By Trayo A. Ali
“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”- Charles Darwin
May 25th is African Day. On May 25-2015 the African Union (AU) representing respective member states hoists the flag, make toast in a cozy cool environment and issue statements in celebration for the occasion of fifty two years of African Unity. This seemingly comfortable situation confronts two other situations.
The first is the reality where the story of the average African citizen whose security and welfare are supposed to be the primary intention of this celebration is totally absent from any considerable deliberations. Rather, he or she is handcuffed and chained with shackles of endless civil wars, constrained by racial marginalization, refugee anxiety, haunted by genocide trauma, alienated by gender segregation, hostaged and oppressed by extremism of religious prosecution, poverty, illiteracy and diseases.
The second situation lies in between these two extreme poles where the Pan-Africanist activists are in busy mood preparing for the 8th Congress of Pan-African Movement. They are motivated and driven by the “Grand D ream” of the visionary pioneers of the continental cause such as Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyrere, Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandella and their flag bearers, the new breed of Pan-Africanism led by Yoweri Museveni and the late Meles Zenawi.
The dream is that, by way of Unity and Solidarity we achieve our Liberty and Dignity and translate it to the Welfare of African people.
To effect the 8th conference (after Kampala 7th in 1994), several calls and Initiatives made by concerned pan-Africanist activists throughout the continent and in the Diaspora. Considerable discussion is generated and analysis, comments, suggestions and proposal made, certain reactions, criticisms and sentiments, denouncements, claims, counter claims and affirmations ignited. Some regional conferences were also held. Such activities are of healthy nature and considered welcome exercise as it represents a level of emerging maturity in reflecting a whole mosaic and divergent views and stream of ideas of the ever evolving complex reality.
But the underlining point that can be detected from such such a perplexing mood is the confirmation for the need for redefining the idea of pan-Africanism all together on both procedural and substantive aspects for purposes of reenergization and revitalization. The evolving reality dictates a thorough review and reexamination that should cover among other issues the conceptual aspects, methodological, ideological, scope of operation, identification of challenges, strategic agenda, resources and related experiences. Such a review should also take into consideration a set of questions such as: What Pan-Africanism should now means, or should mean to an ordinary man? What it should entail? Who are the interest groups? How it should be operationalized in practical terms? Who should be involved and at what level? What are the new issues of today’s realities that need to be incorporated in the redefining process? How can we make it relevant, viable and sustainable? Which of the examples and experiences we should creatively emulate, pan-Europeanism, pan-Americanism, pan-Arabism, pan-Islamism or what? What were the unfeasible concrete challenges emerged over time? How can we rationalize the ever evolving complex reality?
(1) Back to the drawing board: redefining the concept is the starting point
Answers to the above questions will still remain elusive under the whole process goes under critical scrutiny.
It’s important to note that the Pan-Africanism is not a monolithic ideological movement. Although the founders and the flag bearers all insisted on the issues “unity, social justice, dignity integrity and welfare of the black man” the idea remained an amalgam of values, notions, ideas, assumptions and set of principles. Even from the most enduring writings and presentations of W.E. Du Bois, Padmore, Chiekh Anta Diop, and Walter Rodney they have not tend to put the idea into a rigid ideological box.
Their terms of reference are always been the idea of African civilization, culture and values that cherish the inseparability of freedom, liberty, equality, diversity, secularism that preserve African identity and character.
Thus in the absence of formal colonialism in its traditional sense, the creative approach to the idea should be based on a firm and disciplined understanding of these set of values to redirect the focus.
With the kind of political consciousness growing, I wonder, if we continue to compromise on some very provocative positions such as one uttered by the former Egyptian president, Gaamal Abdel Nasser in his book “The philosophy of the Revolution” when he said: “We cannot, under any condition relinquish our responsibility in helping, in every way possible in diffusing the light of civilization into the farthest part of the virgin jungle”.
(2) Methodology you apply
The methodology is important and among other issues it involves organization, setting of structures, and assignment of responsibilities, resource mobilization and accountability.
The 8th conference is only the movement’s third to be held in the continent. The Fifth congress was in Accra (Ghana) in the 1950s, the Sixth was in Dar el Salam (Tanzania) in 1974 and the Seventh in Kampala in 1994.
Obviously two important issues are coming out from this. One is the issue of finding a friendly and hospitable venue. Thus it’s clear that had not been Nkrumah’s Ghana, or Nyrere”s Tanzania or Nuseveni”s Uganda there would not been any conference taken place at all in the Continent. The lesson here is that it’s important to have a friendly, like minded and caring government in power.
