The ‘Key Link’ – some London notes
towards the 7th Pan-African Congress
(In Globalising Africans – Towards the 7th Pan-African Congress (A Collection of
Letters, Minutes, Notes, Reports and other Papers – (ed.) B.F. Bankie (Centre for
Advanced Studies of African Society; Cape Town, South Africa; 2001)
W.E.B. Du Bois said in 1923, as his justification for the Third Pan-African Congress, that the Congress Series had “kept an idea alive; we have held a great ideal, we have established a continuity and some day when unity and cooperation come, the importance of these early steps will be recognized.1”
No serious student of African affairs would deny that the Pan-African Congress Series has represented the highest expression of the African liberation ideal. Although their occurrence has been irregular and spontaneous, they have been the yardstick and the benchmark of the African agenda for Africans both within and without the Continent.
At various times there have been practical organisational manifestations of the Pan-African project – there were the Congresses themselves, which gave way to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Lagos Plan of Action, the Southern African Development Coordinating Conference (SADCC), the Preferential Trade Area (PTA) and we are informed that the Economic Community of African States will be launched at Abuja, Nigeria at the OAU Heads of State Summit next year.2
W.E.B. Du Bois was named by George Padmore, that other great contemporary Pan-African figure, as the ‘father of Pan-Africanism’. Both of these men were the principal advisors on African affairs to the late Head of State of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah who did more than any other African leader to bring into being the OAU despite hostility from most of Africa’s then leaders, even some who later styled themselves as progressives. The Charter of the OAU was constructed to achieve continentalism (the unity of the Africa continent) as distinct from Pan-Africanism (the unity of all people of African descent), which had been the original objective of Du Bois, Padmore and Nkrumah. It was this dedication to continentalism, which represented the abandonment of the original Pan-African agenda, which had slavery as part of its gestation, which rendered the Charter fatally flawed from its inception, which is the root cause of Africa’s marginalization today, and the catastrophe the continent faces tomorrow. This text advances the thesis that only the key linkage of those in the diaspora with those in the Continent, on the basis of mutual respect and cooperation towards African unity, can faithfully implement the ideal of the Pan-African Congress Series.3
We do not have to look far to establish that the original conception of Pan-Africanism evolved from the meeting of minds of those from the continent with those from the diaspora. The Preparatory Meeting of the Pan-African Congress of 1900 was held in London on 12th June 1899 and was attended by, amongst others, Mr. M. Agbebi (Nigeria), Tengu Jabavu (South Africa) and Booker T. Washington (USA).4
The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) of Marcus Garvey, with its aspiration to ‘return to Africa’, was a populist manifestation of the link of the diaspora with Africa. The mix of the diaspora with the continent was manifest at all the Pan-African Congresses. The 6th Pan-African Congress held in Dar-es-Salaam in 1974 was convened by a Caribbeaner. It was resolved at the 6th Pan-African Congress that the 7th Congress should be held in a liberated territory (e.g., Angola, Mozambique, Namibia or South Africa). The Convenor of the 7th Pan-African congress, the Nigerian artist and writer Naiwu Osahon5 , is working with persons from within Africa as well as African-Americans, Caribbeaners, Anglo-Africans, etc. to bring about the 7th Congress.
Amongst the Francophone Pan-Africanists, some names are Hunkarin, Tovolou-Houenon, Lamine Senghor, Kouyaté, Emile Faure, Aimé Césaire, Leopold Senghor and Christiane Diop of Présence Africaine.
One important development on the situation earlier in the century was that whereas formerly Pan-Africanists were seen as an insignificant fringe element (quasi lunatic), in the closing years of the twentieth century a systematic effort was underway to coopt the movement, to the extent that it has been difficult for concerned Africanists of African descent to bring about their project without outside interference. To that extent outside interference has characterized the Pan-African Movement in the contemporary period. (…)
To date, the Pan-African Congress Series has run as follows: the Pan-African Conference of 1900; the First Pan-African Congress, Paris 1919; the Second Pan-African Congress, London, Brussels, Paris 1921; the Third Pan-African Congress, London, Lisbon 1923; the fourth Pan-African Congress, New York 1927; the Fifth Pan-African Congress, Manchester 1945; the Sixth Pan-African Congress, Dar es Salaam 1974.
