Sunday, 12 May 2013

Pan-Africanism: embracing the vision

For Assata Shakur - for whom the call resounds

“Human beings have an instinctive love of justice on the mass level.”
Kwame Ture

There is something daunting about words that end in “ism.” They make some curious demand on the mind as though they are words of “high intelligence” deliberately constructed to deny understanding to ordinary people. Words like capitalism, imperialism socialism, communism, secularism, neo-colonialism, modernism, post-colonialism, terrorism seem to compel us to study them– to focus energy on understanding their deepest meaning. Said too many times, they can lose significance and become concepts about which only a minority of interested people seem obsessed.

The revolutionary spouting “down with imperialism” to members of their family is soon considered a fanatic– if not lunatic. “Power to the people” has a somewhat accommodating flavour. For it seems clear - if power is called for the people are being denied it by something or someone. Whilst “Imperial-ism” identifies what that something is, as an “ism” word it can estrange the person who does not consider themself a revolutionary from what the struggle is about. Until those ism- heavy words got in the way, they had sympathised with the given cause or movement. The “isms” demand a responsibility to own a deeper understanding of struggle. And experience has shown that most people are not only daunted by, but shun the “weight of responsibility.” Instead, most of us prefer to identify vaguely with a cause and to allow others to dedicate their energies to the politics of struggle.

This “weight of responsibility” applies to Pan-Africanism – an “ism” word that all Africans must contemplate, if we are to transform our lives. Pan- African means “All African” – for “pan” refers to that which encompasses all - across an expanse. There is nothing mystifying about the term. But you either choose to self-identify as Pan-African – thereby making a conscious decision to adopt this political identity, or you live unwittingly as an unconscious Pan-African. Put another way – we might say we’re not “political” but this does not mean that our lives are not always being conditioned by politics. Our disengagement with our condition is what makes us “unconscious.” Our preparedness to take action is what makes us "conscious." Since “imperial-ism” – systematic dominance – is that “something” that denies the people power, by what means can the people reclaim it? Slogans alone – “power to the people” – are not enough. There must be something greater, some system, idea or act of consciousness that can be used for the people’s empowerment. This act of consciousness we might think of as an awakening –becoming conscious- to the meaning of Pan-Africanism. It implies “wilfulness” - a self-initiating act to embrace the vision of Pan-Africanism.

Marcus Mosiah Garvey is hailed as one of Africa’s greatest heroes. He spoke of Africa with unflinching pride and he desired social, cultural and economic freedom for Africans. “Africa for Africans – at home and abroad” and “the whole world is my province until Africa is free” are more than the emotional stirrings of his heart - they express the instinctive aspiration for African self-determination. That Africans should recognise their empowerment lay in deeply understanding the meaning of “home” was his vision. “Home” is foundation, freedom and security; it is where the units of one family gather. No matter how distant and removed from the origin the individual units find themselves, whether by free will or force, they must understand the unifying power of “home” - since one finger cannot form a fist. The importance of cohesion – of unity cannot be overstated. As Amos Wilson asserts: “the family is a primary organisation…or source of power” that secures the cultural and economic survival of its members. By pooling together – unifying the scattered fingers- we determine our own goals and means of achieving them; we protect one another from external forces/pressures. To simply love or honour Marcus Garvey without recognising and embracing his Pan-African vision is “deactivated consciousness” or idealist; that is the power (to have vision) is given over to someone else in which case the individual is absolved of their responsibility to consciously reclaim their power. Instead of “wilfulness,” their “will” to self-initiate and take action is denied (or "deactivated").

Visionaries are conscious of themselves and their purpose. And they are not afraid – of loneliness, death, being labelled fanatics (extremists or radicals) and importantly their responsibility to the truth. The work they initiate are aligned with the time and the conditions in which they live. For this reason some think Pan-Africanism had relevance in the past; that the “black power” slogan is outdated, the struggle for independence no longer necessary, and liberation movements dead. Equally it is believed that the world no longer produces visionaries. The systematic and wicked slaughtering of African warrior men and women, who dared to envision freedom for their people have blighted the struggle for justice. But as long as there is cause and call for justice the world will produce visionaries. And the call is ever present, for wherever we live as Africans we experience injustice and oppression.

