Marc Matera. New Dictionary of the History of Ideas. Editor: Maryanne Cline Horowitz. Volume 2. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2005.
Because it refers neither to a single political ideology nor a clearly discernible philosophical tradition, Pan-Africanism is difficult to define. Many scholars avoid defining it, noting that black internationalism has varied drastically according to time and place. Indeed, various conceptions of Pan-Africanism have been aligned with disparate political and theoretical positions, from largely religious to communist to even, Paul Gilroy suggests, fascist forms. Yet, the concept can be said to signify a set of shared assumptions. Pan-Africanist intellectual, cultural, and political movements tend to view all Africans and descendants of Africans as belonging to a single “race” and sharing cultural unity. Pan-Africanism posits a sense of a shared historical fate for Africans in the Americas, West Indies, and, on the continent itself, has centered on the Atlantic trade in slaves, African slavery, and European imperialism.
Cultural and intellectual manifestations of Pan-Africanism have been devoted to recovering or preserving African “traditions” and emphasizing the contributions of Africans and those in the diaspora to the modern world. Pan-Africanists have invariably fought against racial discrimination and for the political rights of Africans and descendants of Africans, have tended to be anti-imperialist, and often espoused a metaphorical or symbolic (if not literal) “return” to Africa.
Origins and Development of Pan-Africanism
The modern conception of Pan-Africanism, if not the term itself, dates from at least the mid-nineteenth-century. The slogan, “Africa for the Africans,” popularized by Marcus Garvey’s (1887-1940) Declaration of Negro Rights in 1920, may have originated in West Africa, probably Sierra Leone, around this time. The African-American Martin Delany (1812-1885), who developed his own re-emigration scheme, reported in 1861 the slogan after an expedition to Nigeria during 1859-1860 and Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912) adopted it when he arrived in West Africa in 1850. Blyden, originally from St. Thomas, played a significant role in the emergence of Pan-Africanist ideas around the Atlantic through his public speeches and writings in Africa, Britain, and the United States, and proposed the existence of an “African personality” resembling contemporary European cultural nationalisms. Blyden’s ideas informed the notion of race consciousness developed by W. E. B. DuBois (1868-1963) at the end of the nineteenth century.
The growth of Pan-African sentiments in the late nineteenth century can be seen as both a continuation of ethnic, or “pan-nationalist,” thinking and a reaction to the limits of emancipation for former slaves in the diaspora and European colonial expansion in Africa. There are a number of reasons why black internationalism had particular resonance during this period. African contact with Europeans, the slave trade from Africa, and the widespread use of African slaves in the New World colonies were the most salient factors, leading first those in dispersion and then many in Africa to envision the unity of the “race.” At the same time, as abolition spread gradually around the Atlantic during the nineteenth century, Europeans increasingly viewed race as a biological and, thus, inherent difference rather than a cultural one.
Back-to-Africa movements—particularly the establishment of Sierra Leone by the British in 1787 and Liberia by the American Colonization Society in 1816—also contributed to the emergence of Pan-Africanism, and were probably the original source of the phrase, “Africa for the Africans.” From 1808, English Evangelicals at the CMS Grammar School in Freetown taught their “liberated” students that there were other Africans around the globe, which instilled a sense of a common destiny. Many mission-educated Sierra Leoneans like Samuel Crowther (c. 1807-1891) and James Johnson (1836-1917) moved or, in some cases, moved back to Nigeria, primarily Lagos, beginning in the mid-nineteenth century, where they were joined by returning freed people from Brazil and the Caribbean. These groups quickly coalesced into the Christian, African upper class that produced the leaders of early Nigerian nationalism and Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanism was the product of extraordinary, European-educated Africans and African-Americans, in other words, those most exposed to metropolitan culture and the influences of the modern world.
