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In what way does Pan-Africanism underpin the identity of the continent?


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Pan-Africanism is an advocacy for the recognition and respect for black people in and outside the African continent against racism, inferiority, segregation, political, economic and social freedom and equality. 

Pan-Africanism is not only a philosophical ideology that advocated for a continental African unity but a concept of emancipation, empowerment and development of Africa, Africans and the African diaspora, which includes all black people of African descent.

It is an old non-Eurocentric pro-African unity ideology coined by great thinkers, writers, and activists of African descend for the liberation and unification of Africa.

This essay explains the ways in which Pan-Africanism underpinned the identity of the African continent politically, philosophically, culturally and religiously. The essay ends with the analysis of the African Renaissance; its effects and implications, and how it has become the new wave of Pan-Africanism.  

To understand the Pan-Africanism Phenomenon, a background check of how it evolved is necessary. Its genesis goes back to the centuries of exploiting natural and human resources of the continent through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade.

The end of the nineteenth century realised resistance from enslaved Africans in the diaspora with the quest to regain their pride, identity, and cultures against the enforced foreign Western ideologies.

This resistance later became the backbone of Pan-Africanism which was fueled by African descents in the Americas, Europe, and the Caribbean Islands. The new ideology of Pan-Africanism proliferated in the 1900s and became the concept of resistance for ‘black people’ through mass protests, and negotiations with the colonialists and ‘white’ elites, (Araoye, 2021). 

Africans and African descents from the diaspora were poised to restore the African identity in the displaced black people through movements and associations leading to formation of many intellectual groups like the American Negro Academy culminating in the formation of the first Pan-African Association created by Henry Sylvester Williams of Trinidad in 1897, (Thompson, 1969).

The association was formed to start the struggle for liberation and freedom as well as encourage a feeling of unity, facilitate friendly connections amongst Africans in general and promote and protect the interest of everyone claiming African descent in British colonies or in the United States of America. 

This first conference came in the aftermath of the 1884/85 renowned Berlin Conference where European empires or kingdoms like Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal among others, converged in Berlin to what was later described as the ‘scramble for and partitioning of Africa’, (Ayittey, 1992).

The creation of physical borders, invasion and colonisation of Africa was thus determined and legalised through protocols that emerged from the conference.

In a reactionary response, political figures, scholars, activists and students of African descent either through migration, generations of slavery or education, through this association, identified the need to form a united front that will be inclusive of everyone in the struggle to liberate black people and the African continent from colonialism, alienation of identity, racism, segregation and inferiority, (Ayittey, 1992: Thomson, 1969). 

Due to the Eurocentric and Western philosophical ideologies dominating the international political arena on how the world is governed through generational world orders, Pan-Africanism emerged as revolutionary and intellectual ideology against the hegemonic concepts of the West.

International Relations and international politics have since the advent of the Pan-Africanism ideology, been tested, challenged, and even engaged to include and respect the quest for the freedom and identity of the black race, (Abrahamsen, 2020). This quest is in many ways against the domination of the Western ideologies on the African continent and the black identity through colonialism, racism, segregation, slavery, marginalisation, discrimination, and exploitation.

The Pan-African ideology completed the long awaited philosophical and scholarly notion of resistance by Africans and African descents in the diaspora like W.E.B Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Henry William Sylvester, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenya, Julius Nyerere among many others, (Ayittey, 1992; Rachid, 2019; Thomson, 1969).

The notion of resistance by any means necessary and repatriation from the Americas, Europe and the Caribbeans back to Africa influenced a unified change and injected the sense of belonging and a necessity to be part of the black people’s resistance for social, political, ideological, cultural, and psychological emancipation for diaspora Africans, (Abrahamsen, 2020; Ayittey, 1992: Thomson, 1969). 


The ideology is a product of scholarly, political, and peaceful as well as non-peaceful struggle and resistance against a hegemonic Euro-Western centric system of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism, imperialism, and racism. Pan-Africanism ideology on the continent and the diaspora, helped in ending colonial rule and the attainment of independence and national sovereignty (Araoye, 2021; Mazrui, 2005; Taye, 2021)

Subaltern concept is a post-colonial theory that focuses on race, class, identity, and nationality. Makani (2011) argued that movements and association that entered in the struggle against racism, slavery, were headed by prominent black socialists, philosophers and activists through intellectual and ‘negro’ movements and association like Garvey’s Universal negro Improvement Association (UNIA) among others, that became politically and socially significant as radical black thoughts and philosophies leading to the Subaltern concept and ideology.

The idea of socialism within black people, was to respond to salient issues of race and colonialism. There was a rise in black intellectuals from the diaspora and the continent who translated the racial discourse into the realms of black identity and engaged in self-reflective analysis through knowledge to challenge the Euro-centric hegemony on the continent and in the diaspora, (Dunton, 2003).

Eurocentric ideologies outweighed the subaltern concept of racial identity while Pan-Africanism became an ideology of solidarity, promotion of political independence, racial equality, and continental unity. This concept later emerged to be a yardstick to combat racial and cultural identity disparities, (Rashid, 2019). 

