Alioune Aboutalib Lô
The contemporary challenges of Panafricanism
Pan-Africanism is again discussed and debatable on the African continent. For two centuries, African nations and those of African origin have been trying to move into an intellectual and cultural power to free themselves from their dependence and assert their identity. However, over the decades, Pan-Africanism lost its luster before seeking a "renaissance" in the early 2000s. This ideology lacks now emblematic figures who are concerned with the contemporary challenges it faces. In this article, the contextual evolution of Pan-Africanism is discussed, followed by the challenges that must be or are now it's own.
The evolution of Pan-Africanist thought
Pan-Africanism is an ideology, a thought, and even an economic-political doctrine, which finds its sources at the very beginning of the 18th century. According to Imanuel Geiss: "1. Pan-Africanism is an intellectual and political movement among Africans and Afro-Americans who consider or have considered Africans and peoples of African descent to be homogeneous. 2. Pan-Africanism is also a set of ideas that emphasized or sought the cultural unity and political independence of Africa, as well as the desire to modernize Africa on the basis of equal rights. The "redemption of Africa" and "Africa for Africans" were the mottos of Panafricanism." From its beginnings to the year 1950, Pan-Africanism had distinguished itself in the struggle against slavery, racial discrimination, colonial conquest, and domination. A second impetus of struggle developed from the 1950s to the 1970s, with a focus on imperialist domination and exploitation in the various colonies, emancipation, and national independence. This second generation was mixed between pan-Africanism and independence movements, under the leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Kwame Nkrumah, Modibo Keïta, Jomo Kenyatta, Odinga Odinga, Julius Nyerere, Sekou Touré, etc., with, in particular, internationalization of the struggle with links to independence movements in Latin America and Asia. After the independence of several African countries, however, Pan-Africanism was transformed or lost its political essence, since the political regimes that emerged from this struggle were unable to continue the revolution and the expected progress. "Even these regimes collapsed under the pressure of internal contradictions and the effects of cold wars. Most of them were replaced by military dictatorships. Others survived only at the cost of abandoning the progressive values they defended during the previous period," writes Professor Abdoulaye Bathily. At the end of the Cold War and the strong changes in the international system, pan-Africanism tried to reinvent itself, becoming once again a struggle for the "African renaissance", symbolized by the new formula of the African Union, succeeding in 2002 to the Organization of African Unity (created in 1962). However, multidimensional challenges remain as the embodiment of this struggle is already problematic, with leaders not steeped in pan-Africanist principles and in search of credibility.
The challenge of embodying contemporary Pan-Africanism
Who now embodies Pan-Africanism? If in the years of independence and the two following decades the struggle was seen in Nkrumah, Keïta, Cheikh Anta Diop and later Thomas Sankara, the passing of the baton was difficult. In the early 2000s, however, new figures of pan-Africanism emerged in a difficult context of this ideology. In 2000, Abdoulaye Wade came to power in Senegal, having opposed Leopold Sedar Senghor for 26 years, a champion of negritude whose pan-Africanist legacy is debatable. Wade also rubbed shoulders with Cheikh Anta Diop, the Egyptologist, who had proved that the brilliant Egyptian civilization was indeed black and had notably pleaded for a return to African sources for Africans. Abdoulaye Wade was thus visibly inspired by both men, but also by his African predecessors such as Kwame Nkrumah, to be one of the contemporary images of pan-Africanism. Wade has established himself as the leader of contemporary pan-Africanism, having launched the New Economic Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), which aimed at pooling efforts towards economic pan-Africanism. Wade also created a pan-Africanist anthem published in his book "A Destiny for Africa", in which he expressed his vision and his belonging to a free Africa. Wade has also built a monument of the “African Renaissance” inaugurated in 2010, made of bronze and copper and culminating at 53 meters in Dakar. But like his predecessors, the Senegalese president has not been able to credibly inspire this pan-Africanism at the continental level. At his side was Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, but also Muammar Gaddafi who had a much bigger dream. The Libyan leader wanted to be the head of the "United States of Africa" and he obviously believed in it. He had plans for a free Africa. In 2009, Colonel Gaddafi, then chairman of the African Union, proposed to the states of the African continent to switch to a new currency independent of the U.S. dollar: the gold dinar, which could give a profound impetus to the economic development of Africa, freeing it, especially from debt. Unfortunately, Gaddafi fell victim to his ambitions, which were too "dangerous" for the Westerners and especially Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president at the time, who, at the head of an international coalition, took advantage of the Arab Spring and a small revolution in Benghazi to eliminate the Libyan leader.
Today, Africa finds itself orphaned of a credible political figure, in power and truly imbued with the pan-African ideology and the challenges of his time. African Heads of State are currently out of step with their people who, with the emergence of social networks and digital technology, are increasingly finding themselves in the reinvoked speeches of the precursors of this thought.
Today, new politicians are emerging, but also activists to reincarnate pan-Africanism. Ousmane Sonko, Nathalie Yamb, Kemi Seba, Assimi Goita, and Guy Marius Sagna, among others, are new figures in whom the African youth of pan-African inspiration sees itself. The question of the sovereignty of African countries remains above all the major challenge that these personalities evoke and which has always been the Achilles heel of the pan-Africanist struggle.
The challenge of sovereignty
COVID-19 has revealed many flaws. Economic interdependence has increased over the past decades, making especially African economies more vulnerable, and they have become more entrenched in industrial, logistical, and economic dependence. The issue of sovereignty is no longer exclusively political, even if this framework is still urgent. More than sixty years after independence, African states must still fight for their political sovereignty in order to make decisions that are truly compatible with their stakes and realities. In West Africa, for example, the influence of France and the Bretton Woods organizations is still so obvious in the implementation of public policies. Often this even inhibits efforts at political and economic pan-Africanism. For example, the ECO, which was to replace the Franc CFA in West Africa by becoming a community currency among all ECOWAS countries, was bypassed by Emmanuel Macron during a trip to Abidjan three years ago. Intra-African trade is still only 18%, with African countries still heavily dependent on trade with countries outside Africa. The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) launched in 2021 with this in mind is still at the test stage. There is also the need for industrial sovereignty, as confirmed by COVID-19. Not only is the challenge of economic pan-Africanism to strengthen trade between African countries, but also to create powerful transnational industries, capable of resolving the issue of employment, which has become the main scourge on the continent. The question of sovereignty is also a security issue. African states still rely heavily on powers outside the continent to manage security issues. Sub-regional organizations in West and Southern Africa, as well as the African Union, have not yet taken up the challenge of African security managed by Africa itself. The African Union and ECOWAS are struggling, for example, to curb the jihadist scourge in the Sahel and do not seem to believe that the issue of African security can be resolved by Africans themselves. There is always the expectation and recourse to foreigners that betrays and obliterates the hope of an "Africa for Africans" or "African solutions to African problems". President Macky Sall's trip to Russia, for example, to discuss wheat imports during the Russian invasion of Ukraine, was perceived in a rather pejorative way by pan-Africanists who would rather have an African agricultural action plan to address the issue of food sovereignty.
The budget of the African Union is 654.8 million dollars, of which only 67% is financed by the member states. This a paradox for a pan-Africanist organization that wanted to encourage the process of total sovereignty of Africa and realize the dream of the United States of Africa. Today, not only is pan-Africanism no longer embodied by African political leaders, but the multidimensional sovereignty challenges are still far from being met. There is a kind of psychic incapacity of African leaders to believe in the intrinsic strength of Africa and to be able to take up the security, food, industrial, and sanitary challenges of themselves.