Untrapping the Soul of Fanon: Culture, Consciousness and the Future of Pan-Africanism

By Young, Kurt B. | Journal of Pan African Studies, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Untrapping the Soul of Fanon: Culture, Consciousness and the Future of Pan-Africanism


Young, Kurt B., Journal of Pan African Studies


   Souls trapped in time ...
   Time that is the future evolved
   Strangled in murky waters
   Sounds of despair
   Break barriers of confusion
   In the tumultuous battlegrounds
   Of our souls
   Reaching for salvation
   We live, love, cry ...
   Touched by the sediments of our
   Infinite past,
   We bravely smile
   While our minds are lost in bewilderment ...
   Oh glorious future ...
   Lift me from my abysmal existence.

   Betty Ann Bedeau

Introduction

The 1983 publication of The Pan-African Connection by Trinidadian historian Tony Martin tapped into a re-emerging theme that revisits the significance of Frantz Fanon's revolutionary thought and example to Pan-Africanism. There, Martin contextualized Fanon by placing him alongside earlier generations of Caribbean Pan-Africanists including Daaga, Henry Sylvester Williams and Marcus Garvey, and within the tradition of Pan-African expressions such as Maroon societies, Rastafari and Negritude. (1) It is in the spirit of this theme and on the occasion of the Journal of Pan African Studies' commemorative issue on Frantz Fanon that this essay revisits his significance to contemporary Pan-Africanism.

The general focus here is on how Fanonian Pan-Africanism can inform our understanding of the emerging dimensions of Pan-Africanism at this point in its evolution. Fanonian Pan-Africanism refers to the intersections between the elements in Fanonian thought that have been and remain theoretically and practically relevant to the Pan-African movement. It represents the direct application of Fanon's core concepts and revolutionary praxis to the broad experiences and particular political efforts across the African Diaspora. Specifically, I am concerned with how Fanon's claims regarding the relationship between self-awareness, the emergence of cultural consciousness and the struggle for national liberation provide a lens for viewing the relationship between Pan-African consciousness and the politics of Pan-African unity.

This tribute to Fanon comes at a transitional period in the historical trajectory of Pan-Africanism. The current transition can be defined by a shift away from the Pan-African congress and continental unification orientations of the 20th century and towards alternative approaches. Accordingly, this reflection on both the Pan-Africanist dimensions of Fanonian thought and on the contributions of Fanonian thought to the evolution of Pan-Africanism must be framed within a theory that is consistent with this transition. From that perspective, the more specific objectives here are to first locate a theoretical framework suited for navigating the intersection between Fanonian thought and Pan-Africanism. Guided by of this framework, the essay then explores the implications of Fanon's reflections on the ontology of self-awareness, culture and national consciousness to the formation of Pan-African consciousness. The third aim is to identify lessons from Fanonian Pan-Africanism that can inform the current task of internationalizing politico-cultural movements that incorporate this Pan-African consciousness.

Fanon in the Pan-African Nationalist Context

The case has been made that the popular distinction between Pan-African "ideas" and "movements" has given way to a more "holistic" view of Pan-Africanism. (2) From this holistic perspective, Pan-African consciousness is inseparable from the movements that focus on building political linkages across the African Diaspora. Fanon anticipated this symbiotic relationship. He did not engage African unity and power through the Pan-African Congress or the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Two years before his birth, the Third Pan-African Congress convened in London and Lisbon in 1923, essentially to institutionalize protestations for self-rule within the context of the "Great Power" politics of that generation. (3) And, at the time of his unfortunate illness and death, the founding of the OAU was still 17 months away.

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