Pan Africanists’ Portfolio: Stimulus for people’s struggle
Stanely Mushava Literature Today
Book: The Pan-Africanists
Authors: Barrington Watson and Dudley Thompson
Publisher: Ian Randle Publishers (2000)
The keynote attribute of worthwhile life is freedom.African history is vastly richer for the sterling feats of heroes who dedicated their lives towards reclaiming freedom for the continent.
Africa’s quest for freedom has assumed various forms at different stages: the struggle against slavery, the civil rights movement, the liberation wars, the anti-apartheid movement and the on-going struggle against neo-colonialism.
Our ordeals against oppression merge from different settings — Africa, the Caribbean, Americas and Europe — under the mutual banner known as Pan-Africanism.
Pan-Africanism, which advocates the solidarity of Africans worldwide, is the continent’s ideological engine in the enduring struggle for a free and prosperous Africa.
It is the signature creed of a people in transit, of a continent in the bull’s eye of capitalist ogres who esteem the children of the poor less than the dogs of the rich.
Much of what Pan-Africanism stands is for is still to be actualised, being upset by imperialist adversity and domestic failure, but as C.L.R James observes: “It is not the quality of goods and utility which matter, but movements; not where you are or what you have, but where you have come from and where you are going and the rate at which you are going there.”
“The Pan-Africanists”, a joint effort by Jamaican master painter Barrington Watson and historian Dudley Thompson, beautifully and succinctly captures some of the defining moments of Africa’s epic struggle for self-determination.
Not necessarily exhaustive but representative, “The Pan-Africanists” pays homage to seventeen African leaders whose contributions to the liberation and unity of the continent have immortalised them in the annals of our continent’s history.
The book, which was recently published in Zimbabwe by the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre (SARDC), is especially targeted at young readers but many older readers will equally find it an engaging and accessible rites of passage to the higher ground of Pan-Africanism.
“The Pan-Africanists” brings to life Federick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, W.E.B Dubois, Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, C.L.R James, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta, Haile Sellasie, Paul Robeson, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr. Muhammad Ali, Patrice Lumumba and Nelson Mandela.
Interestingly, while all the leaders are exceptional personalities in different ways, some of them have touches of “vulnerable genius”.
They have visions rendered too large to retrieve by their detractors, and they, tragically, become captives of their own great but finite intellects.
One might have wanted the list broadened because “strong men keep coming on”, as Carl Sandburg said but then Solomon retorts: “Of making many books there is no end.” These pictorial biographies suffice for a model and a case to touch base and continue with the struggle as our time demands.
Peace broker, Kofi Annan, then United Nations secretary-general, remarks in the foreword: “In the next (present) century, a new generation of men and women of African descent must carry the struggle further still, into a new era when the hopes of their leaders will be realised once and for all.”
Perhaps it is significant that the book addresses young people because it is them who saddle the mandate of claiming Africa’s destiny building on their founding leaders’ legacy.
African youths have largely abdicated the challenge of the future to their elders and this is no mild forecast as to the leadership deficit that threatens the future if we do not shun trivial concerns and commit to responsibility.
The present age has inherited a vastly altered Africa, thanks to the dynamic exploits of the Pan-Africanists. We are admittedly confronted by an intimidating array of problems but our own challenge is not faulting that on the leaders; nay, it is to guarantee that our own tenure adds value to the next generation of Africans.
The value of “The Pan-Africanists” cannot be overemphasised in this age where Afro-pessimism and post-nationalism are becoming the new norm among the youths.
The pessimistic buzzphrase “Can anything good come out of Africa?” is not so much an indictment on the leaders who gave their quota to the extent of their ability from the time they were less than our ages; it is an indictment on young Africa’s ideological redundancy.
“Pan-Africanism is a people’s movement, a struggle against the unjust and unlawful oppression of Black people,” Thompson notes. He references slavery which saw fifteen million blacks shipped to American plantations as the first dark chapter in Africa’s long history of subjugation and underdevelopment towards the gratification of Western interests.
“This massive and violent transplantation of peoples damaged Africa’s development, encouraging conflicts and emptying parts of the continent of its younger and fittest people,” Thompson recounts. Thompson rightly remarks that such oppression is new but it is all the more pertinent to observe that it is nothing new, considering that the slave trade is, even now, alive and well across the continent.
Charles Mungoshi’s “Walking Still” bemoans the perpetuity of “The Slave Trade” whereby black proxies for Western imperialism a pittance. Mungoshi points out that “the customs and costumes” have changed but the conditions are still the same.
New African editor Baffour Ankomah decries in an op-ed entitled “The Great Conundrum” the economic surrogacy of the continent whereby most African countries are benefiting from less than 10 percent their resources, in some cases because their leaders are on the multi-national capitalists’ kick-back payroll.
Without taking anything away from the featured heroes, I find particularly moving the account on Congo’s Patrice Lumumba. The tragedy underlying this great Pan-Africanist’s short-lived quest for his people’s self-determination epitomes the monstrosities of Western dollarocracy’s sadistic stranglehold on our continent.
Lumumba is portrayed as “one of Africa’s promising young leaders” whose ideas of national self-determination and social equality earned him powerful enemies, among them the Belgian monarchy, U.S President Dwight Eisenhower who, with the CIA which regarded Lumumba as a “mad dog”, and later John F. Kennedy, Moise Tshombe, Joseph Kasavubu and Joseph Mobutu, who all wanted him out.
Ever the courageous and assertive man of principle, Lumumba wrote a few days before his assassination: “Neither brutality, nor torture, nor cruelty will ever bring me to ask for mercy for I prefer to die with my head unbowed and my faith unshakable, and with profound trust in the destiny of my own country.”
Lumumba’s parting declaration that Africa will write her own glorious and dignified history is a challenge to the youths today to be the next stimulus for the continent’s optimism for better days.
Another endearing leader is Julius Nyerere, described as a man of unusual sincerity and integrity which qualities earned him the trust of his people and international reputation as a Third World leader and a defender of African causes.
Nyerere’s “ujamaa,” a form of rural socialism, never made headway but his defence of the people-centred development he had envisaged is still significant. “You can say you should leave the development of a country to something called ‘the market’ which has no heart at all, since capitalism is completely ruthless.
“But who is going to help the poor? And remember the majority of people in our countries are poor. Who is going to stand up for them? Not ‘the market’.” observed Nyerere.
The forceful visionary Kwame Nkrumah is described as one of the brightest and most committed leaders ever produced by Africa. An astute intellectual with several Pan-Africanist titles under his belt, Nkrumah originally developed the concept of ‘neo-colonialism’ which he was fiercely opposed to and wrote extensively about.
Prolific Trinidadian historian, novelist and literary critic C.L.R James hits the nail on the head with Africa’s historical predicament: “It is a fantasy to believe that these imperialist powers are the ones who will guide Africa safely through these troubles (conflicts). They are the ones responsible for them. They are the ones making it more difficult than ever for the Africans to find their own way.”