Pan-Africanism came about as a struggle to end slavery and slave trade. At this time blacks worldwide were being oppressed. There was slavery in the Caribbean, America and South America right at the beginning of African colonization.
Consequently Africans realised that they had common problems (slavery, colonization, and racism), and hence decided to handle them together.
Out of this realization came the Pan African Conferences of 1900 (London), 1919 (Paris), 1921 (London, Brussels, Paris), 1923 (London), 1927 (New York), and the last official one was in 1949.
A meeting was organised and Attended by the then most influential blacks who included; Kwame Nkrumah Slyvester Williams, W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, etcetera. They agreed in principle that the African people in diaspora shared a common history, culture, and experience and should stick together. This is how the idea of Panafricanism began.
Pan-Africanism by 19th had an aim of ending slavery and the slave trade and all other forms of black oppression world wide.
According to Esedebe (1982), the main sources and conditions which gave rise to Pan-African consciousness and ideas were: "the humiliating and discriminatory practices of the African Diaspora, the racism that accompanied the campaign for the suppression of the Atlantic slave trade, the independent African church movement, as well as European imperialism".
In short Pan-africanism was a movement advocating for the political union of all the indigenous inhabitants of Africa. Mwalimu Julius K. Nyerere once remarked that:
"From the very beginning of this movement, until now, men and women of Africa, and of African descent, have had one thing in common–an experience of discrimination imposed upon them because of their African origins. Their colour was made into a badge and a cause of their poverty, their humiliation and their oppression".
The idea of negritude
The term Negritude however, (as used by the likes of Léopold Sédar Senghor) was not immune from criticism by some other African scholars like Wole Soyinka who saw it as; belonging to colonial ideology. He claims that it gives a defensive character to any African ideas, and that its author calls for the re-appraisal of the whole human phenomenon.
However, it reflects on an important and comprehensive reaction to the colonial situation. It managed to influence a change in political, social and moral domination of the West. The term, which has been used in a general sense to describe the black world in opposition to the West, assumes the total consciousness of belonging to the black race which had great impact on the blacks and African’s survival.
Nonetheless, the idea of negritude died a natural death and does not mean much today.
Is the idea of Pan-africanism dying? The answer here is an obvious yes. It would be very irrelevant to talk about Pan-africanism when we do not actually have nationalists and patriots in many African countries.
That is how some other ‘small bidding bodies’ where introduced afterwards.
When Africa found out that, it was not possible to unite as a continent; different bodies were put in place to try and handle it (the union) in pieces. This was of course after the failure of the OAU. Organisations like; East African community, COMESA, SADC, ECOWAS, etcetera were born.
But what have these bodies achieved too? Nothing real big and in most cases violence and conflicts, continued unabated in member countries. African countries hence failed to accommodate the simplest principle of living as neighbours. If they cannot live as friends, then why don’t they live as good neighbours? Africans do not necessarily need to live as friends but for their mutual benefits, they need to live at least as good neighbours. This too has failed!
On another sad reality, African countries have failed to live peacefully in areas that were demarcated by their former colonisers. Internal conflicts, violence, wars and genocide have unfortunately taken over the continent. All these contradicts by far, the idea of Pan- africanism and actually has been responsible for the continents underdevelopment.
Specific examples may be taken from the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, the conflicts in Chad, Somalia, Eritrea-Ethiopia, Kenya, Burundi, havoc in South Africa today, the West Africa long time conflicts, etcetera. All these give us the bad picture of Africa in general.
It should thus be the prime objective of African leaders in particular and Africans in general, to go back to the drawing board and see what Pan-africanism demands from them.
We cannot talk about development if our states remain in permanent unnecessary conflicts and wars. Africa remains very far from the goal of unity as given by the whole idea of Pan-Africanism. It is essentially lack of care and greed that has left the principle of Pan-Africanism to be a myth. It is never too late however and these stories of the sad reality may help Africa to move in another direction.
If black people can start putting ethnic differences and national origin aside, then we can start building effective political-economic alliances for the general development of the continent.