WEB Du Bois said the framework for having a world peace is by “dismantling of the colour system in Africa and Asia”, (Abrahamsen, 2020). For Du Bois, the Pan-African movement must become a part of the overall global anti-colonial, anti-imperial, and a peace movement. He was not only fighting civil rights, political and economic freedom for Africans at home and in the diaspora, but the internationalization and globalization of the Pan-African phenomenon, (Abrahamsen, 2020).

The promotion of socialism in Pan-African struggle was a fight against the imperial approach of capitalism, hence the relationship between African leaders who fought for independence and other socialist states. This gave rise to black nationalism, internationalism and socialist thoughts which became anti-Western whose propaganda became capitalism and imperialism, (Makani, 2011). 

After the 1897 conference, Pan-Africanism was so important that it became a philosophy of action for the emancipation, empowerment, and identity of black people both on the continent and the diaspora, (Araoye, 2020). Different associations, leagues and organisations that identified themselves as part of the Pan-African struggle, continued to garner support by traveling around the world especially in Europe where most international influential conferences were held. This was aimed at using the then ongoing European and world leaders’ conferences as a moment to garner support and discuss modalities and strategies of emancipation behind the walls of the oppressors, (Taye 2021).

Makani (2011: p.49) argued that the pioneers of Pan-Africanism in the early 20th century believed that the need to come together and fight to stop the racial oppression, slavery, and inequality of black people in the diaspora and colonisation and its effects on the continent, was a proletarian revolution and would lead to achieving nothing less than liberating black people. 

As discussed by Taye (2021), the key motives of establishing the Pan-African ideology or resistance, was in two phases. First phase was to fight against the continuous slavery against ‘black people’ and stigmatization of inferiority which persisted even after its abolishment in 1807 (Ayittey, 1992), and put an end to colonialism.

The second phase became the dominant strain of attaining the Pan-African dream to free Africa from the bondage of colonialism and the establishment of the United States of Africa through the super-state authority without the borders created by the colonialists.

The Pan-African Congress of 1945 in Manchester, England, which brought together leaders from Africa, the Caribbeans and diasporic Africans in Europe and the Americas served as the prelude to the first wave of independence for African territories as sovereign states as well as transitioned Pan-Africanism to its natural and original abode, (Nimako, 2010; Taye, 2021).

The “Back to Africa” movement from the West Indies which was initiated by Marcus Garvey was meant to reinvigorate the idea of African identity in them. This initiative was aimed at repatriating back to the continent where they could trace back their ancestral roots and feel belonged to the moral values, social and traditional norms, and principles of Africanism within ‘black people’, (Ayittey, 1992).  

Kwame Nkrumah was very concern of the African identity hence promoted the ‘Kente’ clothing to the level of national cultural symbol not only in Ghana but across the continent. Nkrumah’s concept of neo-colonialism became dominant upon his return shortly before Ghana’s independence, (Nimako, 2010).

During the first anniversary of the Ghanian Independence which also served as a Pan-African conference in 1958, Kwame Nkrumah said, “the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the entire continent of Africa and its unification and liberty”, (Nimako, 2010). This quote was aimed at defining and defending the notion of self-determination which emphasised African representation at the highest level by Africans.

Ghana became the base of Pan-African struggle where world leaders of African and black identity would gather and discuss and strategise.  Leaders like Nkrumah envisaged a continent that is technologically industrialised with inter-state liberation for an advanced continental market for which he was willing to sacrifice the Ghanaian independence for a United States of Africa that is culturally and linguistically diverse with the necessary ingredients of unity, (Uimonen, 2019).

Before the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963, the Pan-African ideology was flourishing because there was no singly led institutions, but with OAU’s task of liberating and uniting the continent, the focus was more on procedures of organising than results for the movement and ideology, which the African Union inherited, (Taye, 2021).

Nkrumah advocated for an Africa governed by one united entity in a superstate structure of United States of Africa, but this was countered from the other side of his compatriots, (Taye,2021). Kenyatta who focused on the nation-state system, advocated for political and sovereign independence of the colonised territories. Despite the progress made by these leaders in resisting colonialism and imperialism, there was a divide between them of the nationalist concept and socialist ideology. This precipitated the assassination of Patrice Lumumba from power, (Uimonen, 2019).

The notion of an African Renaissance was started in the early twentieth century by diaspora Africans such as W.E.B du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and many other African leaders like Kwame Nkrumah who challenged the then “World Order” of colonialism, political and economic exploitation and called for the formation of a “United States of Africa”

. This group of people as Nkrumah described them in his book Consciencism as ‘free men’ are those who “sought knowledge as an instrument of national emancipation and integrity” which he noted to be among them, (Uimonen, 2019).

Muammar Ghaddafi who was a fervent advocate for the Afro-continentalisation of the member-state which will fall under his authority, became a threat to the African identities in the diaspora delinking them from the continent, (Muchie, Lukhele-Olorunju & Akpor, 2013). This contravenes the notion and ideology of Pan-Africanism which is about the communion of a people of the same identity and not a community of states, (Araoye, 2021).