Apart from the contributions of West Africans and African descendants in the New World, South Africa developed a distinctive form of race consciousness in the form of Ethiopianism. Up to the contemporary Rastafarian movement in Jamaica, the word Ethiopian has enjoyed a privileged position in the Pan-Africanist vocabulary as a term for all Africans and as one referring only to the inhabitants of a specific state (Abyssinia). The movement denoted by the term Ethiopianism draws on the former denotation and takes its name from the “Ethiopian Church” founded in 1892 by Mangena M. Mokone (1851-1931) who separated from the African Methodist Episcopal mission over discrimination in the church.
Ethiopianism emerged in response to European colonial settlement, the institutionalization of white supremacy, and rapid industrialization, particularly in mining areas like the Rand region near Johannesburg. Its leaders were largely graduates of missionary schools, but most in their audiences were illiterate. Thus, Ethiopianism became a significant means of spreading proto-nationalist ideas and a sense of Pan-African unity in southeastern and South Africa. Following the last Zulu uprising in 1906, white South Africans and the British associated the movement with the insurrection and became hypersensitive to any potential expressions of the “peril.” The notion of Ethiopianism, however, had spread to West Africa, notably the Gold Coast and Nigeria, by the end of the nineteenth century, where it blended with other Pan-Africanist currents.
Although the exact origins are disputed, the term Pan-African first appeared in the 1890s. P. O. Esedebe maintains that the Chicago Congress on Africa held in 1893 marks both the transition of Pan-Africanism from an idea to a recognizable movement and the first usage of the word itself. In their collection on Pan-African history, however, Adi and Sherwood point to the creation of the African Association in 1898 and the convening of the first Pan-African conference in 1900 in London, both organized by the Trinidadian lawyer Henry Sylvester Williams (1869-1911), with the objective of “bringing into closer touch with each other the Peoples of African descent throughout the world,” as the beginning of the “organised Pan-African movement.” Despite these differences, scholars agree on the important role that the African American intellectual W. E. B. DuBois played in developing the idea of Pan-Africanism and marshalling a transnational political movement around it. Indeed, DuBois contributed significant speeches to the proceedings of the Chicago Congress and the Pan-African 1900 conference. In his “Address to the Nations of the World” at the latter, DuBois declared:
the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the colour line, the question as to how far differences of race … are going to be made, hereafter, the basis of denying to over half the world the right of sharing to their utmost ability the opportunities and privileges of modern civilization. (1995, p. 11)
Although Williams was unable to bring plans for a second conference to fruition, DuBois soon initiated his own movement, resulting in five Pan-African Congresses during the first half of the twentieth century (1919, Paris; 1921, London, Brussels, Paris; 1923, London and Lisbon; 1927, New York; 1945, Manchester, England). During this period the nature and tenor of Pan-Africanist cultural and political activities changed drastically.
Pan-Africanism in the Early Twentieth Century
World War I brought thousands of African-Americans, Afro-Caribbeans, and Africans into contact with one another. The exigencies of war also led the imperial powers of Europe—Britain, France, and Germany—to train and employ colonial subjects in crucial industries while, as colonial combatants, many others saw firsthand the depravity that a supposedly superior European civilization had produced. Colonial soldiers also pointed to the racism implicit in being asked to fight to “make the world safe for democracy” when this world would not include them, a suspicion confirmed for many when the Allies refused to include a guarantee against racial discrimination in the League of Nations charter following the war. As a result, the interwar years witnessed an unprecedented growth in a sense of racial unity and the popularity of black internationalism.
The most famous Pan-Africanist movement of the period was Garveyism. After struggling for some time to attract an audience in his native Jamaica, Marcus Garvey emigrated to Harlem in 1916, where he and a young, educated Jamaican woman, Amy Ashwood (who later married Garvey), relocated the Universal Negro Improvement Association (U.N.I.A.; founded 1914) on firmer footing. The U.N.I.A. quickly became the largest African-American organization in history due, in large part, to the diligent work of black women in the movement, especially West Indian emigrants like Ashwood and Marcus Garvey’s secretary and second wife, Amy Jacques (1896-1973).
