LANG T.K.A. NUBUOR: A REJOINDER TO ‘AFRICANISM OR CONTINENTALISM’
UNITY OF PEOPLE OR GEOGRAPHICAL UNITY
Lang T. K. A. Nubuor
The article Africanism or Continentalism: Unity of People or Geographical Unity could be seen as a final declaration of war between groups of persons who would normally only be seen to be merely engaged in debating a course for the unity of Africans wherever they might be for their collective material and spiritual fulfilment. It announces that ‘a conflict of fundamental ideas is raging at the heart of the movement’, that is, Pan-Africanism. It explains that this conflict is made up of two profoundly divergent understandings of Pan-Africanism in respect of its agenda and methodology for the realization of African renaissance and unity.
Certainly, within a movement (and not a party) one expects differences in opinion as to the way forward. For, the various segments of a movement set their horizons not just on the immediate objective that brings them together. They keep in focus their long term strategic interests for the ultimate realization of which they seek to mould the current direction of the entire movement. The severity of differences in those interests exhibits levels of conflict within the movement. Where the differences are not of a fundamental nature they remain within a single ideological framework; otherwise, they reflect ideological diversity.
In this light, the article’s assertion that it has a perception that the divergent understandings within the Pan-African movement represent ideological differences and goes on to declare those differences in ideas as fundamental suggests that a situation of irreconcilability has emerged in that movement. In case that is the reality today then we have in our hands a new potential for self-destruct in the movement of Pan-Africanism. It is a declaration of war by a group of septuagenarians and octogenarians spotting unkempt grey beard ready to sink the blood of the African youth in a needless struggle while it dines and wines elsewhere.
They are frustrated at failing to carry the African youth and all else with them in their reformist neo-colonial enterprise. These septuagenarians and octogenarians constitute themselves into what they call the Sankofa Movement. That movement emerges as The Sankofa Tendency within Pan-Africanism espousing culturalism as the basic approach to the attainment of the ends of Pan-Africanism. It suggests the existence of a phantom group expressing what it calls Continentalism. The latter, it claims, espouses a rather unbelievably narrow concept of Pan-Africanism. ‘Phantom’ because it does not, to our knowledge, name a single individual parading about with such a despicable concept of Pan-Africanism.
Defining the phantom of Continentalism, The Sankofa Tendency, through the agency of the article under discussion, projects it at two broad levels: an assertion that it is the continent of Africa that must be united but not its people, thus excluding the Diaspora from the Pan-African Project; and the other assertion of a commitment to the retention of balkanized Africa as is. In its own words, The Sankofa Tendency asserts that
There is the continentalist argument which starts with the geographical unity of Africa as the basis of the project … The continentalist approach implicationally excludes the African diaspora … The continentalists treat the maximum architecture of the idea as a regional arrangement or geographical forum; an entente of all the states on the African continent; a conceptually facile and intellectually lazy formulation which conceives the idea as an assemblage of all the states that there are today on the African continent; a “united states of Africa” conceptually based on a supposed hammering together of the neocolonial legacy we are mired in. This is the most prevalent version of the idea. Lacking in vision, it conceptually builds with the brickwork of the current neocolonial states of Africa. In other words, it assumes and accepts the post-colonial state as a credible and viable unit for social reconstruction for the near and distant future.
Certainly, the only tendency that, to the best of our knowledge, contests The Sankofa Tendency is Revolutionary Pan-Africanism. If it is this tendency that the Sankofa octogenarians are quietly referring to (and they refer to only two tendencies) then theirs is a grand intellectual mischief enveloped in the swaddling clothing of extreme lack of courage in naming the so-called continentalists so defined. For, indeed, Revolutionary Pan-Africanism incorporates into its understanding of the Pan-African Project all indigenous people living on the African continent and the Diaspora. It does not see Arabs as part of the Project but sees Arab Africans as very much part of it. Arabs can only be citizens here.
We have had occasion to contend, against the Sankofa perspective, that Arabized Berbers in North Africa who have lived on the African continent before the Islamo-Arabic invasion for over three thousand years and have developed their culture therein are Africans. In the same spirit we contended and continue to contend that products of Arab and Black African inter-marriages are Africans. We even pointed out and continue to point out in this regard the contradictory posture of The Sankofa Tendency in its acceptance of Samia Nkrumah, a product of a Ghano-Egyptian marriage (Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s daughter), as a member of its group while rejecting similar products in the Pan-African Project. That tendency rejects the existence of Arab Africans.
In the same spirit we have contended and still contend that the Dutch who have become Boers and transformed the Dutch language into Afrikaans which they speak in Africa but not spoken in the Netherlands are Boer Africans. Just in the same way, we have held and continue to hold that Indians who were shipped down from India, in a similar fashion that Black Africans were shipped to America, and have redeveloped their culture in ways that make sub-continental Indians see them as Africans are indeed Indian Africans. In the process of history, we continue to say, the ‘African’ concept has been expanded in meaning.
