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A Critcism of Pan-Africanism

Updated on January 2, 2010

Pan-African Philisophy




Originally, the philosophy of Pan-Africanism represents the aggregate of the historical, cultural, spiritual, artistic, scientific and philosophical legacies of Africans from past to the present. According to Wikipedia free encyclopedia, “Pan-Africanism as an ethical system, traced its origins from ancient times, and promote values that are the product of the African civilization and the struggle against slavery, racism, colonialism and neo-colonialism.” Pan-Africanism is usually seen as a product of European slave trade, rather than as something arising in the continent of Africa itself. Enslaved Africans of diverse origins and their descendants found themselves embedded in a system of exploitation where their African origin became a sign of their servile status. Pan-Africanism set aside cultural differences, asserting the principality of these shared experiences to foster solidarity and resistance to exploitation. Alongside a large number of slave insurrections, by the end of the eighteenth century a political movement developed across the Americas, Europe and Africa which sought to weld these disparate movements into a network of solidarity putting an end to this oppression. In London, the Sons of Africa was a political group addressed by Quobna Ottobah Cugoano in the 1791. The group addressed meetings and organized letter-writing campaigns, published campaigning materials and visited parliament. They wrote to world figures like Granville Sharp, William Pitt, and other members of the white abolition movement as well as King George III and the Prince of Wales, the future George IV. However, the modern Pan-Africanism began around the beginning of the twentieth century. The African Association, later renamed the Pan-African Association was organized by Henry Sylvester-Williams around 1887, and their first conference was held in 1900.


Moreover, rather than being a unified school of thought, Pan-Africanism is more a movement which has as its common underlying theme the struggle for social and political equality and the freedom from economic exploitation and racial discrimination. (Murithi, 2007). Murithi further postulated that “Pan-Africanism is recognition of the fragmented nature of the existence of the African’s, their marginalization and alienation whether in their own continent or in the Diaspora. Pan-Africanism seeks to respond to Africa’s underdevelopment.”  In a concrete and precise term, Pan-Africanism is an integration philosophy of Africa purposely aimed at unifying the divergent elements of African continent and promotes African culture by rejecting foreign cultures especially that of Europe and other forms of domination. However, bearing in mind that it is the philosophy of Pan-Africanism that gave birth to the Organization of African Unity in 1963, the greatest question is: to what extent has the philosophy of Pan-Africanism been imbibed by Africans in their integration attempt? Or simply put what are the cogent factors hindering the philosophy of Pan-Africanism in Africa? The answers for the above question are clear and crystal based on obtainable facts and events in the continent.


At first, Pan-Africanism has been criticized for overlooking the cultural and ethnic differences of African people as well as different socio-political circumstances among people of African descent worldwide. Although the philosophy purposely aimed at promoting the culture of Africans, one of the problems here is to identify the similar culture of different people that make up Africans. Africa has been known as a continent with different people, divided into Anglophone (all English speaking Africans under British Commonwealth), Francophone ( all French speaking Africans), Lucophone ( Spanish speaking Africans), Portuguese speaking Africans, Ladophone ( the Sudanic speaking Africans and Arabic speaking Africans. The problem has been on how to unite all these elements into a functional whole.


Moreover, the philosophy of Pan-Africanism has to been able to unite Africans in Diaspora especially those of them that have totally lost their African identity and as such were unable to trace their origins to the continent. A clear example can be drawn from African-Americans who were sold during the slave trade. The implication of this is that not every black man is an African since African people are not exclusively black. The motive of the modern Pan-Africanism seeks to unite “black power” under the label African even though an individual of black race may trace their history multiple generations past within their national origin far from Africa. This ugly situation especially in this recent time has rendered the philosophy of African unity, as aimed by Pan-Africanism, unrealistic and fixed the continent in a tight position of redefinition of whom Africans are. There is every need to address this crucial problem in African summit in order to incorporate and give room for these sons of Africans whom their history had been misinterpreted.


Another important factor that ridicules the idea of Pan-Africanism is the internal realities in the continent. Most African countries have been in a serious conflict, poverty situation, poor leadership, high mortality rate and underdevelopment. The philosophy has not been able to supply good answers to the issue of violent conflict, political corruption, economic mismanagement, poor governance, human right abuse, gender inequality, and poverty. Although an attempt was made by OAU in June, 1993 in Cairo to create a mechanism for conflict prevention, management, and resolution, it was obvious that this instrument was ineffective in resolving conflicts in Africa, especially with the outbreak of the Rwandan genocide in April 1994, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Sudan which claimed many lives in Africa. These ugly events illustrated the extent to which the philosophy of African unity had been impaired. Thus, urgent measures are needed to foster unity in continent.


In conclusion, the philosophy of Pan-Africanism remained a strong philosophy in the continent containing the principle of African unity both within the continent and in Diaspora. Its remarkable contributions in the past can never be neglected in the scheme of things in Africa. It helped in the liberation of continent from slavery, colonialism, and formed the solid bedrock for the formation of OAU in 1963. Also, its initial movement contributed immensely in bringing black men throughout the globe into one frontier to fight for their general course.  However, the philosophy needed to be upgraded to define who Africans are by looking critically at the general character, culture, and history that Africans possess. Also, concerted efforts should be directed on how to bring in Africans in Diaspora especially those that have lost their African identity into the realm of affairs and make them to understand that their main origin is from Africa. Finally, the philosophy of the modern Pan-Africanism should also provide a good solution to the issue of poverty in the continent, poor leadership, political corruption, mismanagement and, more importantly, conflicts in the continent which stains the image of Africa when compared with other continents.  



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    • profile image

      James Malik 3 years ago

      What about Pan-Africanist links to Black Nationalism? Or racial-ethnic supremacism as embedded by its innate identity politics due to its ideological structure?

    • Moulik Mistry profile image

      Moulik Mistry 8 years ago from Burdwan, West Bengal, India

      I just appreciate your idea and do agree with your feelings...

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California

      I had no idea what Pan-Africanism was until now. I learned a lot from this Hub... Thank you for publishing it and educating me!

    • Pconline profile image

      Pconline 8 years ago from Nigeria

      habee, thanks a million!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 8 years ago from Georgia

      Wow! Excellent hub!