African Renaissance as defined by Kwame Nkrumah, is the ‘reawakening’ of the ideology and concept of Pan-African scholars who identified neo-colonialism and imperialism as the continuous threat to the African continent and the black identity, (Dunton, 2003).

This was the trend of liberation that inspired the fight against apartheid by Nelson Mandela and filtered down to Thabo Mbeki and other African leaders like Muamar Ghaddafi who until his death advocated for the unification of Africa through one common currency and passport and also supported the inclusion of the diaspora as a constituent of African Union since their migration or displacement was involuntary, (Muchie, Lukhele-Olorunju & Akpor, 2013).

Other African leaders who believed in the regeneration of the unification and transformation of Africa became a force that was an irresistible progressive and awakened era of ‘a new Africa and a new African’, (Dunton, 2003). 

The African renaissance is faced with a much more difficult task since the aftermath of the 1960s political and sovereign independence of nations. Taye (2021) argued that the stagnation of Pan-Africanism brought about the long endured economic and political problems which the African renaissance is faced with today as downfalls, (Gilley, 2010).

The leaders at the time could only attain political emancipation as their first goal but failed in transforming the continent into an economically viable place with a win-win economic relations with the colonialists, (Taye, 2021).

“Solving African Problems with Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance” by Muchie, Lukhele-Olorunju & Akpor (2013) argued that restoration of the African personality of self-worth, dignity, and liberation from dehumanising degradation of colonialism and neo-colonialism can only be restored through awareness, self-reliance, and decolonising knowledge which Du Bois advocated for throughout the struggle, (Rashid, 2019). Continuation of Pan-Africanism through the African renaissance within the continent will foster unity and development without internal discrimination of physical and virtual identities, (Muchie, Lukhele-Olorunju & Akpor, 2013), but would also unite people of African descent in the diaspora and those on the continent, (Gutto, 2006)

Europeans Africanised Africa through racist, segregationist and orientalist concepts and approaches. Connectedness of black people in the diaspora as a result of a common identity of skin colour promulgated the recognition of ‘fellow Africans’ through the amount and level of degradation and humiliation Black Africans across centuries were subjected to

This phenomenon gave rise to European colonisation of the continent and imperialism but was also met by the new norm of resistance by the same people they oppressed giving rise to Pan-Africanism, (Mazrui, 2005).

The erudite poet and author Nguigi Wa Thiongo in his book Decolonising the Mind, argued that the effect of the 1884-85 Berlin Conference was not only to partition the continent into European colonies and civilize the people through Christianity, but to use their languages to alienate those of the Africans, (wa Thiongo, 1986).

Arguably, the induction of European languages in African societies, gave them the leeway to settle and indoctrinate Eurocentric values in Africa and strengthen the grip of colonialism. Ngugi’s argument is echoed by many African authors, poets, musicians reiterating that the concept of Pan-Africanism was not only political or social, but a philosophical ideology. 

The African History is not only of slavery and colonisation but education, progress, and development, but religious indoctrination through Islam and Christianity.

Pan-Africanism could be traced back to the ancient days of the African empires despite the early Islamisation of parts of the continent when Arabs first visited. The issue of religion and civilisation have been a strategy used by intruders.

The notion of ‘God, Gold and Glory’ was then the description of regions which they used explore, exploit, and evangelise. Timbuktu and Cairo were known for knowledge and religion housing the oldest university in the world, Al-Qarawiyin, (Mazrui, 2005).

Baba Amani Olubanjo Buntu in his work edited by Muchie, Lukhele-Olorunju & Akpor (2013), argued that the African education system in the post-colonial era should lead to advancement of knowledge which seeks to liberate the African as an individual and society interwoven with African philosophy, culture, and spirituality.

This is also constituted in the present strive by Pan-Africanists to regain their lost identity by means of a paradigm shift against the hegemonic educations system enforced on the Africans for hundreds of years, (Gutto 2006).

George B.N. Ayittey in his book Africa Betrayed, reiterated the comments of Kenyan President and Pan-Africanist Jomo Kenyatta, “when the missionaries arrived, Africans had the land, and the missionaries had the Bible.

They taught us to pray with our eyes closed. When we opened them, they had the land, and we had the bible”, (Ayittey, 1992). This quote explains how the Europeans applied different strategies to conquer the African not only by military means but by snatching the traditional and cultural norms and values of the African people which was a strong tool of identification.   

Pan-Africanist in Africa and the diaspora like WEB Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela among many African leaders are all gone now.  Leaders of the mass civil rights protest of the 1960s-1980s in Africa and outside have been consumed by the lack of charismatic leaders and somehow amendment of laws in the area of race and identity.

A new protest group outside the continent has emerged, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) which has become the grandchild if you like of the pioneers of Pan-Africanism in the diaspora, calling for equality, fighting against racism and segregation.

Arguably, BLM is a consequence of the subaltern concept and has over the years gained recognition as a Pan-African organisation. Now the task of the current Pan-Africans is to promote the African Renaissance concept to attain freedom from the bondage of imperialism, economic degradation, political manipulation as well as develop trust and confidence within Africans and take up responsibility in managing their own resources. 

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