The Pan-Afrikanism of many of Afrika’s leaders was inspired by such imminent Black thinkers as Prince Hall, Paul Cuffee, David Walker, James Horton , James Johnson, Edward Blyden who is regarded as the first Pan-Afrikanist thinker to use the concept of the ‘Afrikan Personality’ and portrayed Africa as ‘the spiritual conservatory of the world’ and Henry Sylvester Williams who is credited for coining the concept of Pan-Afrikanism.
And of course, William Du Bois, George Padmore, Marcus Garvey, Cyril James and others such as Daniel Coker, Lott Carey, John Russwurrum, Martin Delaney, Henry Highland Garnet, and Alexander Crummell. Du Bois and Garvey are particularly critical because they played a pioneering role in giving Pan-Afrikanism and Black Power the form of a global political movement.
There are however two critical historical events, which also had a profound impact on the evolution of Pan-Afrikanist thought and practice and that of related Black radical traditions such as Black Consciousness. One is the Haitian Revolution, first led by Boukman in 1791 and later by Toussaint L’overture, which holds the distinction of ushering in the first Black republic, in the western hemisphere, in 1804. The other is Ethiopia’s decisive victory over Italy in the Adwa, in 1896.
Fired-up by this rich political and intellectual heritage, a number of Afrikan states achieved one form of independence or another, and unsurprisingly, they expressed a growing desire for more unity within the continent. However, there was no common view on how this unity should be pursued and consequentially two groups emerged, in this respect.
The one group was known as the Casablanca bloc, led by Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. This bloc included Algeria, Guinea, Morocco, Egypt, Mali and Libya and argued that unity should be pursued through a political federation. The other was the Monrovian bloc led by Sedar Senghor of Senegal, which argued that unity should be achieved gradually, through economic cooperation. Its other members were Nigeria, Liberia, Ethiopia and most of the former French colonies.
Some of the initial debates took place in Liberia and were eventually harmonised when Ethiopian emperor, Haile Sellassie, invited the two groups to Addis Ababa, where, as we know, the OAU and its headquarters were subsequently established. The subsequent Charter of the Organisation was signed by 32 independent Afrikan states.
In a number of respects, this was a critical milestone for Pan-Afrikanism and Black Power, both on the Afrikan continent and other parts of the Black world. But he birth of the OAU was also a big obstacle for the success of the project of western imperialism, on the Afrikan continent. For this reason, western imperialism did all it could to frustrate this act of self-liberation. They bank-rolled those Afrikan leaders who were willing to sell their souls, orchestrated coups against those who refused to be co-opted, and assassinated those of our leaders, who were openly and radically opposed to western control of Black people’s destiny.
THE CHALLENGES FACED BY THE OAU
Despite the major step towards its founding, the OAU remained largely divided. The former French colonies were still hopelessly dependent on France (something which persists even today). There was a further split along ideological lines, between those Afrikan states that supported the USA and those that supported the USSR, in the so-called Cold War of ideologies. The pro-Socialist bloc was led by Nkrumah, while, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, of the Ivory Coast, led the pro-Capitalist bloc.
Because of these divisions, it was difficult for the OAU to intervene decisively in intra or inter-state conflict and for this and other reasons, some dismissed the OAU as ‘a glorified talk shop’, arguing that its policy of non-interference in the affairs of member states limited its effectiveness. This criticism became particularly strong in the context of the internal political crisis in Uganda, under Idi Amin.
In addition to the barrage of capacity and ideological challenges that the OAU had to contend with at inception, we wish to argue that, when viewed as a far-reaching statist articulation of Pan-Afrikanism and Black Power, the systematic assassinations of Patrice Émery Lumumba, Amilcar Lopes da Costa Cabral, Eduardo Chivambo Mondlane, Samora Moisés Machel, Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara, Malcolm X, Ramothibi Tiro and Bantubonke Biko – including the passing of Kwame Nkrumah, Mangaliso Sobukwe and not so long ago, that of Kwame Toure – were a big blow to the cause of Pan-Afrikanism and Black Power, both in Afrika and the rest of the Black world. And we are not sure whether we have or will ever recover from these incalculable losses.
THE SUCCESSES OF THE OAU
In spite of these set-backs and systematic treachery, in our view, the OAU nevertheless made a number of strategic strides, some of which include giving greater structure and focus to Afrika’s resistance to western imperialism, laying the structural basis for continental unity and greater co-operation, and as stated earlier, giving practical expression to the cause of Pan-Afrikanism and Black Power.
This acknowledgement is particularly critical considering that, at the time of its formation, the so-called Cold War was in full swing and the leading actors in this conflict, the USA and Russia (and to some extent China), viewed territories such as Afrika as part of their battle-ground.
In addition to setting up a number of committees and agencies to facilitate various aspects of the national development of Afrikan states, the OAU’s Liberation Committee aided a number of liberation movements on the continent. It provided much needed weapons, training and military bases to various movements that were fighting against white-minority rule on the continent. Liberation movements in Azania also received various forms of OAU assistance.
HAS AFRIKA ACHIEVED THE KIND OF LIBERATION THAT THE FOUNDERS OF THE OAU ENVISIONED?
Today, more than 50 years later, the OAU is no more and has been replaced by the African Union (AU). Most Afrikan countries (as previously defined by the borders of the white supremacist Berlin Conference of 1884-85), have formally raised their flags of independence and some have changed their names and the management of their respective states is now under the control of the indigenous people.
Because of this, can we confidently say Afrika has achieved the kind of liberation that the founders of the OAU envisioned? Put differently, has Afrika, under the AU, been able to free itself from the clutches of white supremacist-western imperialism? We think definitely not.
In our view, while some Afrikan states have made some governance and infrastructural advances, to a large extent, Afrika remains a colonised territory and today this colonisation is not obvious because, in the majority of cases, it happens indirectly. While some of the reasons are historical and external, one of the key factors that makes it difficult for the AU to advance the historical agenda of Afrikan liberation is the failure of many of Afrika’s contemporary leaders to grasp the point that Issa Shivji makes in an article titled, The Struggle to Convert Nationalism to Pan Africanism: Taking Stock of 50 Years of African Independence.
In this article, Shijvi argues that:
‘To the extent that colonialism and imperialist oppression itself was ideologised in terms of White supremacy, the anti-racist, racial constructs and demands of pan-Africanists were anti-imperialist. It is important to keep this dimension of Pan-Africanism in mind – that in its genesis and evolution the ideology and movement was primarily political and essentially anti-imperialist.’
Flowing from this, even though it is the legitimate successor to the OAU, is Pan- Afrikan in its structure and some of its leaders occasionally invoke the ideas of the founders of the OAU in their speeches, in the manner that is functions the AU is not necessarily a Pan-Afrikanist instrument in the ideological sense as described by Shivji.