chapter  33
Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787 (Hakim Adi and Marika
BySherwood)
Pages 5

Adi took his doctorate at London University and is a senior scholar at Middlesex University in London where he teaches history of Africa and the African Diaspora. He co-founded the Black and Asian Studies Association (BASA) which he chaired for a number of years. In addition to his scholarship on the African Diaspora, he has written several history books for children and appeared prominently in television documentaries. Sherwood is a senior fellow at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London. She is also a co-founder of BASA and serves as its secretary. An explanation is needed for the choice of Pan-African History as a

“key work” among the 50 surveyed in this volume. It consists of 40 mini-biographies or “profiles” of men and women connected with “Pan-Africanism” and the “African Diaspora.” There is an immense literature of books and articles on the history of Africa, the slave trade, racism, and the dispersion of blacks around the world. The value of this brief Pan-African History is its panorama of personalities, leaders, rebels, and thinkers, a reminder that individuals make a difference in

the broader currents of history, as Henri Pirenne believed (see essay 20 in this volume). “Pan-African” refers to a long pursued, much diffused agenda for

some form of African political and economic unity that includes people of African descent. Part of that effort has been an issue of identity to foster collective African consciousness apart from individuals in particular states, societies, or non-African environments. “Diaspora” refers to the movement of Africans by the millions, over several centuries, to North America, South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, and Europe. An overwhelming majority of these people were unwilling migrants snatched up and transported in the European and Arab slave trade. Much scholarship, commentary, and a host of conferences have

sought to establish a coherent, working connection between PanAfrican ideals and black people embedded in other cultures around the world. Thus the “pan” suffix has been extended beyond the continent of Africa to include Africans everywhere by a single criterion, whatever their assorted views and doings: “What underlies their manifold visions and approaches is the belief in some form of unity or of common purpose among the peoples of Africa and the African diaspora” (vii). Many of the 40 men and women discussed in this work knew each

other, worked for the same organizations, or attended the same conferences. As it turns out, however, Pan-Africanism did not come out of Africa: “Before 1945 many of the leading figures in Pan-African history lived and worked in the diaspora rather than in Africa itself. Indeed for a time Europe might be seen as the center of the Pan-African world” (ix). An institutional framework for a global approach to African unity

in Africa and abroad has been the Pan-African Conference. The first was held in 1900 with others to follow. Conference objectives were: “ … to bring into closer touch with each other the Peoples of African descent throughout the world, to inaugurate plans to bring about more friendly relations between Caucasian and African races, to start a movement to secure to all African races living in civilized countries their full rights and to promote their business interests” (Quoted: 191). At a more local or national level, many additional organizations have been founded, supported by books, manifestos, journals, and newsletters. Many of the “leading figures” are well known, such as Toussaint

L’Overture, Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Others are more obscure, even if important from a Pan-African

perspective, such as Nathaniel Fadipe, George Padmore, Amy Garvey, Martin Delaney, and James Horton. Assembled are journalists, historians, activists, and politicians, but there is no visible convergence on strategy, methods, or even a developed philosophy to unite people of African descent in a consistent vision of how their lives might be improved by mutual help and cooperation. Some of this variety and the clash of views within it can be sampled. A major parting of the ways among Pan-Africanists is how to achieve concrete objectives. Violence is defended by Frantz Fanon and Malcolm X, while nonviolence is the path chosen by Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr. The earliest figure is Quobna Ottobah Cugoano, born in 1757 in

Ghana, sold into slavery at age 13, shipped to Granada, and after two years as a slave was taken by his owner to England. In some unknown way he became free, a status that was reinforced by baptism. He went to work as a servant to some well-known artists. Soon he was associated with Sons of Africa, a black abolitionist organization. He was the first black author in print denouncing the slave trade. Thoughts and Sentiments on the Evil and Wicked Traffic of the Slavery and Commerce of the Human Species, published in 1787, “demolishes the principle proslavery arguments which questioned the humanity of Africans or preached benevolence of the trade” (27). He sought to mobilize Africans on behalf of their own interest, and charged that everyone in Britain was responsible for slavery unless actively opposed to it. He advocated anti-slavery patrols along the coast of Africa and called for normal trade relations with Africans, ideas already afloat among abolitionists, which became the substance of British policy two decades later. Edward Blyden (1832-1912) “has been seen as one of the key

thinkers in the development of Pan-African ideas” (11). He was born in the Virgin Islands of free parents. After being rejected by several American colleges because of color, he turned to the American Colonization Society whose goal was to ship American Negroes to Liberia in West Africa. Blyden continued his education and career in Liberia, and came to believe Liberia would be the salvation of all oppressed black people, but especially by Christian Negroes from America, who would bring civilization with them. His views often conflicted with Pan-Africanism. He rejected race

mixture and wanted to keep the “mulatto” out of Liberia. He argued that Africans need an educational system suited to their needs and culture, but insisted on study of Latin, Greek, and the Bible. On colonialism, “Blyden began to believe that British imperialism might

play a more important civilizing role in West Africa than migrants from the USA or the Caribbean … He supported British imperialism not only in West Africa but elsewhere too, welcoming the invasion of Egypt in 1882. He believed that Britain was the colonial power that would best protect the interests of Africans … ” (13-14). He even favored European partition of Africa as best for Africans. He defies any simple idea of what a Pan-Africanist might believe and want, but is still important: “ … Blyden was one of the key contributors to the ideologies of Pan-Africanism and West African nationalism, and one of the first to articulate a notion of ‘African personality’ and the uniqueness of the ‘African race’” (14). W.E.B Du Bois (1868-1963), called the “father of ‘Pan-

Africanism,’” has been seen as “the most influential African-American intellectual of the twentieth century” (48). At the 1900 Pan-African Conference, “he chaired the committee charged with drafting its appeal ‘To the Nations of the World.’ It was in this appeal that the famous phrase ‘The problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line’ first appeared.” (Ibid.). He planned four future congresses held in various European capitals and in New York: “The four congresses established the idea of Pan-Africanism and drew together activities and delegates from the USA, Ethiopia, Liberia, Haiti, and the colonies … but few anti-colonial activities from the African continent itself were represented, there was little support from African-American organizations and no permanent organization or organizing center was established” (50). Frantz Fanon (1925-61) analyzed “the effects of colonization on

people and nations … Writing from his own experience in the Algerian struggle for independence, he sought solutions, promoted violent struggle, and extolled the necessity for African unity” (64). He believed the paramount danger for Africa was the absence of coherent ideology. Nothing would happen to bring Africans together in common cause if one half opposed colonialism and the other half collaborated with it: “Fanon now began to define what he meant by ‘unity’, which could take many forms-for example, the economic cooperation being attempted by Nigeria and Liberia … ” (67). He argued for reparations from Europe to the Third World to repair the damage of colonialism and rejected peaceful means of reform: “Fanon also argued against Gandhian non-violence … Violence was a cleansing force, freeing the native from his inferiority complex and from his despair and inaction” (Ibid.). Pan-African History is strong in detailed biographical-historical essays

(each accompanied by a brief bibliography) that reached across two

centuries. For the historiography of singular black people in or out of Africa, there is nothing quite like it. The weakness is absence of integration, a pulling together of themes, a summary of agreements, disputes, and ambiguities, which the Preface does not provide, so the forest can be viewed beyond the trees. A question left mostly unanswered is the extent to which enough “unity” has been achieved so Kenyans or Congolese at least feel conscious kinship with blacks in Jamaica, Britain, and America. The idea of “unity” still remains tantalizing and vague in this example of Pan-African historiography.