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Because it refers neither to a single political ideology nor a clearly discernible philosophical tradition, Pan-Africanism is difficult to define. Many scholars avoid defining it, noting that black internationalism has varied drastically according to time and place. Indeed, various conceptions of Pan-Africanism have been aligned with disparate political and theoretical positions, from largely religious to communist to even, Paul Gilroy suggests, fascist forms. Yet, the concept can be said to signify a set of shared assumptions. Pan-Africanist intellectual, cultural, and political movements tend to view all Africans and descendants of Africans as belonging to a single "race" and sharing cultural unity. Pan-Africanism posits a sense of a shared historical fate for Africans in the Americas, West Indies, and, on the continent itself, has centered on the Atlantic trade in slaves, African slavery, and European imperialism.

Cultural and intellectual manifestations of Pan-Africanism have been devoted to recovering or preserving African "traditions" and emphasizing the contributions of Africans and those in the diaspora to the modern world. Pan-Africanists have invariably fought against racial discrimination and for the political rights of Africans and descendants of Africans, have tended to be anti-imperialist, and often espoused a metaphorical or symbolic (if not literal) "return" to Africa.

Origins and Development of Pan-Africanism

The modern conception of Pan-Africanism, if not the term itself, dates from at least the mid-nineteenth-century. The slogan, "Africa for the Africans," popularized by Marcus Garvey's (18871940) Declaration of Negro Rights in 1920, may have originated in West Africa, probably Sierra Leone, around this time. The African-American Martin Delany (18121885), who developed his own re-emigration scheme, reported in 1861 the slogan after an expedition to Nigeria during 18591860 and Edward Wilmot Blyden (18321912) adopted it when he arrived in West Africa in 1850. Blyden, originally from St. Thomas, played a significant role in the emergence of Pan-Africanist ideas around the Atlantic through his public speeches and writings in Africa, Britain, and the United States, and proposed the existence of an "African personality" resembling contemporary European cultural nationalisms. Blyden's ideas informed the notion of race consciousness developed by W. E. B. DuBois (18681963) at the end of the nineteenth century.

The growth of Pan-African sentiments in the late nineteenth century can be seen as both a continuation of ethnic, or "pan-nationalist," thinking and a reaction to the limits of emancipation for former slaves in the diaspora and European colonial expansion in Africa. There are a number of reasons why black internationalism had particular resonance during this period. African contact with Europeans, the slave trade from Africa, and the widespread use of African slaves in the New World colonies were the most salient factors, leading first those in dispersion and then many in Africa to envision the unity of the "race." At the same time, as abolition spread gradually around the Atlantic during the nineteenth century, Europeans increasingly viewed race as a biological and, thus, inherent difference rather than a cultural one.

Back-to-Africa movementsparticularly the establishment of Sierra Leone by the British in 1787 and Liberia by the American Colonization Society in 1816also contributed to the emergence of Pan-Africanism, and were probably the original source of the phrase, "Africa for the Africans." From 1808, English Evangelicals at the CMS Grammar School in Freetown taught their "liberated" students that there were other Africans around the globe, which instilled a sense of a common destiny. Many mission-educated Sierra Leoneans like Samuel Crowther (c. 18071891) and James Johnson (18361917) moved or, in some cases, moved back to Nigeria, primarily Lagos, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, where they were joined by returning freed people from Brazil and the Caribbean. These groups quickly coalesced into the Christian, African upper class that produced the leaders of early Nigerian nationalism and Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanism was the product of extraordinary, European-educated Africans and African-Americans, in other words, those most exposed to metropolitan culture and the influences of the modern world.


Apart from the contributions of West Africans and African descendants in the New World, South Africa developed a distinctive form of race consciousness in the form of Ethiopianism. Up to the contemporary Rastafarian movement in Jamaica, the word Ethiopian has enjoyed a privileged position in the Pan-Africanist vocabulary as a term for all Africans and as one referring only to the inhabitants of a specific state (Abyssinia). The movement denoted by the term Ethiopianism draws on the former denotation and takes its name from the "Ethiopian Church" founded in 1892 by Mangena M. Mokone (18511931) who separated from the African Methodist Episcopal mission over discrimination in the church.

Ethiopianism emerged in response to European colonial settlement, the institutionalization of white supremacy, and rapid industrialization, particularly in mining areas like the Rand region near Johannesburg. Its leaders were largely graduates of missionary schools, but most in their audiences were illiterate. Thus, Ethiopianism became a significant means of spreading proto-nationalist ideas and a sense of Pan-African unity in southeastern and South Africa. Following the last Zulu uprising in 1906, white South Africans and the British associated the movement with the insurrection and became hypersensitive to any potential expressions of the "peril." The notion of Ethiopianism, however, had spread to West Africa, notably the Gold Coast and Nigeria, by the end of the nineteenth century, where it blended with other Pan-Africanist currents.

Transnational Pan-Africanism

Although the exact origins are disputed, the term Pan-African first appeared in the 1890s. P. O. Esedebe maintains that the Chicago Congress on Africa held in 1893 marks both the transition of Pan-Africanism from an idea to a recognizable movement and the first usage of the word itself. In their collection on Pan-African history, however, Adi and Sherwood point to the creation of the African Association in 1898 and the convening of the first Pan-African conference in 1900 in London, both organized by the Trinidadian lawyer Henry Sylvester Williams (18691911), with the objective of "bringing into closer touch with each other the Peoples of African descent throughout the world," as the beginning of the "organised Pan-African movement." Despite these differences, scholars agree on the important role that the African American intellectual W. E. B. DuBois played in developing the idea of Pan-Africanism and marshalling a transnational political movement around it. Indeed, DuBois contributed significant speeches to the proceedings of the Chicago Congress and the Pan-African 1900 conference. In his "Address to the Nations of the World" at the latter, DuBois declared:

the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line, the question as to how far differences of race are going to be made, hereafter, the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization. (1995, p. 11)

Although Williams was unable to bring plans for a second conference to fruition, DuBois soon initiated his own movement, resulting in five Pan-African Congresses during the first half of the twentieth century (1919, Paris; 1921, London, Brussels, Paris; 1923, London and Lisbon; 1927, New York; 1945, Manchester, England). During this period the nature and tenor of Pan-Africanist cultural and political activities changed drastically.

Pan-Africanism in the Early Twentieth Century

World War I brought thousands of African-Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, and Africans into contact with one another. The exigencies of war also led the imperial powers of EuropeBritain, France, and Germanyto train and employ colonial subjects in crucial industries while, as colonial combatants, many others saw firsthand the depravity that a supposedly superior European civilization had produced. Colonial soldiers also pointed to the racism implicit in being asked to fight to "make the world safe for democracy" when this world would not include them, a suspicion confirmed for many when the Allies refused to include a guarantee against racial discrimination in the League of Nations charter following the war. As a result, the interwar years witnessed an unprecedented growth in a sense of racial unity and the popularity of black internationalism.

Marcus Garvey.

The most famous Pan-Africanist movement of the period was Garveyism. After struggling for some time to attract an audience in his native Jamaica, Marcus Garvey emigrated to Harlem in 1916, where he and a young, educated Jamaican woman, Amy Ashwood (who later married Garvey), relocated the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.; founded 1914) on firmer footing. The U.N.I.A. quickly became the largest African-American organization in history due, in large part, to the diligent work of black women in the movement, especially West Indian emigrants like Ashwood and Marcus Garvey's secretary and second wife, Amy Jacques (18961973).

The apogee of the U.N.I.A.'s success was probably its international convention in 1920, at which Garvey presented the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, demanding "self-determination for all peoples" and "the inherent right of the Negro to possess himself of Africa." Garvey's hubrisin declaring himself "the provisional president of Africa," for instanceand autocratic leadership, however, cost him important friends and supporters, and his flair for ostentatious public spectacles and inflated expectations led many leading African-American writers and scholars, for example, Alain Locke (18851954) and DuBois, to decry him as a liability to the race. With most of his commercial enterprises like the Black Star shipping line failing or already bankrupt, in 1922 the U.S. government arrested and jailed Garvey for five years before deporting him in 1927, effectively ending the organizational life of the U.N.I.A. in the United States. Nevertheless, Garvey's life and work left a powerful legacy around the African diaspora, and his ideas have reappeared in many guises, from the violent labor clashes in the Caribbean during the 1920s and 1930s to the more millenarian form of Garveyism that developed in South Africa.

Pan-Africanist literary and cultural movements.

The interwar period also witnessed the flowering of a number of Pan-Africanist literary and cultural movements, especially in New York, London, and Paris, and the emergence of a trans-Atlantic periodical culture. In the United States, the New Negro movement of the 1920s, better known as the Harlem Renaissance, not only drew attention to the work of African American artists but also displayed distinct Pan-Africanist sensibilities. Writers like James Weldon Johnson (18711938) inspired others around the Atlantic, for example, the Nardal sisters from Martinique (Paulette, Jane, and Andrée, who ran a salon out of which came La Revue de Monde Noir [The Journal of the Black World] edited by Paulette Nardal and Léo Sajous) and Una Marson from Jamaica (19051965; the first major woman poet of the Caribbean and a playwright), to assert positive images of blackness while experimenting with stylistic innovations, often informed by black musical forms like the blues. Yet, the New Negro movement was not solely a literary or artistic movement: Pan-Africanist political organizations, including the explicitly communist African Blood Brotherhood, can also be seen as manifestations of it.

Pan-Africanists and communism.

However, it was across the Atlantic in Britainwhere by the mid-1930s a key group of West Indian and African radicals had assembledthat communism and, particularly, the recent of success of the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) had its greatest impact on Pan-Africanist activists and intellectuals. The Trinidadians George Padmore (19021959) and C. R. L. James (19011989) were most significant in this regard. Padmore served as head of the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers and editor of its monthly newspaper, the Negro Worker, and James was an internationally known Trotskyite.

Growing awareness of Stalin's abuses in the Soviet Union and, more importantly, the apathy with which the governments of Europe and the League of Nations greeted Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Haile Selassie's pleas for intervention ultimately led them both to split from the Communist Party and foreground Pan-Africanism in their political and intellectual work. In 1938, James published two important books of Pan-African history, the Black Jacobins and A History of Negro Revolt. Both situated contemporary anti-imperialist struggles in Africa within a larger tradition of resistance stretching back to slave uprisings in the New World. As James explains in a revealing footnote that he later added to the Black Jacobins, "such observations, written in 1938, were intended to use the San Domingo revolution as a forecast of the future of colonial Africa."

James formed the International African Friends of Abyssinia in 1935 along with Padmore, Amy Ashwood Garvey, the Trinidadian musician and journalist Sam Manning, Ras Makonnen (18921975) from British Guiana, the Sierra Leonean trade unionist I. T. A. Wallace-Johnson (18951965), and the future president of postcolonial Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta (18891978). The group soon became the International African Service Bureau and published a series of short-lived but important journals: Africa and the World (JulySeptember 1937), African Sentinel (October 1937April 1938), and International African Opinion (July 1938March 1939).

Sojourners from Africa and the Caribbean created a number of other organizations in interwar Britain, most notably the West African Student Union (WASU) and the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP). Harold Moody (18821947), a West Indian doctor who was outspokenly anticommunist, founded the latter as an interracial association with the intention of fostering greater understanding and cooperation across racial boundaries. A small group of law students from West Africa, led by Ladipo Solanke (18841958), established the WASU to challenge racial discrimination and racist representations in Britain. However, they were also encouraged by the example of the National Congress of British West Africa under the leadership of J. E. Casely Hayford (18661930), which envisioned the creation of an independent "United States of West Africa." The LCP and the WASU also published two significant mainstays of the black British press during the period, The Keys and Wãsù (Preach), respectively. Though initially neither was radical politically, by World War II both organizations had begun to call for an end to British colonial rule in Africa and the Caribbean, and the WASU's local hostel in particular had become an important clearinghouse for Pan-Africanist ideas. In fact, several members of WASU went on to become prominent politicians in postcolonial Africa.

