African Americans, Pan African Policy Matters, and the Development of the Black Foreign Policy Constituency for Africa and the African Diaspora, 1930-1998

Article excerpt

Introduction

Throughout the 20th century, African-American involvement in Foreign Affairs often paralleled domestic civil rights participation. In many cases, the domestic fight for civil rights found an extended ally in the effort to articulate a foreign policy voice for African-Americans. In this effort to construct a voice, a constituency (although amorphous at times) has served as a vehicle for the articulation of various policy concerns. The issues and arenas of this particular constituency have primarily focused on the African continent as well as on many countries of the Caribbean. Members of this constituency have consisted of civil rights leaders and organizations as well as those and individuals functioning in the State Department as ambassadors, diplomats, and field workers. Oftentimes, the existence of such a constituency was evidenced as leaders and groups rallied in support of a particular issue. Historian Brenda Plummer argues that the major issues of this constituency have historically centered around the Italo-Ethiopian war, petitions emanating from the development of the United Nations, and the Vietnam war among others. In our day, genocide in Darfur and in other African nations garners much of the current foci of the Black foreign policy constituency for Africa and the African Diaspora. With the fiftieth anniversary of Ghana's independence in 2007, as well as the July 2008 African Union summit in Accra, focusing on the continued maturation of the Union and a revival of Nkrumah's United States of Africa, such a discussion of a Black foreign policy constituency for Africa and the African Diaspora is essential (1)

With the end of the Cold War, various groups, many whose roots are found in prior generation leaders and organizations, have emerged or re-emerged to represent a segment of the African-American voice with respect to Africa and peoples of African descent in the Caribbean. Groups consisting of influential African-American representation, such as TransAfrica, the African-American Institute, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Constituency for Africa, NEPAD(New Partnership for Africa) to name a few, exist to construct policy alternatives for Africa. The problem remains however that there are numerous groups but very little in the way of a sustained institutionalized framework or constituency outside of the efforts of the Constituency for Africa and the National Summit on Africa. This assessment begs the poignant question: Is there a need to form a more viable coalition of pro-African constituency groups and leaders? Furthermore, how can such a coalition, which involves active African American participation along with African and Caribbean immigrants, come into being so as to provide a collective policy voice for the African continent and African peoples, especially in the Caribbean? In my attempt to address these questions, I trace a brief history of African-American involvement in Foreign Affairs and participation in the State Department as well as the evolution of an overall Black Foreign Policy Constituency. The end goal of such a strategy is to assess the continuity and change between past and present efforts and prescribe possible policy recommendations to promote future collaborations. (2)

So far, no institutionalized constituency framework has ever been put in place-which deals with organizing and mobilizing a specific black foreign policy agenda on matters dealing with Africa and the African Diaspora. Although effective, the temporary and amorphous assemblages were left vulnerable as McCarthy red baiters and other critics took advantage of the lack of a permanent structural safeguard with which to develop a continuous and sustainable Africa policy focus and intervention method. Another challenge, found with respect to many major civil rights organizations, evidenced itself as there was apparently no bridge linking the 1960s and 70s domestic civil rights and black power generation struggles to generations of the 1980s and 90s actively seeking to end apartheid in South Africa. …