African Liberation Day 2013: Accelerating the Full Unification of the Peoples

Source: Pambazuka

African Liberation day, May 25, 2013, was marked with meetings and reflections in all parts of the Pan-African world, from Kingston to Abuja and from Kampala to Accra. But it was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the current heads of state held their celebration. Many international leaders including the Secretary General of the United Nations participated in the celebrations in Addis. The two-day event at the new HQ were preceded by a week of meetings by many groups from across Africa and the dispersed African family. The reflections and discussions of these groups were very different from the communiques that came from the heads of state at the end of the celebration. While the heads of state focused on a standby force and their vision of Africa by 2063, the intellectuals, activists, artists and writers focused on the acceleration of the full unification of the peoples of Africa and the need for concrete steps towards a government that can defend Africans at home and abroad.

It was from the global African family where the activists were reminded of the spirit of 1804 and why the challenges laid down by the revolution in Haiti were still relevant, especially in relation to the dignity and citizenship of the African person in the 21st century. Hilary Beckles of Barbados reminded the intellectuals who were gathered in a session called ‘Being Pan-African’ that the question of reparations must be at the top of the agenda in order for there to be healing and peace in the 21st century. The three terms of dignity, emancipation and unity were repeated and elaborated on by confident presenters who participated in a forum on ‘Framing a 21st century narrative on Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.’

In this submission, I want to share some of the discussions and reflections that went on at these side meetings to celebrate 50 years of African unity.


The first session that I participated in at these celebrations was a three-day symposium entitled ‘Being Pan –African.’ Leading intellectuals from Africa and the African global family were brought together by a number of organizations in the Old Plenary Hall of the African Union on May 17 – 19. On the morning that the symposium was supposed to be open there was a delay. What was the problem? We were informed later by Giulia Bonacci (one of the organizers) that the accreditation of representatives from the Rastafari community from Sheshamane had been the reason for the hold up. Some members of the bureaucracy of the African Union considered the Rastafari a security risk, especially because many of the children of the brethren and sistren did not have the relevant identification documents to enable entry. The matter was resolved before the start when some of the Rastafari at the gates of the African Union were allowed entry. This impasse between the grassroots Rastafari community and the leaders of the African Union was like a metaphor about the freedom of movement of Africans at home and abroad. Here was a community of Africans that had repatriated to Africa but the leaders of the current state felt threatened by those who were active in the promotion of the ideas of African unity and dignity. It was, therefore, not surprising to hear from the press that many grassroots organs were excluded from the big celebrations at the AU HQ.

On Saturday evening May 18, the Rastafari brethren and sistren gave a full cultural session bringing back the lyrics of Bob Marley and those cultural artists who called for full unity.

The debates and discussions on the roots, achievements and challenges of Pan-Africanism reflected the diversity of what is called Pan-Africanism today.


There were many outstanding presentations and I want to highlight two. The first was by Kofi Anyidoho, the Ghanyan writer and poet. Drawing from the creative genius of a number of Ghanaian writers (such as Casely Hayford’s novel ‘Ethiopia Unbound’ [1911]; Ama Ata Aidoo’s short story ‘She Who Would Be King’ [1995?]; Ayi Kwei Armah’s novels ‘Osiris Rising: A Novel of Africa Past, Present and Future [1995] and KMT [2002]; and Kodwo Abaidoo’s trilogy ‘Osimbe’ [1993], ‘Black Fury’ [1995] and ‘Sealed Scroll’ [2000]), Anyidoho elaborated on the creative visions of these writers and how this body of literature has moved us far into the 21st Century .Anyidoho, formerly the Kwame Nkrumah Professor of Pan-Africanism at the University of Legon, maintained that ‘these creative visions of a future Africa seen through the minds of writers are remarkable for one fact, Africa’s resilience and triumph against domination and exploitation, based on one pre-condition: unity along lines defined by leading Pan-African thinkers, especially Kwame Nkrumah.’

His presentation was a welcome antidote to that of a young Ethiopian scholar who had castigated the Pan-Africanism of Kwame Nkrumah and sought to establish a false dichotomy between the aspirations of Nkrumah and Haile Selassie.

The other memorable presentation in the symposium was that of Hilary Beckles who spoke on the question of reparations and the healing of the African peoples. Drawing extensively from his new book ‘Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide’, Beclkles reminded the Pan-African movement of criminal legacies of the mass enslavement of Africans in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. From the moment of the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) in Durban 2001, European diplomats and politicians have been active in Africa, claiming that the enslavement of Africans was perfectly legal and moral. Those Africans whose ancestors were complicit in this criminal enterprise argued that the matter was simply a commercial activity.

