In August I had the opportunity to participate in a special plenary session on the practice of Pan-Africanism sponsored by the Accra-based W.E.B. Du Bois Centre for Pan-African Culture and the Association for the Study of the Worldwide African Diaspora (ASWAD) at the latter's biennial conference, which was held in Accra. Having just 10 minutes to address the audience forced me to identify and tersely articulate the most pressing issues facing the Pan-African movement/s today. I take the liberty of more fully fleshing my thoughts out here.
Let me propose the following five key issues as areas that warrant our urgent consideration: first, the multi-generational composition of the Pan-African movement underscores the need to pay attention to the similarities and differences that shape the kinds of issues that are of concern to both the older and younger generation of Pan-Africanists. Second, disparate regional identities and geographic dislocations still plague the coherency and unity of the Pan-African movement. Third, the broad range of political orientations and ideologies espoused under the Pan-African umbrella can be a strength or a weakness depending on how we choose to handle our differences, while embracing our similarities. Fourth, the deepening divide between governmental and non-governmental branches of the Pan-African movement, which has been exacerbated by the assassination of our greatest Pan-Africanist governmental leaders, has increased opportunities for members of civil society to take on leadership roles, but has often left the movement without identifiable figureheads. Fifth, we need to urgently develop a more coherent infrastructure and communication network that can take the Pan-African movement's message and advocacy work beyond its regular audience into more mainstream channels of information dissemination.
Let me begin with the last point since I wholeheartedly believe that today, more than ever, Pan-Africanism is relevant to the fate of the global African world, and Africa in particular, when we consider the way in which the discourse on Africa has been hijacked from Africans by a powerful group of Euro-American celebrities, including Madonna, Bono, Angelina Jolie, Mia Farrow, and Bob Geldoff, to name just a few. The intention here is not to cast aspersion on their motives, but rather to point out that it has become nearly impossible to raise awareness of important issues without the help of celebrity advocates. This has had the perverse effect of allowing celebrities to dictate what the world focuses its attention on when it comes to Africa.
Here the comparison between Darfur and Congo is illuminating. The vicious war in Darfur captured the attention of the likes of Mia Farrow and George clooney who then mobilised their star power to help transform the Save Darfur Coalition (SDC) into one of the largest Africa-advocacy organisations in the United States. Yet, the far more devastating war in Congo, what I call "the intentionally ignored genocide", has had no celebrity advocate equivalent. Over five million dead Congolese, and it remains nearly impossible to raise the alarm.
This leads me to consider another comparison, this time between the SDC and the Anti-Apartheid Movement, which sheds further light on the way Africans, themselves, are increasingly muzzled by this new wave of western advocates. While there was an extremely vigorous and well organised anti-apartheid movement in Britain, mainland Europe, and later the United States, it was led by South African exiles and took its cue from the African National Congress. In short, South Africans called the shots. Fast-forward to today and Darfurians are in the minority of the SDC leadership, never mind calling the shots. Trust me, this is not because there is a shortage of capable Sudanese. The current state of affairs draws dire attention to the need for a far more effective and equitable partnership between advocacy groups and the causes they support. …