I recently read an article titled “I am African but I am also African-American.” To a certain extent, I enjoyed it because I could relate to her story. I migrated to the United States at a very young age. Now, I realize that my culture or way of life has been forever diluted.
But, my only dilemma is that she called herself an “unapologetic Pan-Africanist” even though she admitted the “impossibility of wholly connecting to her African roots due to the de-africanisation” of Africa during colonial rule. Her article connotes that Pan-Africanism is synonymous to “black struggle.” Originally, Pan-Africanism is defined as an ideology and movement that encourages the solidarity of Africans worldwide.
But what is to be a Pan-African in the 21st century?
Is Pan-Africanism simply a perpetual reactionary movement or a political ideology? What is it? What is even to be an African in the 21st century? Am I more or less African than the white folks in Zimbabwe, Angola or South Africa who have made these countries their home for centuries?
The author of this article exemplified a symptom of a larger problem within the so-called African community. The new generations of Africans are quick to call themselves Pan-Africanists without understanding the meaning of the term.The continuous use the term while ignoring its historical origin or meaning by the majority of its adherent is deplorable.
It seems as the term originally proposed by Henry Sylvester-Williams, as the ideology for the unity and empowerment of black individuals has been relegated to a reactionary movement that gain credence on the dislike of the west than on the history of struggle and oppression shared by black individuals.
I do not intend to give anyone a historical lesson, but I will remind the reader that the term is a product of slavery and blatant dehumanization of black people. Now, the dynamic has changed. Oppression is still a problem among people of African descents, but slavery and colonization, as we know it has disappeared.
Nowadays, the admiration of historical figures like Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara or Steve Biko or trivial knowledge of the history of Africa seems as the only requirements to the adherence to the Pan-Africanist or Africanist movement. Unfortunately, it is much easier to celebrate these symbolic leaders than to stand up for their ideals and principles; one that advocated for a holistic understanding and celebration of the cultural heritage of the continent.
The unity of ‘Africans’ under the banner of Pan-Africanism or Africanism on false bases or outdated assumptions will only lead to the fractionalization and failures of the movement. As such, the so-called pan-Africanist or Africanist of today can focus on appropriating or redefining their term and movement than celebrating an elusive identity.
Moreover, our ancestors are also responsible for their failures “to narrate our history and their incompetence in documenting, chronicling and praising our identity and reality.” “We are proud of our roots and connected to it within our capacity but shy away from it out of ignorance birthed from not knowing and comprehending enough” as stated by Clenia Gigi.
Many of the new pan-Africanist and Africanist represent what Frantz Fanon called ‘Black Skin White Mask.’ The educational system in Africa or abroad inculcates people with western philosophies and ideologies. They think Africa but walk and act Europeans.
As stated by Sandile Memela, “when one looks and listens to business, political and cultural leaders, we are most likely to see and hear speeches of African people that not only reinforce white supremacy, but are rooted in European thinking. Our present orientation is not necessarily rooted in African thought, culture and heritage.”
Educated in western or ‘afro-western’ universities and aside from trivial facts of the continent, Pan-Africanists or Africans in general fail to admit that they do not fully grasp the historical dynamic of Africa. They are suffering from a ‘constant amnesia’ that prevents them from realizing that the history of continent and black people is beyond slavery or colonization.
No wonder why all over Africa “there are far too many born free little girls and boys who have severely been cut off from their background, history and heritage simply because their parents are obsessed with European languages, culture and way of doing things” to quote from Sandile Memela.
Furthermore, the pan-African or African of today is too busy defending himself in the eyes of the West. The West dictates his argument. Their priority is his priority. Their standard is his standard. Their benchmark is his benchmark. Their news is his news. He is trapped in this vicious cycle of defense and reaction. He is not in control of his argument. He is only here to defend and react.
A consequence of this phenomenon is currently observed through our leaders with the mismatch of demands and solutions originating from our failures to realize that the “cut and paste it approach on a society with different social dynamics” will never work.
Undeniably, the current situation is a product of history. Many of us have been victim of an educational system that debase or devalue the history of our ancestors while celebrating the western way of life. But as we say in Fulani, a man is always an extension of his lineage.
The soul is always close to home. Nobody can change the history of his people or country without understanding the different historical dynamic. The current pan-Africanist and Africanist problem is that many of so-called members are full of hope but deprive of a holistic understanding of historical dynamic. Ignorance has become the ideology for and of the movement.
It is time to realize a movement that presumes it has to continuously defend itself will never become a political ideology. In the midst of all this, it is important to mention that certain people have a clear understanding or view of a Pan-African or an African.
Kudos to them, but they are responsible for their failures to redefine and control the narrative of their movement. Too many Africans satisfy their egocentric sentiment by simply calling themselves Pan-Africanists or Africanists.
Honestly, I am proud of my root but I refuse to belong to a movement that is defined by ignorance and ambiguity. It is preferable that ‘African elites and leaders’ theorize and redefine the meaning of a Pan-African and African in this 21st century. Maybe then, you can call me a Pan-Africanist or Africanist. Just then…