AHP HANDBOOK OF INTELLECTUAL HISTORY
What is Pan-Africanism?
Pan-Africanism is one of the central philosophies in the African-modern intellectual tradition. It is also one of the most consequential political and social movements of the modern era, being found at the heart of most of the resistance movements of the last two hundred years.
There are many different facets of Pan-Africanism that can appear alone or in different combinations with each other in real-life movements and actions. This article outlines the six different ways that Pan-Africanism can manifest.
1. Pan-Africanism is the thought concerning the transcultural, transnational relationship between African peoples on the continent and African peoples in the diaspora.
In this guise, Pan-Africanism takes place on an individual level and asks questions such as is there an evidenced affinity between people of African descent in the diaspora and on the continent, or between the former and the continent itself, and how does that relate to real-world interactions? This form of Pan-Africanism is closely related to the sentiments within Black Nationalism that call for the return (repatriation) of Africans in the diaspora to Africa.
2. Pan-Africanism is the thought concerning conceptions of “Africa” in diasporic consciousness, namely the notions of Africa as the ancestral and spiritual home of the African diaspora and what that should mean for diasporic identity.
In this guise, Pan-Africanism takes place on a moral and spiritual level that presupposes an exceptionalism borne of the “African” content of a given diasporic identity. Here African ancestry is used as the basis for the culpable deniability of the diasporic group in relation to the excesses of the capitalist and imperialist political societies of the western world where the group finds itself. This appeal to “Africa” allows the diaspora to maintain a distinct “African” identity that is morally and culturally dislocated from the wider (corrupted) polis and its history. In this form, Pan-Africanism is closely related to aspects of Négritude, Black Nationalism, and Afro-Centrism.
Related Article: A Brief Introduction to Pan-Africanism
3. Pan-Africanism is the defining of “Africa” almost entirely as a psychological and spiritual concept, de-centring the continent so that “Africa” flows fluidly into its diaspora so as to create a coherent and navigable “Pan-African world” with distinct forms of social living and revolutionary philosophies of language, religion, politics, history, and consciousness.
In this guise, Pan-Africanism centres the African as a cultural and political actor that “creates” Africa wherever she is. New “Africas” are able to emerge, take form, mature, and be exported between any two parts of the “Pan-Africa world” without the need to be validated by an appeal to the continent. This has the effect of democratising the production of African knowledge across different Pan-African spaces, principally by making the diaspora a legitimate site of Pan-African exegesis. In this form, Pan-Africanism is closely related to Global Africa theory and Black Atlantic theory.
4. Pan-Africanism is an entire philosophy or approach to life in which, in all material productions and psychological imaginings, one considers the Pan-African world to be a culturally, spiritually, and politically contiguous space.
In this guise, people think of themselves as Pan-African citizens and conduct themselves in accordance with this reality. This could manifest as the nurturing of interest in and engagement with lived experiences across the Pan-African world, such as taking an interest in the political situation in different countries in the Pan-African world, teaching children the languages and national histories of other communities in the Pan-African world or joining Black or African-Caribbean student groups or community organisations that facilitate Pan-African cultural exchange.
In addition and related to the third instance of Pan-Africanism, cultural events are conceived and executed in a Pan-African way. For example, if one is planning an African film festival, for it to be Pan-African it would welcome entries from all over the Pan-African world. It would facilitate the participation of people from as much of the Pan-African world as possible by dedicating budgets to local advertising campaigns and establishing relationships with local partners. Language needs would be deeply considered, not just making allowance for foreign languages but also showing sensitivity to how language is used to ensure the creation of an inclusive space in which all Africans feel at home, irrespective of where in the Pan-African world they are from. In this form, Pan-Africanism is closely related to aspects of Ubuntu philosophy and Négritude.
Related Lecture: Frantz Fanon and his Blueprint for African Cultures
5. Pan-Africanism is any campaign that comprises coherent and coordinated transcultural transnational cultural exegesis by peoples of African descent for the liberation of African consciousness from various forms of oppression.
In this guise, Pan-Africanism involves the exploration and generation of “African” culture as a bulwark against western cultural and intellectual hegemony. For example, Négritude was a Pan-African movement because it sought to spark a cultural revolution in all parts of the Afro-Francophone world in order to neutralise the role of European cultural productions in effecting and preserving psychological colonisation. Such exegesis is deemed not only possible but necessary because of a supposed shared and singular heritage, a providential belief in the eventual reconciliation of Africa and its diaspora, and an equally providential belief in the shared future of the global African community. In this form, Pan-Africanism is closely related to aspects of Négritude and the African Personality.
6. Pan-Africanism is any political action in defence of African civilisation which posits African civilisation and its attendant philosophies and forms of social living as anecdotes to the excesses of western capitalism and imperialism.
In this guise, Pan-Africanism encourages the greater political cooperation of African people in multiple geographies in order to achieve specific liberatory aims. This makes Pan-Africanism a de-colonial ideology that aims to galvanise and politicise African heritage for the achievement of some de-colonial aim. For example, The Pan-African Congresses of the 20th century constituted a Pan-African movement as they sought to spark coordinated political action by African communities all over the world to allow them to effectively resist political and economic domination by non-Africans. In this form, Pan-Africanism is closely related to aspects of African Nationalism, Fanonism, African Socialism, and the African Personality.
Cite this article:
Umolu, Apeike. “What Is Pan-Africanism?”. AHP Handbook of Intellectual History. 2022. https://africanhistoryproject.org/article/what-is-pan-africanism/