We find it odd – and this we say mindful of the African tradition of respect for the elderly – that the grey-bearded advocates within The Sankofa Tendency continue to hold on to their outdated concept of the African. The idea of some ‘new’ entrants refusing to be called Africans and that that disqualifies them from being seen as Africans is quite lame. But Sankofa is not unanimous in this claim that Prof. Kwesi K. Prah is noted for. Prof. Chinweizu expresses his annoyance that such ‘new’ entrants actually call themselves Africans. He says that in order to discourage them from associating with Black Africans the concept of ‘African’ should be changed to ‘Nigger’ because nobody else would like to be called so. This lack of unanimity within The Sankofa Tendency, we have pointed out, suggests trends therein.
The questioning of ‘commitment’ as the basis of defining an African has also been addressed in our previous contributions. If we do not question the commitment of African Americans – who cannot point to their hometowns in Africa – to the American Dream but all the same accept them as part of the Pan-African Project what makes Arab African commitment to extra-African projects a basis for the disqualification of the Arab African from being an African and a part of the Pan-African Project? Certainly, commitment as such does not qualify anyone as an indigene. In this case, however, we are not just talking about commitment.
It is interesting that the spleen that The Sankofa Tendency vomits on the Arab African is not extended to Boer Africans and Indian Africans in equal measure. In the case of the latter the objection at best is either measured and therefore less vociferous; or it is just mute! And what could explain this attitude when the leadership of The Sankofa Tendency lives under the very nose of the Boers whose bourgeois elite dictate the direction of South African affairs to disadvantage oppressed and exploited South Africans be they Black, Boer or Indian? What amount of research time do they invest in class and racial exploitation in South Africa?
On the Diaspora proper, The Sankofa Tendency’s cowardice in confronting the proponents of Revolutionary Pan-Africanism under subterfuges is directed at the age-old strategy outlined by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah for the total liberation of the African wherever they might be. Dr. Nkrumah makes it abundantly clear in his book The Spectre of Black Power that the total liberation of the African begins with and from the African continent. Only the liberation of the African on the continent forms the sure basis for the liberation of any African around the world, he says. And his operational use of the ‘African’ concept is not exclusivist. As we speak, there are African Americans on the continent doing great job in developing set-ups and advancing the cause of Pan-Africanism.
It is therefore necessary that The Sankofa Tendency peters out of subterfuges and confront head-on this Revolutionary Pan-African strategy for the liberation of the Diasporian who has a huge stake in the liberation of the African continent and people from the stranglehold of imperialism and neo-colonialism as the condition for African freedom in the United States as well. Let Sankofa tell us which person in the ranks of Revolutionary Pan-Africanism ever says that its concept of Pan-Africanism even implicitly excludes the Diasporian struggle. Hiding under a so-called and self-construct of a certain Continentalism is unacceptably cowardly.
If the so-called Continentalism construct resides in the ‘intellectually creative mind’ of The Sankofa Tendency and has nothing to do with Revolutionary Pan-Africanism in terms of Sankofa’s geographical and exclusivist ascriptions to its definition then what of this claim about the neo-colonial states being projected as ‘brickwork’ for the unification project? In this respect, we must celebrate The Sankofa Tendency’s rejection of the neo-colonial states as the building bricks for a united Africa; but not so fast, dear. For, we would soon see that same Sankofa Tendency suggesting the same neo-colonial states as our starting point in a reformistic onward movement of Pan-Africanism. The underlying idealism can shock a goat.
Regarding this neocolonial states issue, this is how Sankofa’s undoubtedly free-flowing language expresses its position:
The continentalists treat the maximum architecture of the idea as a regional arrangement or geographical forum; an entente of all the states on the African continent; a conceptually facile and intellectually lazy formulation which conceives the idea as an assemblage of all the states that there are today on the African continent; a “united states of Africa” conceptually based on a supposed hammering together of the neocolonial legacy we are mired in. This is the most prevalent version of the idea. Lacking in vision, it conceptually builds with the brickwork of the current neocolonial states of Africa. In other words, it assumes and accepts the post-colonial state as a credible and viable unit for social reconstruction for the near and distant future…
Who else, in these few words, can state the current situation better than this? And the mind is immediately flooded with the effigies of Houphouet Boigny, Tafawa Balewa, Jomo Kenyatta, Milton Obote, Kamuzu Banda, Julius Nyerere with his regionalist schemes and even Dr. Sam Nujoma the current convinced advocate of the end of the political liberation struggle in Africa. These were our fathers among others who thumb-printed that strategy and forced Dr. Kwame Nkrumah to reluctantly go along with them. In the 1960 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana Dr. Nkrumah had long inserted Ghana’s readiness to dissolve the Republic in favour of a single African State.
