May 25th is the date that Africans on the continent and the Diaspora commemorate African Liberation Day. I generally try to make a few observations around that time, but this year my preoccupation with the critical crisis in Haiti and decision to write a piece encouraging President Obama to offer more effective leadership around the disastrous oil spill prevented me from doing so. However, a recent article in the New York Times, “African States Weigh 50 Bittersweet Years of Independence,” prompted me to offer a few thoughts on the state of African liberation and development. The Times article referenced the France-Africa Summit which was held at a plush resort on the French Riviera. Ostensibly, the Summit is organized to celebrate the granting of independence by France to its African colonies. Equally important, the article noted that 17 African nations gained their independence in 1960. The underlying question posed by the article is how much progress has Africa made toward creating a better life for the masses of the people in the past 50 years.
The question raised in the article is one that I, a committed Pan Africanist of longstanding, consider worth pondering. As a young political activist, I was among a small group of newly converted Pan Africanists who met at Malcolm X Liberation University in Greensboro, NC in 1971 to embrace African Liberation Day as a focal point for mobilizing Africans in America and the Diaspora. We came together to support the liberation movements in South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), Namibia (Southwest Africa), Angola and Guinea-Bissau – the last remaining colonies on the continent. May 25, 1972, in one of the most memorable moments of my life, the African Liberation Day Support Committee turned out some 35,000 marchers/demonstrators in Washington, DC, another 10,000 in the Bay Area of California and hundreds more in Toronto, Canada and Grenada in the Caribbean. These were the largest demonstrations in support of freedom/self-determination for Africa since the heyday of UNIA-ACL under the leadership of the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey.
Inspired by our reading of DuBois, Garvey, Padmore, CLR James, Fanon, Nkrumah, Sekou Toure, Cabral, Malcolm X and other leading Pan Africanists, as young visionaries we had great hopes that a fully liberated and united African homeland would become the base for global Black Power. Considering the enormous wealth/riches Africa possesses, we believed that with the right leadership, the misery and poverty of the African masses would be eradicated, and Africa would become the anchor for cultural, political and economic/commercial ties for the entire Black world.
We were of course not naïve about the difficulties/challenges facing newly independent African nations. Fanon had cautioned that National Liberation, the seizure of power from the colonizer was simply the first step in what he called National Reconstruction, the total decolonization of the political, social and economic structures of oppression. Cabral articulated a similar formulation. In addition, of course, Nkrumah emphatically warned that “neo-colonialism,” the indirect control of the economic resources by the former colonial masters, would be the “last stage of imperialism.” The key ingredients for confronting and overcoming these challenges was progressive/visionary leadership and conscious, mobilized/organized constituencies among the people that would be dedicated to achieving National Reconstruction.
As the article in the New York Times suggests, however, by and large, “independence” has not fulfilled the dream of real self-determination and the promise of a better life for the masses of African people. Far too much of the vast wealth of Africa is still controlled by former colonial rulers or new foreign forces that are currently gobbling up Africa’s resources, in most instances, with the consent of the governing elites. “Flag independence” and the neo-colonial corrupt, ineffective, foreign aid dependent governments and self-aggrandizing, autocratic “presidents for life” are too prevalent in Africa. For example, the Times article points out that foreign aid accounts for anywhere from 25% to more than half of the budgets of a number of the former French colonies present at the France-Africa Summit. This is obviously not without cost in terms of access to the dependent nation’s resources. In addition, nations like China, South Korea and India are being granted huge tracts of land to grow food for their home populations and/or concessions to extract mineral wealth to fuel their expanding economies. This while many African rulers live lavish lifestyles, stash away fortunes skimmed from deals with foreign nations and companies and otherwise strut around with pomp and circumstance.
Needless to say, this is not what the young Pan African activists who organized African Liberation Day in 1972 envisioned. Fortunately, there are voices and forces on the continent and in the Diaspora who are disappointed with the course of Africa’s development as well. Therefore, despite a relatively bleak picture, not all is lost. What is required is a grassroots Pan African movement -- individuals, organizations and constituencies linked by a common vision and dedicated to the proposition that National Reconstruction is the imperative of the day. Somehow, we must find a way to galvanize and connect the discontent across the continent into a coherent movement for the transformation of the motherland.
Toward that end, the Pan African Unity Dialogue, convened by the Institute of the Black World 21st Century in the greater New York area, is developing a Declaration of Principles for Foreign Investment in Africa. The goal is to have civil rights/human rights, faith, labor; civic and political leaders in the Diaspora sign the Declaration and send it to the African Union for consideration. Far more important than how the Declaration is received by the AU is the mass distribution of the document via the Internet and social networks. The real goal is to spark a broad based demand that African governments stop giving away the vast wealth/resources of the continent for a mere pittance. The Declaration may be a modest example of the kind of initiative that could ignite a multifaceted, grassroots movement for real change on the continent.
The bottom line is that as we reflect on the state of African liberation, we must not despair in the face of seemingly intractable problems and major challenges. As Pan Africanists, we must remain true to the vision of our great mentors and leaders and advance the process of National Reconstruction by whatever means possible!
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Founder of the Haiti Support Project. He is a Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website and www.northstarnews.com. To send a message, arrange media interviews or speaking engagements, Dr. Daniels can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .