Pan-Africanism stresses the need for “collective self-reliance”. Pan-Africanism exists as a governmental and grassroots objective. Pan-African advocates include leaders such as Toussaint Louverture, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Haile Selassie, Julius Nyerere, Robert Sobukwe, Ahmed Sékou Touré, Kwame Nkrumah, King Sobhuza II, Robert Mugabe, Thomas Sankara, Kwame Ture, Dr. John Pombe Magufuli, Muammar Gaddafi, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, grassroots organizers such as Joseph Robert Love, Marcus Garvey, and Malcolm X, academics such as W. E. B. Du Bois, Anténor Firmin and others in the diaspora. Pan-Africanists believe that solidarity will enable the continent to fulfill its potential to independently provide for all its people. Crucially, an all-African alliance would empower African people globally.
The realization of the pan-African objective would lead to “power consolidation in Africa”, which “would compel a reallocation of global resources, as well as unleashing a fiercer psychological energy and political assertion … that would unsettle social and political (power) structures…in the Americas”.
Advocates of pan-Africanism—i.e. “pan-Africans” or “pan-Africanists”—often champion socialist principles and tend to be opposed to external political and economic involvement on the continent. Critics accuse the ideology of homogenizing the experience of people of African descent. They also point to the difficulties of reconciling current divisions within countries on the continent and within communities in the diaspora.
Invitation to Pan-African Conference at Westminster Town Hall, London, July 1900Jamaican Marcus Garvey in a military uniform as the “Provisional President of Africa” during a parade on the opening day of the annual Convention of the Negro Peoples of the World on Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York City, 1922
As a philosophy, pan-Africanism represents the aggregation of the historical, cultural, spiritual, artistic, scientific, and philosophical legacies of Africans from past times to the present. Pan-Africanism as an ethical system traces its origins from ancient times, and promotes values that are the product of the African civilisations and the struggles against slavery, racism, colonialism, and neo-colonialism.
Coinciding with numerous New World slave insurrections; highlighted by the Haitian Revolution, the end of the 19th century birthed an intercontinental pro-African political movement that sought to unify disparate campaigns in the goal to end oppression. Another important political form of a religious pan-Africanist worldview appeared in the form of Ethiopianism. In London, the Sons of Africa was a political group addressed by Quobna Ottobah Cugoano in the 1791 edition of his book Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil of Slavery. The group addressed meetings and organised letter-writing campaigns, published campaigning material and visited parliament. They wrote to figures such as Granville Sharp, William Pitt and other members of the white abolition movement, as well as King George III and the Prince of Wales, the future George IV.
Modern pan-Africanism began around the start of the 20th century. The African Association, later renamed
the Pan-African Association, was established around 1897 by Henry Sylvester Williams, who organized the First Pan-African Conference in London in 1900.
The Pan-African Congress series of meetings followed the first Pan-African Conference in 1900 in London. A
meeting of the Congress in 1919 in Paris (1st Pan-African Congress), 1921 in London (2nd Pan-African Congress), 1923 in London (3rd Pan-African Congress), 1927 in New York City (4th Pan-African Congress), and 1945 in Manchester (5th Pan-African Congress) advanced the issue of decolonisation in Africa.
With the independence of Ghana in March 1957, Kwame Nkrumah was elected as the first Prime Minister and President of the State. Nkrumah emerged as a major advocate for the unity of Independent Africa. The Ghanaian President embodied a political activist approach to pan-Africanism as he championed the “quest for regional integration of the whole of the African continent”. This period represented a “golden age of high pan-African ambitions”; the continent had experienced revolution and decolonization from Western powers and the narrative of rebirth and solidarity had gained momentum within the pan-African movement.
Nkrumah’s pan-African principles intended for a union between the Independent African states upon a recognition of their commonality (i.e. suppression under imperialism). Pan-Africanism under Nkrumah evolved past the assumptions of a racially exclusive movement associated with black Africa, and adopted a political discourse of regional unity
In April 1958, Nkrumah hosted the first All-African Peoples’ Conference (AAPC) in Accra, Ghana. This Conference invited delegates of political movements and major political leaders. With the exception of South Africa, all Independent States of the Continent attended: Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Sudan.This conference signified a monumental event in the pan-African movement, as it revealed a political and social union between those considered Arabic states and the black African regions. Further, the Conference espoused a common African Nationalist identity, among the States, of unity and anti-Imperialism. Frantz Fanon, journalist, freedom fighter and a member of the Algerian FLN party attended the conference as a delegate for Algeria.
Considering the armed struggle of the FLN against French colonial rule, the Conference attendees agreed to support the struggle of those States under colonial oppression. This encouraged the commitment of direct involvement in the “emancipation of the Continent; thus, a fight against colonial pressures on South Africa was declared and the full support of the FLN struggle in Algeria, against French colonial rule”. Tom Mboya, Kenyan trade unionist and anti-colonial activist, also attended this conference. This visit inspired him to increase the pace of political activity aimed at agitating for Kenya’s independence.
