By Dr Bankie F. Bankie
Whereas Du Bois stated the problem of the twentieth century was the colour line; the problem for Africans in the twenty-first century is the Afro-Arab Borderlands.
The OAU/AU/AUC et al is a work in progress. It was noted that Pan-Africanists in general have their own views as to how best to deconstruct neo-colonialism and create Pan-Africanism/African Nationalism. This speaks to the democratic base of the unity movement. No one can claim a monopoly of ideas. As regards pointers to the future, at the First Preparatory Meeting for the 8th Pan-African Congress, held in Johannesburg, South Africa, 7-8 January 2010, the key issue was how to achieve the objective of Pan-Africanism (i.e. non-continentalism ).
Another observed characteristic of the Pan-African movement in these times was that being victims of inappropriate historiography, Africans in general remain in the process of learning their true place in global history. Examples being the de-legislation of apartheid after 1994 and the admission of South Sudan into the global African community in 2011, with the implication that in the longer term the history of Sudan and by extension, the Nile Delta, will be re-written from the perspective of the African majority of Sudan. As regards Egypt an admission in school curricula, that Egypt was originally an African civilisation is long overdue.
These emerging truths effect the architecture of the unity movement. Indeed Sudan was opened up for inspection by the people of Sudan, by their armed struggle and by Pan-African participants such as the AU High Level Panel on Darfur. It is clear that there are others in Africa who seek to undermine African emancipation and liberation in the Afro-Arab Borderlands, and witness armed struggle and genocide in Southern Sudan, Darfur, Abyei, Southern Kordofan, Northern Mali, etc. Are these struggles national or ethnic? These types of questions that resulted in the composition and publication of The African Nation, a seminal work, defining scientifically, for the first time, the African national constituency.
This paper addresses the issues of slavery, Arabisation/Islamisation, the Borderlands, the African Eastern Diaspora, OAU/AU, culture and nationality.
The ‘Purpose and Objectives of the Conference’, circulated in the Call for Papers for a meeting scheduled in Southern Africa to celebrate African Liberation Day (ALD) 2012, referred to :-
‘… the formal ending of the place of colonialism and apartheid’
The convenors of the Symposium were all in southern Africa. Their choice to locate in southern Africa ‘the formal ending of the phase of colonialism and apartheid’ raises questions as to what is taking place in Sudan and the Afro-Arab Borderlands today and how they define ’colonialism and apartheid’. Is not the ‘Independence’ of South Sudan part of a process of decolonisation and is not the system of governance in Sudan and Mauritania, for that matter, not apartheid? Indeed Garba Diallo called Mauritania ‘The other apartheid’.
As Pan-Africanists we should see our constituency as being defined by our Nation and this Nation as being inclusive of the African western Diaspora in the Americas, Carribean and Europe, as well as the African eastern Diaspora in Arabia, the Gulf States and north Africa.
As part of the adjustment, based on the truths learnt from the Borderlands, we need to ask ourselves why has the Sudan been in armed struggle for so long and why is there indifference globally about the loss of life in that part of Africa. Again, the ‘Purpose and Objectives of the Conference’ referred to those who ‘…do not have African interests and values at heart’. This would accurately describe those in the Afro-Arab Borderlands, who pursue a policy of denationalising Africans and are waging war against ancient African people such as the Nuba in Southern Kordofan.
The unity movement of the Africans is handed down to us through the history of those taken out of Africa as slaves to the western Diaspora. Previously the experience of those who underwent slavery in Arabia had been ignored by Pan-Africanists. There were those who were taken out either directly from east Africa to Arabia and points beyond, as well as those who, by forced migration, crossed the Sahara to north Africa and Arabia. Keep in mind that originally north Africa was populated by Black Africans, a point admitted by the late Libyan leader - Gadaffi. The Arab enslavement was the first forced migration out of Africa, following the voluntary migration of the original wo/man out of Africa, to populate the world.
Later the European capitalists, intent on profit via the industrialisation of Europe and north America extracted large numbers of African slaves to the western Diaspora including Europe. As Rodney states, Africa was underdeveloped in order for Europe to develop. It was these slaves that laid the foundation for the super development of north and now south America.
It was out of the experience of the enslavement of Africans in the western Diaspora and their exposure to crude capitalism that Pan-Africanism was born, from the political options slavery engendered. Some chose and did return to Africa. Others remained in the western hemisphere. It was by pioneers such as Henry Sylvester Williams, Du Bois, Garvey, Robeson, Padmore and many others, that leadership was provided to a people who found themselves exiled in a hostile environment. Born in ‘Babylon’ their concientisation was subject to western political theory, with African characteristics. They covered the broad spectrum of political options from capitalism to socialism. All were essentially Africanists. As Mohammad Fayek stated, the Pan-African movement had no place in the Arab experience. From Arabia only Duse Mohamed Ali, the Sudanese Egyptian is, so far,recognised as having played a role in the Pan-African movement, with his sojourns in the UK and USA, settling ultimately in Nigeria, where he participated in the emerging African nationalism. He was at one point Head of African Affairs in Garvey’s Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), which had branches in the various parts of the world, except Arabia, where those of African descent are found.