Beckles reminded the gathering that the same leaders who were selling their brothers and sisters in Africa yesterday, were the same leaders who were assisting in the plunder of African resources today. These leaders have been afraid to engage with the outcomes of the WCAR to bring clarity on the lasting impacts of the enslavement on the health and well–being of the current generations. Hemmed in by their alliance with Western Europe and North America, the majority of African leaders (even within the NGO communities) have been afraid to embrace the pro-reparations positions that had been adopted in Durban. It has been the African descendants from South America, North America and the Caribbean who have been most tenacious in placing the issues of reparative justice at the center of the Pan-African agenda. For the past 11 years since Durban, the Global African family has been calling for solidarity from Africans at home so that the entire international community could heal.

The current African leadership remained deaf to the calls for reparative justice. The same leaders from the AU who were willing and able to place on the table the matter of the relationship between Africans and the current International Criminal Court could not whisper a word about the need to build a solid front over reparations.


The mandate of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), when it was launched on May 25, 1963, was to speed the full decolonization of Africa. Throughout the meetings, there was the celebratory mood that Africans have been able to overcome colonialism and apartheid. At the time of the launch of the OAU in 1963 there were more than twenty countries that had not yet achieved independence. Many have forgotten of the sacrifices that were made so that African states could achieve formal independence. And yet, even in this moment of celebration, Pan-Africanists had to be reminded that the tasks of decolonization have not yet been completed. There are still colonial enclaves in Africa in Mayotte, Diego Garcia, Cueta and Western Sahara. Outside of Africa there are millions who are still in colonial territories in places such as Aruba, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Cayenne, Puerto Rico, Curacao and Saint Maarten. During the period of the activism of the OAU Liberation Committee, Africans who were fighting for independence pressed that the status of these territories be placed before the decolonization committee of the United Nations.

Hilary Berkles used his presentation to invoke what he called the spirit of 1804. This was the spirit of the Haitian independence struggle that conferred citizenship on all Africans. Any enslaved person from any territory would automatically receive citizenship and be a free person in Haiti. The current leaders of the African Union were called upon to confer the same principle of automatic citizenship and freedom to all Africans and at the same time guarantee freedom of movement for Africans everywhere.

In my own presentation on reconstruction and transformation in the 21st century, I drew attention to the reality that the meeting was taking place at a moment of deep crisis within the international capitalist system and that the planning for a common currency in Africa may be overtaken by the present currency wars manifest in the competitive devaluations. Focusing on the positive lessons of the OAU Liberation Committee at a moment when the majority of the African summit was dominated by generals, I reminded the Pan-Africanists that commitment and clear leadership can make a difference. Like many, I underlined the reality that there can be no unity without peace. Readers will recall my earlier proposals for the replenishing of the African environment by planned interventions to reverse global warming in Africa. Then I argued that, ‘The unification of the water resources of Africa is one of the primary bases for African unity, with a system of canals linking rivers and lakes in the kind of infrastructure planning that ensures that all will have water.’ (See Water and reconstruction in Africa: an agenda for transformation, Pambazuka, April 2012).


The presence of a large contingent of delegates from Brazil, Colombia, Uruguay, Venezuela shifted the tone of the discussions from preoccupations of the neo-liberal discourses about ‘poverty reduction and governance.’ It was in the meetings to discuss the future writing of the volumes of the General History of Africa (GHA) where these sections of the global Pan-African movement made their voices heard. First, the delegates from Brazil stressed the need to enrich the teaching and writing of African history at all levels of the curriculum. Second, the Brazilian state committed itself to supporting UNESCO for the completion of the task of writing the ninth and tenth volumes of the GHA. Imperial states had intended to hold UNESCO hostage so that the historical rendering of the spread of Africans during the mass enslavement would be sanitized. The Brazilian government made a clear financial commitment to the tasks of writing and circulating this history. The past volumes have now been placed on a CD for easy circulation internationally.

The use of terms such as diaspora in the context of Pan-Africanism was heatedly debated. Many of the brothers and sisters from South America did not warm to the term African diaspora. Drawing attention to the recent usage of the term diaspora by those who have alienated the lands of the Palestinian peoples some brothers and sisters preferred the use of the term Global African Family to refer to those Africans who for diverse reasons do not live at present on the continent of Africa.


Mention was made throughout these meetings that the current leadership of the AU simply view the Global African Family in relation to remittances and the possible skills that could be useful for Africa. It is estimated that from among the recent Africans who have migrated outside of Africa in the past thirty years billions are sent back to Africa. It is estimated that these family members send back approximately $60 billion every year back to Africa. International ‘aid’ to Africa amounts to less than US $29 billion. The AU Commission has established the African Diaspora Legacy Project and has placed this work in the hands of the World Bank. From the published reports there are five elements to this legacy project, (i) The Skills Database of African Professionals in the Diaspora; (ii) The African Diaspora Volunteer Corps; (iii) The African Institute for Remittances (AIR); (iv) the African Diaspora Investment Fund; and (v) The Development Marketplace for African Development as a framework for promoting entrepreneurship and innovation.