The apogee of the U.N.I.A.’s success was probably its international convention in 1920, at which Garvey presented the Declaration of the Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World, demanding “self-determination for all peoples” and “the inherent right of the Negro to possess himself of Africa.” Garvey’s hubris—in declaring himself “the provisional president of Africa,” for instance—and autocratic leadership, however, cost him important friends and supporters, and his flair for ostentatious public spectacles and inflated expectations led many leading African-American writers and scholars, for example, Alain Locke (1885-1954) and DuBois, to decry him as a liability to the race. With most of his commercial enterprises like the Black Star shipping line failing or already bankrupt, in 1922 the U.S. government arrested and jailed Garvey for five years before deporting him in 1927, effectively ending the organizational life of the U.N.I.A. in the United States. Nevertheless, Garvey’s life and work left a powerful legacy around the African diaspora, and his ideas have reappeared in many guises, from the violent labor clashes in the Caribbean during the 1920s and 1930s to the more millenarian form of Garveyism that developed in South Africa.
Pan-Africanist Literary and Cultural Movements
The interwar period also witnessed the flowering of a number of Pan-Africanist literary and cultural movements, especially in New York, London, and Paris, and the emergence of a trans-Atlantic periodical culture. In the United States, the New Negro movement of the 1920s, better known as the Harlem Renaissance, not only drew attention to the work of African American artists but also displayed distinct Pan-Africanist sensibilities. Writers like James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938) inspired others around the Atlantic, for example, the Nardal sisters from Martinique (Paulette, Jane, and Andrée, who ran a salon out of which came La Revue de Monde Noir [The Journal of the Black World] edited by Paulette Nardal and Léo Sajous) and Una Marson from Jamaica (1905-1965; the first major woman poet of the Caribbean and a playwright), to assert positive images of blackness while experimenting with stylistic innovations, often informed by black musical forms like the blues. Yet, the New Negro movement was not solely a literary or artistic movement: Pan-Africanist political organizations, including the explicitly communist African Blood Brotherhood, can also be seen as manifestations of it.
Pan-Africanists and Communism
However, it was across the Atlantic in Britain—where by the mid-1930s a key group of West Indian and African radicals had assembled—that communism and, particularly, the recent of success of the Bolshevik Revolution (1917) had its greatest impact on Pan-Africanist activists and intellectuals. The Trinidadians George Padmore (1902-1959) and C. R. L. James (1901-1989) were most significant in this regard. Padmore served as head of the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers and editor of its monthly newspaper, the Negro Worker, and James was an internationally known Trotskyite.
Growing awareness of Stalin’s abuses in the Soviet Union and, more importantly, the apathy with which the governments of Europe and the League of Nations greeted Mussolini’s invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Haile Selassie’s pleas for intervention ultimately led them both to split from the Communist Party and foreground Pan-Africanism in their political and intellectual work. In 1938, James published two important books of Pan-African history, the Black Jacobins and A History of Negro Revolt. Both situated contemporary anti-imperialist struggles in Africa within a larger tradition of resistance stretching back to slave uprisings in the New World. As James explains in a revealing footnote that he later added to the Black Jacobins, “such observations, written in 1938, were intended to use the San Domingo revolution as a forecast of the future of colonial Africa.”
James formed the International African Friends of Abyssinia in 1935 along with Padmore, Amy Ashwood Garvey, the Trinidadian musician and journalist Sam Manning, Ras Makonnen (1892-1975) from British Guiana, the Sierra Leonean trade unionist I. T. A. Wallace-Johnson (1895-1965), and the future president of postcolonial Kenya, Jomo Kenyatta (1889-1978). The group soon became the International African Service Bureau and published a series of short-lived but important journals: Africa and the World (July-September 1937), African Sentinel (October 1937-April 1938), and International African Opinion (July 1938-March 1939).