Pan-Africanism in France.

Though they have received far less attention in the extant literature, students, writers, and activists from the Francophone Antilles and French West Africa also developed a distinct form of Pan-Africanism, or internationalisme noir (black internationalism), in Paris between the wars. After serving in World War I, the ambitious lawyer and philosopher Prince Kojo Tovalou-Houenou (18871925) from Dahomey founded the Ligue Universelle pour la Défense de la Race Noire (International League for the Defense of the Black Race), which published the first black newspaper in France, Les Continents, during the second half of 1924. The Martinican novelist René Maran (18871960) also played a major role in the paper as both an editor and writer.

However, the most well-known expression of black internationalism in interwar France was the literary and philosophical movement known as Negritude. The Martinican poet Aimé Césaire coined the term during 19361937. In addition to Césaire, the work of Léon-Gontran Damas (19121978) and Léopold Sedar Senghor (19062001) are usually credited with establishing and defining the movement. Yet, Negritude emerged within a broader spectrum of Pan-Africanist activities, from the Senegalese communist Lamine Senghor's (18891927) Comité de Défense de la Race Nègre (Committee for the Defense of the Black Race), which was founded in 1926 and published the short-lived journal La voix des nègres.

Women's contributions to Pan-Africanism.

The essential contributions of women to the development of both Anglophone and Francophone forms of black internationalism were overshadowed by their male contemporaries and have fared little better in scholarship on Pan-Africanism. Recently, however, the feminist-inflected Pan-Africanism of Jamaican womenAmy Ashwood Garvey, Una Marson, and Claudia Jones (19151964)and West African women such as Constance Cummings-John (19182000) and Stella Thomas has received more attention. Likewise, the crucial role of the Martinican Nardal sisters in initiating and articulating internationalisme noir in Parisas illustrated, for example, by La revue du monde noir is only beginning to be acknowledged. Moreover, as Brent Hayes Edwards points out, historians have failed to recognize the ways in which various formulations of Pan-Africanism and, more specifically, the Negritude movement were implicitly gendered.

Pan-Africanism after World War II
and Postcolonialism

Coming as it did immediately after the upheavals of World War II, the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester marked a watershed in black internationalist activities around the Atlantic. Though ostensibly under DuBois's guidance, it was organized primarily by socialist Pan-Africanists in Britain, especially George Padmore, and was the first Congress to include a significant number of Africans like Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah (19091972), who served as assistant secretary and joint secretary, respectively.

Following the Manchester Congress, the site of Pan-Africanist activities shifted from the United States and Europe to the colonies in the Caribbean and, particularly, Africa. In fact, many of the key figures in the movementDuBois, Padmore, and Alphaeus Huntonrelocated to Africa during this period. In 1956, Padmore's classic Pan-Africanism or Communism? appeared, and in 1958 Nkrumah hosted the first All-Africa People's Conference at Accra in the wake of independence from British colonial rule in 1957 and the creation of an independent Ghana.

In the postcolonial era, the nature of Pan-Africanism and the problems facing Pan-Africanist projects changed dramatically. For the first time, Pan-Africanism became a broad-based mass movement in Africa and enjoyed its greatest successes as an international liberation movement in the first two decades after the war. Through his rhetoric and, most importantly, his example as president of independent Ghana, Nkrumah dominated this period in the history of Pan-Africanism. The context of the Cold War profoundly shaped the struggle for independence in Africa, as it did global politics in general, but in spite of his commitment to Marxism, Nkrumah avoided taking sides in the East-West Cold War and, instead, emphasized African unity. As some historians have noted, the All-Africa People's Conference at Accra in 1957, attended by some 250 delegates, established the basic tenets of Pan-Africanism for decades to come: the attainment of political independence, assistance to national liberation movements, diplomatic unity between independent African states at the United Nations, and nonalignment. As Nkrumah asserts in I Speak of Freedom, "a Union of African states will project more effectively the African personality."

In 1963, due primarily to the efforts of Nkrumah, President Sékou Touré (19221984) of Guinea, President Modibo Keita (19151977) of the Republic of Mali, and Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded in the midst of decolonization and the euphoria of independence in West Africa. However, economic neocolonialism and the limits of political independence quickly extinguished the optimism of the immediate postcolonial period, leading Pan-Africanist scholars like the Trinidadian historian Walter Rodney (19421980) to reevaluate the long-term repercussions of the Atlantic slave trade and European imperialism for Africa. The 1960s also witnessed a number of intra-African disputes between newly independent states, many of which were precipitated by border issues inherited from colonialism.

Pan-Arabism and Pan-Africanism.

Another significant feature of the postwar period was the convergence of Pan-Africanism and Pan-Arabism, which had hitherto remained distinct movements in North Africa. Traditionally, Pan-Arabism focused on North Africa's historical links to the east, to the Arabian Peninsula and the Fertile Crescent, while sub-Saharan Pan-Africanism looks across the Atlantic to African descendants in the Americas. Moreover, religion (Islam) enjoys pride of place in Pan-Arabism as the basis of the perceived unity of the Arab world, but loosely defined cultural similarities and "racial" solidarity or, in Nkrumah's words, a distinctive "African personality" underlie Pan-Africanism.

The flowering of anti-imperialist, nationalist movements in North African after World War II, and especially the Egyptian revolution of 1952, however, signaled the emergence of a fusion of the two movements. Initially, this resulted principally from the political vision of Gamal Abdel Nasser (19181970), who succeeded Muhammad Naguib (19011984) as Egypt's leader. He maintained that his country had historically occupied the center of three concentric circlesthe Arab world, the Muslim world, and Africaand argued on this basis that Egypt should not remain indifferent to liberation struggles in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite his exaggeration of the importance of Egypt to Africa's future, the appearance in 1959 of his book, The Philosophy of Revolution, marked an important moment in the intersection of the Pan-Arab and Pan-African movements.

The triumphant resolution of the Suez Crisis in 1956 also enhanced Nasser's international standing, making him a source of inspiration and a symbol of the larger struggle to free Africa and the Arab world from European hegemony. The pioneering works of the Senegalese historian and politician Cheikh Anta Diop (19231986), such as The Cultural Unity of Black Africa (1963) and The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality (1974), which resituated Egyptian history within its larger African context, represent another important intellectual manifestation of this moment in the history of Pan-Africanism.

The final, bloody years of the Algerian war of independence (19541962) also strengthened ties between Pan-Arabism and Pan-Africanism. The anticolonial war in Algeria had originally split intellectuals and politicians in Francophone Africa, due largely to the special status accorded the territory as a legal part of France. This began to change, however, after Ghana's independence in 1957 when Nkrumah, an outspoken proponent of the Algerian cause, became the new state's first president. In addition to Nkrumah's Ghana, Guinea and Mali joined the predominately Arab, pro-Algerian Casablanca Group, and Nkrumah became the first sub-Saharan African leader to support Arab nations in denouncing Israel as a "tool of neocolonialism" in Palestine when he endorsed the Casablanca declaration.

After Algeria gained its independence in 1962, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) emerged as the primary agent of Arab-African cooperation after 1963. Many then interpreted the June War of 1967 between Arabs and Israel as an attack on a member of the OAU and an occupation of African territory by Israeli forces, which only served to strengthen the importance of anti-Israeli sentiment as a basis for Arab-African solidarity. By the time of the October War of 1973 between Arab nations and Israel, politics in the Middle East and Africa were more intertwined than ever due to the nearly unanimous severing of African states' diplomatic ties to Israel.

Pan-Africanism in the Late Twentieth Century

The mid-1970s saw the elaboration of a new philosophy and a new outline for long-term economic, technical, and financial cooperation between Africa and the Arab world. In some respects, oil and, particularly, the creation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) were important in this regard and transformed Nigeria into a crucial state in Arab-African relations. Oil profits and the institutional framework of OPEC enabled significant capital transfers from Arab to African states between 1973 and 1980. Yet, those funds fell well short of Africa's real needs for development capital, and these factors often proved to divide rather than promote unity. Ultimately, the dramatic downturn in oil prices beginning in the early 1980s not only hurt oil-producing countries but drastically reduced Arab aid to Africa.

At the end of the twentieth century, debates surrounding "globalization" and renewed interest in transnational communities and cultural networks sparked a number of attempts to "reconsider" the history of Pan-Africanism, particularly among scholars associated with the nascent fields of African diaspora studies and Atlantic history. The delegates at the Sixth and Seventh Pan-African Congressesheld in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Kampala, Uganda, in 1974 and 1994, respectivelyalso revisited this history. They did so, however, in an attempt to emphasize the need for unity in confronting contemporary economic exploitation in Latin America and Africa as well as the revolutionary potential of Pan-Africanism for the future. Likewise, following the end of both the Cold War and apartheid in South Africa, the new African Union, founded at Sirte, Libya, in March 2001 to replace the OAU, was called on to address problems as diverse as the marginalization of Africa in international affairs, the global economy, and the AIDS pandemic on the continent.

The Future of Pan-Africanism

The career and rise to international prominence of Thabo Mbeki (b. 1942) as South Africa's second freely elected president exemplify the mixture of promise and immense difficulties facing Pan-Africanist projects and Africa in general in the twenty-first century. Like Nelson Mandela (b. 1918), Mbeki devoted his life to the fight against apartheid in South Africa, but, whereas Mandela was imprisoned for much of his adult life, Mbeki spent years in forced exile in Britain after 1962, earning a Master's degree in economics from Sussex University in 1968 and working with Oliver Tambo (19671991), the effective leader of the African National Congress (ANC) in Mandela's absence.

In 1969, like most ANC leaders, many of whom were also long-time members of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Mbeki went to the Lenin International School in Moscow for a year to receive military training. After serving as political secretary for Tambo, the ANC president in the late 1970s, he became the ANC's chief diplomatic liaison, which increased the antiapartheid movement's profile abroad as well as his own, and rose to the SACP's central committee in the late 1980s. However, following F. W. de Klerk's (b. 1936) lifting of the ban on dissident organizations like the ANC, SACP, and the Pan-Africanist Congress on February 2, 1990, Mbeki gradually distanced himself from the SACP, allowing his membership to lapse at the same time as he spearheaded attempts to transform the ANC from a prohibited liberation movement into a legal political party. Then, having served as Mandela's deputy president from 1994 to 1999, Mbeki was inaugurated as his successor in June 1999.

Mbeki's presidency became mired in a series of controversies, most famously concerning his flirtation with "dissident" views on the nature and treatment of HIV/AIDS, but his espousal of an "African Renaissance" made possible discussions over the relevance and potential of Pan-Africanism in the twenty-first century and, more specifically, the role of a free South Africa on the African continent. Mbeki's notion of an "African Renaissance," though deliberately vague, has a number of ideological roots. For one, it is situated within the long tradition of South African leaders who, regardless of their ideological or physical hue, have asserted the country as the driving force behind development on the continent in general. This is a position that, it is said, South Africa must reclaim and would otherwise already occupy had it not been for the artificial privileges accorded by race under apartheid.

The international stature of Nelson Mandela reaffirmed this assumption of the naturalness of South African leadership in both internal diplomatic relations in Africa and projecting Africa's interests into the global market and international political organizations like the United Nations. Yet, as Peter Vale and Sipho Maseko observe, it was largely "the appeal of Mbeki's lyrical imagery that turned the obvious into a tryst with destiny." It is clear that Mbeki's thought rests on a social-contractual reading of the African Renaissance. It represents essentially a double-edged agreement that not only commits the South African state to a democratic concord with the people of South Africa but also to the cause of peace and democracy across the continent.

Unfortunately, the emancipatory potential of Mbeki's message remained unrealized and, by and large, more promise than policy, limited changes like South Africa's assumption of a peacekeeping role in Africa notwithstanding. Moreover, some have criticized the limitations of Mbeki's approach: buoyed by the same modernization theory that inspired economic ambitions under apartheid, though directing attention backward to Africa's past, it fetishizes new technologies, endowing the latter with the power to trigger profound social changes almost single-handedly. Nevertheless, the ambiguity and potential weaknesses of Mbeki's rhetoric have created a political space in which a multiplicity of competing interpretations of Africa's future can be debated.

