AFRICANGLOBE – Marcus Garvey remains one of the key influences underlying the African renaissance. From the streets of Harlem, far and wide across a viral spectrum, the grand patriarch of Pan-Africanist thought commanded the arena with successive generations under his inspiration.
The Provisional President of Africa, as Garvey was known to his adherents, is credited with flaring up Afro-centric sentiment from a fringe movement among subjugated former enslaved Africans to a cross-continental movement.
His ideas, chiefly revolving around the “Back to Africa” movement as the ultimate hallmark of emancipation, outlived the reactionary backlash with which they were met and foiled by the establishment of his time.
Repatriation, decolonisation, early aversion to neo-colonialism and the current upsurge of Pan-Africanism sentiment were, to varying extents, ignited from Garvey’s ideological engine.
Now that Africa is on the crest of another awakening, with Black pride, resource nationalism and economic growth turning the tide in the erstwhile “backyard of civilisation”, the philosopher’s influence is looming pertinent once again.
The fermenting crossover from austerity to prosperity, guaranteed perchance Africa stays the course and incapacitates the recurrent instruments of stagnation, is duly looking backward in order to look forward.
There is a difference between retrospection and retrogression wherefore history must not be downplayed if the continent is to retain the positive momentum.
The African awakening, which has utilised the fresh stimulus occasioned by the Golden Jubilee celebrations of the African Union under the tagline “Pan-Africanism and the African Renaissance” earlier this year, must be situated within its founding template to forestall veering off-rail.
Interests of the elite and neo-colonial subjugation continue to level a death-knell against the aspirations of masses at the base of the class pyramid.
Bob Marley’s reminder “in this great future you can’t forget your past”, and a corresponding recourse to the original canon of Pan-Africanist thought, will consolidate the authenticity of the swelling hype of Africa Rising.
Marcus Garvey himself styles history as the landmark by which a people is directed into a worthwhile course of life.
“The history of a movement, the history of a nation, the history of a race is the guide-post of that movement’s destiny, that nation’s destiny, that race’s destiny.
What you do today that is worthwhile inspires others to act at some future time,” he counsels right from the outset of his seminal “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey”.
Progressive nationalists must imperatively revert to the works of Neto, Lumumba, Blyden, Fanon, Cabral, Du Bois, Toure, Nyerere, Biko, Nkrumah and other pioneer Pan-Africanist thoroughbreds as a framing point for awakening the continent from stillborn promises to the incredible possibilities within our range.
Needless to say, this canon is not perfect but the continent can separate nuggets from dross with the benefit of hindsight.
Garvey is one revolutionary figurehead who has remained in the current with a possible downside that the emergent nostalgia borders more on a heroic chronology without due attention to its particular works.
In light of this, Literature Today devotes this week to a closer look at Garvey’s “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey.”
“Philosophy and Opinions,” which was electronically interred into the Journal of Pan-African Studies in 2009, is a compendium of Garvey’s articulate opinions across varied domains of African life.
It was compiled by Garvey’s wife, Amy Jacques in 1923, initially not for publication but to preserve a personal record of his opinions, mostly transcribed from speeches made his tenure as a leader of the Diasporan Negro community.
On second thought, Amy sent the volume to press to arm the Africans with the “expressions of thoughts enunciated by him in defence of his oppressed and struggling race; so that by his own words he may be judged, and Negroes the world over may be informed and inspired, for truth, brought to light, forces conviction, and a state of conviction inspires action”.
“The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey” is effortlessly readable and accessible for readers of all classes, possibly because it was not consciously written for publication but culled from speeches especially intended for the impoverished majority.
Marcus Garvey’s Holistic Development
Garvey advocates extensively the imperative to spur Africa from centuries of stagnancy into a geo-politically competitive entity.
He did not consider wealth to be measured by statistics on the national scale but the quality of each individual’s life, not only in monetary and material, but also personal and spiritual terms.
Success in daily endeavours, more than measuring up to an artificial criterion, accounts for genuine wealth. Holistic welfare encompassing health, material, personal and spiritual is the requisite combo for a satisfactory life.
Notwithstanding, Garvey does not gloss over poverty but slams it for facilitating crime and immorality: “One lives, in an age like this, nearer perfection by being wealthy than by being poor.
“To the contended soul, wealth is the stepping stone to perfection; to the miser it is the nearest avenue to hell. I would prefer to be honestly wealthy, than miserably poor.”
Apparently, Garvey was ahead of his time. Whereas Blacks were tutored by early Christian missionaries to embrace poverty so as to be candidates of heaven, there has been a transition whereby congregants are told to run this world before going to heaven.
In Africa, teachings of life-enhancement are still draped in suspicion but the Bible shows that the full gospel package provides both for this life and the life to come.
Garvey spurns the magnification of poverty into a virtue and encourages Blacks to be empowered in every facet of their lives.
Poverty is an abasing force which compromises the conscience since the poor man lives in perpetual temptation of other people’s property.
Garvey urges integrity of character as the first station towards attainment and advocates the even distribution of resources to abolish poverty and reclaim the inherent dignity of every person. Garvey’s ideas were however, not without flaws.
Unlike the inclusive ideal of “Afropolitanism” geography and ethnicity have no bearing on the definition of African, Garvey propagated a “pure African race”, with a somewhat counter-racist and eugenic undertones.
Kwame Nkrumah argues to the contrary, “I am an African not because I was born in Africa but because Africa was born in me.”
To his credit, Garvey argues that credible ideals know no nationality, and asks if the world should not accept Protestantism because Luther was German or reject telegraphy because Marconi was Italian.