The call resounded for David Oluwale, for Joy Gardner (both murdered by racist police in Uk), the Angola 3, Mumia Abu Jamal (political prisoners of an inhumane US penal system), for Stephen Lawrence, David Emmanuel (“smiley Culture”), for Kingsley Burrell, Mark Duggon, Trayvon Martin, for victims of Apartheid and for men and women workers gunned down in Marikana, for youth in Linden (Guyana) killed by state police. It is resounding for girls and women being raped in Congo, a legacy of a vicious system of exploitation, for the perpetual injustices against the people of Haiti; it is resounding for the trampling all over Africa by Western Europeans, the US and their greedy multi-national corporations who raid, scavenge and construct governments to serve their interest and pay puppets to instigate fake wars to which they can supply arms and when convenient come in to intervene. The call resounds when an African youth is stabbed, imprisoned, stopped, despicably searched and forced into a ready-made sub-culture of criminality; when the academic prospects of our sons and daughters are restricted by a school system designed for their underachievement; when being employed is token - ism (the farce of “positive discrimination”) and where there is a cap on our advancement; when no matter how many degrees we have, how experienced we are in our careers we’ll struggle to find work that pays the same as a less qualified/experienced European; and when our talent and material resources abound we’ll be the last to reap the rewards. All Africans experience, in varying degrees, systematic injustice and exploitation.

If the call resounds for a collective recognition of these injustices, then it calls for a collective (unified) response towards achieving economic, social and cultural liberation. The Pan-African vision is for self-determination, dignity and economic independence for all Africans. Dehumanised by centuries of oppression and exploitation many of us are ashamed of who we are; Pan-African is necessarily a political identity and it demands responsibility. Until we are truly free as a people, we must not be afraid to link arms with brothers and sisters in struggle. We must challenge ourselves to face the meaning of those “ism” words. Undoubtedly this will be a step toward knowing the enemy – as the visionary Pan-Africanist, Kwame Nkrumah, has forewarned us. This enemy - the “collective imperial -ism” of Europe and the US will never give us the freedom to determine our fate; to utilise our human and non-human resources for the benefit of our people. With one hand, European countries let go of (gave “sham” independence to) their “colonies” with the other they clasped a neo-colonial noose around these countries, creating new (“neo”) ways of ensuring their economic interests continue to be served by these countries. The Pan-African objective – is to claim what is rightfully ours –total liberation.

When Nkrumah said: “all peoples of African descent, whether they live in North or South America, the Caribbean, or in any other part of the world are Africans and belong to the African nation,” he not only echoed Garvey he also appealed for unity in the struggle against our common enemy. Self-affirmation as a Pan-African – despite the varied ways this is defined – is an empowering step towards building African unity; it is a step because the whole is a formidable journey. The vision cannot be a theory only - it must consciously manifest. An example of this vision in action was when Sekou Toure invited Nkrumah (after the 1966 coup in Ghana) to be co-president of Guinea Conakry and permitted Amilcar Cabral's PAICG party's head quarters to be based there. Though Muslim and Christian respectively Toure and Nkrumah didn't allow superficial differences to cloud their vision for a unified Africa; such was the brightness of their light. Past visionaries, whose contribution we hail and respect have borne their share of the responsibility. They have illuminated our path toward freedom, if we should only be willing to take time and read the signs. Basking in their light is not enough. We must rise to the challenge of taking action - bend our will and mind to tuning our understanding of the struggle and its "isms." In so doing we too might realise our potential to manifest light.

Shout Out

The Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare - Kwame Nkrumah
Blueprint for Black Power - Amos Wilson
Selected writings and speeches of Marcus Garvey - Bob Blaisdell
The World and Africa - WEB Du Bois

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