Sojourners from Africa and the Caribbean created a number of other organizations in interwar Britain, most notably the West African Student Union (WASU) and the League of Coloured Peoples (LCP). Harold Moody (1882-1947), a West Indian doctor who was outspokenly anticommunist, founded the latter as an interracial association with the intention of fostering greater understanding and cooperation across racial boundaries. A small group of law students from West Africa, led by Ladipo Solanke (1884-1958), established the WASU to challenge racial discrimination and racist representations in Britain. However, they were also encouraged by the example of the National Congress of British West Africa under the leadership of J. E. Casely Hayford (1866-1930), which envisioned the creation of an independent “United States of West Africa.” The LCP and the WASU also published two significant mainstays of the black British press during the period, The Keys and Wãsù (Preach), respectively. Though initially neither was radical politically, by World War II both organizations had begun to call for an end to British colonial rule in Africa and the Caribbean, and the WASU’s local hostel in particular had become an important clearinghouse for Pan-Africanist ideas. In fact, several members of WASU went on to become prominent politicians in postcolonial Africa.
Pan-Africanism in France
Though they have received far less attention in the extant literature, students, writers, and activists from the Francophone Antilles and French West Africa also developed a distinct form of Pan-Africanism, or internationalisme noir (black internationalism), in Paris between the wars. After serving in World War I, the ambitious lawyer and philosopher Prince Kojo Tovalou-Houenou (1887-1925) from Dahomey founded the Ligue Universelle pour la Défense de la Race Noire (International League for the Defense of the Black Race), which published the first black newspaper in France, Les Continents, during the second half of 1924. The Martinican novelist René Maran (1887-1960) also played a major role in the paper as both an editor and writer.
However, the most well-known expression of black internationalism in interwar France was the literary and philosophical movement known as Negritude. The Martinican poet Aimé Césaire coined the term during 1936-1937. In addition to Césaire, the work of Léon-Gontran Damas (1912-1978) and Léopold Sedar Senghor (1906-2001) are usually credited with establishing and defining the movement. Yet, Negritude emerged within a broader spectrum of Pan-Africanist activities, from the Senegalese communist Lamine Senghor’s (1889-1927) Comité de Défense de la Race Nègre (Committee for the Defense of the Black Race), which was founded in 1926 and published the short-lived journal La voix des nègres.
Women’s Contributions To Pan-Africanism
The essential contributions of women to the development of both Anglophone and Francophone forms of black internationalism were overshadowed by their male contemporaries and have fared little better in scholarship on Pan-Africanism. Recently, however, the feminist-inflected Pan-Africanism of Jamaican women—Amy Ashwood Garvey, Una Marson, and Claudia Jones (1915-1964)—and West African women such as Constance Cummings-John (1918-2000) and Stella Thomas has received more attention. Likewise, the crucial role of the Martinican Nardal sisters in initiating and articulating internationalisme noir in Paris—as illustrated, for example, by La revue du monde noir—is only beginning to be acknowledged. Moreover, as Brent Hayes Edwards points out, historians have failed to recognize the ways in which various formulations of Pan-Africanism and, more specifically, the Negritude movement were implicitly gendered.
Pan-Africanism after World War II and Postcolonialism
Coming as it did immediately after the upheavals of World War II, the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester marked a watershed in black internationalist activities around the Atlantic. Though ostensibly under DuBois’s guidance, it was organized primarily by socialist Pan-Africanists in Britain, especially George Padmore, and was the first Congress to include a significant number of Africans like Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972), who served as assistant secretary and joint secretary, respectively.
Following the Manchester Congress, the site of Pan-Africanist activities shifted from the United States and Europe to the colonies in the Caribbean and, particularly, Africa. In fact, many of the key figures in the movement—DuBois, Padmore, and Alphaeus Hunton—relocated to Africa during this period. In 1956, Padmore’s classic Pan-Africanism or Communism? appeared, and in 1958 Nkrumah hosted the first All-Africa People’s Conference at Accra in the wake of independence from British colonial rule in 1957 and the creation of an independent Ghana.