Vale and Maseko identified two distinct approaches to the idea of an "African Renaissance," one "globalist," the other "Africanist." Based firmly in the modernist tradition, the former seems to assume that what is good for South Africa is also good for the rest of Africa, views the continent as principally an expanding market, and sees free markets, privatization, and cuts in public expenditure as prerequisites to curtailing the power of authoritarian governments. The latter, however, envisions an African Renaissance to promote a series of complex social constructions that turn on issues of identity and call for a reinterpretation of African history and culture outside of the analytical frameworks and narratives of European imperialism. Thus, representatives of the Africanist approach eschew the modernizing tendency toward Africa's encounter with Europe, or "chasing of scientific glory and money," and maintain that the globalist perspective will merely result in an externally driven consumerist movement in Africa. According to this view, Africans will continue to be valued solely for their capacity to absorb foreign goods if development on the continent continues to follow the globalist path. Despite advancing a powerful critique of globalist/modernist assumptions and encouraging alternative visions of Africa's future, Africanist arguments rarely appear in mainstream political discussions of interstate relations in Africa. This is due in large measure to prevailing socioeconomic conditions on the continent in which states, suffocating under the burden of international debt, increasingly fail to provide their constituencies with basic amenities like water, electricity, and adequate housing.

One final development in black internationalismthe emergence of the concept of the "Black Atlantic"figures in the future of Pan-Africanism. The idea was originally introduced by black British scholars, most famously Paul Gilroy, who emerged from the Cultural Studies group under the leadership of Stuart Hall at Birmingham University and whose work focuses heavily on African American and black British literature and popular culture. The notion of the Black Atlantic injected new life into attempts to examine the historical formations outside of the analytic framework of the nation-state by highlighting the singular importance of the legacy of the Middle Passage and African slavery around the Atlantic. In Black Atlantic (1993), Gilroy offered a compelling critique of the increasingly unproductive impasse between "essentialist" and "anti-essentialist" positions on racial and ethnic difference and what became known in the late twentieth century as "identity politics." Many of the insightsas well as the potential pitfallsof this approach have been picked up by academics in the Americas, and especially the United States. For example, Brent Hayes Edwards expands on this scholarship while also exposing the tendency of much work on the African diaspora to overemphasize similarities and obscure differences rather than recognizing the management of difference (cultural, economic, linguistic, etc.) as an inescapable and, indeed, constitutive aspect of the elaboration of any particular vision of diaspora.

See also Africa, Idea of ; Black Atlantic ; Black Consciousness ; Diasporas: African Diaspora ; Nationalism: Africa ; Nationalism: Cultural Nationalism ; Negritude .



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Langley, J. Ayodele. Pan-Africanism and Nationalism in West Africa, 19001945: A Study in Ideology and Social Classes. Oxford: Clarendon, 1973.

Lemelle, Sidney J., and Robin D. G. Kelley, eds. Imagining Home: Class, Culture, and Nationalism in the African Diaspora. London: Verso, 1994.

Sharpley-Whiting, T. Denean. Negritude Women. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

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Vale, Peter, and Sipho Maseko. "South Africa and the African Renaissance." International Affairs (April 1998): 271288.

Zachernuk, Philip. Colonial Subjects: An African Intelligentsia and Atlantic Ideas. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2000.

Marc Matera


views updated May 23 2018


In its most general sense the term Pan-Africanism refers to a movement that seeks to unite and promote the welfare of all people identified with, or claiming membership in, the African or black race. Pan-Africanism is based on the idea of overcoming vast differences in language, ethnicity, religion, and geographical origin. Despite these divisions a degree of cultural unity has to some extent already been achieved among the African population of the United States because of forced interethnic mingling without regard to cultural or regional background during the slavery experience. Slavery forged African Americans into a truly Pan-African people who came to share a belief in a common destiny, deriving from the historic humiliations of slavery, colonialism, and racism. On a more positive note, Pan-Africanists also insist on recognizing the historic importance of contributions that Africa and the black race have made to civilization and human progress since the dawn of history.

Pan-Africanism assumes that the political unification of Africa will contribute to the welfare of all black people of African descent, whether or not they actually live in Africa. The African-American scholar W. E. B. Du Bois defined Pan-Africanism as "the idea of one Africa uniting the thought and ideals of all peoples of the dark continent," but observed that the idea had stemmed "naturally from the West Indies and the United States." Pan-African and black nationalist sentiments in the United States and in the Caribbean have provided much of the ideology for nationalist and decolonization movements on the African continent.

During the period 19571974 most of the colonial powers withdrew, at least formally, from their African colonies. Since then, political Pan-Africanism has focused on removing the vestiges of colonialism, particularly in South Africa, and on promoting economic and political unity among African nations. The institution that presently seeks to accomplish geopolitical unification of the continent is the Organization of African Unity (OAU), founded in 1963. In the United States the best-known African-American support organization is TransAfrica, founded in 1977.

Documents illustrating the history of Pan-Africanism began to appear during the late eighteenth century. Of signal importance was The Interesting Narrative of the Life of Olaudah Equiano or Gustavus Vassa, the African, Written by Himself (1787). Equiano's tract, published in England, has been identified by historian Imanuel Geiss (1974) as "proto-Pan-Africanism," but it lacked the militant self-assertiveness that is associated with the modern movement. Equiano, who had been enslaved as a child and traveled as a cabin boy to the New World, believed for a time that the African condition could be improved by resettling Christianized Africans from Europe and the Americas in Africa. Although he came to abandon that plan, he remained committed to the destruction of African slavery through the agencies of Christian missionary activity, free trade, and the establishment of an African nationality.

In 1787 British reformers began a campaign to resettle England's so-called black poor in the West African colony of Sierra Leone. Abolitionists saw themselves as creating a center for missionary activity and African redemption from the slave trade. Their efforts were supported by a small cadre of proto-Pan-Africanists, but Equiano eventually came to oppose African resettlement.

The diversity of the peoples who settled Sierra Leone illustrated the complexities of Pan-African identity. The first settlers were a mixed group, including African-American loyalists who had been evacuated with the British after the American Revolution and runaway slaves from the West Indies. A second group of immigrants came from Canadaex-slaves who had fought on the British side in the American War for Independence and then temporarily settled in Nova Scotia. A third element also came from Nova Scotia but ultimately derived from a group known as Maroons, escaped slaves who had formed independent colonies in the mountains of Jamaica. These Maroons, after staging an unsuccessful revolt in 1795, were deported first to Nova Scotia and then to Sierra Leone. A fourth group were the so-called recaptives, persons of various African ethnicities deposited in Sierra Leone over the years after being recaptured from slave traders by the British fleet.

Black Americans showed an immediate interest in Sierra Leone. A group of settlers arrived from the United States in 1816, transported by Capt. Paul Cuffe, a man of mixed African and American Indian ancestry. Along with James Forten, a black sailmaker of Philadelphia, Cuffe hoped to develop Christianity, commerce, and civilization in Africa and to further thwart the slave trade while providing a homeland for African Americans. This emigrationist variety of American Pan-Africanism was undermined in 1817, however, with the formation of the American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color in the United States, usually called the American Colonization Society (ACS). Because the ACS included a number of prominent slaveholders in its leadership and expressly denied any sympathy for abolition, the black American population was generally hostile to it. With the death of Cuffe, Forten became silent on the subjects of black nationalism and Pan-Africanism.

African Americans who supported the movement, as did Peter Williams Sr. and John Russwurm, were subjected to considerable public scorn. In the early nineteenth century, black Americans went through one of their periodic frenzies of name changing in an attempt to affirm their American loyalties. At this point even some of the more militant nationalist and Pan-Africanist organizations began to prefer the designation "Colored" over "African." Notable exceptions were the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) and the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (AMEZ).

The ideologies of black nationalism and Pan-Africanism evolved in the climate of the American and French revolutions, which gave currency to ideas of republican government and inspired certain classes of Africans to think of creating an African nation-state. One should not, however, assume that Pan-Africanism was simply an imitation of European or United States' ideology. It arose simultaneously with the European nationalisms and was a cognate rather than a derivative. C. L. R. James viewed the Haitian slave revolt (17911803) as the decisive event in the history of Pan-Africanism. Du Bois observed that the Haitian revolt led to the Louisiana Purchase and thus had a direct effect on white Americans' conceptions of nationalism and Manifest Destiny. It can be argued that Pan-Africanism and black nationalism in the Haitian republic were historically intertwined with the growth of the American nation and its conception of Manifest Destiny.

The Haitian revolt provided the impetus for the abortive revolution of the Jamaican Maroons in 1795. It also inspired early Pan-Africanism in the United States. Prince Hall, the Masonic lodge master from Massachusetts and sometime advocate of emigration, expressed his admiration of "our African brethren in the French West Indies." There is no way of determining the extent to which Pan-Africanism touched the imaginations of the slave population of the United States, but there is some evidence that they were influenced by it. Herbert Aptheker has speculatively linked the slave conspiracy of Gabriel Prosser to the revolution in Haiti. The conspiracy of Denmark Vesey was said to have been inspired by the Haitian revolt, and Vesey was reputed to have dreamed of a black supernation uniting the southern states to the Caribbean.

Pan-African sentiments were strong among the African-American population of the early republic. The so-called Free African Societies of New York, Boston, and Rhode Island often expressed their identity with other Africans on both sides of the Atlantic. Early black newspapers revealed an interest in the history of Africa and the destiny of the African race. Overt identification with African affairs became unfashionable, however, when in 1816 the American Colonization Society was founded for the purpose of resettling the so-called free people of color in the colony of Liberia. David Walker published an incendiary Appeal Together with a Preamble, to the Colored Citizens of the World in 1829, in which he denounced Liberian colonization. Another early pamphleteer was Maria Stewart, who, although she referred to herself as an African, was equally hostile to the colonization movement. So too was Richard Allen, an organizer of the AME church, who believed in the unity of African peoples and a special God-given mission for them but steadfastly opposed any talk of Liberian colonization.

Peter Williams Sr., an Episcopal priest in New York, took a more tolerant view of African colonization. He eulogized Paul Cuffe, memorializing his voyages to Africa, and he remained friendly with John Russwurm, even after the latter was burned in effigy by anti-emigration activists. Classical black nationalism became practically indistinguishable from Pan-Africanism in the mid-nineteenth century. Between 1850 and 1862 the quest for a national homeland represented a desire to create, in Henry Highland Garnet's words, "a grand center of Negro Nationality." Although Martin Delany and a number of other black nationalists focused on Cuba and South America as possible sites for this "grand center," most black nationalists were inevitably drawn to Africa as the logical focus for a scheme of universal Negro improvement. Alexander Crummell, a protégé of Peter Williams, made his peace with the American Colonization Society and settled his hopes on Liberia. The entire generation of classical black nationalists, like the hero of Martin Delany's novel Blake (1859), believed in a commonality of interests among all African people, whether in Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, or North America.

At the time of the American Civil War, the Constitution of the African Civilization Society (1861) represented the Pan-African agenda in terms of "the civilization and Christianization of Africa, and of the descendants of African ancestors in any portion of the earth, wherever dispersed. Also the introduction of lawful commerce and trade into Africa." It also stated a commitment to "Self-Reliance and Self-Government, on the principle of an African Nationality, the African race being the ruling element of the nation, controlling and directing their own affairs."

The heavy emphasis on Christianity and civilization among nineteenth-century Pan-Africanists was among its more notable features. The cultural nationalism in the 1850s was universalist in its concepts and did not seek to promote an alternative to European or American definitions of culture. Even when celebrating the history of Africa's past attainments, nineteenth-century Pan-Africanists ironically betrayed an attachment to European definitions of progress and civilization. The early Pan-Africanists' appreciation for the African past was usually limited to a fascination with Egyptian grandeur and its Ethiopian roots.