It should be clear then that no philosophy of a certain Continentalism could ever be attached to Revolutionary Pan-Africanism or its initiator, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. The anti-climax of that beautifully-worded citation above is that it is the very starting point of The Sankofa Tendency’s statement on its prescription of ‘The Way Forward’. Rather than a revolutionary process to dissolve these states from below it shamelessly tells us to gradually begin a process of evolutionary transformation of the neo-colonial states in a bid to trim them off their neo-colonial character; possibly in the same way that we peel an orange off its ‘covering’. This is how The Sankofa Tendency makes its case:
If the road to unity can ultimately not be served by Continentalism, where do we start? We start from the states we have, but with time extirpate their neocolonial character; do everything necessary to eliminate neocolonialism and deepen democracy …
But how do we start? The Professors and Doctors of the Sankofa breed advise that activists and intellectuals should mount pressure on the very neo-colonial political parties in Africa that produce and sustain the neo-colonial states. Not just that. The activists and intellectuals should actually work with those parties to construct a minimum and maximum Pan-Africanist agenda. These advisors, who are not ‘intellectually lazy’ (as they put it themselves), then suggest that if there is no reactionary resistance to this evolutionary process then this procedure will be adequate for the realization of democracy and African unity. Else, they warn, revolutions would erupt. In all this the working classes and the peasantry are neatly ignored. This, again, is how they state their opinion:
The road forward offers, in principle, both evolutionary and revolutionary options. Which of these options is eventually adopted will depend on the extent to which, going forward, the process opens up to democratic transformation without undue hindrance and impediment. If the road forward is hampered by obstacles and reactionary resistance, both local and international, then it stands to reason that revolutionary options will come up to the top of the agenda. If we are however able to make emancipatory and secularist progress without blockages to the process, then evolutionary options will be adequate to enhance democratic consolidation and the unity of Africans.
Another point that can be borne in mind is that activists and intellectuals should induce and pressurize African political parties or work with these parties to take on board minimum and maximum Pan-Africanist agendas. If this can be done, it will help with the mobilization of Africans towards the idea of unity in a quicker way.
Revolutionary Pan-Africanism certainly does not engage in such ideologico-organizational and tension-ridden doublespeak. It does not conceive neo-colonialism in the nature of an orange: peel off the ‘covering’ (its ‘neo-colonial character’) to unveil its juicy essence (bourgeois democracy). It understands that the neo-colonial states have no interest in disappearing on anybody’s terms. And the historical reality is that those so-called activists and intellectuals that join them are quickly absorbed in the corruptible and corrupt embrace of those irredeemably rotten states. Their intellectual spokespersons end up, when they take the path of reform (evolution) of the neo-colonial states, in sustaining those states in position. The idea of dissolving these rotten states to be replaced with a new single Pan-African state whose power is exercised and controlled by the people from a system of power built from the grassroots is necessarily resisted. Just look at Ghana and South Africa!
Given this reality, Revolutionary Pan-Africanism embarks on a revolutionary path from the word ‘go’. It projects that in this era of neo-colonialism the borders separating the unviable states of Africa are not only to be forcibly removed but more importantly the neo-colonial states residing within them are to be destroyed and replaced. There is nothing juicy in them to be unfurled. They are like a dry palm nut with a rotten kernel. The process of destruction goes hand-in-hand with a process of building a socialist mode of production as the basis of the new single state of Africa. As we write, this process of building the socialist mode of production and its corresponding state system is unfolding inexorably though at a very slow pace among Africans and African Diasporians on the continent. Nothing stands in the way of the inexorable!
In winding up here, let us be clear in our minds that Revolutionary Pan-Africanism, through the historical struggles waged by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, has never given up to overturn its 1963 defeat that opened the way for the O.A.U. and the African Union. It still pursues its agenda of building a single socialist African State on the continent and beyond. We have explained that Dr. Nkrumah’s proposal of either a ‘Union of African States’ or a ‘United States of Africa’ or a ‘People’s Republic of Africa’ and leaving the choice for later determination lead us, on the basis of his quest for a single African State, to adopt the latter name ‘People’s Republic of Africa’ but with a slight modification to read the ‘People’s Republican State of Africa’ so as to wipe out any notion of retaining the current states in a socialist united Africa.
This suggests that in the lexicon of Revolutionary Pan-Africanism phrases like ‘United States of Africa’ and ‘Union of African States’ have passed out as anachronisms and stand in opposition to and contradiction of the essence of the pursuit of a single African State – the socialist People’s Republican State of Africa. On this score, we urge The Sankofa Tendency to be true in its opposition to any idea of a ‘United States of Africa’ in the theatres of serious Pan-African discourse. In addition, it should retreat from its current declaration of war by way of properly and clearly stating its ‘democracy’ to connote socialism as defined by Revolutionary Pan-Africanism to mean scientific socialism, extracted from African reality; as it is, there is an ideologico-organizational tension between its declared opposition to neo-colonialism and its search for a ‘democratic’ kernel within it. Everything therein is rotten!
This is the only way to avert among ourselves an MPLA-FRELIMO war dictated by the premises of ideological diversity of a profound nature. The security of the African Revolution and its corresponding African Renaissance lies in the bosom of scientific socialism but not capitalism cloaked as ‘democracy’. Until and unless The Sankofa Tendency embraces this unambiguous stance for the final liberation and unification of Africa under a socialist People’s Republican State of Africa it shall see no rest from our quarters. Its rivals in the effort to organize an 8th Pan-African Congress might today be an irritant to it. But, with Revolutionary Pan-Africanism mere irritants are not to be compared with what it could be capable of.
Stop the war mongering!
June 17, 2013