• Monday, May 20, 2024
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Self-reparation for African Power: Pan-Africanism and Black Consciousness (4)


Onwuchekwa Jemie

Other issues in Pan-Africanism crying out for self-reparation:Continentalism is not the only aspect or doctrine of Pan-Africanism that is crying out for correction. Having looked at that error in some detail, all I have time to do here is list a few others, with brief comments, so they can be attended to afterwards. 2: African identity:
The question of African identity and its criteria has not yet been rigorously analyzed or Afrocentrically resolved. What is Africa? Who are the Africans? What are the cultural and biological boundaries of Africa/Africanness?
This fundamental matter of defining Africa and the Africans–those that are the constituency served by Pan-Africanism– has been bedeviled by the same fears of exclusivism that helped install the superstition of Continentalism. Those black Africans who fear that the white enemy would label them exclusivists are prone to evade including the color/phenotype/racial factor when defining the African. Some insist on defining Africanness in purely cultural terms. Some fools even say that the African is anybody who is “committed to Africa”! Others, such as the AU bureaucrats who organized the 2004 Conference of AU intellectuals in Dakar, urge what they call “identity fluidity” and assert that:
“Africa, whose construction is currently on the agenda, transcends geographical borders as well as cultural or racial barriers: it extends from both sides of the Sahara; it is white and black, Arab and African, continental and insular; it is a cultural meeting point where successive strata of cultures of Eurasian origin intermingle with indigenous cultures born in the Continent of Africa [Mbeki’s Speech: ‘I am an African’ epitomizes these assertions in that it recognizes all the above assets]. The concept of identity fluidity has now become imperative; . . .”