Nonetheless, Pan-Africanism, in its attraction to Egyptian origins of civilization, initiated the movement known in the late twentieth century as Afrocentrism. William Wells Brown and other nineteenth-century African Americans celebrated the accomplishments of the ancient Egyptians and made high claims for the potential of native Africans untouched by European decadence. This fascination with Egypt appeared even in the writings of Frederick Douglass, who normally disparaged the idea of racial pride. Edward Wilmot Blyden, a West Indian migrant to Liberia who is often called the father of modern Pan-Africanism, claimed ancient Egypt as his ancestral heritage. In recent years the "Egyptocentric" approach to African history, championed by the Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop, has been immensely popular among some factions of American Pan-Africanists.

Blyden, like many later Pan-Africanists, was increasingly interested in contemporary African cultures and folklore. He was well known in the United States, where he traveled and lectured extensively. Blyden advocated the study of West African languages and cultures in the African schools and universities and insisted that pristine African societies were culturally and morally superior to those of primeval Europe. The Sierra Leone physician Africanus Horton likewise defended traditional African cultures. Toward the end of the century younger scholars, like J. E. Casely Hayford of the Gold Coast and the American W. E. B. Du Bois, also celebrated Egypt, Ethiopia, and Meroë (in the Sudan) as black sources of world civilization. At the same time, they followed in the tradition of Blyden by encouraging a respect for traditional African village life as manifested in the cultures of sub-Saharan Africa.

In 1885 Otto von Bismarck convened the so-called Berlin Conference at which the European powers partitioned the continent of Africa, and the Congo was consigned to the "protectorship" of Leopold II, King of the Belgians. While the partition awakened mixed emotions among many black Americans, Blyden, Crummell and the African-American historian George Washington Williams hoped, at first, that the Belgian model would provide a workable plan for attacking the slave trade and promoting "the three Cs." By 1890, however, Williams had denounced Leopold for his brutal exploitation of the Congo. Byden, the Pan-Africanist par excellence, continued to praise Leopold as late as 1895. Crummell supported European colonialism until his death in 1898 because of his belief that the British would hinder the spread of Islam and suppress the Arab slave trade in the Sudan. Nonetheless, Africans and black Americans were becoming increasingly disillusioned with European colonialism. Booker T. Washington, for example, spoke out against British imperialism and became active in the Congo Reform Association. Washington also encouraged African missionary activities, industrial education, and colonial reform, while his political machine contributed to a series of conferences on Africa. Washington worked behind the scenes to organize a missionary conference at the Atlanta Exhibition in 1895, where participants included Alexander Crummell and the AME bishop, Henry McNeal Turner.

Black missionary activity in Africa gave rise to a religious manifestation of Pan-Africanism called Ethiopianism. The movement derived its name from its adherents' obsession with the cryptic biblical prophecy, "Ethiopia shall soon stretch forth her hands unto God" (Psalms 68:31). Crummell, Blyden, and other Christian preachers had long employed the allusion in their sermons, but the Ethiopian movement was an independent movement of the African masses and a departure from traditional Christianity. It was what some scholars have referred to as a revitalization movement in that it revived Christian teaching by adapting it to the indigenous cultures. It often preserved elements of ancestral religions and carried with it a strong antiwhite feeling. The new militancy is often attributed to the inspiration of Bishop Turner, who visited South Africa in 1898, preaching religious independence and establishing the AME Church there. In short order, however, the zeal of South African Christians exceeded Turner's expectations, as Africans declared their independence not only from the white churches but also from the African-American-dominated AMEs. Thereafter, a much larger independent church movement came into being, revealing attitudes that were both nationalistic and Pan-Africanistic.

St. Clair Drake and George Shepperson have described the political aspect of Ethiopianism as an element of Pan-African consciousness, spreading rapidly northward and eastward and becoming more strident in its attacks on colonialism. In Nyasaland, now known as Malawi, John Chilembwe led a premature revolt in 1914, which has been attributed to the influences of Chilembwe's studies in the United States and his exposure to Ethiopianism after his return to Africa. Later in the century, in Kenya in the 1950s, the Mau Mau movement had ties to the Ethiopian millennialism that Jomo Kenyatta called "The New Religion in East Africa." It was from the Ethiopian movement that the slogan "Africa for the Africans" began to take on radical political implications. Ethiopianism is important as at least one of the sources of the Rastafarian movement in Jamaica.

Edwin S. Redkey has detected grassroots Pan-Africanism in the movement that established all-black towns in Oklahoma during the 1890s. Rev. Orishatukeh Faduma, a Yoruba man from Barbados, became a missionary in Oklahoma, where he recruited for Chief Alfred C. Sam's back-to-Africa movement. J. Ayodele Langley has shown that Sam, a Twi speaker from the Gold Coast, eventually received the moral support of Casely Hayford, despite the latter's original skepticism. William H. Ferris, John E. Bruce, and Du Bois, all protégés of Alexander Crummell, had been connected with Faduma through their association with the American Negro Academy. The academy also included among its honorary members Duse Muhammad Ali, the London-based Sudanese nationalist who was editor of the African Times and Orient Review.

Ferris and Bruce, although well acquainted with the failure of Chief Sam's back-to-Africa movement, nevertheless became supporters of Marcus Garvey's similar repatriation effort after World War I. Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association revealed in its very name the traditional concern of Pan-Africanism. Garvey was less successful as a repatriationist than some of his predecessors, but he did a great deal to generate mass enthusiasm for African nationalism and the Pan-African movement. Garvey was an inspiration to a generation of African political leaders, and his name became a household word in small towns throughout the black world. After Garvey's death, his second wife, Amy Jacques Garvey, remained an important figure in the movement.

Garvey did much to popularize the idea of African independence, and he was unexcelled in his celebration of Africa's ancient glories. William H. Ferris, John E. Bruce, Carter G. Woodson, Arthur Schomburg, and J. A. Rogers contributed to Marcus Garvey's newspaper, Negro World, and did much to popularize the notion that black peoples of the upper Nile were the unrivalled progenitors of world civilization. Pan-Africanist cultural expressions in the tradition of Blyden were certainly more obvious among Garveyites than among those intellectuals who disassociated themselves from the Garvey movement.

In 1900 Henry Sylvester Williams, a Trinidad barrister, and Bishop Alexander Walters of the AME Zion Church, convened the London Conference, widely regarded as the first international meeting to apply the term Pan-African to its program. W. E. B. Du Bois, although he played an important role in the London Conference, never referred to it as the first Pan-African Congress, reserving that distinction for the meeting that he called in Paris in 1919 at the time of the Paris Peace Conference following World War I. The convention brought together fifty-seven delegates from Africa, the West Indies, and United States, but American participation was limited because of the refusal of the U.S. government to grant passports. Ida B. Wells, who was accredited as a representative of Garvey's UNIA, was thus unable to attend, and William Monroe Trotter was forced to pose as a ship's cook in order to get to Paris. Du Bois was assisted in setting up the Congress by his connections to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the influence of the Senegalese deputy, Blaise Diagne. Du Bois insisted that the Congress had influenced the peace conference to establish a Mandates Commission for administration of the former German colonies. Du Bois worked with the Pan-African Congress at its subsequent meetings of 1921, 1923, and 1927.

During the 1920s a cultural development known as the New Negro Movement, centered in such urban centers as Harlem, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, contributed to the development of cultural Pan-Africanism. The movement found expression in the literary Garveyism of Ferris, Bruce, and Rogers, but the term came to be associated with the publication of Alain Locke's The New Negro (1925). The so-called Harlem Renaissance, an offshoot of this New Negro Movement, was much indebted to cultural developments in Europe and the United States after World War I, including "primitivism," cultural relativism, and the Freudian revolution in sexual values. In the view of Sterling Brown and Arthur P. Davis, this fostered a "phony exotic primitive" stereotype and "grafted primitivism on decadence." Sentimental Pan-Africanism, as expressed in the sensual imagery of Countee Cullen's poem "Heritage," appealed to wealthy whites and influential white intellectuals but avoided Pan-Africanism as a political ideology. Although Locke included an article on Pan-Africanism by Du Bois in The New Negro, he dismissed Garveyism. The works of Charles T. Davis, Tony Martin, and David Levering Lewis are essential correctives to the view of the Harlem Renaissance that emphasizes bohemian aestheticism to the neglect of political Pan-Africanism and the Garvey movement.

During the 1930s Pan-African cultural nationalism came to be identified with the Négritude movement, defined by francophone black intellectuals René Maran, Leopold Sédar Senghor, and Aimé Césaire. Négritude emphasized such mythic traits of the African personality as sensuality, emotional sensitivity, and the purported softness of the black man. Cheikh Anta Diop (1978) has lamented the relationship of Négritude to the primitive stereotype and has opined that "the Negritude movement accepted this so-called inferiority and boldly assumed it in full view of the world." Indeed, many African and African-American intellectuals did celebrate African "primitivism." Nineteenth-century black intellectuals had shown little interest in the culture of the masses, aside from the occasional militant Christianity expressed in the Negro spirituals. Twentieth-century intellectuals celebrated black American folk culture for its "pagan," pre-Christian elements and its Pan-African cultural connections.

Data collected by Leo Frobenius, the German scholar, interpreted in the light of social science, heightened the interest of Du Bois, Césaire, and Senghor in the cultures of precolonial, sub-Saharan Africa. This led black American intellectuals to a reappraisal of their folk heritage and its African roots. The development of anthropology, with its doctrine of cultural relativism and its ties to scientific relativism, made possible an increased respect for "primitive" cultures. The concepts of Franz Boas and Melville Herskovits contributed to the metaphysical foundations of a new African cultural nationalism that merged modernism with primitivism. Fashionable modern artists, such as Picasso and Modigliani, demonstrated their discontent with the conventional norms of European cultural expression by borrowing from African graphic modes. The increasing respectability of jazz, after its celebration by European and American audiences, was another factor in the transformation of Pan-African cultural nationalism.

In 1939 the Council on African Affairs was organized by Paul Robeson and Max Yergan, with Ralph Bunche and the novelist René Maran on the board of management. The council was promoted by numerous prominent black individuals and organizations throughout the 1940s but came under attack during the Red Scare of the 1950s. Meanwhile the Fifth Pan-African Congress was held in Manchester, U.K., in 1945. Du Bois was accorded a place of honor in Manchester, although Pan-African leadership by this time had passed from African-American to African leadership, represented by Kwame Nkrumah, Nnamdi Azikewe, and Jomo Kenyatta. Older West Africans, such as Ras T. Makonnen and George Padmore, continued to play significant roles. Padmore, a Trinidadian who had participated in the Manchester Conference, gained considerable influence with Nkrumah, who as president of Ghana (the former Gold Coast), hosted a conference in the Ghanaian capital of Accra in 1958. Shirley Graham, the only American officially in attendance, read an address by her husband, Du Bois, who was hospitalized in Moscow.

Since formation of the Organization of African Unity, black Americans have supported the Pan-African movement from a distance. The major emphasis in recent years has been on the struggle against apartheid in the Republic of South Africa. The efforts of African Americans in support of the South African struggle have been moderately successful. Black Americans have been unable to exert much influence over American foreign policy regarding Western and Central Africa, regions of the continent that have experienced much economic hardship and domestic unrest. The hopes of Garvey and Du Bois for an economically prosperous Africa have not yet been realized despite the attainment of political independence.

See also Abolition; African Civilization Society (AfCS); Afrocentrism; Anthropology and Anthropologists; Council on African Affairs; Du Bois, W. E. B.; Equiano, Olaudah; Gabriel Prosser Conspiracy; Garvey, Marcus; Haitian Revolution; Maroon Wars; Nationalism in the United States in the Nineteeth Century; Négritude; New Negro; Universal Negro Improvement Association


Ajala, Adekunle. Pan-Africanism: Evolution, Progress and Prospects. London: A. Deutsch, 1974.

