Important new book and programs on PanAfricanism

Adebajo’s published comments on his new book:

ADEKEYE ADEBAJO: Prophets, poets and African pantheon


Pan-Africanism can be defined as the efforts to promote the political, socioeconomic and cultural unity of Africa and its diaspora. I recently edited a 38-chapter volume on The pan-African Pantheon: Prophets, Poets and Philosophers (Jacana, 2020). With chapters by 37 African, Afro-Caribbean and Afro-American scholars on 36 major pan-African figures, the book seeks to contribute to curriculum transformation efforts globally.

Pan-Africanism was historically a reaction by Africans in the diaspora to the twin European plagues of slavery and colonialism. The 400-year transatlantic slave trade caused 12-million to 15-million Africans to be forcibly transported to the Caribbean and Americas. This was followed by eight decades of colonial rule in Africa. Fifteen years after the notorious Berlin Conference of 1884/1885 at which the rules were set by European imperialists for the partition of Africa, the pan-African movement was born when Trinidadian lawyer Henry Sylvester-Williams convened the First pan-African Conference in London in 1900.

Between 1919 and 1945, five pan-African Congresses took place in Europe and America, dominated by towering diaspora intellectuals WEB du Bois and George Padmore. By the time of the Fifth pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945, the movement had shifted its centre of influence from the diaspora to Africa, but lost its civil society dynamism and close links to the diaspora.

St Thomas’s Edward Blyden has often been referred to as the “father of Pan-Africanism”. He championed the concept of Ethiopianism, urging African Americans to return to Africa to help develop the continent. This inspired Marcus Garvey’s Back to Africa movement. Blyden’s 1887 classic Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race was adopted by Kenya’s Ali Mazrui in his profoundly influential 1986 nine-part documentary The Africans: A Triple Heritage. The “African renaissance” was championed by SA’s Pixley Seme before becoming centrally associated with compatriot Thabo Mbeki.

SA’s martyred First devoted her life to the study of military rule across Africa, as well as to Southern Africa’s liberation struggles

The role of female activists has often been overlooked in the pan-African canon. This book thus focuses on such female activists as Jamaica’s Amy Ashwood Garvey, SA’s Miriam Makeba and Ruth First, Kenya’s Wangari Maathai and Micere Mugo, Senegal’s Mariama Bâ, Nigeria’s Buchi Emecheta, and America’s Maya Angelou. Angelou worked closely with Malcolm X to mobilise African leadership in support of the civil rights struggle in apartheid America. Two decades later, African-American civil rights lawyer Randall Robinson used the TransAfrica Forum to wage the anti-apartheid struggle in the US.

Trinidad’s CLR James was a pioneering voice in postcolonial studies, while Jamaican-British sociologist Stuart Hall incorporated issues of race, gender and hegemony into cultural studies. SA’s martyred First devoted her life to the study of military rule across Africa, as well as to Southern Africa’s liberation struggles.

Africa and its diaspora also produced noteworthy philosophers. Steve Biko’s innovative black consciousness sought to build the cultural self-esteem of his black compatriots. Martinique’s Frantz Fanon preached democracy, development and revolutionary change across Africa. Inspired by Fanon, Bissau Guinean revolutionary Amilcar Cabral formulated critical theories of revolutionary decolonisation and revolutionary re-Africanisation.

Beninois scholar-politician Paulin Hountondji advocated a self-dependent African epistemology; Congolese intellectual VY Mudimbe deconstructed the Western “invention” of Africa; while Ghanaian-British philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah critiqued what he saw as the essentialism of pan-Africanism in favour of a more universalist cosmopolitanism.

Cultural pan-Africanism represented the reaction by the African diaspora to the indignities blacks had suffered over centuries. Martinique’s Aimé Césaire and Senegal’s Léopold Senghor developed the idea of nigritude, which poetically glorified black culture, looking back nostalgically at a rich African past. The realm of music celebrated the radical reggae rhythms of Jamaica’s Bob Marley, the rebellious Afro-jazz of Nigeria’s Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, and Makeba’s anti-apartheid melodies.

From Addis Ababa to Abuja through Atlanta and Antigua, Africa and its diaspora now need to build an effective civil society-led movement to avoid the wrath of Africa’s ancestors.

Professor Adekeye Adebajo

Director, Institute for Pan-African Thought and Conversation

University of Johannesburg

5 Molesey Avenue Auckland Park 2092

Johannesburg, South Africa