Drawing on the works of intellectuals Issa Shivji, Kwesi Kwaa Prah, Ngugi wa Thiong’o and Paul Zeleza, Chambi Chachage discusses competing concepts of Africa. ‘Those who claim to be of Africa ought to truly seek its intellectual and material prosperity,’ he argues, ‘It is such an Africa-centred progress that will surely undo the yoke which has continually left us fragmented.’
'To us, Africa with its islands is just one Africa. We reject the ideas of any kind of partition. From Tangier or Cairo in the North to Cape Town in the South, from Cape Guardafui in the East to Cape Verde Islands in the West, Africa is one and indivisible.' – Kwame Nkrumah on ‘Africa Must Unite!’
Interesting things have happened since I promised to post a forthcoming sequel to my review of Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s Re-membering Africa (2009). The ensuing online debate caught the critical eyes of key theorists of ‘things African’. Out of this ‘debatable Africa’ a complimentary copy of Kwesi Kwaa Prah’s ‘2nd Impression’ of ‘The African Nation: The State of the Nation’ (2009) found its way from his Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS) in Cape Town to my Base for African Studies Enhancement (BASE) in Dar es Salaam. As a ‘bibliomaniac’ I am grateful for that. In this regard I feel honoured to address this key question which his treatise seemed to have posed to those of us who have taken what it refers to as the ‘continentalist position’: ‘Isn’t Africa more than a Continent?’ As an attempt to kill, albeit only figuratively, two birds with one stone, I will tackle this question in relation to Ngugi’s quest to re-member a dismembered Africa. However, I will also drag Issa G. Shivji’s inquiry ‘Where is Uhuru? Reflections on the Struggle for Democracy in Africa’ (2009) and Paul Tiyambe Zeleza’s inquest ‘Rethinking Africa’s Globalization Volume 1: The Intellectual Challenge’ (2003) into this conversation.
My first encounter with Prah’s writings was through Language of Instruction in Tanzania and South Africa (LOITASA) publications. As someone who subscribes to Pan-Africanism as far as continental unity is concerned, I found his analysis of ‘African Orthographies’, whereby he asserts that many African languages interact and can thus be used intelligibly by a number of ethnic groups, useful in bringing about Africa’s unity. I, myself, observed this in South Africa where, somehow, Africans who speak IsiZulu and IsiXhosa interact with each through what Prah calls a ‘South African Orthography.’ It is this schematic background, as well as a curiosity on why I was asked whether I have read this other book of his, that informs my critique.
Taking, explicitly, what can be dubbed a ‘diasporic position’ in ‘The African Nation’, the author asserts that right ‘from its emergence, African Nationalism or Pan-Africanism has straddled both sides of the Atlantic’ (Prah 2009). Therein lies the first factual pitfall - equating ‘African Nationalism’ and ‘Pan-Africanism’. Incidentally I first encountered such a glaring conflation in the writings of Prah’s contemporary, ‘Thus African nationalism is Pan-Africanism. There is no, and cannot be African nationalism outside of, apart from, or different from Pan-Africanism’ (Shivji 2009). However, upon querying him about the nationalism(s) of the likes of Shaka and Mkwawa prior to the Nkrumahs and the Nyereres, Shivji clarified that it is in the context of the 20th century struggles for independence that we can correctly assert that ‘African Nationalism was born out of Pan-Africanism and not the other way round’. It is only in this (historical) regard that I can factually agree that through ‘all stages of its evolution and development, the Diaspora has been a key reference point’ (Prah 2009) to ‘African Nationalism or Pan-Africanism’.
Upon reaching this point of agreement, that Pan-Africanism is a ‘modern’ concept, which may have not necessarily informed African Nationalism(s), we can then jointly locate the role and place of the Diaspora in Africa. Ever true to its history, the ‘father of Pan-Africanism’, W.E.B. Du Bois thus located it to one land - the continent - in his preview of The Pan-African Movement,
'The idea of one Africa uniting the thought and ideals of all native peoples of the dark continent belongs to the twentieth century, and stems naturally from the West Indies and the United States. Here various groups of Africans, quite separate in origin, became so united in experience, and so exposed to the impact of a new culture, that they began to think of Africa as one idea and one land (Du Bois 1970).'
Our two key conversationalists so far can hardly agree less, ‘The Pan-Africanist idea was developed in the diaspora towards the end of the 19th century and beginning of 20th century by such great Afro-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans as Henry Sylvester Williams, George Padmore, W.E.B Du Bois, C.L.R James, and others’ (Shivji 2009); ‘The term Pan-Africanism is the brainchild of the Trinidadian lawyer, Henry Sylvester Williams, uncle of George Padmore’ (Prah 2009). As far as the early 1920s when the third Pan-African Congress was being organised, its main organiser could thus still point out, ‘So far, the Pan-African idea was still American rather than African, but it was growing, and it expressed a real demand for examination of the African situation and plan of treatment from the native African point of view’ (Du Bois 1970). If indeed, as both Shivji and Prah alludes, early Pan-African thought hardly included the notion of a united Africa but, rather, revolved around racial and cultural issues, when and how did the idea of one continent emerge across Africa? It was through ‘the interpenetrational dynamics of continentally-based, African intellect and the Diaspora equivalent’ (Prah 2009). All this happened within the context(s) of a people and a continent that was thus dismembered,
'The dismemberment of Africa occurred in two stages. During the first of these, the African personhood was divided into two halves: the continent and its diaspora. African slaves, the central commodity in the mercantile phase of capitalism, formed the basis of the sugar, cotton and tobacco plantations in the Caribbean and American mainland. If we accept that slave trade and plantation slavery provided the primary accumulation of capital that made Europe’s Industrial Revolution possible…we cannot escape the irony that the very needs of that Industrial Revolution - markets for finished goods, sources for raw materials, and strategic requirements in the defense of trade routes - led inexorably to the second stage of the dismemberment of the continent. The Berlin Conference of 1884 literally fragmented and reconstituted Africa into British, French, Portuguese, German, Belgian, and Spanish Africa. Just as the slave plantations were owned by various European powers, so post-Berlin Conference Africa was transformed into a series of colonial plantations owned by many of the same European powers (Ngugi 2009).'
The forceful, physical removal of human resources from our continent created the ‘diasporic African’ who, as Ngugi notes, was ‘now separated not only from his continent and his labor but also from his sovereign being’. Since then the progeny of the ‘classical diasporic African’ epitomised by Michelle Obama and even the ‘contemporary diasporic African’ epitomised by Barack Obama and their daughters, Sasha and Malia, in contrast to relatively recent immigrants from Africa, are grappling with an idea of Africa and what it means to be African which does not necessarily apply to Africans living within the geographical boundaries of the continent of Africa. Writing provocatively, yet brotherly, at the peak of the Black Power Movement, the author of ‘Negroes are not Africans’ thus aptly captured this ‘Afrodilemma’,
'The Negro is a unique creature. He is of Africa; and yet not quite. He is of Europe; and yet not quite. He is of America; and yet not quite. But he combines these three disparate strands in his constitution. The confusion which ensues from this combination is the root of all his problems. In these late days of race pride, he has just awakened to the search for racial, cultural, and historical roots. Hastily, he is likely to pounce on Africa. If he sticks to that, and that only, he is mistaken. For although African slaves were transported to America three or four hundred years ago, the moment they left the African coast, they were no longer African entirely (Lo Liyong 1975).'
Predictably many radical remnants of classical diasporic Africans have deliberately decided to stick ‘to that, and that only’, leading to romantic views of what they call ‘Pan-Afrikanism’ and the ‘Africana World’. As a result they are still stuck in the essentialist racial ideology that locked many of our Pan-African predecessors in ‘anti-black racialism’. When some of us point this out we are branded Eurocentric as if being ‘Afrocentric’ is not a by-product of Eurocentrism. To us, as Nkrumah affirmed many years ago, Africa and its islands is just one Africa and that is why we reject any kind of partition whether it be between ‘Africa’ and ‘diaspora’ or ‘sub-Saharan’ Africa’ and ‘supra-Saharan Africa.’ Of course, as Prah (2009) claims, this continentalist argument starts with geographical unity as the basis for the definitions of Africans. However, it by no means ‘leave little space for the African Diaspora’ or ‘pushes out the African Diaspora’ altogether as he further alleges. Rather, in line with Africans’ quest for wholeness, it calls for the re-membering of our continent. But, with Marcus Garvey’s aborted ‘Back to Africa, Pan-African Movement in hindsight’, is this mission of making Africa(ns) whole possible in this day and age?
It is indeed possible if we admit that the geographical bounderies of the African continent have always been shifting and thus accommodating. We know of islands which, geographically and politically, are supposed to belong to the African continent yet they do not. Why? Well, simply because they were conquered or chose to continue to be colonised by Euro-American countries. Why then shouldn’t Haiti - where it is poetically claimed that ‘Negritude’, as in ‘Blackness’ or ‘Africanness’, stood up for the first time - become one of the islands of the continent of Africa? Or how come many of the Caribbean countries which identify or are identified with Africa do not deliberately become members of the AU? Addis Ababa’s doors, I am told, are already opened for them since the diaspora is now seen, at least symbolically, as part of Africa politically. The moment you start to truncate Africa in terms of ‘African’ and ‘Arab’ or ‘Black’ and ‘White’ even this inclusion of the diaspora won’t be possible for, as Lo Liyong reminded us, the moment our kith and kin left the shores of the continent they ceased being entirely African. It is out of these concerns that I find this conceptual definition of Africa racialist and exclusivist,
'In much the same way as the Arabs have an organisation, the Arab League, which defines them collectively and nationally, we need to create an organisation which realises our nationhood as Africans, including our Diaspora. The African Union (AU) does not serve that purpose. Otherwise what it all means is that Africanness is simply a geographical expression. While Arabs on this continent belong to the Arab nation (extending beyond the continent), which is historical and cultural, we are lost in the woods with a mere geographical entity, with no collective sense of nationhood. It is as if they are saying to us, “what belongs to you belongs to both of us, but what belongs to me is mine alone.” It is simply an unacceptable situation. Right from the start of the OAU [Organisation of African Unity] in 1963, the institutional basis for the unity of Africa was compromised and confused in favour of a largely geographical and regional platform. The sort of reasoning which led to this, in effect, put the cart before the horse; a rationale which made the cause the consequence. What do I mean? Simply this; the struggle for unity is in the first instance not a territorial one, it is not a search for lebensraum. It is not territorial Africa, which is being freed and united. The struggle is about people, Africans who want to be free and united. The logic is supremely transparent, if Africans unite, consequently most of the continent will unite (Prah 2009).'
I wonder where Frantz Fanon, the ‘diasporic African’ who embraced and was embraced by the Algerian Liberation Movement in the so-called Arab Africa, would fit in such a definition. More close to home I wonder where is the place for those who straddle both the so-called ‘Arab Nation’ and ‘African Nation’ after fully participating in our movement for independence. How on earth can we say ‘our black colour is a benefaction, which Africans generally have’ (Prah 2009) and truly expect that constructing a ‘nationhood’ of a people thus defined for the sake of our liberation would ultimately not exclude many Africans who are not ‘generally black enough’? When the ‘metaphorically’ shifts to the ‘literally’ what would be the consequences of this essentialist claim: ‘Metaphorically, from a mile off, the person of African descent can be invariably picked out’ (Prah 2009)? Study South Africa. Remember Rwanda. No wonder people also cling to a flexible definition of an accommodating Africa such as the following one,
'Africa is a place, a material and imagined place, or rather a configuration of places, an embodiment of spaces that are socially produced and produce the social. Its material and symbolic boundaries are constantly shifting, for Africa’s spatiality, like all spaces, encompasses the vast intricacies, the incredible complexities, and interlocking and dispersive networks of relations at every scale from the local to the global…Africa in short, is a geography, a history, a reality and an imaginary of places, peoples and positions, both an invented intellectual construct and an object of intellectual inquiry (Zeleza 2003).'
In such a space ‘diasporic Africans’ can always relate and return to symbolically and even physically. However, such ties that bind us can only be useful if we all cast our lot with the geopolitical entity that is arguably the poorest continent. Those who claim to be of Africa ought to truly seek its intellectual and material prosperity. It is such an Africa-centred progress that will surely undo the yoke which has continually left us fragmented. Africa must unite, continentally.
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* Chambi Chachage is an independent researcher, newspaper columnist and policy analyst, based in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
* Please send comments to [email protected] or comment online at Pambazuka News.
Du Bois, W.E.B. (1970) ‘The Pan-African Movement’, in Kedourie, E (ed), Nationalism in Asia and Africa, New York, The New American Library
Lo Liyong, T. (1975) ‘Negroes are not Africans’ in Drachler, J (ed), Black Homeland/Black Diaspora: Cross-Currents of the African Relationship, New York, National University Publications
Thiong’o, N. (2009) Re-membering Africa, Dar es Salaam, East African Educational Publishers
Prah, Kwesi Kwaa. (2009) The African Nation: The State of the Nation, Cape Town Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS)
Shivji, Issa G. (2009) Where is Uhuru? Reflections on the Struggle for Democracy in Africa, Nairobi, Fahamu Books
Zeleza, Paul T. (2003) Rethinking Africa’s Globalization Volume 1: The Intellectual Challenges, Asmara, Africa World Press