Carlisle, Rodney. The Roots of Black Nationalism. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1975.

Cromwell, Adelaide. An African Victorian Feminist: The Life and Times of Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford. Washington, D.C.: Howard University Press, 1992.

Diop, Cheikh Anta. Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State. Westport, Conn.: L. Hill, 1978.

Drake, St. Clair. The Redemption of Africa and Black Religion. Chicago: Third World Press, 1970.

Geiss, Imanuel. The Pan-African Movement. New York: Africana Pub. Co., 1974.

James, C. L. R. A History of Pan-African Revolt. Washington, D.C.: Drum and Spear Press, 1969.

Langley, J. Ayodele. Pan-Africanism and Nationalism in West Africa, 19001945. Oxford, UK: Clarenden Press, 1973.

Martin, Tony. The Pan-African Connection. Cambridge, Mass.: Schenkman, 1983.

Miller, Floyd. The Search for a Black Nationality: Black Colonization and Emigration, 17871863. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975.

Moses, Wilson J. The Golden Age of Black Nationalism 18501925. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1978.

Redkey, Edwin S. Black Exodus. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1969.

wilson j. moses (1996)


views updated May 17 2018



Pan-Africanism is a political, ideological, and cultural movement centered on the liberation of Africa and Africans both on the continent and in the diaspora. The primary tension in the history of the movement has been the precise nature and relative importance of race and class, and their relation, in this struggle (Allen 1969).

There are many definitions of Pan-Africanism, and even debate about when it began and what actors and actions constitute the movement. These different conceptions hinge largely on whether one is referring to an organized historical movement self-identified as Pan-Africanism that began in the late nineteenth century and continues into the twenty-first. The alternative is a general sentiment of international black kinship (Weisbord 1973, p. 7n), sometimes written with a lowercase p (i.e., pan-Africanism; cf. Shepperson 1962), identified as existing as far back as ancient Egypt (Nantambu 1998), including slave revolts and (inter)nationalist tendencies in the Caribbean and Americas in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries associated with such names as Nat Turner, Paul Cuffee, Denmark Vesey, Toussaint-Louverture, Joseph Cinque, Martin Delaney, David Walker, Edward Blyden, and many others. The remainder of this entry focuses primarily on the first, the contemporary organized movement, though their predecessors have always been explicitly recognized and honored.

The first Pan-African conference, held in London in 1900, was organized by Henry Sylvester Williams, a Trinidadian barrister, and attended by W. E. B. Du Bois. The group had previously formed under the title of African Association but changed it to Pan-African Association and committed to a conference every two years, the next to be held in the United States (Esedebe 1994, p. 44). The movement, a response to racism and colonialism, promoted civil and political rights for and cooperative development among all those of African descenton the continent and in Europe, the Caribbean, and the rest of the Americas (Legum 1962).

Du Bois organized and led the second conference, often regarded as the first Pan-African Congress, in 1919, followed by congresses in 1921, 1923, and 1927. The nineteen years between the first and second meeting were not without activity, however. Debates between those who did and did not support repatriation, between those who saw the issue primarily in racial terms and those who gave more weight to economic considerations, and between conservative accommodationists and liberal or radical liberationists were all lively, and included not only Du Bois but Marcus Garvey and Booker T. Washington. But the period from the end of World War I to the end of World War II marked an important and intensive growth of the organized movement, with its concerns reflecting developments worldwide. This activity included, but was not limited to, a number of important publications by leading Pan-Africanists, such as C. L. R. James (The Black Jacobins ), Jomo Kenyatta (Facing Mount Kenya ), and George Padmore (How Britain Rules Africa ).

Many participants and observers alike have remarked on the changes that came with the first postWorld War II Congress, the Fifth Pan-African Congress, held in Manchester, England, in 1945. As Kwame Nkrumah emphasized, for example:

For the first time, there was strong worker and student participation, and most of the over two hundred delegates who attended came from Africa. They represented re-awakening African political consciousness; and it was no surprise when the Congress adopted socialism as its political philosophy. Two declarations were addressed to the imperial powers, one written by Du Bois, and the other by myself. Both asserted the right and the determination of colonial peoples to be free, and condemned capitalism. (Nkrumah 1973, pp. 4243)

At the same time, the interwar period had been one in which the Communist Party attacked Pan-Africanism as petit bourgeois nationalism, while official U.S. and European governments and the media portrayed the movement as completely under the control of Moscow and the Communists. The Fifth Congress, then, was seen as the end of the coming-of-age period of Pan-Africanism, whose leaders and proponents were now consciously seeking a way of achieving national liberation and economic emancipation without allying themselves with the Communists (Padmore 1971, p. 130). The formation and mobilization of colonial liberation movements in the postwar period led to Ghanas independence in 1957, when Pan-Africanism moved to Africa, its real home, and Pan-African Conferences were held for the first time on the soil of a liberated African state (Nkrumah 1973, p. 43).

In the period of decolonization that began with Ghanaian independence, a growing continental Pan-Africanism in which continental political and economic unity was envisioned was strongly promoted by Nkrumah (1963), Cheikh Anta Diop ([1960] 1978), and others. One of the issues hotly debated in this period regarded the relation of North Africa to sub-Saharan Africa. Continental Pan-Africans viewed the North as African, while sub-Saharan Pan-Africanists, concerned with Pan-Negroism versus Pan-Arabism, did not include the North in their proposals. This debate also overlaps with and touches on many issues relevant to cultural Pan-Africanism, in which all Africanscontinental and diasporanare seen as sharing many cultural and even linguistic characteristics that distinguish them from other non-Africans, especially Europeans (Marah 1998, p. 80). Some of the divisions were represented on the continent by the rivalry between the Brazzaville and Casablanca groups, which resulted in a compromise with the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. In the diaspora, these divisions were reflected in the debates between cultural nationalists (some who eventually embraced Afrocentricity) and political (or revolutionary) nationalists, including those coming out of the civil rights and Black Power movements, such as Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture).

But the tradition of continental and diasporan alliance was continued as Malcolm X, founder of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) attended the OAUs Cairo Summit in 1964, where he spoke in favor of the inseparable connections between Africans at home and abroad that could not be ignored, and author Richard Wright attended the Bandung Conference in 1955. These developments were also played out in the rise of black studies courses and curricula in the 1960s, including the establishment of the Afro-Asian Institute at Temple University in Philadelphia in 1969, later reorganized and renamed the Department of Pan-African Studies (including its Pan-African Studies Community Education Program, or PASCEP) in 1972. Bandung, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Afro-Asian Institute are examples of what Mazrui identified as the growing Global Pan-Africanism uniting not only continental and diasporan Africans but other colonized or previously colonized peoples of ASIA and the Americas (Mazrui 1977). Malcolm Xs experiences in Mecca and elsewhere and Martin Luther King Jr.s position on Vietnam later in life, even the haiku and tanka poetic forms of Richard Wright and Sonia Sanchez, were all manifestations of global Pan-Africanism.

In the twenty-first century, the Pan-African notions of African political unity and continued discussion of the relation and relevance of racism and capitalism remain alive. With the fall of the apartheid government in South Africa, political independence has been achieved, but neocolonialism remains alive and gives no indication of with ering away on its own. In the diaspora, although there remains tremendous racial residential segregation and strong evidence of ongoing discrimination, those of African descent have obtained positions of authority and power in the political and economic spheres, resulting in what might be viewed as domestic neocolonialism. In the face of all these developments, Pan-Africanists such as Shivji are promoting an alternative Pan-Africanism of the People, rooted in anti-imperialism and liberation. In other words, the nationalism of the twenty-first century is Pan-Africanism rooted in anti-imperialism (Shivji 2006).

SEE ALSO African Diaspora; African Studies; Anticolonial Movements; Black Power; Caribbean, The; Civil Rights; Civil Rights Movement, U.S.; Diop, Cheikh Anta; Du Bois, W. E. B.; Garvey, Marcus; Haitian Revolution; James, C. L. R.; Kenyatta, Jomo; Malcolm X; Nationalism and Nationality; Nkrumah, Kwame; Organization of African Unity (OAU); Pan-African Congresses; Pan-Arabism; Pan-Caribbeanism; Rastafari; Turner, Nat; Vesey, Denmark


Allen, Robert L. 1969. Black Awakening in Capitalist America: An Analytic History. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Diop, Cheikh Anta. 1978 [1960]. Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State. Trans. Harold Salemson. Westport, CT: Lawrence Hill.

Esedebe, P. Olisanwuche. 1994. Pan-Africanism: The Idea and Movement, 17761991, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Howard University Press.

James, C. L. R. 1938. The Black Jacobins: Toussaint LOuverture and the San Domingo Revolution. New York: Dial Press.

Kenyatta, Jomo. 1965. Facing Mount Kenya: The Tribal Life of the Gikuyu. New York: Vintage. (Orig. pub. 1938).

Legum, Colin. 1962. Pan-Africanism: A Short Political Guide. New York: Praeger.

Marah, John K. 1998. African People in the Global Village: An Introduction to Pan African Studies. Lanham, MD: University Press of America.

Mazrui, Ali. 1977. Africas International Relations: The Diplomacy of Dependency and Change. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

Nantambu, Kwame. 1998. Pan-Africanism Versus Pan-African Nationalism: An Afrocentric Analysis. Journal of Black Studies 28 (5): 561574.

Nkrumah, Kwame. 1963. Africa Must Unite. New York: Praeger.

Nkrumah, Kwame. 1973. Revolutionary Path. New York: International Publishers.

Padmore, George. 1936. How Britain Rules Africa. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.

Padmore, George. 1971. Pan-Africanism or Communism. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Shepperson, George. 1962. Pan-Africanism and Pan-Africanism: Some Historical Notes. Phylon 23 (4): 346358.

Shivji, Issa G. 2006. From Neo-liberalism to Pan-Africanism: Towards Reconstructing an Eastern African Discourse. Transformation: Critical Perspectives on Southern Africa 61: 108118.

Weisbord, Robert G. 1973. Ebony Kinship: Africa, Africans, and the Afro-American. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Mathew Forstater


views updated May 18 2018





Pan-Africanism is variously portrayed as a set of ideas and actions, a social and political resistance movement, an ideology, or a general philosophy challenging the effects of colonization and racial discrimination in Africa. Its goal is to foster development of an Africa-wide supranational identity and promote development of African nations in all sectors. Pan-Africanism also denotes cross-national and cross-group participation and identity. Thus, it is an attempt to link all peoples of African descent on the African continent or residing in the Americas and Caribbean, Europe, and elsewhere in the global African community, including black-skinned people in India, Australia, New Guinea, Melanesia, and the Andaman Islands. Pan-Africanism emerged in response to African experiences with Europeans in the colonial and postcolonial worlds. It is a vehicle for regenerating and unifying Africa, and for promoting a feeling of oneness among all peoples of the African world.

Pan-Africanism originated in the eighteenth century among early activists in the United States, the West Indies, and England who focused on the legacy of slavery and oppression. In the twentieth century it evolved into an intergovernmental movement focusing on postcolonial development. The term came to be used as an adjective attached to a variety of activities in which peoples of Africa and African descent participate in the black experience, including, but not limited to, labor, economic development, education, the arts, literature, sports, media, and religion. Common threads include matters of race, identity, equality, development, and community and unity. There is disagreement, however, on the scope, meaning, and goals of Pan-Africanism, particularly regarding leadership, political orientation, and national versus continent-wide interests.