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— “Draft Concept Paper” to AU Intellectuals meeting, Dakar, Oct. 2004, p. 7.
On this question of identity, we sorely need to take our cue from Biko and boldly “rally around the cause of our suffering” and, without apologies to our enemies and their integrationist dupes in our midst, define ourselves for ourselves on the basis of our black skin–the cause of our suffering. A continent does not make a people, and so cannot legitimately be used to define a people. Ancestry, historical experience and culture are the valid factors for defining a people. Our latching at all unto a geographic name (African) is a seminal error that is spewing unending problems and confusions we could do without, and we should find our way out of it.
As a first step out of that costly error, we must Afrocentrically limit the African identity to those from Africa who have, over the centuries, been singled out as targets for enslavement by the black co lor of our skins. Hence, whites, European as well as Arab–the very predators who decided to target blacks for racialized chattel enslavement– cannot be legitimately included with us, their prey, just because they have forcibly made themselves our neighbors on the African landmass.
By “Africans,” Pan-Africanism can legitimately mean only the members of the indigenous populations of Africa who were, for the last 20 centuries, targeted for enslavement by Arabs and Europeans on account of their black skin color. That is the fundamental historical factor. Anybody who is not a biological descendant of these blacks cannot qualify as an African. Perhaps we need to adopt a name for ourselves from an African language. Pan-Africanism must therefore, with Black Consciousness rigor, limit its constituency to Black Africans and their global diaspora.
Black Consciousness historical considerations aside, it would be scientifically incorrect to define Africans without including the biological/racial factor of black color/phenotype, for, as political science assures us:
“People define themselves in terms of ancestry, religion, language, history, values, customs, and institutions. They identify with cultural groups: tribes, ethnic groups, religious communities, nations, and, at the broadest level, civilizations. . .. In coping with identity crisis, what counts for people are blood and belief, faith and family. People rally to those with similar ancestry, religion, language, values, and institutions and distance themselves from those with different ones.” [Huntington, 1997:21, 126]
Since the instantly visible mark of African ancestry and historical experience is the black skin, it would be unscientific to exclude it from the factors for defining Africanness.
Furthermore, just as it is the indigenous Chinese who define who are Chinese, and the indigenous Arabs who define who are Arabs, and the indigenous Europeans who define who are Europeans, so too do we indigenous Africans have the right and duty to define who are Africans. And if it is in our interest to include a phenotype factor, black skin, in our definition, we must do so, regardless what anybody else thinks. In this regard, we need to note the Chinese example:
“To the Chinese government, people of Chinese descent, even if citizens of another country, are members of the Chinese community and hence in some measure subject to the authority of the Chinese government. Chinese identity comes to be defined in racial terms. Chinese are those of the same ‘race, blood, and culture,’ as one PRC scholar put it. In the mid-1990s, this theme was increasingly heard from governmental and private Chinese sources. For Chinese and those of Chinese descent living in non-Chinese societies, the ‘mirror test’ thus becomes the test of who they are: ‘Go look in the mirror,’ is the admonition of Beijing-oriented Chinese to those of Chinese descent trying to assimilate into foreign societies.” [Huntington, 1997:169]
We might, likewise, tell those of black African ancestry who claim to be Arabs or Europeans, as well as those Arabs and Europeans who claim to be Africans, to “Go look in the mirror!”
We could all learn from what our African-American brother, Runoko Rashidi, said on a Johannesburg radio program a few years ago:
“The hosts asked me my positions on global African unity. I responded, and the phone lines lit up!
“The first caller was a white man who said what a ‘racist’ I was and how offended he was. I let him have it!!! He said that he was an African and that I was not. I said that I was an African and that he was not. I told him that you can teach a parrot to speak but that in the end it was still a bird. I told him that you can dress a monkey in a suit but in the end it was still an ape. I told him that his ancestors came to Africa uninvited, without passport or visa, stole the land, near-exterminated whole groups of people, and enslaved and colonized the rest. And now, he wants to be an African!
“I told him that his pedigree was European, his history was European, his lineage was European, his culture was European, and that he was a European! I guess that you could say that I effectively silenced him, and every other call that I received on both programs, from African and European alike, was extremely favorable! You would have been proud.”
Yes indeed! Arabs and Europeans may be settled in Africa, but that doesn’t make them Africans! Just because a snake has crawled into your bedroom and settled down to rear its young doesn’t mean you should now count and embrace it as a member of your family. It would be extremely irrational and Afrocidal for Africans to accept a non-racial, continentalist concept of their identity.
Incidentally, we must note that in contrast to the European settlers in South Africa, the Arab settlers in North Africa do not normally claim to be Africans. They insist on their Arab identity and speak, at the most, of belonging to both the Arab and African regions of the world. The amazing anomaly is that Black African leaders, such as Nkrumah and Diop, have insisted on foisting African identity on them!
3. African Unity: unity of what, for what and against what?
African unity has been the major mantra of Pan-Africanism for the past 50 years. Unfortunately, the purpose of the advocated unity has been so vague and unspecified as to leave the impression that it is nothing more than unity for unity’s sake. Worse still, the uncritical welcoming of the Arabist-Imperialist AU suggests that even a unity in an enemy dungeon has become acceptable to Pan-Africanism. Since a union in the prison of Imperialism or Arabism is contrary to the African interest, the concept of African unity has to be re-examined, and its purposes clarified and made consistent with the interest of Africans. We need to bear in mind that people do not unite for nothing or against nothing. Our experience in the past two millennia suggests that Pan-Africa should be uniting against white domination, by Arabs no less than by Europeans.
Leaving aside the question of the vague purpose of African unification, and the question of whether the unification domain should be continental or sub-continental in scope, Pan-Africanism has failed to examine the question of the character of the entities that it sought to unite. Nkrumah, for all his anti-colonial fervor, was the head of a neo-colonial Bantustan, and was seeking to unite a bunch of such neo-colonial Bantustans. If Pan-Africanism has not abandoned its original anti-imperialist purpose, it is rather strange that it has not focused on the task of changing the neo-colonial character of these states it was attempting to unify.