In the postcolonial era, the nature of Pan-Africanism and the problems facing Pan-Africanist projects changed dramatically. For the first time, Pan-Africanism became a broad-based mass movement in Africa and enjoyed its greatest successes as an international liberation movement in the first two decades after the war. Through his rhetoric and, most importantly, his example as president of independent Ghana, Nkrumah dominated this period in the history of Pan-Africanism. The context of the Cold War profoundly shaped the struggle for independence in Africa, as it did global politics in general, but in spite of his commitment to Marxism, Nkrumah avoided taking sides in the East-West Cold War and, instead, emphasized African unity. As some historians have noted, the All-Africa People’s Conference at Accra in 1957, attended by some 250 delegates, established the basic tenets of Pan-Africanism for decades to come: the attainment of political independence, assistance to national liberation movements, diplomatic unity between independent African states at the United Nations, and nonalignment. As Nkrumah asserts in I Speak of Freedom, “a Union of African states will project more effectively the African personality.”
In 1963, due primarily to the efforts of Nkrumah, President Sékou Touré (1922-1984) of Guinea, President Modibo Keita (1915-1977) of the Republic of Mali, and Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded in the midst of decolonization and the euphoria of independence in West Africa. However, economic neocolonialism and the limits of political independence quickly extinguished the optimism of the immediate postcolonial period, leading Pan-Africanist scholars like the Trinidadian historian Walter Rodney (1942-1980) to reevaluate the long-term repercussions of the Atlantic slave trade and European imperialism for Africa. The 1960s also witnessed a number of intra-African disputes between newly independent states, many of which were precipitated by border issues inherited from colonialism.
Pan-Arabism and Pan-Africanism
Another significant feature of the postwar period was the convergence of Pan-Africanism and Pan-Arabism, which had hitherto remained distinct movements in North Africa. Traditionally, Pan-Arabism focused on North Africa’s historical links to the east, to the Arabian Peninsula and the Fertile Crescent, while sub-Saharan Pan-Africanism looks across the Atlantic to African descendants in the Americas. Moreover, religion (Islam) enjoys pride of place in Pan-Arabism as the basis of the perceived unity of the Arab world, but loosely defined cultural similarities and “racial” solidarity or, in Nkrumah’s words, a distinctive “African personality” underlie Pan-Africanism.
The flowering of anti-imperialist, nationalist movements in North African after World War II, and especially the Egyptian revolution of 1952, however, signaled the emergence of a fusion of the two movements. Initially, this resulted principally from the political vision of Gamal Abdel Nasser (1918-1970), who succeeded Muhammad Naguib (1901-1984) as Egypt’s leader. He maintained that his country had historically occupied the center of three concentric circles—the Arab world, the Muslim world, and Africa—and argued on this basis that Egypt should not remain indifferent to liberation struggles in sub-Saharan Africa. Despite his exaggeration of the importance of Egypt to Africa’s future, the appearance in 1959 of his book, The Philosophy of Revolution, marked an important moment in the intersection of the Pan-Arab and Pan-African movements.
The triumphant resolution of the Suez Crisis in 1956 also enhanced Nasser’s international standing, making him a source of inspiration and a symbol of the larger struggle to free Africa and the Arab world from European hegemony. The pioneering works of the Senegalese historian and politician Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-1986), such as The Cultural Unity of Black Africa (1963) and The African Origin of Civilization: Myth or Reality (1974), which resituated Egyptian history within its larger African context, represent another important intellectual manifestation of this moment in the history of Pan-Africanism.
The final, bloody years of the Algerian war of independence (1954-1962) also strengthened ties between Pan-Arabism and Pan-Africanism. The anticolonial war in Algeria had originally split intellectuals and politicians in Francophone Africa, due largely to the special status accorded the territory as a legal part of France. This began to change, however, after Ghana’s independence in 1957 when Nkrumah, an outspoken proponent of the Algerian cause, became the new state’s first president. In addition to Nkrumah’s Ghana, Guinea and Mali joined the predominately Arab, pro-Algerian Casablanca Group, and Nkrumah became the first sub-Saharan African leader to support Arab nations in denouncing Israel as a “tool of neocolonialism” in Palestine when he endorsed the Casablanca declaration.