Pan-Africanism originated in the New World, not in Africa. Among the early activists who campaigned against slavery and promoted the repatriation of slaves to Africa were Prince Hall, a black cleric in Boston in the late 1700s, and Paul Cuffe, a Bostonian shipbuilder who in 1815 founded a repatriation settlement in Sierra Leone (initially established by the British as a refuge for freed and runaway slaves in 1787). Frederick Douglass, David Walker, James Horton, James Weldon Johnson, and many others were also involved in this effort. Another slave refuge, Liberia, was established as a result of the efforts of the American Colonization Society. The 1884 Congress of Berlin, at which the European imperial powers partitioned Africa into colonial possessions, galvanized the Pan-African movement, and the African Emigration Association was established in the United States in 1886. In 1893, Pan-Africanists convened a conference on Africa in Chicago, at which they denounced the partition of Africa. In 1897 the African Association was formed under the leadership of Henry Sylvester Williams, a Trinidadian sometimes referred to as the grandfather of Pan-Africanism. He convened the first Pan-African Congress in London in 1900.

In the early twentieth century, two notable PanAfricanists were Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Du Bois. Garvey, a Jamaican, promoted black pride, repatriation to Africa, and African self-determination. His ideas on Pan-Africanism remained popular for decades, particularly in the Caribbean, where they melded with reggae and liberation ideology in the 1970s. Du Bois, sometimes credited as the father of Pan-Africanism, was a cofounder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in the United States. His scholarly writings on the struggle against white domination, the social conditions of African Americans, and the connections between black Americans and Africans gave Pan-Africanism a truly global scope.

During the early twentieth century, the movement in the Americas was also linked to the Harlem Renaissance and to black writers and artists such as Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, and Paul Robeson. PanAfricanism also contained a focus on negritude, or the idea of a shared African personality and identity, as portrayed by activists and intellectuals in the French Caribbean and African colonies such as Léopold Senghor and Aimé Césaire. Frantz Fanon and other writers criticized this strand of Pan-Africanism as being elitist and in consort with French colonial power.

A series of Pan-African Congresses were held in this period largely under the leadership of Du Bois in Paris (1919), London and Brussels (1921), London and Lisbon (1923), and New York City (1927). Participants were drawn largely from the Caribbean, American, and European diaspora rather than from Africa itself, and the conferences focused on gradual self-government and interracialism rather than on African independence.

After World War II, the primary focus of PanAfricanism shifted to independence movements on the continent of Africa. In 1944 the Pan-African Federation united several African groups in the first organization promoting African independence and autonomous development. In 1945, the federation convened the Sixth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England. Participants included future African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah of the Gold Coast (Ghana), Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, S. L. Akintola of Nigeria, Isaac Theophilus Akunna Wallace-Johnson of Sierra Leone, and Ralph Armattoe of Togo. At this Congress, Nkrumah founded the West African National Secretariat to promote a “United States of Africa.” In 1957, Nkrumah led the Gold Coast to independence, with the nation renamed Ghana. He also promoted the cause of liberation of the whole continent. The First Conference of Independent African States, held in 1958 in Accra, Ghana, launched Pan-Africanism as an intergovernmental movement on the continent.

In subsequent years, as more colonies achieved independence, different configurations of new states and interpretations of Pan-Africanism emerged: the Union of African States (1960); the African States of the Casablanca Charter (1961); the African and Malagasy Union (1961); the Organization of Inter-African and Malagasy States (1962); and the African-Malagasy-Mauritius Common Organization (1964). However, the East African leaders Julius Nyerere of Tanganyika, Milton Obote of Uganda, and Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya were unsuccessful in creating a regional union of states. Indeed, Pan-African unity repeatedly came into conflict with goals for national independence of individual former colonies. While Nkrumah’s dream of a united Africa was not realized at this time, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was established in 1963, with headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

In the latter half of the twentieth century, most African colonies had attained independence and Pan-African activism waned. However, the civil rights movement in the United States brought social and political changes, and some observers would place leaders such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King within the PanAfricanist tradition. From the 1970s to the 1990s, many of the underlying goals of Pan-Africanism were kept alive in liberation struggles in places such as Jamaica and Zimbabwe, and in the black nationalist struggle against the apartheid regime in South Africa. In addition, transatlantic connections persisted, such as in the Rastafarian movement of Jamaica, which looked to Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia as its leader. The music of Bob Marley and other reggae artists came to symbolize the struggle of Jamaica and other colonies for autonomy. Pan-Africanist ideals found expression in many forms of music, literature, and other cultural forms that linked Africans and the diaspora and enriched the larger heritage.

Other dimensions of Pan-Africanism emerged too, such as the Afrocentric movement to represent history from an Afrocentric perspective rather than the conventional Eurocentric perspective, as well as the effort to advance Pan-African nationalism rather than Eurocentric Pan-Africanism (Nantambu 1998). The scholarly field of Pan-African studies, or African studies, emerged in North American and European universities in the 1960s.

In its historical forms, Pan-Africanism contributed significantly to solidarity and black consciousness on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as to decolonization and postcolonial national development in Africa. The tripartite heritages of indigenous African, Islamic, and Western cultures were articulated in the writings of Nkrumah as “consciencism,” and in those of Ali Mazrui as Africa’s “triple heritage.” However, the movement was less than successful in achieving its goals, being criticized for its Eurocentric depictions of the problems of Africans. Pan-Africanist leaders were criticized for focusing on personal interests and micronationalism, and for failing to advance nation-building and continental unity as a foundation for development. Pan-Africanism failed to acknowledge ethnic and cultural differences in African and diasporic contexts, and it did little to alleviate African poverty and underdevelopment.


In the late 1990s and early 2000s, as globalization accelerated and global attention turned to the new economic powers in Asia (and to the crises in southwestern Asia), renewed African marginalization became the concern of Pan-Africanists. Conflicts in Sudan, Rwanda, Zaire/Congo, and Sierra Leone prompted international efforts to restore peace and stability. These circumstances created the impetus for a revitalized Pan-Africanism. The original goals of solidarity and identity remained in place, but the development focus shifted to overcoming neocolonialism and recolonization, resurrecting the goals of continent-wide economic development and supranational identity, incorporating new forms of solidarity and ways to bring Africa into the global arena, and, once more, rescuing Africa from being regarded as chaotic, underdeveloped, and oppressed.

By 1995 the fifty-three-member OAU had dealt with many struggles, including border disputes, conflicts and aggression among member states, separatist movements, and independence struggles in the continent’s last remaining colonial states. In 2002 the OAU was replaced by the African Union (AU), modeled on the European Union as an organization designed to promote even greater African economic, social, and political integration. As noted by Mazrui in 2001, Africans assumed globally prominent leadership positions toward the end of the twentieth century, including Amadou Mahtar M’Bow of Senegal, who served as director-general for UNESCO from 1974 to 1987; Boutros Boutros-Ghali, the first African to serve as Secretary General of the United Nations (from 1992–1996; Kofi Annan, the second African Secretary General of the UN (from 2007); Mohammed Bedjaoui, who served as president of the International Court of Justice at the Hague from 1994 to 1997; and Callisto Madavo of Zimbabwe and Ismail Serageldin of Egypt, who have both served as a vice president at the World Bank. Black and African Nobel Peace Prize winners in the twentieth century were Ralph Bunche (1950), Albert Lutuli (1960), Martin Luther King, Jr. (1964), Anwar al-Sadat (1978), Desmond Tutu (1984), Nelson Mandela (1993), and F. W. de Klerk (1993).

The South African leader Nelson Mandela became the most universally revered of African postcolonial leaders. Under his guidance as president, South Africa, the continent’s economic powerhouse, assumed leadership in peacekeeping, diplomacy, and continent-wide development. In the early 2000s, President Thabo Mbeki continued

South Africa’s leadership in diplomatic and economic initiatives that sought to promote all aspects of African development within and across countries, to cultivate a Pan-African supranational identity, and to carve out an effective role for African states on the world stage. Specific initiatives included recognition of the historical legacy of oppression; moral renewal and restoration of African values; cultural, educational, political, and economic transformation; science and technology development; and development in media and telecommunications.

In 2002, Mbeki launched a related initiative. His Millennium African Recovery Plan (2001) was renamed as the New Africa Initiative (NAI) after consultations with Senegalese President Aboulaye Wade. Mbeki proposed the revised plan to a meeting of the G8 leading industrial nations in Italy in 2001. The plan was launched as the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and designed to attract foreign direct investment in Africa for development in energy, agriculture, communications, and human resources. Other regional organizations, such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC), would function collaboratively. NEPAD broadened into a wide variety of development initiatives and programs, many in new areas such as health care and HIV/AIDS programs. The long-term effectiveness of NEPAD in realizing Pan-African development goals remains to be seen, however.

Many other dimensions or uses of Pan-Africanism have emerged in expanded forms as a result of global interconnectedness. Early features of the movement have persisted, such as the tricontinental ideology linking Africa, the Americas, and the Caribbean; links between Pan-Africanism and Pan-Asianism; and a sense of solidarity, unity, and shared legacy and needs. However, globalization has also enhanced the interconnected activities of Africans and the African diaspora in the fields of television, radio, and print media; theology and religion; theater, art, music, and literature; sport; trades unions and worker organizations; and other civic, economic, and social organizations. In addition, increases in the number of African refugees and immigrants settling in the West have added new infusions to the diasporic mix abroad. Consequently, Pan-Africanism has retained much of its original spirit and goals, but it has also evolved into an extremely broad variety of forms and interpretations that are ever more global in scope.

The original goals and elements of Pan-Africanism have thus proved enduring. Contemporary Pan-Africanism, however, and within it the African Renaissance and NEPAD, have been challenged for still framing African development needs and goals in terms of external superpower influences and solutions; for failing to break patterns of conflict and underdevelopment on the continent; and for failing to reconcile internal development with wider continent-wide development. NEPAD has been challenged as a vehicle for promoting South African development interests disguised as continental development leadership (Africa Confidential 2005).

Twenty-first-century Pan-Africanism still faces its original challenges of overcoming racism, promoting African identity and postcolonial development, fostering unity of Africa and the diaspora worldwide, and resolving the ambiguities of identity and loyalty that resulted from African and European interactions. Additional challenges include the AIDS pandemic on the continent; increases in the numbers of displaced persons and refugees; chronic poverty and famine; a “brain drain” of skilled labor; and crime, violence, and corruption. Some also argue that the contemporary strengthening of black American cultural and capitalistic influences in Africa and the Caribbean at the expense of indigenous values could possibly undermine the traditionally radical spirit of Pan-Africanism (Ackah 1999). In addition, because membership in Pan-African institutions has largely comprised intellectuals, activists, and politicians, it never became a mass movement.. However, as noted by Abisi Sharakiya in 1992, the endurance and recognition of the Pan-African movement remains unchallenged, and it is likely to persist in some form in the future.

SEE ALSO African Diaspora; African Economic Development; American Colonization Society and the Founding of Liberia; Black Consciousness; Capitalism; Racial Formations; Transnationalism; White Settler Society.


Ackah, William B. 1999. Pan-Africanism: Exploring the Contradictions, Politics, Identity, and Development in Africa and the African Diaspora. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate.

Adi, Hakim, and Marika Sherwood. 2003. Pan-African History:Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787. New York: Routledge.

Africa Confidential. 2005. “Pan-Africanism Meets Market Economics.” Africa Confidential 46 (1): 1.

Davidson, Basil. 1994. Modern Africa: A Social and Political History, 3rd ed. New York: Longman.

Du Bois, William E. B. 1965. The World and Africa: An Inquiry into the Part Which Africa Has Played in World History. New York: International Publishers.

Esedebe, P. Olisanwuche. 1994. Pan-Africanism: The Idea and Movement, 1776–1991, 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Howard University Press.

Makgoba, Malegapuru W., ed. 1999. African Renaissance: The New Struggle. Cape Town: Mafube/Tafelberg.

Mazrui, Ali A. 2001. “Pan-Africanism in the Era of Globalization.” Binghamton, NY: SUNY Institute of Global Cultural Studies. Available from

_____, and Toby K. Levine, eds. 1986. The Africans: A Reader. New York: Praeger.

Mbeki, Thabo H. 1998. Africa: The Time Has Come. Selected Speeches. Cape Town: Mafube/Tafelberg.

Nantambu, Kwme. 1998. “Pan-Africanism versus Pan-African Nationalism.” Journal of Black Studies 28 (5): 561–175.