Abdelwahid in his book on Duse Mohamed Ali states on page 23, ‘There is no doubt that young Marcus Garvey learnt about African history, politics and Islam from Duse Mohamed Ali’, whose writings provide insights on Islam and African-Americans in the early twentieth century. In Nigeria, Duse had connections with nationalists such as Azikiwe and Herbert Macaulay. He died and was buried in Lagos at the age of 78 in 1945.
Before Christianity arrived south of the Sahara, Islam had long been there. The scholarly manuscripts found at that centre of learning that was Timbouctou, centuries ago, were from an Arabised culture, using Arabic as the language of transmission. It is understood that amongst the Africans taken into slavery in the western hemisphere were those who were Muslims. Arab presence in Africa predates the western penetration by many centuries and the first slavers of Africans on a large scale were Arabs. The history of unequal exploitative relations between Africa and the outside world begins with Afro-Arab relations.
One of those Africans who sojourned in the United States and drank deeply of its political currents and who was strongly influenced by the struggle of the Africans in north America and the United Kingdom was Kwame Nkrumah. He fulfilled secretarial duties at the 5th Pan-African Congress of 1945 in Manchester, UK. He it was who connected the Congress movement, carried forward by the likes of Du Bois, Padmore and Makonnen, back to Africa. No study of Pan-Africanism is complete without an inspection of its historical antecedents. Whatever the current mood is in north America or the Carribean – the key link of Africa with its Diaspora provides the historical root of the unity of the Africans not only those of west, east, south and central Africa, but also for those in north east Africa and Arabia. The strength and weakness of the ‘key link’depends on the degree of the insertion of the Diasporas in civil society in America and Arabia. African nationalism as a key factor in African development will not diminish and will remain the driving force in the destiny of Africans going forward. The Pan-African movement is deeper rooted in the global Black experience than Black conscientism to which it became associated in southern Africa. The Pan-African movement is a movement for the unity of the global African community – those in and those out of Africa. That is the historical base and logic of the movement. It does not limit itself to unifying, say those in southern Africa. No, its mission is brotherhood and sisterhood between those scattered around the world, be they in Argentina or in India and those in Africa, be they Socialist or Capitalist – whatever their political persuasion; be they Muslim, Christian, animist or otherwise.
The African people, otherwise put, the people of Africa, due to their misuse in history, as beasts of burden, to create wealth for others, have been the systematic subjects of the falsification of their place in global history in order to justify their gross exploitation.
In north-east Africa, both Arab and European co-operated,via slavery, in this super exploitation of what was called ‘Black Ivory’. An example – in Egypt today it is not officially recognised that Egypt was originally an African civilisation until the Arabs arrived in 639/640 AD, crossing the Sinai and points further eastwards, a people described by European historians as Indo-Europeans, who populated north Africa and seek to colonize all of Africa, from Cairo to the Cape, through Jihad. In north-east Africa the early African presence and contribution to world civilisation has been denied and deliberately falsified, being expunged from the history books in
Arabia and elsewhere.
Having been marginalised as human beings, the ‘civilising mission’ was used as an explanation and justification for colonialism. Too often the death of an old man in the area means the burying of yet another chapter in African history.
The history of Africa from African perspective taught in schools in Africa has yet to come. This explains the changing architecture of the organisation for statist unity, which started in 1963 as the Organisation for African Unity, becoming in 2002 the African Union (AU) and is today the African Union Commission (AUC).
Until Africans research, know and write their own history the statist structure of their unity movement will continue to be a work in progress. The current AUC for the past twenty years came under the influence of a north African, from a country now leading Arabia out of Africa towards a north Atlantic alliance.
Observers have noted the many schools of thought amongst Africans about their future geopolitical direction. This is attributed to the varying levels of our understanding of history. Again Egypt is instructive. This is a country where the people are historically living in a time warp and a disconnect with their origins. Dr K Nkrumah, one of the founders of the OAU, included Egypt and north Africa in his supra unity project, even though those advising him on African Affairs, such as Du Bois, the Father of the Congress series, well knew the origins of the movement to be a movement for Africans, not Arabs. Padmore likewise.
The OAU through to the AUC, was taken up with decolonisation. Apart from in the Borderlands, this has been achieved, with some degree of success. Economic integration will prove a bigger challenge. Any collection of people – a society – which seeks to strengthen itself has to have a defined cultural identity at its core, be it Chinese, Indian, American or European. Arab identity built around Islam is not African identity. Besides, historically, in the fairly recent past Africans have been subjugated - enslaved - by outsiders, be they Arab or European.
To be continued
• B.F.Bankie, Windhoek, Namibia, May 2012
Mr Bankie, in the period 2007-2008, assisted the work of establishment of The Kush Institution, as the policy research/analysis unit in The Office of the President of the Government of Southern Sudan.