Building a Pan Africanism from below
Boipelo Bonokwane | Womin | 31 May 2021
Ma 25th is observed across the region as African Liberation Day and marks the commemoration of the Pan African unity which laid the foundation for the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. Kwame Nkrumah, as independent Ghana’s first prime minister and president led the movement to build Pan African unity which culminated in the formation of the OAU. The 1958, All African People’s Conference marked the first meeting of Africa’s independent states, and called for the unity of Africa’s people in seeking their freedom and human dignity from colonial oppression. The Pan African unity and international solidarity advocated by Nkrumah recognised that global capitalist imperialist oppression meant that the struggle for liberation was more than a struggle for African nationalism.
Regional Pan African icons such as Andrée Blouin, Kwame Nkrumah, Amilcar Cabral, Julius Nyerere, Agostinho Neto and Josina Muthemba Machel, understood that uprooting colonialism was synonymous with the uprooting of imperialism and capitalism, and this notion remains true today. This, as postcolonial Africa has further entrenched the economic injustices founded through European colonial expansion.
As natural resource extraction accounts for at least 20% of the national GDP of almost half of the region’s countries, Africa continues to be considered as resource rich and mining, oil and gas exploration, industrial agriculture and fishing activities continue to increase. Therefore the regional economic stagnation, over indebtedness and development crisis that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has deepened, is also a result of the failure to prioritise the economic liberation of the region after attaining political independence. This, as extractive regional economies continue to create wealth for mining companies and an elite minority while communities continue to suffer the consequences of extractive mining and agriculture. Nkrumah characterised this as neo-colonialism, emphasising that true liberation and independence is not only from colonialism, but also from the external actors which influence national economic and political policies.
Africa remains severely food insecure as over 100 million people in the region are facing catastrophic food insecurity, indicating that despite the region’s agricultural capacity, its people face widespread hunger. Yet, agriculture is central to the GDP of many African countries, and agricultural exports from the region have slowly increased as Africa’s share of the global GDP increased for agriculture from 10% in 2005 to 12% in 2017. The contradiction of Africa’s food insecurity was central in Sankara’s critique of the global development model. Thomas Sankara was highly critical of how global capitalism causes regional food insecurity, critical of global food aid and how it is used to dump agricultural surpluses of developed countries, and reduces the domestic food production of the countries receiving aid. Sankara’s recognition of the global capitalist system’s oppression of humanity was ecofeminist in its resolute position that capitalism destroys all forms of life, and advocating for sustainable development for nature and women. Sankara noted that:
“Humankind first knew slavery with the advent of private property. Man, master of his slaves and of the land, became in addition the woman’s master. This was the historic defeat of the female sex.”Thomas Sankara
He reminds us all that the Pan Africanism is about human dignity, and the rate at which women have been exploited alongside nature, places ecofeminism at the centre of Pan Africanism. Pan African unity, as understood in the struggle for liberation from colonialism, is birthed from the recognition that colonialism is a system of capitalist expansion which disintegrates all forms of life in the name of profit. Therefore Pan Africanism is about agrarian land reform, it is about ecologically sound practices which promote food security, and the protection of non-renewable natural resources and forests. Community struggles for access to land, water, shelter, education and healthcare are directly rooted to the global capitalist system and its inherent reliance on exploitation to produce profits.
Josina Muthemba Machel, a feminist leader in Mozambique’s liberation struggle, in her poem This is the Time, says:
“Ahead of us we see bitter hardships
But we also see
Our children running free
Our country plundered no more.”Josina Muthemba Machel
Machel reminds us that liberation is not a singular day in our history, as liberation is synonymous with freedom, relief, and unshackling of chains, it is a generational struggle. In a political economy which enslaves, marginalises and destroys, the question of liberation remains.
As leaders such as Amilcar Cabral strongly advocated for a living Pan Africanism rooted in community culture that respects the region’s people, WoMin and regional partners on Africa Day launched a Pan African Dialogue Series, geared at recognising and unearthing the generations of human struggle which continue today and present a form of Pan Africanism to be celebrated and developed.
The first session with Aziz Salmone Fall: Recovering Pan African Histories and Perspectives was vital in refocusing Pan Africanism from institutions to people. This is well-aligned with the objectives of the series to recover historical Pan Africanist currents of thinking and movement, and to place them in this contemporary and historical moment of deepening crises. We hope that the dialogue will highlight resistances and struggles from below which shape a peoples’ ecological feminist and socialist Pan Africanism today and read this against the formal redundant and ossified regional and continental bodies.