Pan-Africanism literally means “all Africanism.” It is a sociopolitical worldview as well as a movement, which seeks to unify both native Africans and those of the African Diaspora as part of a global African community. In recent years, continental pan-Africanism, the aspiration of political integration within the continent, has returned to the forefront of African politics and lies at the heart of many of the African Union’s political projects.
Initially developed outside the African continent, the concept of pan-Africanism was meant to mitigate and reverse the impact of European colonialism on peoples of African descent. Heavily influenced and promoted by the activists Henry Sylvester Williams, Edward Wilmot Blyden, W. E. B. du Bois and Marcus Garvey, the movement gained momentum between 1900 and 1945. The fifth Pan-African Conference held in Manchester in 1945 adopted pan-Africanism as a rallying cry for Africa’s independence from colonial rule and fostered African leadership of the movement, most notably in the person of Kwame Nkrumah.
When Ghana finally gained its independence in 1957 and Nkrumah became its first prime minister, he immediately began to promote the idea of complete political integration among the countries of Africa. However, many of these countries jealously guarded their newly won sovereignty and opposed Nkrumah’s goal of establishing a United States of Africa with a centralized power structure. Following several divisive years, representatives from thirty-two African countries finally met in Addis Abeba in May 1963 and founded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) as a loose federation of independent African states committed to the liberation of the remaining colonies and continent-wide cooperation. For several decades, political differences among the independent states, the unfinished nature of the continent’s liberation and external interference by non-Africans prevented collaboration on a continental level. Instead, countries increasingly cooperated in regional bodies, such as the Economic Community of Western African Countries (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Coordination Conference (SADCC).
The end of the cold war and consequent geopolitical changes, however, helped to reinvigorate the pan-African idea. In response to the economic impact of globalization, waning superpower interest and the prevalence of humanitarian catastrophes on the continent, Africa witnessed revived panAfricanism in the mid-1990s. Aided by the end of apartheid in South Africa and the all-African intervention of ECOWAS in Liberia in 1991, pan-Africanism was complemented by a process of continental self-emancipation. This process, coined “African Renaissance” by South African president Thabo Mbeki, led to increasing attempts to provide “African solutions to African problems” and eventually paved the way for a reappraisal of continental unity. As a result, the institutional limitations of the OAU, with its focus on regime security and noninterference, caused self-declared pan-Africanists, such as Libya’s leader Muammar al-Gaddafi, to renew calls for a wider political union of the continent, based on Kwame Nkrumah’s dream of a United States of Africa.
The resultant transformation of the OAU into the structurally more promising African Union (AU), with a focus on human security and nonindifference, fundamentally changed Africa’s institutional landscape. The modeling of the AU on the European archetype, the European Union (EU), marked a new drive for political integration in Africa. Ever since its foundation in Durban, South Africa, in 2002, the AU has based its political legitimacy on pan-Africanist ideology and has overcome many of the obstacles that hindered previous attempts at continental integration. In July 2007, the AU summit once again reviewed the establishment of a United States of Africa and formulated a framework for a AU government to serve as a transitional political arrangement towards a continental union. The AU also proposed to offer associate membership in this arrangement to all non-African states with a sufficient African population, and thus included the African Diaspora in the project to strengthen pan-Africanist ideology.
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- Murithi,Timothy. The African Union: Pan-Africanism, Peacebuilding and Development. London: Ashgate, 2005.
- Nkrumah, Kwame. Africa Must Unite. London, Pearn and Associates, 2007.
- Sherwood, Marika. Origins of Pan-Africanism: Henry Sylvester Williams, Africa and the African Diaspora. London: Routledge, 2010.