Pan-Africanism and ‘Africa’s World War’

James N. Kariuki*

The year 2005 marked the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.  In the black world, the same year is also celebrated as the 60th birthday of Afro-centric Pan-Africanism.

This tier of Pan-Africanism, otherwise known as continental pan-Africanism, got under way in 1945 in the British city of Manchester, when a small group of indigenous Africans met and collectively decided that European colonial domination of Africa had to come to an end. For the first time since its beginning in 1900, the Pan-African movement came under the stewardship of continental Africans.

Shortly after the Manchester Congress, the mau mau armed revolt was in full swing in Kenya. Its core message to the British colonizers was, “Give me liberty or give me death.” A decade  thereafter, the British relinquished their grip on the East African country.

Six year earlier in West Africa, Kwame Nkrumah had emerged triumphant in the bid to free Ghana.  Both Nkrumah and Kenya’s liberation leader, Jomo Kenyatta, had been sent off by the famous 9145 Manchester Pan-African Congress to ensure the demise of alien rule in their respective countries.

By 1960, the demands for independence in Africa became virtually a chorus.  As a result of shared Pan-African sentiments, colonialism was on its deathbed; unstoppable winds of change were truly blowing across the continent.

These winds of change were not prompted exclusively by continental forces.  Pan-African feelings rose sharply just about the same time in the African-American world, triggered in part by the death of Patrice Lumumba’s of the Congo.  The African-Americans suspected that their own government had a hand in the assassination of the uncompromising but popular Congolese nationalist. For a while, overflowing outrage among them prompted the UN to close its doors to the public for security concerns.

Meanwhile, demands among African-Americans for their own civil rights escalated to heights unheard of before.  Indeed, it was not long before black civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King and Malcolm X became household names around the world. Almost without exception, these newly-found political stars in America declared their fellowship with African causes.

King was projected as a peace-loving, reasonable leader. Malcolm X, on the other hand was portrayed as radical and provocative.  Yet, despite differences of strategy, their message was identical: that Black Americans wanted their civil rights and they wanted them immediately.  They were no longer willing to wait.

Interestingly, by the early 1960s, African-Americans were citing Africans’ anti-colonial successes to inspire their own demands for equality and justice. “All Africa shall be free,” it was said, “before a black man in America can buy a cup of coffee.”  Continental and universal tiers of Pan-Africanisms were fusing in the USA.

At independence, Africa tended to focus attention on the state, the trappings of which had been usurped by colonialism.  African leaders were understandably excessively possessive of the security and inviolability of the state.  On the other hand, perhaps by default, there was substantial neglect of human rights. Unsurprisingly, post-colonial Africa became the global symbol of war, disease, hunger and massive human suffering. These two extremes were captured in the continental organization that emerged, the OAU.

The Congo, which prompted global pan-Africanism of the early 1960s into action as a result of Lumumba’s death has remained a constant reminder of Africa’s colonial heritage and enduring human suffering.

Critics have tended to attribute the woes of post-colonial Africa to the OAU.  Yet, it is well to remember that the organization had two mandatory purposes: to consolidate the ‘political kingdoms’ that had just been wrestled from the colonial powers and to expand anti-colonial successes all over the continent. On both these counts, the OAU was a classic success.

Winning freedom for South Africa was by far the greatest Pan-African challenge. The liberation movements from Southern Africa did most of the actual fighting in the bid to make the racially-controlled country ungovernable. But they did not act alone; they received support—political, moral and military, from the rest of Africa through the OAU and the Frontline States.

From Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania and elsewhere, Africa spoke in one voice in declaring apartheid must go! What Tanzania’s Julius Nyerere once referred to as the ‘monster of un-freedom’ (apartheid South Africa) stood eyeball-to-eyeball against an entire continent. But the anti-apartheid support was derived from further afield in the pan-African world.

As the most politically influential black constituency outside Africa, the African-American community spoke out against apartheid.  To them, condemning any black person anywhere for being born who he was, was to condemn black people everywhere for being who they were. They objected to that view.  In practical terms, they pushed and saw the passage of the Comprehensive Congressional Anti-Apartheid Act of 1986, despite the resistance of unsympathetic president, Ronald Reagan.

From the start the Anti-Apartheid Act was black-driven and it took years to galvanize bi-racial political support for it in the US Congress.  But behold, ror all practical purposes, the passage of the Act was the kiss of death for apartheid.

In March 2005, another Pan-African conference of major historical symbolism was held in Jamaica.  Its preoccupation was: now that Africa is virtually free from formal colonialism, what can global Africa do about its current problems of underdevelopment and marginalization? This was a ‘talk shop’ for the governments of global Africa to discuss the human rights of their people, not the security and rights of their states. Freed South Africa was a major participant of this event, indeed its major convener to celebrate ten years of its freedom.

The African Union was formed to attend to African human needs more so than the OAU had done.  But the commitment quickly faced a challenge in the case of Libya’s invasion of 1911.  On the face of it, the intention of Resolution 1973 of the UN Security Council was to protect Libya’s civilians from senseless slaughter by Mummer Kaddafi’s military forces. In this context, South Africa had no difficulty voting for the resolution of the Council. After all, South Africans had endured more than their share of human rights violations from various apartheid regimes.

However, in application Resolution 1973 turned into something different from enforcement of a mere no-fly zone in protection of innocent civilians. Before long it was clear that the adventure was actually an imperial ambition for the resources of the country in form of oil and gold.  That ambition explained why the Western invaders preferred military action rather than dialogue. After all, their scheme required the removal of Mummer Khadafy, a regime change. Since the AU preferred dialogue to bullets, it was sidelined, bypassed and ignored by the militarily mighty.

Not so long ago, the Americans told the world that they would remove Saddam Hussein and rebuild a peaceful Iraq. That Iraq has so far been evasive. More recently, we were promised a peaceful post-Khadafy Libya.  We have not seen it yet.

Post-colonial Congo has never known peace since its inception in 1960. Its curse has been its bottomless natural resources and the appetite that they whet. Now African leaders in the region, accompanied by the United Nations, African Union, European Union and United States have signed a peace framework that provides a starting point in the effort to end the world’s deadliest conflict since World War II.  Perhaps this is the answer that has dodged the Congo, this sick African giant for so long.

*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa.The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.


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