After Algeria gained its independence in 1962, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) emerged as the primary agent of Arab-African cooperation after 1963. Many then interpreted the June War of 1967 between Arabs and Israel as an attack on a member of the OAU and an occupation of African territory by Israeli forces, which only served to strengthen the importance of anti-Israeli sentiment as a basis for Arab-African solidarity. By the time of the October War of 1973 between Arab nations and Israel, politics in the Middle East and Africa were more intertwined than ever due to the nearly unanimous severing of African states’ diplomatic ties to Israel.
Pan-Africanism in the Late Twentieth Century
The mid-1970s saw the elaboration of a new philosophy and a new outline for long-term economic, technical, and financial cooperation between Africa and the Arab world. In some respects, oil and, particularly, the creation of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) were important in this regard and transformed Nigeria into a crucial state in Arab-African relations. Oil profits and the institutional framework of OPEC enabled significant capital transfers from Arab to African states between 1973 and 1980. Yet, those funds fell well short of Africa’s real needs for development capital, and these factors often proved to divide rather than promote unity. Ultimately, the dramatic downturn in oil prices beginning in the early 1980s not only hurt oil-producing countries but drastically reduced Arab aid to Africa.
At the end of the twentieth century, debates surrounding “globalization” and renewed interest in transnational communities and cultural networks sparked a number of attempts to “reconsider” the history of Pan-Africanism, particularly among scholars associated with the nascent fields of African diaspora studies and Atlantic history. The delegates at the Sixth and Seventh Pan-African Congresses—held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Kampala, Uganda, in 1974 and 1994, respectively—also revisited this history. They did so, however, in an attempt to emphasize the need for unity in confronting contemporary economic exploitation in Latin America and Africa as well as the revolutionary potential of Pan-Africanism for the future. Likewise, following the end of both the Cold War and apartheid in South Africa, the new African Union, founded at Sirte, Libya, in March 2001 to replace the OAU, was called on to address problems as diverse as the marginalization of Africa in international affairs, the global economy, and the AIDS pandemic on the continent.
The Future of Pan-Africanism
The career and rise to international prominence of Thabo Mbeki (b. 1942) as South Africa’s second freely elected president exemplify the mixture of promise and immense difficulties facing Pan-Africanist projects and Africa in general in the twenty-first century. Like Nelson Mandela (b. 1918), Mbeki devoted his life to the fight against apartheid in South Africa, but, whereas Mandela was imprisoned for much of his adult life, Mbeki spent years in forced exile in Britain after 1962, earning a Master’s degree in economics from Sussex University in 1968 and working with Oliver Tambo (1967-1991), the effective leader of the African National Congress (ANC) in Mandela’s absence.
In 1969, like most ANC leaders, many of whom were also long-time members of the South African Communist Party (SACP), Mbeki went to the Lenin International School in Moscow for a year to receive military training. After serving as political secretary for Tambo, the ANC president in the late 1970s, he became the ANC’s chief diplomatic liaison, which increased the antiapartheid movement’s profile abroad as well as his own, and rose to the SACP’s central committee in the late 1980s. However, following F. W. de Klerk’s (b. 1936) lifting of the ban on dissident organizations like the ANC, SACP, and the Pan-Africanist Congress on February 2, 1990, Mbeki gradually distanced himself from the SACP, allowing his membership to lapse at the same time as he spearheaded attempts to transform the ANC from a prohibited liberation movement into a legal political party. Then, having served as Mandela’s deputy president from 1994 to 1999, Mbeki was inaugurated as his successor in June 1999.
Mbeki’s presidency became mired in a series of controversies, most famously concerning his flirtation with “dissident” views on the nature and treatment of HIV/AIDS, but his espousal of an “African Renaissance” made possible discussions over the relevance and potential of Pan-Africanism in the twenty-first century and, more specifically, the role of a free South Africa on the African continent. Mbeki’s notion of an “African Renaissance,” though deliberately vague, has a number of ideological roots. For one, it is situated within the long tradition of South African leaders who, regardless of their ideological or physical hue, have asserted the country as the driving force behind development on the continent in general. This is a position that, it is said, South Africa must reclaim and would otherwise already occupy had it not been for the artificial privileges accorded by race under apartheid.
