Pan-Africanism or pan-humanism ? (2002)
From the February 2002 issue of the Socialist Standard
When slave labour was no longer profitable as a result of the invention of machines, the Trans-Atlantic slave trade was abolished. This created a severe social problem as the ex-slaves could hardly fend for themselves. They became homeless, jobless and hungry. These problems forced them to become vagabonds, outcasts, "criminals", and (owning nothing in a society dominated by money and private ownership of property) an inferior class.
This sorry state of affairs culminated in the emergence of black (ex-slave) radicals such as Marcus Garvey who organised the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA). Other activists against the appalling situation of the black ex-slaves included W E B. Dubois ; James Brown, who sang "say it loud, I’m black and proud" ; and several groups of the Black Consciousness Movement which sprang up in the middle of the 20th century.
This wind of awareness and defiance that was blowing across the Americas and Europe naturally touched the black students from mainland Africa who had gone to the USA and Europe to study. Prominent among these were Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Leopold Sedar Senghor. These radicals together with others from the Caribbean like George Padmore were after to become the precursors of the Pan-Africanist movement. It was also known among in the French-speaking world as "Négritude".
It follows from the above that (other considerations aside) Pan-Africanism is a concept that is limited to black people – those on the continent and the ones in the Diaspora. In this regard, one can liken Pan-Africanism to other (albeit better organised) groups like Zionism, Pax Romana, the Arab League, etc. They are concepts and groups dedicated only to the interest of their members.
The colour smokescreen
As explained, the roots of Pan-Africanism can be traced to the conditions, the concrete reality of the newly-"emancipated" slaves in the Americas. Let us assume for the moment (despite all) that they faced those hardships "because of their colour". The question which readily comes to mind, now, is whether we can say it is the same scenario today. Are the causes of our problems today due to our colour ? Of course not.
Consider the following cases. Mobutu allowed himself to be used by the Western powers to inflict untold suffering on the people of the then Zaire. Together with these powers he stole all the wealth of the country. In fact, it is said that he was richer than the state. There is also the case of Bokassa who squandered millions of dollars to crown himself emperor when at that time the ordinary people of Central African Republic could not afford one decent meal a day. In Angola, Jonas Savimbi and a few friends (UNITA) teamed up with Western businesses to visit a limitless insecurity on the poor people just to plunder the resources of the land. The story is no different in the case of Foday Sonko and fellow rebels in Sierra Leone ; quite recently