The Fifth Pan-African Congress set the agenda for the decolonization of the continent of Africa and originated the Charter of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) formed in 1963. Kwame Nkrumah was a principal actor at both the Fifth Pan-African Congress and the formation of the Charter of the OAU.
The All African People’s Conference convened by George Padmore in Accra, Ghana in 1958 under the patronage of Nkrumah actualized and sustained the Pan-African Movement, coming as it did between the Fifth Pan-African Congress and before the launching of the OAU. Most of the leaders of the liberation movements which were to later obtain political power in Africa, came to Accra in 1958.
By the time the Charter of the OAU was formulated the progressive strain in the Pan-African Movement as represented by Nkrumah was in the minority, outvoted by numerous recently independent states unconvinced and uncommitted to the Pan-Africanist ideal. Nkrumah was obliged to compromise his commitment in order to obtain a minimal basis for the future unity of Africans, which today is the only option available to Africans in a world carved into blocks. The overthrow of the Government of Kwame Nkrumah in February 1966 represented a major reverse for the Pan-African Movement. After that no African leader championed the Movement in a convincing way.
Already the OAU Charter had been the historic compromise of the Pan-African project, dedicated as it was to continentalism and not Pan-Africanism. The Charter failed to link Africans in the diaspora with the continent in the struggle for continental unity and there was no institutionalised role for them in the Secretariat of the OAU. States such as Jamaica were excluded from membership of the Organisation – all this represented a betrayal of the Pan-African ideal formed, as it was, from the sweat of the oppressed Africans in struggle over the centuries. This Charter also made no provision for the participation, at grassroots level, of the Peoples of Africa in the grand design for their future – it negated their democratic rights in their destiny. The Charter was, in effect, fatally flawed from its inception. Again, implementation of the Charter was to be effected by bureaucrats who had little or no interest in Pan-Africanism and were not obliged to manifest any prior commitment as a condition of employment. So that instead of remaining a dynamic concept, continentalism as practiced by the OAU became a mirror for the personal ambitions of member states to make a mockery of the Pan-African ideal. So that whereas Pan-Africanism had been one of the earliest Pan Movements, it lost credibility and became a laughing stock by the middle of the 1980s with the aborted Heads of State Summits Tripoli I and II.
The 6th Pan-African Congress held in Dar es Salaam in 1974 failed to capture the essence of the Pan-African agenda for the future in its resolutions, as the 5th Congress had done. As the effort to convene the 7th Pan-African Congress got underway, requiring an analysis of the 6th Congress, it became apparent that the 6th Congress had a major input from non-Africa sources.
A lack of understanding of the Pan-African concept, coupled with the flawed Charter of the OAU, diverted the Pan-African Movement into a preoccupation with continentalism only, and resulted in slowing down the frequency of the Pan-African Congress Series6. Unless the movement redirects itself to the implementation of the original Pan-African agenda, the unity of African People and their consequent independence of action will not be realized. Finally, the development of the regional power scenario in Africa will not facilitate cohesive African development.
London, 28 December 1990
3B.F.Bankie told a 28/2/1990 meeting in London “that the goals of Pan-Africanism can only be achieved by the key linkage of Africans in the diaspora with Africans in the Continent. I submit that this was the objective of Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois and that the history of the Pan-African Movement to date supports this contention. It has been the pursuit of continental unity only by the OAU that has sidetracked the Pan-African Movement and risks to derail it. Finally, I submit that the urgent priority on the Pan-African agenda is the key linkage of all Africans in the world and that this should be an objective of the 7th Pan-African Congress.”
6 This anomaly could be corrected by the teaching of Pan-Africanism in all secondary schools attended by Africans. An unfortunate example of an obstructed Pan-African educational endeavour is the Encyclopedia Africana (a bibliography of African personalities) initiated in Ghana by W.E.B. Du Bois, which under a different Director was the subject of an inquiry into maladministration. The unexplained inability to produce the report of this inquiry has effectively prohibited the dissemination of Pan-African educational material in Ghana, although the Secretariat of the encyclopedia was still sited in Accra in 1987.
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