Nkrumah, Kwame. 1966. Neo-Colonialism: the Last Stage of Imperialism. New York: International Publishers.

Sharakiya, Abisi. M. 1992. “Pan-Africanism: A Critical Assessment.” TransAfrica Forum 8 (4): 39–53.

Diane Brook Napier


views updated May 18 2018


Pan-Africanism is an internationalist philosophy that is based on the idea that Africans and people of African descent share a common bond. Pan Africanism, therefore seeks the unity and autonomy of African peoples and peoples of African descent; it is also a vision dedicated to fulfilling their right to self-determination. African diasporas—the global dispersion of people of African descent from their original homelands—emerged through slave trading, labor migration, commerce, and war. Imagining home, through a collective identity and cultural identification with Africa, Pan-Africanists mobilize for the continent's restoration, prosperity, and safety. Pan-Africanism allows African and African Diaspora communities to transcend the status of ethnic minority or oppressed nationality by replacing it with the consciousness of being "a nation within a nation."

Colonial degradation took many forms in the African world, depending on the varying policies of Britain, Portugal, France, Germany, Holland, Belgium, or the United States. These policies included direct military occupation, economic subordination through labor exploitation and the regulation of trade relations, cultural imperialism, indirect rule using traditional or even manufactured tribal leaders, promises of citizenship for select Africans, and seemingly benevolent development programs.

The attitudes of imperial officials were far from monolithic. Some insisted Africans were racially inferior and needed to be controlled through corporal punishment, including rape and the chopping off of limbs; others saw African peoples as primitive yet noble, even potential equals someday with proper mentoring over time.

An idea of Africa as "the dark continent" was created over time, by both official intellectual and government institutions and popular culture. Africa came to be seen as suffering from dependency complexes and as unfit for self-government. Importantly, racist viewpoints did not always preclude recognition of African elites, who could function on many levels as modern "credits to their race" or, alternatively, as keepers of ethnic wisdom and traditions. Close engagement with such elites was inherent to the civilizing mission and a crucial component of "enlightened" imperial government.

The efforts of African peoples to achieve independence and emancipation were distinguished by collectivist economic planning, defense against discrimination and brutality, a people-to-people foreign policy across national borders, community control of education, and a rethinking of religious and ethnic practices. Uncritical attitudes toward the nation-state often thwarted the full democratic potential of anticolonial movements.

The Pan-African movement has contributed significantly to the development of African nationalism, anticolonial revolt, and the postcolonial governmental strategies of African nation-states. The major torchbearers of the modern Pan-African movement were the African American W. E. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey, a native of Jamaica. Strong foundational pillars include George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, C. L. R. James, and Walter Rodney.


As a scholar and advocate, W. E. B. Du Bois (1868–1963) endeavored to make Africa central to world civilization. Among the foremost historians, sociologists, literary figures, and politicians of his generation, he foreshadowed in his many publications the future significance of Africa in an era distinguished by unapologetic subordination of the continent. Believing that the enslavement and colonization of African peoples was not only an indignity, but a burden to Western civilization, Du Bois understood what few ministers of foreign affairs, travelers, and journalists of the early twentieth century could: the necessity of involving peoples of African descent in politics and government.

Du Bois, with the Trinidadian attorney Henry Sylvester Williams, organized the first Pan-African Conference of 1900 in London. Subsequently, he chaired four Pan-African Congresses in 1919, 1921, 1923, and 1927, which gathered in London, Paris, Brussels, Lisbon, and New York City (one congress having sessions in two cities). Du Bois played a leading role in shaping protest against colonial land theft and global racial discrimination; he drafted letters to European and American rulers, calling on them to fight racism and promote self-government in their colonies, and to demand political rights for blacks in the United States. Arguing that land and mineral wealth in African colonies must be reserved for Africans, whose poor labor conditions must be ameliorated by law, Du Bois argued that Africans had the right to participate in government, to the extent their development permitted. Basing his claims on the human rights standards of both the United States and Soviet Union, Du Bois confidently predicted—though without ever quite overcoming the elitist perspective embodied in his notion of a Talented Tenth—that Africa would be governed by Africans in due time.


Whereas W. E. B. Du Bois focused on the production of professional scholarly literature and petitioning racist and imperial regimes, Marcus Garvey (1887–1940) took up the task of building a Pan-African movement of everyday people and propagated for the first time a global vision of black autonomy. Through mass-oriented journalism, uplift programs promoting health, alternative education, entrepreneurship, and the trappings of military regalia, Garvey's Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) invented notions of provisional government for African peoples. Garvey's doctrine created an image of the continent as a homeland for disenfranchised African Diaspora communities, restoring pride in an African past and confidence in a vibrant destiny, and inspiring art, music, and literary representations.

At its height, from 1917 to 1934, UNIA functioned in the United States, the Caribbean, and Latin America, and had an inspirational influence on the anticolonial struggle in Africa. Garvey's ideas found a mixed reception in Africa. The Harry Thuku revolt in Kenya has been partially attributed to Garvey's inspiration. In contrast, Kobina Sekyi of Ghana resented the notion that Garvey was Africa's provisional president. Garvey also saw some of his notions of Africa challenged. He became a critic of Liberia's ruling elite, and his "Back to Africa" scheme was partially undermined by growing awareness of African slavery and feudal class relations.

Garvey, an autodidact, was at times unpolished, romantic, or bombastic in his intellectual claims. His claims about the various African personalities and civilizations he wished to defend were not always factually accurate. Nonetheless, without a professional or scholarly pedigree, and possessing limited resources, Garvey inspired political ambitions and a desire for independence in multitudes of ordinary people of African descent.


George Padmore (1903–1959), a native of Trinidad, produced books, journalism, and strategic guides—backed between 1928 and 1935 by the authority of Moscow and the Communist International—that helped create a global network of black workers and fomented labor strikes and anticolonial revolts. Early in his career, Padmore was hostile to both Garvey and Du Bois, for what he saw as their insufficient resistance to the empire of capital; later, out of necessity, he modified his stance toward their legacies, while continuing to defend his own uncompromising positions.

During World War II, the Soviet Union subverted socialist ideals by, among other means, forging an alliance with Britain, France, and the United States against Italy, Germany, and Japan. When the Soviets ended their policy of promoting national liberation struggles in the African and Caribbean colonies, Padmore was asked to encourage friendship with "the democratic imperialists." He refused this absurdity. Surfacing in London, he formed the International African Service Bureau with C. L. R. James; he defended Ethiopia from Italian invasion, and continued advocating the destruction of all colonial regimes worldwide.

Working with future African independence leaders—Sierra Leone's Isaac Wallace-Johnson, Kenya's Jomo Kenyatta, and Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah—Padmore maintained and extended his vast network. These efforts culminated in the Fifth Pan-African Congress of 1945, held in Manchester, England. A watershed event, this assembly gathered for the first time vast numbers of African activists, many of whom were trade unionists or students. This time few proposed merely lobbying colonial authorities. Rather, a commitment was made to mass politics and armed struggle, if necessary, as the means to establish self-government on the African continent. Padmore ended his career as Nkrumah's advisor on African affairs upon Ghana's independence in 1957.


Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972) was one of the two greatest Pan-African statesmen, along with Tanzania's Julius Nyerere. As with Nyerere, Nkrumah's vision of federation and cooperation for the liberation of the entire African continent transcends the mixed legacy of his domestic governance.

Nkrumah employed "positive action"—strikes and other forms of nonviolent civil disobedience—as a means to overthrow British colonialism. He confronted tribal and customary authorities in Ghana and initiated modern development projects. Promoting the idea of the African personality and seeking to incorporate and unify Islamic, Christian, and African theologies and ethnic traditions, Nkrumah made Ghana a center for African American expatriates. Nkrumah linked Ghana with Sekou Toure's Guinea and Modibo Keita's Mali in a three-nation federation. He also sponsored the All African Peoples Conference of 1958, which was attended by various luminaries of the national liberation struggle, such as Congo's Patrice Lumumba, Kenya's Tom Mboya, and Algeria's Frantz Fanon. At the conference, anticolonial trade union movements were organized, and further federations of nation-states were conceived.

The idea of Pan Africanism took a new turn with the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. The OAU was founded to promote unity and cooperation among all African states and to bring an end to colonialism in all parts of the continent. Haile Selassie's Ethiopia, brokered an uneasy compromise between Nkrumah's call for the total unification of Africa and the desire for autonomous nation-states. A collective commitment was made to liberate southern Africa from colonialism in the future. Yet colonial nation-state boundaries were to be respected in the postcolonial era, thus creating a country club of ruling elites whose governments rarely interfered in each other's affairs on behalf of ordinary people waging democratic struggles. The fall of Nkrumah's regime in 1966 came through military coup and imperial intervention. His rule was increasingly an undemocratic populist dictatorship, even as he began to articulate the neocolonial dilemma—the continuing dependency of seemingly sovereign African nation-states. Nkrumah lived out his last years in exile in Sekou Toure's Guinea.


The Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere (1909–1972) developed his Pan-African perspective slowly, but grew into a remarkable politician. After foiling several early coup attempts, and operating under the shadow of Cold War intrigue, he cautiously united mainland Tanganyika with the Zanzibari islands off the Swahili coast. He attempted but failed at the creation of an East African federation with Kenya and Uganda. Nyerere then developed a vision of self-reliance rooted in the values of the African peasantry. Terming this vision Ujamaa Socialism, he introduced resolutions that aimed at excluding capitalists and major property owners from political power. He spoke and wrote eloquently in Swahili, which he made widespread as a national and Pan-African language. In the same spirit of unity, he sought to reduce ethnic conflict and permitted intellectual autonomy at Dar es Salaam's university, where professors and students were often critical of him.

Nyerere welcomed a global expatriate African community, continuing the legacy of Nkrumah's Ghana, and sponsored guerilla forces fighting for the liberation of Mozambique, Angola, Zimbabwe, and South Africa. He stood up to the aggressive impulses of Uganda's Idi Amin, whose overthrow he later sponsored, following a war between Tanzania and Uganda. Yet, Nyerere too eventually became a populist autocrat of a one-party state. His compulsory state plans for rural development according to the principles of Ujamaa proved to be a failure. Even his internationalism had its limits.


When Tanzania sponsored the Sixth Pan-African Congress in 1974, the Call was drafted by former SNCC and Black Panther activists under the guidance of C. L. R. James (1901–1989). A native of Trinidad, James had a long career as a mentor and colleague of postcolonial statesmen that cannot be reconciled easily with his life as an insurgent socialist political philosopher advocating the overthrow of states and ruling elites. Indeed, James's life and work embodied the contradictions of the Pan-African movement in the postcolonial era.

The 1974 Congress, which was supposed to unify grassroots activists from across the globe under the sponsorship of a progressive state, imploded before it began. Nyerere collaborated with postcolonial Caribbean governments to exclude Caribbean insurgents, such as Maurice Bishop of Grenada's New Jewel Movement. Furthermore, prior to the Congress, Nyerere had jailed radical democrats in Tanzania, such as A. M. Babu, and in so doing had revealed the limits of the Pan-African vision and the necessity of what has come to be called "a second liberation of Africa." In the end, in a decision that perhaps suggests his unique political legacy, James boycotted the Sixth Pan-African Congress, even though he had traveled globally to organize it.


Walter Rodney (1942–1980), a native of Guyana, perhaps best imagined the Pan-African philosophy and practice necessary for a second liberation. As a scholar and activist, Rodney sought to reconcile the secular modernist tradition of class struggle-based Pan-Africanism with the prophetic cultural, nationalist, and theological visions of ordinary African and Caribbean peoples. He did not work in the service of populist state power, but rather organized everyday people against state power. Rodney's charismatic teaching inspired great democratic rebellions, against the postcolonial regime in Jamaica in 1968 and during the late 1970s in Guyana, for which he was assassinated. As a professor of history in Julius Nyerere's Tanzania, he taught, among other lessons, how Europe historically had underdeveloped Africa through its colonial policies. Yet it is Rodney's famous conference paper at the Sixth Pan-African Congress that most clearly suggests what are perhaps the most instructive perennial questions concerning African struggles for liberation. Rodney stressed—and this brief survey suggests he is correct—that an examination of which classes led the national liberation struggle, focusing especially on conflicting desires at the start of the postcolonial phase, is crucial to evaluating the legacy of Pan-African freedom struggles.


