Marcus Garvey: The Remapping of Africa and Its Diaspora

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Abstract

This article takes up the challenge of the United Nations (UN) Resolution which designated 2011 the Year of African Descendents by remembering Marcus Garvey's impact on anti-colonial and nationalist movements in Africa, which led to political freedom and the remapping of Africa and its diaspora. This solidarity was forged through the dissemination of Garvey's writings, as well as the establishment of branches of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA) in West and southern Africa, especially South Africa. This solidarity between Africans on the continent and African descendants in the diaspora laid the foundation for modern Pan-Africanism and African Nationalism. Focus is given to Garvey's thought and his solidarity with Sol Plaatje, an early leader of the African National Congress.

Keywords: African National Congress, Kwame Nkrumah, Marcus Garvey, Sol Plaatje, Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA)

Introduction

The imperial remapping of the world over the past half a millennium was structured on very profitable economic systems undergirded by political, cultural and racial systems that shored up hegemonic power and gave legitimacy to the 20th-century global order of empire and racial oppression. Racial oppression created apartheid in South Africa, Rhodesia, Namibia, and many countries in Africa, while segregation was the name given to the racially discriminatory system in the United States (US). In all these conditions racial solidarity arose among the oppressed (Magubane 1987).

Solidarity may transcend ethnic boundaries and involve whites and non-African persons, but it implies a common bond of interests and empathy, an understanding of the circumstances of power and working through the strategies, tactics and organisational forms necessary to change power relations. Solidarity is premised on strategies of communication, and these take many forms: face-to-face, door-to-door campaigns; church meetings; legal, illegal and clandestine work; organising mass protests against a powerful state apparatus; joining the armed struggle against overwhelming military odds--as was the case in South Africa, so well documented for the period 1960-1994, in the six volumes of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of South Africa report.

It is this history of the 20th-century anti-colonial, civil rights and liberation struggles that lie behind the United Nations (UN) resolution which has designated 2011 the Year of African Descendents. The resolution starts out by reaffirming the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims 'that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights and that everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth therein, without distinction of any kind'. (1)

The UN resolution governing the activities for 2011 calls for the strengthening of 'national actions, regional and international cooperation for the benefit of people of African descent in relation to their full enjoyment of economic, cultural, social, civil and political rights, their participation and integration in all political, economic, social and cultural aspects of society, and the promotion of a greater knowledge of and respect for their diverse heritage and culture'. Such a resolution requires struggles on many levels, among them, national and global. This was the case with the anti-colonial struggles and this has to be the case with the current struggles against national and global economic and political systems which impede the realisation of the goals outlined in the resolution. The resolution also requires paying tribute to the movements that struggled for a world where the rights of the subjects of European and American empires would include taking their place as human beings and so redraw the maps of colonial geographies. One such 20th-century movement was the Garvey movement. …