African peoples at home who understand how the contemporary leaders align with the Breton Woods Institutions to reinforce the exploitation of the African peoples would not be surprised by these undertakings of the current AU Commission. As one commentator observed in relation to the Africa Institute for Remittances, ‘Most of us were surprised that the African Institute for Remittances had already begun in 2009, had been launched in June 2010, without one of the most important so-called stakeholders, the people who remit the funds, being aware of anything about it.’

One representative of the African Union of Lawyers called for serious work on the question of integrating the peoples of the Sixth Region into the operations of the African Union. This delegate called for the groups present to implement the work of inviting members of the Global African Family dispersed outside of Africa to participate in their organizations and not wait on the AU Commission to clarify how the dispersed Africans would be integrated and represented into the organs of the African Union.


The two concurrent meetings brought together some of the most diverse voices were the Colloquium of the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and the Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance in the 21st Century. Many of the same speakers such as Amos Sawyer of Liberia and Joaquin Chissano of Mozambique spoke in these meetings. Chissano reminded the assembled Pan-Africanists of the urgent need for a united government now and challenged the gradualist agenda that had been adopted when the leaders had convened the Grand Debate on African unity in Accra, 2007.

In the multi-stakeholder meeting there was a consistent call for the basic ideals of Pan-Africanism to be fought for. These included a union government, the free movement of people across the artificial borders, the establishment of an African currency, the African Monetary System, building the African infrastructure, the need for investments in the transformation of African agriculture, the creation of meaningful jobs for the growing youthful population, defending the health and wellbeing of the people and defending Africa from external plunderers.

Adebayo Olukoshi spelt out a vision of a self-reliant Africa that harnessed its own resources to be able to make a break from external domination. One clear tension in these discussions on Pan-Africanism was the distinction between the neo-liberal sound bites and the challenge of a language that grasped a real break from the West. For example, there were some presenters who spoke of ‘partners’ when referring to the European Union and the Untied States instead of labelling these entities as imperial exploiters. The language of Millennium Development Goals is fast receding as the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa spelt out a clear vision of economic integration and investments to accelerate the economic transformation of the continent.

The neo-liberal ideas of gender equality were on full display from a large delegation from the Young Women’s Christian Association(YWCA). There were lofty praises for presidents Hellen Sirleaf Johnson of Liberia and Joyce Banda of Malawi. There were progressive feminists who reminded all that the question was not for women to be equal to men but for the transformation of gender relations.


The outcomes and resolutions of these meetings will have to surface in order for those not present to get a clearer picture of the deliberations in Addis. From the international press reports on the statements from the summit of the heads of state, it is clear that these leaders did not take up the questions of deepening Pan-African education or the numerous calls for breaking out of the confines of the Berlinist states. In many ways the stakeholders meeting was a gathering of many who had been inspired by the work and spirit of Tajudeen Abdul Raheem. The multi-stakeholder dialogue called for the convening of the 8th Pan African congress and there was already lobbying to call for Ghana to host the 8th Pan-African Congress.

Throughout the year of 2013 to 2014, the AU Commission has called for celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of African Unity. Concerned Africans at home and abroad will have to find their own way to celebrate. Jibrin Ibrahim in his article ‘Nigeria: No Country Is Enough,’ communicated the mood at one celebration hosted by the Centre for Democracy and Development in Abuja. These celebrations In Nigeria for the life of Tajudeen and the anniversary of African Liberation Day was a reminder that even in the midst of the uncertainties unleashed by elements like Boko Haram, there are Africans who are planning for a new dawn when societies such as Nigeria will be part of the new road to emancipation.

Patrice Lumumba was assassinated in 1961. The compromise of the OAU came directly from the forces who did not want the Congo to be free. Fifty years after the assassination of Lumumba, the Congo is still mired in destabilization and plunder. The Congolese artists and singers have risen above this plunder and for fifty years have given voice to the spirit of love and peace. From all corners poets, writers, film makers, story tellers and musicians are planning their own statement on African Liberation.

One young Egyptian scholar made a presentation on the Egyptian revolution 1952 and its links to the 2011 revolutionary processes. This presentation reminded those who would listen that the liberation of Africa will not be a smooth linear process. In commemorating the African heroines and heroes over the past fifty years there was the effort to steel the next generation so that the present self-confidence will be imbued with new creativity to launch a leap so that African emancipation and dignity will be a beacon for humanity in the 21st century.

Horace Campbell is Professor of African American Studies and Political Science at Syracuse University. He is also a Special invited Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing. He is the author of the forthcoming book, ‘Global NATO and the catastrophic failure in Libya’.