The new millennium witnessed the OAU's transformation into the African Common Market, devoted to seeking the continental integration of financial markets and the facilitation of labor exploitation, with the blessings of American empire. Globally, progressives can only lament that the United States does not offer enough financial aid to Africans nor sufficiently forgive their governments' debts—in short, many defenders of the continent believe the imperialists are not involved in Africa enough! The contemporary moment is for many a time in which African peoples' struggle to delink from empire amounts to a dream, and subordinate African nation-states and ruling classes have given up even the pretext of such a possibility. A rethinking of the Pan-African community-organizing tradition may hold out some hope of finding new pathways and refashioning ideas about the future of self-government.

see also Nkrumah, Kwame; Nyerere, Julius; Organization of African Unity (OAU); Pan-African Congress.


Abdul-Raheem, Tajudeen, ed. Pan-Africanism: Politics, Economy, and Social Change in the Twenty-First Century. New York: New York University Press, 1996.

Esedebe, P. Olisanwuche. Pan-Africanism: The Idea and Movement, 1776–1991. 2nd ed. Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1994.

James, C. L. R. A History of Pan-African Revolt. Rev. ed. Chicago: C. H. Kerr, 1969; reprint, 1995. (Originally published in 1938 as A History of Negro Revolt)

Langley, J. Ayodele. Pan-Africanism and Nationalism in West Africa, 1900–1945. Oxford: Clarendon, 1973.

Padmore, George. Pan-Africanism or Communism. New York: Roy, 1956; reprint, New York: Anchor, 1972.

Walters, Ronald W. Pan-Africanism in the African Diaspora: An Analysis of Modern Afrocentric Political Movements. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1993.


views updated May 29 2018


PAN-AFRICANISM. Although the term "Pan-Africanism" has occasionally been applied to the struggle for the political unification of the continent of Africa, the concept has more to do with race than with geography. In its eighteenth-century origins, it overlapped the concept of black nationalism, the idea that a modern nation-state with distinct geographical boundaries should be established in Africa as a center of racial unity and identity. Because it ignored or sought to override political, cultural, and economic differences in the heritages of a broadly defined "racial group," the movement always flourished more successfully in the realms of ideological romanticism and ethnic sentimentalism than in the domain of practical politics.

Pan-Africanism, which is as much a passion as a way of thinking, is more successfully defined in terms of its rhetorical manifestations than by its nominal characteristics. The term has always communicated various, sometimes contradictory ideas to the diverse individuals who professed to be Pan-Africanists. Some scholars refer to Pan-Africanism as a "macronationalism," a term applied to ideologies or movements among widely dispersed peoples who claim a common ancestry—in this case "black African," although Pan-Africanists often reject that term, insisting that Africans are by definition black, or, as they prefer to say, "Africoid." Like all nationalistic and macronationalistic movements, Pan-Africanism possesses a fundamentally religious quality.

Origins and Early Developments

The roots of Pan-Africanism are traceable to the late eighteenth-century writings of westernized Africans expressing the pain and resentment of humiliating encounters with slavery, colonialism, and white supremacy. In 1787 a group of twelve Africans living in England drafted a letter of appreciation to the British philanthropist Granville Sharp for his efforts toward abolition of the international slave trade. One of the drafters, Olaudah Equiano, had traveled widely in Britain's Atlantic empire as a ship's steward, and eventually published his Interesting Narrative, revealing emotional commitments to the universal improvement of the African condition. Ottobah Cugoano, one of Equiano's associates, also issued a pamphlet denouncing slavery, significantly "addressed to the sons of Africa," in 1791.

A group of enslaved Africans petitioned the General Court of Massachusetts at the onset of the American Revolution for the right to the same treatment as white indentured servants, who were able to work their way out of bondage. They were aware that their counterparts in Spanish colonies sometimes had that right, and they expressed the hope of eventual repatriation in Africa once free. In the late eighteenth century, a few African Americans pledged themselves to the universalistic doctrines of Freemasonry, but did so in segregated institutions, thus illustrating Pan-Africanism's ideological paradox—a commitment to the universal solidarity of all humanity, but a special solidarity with African populations in Africa and the Caribbean. This sense of solidarity was animated by the Haitian revolution, which, like the American and French Revolutions, enlisted Enlightenment ideals in support of its bloody nationalistic objectives.

In the early 1800s, two free African entrepreneurs in the maritime professions, Paul Cuffe, a sea captain, and James Forten, a sail maker, took steps to establish a West African trading company, and actually settled a few people

in the British colony of Sierra Leone. In 1820 the slave conspiracy planned in South Carolina by Denmark Vesey, putatively a native of the Danish West Indies, aimed at creating an empire of emancipated Africans throughout the American South and the Caribbean. Vesey's conspiracy influenced another South Carolinian, David Walker, who published his Appeal, in Four Articles, Together with a Preamble, to the Colored Citizens of the World (1829), an example of Pan-African sentiment, as its title declares. The Convention of the Free People of Color, meeting in 1831, likewise demonstrated a hemispheric Pan-Africanism as it considered a plan for a college in New Haven, Connecticut, arguing that a seaport location would facilitate communication with the West Indies.

Early Pan-Africanism disassociated itself from the West African colony of Liberia, established by the white-controlled American Society for Colonizing the Free People of Color. Some African Americans were willing to cooperate with the liberal abolitionist wing of that group by the mid–nineteenth century, however. By that time, the term "African Movement" was used by a black organization known as the African Civilization Society, established in 1858 and dedicated to "the civilization and christianization of Africa, and of the descendants of African ancestors in any portion of the earth, wherever dispersed." The organization's leader, Henry Highland Garnet, resuscitated the idea of a Caribbean empire, reminiscent of that envisioned by Denmark Vesey thirty years earlier. He also encouraged selective and voluntary migration to Africa, where, he believed, a new nation-state was destined to emerge as "a grand center of Negro nationality."

In 1859, Martin Delany, one of Garnet's associates, published a serialized work of fiction, Blake, or the Huts of America, presenting his dreams for an African nation, a Caribbean empire, and global unity among all African peoples. Under the nominal auspices of the African Civilization Society, Delany made a tour of West Africa and negotiated a treaty with the king of Abbeokuta. In the course of this pilgrimage he visited the missionary Alexander Crummell, the son of a West African father and an African American mother, born in New York and educated at Cambridge University in England. Crummell had migrated to Liberia in 1853 and published his first book, The Future of Africa (1862), an extensive contemporary defense of Liberian nationalism, calling on African Americans to accept responsibility for uplift of the entire continent. His associate Edward Wilmot Blyden, a native of the Danish West Indies, became the most prominent advocate of Pan-Africanism until his death in 1912. Blyden's publications included occasional reflections on what he called "the African personality," an amorphous expression of racial romanticism that was recycled more than once in the twentieth century. After the Civil War, Blyden, Crummell, Delany, and younger African Americans cooperated intermittently with the Civilization Society.

Pan-Africanism in the Twentieth Century

In 1900, Henry Sylvester Williams, a Trinidad barrister, organized in London the first meeting of Africans and Africans of the diaspora under the banner of Pan-Africanism, a term that appeared in related correspondence, although the meeting officially came to be known as the London Conference. Williams was apparently the first person to apply the term "Pan-Africanism" to what had earlier been called "the African movement." Alexander Walters and W. E. B. Du Bois were among the principal promoters of the conference in the United States. In 1919, Du Bois still used the term "African Movement" to denote "the redemption of Africa …,the centralization of race effort and the recognition of a racial fount." Later, Du Bois preferred the term "Pan-African," which he applied to a series of six conferences that he convened in the capitals of European colonial empires from 1919 to 1945.

African intellectuals meanwhile became increasingly prominent in the movement for black world solidarity. The Gold Coast intellectual Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford cooperated with Booker T. Washington, founder of Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, to organize a series of conferences on Africa. Heartened by the victory of Ethiopian troops over an Italian army at Adowa in 1896, Hayford published the novel Ethiopia Unbound in 1911, dedicated "to the sons of Ethiopia the world wide over." That same year, Mojola Agbebe, a Yoruba from Lagos, addressed the First Universal Races Conference in London, which was attended by Blyden and Du Bois.

The Pan-African sentiment of highly literate intellectuals was not disassociated from the consciousness of the masses. The historian Edwin S. Redeye found evidence that black peasants in the South were aware of such leadership figures as Blyden. The cultural historian Miles Mark Fisher has insisted that folk songs and folklore gave evidence of a continuing identification with Africa among the masses. Working people in the Midwest subscribed to an emigration project led by the Barbadian Orishatukeh Faduma and the Gold Coast chief Alfred C. Sam during World War I, although most of the migrants soon returned to the United States. In 1916, the year following the exodus led by Sam and Faduma, Marcus Garvey arrived in the United States from Jamaica to organize an immensely popular international movement for "Universal Negro Improvement." Garvey denied, with indignation, any linkage or continuity between Sam's movement and his own, and although his program contained a back-to-Africa component, his goal was to develop the international commercial and political interests of African peoples everywhere.

William H. Ferris, a collaborator with Garvey and an associate of Faduma, drew on his broad knowledge of African leadership on four continents to produce his magnum opus, The African Abroad or His Evolution in Western Civilization, Tracing His Development Under Caucasian Milieu (1913). Ferris was a member of the American Negro Academy, an organization with Pan-African membership, presided over by Alexander Crummell and including among its active and corresponding members Du Bois, Casely Hayford, Faduma, Edward W. Blyden, and other African and Caribbean intellectuals. Ferris and the formerly enslaved autodidact John Edward Bruce were a bridge between the American Negro Academy and the Garvey movement.

The Pan-African conferences, including that of 1900 and those organized by Du Bois in 1919, 1921, 1923, and 1927, were the forerunners of another, held in Manchester, England, in 1945, which focused on the promotion of African independence from European colonialism. The Pan-African Congress that met in Ghana in 1958 was no longer dominated by Americans and West Indians. African independence had been achieved in most of the former European colonies, and the movement focused on the political unification of the continent.

Although many of Pan-Africanism's twenty-first-century American adherents still thought of a movement for achievable economic and political goals, the ideology, for better or for worse, was not dominated by such concerns. Pan-Africanism had merged with "Afrocentrism," a semireligious movement, existing mainly on the sentiment level, among the many people who identified emotionally with black Africa and believed their own interests to be tied inextricably to its fortunes.


Geiss, Imanuel. The Pan-African Movement. Translated by Ann Keep. London: Methuen, 1974.

Langley, J. Ayodele. Pan-Africanism and Nationalists in West Africa, 1900–1945: A Study in Ideology and Social Classes. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973.

Makonnen, Ras. Pan-Africanism from Within. Nairobi, Kenya: Oxford, 1973.

Mazrui, Ali A. The African Condition. London: Oxford, 1980.

Padmore, George. Pan-Africanism or Communism? The Coming Struggle for Africa. London: Dennis Dobson, 1956.

Wilson J.Moses

See alsoAfrica, Relations with ; Black Nationalism ; Liberia, Relations with .


views updated May 17 2018

Pan-Africanism Historical political movement for the unification and independence of African nations. It began officially at the Pan-African Congress (1900) in London, organized by western black leaders such as W. E. B. Du Bois. It met five times between 1900 and 1927, and worked to bring gradual self-government to African colonial states. In 1945, the Pan-African Federation convened the Sixth Congress, attended by future leaders of post-colonial Africa, such as Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta. It demanded autonomy and independence for African states. As independence was gained, the movement broke up and was eventually replaced (1963) by the Organization of African Unity (OAU).