Discrepancy Between Continental and Diaspora View on Pan-Africanism Ideals  

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In 1917, after WWI the former US President Woodrow Wilson argued in his Fourteen Points principles’ statement: “A free, open-minded, and absolutely impartial adjustment of all colonial claims” became an inspiration for renewed Pan-Africanist movements. The end of the war led to a new era of colonial consolidation. As a response, the first official Pan-Africanist congress organised by W.E.B. Du Bois was held in Paris in 1919. In principle, Pan-Africanism can be interpreted into a set of guiding principles but beyond that, it is “essentially a movement of ideas and emotions; at times it achieves a synthesis; at times it remains at the level of thesis and antithesis.” It includes all Africans even from the diaspora which alludes to the “long-term historical process by which people of African descent have been scattered from their ancestral homelands to other parts of the world. However, it can not be summed up in one definition; Pan-Africanism is an umbrella-term for the convenient assembly of related ideas and, “a belief in uniqueness and spiritual unity of black people”. This movement can be translated as an “acknowledgment of their right to self-determination in Africa, and to be treated with dignity as equals in all parts of the world”. Indeed, African independence was declared with joy and high expectations and sovereignty regain became the main goal to achieve development and self-determination. Pan-African conferences increased and by 1963 a consensus was reached at the African Summit Conference gathering more than 30 African heads of state. Thus, Pan-African congresses were a turning point for African empowerment, but one must question the differences between continental and diaspora view on Pan-Africanism’s goals. The aim of this paper is to explore the meaning of ‘Pan-Africanism’ embraced in 1945 Pan-African Congress, and the discrepancies between the two schools of thoughts within the movement which are diaspora versus continental.

In the course of the nineteenth century, Pan-Africanism arose as a answer to European colonisation and exploitation in the African continent. The movement’s reasoning claims that slavery and colonialism relied on and promoted detrimental, fallacious categorisations of race, culture, values of African people. Those deleterious pre-conceived ideas spawned intense sorts of racism deeply institutionalised, the likes of which Pan-Africanism seek to abolish. In 1900, a handful of western-educated African elite and the diaspora were fiercely engaged in “uniting in some way to address what they saw as the common struggle - against the many and various forms of racial exploitation.” “While previous Pan-African congresses had been controlled largely by black middle-class British and American intellectuals who had emphasized the amelioration of colonial conditions, the Manchester meeting was dominated by delegates from Africa and Africans working or studying in Britain.” In fact, George Padmore was a fervent Pan-African activist located in Great-Britain after he quit the Comintern in 1934. Then, he joined the International African Friends of Abyssinia (IAFA) when Italy invaded Abyssinia/Ethiopia. In 1936 the the IAFA has been substituted with the International African Service Bureau (IASB) which matters of concern was the racism with which Africans Africans and the Americas were facing. During the second world war, the activism of the IASB declined; For instance, I.T.A. Wallace-Johnson an anti-imperialist activist in Sierra Leone was jailed for 'seditious’ activism as well as Richard Hart in Jamaica. At the end of the war, besides the accomplishment of Padmore and his co-workers to restore the IASB he succeeded to resuscitate the Pan-African federation which was created before the war. Ideas about conferences emerged, and in 1945 they took advantage of the opportunity of the opening of the World Federation Trade Unions (WTFU) to gather many colonials in an official meeting in London.

Hence, in October 1954 the first Pan-African Congress bringing African and Colonial leaders was organised in Manchester. Under those circumstances, Kwame Nkrumah accepted George Padmore’s offer to fulfil the function of Regional Secretary of the Pan-African Federation and landed in Britain from the USA in May 1945 to help in organising the event. Therefore, Nkrumah joined the Kenyan politician Jomo Kenyatta as well as Peter Abarhams representing South Africa within the ‘organising committee’. According to Padmore, there were more than “two hundred delegates and observers, representing trade unions, farmers, political organisations and students and Black organisations in Britain”. A few delegates were missing, in fact, W.E.B. Du Bois was the only Afro-American represented; On the other hand, Nkrumah encountered many national/political activists from Anglophone colonies. However, the France-Afrique lacked of delegates and was underrepresented.

