that they found themselves having to build their countries on “the administrative and material infrastructures of the colonial state” they had inherited. As a result, many countries have not only failed but have tended to reproduced the colonial dependencies that are characteristic of colonialism.
The second challenge has also come from what in soccer parlance is referred to as own goals. This much is reflected in the agenda of the AU’s Extra-ordinary Session of Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the 26 to 28 May 2022 in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.
Deliberations centred on how to curb “Terrorism and Unconstitutional Change of Government”. These deliberations are aligned to some of the aims of the AU. These include ensuring that African countries work towards greater unity and solidarity between African countries and their people, defence of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of member states, acceleration of the political and socio-economic integration of the continent and the promotion of peace, security and stability on the continent.
It needs to be pointing out however that the focus of the AU and its predecessor represents a bastardised version of Pan-Africanism. The philosophical outlook behind the formation of the OAU and its descendent the AU bear little resemblance to the substantive ideology of Pan-Africanism as initially propounded by Marcus Garvey.
Garvey is credited to have crafted the requisite theoretical intervention to overhaul the condition of marginality, stigmatisation and dehumanisation that Africans have suffered under Arab and European colonialism.
The driving force behind Pan-Africanism was the realisation meted on Africans by other races and nationalities is linked to their race. This was true wherever they find themselves, be it in Africa and/or in the diaspora. This objective and existential reality would require the use of race as the organising bedrock for the liberation of African people.
Pan-Africanism should thus be understood as “a commitment to racial empowerment, resurgence and elevation. It issued a clarion call to all the people of African parentage, on the basis of the cardinal principles of self-repair, exclusive instrumentality, financial self-reliance and racial-national privacy”.
Ironically, it took Kwame Nkrumah, the self-declared disciple of Garvey, to downgrade race-based Pan-Africanism to the Continentalism it has become.
This has had the effect of weakening the cause of African people globally. Professor Okopu Agyeman could not have phrased it better in his observation that an “organisation in Africa by whatever name, if it is delinked from the African Diaspora, becomes an edifice without foundation, a tree with fractured, eviscerated roots”.
Agyeman persuasively argues that Nkrumah’s revision of Garvey’s conception has robbed people of African descend of a “robust, unfettered, racial Pan-African organisational motor [which] could have generated, propelled, rallied a campaign for transformation and racial redemption world-wide.
“It could have facilitated frequent assembling in Africa of representatives of the race wherever they are across the globe in a meaningful racial conclave of sharing in the tragic sufferings, stupendous challenges, the wrenchingly painful struggles, as well as the hopes and aspirations that define their collective existence.
“Out of such cross-fertilisation of interaction and discourse could have emerged the overriding urgency of a racial counterforce in international relations.”
Financial self-reliance was the cornerstone of Garvey’s conception of Pan-Africanism. Both the OAU and AU failed dismally in this regard. As a result, argues Agyeman: “The AU has emerged as ‘a donor-dependent body’, an organisation characterised by ‘a high dependency rate on its former colonizers’…”.
Perhaps, more embarrassing is the fact that the AU’s Headquarters in Addis Ababa are “fully funded by the Chinese government and built by the Chinese State Construction Engineering Corporation”.
Nkrumah’s renunciation of race-based Pan-Africanism has taken African people back almost hundred steps.
“The power deficiency that allowed the Arabs and then the Europeans to break into the continent, and then enslave and dehumanise its peoples, remains unchanged. Africa is largely a subordinate, peripheral and penetrated region in the international system”.
Freedom is never handed to the people. Steve Biko outlined this perspective when he declared that “black man you are on your own”. It would seem the redemption of African people requires a return to Garvey’s conception of race-based Pan-Africanism.

● Professor Sipho Seepe is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor – Institutional Support at the
University of Zululand

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *