On 9 July, 2015, the Local Organizing Committee of the 8th Pan African Congress presented its final report to President John Mahama of Ghana. Zaya Yeebo presents his personal reflections of the 8th Congress held in Accra in March, 2015, observing that the Congress sought to revive the Movement, to reaffirm its anti-imperialist, anti-neo-colonialist nature and helped to define a path for the continued growth and regeneration of African economies and politics.
The 8th Pan African Congress held in Accra Ghana from 4 – 7 March, 2015, was a wakeup call to Africans interested in sustaining a wave of people-based Pan Africanism. A Pan Africanism of the people. It also revealed deep crevices in the politics of the movement between the emerging voices of opportunism and those seeking the movement’s rejuvenation. However, opportunities were lost as the clamour for generational change in leadership were spurned by people hanging on to a mind-set which is hostile to change and any generation of ideas.
THE NEAR DEATH AND REVIVAL OF A MOVEMENT
For 21 years, the secretariat of the Global Pan African Movement based in Kampala, Uganda, went into hibernation, in spite of continuing support from the Ugandan government and from the late Muammar Gaddafi of the Libyan Arab Peoples’ Jamahiriya. Within this period, the movement remained rudderless and without ideological direction and clarity of its purpose. This was a major source of concern to many Pan Africanists, who sought other avenues for mobilisation.
It was therefore a welcome move when Honourable Ruth Tuma, the former head of the Kampala-based secretariat of the Global Pan African Movement, convened a meeting of the remaining rump of the International Governing Council and some individuals to Kampala in May 2013 to discuss a revival of the Pan African Movement. Most of those invited did not turn up for the meeting. The May 2013 meeting in Kampala therefore had the task of reviving the Secretariat and the institutions which had sprung up after the 7th Pan African Congress in 1994. The 2013 Kampala meeting was concerned with three things: a strategic plan for the Secretariat, the need to revise the Constitution of the movement, and a review of the decisions arrived at the 7th Congress. Most people agreed that the time had come for a revival of the PAM which had gone into paralysis following the 7th Pan African Congress. Following the Kampala meeting, a decision was taken by the PAM Secretariat to formally engage with the Africa Union. A draft Memorandum of Understanding between the PAM and the Africa Union was proposed and circulated as part of the process of widening the reach of the PAM and its secretariat.
PUSHING FOR THE 8TH CONGRESS IN ACCRA
These processes provided the momentum to preparations for the 8th Congress. In recognition of these efforts, the 8th PAC Concept Note stated in inter alia:
“Emanating from the AU Summit of May 2013 was the 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration. This historic Declaration emphasized the responsibility of African Heads of State and Governments to act together with our people and the African Diaspora to realize our vision of Pan Africanism and African Renaissance. More specifically, the Declaration committed AU Member States to, amongst others: Accelerate African Renaissance by ensuring the integration of the principles of Pan-Africanism in all AU policies and initiatives; Strengthen AU programmes and Member States institutions aimed at reviving our cultural identity, heritage, history and Shared Values; and Promote people to people engagements including Youth, women and civil society exchanges in order to strengthen Pan-Africanism”.
The efforts at reviving the PAM Secretariat and of organising a Congress gained momentum at an Africa Union/UNDP event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where issues relating to the revival of the Movement and the relationship between the Movement and the African Union were discussed in great detail. This meeting, attended by leaders of the continent, and from the Diaspora, pushed the process a notch further. It was at this point that the idea of a follow up 8th Pan African Congress gained momentum. Another landmark of this meeting was the clamour of the youth for a clearer definition of pan Africanism, its purpose, and a generational change of leadership. What occurred was nothing less than a rebellion. Unfortunately, the leadership of the Pan African Movement at this meeting was unable to match the intellectual vibrancy or honesty of the youth, or give political direction to eager youth who were thirsting for knowledge and nourishment in the midst of multi-faceted problems facing the continent.
It dawned on some of us that the Movement was headed for complete collapse unless some action was taken. This realisation necessitated some action. As a result, some of the delegates from Ghana, i.e. Mr. Kwasi Adu, Charles Abugre, Kwesi Pratt and this author and several others, realised that the momentum would be lost unless some country stepped forward to propose that it could host the 8th Pan African Congress. This group therefore proposed that the Government of Ghana could be approached to support the hosting of the 8th Pan African Congress. At this point, there was no counter suggestion or proposal that another country could be approached to host the 8th Congress. For some of us therefore, the train had left the station, and Accra was its final destination for the 8th Pan African Congress.
Another conference organised by the UNDP in Accra in 2013 provided another opportunity for further discussions on the framework for the 8th Pan African Congress. A side event at this meeting discussed issues relating to the 8th Pan African Congress: number of participants, the Commissions, leading discussants and so on. The idea of regional meetings was also floated and discussed, but no group stepped forward to provide resources for hosting them. Another meeting organised by the UNDP/AU in Johannesburg in 2013 provided another opportunity for further discussions on efforts to revive the Pan African Movement, how to ensure generational change, and how to mobilise resources.
The hosting of the 8th PAC was revisited in Accra in September 2013 when Major General Otafiire Kahinda, current chair of the Pan African Movement (he has been chair for over 22 years), was invited to Accra to deliver the annual Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lecture. His presence provided another opportunity for a discussion of the 8th PAC. Another meeting called by the Kampala secretariat in 2014 further discussed and issued a ‘Political Call’ for the 8th PAC. The Call also invited suggestions and ideas from Africans all over the world for the congress. To a large extent, therefore, the 8th PAC was based on a wide range of consultations with different interest groups including governments, regional institutions, youth groups and stakeholders across the continent.
OPPOSITION TO THE 8TH PAC
The comments and reactions generated by the ‘Political Call for the 8th Pan African Congress’ and the accompanying Concept Note reflected a certain mind-set within the Pan African Movement, that the 21 years following the 7th Pan African Congress had been a lost period. The Movement had lost direction, lacked ideological and political leadership and had become victim to the sort of factional, ethnicised and monetised politics that Africa has become hostage to.
First, a faction emerged which claimed that by asking African governments, particularly, the Government of Ghana, and the Africa Union (AU) to support the Congress, the Movement was surrendering itself to the “control” and possible manipulation of “neo-colonial” Governments and the Africa Union. This faction also had some objections to the participation and leadership role of the Africa Union in the Congress.
I could not come to terms with a Pan African Movement or Congress which explicitly excluded the participation of African governments, the AU, the Non Aligned Movement and other state parties (if they wished to participate in the Congress) because they are essential partners in achieving objectives of the Pan African Movement. Apart from the 5th Congress which occurred when most African countries were under colonial rule, the 6th and 7th congresses received support and solidarity from both the Tanzanian and Ugandan governments respectively. Some of the leading lights of the Pan African Movement like George Padmore, and Du Bois subsequently supported Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah when he became first President of the Republic of Ghana. Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta was also a leading light in the Pan African Movement, and rose to become the first President of Kenya. So there has been an organic link between the anti-colonial movement, political activism and the Pan African Movement. That these activists rise to the highest level of Government does not make them any less Pan African. Why was the 8th PAC slated for Accra any different?
Secondly, some elements within the Movement were also opposed to the participation of African civil society organisations in the Congress as ‘movements’. This position is a reflection of the arrogant and factional nature of the Movement, which recognises ‘professors’ and leaders of some civil society organisations and UN staff, but not the mass movement in Africa. It begs the question whether African mass movements, including civil society, community-based organisations, rural development organisations, farmers groups, youth groups, and peasant associations and NGOs should be denied the opportunity to play a leading role in the Pan African Movement. I argued strongly against the clamour for the exclusion of African civil society and NGOs from the Congress.
The role of the mass movement in Africa in both the colonial and anti-colonial struggle cannot be sacrificed on the altar of personal ego and the hypocrisy of those who collect donor funds by day and condemn donors at night. It is also through civil society and the mass movement in Africa that the democratic route is taking roots in Africa today. In Kenya, Ghana, Burundi, Burkina Faso, South Africa, and indeed throughout Africa, the mass movements including NGOs led the ousting long-standing rulers who refused to yield to democratic demands of their people. In Kenya, civil society and the mass movement led the movement for constitutional reform; and in South Africa are leading the campaign against xenophobia. Should the PAM ignore these forces of change, and to what purpose? Any pan African agenda which ignores these groups is headed in the wrong direction.
Another effort to stymie the 8th Congress was from a group I will call ‘the without us in the steering wheel, there can be no Congress’ group, mainly from ‘North America’ and the Diaspora who claimed they had not been ‘consulted’. This idea of ‘non-consultation’ was hyped up; letters were sent to the Government of Ghana and the AU claiming that the 8th Pan African Congress could not take place without the Diaspora, even though there had been no effort to exclude the Diaspora or any group for that matter. The opposition to the 8th Congress in Ghana also tried to use the Ebola epidemic and another excuse for not holding the Congress in West Africa.
Underlying these arguments is the refusal by some Africans and Diaspora-based activists to understand the significance of where Africa is today, and the sort of Africa we want’. In all these anti-Congress manoeuvres inside and outside Ghana, one could not rule out the hands of imperialism, particularly, that of the United States and other western interests.
The question is: is it possible to build the ‘Africa We want’; eradicate poverty, address issues of disempowerment and marginalisation of women and youth, and build solidarity with progressive movements across the world without the participation of citizens organizing in different forums? Can African youth show solidarity with the youth in America and Europe under siege by forces of racism without the Africa Union and OUR governments?
PROBLEMS OF TRANSITION AND ACCOUNTABILITY
It later became obvious that these objections had been manufactured by voices and interest groups who wanted the Movement to remain in its ‘Rip Van Winkle’ mode. More than this, the main factor underlying the flurry of dissenters to the 8th PAC was about the issue of generational change of leadership and the possibility that the Kampala-based Secretariat would move to Accra if there was a successful 8th PAC. This would have involved accountability from Kampala. At this stage this issue of transition had not been raised by the LOC in Ghana because the Government of Ghana had not been consulted. But some elements associated with the 7th Pan African Congress panicked because of the implications of the 8th Congress.
A successful 8th Congress would have had to discuss the issue of leadership transition and the move of the PAM Secretariat from Kampala. This could not have happened without some form of accountability and transparency following the 7th PAC, and the way the Movement had been managed for the past 21 years. This created panic and anxiety among those who would have been called upon to account for their stewardship of the Pan African Congress since the 7th Congress and setting up of the Congress secretariat in Kampala.
In spite of these protestations, the Local Organizing Committee launched the 8th Pan African Congress in Accra in February 2015. Major General Kahinda Otafiire, chairman of the Pan African Movement, not only attended but also chaired the event. That would have been his fourth visit to Accra to discuss the 8th Pan African Congress. However, the issue of transition and the clamour for generational change among African youth was a major source of concern for some leaders. As a result, a day before the Congress, some elements decided to downgrade the Accra Congress to a mere ‘consultative’ meeting. This was yet another attempt to stymie the 8th Congress. The attempts to sabotage the 8th Congress by people claiming to be ‘leaders’ of the Pan African Movement, and to ensure that issues of transparency, and accountability arising out of the 7th Congress were not raised.
THE 8TH CONGRESS: A BATTLE OF IDEAS
In spite of all these attempts at sabotage, the Accra based Local Organising Committee (LOC) chaired by Mr. Kwesi Pratt, Jr. and the representative of the President of Ghana, Lt. Colonel Larry Gbevlo-Lartey and the LOC Coordinator, Kwasi Adu, worked tirelessly to ensure that the process of organizing the 8th Congress was participatory and inclusive. Invitations and calls were sent through various social media outlets, thereby attracting a lot of interest from youth desirous of seeing a new Pan African Movement. This process ensured that participation was pan African, global, inclusive, representative and participatory.
In the end the Congress was fully supported by the Government of Ghana, friendly countries, individuals and organisations. It attracted 284 delegates from 33 countries from all over the world – Africans and people of African descent. The opening ceremony attracted the head of state of Benin and a vice president from the Republic of Iran. Many African countries sent official delegations to the Congress. These underlie the importance which many African institutions attach to the Pan African Congress. Sometimes, failure to acknowledge a successful outcome because it makes one uncomfortable, even when success is stirring you in the face is a mark of dishonesty. The 8th Congress was able to galvanise youth and women from across the Pan African world. The Congress resolutions reflect some of the concerns of the various social forces, the groups and the wide ranging nature of participation.
It became apparent at the various sessions of the Congress that the youth were clamouring for generational change. The leadership of the PAM had not anticipated the mood of despair and the disappointment at the lacklustre performance of the Kampala secretariat and its inability to provide leadership and political/ideological direction for the Movement, and the resulting rebellion. Unable to provide cogent arguments to support the near decline of the movement, and short of ideological clarity about the state of the movement and its inability to provide leadership, some elements resorted to the use of financial inducements to tame the restless youth who were agitating for transition.
A CALL FOR REJUVENATION?
What was the 8th Congress supposed to achieve? The 8th Congress sought to revive the Movement, to reaffirm the anti-imperialist, anti-neo-colonialist nature of the Movement and help to define a path for the continued growth and regeneration of African economies and politics, and to enable the youth to define the ‘Africa we want’. In essence, to restate the call by Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah for the “total liberation and unification of Africa under an All Africa Union Socialist Government”.
The 8th Congress was a call to the youth of Africa to demonstrate their commitment to African unity, build as people-based pan African Movement for this era. In the end, it demonstrated that the youth of Africa are ready to take over the mantle of leadership from the remnants of the 7th Pan African Congress; that they recognise the ‘paradigm shift’ in the Movement, but also recognise that the Movement has relevance. It is, however, sad that the old remnants of the 7th Pan African Congress see neither the ideological shifts, nor the need for a generational change in the Pan African Movement. In essence they demonstrated a reluctance to see the need for generational change and a rejuvenation of the Movement.
A MOVEMENT IN SEARCH OF HONEST LEADERSHIP
The Pan African Movement has always prided itself with its ideological clarity and committed a core of activists working tirelessly to respond to the needs of Africa at various points in time. Each Congress therefore defines its role and progress for the continent and the Diaspora. Financial inducements have never been the motivating factor or the basis for a call to duty. The current woeful state of the Pan African Movement is a reflection of the state of African institutions. It is bedeviled with inertia, lack of political direction, has no ideological leadership, and remains in limbo. The result being that it cannot respond to crucial continental and global issues such as the death of African youths in the Mediterranean Sea, xenophobia in South Africa, and increasing poverty in the midst of plenty. It could not even respond to the NATO invasion of Libya even though the late Col. Gadhafi had been its financier for several years. Those who claim to be at the helm lack commitment to the cause of African Unity; but most worrying of all, are not willing to be accountable. These tendencies also betray a certain lack of understanding of the ideological and the foundational roots and clarity about the origins, motives, objectives and ideals of the Pan African Movement. In my view, any African can organise a Pan African Congress.
However, this requires a certain level of willingness to work with all Africans, and not to seek to exclude any African or people of African descent. It also requires some level of ideological clarity and understanding of the basis for the Movement, honesty, transparency and accountability. The Pan African Movement has radical, anti-imperialist and socialist orientations. However, the Movement is supported by people with different and varying political perspectives; it should operate like a broad movement of people.
ISSUES POSED BY THE 8TH CONGRESS
The 8th Pan African Congress in Accra came in the heels of a similar Congress in Johannesburg, South Africa. Both Congresses were hugely successful, and provided an opportunity for the youth who have never been part of the Movement to learn about Pan Africanism. There can be a third, a fourth and fifth 8th Congress. What matters is that these Congresses offer concrete solutions to pan African problems. These Congresses should lead to generational change of leadership both in terms of ideas and the movement’s political direction. The Movement has also to offer some intellectual leadership and foster understanding of where it has come from, and offer space to debate not only politics, but also issues concerning the environment, society, gender and exploitation of African resources.
Most important of all, the Movement has to be an avenue for ALL Africans and people of African descent the world over, for complete transformation of Africa into ‘the African We Want’. So far, we are far from creating that world. For the PAM to remain relevant, it must address issues of concern to the youth and marginalised women, the masses of Africans in refugee camps, and those in failed societies under the risk of foreign invasions and attempts by western powers to recolonize Africa.
These debates are vital and will help push Africa forward, but they cannot take place under a canopy of intolerance, naked aggression and corruption. The intellectual road map and guidance for an effective, anti-imperialist, progressive, and anti-neo-colonial Pan African Movement is on-going with seminal works by leading Pan Africainsts like Bankie Bankie Foster (see ‘Sustaining the New Wave of Pan Africanism’, 2010); Professor Kwasi Prah and many others. These contain very useful insights and thoughts for the future. We need to deepen the ideological debate about the future direction of the Movement in the struggle for a free Africa.
THE ‘AFRICA WE WANT’
All Pan African Congresses from the 1st to the 7th have been used to address issues relevant6 to the needs of the continent. The 8th Pan African Congress sought to address issues relevant to Africa today: youth unemployment, the environment, the abuse of women and girls, the continued exploitation of Africa’s resources; the role of the Africa Union in the march towards continental integration, and regional economic blocs. In the era of the social media, the Movement is presented with unique opportunities and challenges to use these platforms to improve communication; re-brand itself in a progressive light and help to create the new Africa. These require new methods of mobilisation to engage as many forces, factions, and groups as possible. The Movement must re-awaken Africa.
It may not sound churlish to suggest that only those with an open mind, the understanding and ideological clarity about the future of Africa; and see the Movement as a leading forces for change can exploit these opportunities. But above all, it must speak truth to power.
The 7th and 8th Congresses revealed deep cracks in the Pan African Movement due to our failure to learn, to be accountable and transparent, but above all, to be true to ourselves as Africans. If truth be told, the Movement needs intellectual renewal. However, leading lights must not allow the narcissim of small differences to take centre stage, much to the disadvantage of those who seek rejuvenation.
Writing for Pambazuka, Veli Mbele quoted the The Azanian scholar, Pumla Gqola, in her book, ‘A Renegade Called Simphiwe’ who argued that:
“...It is important that a critique of power not end with reaction, but that it goes further to imagine something new, more exciting, and more pleasurable. Picture what we can create if we dare to give ourselves permission to imagine freely. It is important to create alternatives just as it is important to speak truth to power”. (Veli Mbele, Pan-Afrikanism and the quest for Black Power today, 2015-06-03).
The Movement should move away from meaningless Congresses and respond in a more positive, progressive and radical way to the undercurrents which threaten to drown Africa. It is never too late. The struggle continues.
* Zaya Yeebo is Director of the Accra-based Pan African Institute. A journalist and writer, he was a member of the Local Organising Committee of the 8th Pan African Congress.
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