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Nkrumah draughted the Congress’ Declaration to the Colonial People that underlies the significance of building a coalition to gain self-determination and abolish colonisation. At this point, political power is crucial in order to achieve social, economic and political emancipation. In the spirit of the Congress, the main weapons of the colonial subjects that were proposed were 'strike and boycott' and co-operative fights between the skilled and unskilled workers.. The 1945 final congress declaration incited subjected peoples throughout the globe to unify and “assert their rights to reject those seeking to control their destinies.” Therefore, Congress’ representatives urged Africans to form their own government, saying that gaining political power for colonised peoples was “a necessary prerequisite for complete social, economic, and political emancipation.” The Declaration ended with a memorandum in accordance with the resolutions intended to the brand new United Nations. This was entrusted to Du Bois for additional support by Afro-American unions prior to the presentation at the UN. The second version was reworked in order to represent properly all coloured people inside the UN; At the same time it acknowledges that Pan-African congresses had not been fully representing people of colour but its growing influence aided black people to connect back to their African descent. Thus, this memorandum was signed by thirty-six organisations from the Americas, Africa and Britain. Taken together, these results suggest that Pan-Africanism had evolved, it was not solely the concern of Western elite anymore; from pressuring colonial powers to engaging the UN, the movement requested self-determination for subjugated peoples as well as trade union legislation without losing sight of racism. However, without other delegates, it appears that there was no tangible plans to find solutions for non-Anglophone colonies. Hence, even though the congresses lacked financial and political power, they allowed increasing international awareness of racism and colonialism as well as set a political foundation for African nations’ independence.

Slavery is the common denominator between Africans from the diaspora and from the continent and the Pan-Africanist cause for unity is what coalesce them. But, the difference between the two schools of thoughts (diaspora versus continental) is mainly ideological. African independence propagated and the desire of a united Africa embodied the common struggle amongst people from the African diaspora. In the United States of America, racial inequalities kept increasing and, it resulted in a civil uprising called the Civil Rights Movements which promotes black power. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (February 23, 1868 – August 27, 1963) is considered as a founding father of modern Pan-Africanism. He was one of the first and greatest American scholar and activist who consistently dedicated his life to the study of African culture and history. He published one of his most famous essay still really topical today called “The Negro Problem- ‘Two Worlds’ Thesis & The Veil of Color“ (1915), in which he poses the challenging question of how does it feel to be perceived as a problem and what is this alleged ‘problem’?

This is where he coined the term ‘Double Consciousness’ which refers to the “psychological reconciliation challenge of African heritage and European with a European upbringing.” Indeed, he argued that the color line was the problem of the century. Du Bois stated that: “The fourth solution to deal with the ‘Negro problem’ states that negroes differ from whites in their inherent genius and stage of development. Their development must not, therefore, be sought along European lines, but along their own native lines. Consequently the effort is made today [...] to leave so far as possible the outward structure of native life intact; the king or chief reigns, the popular assemblies meet and act, the native courts adjudicate, and native social and family ties and religion prevail.”

In fact, he argues that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line”, which is not limited to the United States and its ‘Negro Problem’, Du Bois also refers to the continental Africans that still suffer from European imperialism, which brings an international scope to his work. Moreover, Du Bois highly emphasised the concept of global peace and universal brotherhood. Consequently, there is an “emphasis on the uniqueness of the black perception of reality, stress the originality of black creativeness, promote a belief in the “beauty of blackness,” and reprove their fellow black writers for setting the white standards at the apex of their artistic aspirations.” Even though black people “identified themselves emotionally with their skins, they were always intellectually willing and able to identify themselves with peoples of other colours who were in the same boat as themselves-victims of white superiority, of colonialism, of imperialism, and of discrimination.” Hence, Double consciousness is the result of slave trade and is what connects people together. On the other hand, Kwane Nkrumah a famous Pan-Africanist once said “Seek ye first the Political kingdom, and all things shall be added unto you.” In this regard, he assumes that the repudiation of African sovereignty, loss of human rights, land-grabbing and economic exploitation is due to colonialism and by breaking free from Westerners, African countries shall be able to regain self-determination, rights and achieve economic development. After independence, new states seeks recognition and respect in order to establish their authority. And one of the most important purposes of independence was to create a new national identities, which could be interpreted as the main difference between the two school of thoughts. One emphasises the double consciousness whereas the other tries to intensify national identities. The difficulty lays in bringing together various ethnic groups with slight common historical past and create cooperation amongst them to achieve a common political identity.

To conclude, ‘anti-imperialism knows no colour’ and even though there are little discrepancies within the Pan-African movement, the main goal remains the same for both sides. They strive for a united and empowered independent Africa as well as the abolishment of racial discriminations. As Mr. Kofi Baako, Ghana’s minister of defense once said:“In its wider political context, therefore, Pan-Africanism has not remained racially exclusive if the emotional feelings associated with blackness have not necessarily altered in quality.”

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