The international stature of Nelson Mandela reaffirmed this assumption of the naturalness of South African leadership in both internal diplomatic relations in Africa and projecting Africa’s interests into the global market and international political organizations like the United Nations. Yet, as Peter Vale and Sipho Maseko observe, it was largely “the appeal of Mbeki’s lyrical imagery that turned the obvious … into a tryst with destiny.” It is clear that Mbeki’s thought rests on a social-contractual reading of the African Renaissance. It represents essentially a double-edged agreement that not only commits the South African state to a democratic concord with the people of South Africa but also to the cause of peace and democracy across the continent.
Unfortunately, the emancipatory potential of Mbeki’s message remained unrealized and, by and large, more promise than policy, limited changes like South Africa’s assumption of a peacekeeping role in Africa notwithstanding. Moreover, some have criticized the limitations of Mbeki’s approach: buoyed by the same modernization theory that inspired economic ambitions under apartheid, though directing attention backward to Africa’s past, it fetishizes new technologies, endowing the latter with the power to trigger profound social changes almost single-handedly. Nevertheless, the ambiguity and potential weaknesses of Mbeki’s rhetoric have created a political space in which a multiplicity of competing interpretations of Africa’s future can be debated.
Vale and Maseko identified two distinct approaches to the idea of an “African Renaissance,” one “globalist,” the other “Africanist.” Based firmly in the modernist tradition, the former seems to assume that what is good for South Africa is also good for the rest of Africa, views the continent as principally an expanding market, and sees free markets, privatization, and cuts in public expenditure as prerequisites to curtailing the power of authoritarian governments. The latter, however, envisions an African Renaissance to promote a series of complex social constructions that turn on issues of identity and call for a reinterpretation of African history and culture outside of the analytical frameworks and narratives of European imperialism. Thus, representatives of the Africanist approach eschew the modernizing tendency toward Africa’s encounter with Europe, or “chasing of scientific glory and money,” and maintain that the globalist perspective will merely result in an externally driven consumerist movement in Africa. According to this view, Africans will continue to be valued solely for their capacity to absorb foreign goods if development on the continent continues to follow the globalist path. Despite advancing a powerful critique of globalist/modernist assumptions and encouraging alternative visions of Africa’s future, Africanist arguments rarely appear in mainstream political discussions of interstate relations in Africa. This is due in large measure to prevailing socioeconomic conditions on the continent in which states, suffocating under the burden of international debt, increasingly fail to provide their constituencies with basic amenities like water, electricity, and adequate housing.
One final development in black internationalism—the emergence of the concept of the “Black Atlantic”—figures in the future of Pan-Africanism. The idea was originally introduced by black British scholars, most famously Paul Gilroy, who emerged from the Cultural Studies group under the leadership of Stuart Hall at Birmingham University and whose work focuses heavily on African American and black British literature and popular culture. The notion of the Black Atlantic injected new life into attempts to examine the historical formations outside of the analytic framework of the nation-state by highlighting the singular importance of the legacy of the Middle Passage and African slavery around the Atlantic. In Black Atlantic (1993), Gilroy offered a compelling critique of the increasingly unproductive impasse between “essentialist” and “anti-essentialist” positions on racial and ethnic difference and what became known in the late twentieth century as “identity politics.” Many of the insights—as well as the potential pitfalls—of this approach have been picked up by academics in the Americas, and especially the United States. For example, Brent Hayes Edwards expands on this scholarship while also exposing the tendency of much work on the African diaspora to overemphasize similarities and obscure differences rather than recognizing the management of difference (cultural, economic, linguistic, etc.) as an inescapable and, indeed, constitutive aspect of the elaboration of any particular vision of diaspora.