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Pan-Africanism and Black Nationalism
I am trying to remember where the origin is of the idea that liberation for Black People of the African diaspora is lacking or incomplete unless the continent of Africa were freed first. Perhaps it was the A-APRP, but I cannot remember that being stated by any of the original or early conveners of Pan-African ideology during the entry of the 20th century. I clearly remember it being discussed in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I remember being at odds with that perspective from day one. That train of thought is probably the result of a scholarly analysis of a process that unfolds in ways that are not the least bit scholarly, or an emotional reaction to a situation whose elimination is best served when emotions are held at bay. Even if good intentioned, it is an impractical response to say the least. Neither revolution nor national liberation is a scholarly pursuit, and both necessitate the control of one’s emotions. Let’s take a brief look at some of the reasons why the Africa first position is not only NOT a viable position to posit but a counter revolutionary and crippling one as well. To make clear this position, let’s take a practical look at the struggles of Black People in Africa and Black People in the diaspora, and dissect the extent to which they are one struggle.
The first huge obstacle to the Africa first position is the fact that no-one can package or arrange revolution or struggles for liberation like you package a bar of candy or a birthday cake. You can’t schedule a revolutionary agenda of developments or agree on a series of system shaking events in advance. We’re talking about unscriptable human processes generated by stressful conditions in multiple locations, each one unpredictable, sociopathic, complex and compulsive. Forecasting a historically important release of revolutionary energy is nearly impossible, but orchestrating and coordinating events in several different countries brought about by the sudden release of revolutionary energy is, in my opinion, well beyond human capabilities.
Most historically important revolutionary sparks have been spontaneous in that they have caught most observers off guard, so it defeats the purpose to propose that X must occur in Africa before it can occur outside of Africa. Who has the power to determine that X should happen in Africa first and then X can happen in the diaspora? Africa is a huge continent that is composed of many different unnaturally formed political units called countries. Some of the different tribes that compose these unnaturally formed political units, or countries, had been historically at odds with each other, and would not be planning strategy together under normal circumstances. How long are Black People in the diaspora supposed to delay their own political initiatives while they wait for who knows how many unnatural political units to, one by one, get along with each other, agree on a course of action, successfully complete that course of action and maintain the gains they make? How are Black People in the diaspora supposed to keep their revolutionary and nationalist fervor alive in the meantime? And, what is supposed to be done with the energy of revolutionary individuals who are devoted to their liberation but not devoted to Africa’s liberation? That is important because, as much as we say the struggle of Black People inside and outside of Africa is one struggle, the fact of the matter is otherwise. Ideologically speaking the struggles can be easily combined and meshed into one, but practically speaking they are as distinguishable as languages, customs, religions, personal preferences, standards of living, family ties, friends, etc. Yes, all of the struggles in Africa and the diaspora stand on some common ground, but that common ground can have little to do with how things unfold in a specific country. When it comes to that, the uncommon ground is the more likely determinator. The uncommon ground is what generates the sparks that upheave the status quo. In all honesty, what occurs outside of Africa is probably more important overall than what occurs inside of Africa. In fact, it could be that what Africa needs to get its revolutionary juices flowing at top speed again will be generated by events that take place outside of Africa.
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In the 1950s some countries in Black Africa took center stage in the struggle against colonialism, but within ten years that was fading and Africa’s role as a front runner was slipping into the background. But events were taking place in Cuba that catapulted Cuba, a country that is 70% Black, into the forefront of the African Revolution. In that role, Cuba’s platform of world revolution resulted in assistance to several liberation movements within Africa that managed to turn the political status of those countries upside-down. If Cuba had waited until the countries inside Africa were free, many of the liberation movements inside Africa would probably have failed. Cuba carried out a revolutionary agenda, Cuba liberated itself, and because Cuba had liberated itself, it was able to assist liberation movements inside Africa and move the African Revolution to a higher stage of accomplishment.
Based on research I have done over the years, my opinion is that the first Pan-Africanist of national or international renown was Toussaint L’Overture, the leader of the Haitian Revolution at the end of the 18th century, more than 220 years ago. Although no-one used the term Pan-Africanism at that time, Toussaint’s political platform is clearly Pan-Africanist, and the activities of him and some of his successors validate that identification. But Toussaint’s primary obligation was to free the African diaspora in Haiti. After completing that task he was able to offer refuge and hope to Blacks who were shackled in Africa and other parts of the diaspora, and he encouraged other colonized people in the Caribbean and South America to free themselves of European domination. At that time, there were few African leaders who understood white power enough to establish a policy to combat it, so I can’t imagine how the activities of T’Oussaint would have been better served if he had waited until Africa had freed itself. Historical processes just don’t unfold like that.
A common enemy does not make a common struggle. Too many differences have been generated to allow the struggle of Black People throughout the world to act itself out as one concerted war for liberation. As far as the leaders of countries like Nigeria, the Central African Republic and Senegal are concerned, they are already free; and I’d bet my last dollar that most of them don’t care at all if the Black individuals in Barlovento are free or not. On the other hand, there are people suffering in Africa who probably don’t know that Guyana exists. How are they going to coordinate their struggle with the struggle of the Black People in Guyana? and how are the Black People in Guyana going to fire a shot against the abusers of Black People in Chad? That the two are inseparable is not a connection that a person capable of straight thinking would make unless that person is a romantic or suffers from excessive emotional responses to conditions that are best free of emotional involvement.
An excellent scholar could make the argument that the struggle of Black People throughout the world is one struggle, but few excellent scholars fight the war that excellent revolutionaries fight. If the African Revolution is viewed as one general struggle, it must be stressed that this general struggle plays out in several different specific arenas or theaters of operation, each of which unveils its own stages of development based on local conditions and responses. Thus, local developments take on more relevance than any general ideology. As such, the specific struggle can feed the general struggle as much as it is fed by the general struggle. At different stages, either the general struggle or or a specific struggle can take center stage and lead the push forward toward liberation. The only hierarchy is found in the level of revolutionary activity at any given time. If the highest level of activity is within Africa, then that part of Africa could free itself and assume control of the overall revolution. But, if the highest level of activity is outside of Africa, then that part of the diaspora could free itself and assume control of the overall revolution. Thus, at any given time, it is the responsibility of the most capable sector to seek to liberate itself and afterwards, help liberate the others.