In the years following 1958, Accra Conference also marked the establishment of a new foreign policy of non-alignment between the US and USSR, and the will to establish an “African Identity” in global affairs by advocating unity between the African States on international relations. “This would be based on the Bandung Declaration, the Charter of the UN and on loyalty to UN decisions.”
In 1959, Nkrumah, President Sékou Touré of Guinea and President William Tubman of Liberia met at Sanniquellie and signed the Sanniquellie Declaration outlining the principles for the achievement of the unity of Independent African States whilst maintaining a national identity and autonomous constitutional structure. The Declaration called for a revised understanding of Pan-Africanism and the uniting of the Independent States.
In 1960, the second All-African Peoples’ Conference was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The membership of the All-African Peoples’ Organisation (AAPO) had increased with the inclusion of the “Algerian Provisional Government (as they had not yet won independence), Cameroun, Guinea, Nigeria, Somalia and the United Arab Republic”. The Conference highlighted diverging ideologies within the movement, as Nkrumah’s call for a political and economic union between the Independent African States gained little agreement. The disagreements following 1960 gave rise to two rival factions within the pan-African movement: the Casablanca Bloc and the Brazzaville Bloc.
In 1962, Algeria gained independence from French colonial rule and Ahmed Ben Bella assumed Presidency. Ben Bella was a strong advocate for Pan-Africanism and African Unity. Following the FLN’s armed struggle for liberation, Ben Bella spoke at the UN and espoused for Independent Africa’s role in providing military and financial support to the African liberation movements opposing apartheid and fighting Portuguese colonialism. In search of a united voice, in 1963 at an African Summit conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 32 African states met and established the Organization of African Unity (OAU). The creation of the OAU Charter took place at this Summit and defined a coordinated “effort to raise the standard of living of member States and defend their sovereignty” by supporting freedom fighters and decolonisation. Thus, was the formation of the African Liberation Committee (ALC), during the 1963 Summit. Championing the support of liberation movements, was Algeria’s President Ben Bella, immediately “donated 100 million francs to its finances and was one of the first countries of the Organisation to boycott Portuguese and South African goods”.
In 1969, Algiers hosted the Pan-African Cultural Festival, on July 21 and it continued for eight days. At this moment in history, Algeria stood as a “beacon of African and Third-World militancy,” and would come to inspire fights against colonialism around the world. The festival attracted thousands from African states and the African Diaspora, including the Black Panthers. It represented the application of the tenets of the Algerian revolution to the rest of Africa, and symbolized the reshaping of the definition of pan-African identity under the common experience of colonialism. The Festival further strengthened Algeria’s President, Boumediene’s standing in Africa and the Third World.
After the death of Kwame Nkrumah in 1972, Muammar Gaddafi assumed the mantle of leader of the Pan-Africanist movement and became the most outspoken advocate of African Unity, like Nkrumah before him – for the advent of a “United States of Africa”.
In the United States, the term is closely associated with Afrocentrism, an ideology of African-American identity politics that emerged during the civil rights movement of the 1960s to 1970s.
As originally conceived by Henry Sylvester Williams (although some historians credit the idea to Edward Wilmot Blyden), pan-Africanism referred to the unity of all continental Africa.
During apartheid South Africa there was a Pan Africanist Congress led by Robert Sobukwe that dealt with the
oppression of Africans in South Africa under Apartheid rule. Other pan-Africanist organisations include: Garvey‘s Universal Negro Improvement Association-African Communities League, TransAfrica and the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement.
Additionally, pan-Africanism is seen as an endeavour to return to what is deemed by its proponents as singular, traditional African concepts about culture, society, and values. Examples of this include Léopold Sédar Senghor‘s Négritude movement, and Mobutu Sese Seko‘s view of Authenticité.
An important theme running through much pan-Africanist literature concerns the historical links between different countries on the continent and the benefits of cooperation as a way of resisting imperialism and colonialism.
In the 21st century, some pan-Africanists aim to address globalisation and the problems of environmental justice. For instance, at the conference “Pan-Africanism for a New Generation” held at the University of Oxford, June 2011, Ledum Mittee, the current president of the Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), argued that environmental justice movements across the African continent should create horizontal linkages in order to better protect the interests of threatened peoples and the ecological systems in which they are embedded, and upon which their survival depends.
Some universities went as far as creating “Departments of Pan-African Studies” in the late 1960s. This includes the California State University, where that department was founded in 1969 as a direct reaction to the civil rights movement, and is today dedicated to “teaching students about the African World Experience”, to “demonstrate to the campus and the community the richness, vibrance, diversity, and vitality of African, African American, and Caribbean cultures” and to “presenting students and the community with an Afrocentric analysis” of anti-black racism. Syracuse University also offers a master’s degree in “Pan African Studies“.