Unfounded or unnecessary confrontations do not serve the larger purpose. Political maturity requires separation of friends from the strategic foes.
The second matter arises here is that of permanent structure or mechanism. It’s important to break the kind of mode operandi that operates under a loose and ad hoc arrangements. Well organized but not bureaucratic institutional thinking is important in terms of generating new ideas and resource mobilization. Methodology also involves reaching out different categories of constituencies including lobbying governments. To survive, a vibrant Movement needs an informed grass root base and support.
Dissemination and popularization of clearly articulated political culture is of paramount important for the consumption of ordinary African about solidarity, unity, dignity, peace and welfare. Women, youth, political parties, civil society, Trade Union, the media, and the minorities participation is an an imperative choice. The AU itself is to be partner in the process.
(3) Challenges to be identified
Hydra headed challenges are engulfing the continent. They are the same old problems but posed by relatively different actors.
Slavery is still persisting in places like Sudan, ethnic based wars are ravaging with fatal effects, genocide is a new menace, radical Islamism is mushrooming and occupying space in African body politics, while terrorism is encircling the continent’s geo-politic.
Two personal experiences are relevant down here in my reflections. First is a provocative statement made by a former foreign affairs minister of Sudan when in 1995 he told on point blank his counter parts from Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Eretria that “It was the white man’s colonialism that stopped the unhindered penetration of Islamization and Arabization in Africa, and with the departure of colonialism, the grand mission of marching will resume from Cairo to Cape. We are here for that and we are here to stay.” I happened to meet this ex-minister and when asked him how dare was he to make that kind of statement, he just shook his head but could not say anything.
(4) Dynamic agenda you need
The Pan-Afrcanist movement, like the “Pan-European” movement and organizations did, it should also influence the AU agenda and make it more relevant and reflective of the reality. Producing policy options and alternative agenda make difference and make the movement relevant. For example the movement should not shy away from vocally bringing out relevant issues such as genocide, international justice, Islamic radicalism, combating terrorism, poverty eradication onto the AU agenda. But resorting to the classical methods of work ala kind of blind criticism does not work.
(5) The need to emulate other success stories
For the “ideal dream” of Unity, Dignity, and Prosperity to be materialized it’s important to emulate other successful experiences and role models. For the European Union to reach the way it is, its cardinal ideas on went through rigorous examinations and different phases of self assessment and redefinitions. Thus dynamic thinking is required. “Building-block” type of thinking is crucial. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana use to say that “the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked to the total independence of Africa”. But now after half a century the new reality is spelling different priority issues. The issue id independence (which formally achieved) does not top the agenda. How to build viable building blocks that has the ability to respond to today’s challenges and transform the situation is the issue. The Pan-Africanist movement is therefore to consider the issue of regional integration that constitutes a viable building block.
We may all recall the debate within the then OAU on the eve of transforming it into the AU. It was president Museveni of Uganda who countered Kaddafi’s “hash-mash” approach and attitudes. Museveni articulated a more mature, rational and pragmatic strategy of “bottom-up” approach while Kaddafi was attempting to impose “top-down” super continental government. The Pan-African movement is in challenge to adopt a kind of more pragmatic approach and disseminate that public culture.
To conclude my remarks, I am to observe that, when colonialism was driven out through the front door, other ignorant and different enemies are sneaking into through the back window.
As closing remark I am also to recall my second experience that I encountered. It was indeed an insult to some staunch Pan-African intellectuals like the late Dr. Chiekh Anta Diop. It was a story about how pro “Pan- Islamist” professor at Khartoum University in my days and how much he use to detests, hates, disdains and loathes two things in his life till he passed away. He uses to publicly say that he does want to hear about two thing: “Nubian civilization” and “Pan-Africanism”. For him the Nubian Civilization is “an evil deed of a black magic” and it reminds him “pre-Islamic Arabian culture“, and Pan-Africanism is “an invocation of pagan spirit of Nubian Civilization”. One unfortunate thing he ably did was to dissolve our only “Pan-African Students Friendship Club”, outlawed, banned and our premises virtually handed over to “Islamic Call Association”, the organization that preaches Islamic State and “Pan-Islamism”.
The Pan-African movement now needs more refined, realistic, pragmatic approach.
The author is a free-lance researcher on African Peace and Development (A-PAD).He is reachable at Email: [email protected]