After the achievement of some, albeit, significant rights by Africans in Europe, the Caribbean islands and the Americas as well as the end of the colonial rule in Africa, and the apartheid regime in South Africa, many Africans wonder if the ideology of Pan-Africanism is still relevant in the 21st century.
One might argue that most of these doubts in Pan-Africanism have valid reasons because those who claim to be Pan-Africanists do not seem to inspire anymore.
Indeed, there are many individuals, leaders, organisations and countries among other actors in African affairs that claim to be Pan-Africanists. However, I am not convinced that all those individuals and actors understand what they mean by claiming to be Pan-Africanists. Some leaders say, “As a Pan-Africanist, I do not take orders from the West” when the same leader is oppressing his or her own people. Another leader would say, “In the spirit of Pan-Africanism, we will allow all Africans to enter our country without visas” whereas some of his or her own citizens do not feel safe or cannot move from one corner of the country to another one.
Most of the leaders we see in Africa who claim to be Pan-Africanists, usually do so when they want to find an excuse to run away from internal problems in their respective countries. They start reminding people of their roles in independence struggles of their countries, their anti-imperialism and anti capitalism credentials in order to ascertain their regimes.
However, does all these rhetoric matter to ordinary African citizens, especially young people in this 21st century? To many African youth, grand pronouncements on pan-Africanism mean nothing if they are not accompanied by real actions that add value to people’s lives.
Of course young Africans are very grateful to those who fought for independence to bring about political self-determination of Africans, but they are disappointed because political independence did not come with the dignity of African people that was expected. The type of dignity that African young people across Africa are calling for is to live like other human beings. They are calling for access to healthy food, clean drinking water, clothes, shelter, and proper education and working health facilities.
Most of these young people across Africa might not care about who is in power, their political backgrounds or who wins this year’s or next year’s elections. They might not care about the tribal or ethnic background of those who are in power, their regions or what political ideology they stand for or represent as long as those leaders are able to provide basic services that they dearly desire and need.
There is no true pan-Africanist with a leadership position, whether in politics, media, private sector, academia, or civil society who would close their ears to those growing demands from the majority of African people, especially young people. As such, in my view, the only way of keeping the ideology of Pan-Africanism alive is to go back to its original meaning: seeking for unity and dignity of people of African origin wherever they are in the world.
I would thus argue that if you are an African leader and you are busy silencing, jailing, oppressing and killing your people because they do not support you, you are far from being a pan-Africanist even if you loudly and constantly claim to be one. If you are a leader in any field and you are busy dividing Africans based on any criterion, you are clearly not a pan-Africanist. Pan-Africanism means dignity and unity; not hatred and petty politics.
I believe that in order to keep the Pan-African ideology alive in the 21st century we have to listen to what African people are saying. Luckily, what they say is very clear. They say no to sham elections that divide Africans instead of uniting them towards building their countries, but yes to dialogue, consensus building and nation building. Africans say no to big armies, but yes too many quality schools and improved agricultural sectors to feed them. They say no to mega infrastructural projects that do not benefit them, but yes to modern health facilities to save their lives.
To keep Pan-Africanism alive is to create avenues, platforms and opportunities for the most vulnerable and marginalized Africans so that they can have their opinions and views heard and addressed. To some extent, this is what Fahamu; a Pan-African organisation with offices in Kenya and Senegal has been doing since it was established in 1997. As Fahamu celebrates its 20th anniversary, it is calling all Africans and reminding those in positions of leadership or representation the importance of listening to voices of those they represent or claim to represent for that matter.
If we want to continue claiming that we are Pan-Africanists, we have to listen to the voices of Africans and their demands. If we do not do that, African people will do what they know to do best: taking things in their own hands; however when this time comes our Pan-African rhetoric will not help to stop their popular revolutions.
Yves Niyiragira is Executive Director of Fahamu. The views in this article are his and do not necessarily represent the position of Fahamu on this subject. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org