The red, black, and green Black Nationalist flag designed by the UNIA in 1920
The flags of numerous states in Africa and of pan-African groups use green, yellow and red. This colour combination was originally adopted from the 1897 flag of Ethiopia, and was inspired by the fact that Ethiopia is the continent’s oldest independent nation, thus making the Ethiopian green, yellow, and red the closest visual representation of pan-Africanism. This is in comparison to the Black Nationalist flag, representing political theory centred around the eugenicist caste-stratified colonial Americas.
The UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association) flag, is a tri-color flag consisting of three equal horizontal bands of (from top-down) red, black and green. The UNIA formally adopted it on August 13, 1920, during its month-long convention at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Variations of the flag have been used in various countries and territories in Africa and the Americas to represent Black Nationalist ideologies. Among these are the flags of Malawi, Kenya, South Sudan and Saint Kitts and Nevis. Several pan-African organizations and movements have also often employed the emblematic red, black and green tri-color scheme in a variety of contexts.
In the United States
The Council on African Affairs (CAA): founded in 1937 by Max Yergan and Paul Robeson, the CAA was the first major U.S. organization whose focus was on providing pertinent and up-to-date information about pan-Africanism across the United States, particularly to African Americans. Probably the most successful campaign of the Council was for South African famine relief in 1946. The CAA was hopeful that, following World War II, there would be a move towards Third World independence under the trusteeship of the United Nations. To the CAA’s dismay, the proposals introduced by the U.S. government to the conference in April/May 1945 set no clear limits on the duration of colonialism and no motions towards allowing territorial possessions to move towards self-government.
Liberal supporters abandoned the CAA, and the federal government cracked down on its operations. In 1953 the CAA was charged with subversion under the McCarran Internal Security Act. Its principal leaders, including Robeson, W. E. B. Du Bois, and Alphaeus Hunton (1903–70), were subjected to harassment, indictments, and in the case of Hunton, imprisonment. Under the weight of internal disputes, government repression, and financial hardships, the Council on African Affairs disbanded in 1955.
- The US Organization was founded in 1965 by Maulana Karenga, following the Watts riots. It is based on the synthetic African philosophy of kawaii, and is perhaps best known for creating Kwanzaa and the Nguzo Saba (“seven principles”). In the words of its founder and chair, Karenga, “the essential task of our organization Us has been and remains to provide a philosophy, a set of principles and a program which inspires a personal and social practice that not only satisfies human need but transforms people in the process, making them self-conscious agents of their own life and liberation”.
- TransAfrica is a non-profit organization founded in 1977 by Randall Robinson that strives to provide political and economic aid to those of African diaspora groups.The social justice group raises awareness of diasporan happenings through legal action and educating Afro-descendants on the domestic and foreign policy of the United States that directly affect them. By creating more engagement between Africans and people of African descent to policymakers, TransAfrica seeks to create more sustainable, independent, and progressive development for these ethnic groups.
Pan-African concepts and philosophies
Maafa is an aspect of pan-African studies. The term collectively refers to 500 years of suffering (including the present) of people of African heritage through slavery, imperialism, colonialism, and other forms of oppression. In this area of study, both the actual history and the legacy of that history are studied as a single discourse. The emphasis in the historical narrative is on African agents, as opposed to non-African agents.
Afrocentric pan-Africanism is espoused by Kwabena Faheem Ashanti in his book The Psychotechnology of Brainwashing: Crucifying Willie Lynch. Another newer movement that has evolved from the early Afrocentric school is the Afrisecal movement or Afrisecaism of Francis Ohanyido, a Nigerian philosopher-poet. Black nationalism is sometimes associated with this form of Pan-Africanism.
Kawaida, a Swahili word meaning “tradition”, is a pan-Africanist nationalist and academic movement that was created during the height of the Black Power movement by Africana professor, author, and activist Maulana Karenga. The philosophy encourages the reclamation of traditional African thought with the belief it will empower Afro-descendants to sustain their fight against racism and other fundamental issues.
Since the late 1970s, hip hop has emerged as a powerful force that has partly shaped black identity worldwide. In his 2005 article “Hip-hop Turns 30: Whatcha Celebratin’ For?”, Greg Tate describes hip-hop culture as the product of a pan-African state of mind. It is an “ethnic enclave/empowerment zone that has served as a foothold for the poorest among us to get a grip on the land of the prosperous”.
Hip-hop unifies those of African descent globally in its movement towards greater economic, social and political power. Andreana Clay in her article “Keepin’ it Real: Black Youth, Hip-Hop Culture, and Black Identity” states that hip-hop provides the world with “vivid illustrations of Black lived experience”, creating bonds of black identity across the globe. From a pan-African perspective, hip-hop culture can be a conduit to authenticate a black identity, and in doing so, creates a unifying and uplifting force among Africans that pan-Africanism sets out to achieve.