Africa and Its
A History of Blood, Oppression, Reliance,
Vision and Blackness
S. Scott & Paul Andrew Bourne
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Pan-Africanism implied a struggle for human dignity as well as national freedom,
recognition of the community of interests and necessity for mutual assistance and co-
operation between men of African descent wherever they may be found over the world.
Ultimately, it is a vision of the united struggle of all the world’s improvised oppressed
peoples of the world, expanding in scope to cover the peasants of Asia and Latin America
as well as the blacks of the Caribbean and North America.
Only a united Africa can redeem its past glory, renew and reinforce its strength for the
realisation of its destiny.
The construct of Pan-Africanism is more than a legacy of people recognizing their
place in societies, charting a path to reclaim equality and braving the tides to see its
materialism. It is an ideological formation or socio political view that sees Africans and
their descendants abroad (primarily those located in the West Indies and the United
States) as a single body or entity fighting or struggling for a universal good. According to
Kadalie (2000) the concept of Pan- Africanism came into prominence as a part of the
anti-colonial struggle that had its roots within political activism that spans more than a
century. The entire history of Pan-Africanism since 1900 reflects the endeavor of
Africans to establish some form of unity as a bulwark or fort against the inroads which
persons of European origins had made into their lives. Shepperson (1969) maintains that
Pan -Africanism sought to restore the status of Africans as well as those in the Diaspora
who have sought to rise from centuries of the degradation that begun with the
transatlantic slave trade continued with colonialism and heightened with racism and
Pan Africanism, even in its embryonic stage, was international in its character.
According to Lewis et al (1994) this was a movement that was brought into being by
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Africans in the western world long before it would have any deep roots into the African
continent itself. For this reason it was described by Thompson (1969) as a “gift of the
New World of America to the old world of Africa”. Thompson maintains that Africans in
the Diaspora nurtured the idea until Africans at home were prepared to install it in their
hearts and later on their continent.
Mathurin (1976) asserts that this idea of uniting all Africa had its greatest
development early in the 20th
century. The Pan-Africanism became popularized by the
West Indian barrister Henry William Sylvester. Its permanency however was achieved
when Williams lent it to his Pan-African conference held in London in 1900. This
meeting attracted attention and put the word “Pan-African” in the international dictionary
for the first time. Williams saw it necessary to give black people across the world an
opportunity to discuss the issues they faced. He saw the need for “a body of Africans in
England representing native opinion in national matters affecting the destiny of the
African race” To fulfill this need, Williams founded the African Association on
September 24, 1897. According to Mathurin the stated purposes of the association were
to encourage a feeling of unity and to facilitate friendly intercourse among Africans in
general, to promote and protect the interests of all subjects claiming African descent,
wholly or in part, in British colonies and other places, especially in Africa, by circulating
accurate information on all subjects affecting their rights and privileges as subjects of the
British Empire, by direct appeal to the Imperial and social government.
Mathurin states that as a result of the activities of the African Association and
under its aegis a call was issued as early as 1898 for the 1900 conference in London that
currency to the concept of Pan-Africanism. In fact, Williams had conceived of the idea of
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a world conference of black people long before the formation of the African Association.
There was apparently a steadfast campaign by humanitarian interests against the
conditions of Africans around the world. Williams reasoned that if the English man could
be so interested in protecting those who were neither their kith nor kin, why should not
they, young men and women of African descent from the West Indies and the United
States form an organization or movement to speak for those who were unable to speak for
themselves. In essence Williams encouraged that Africans unite to do for themselves
what he believed no “others” could do for them, no matter how noble their intentions may
Thompson maintains that as a forum of protest, the conference showed that Africa
had begun jointly, through some of hers sons, to make her voice heard against the excess
of Western European rule. Mathurin states that the meeting of these men of African
descent, of varying backgrounds and from scattered lands indicated their common interest
in the destiny of their oppressed brethren and their readiness to make common cause in
an effort to protect and uplift them. Through the Pan African congresses, Afro-
Americans, Afro Caribbean’s and Africans were brought into close touch with one
another and endeavored to hammer out common policies and give a picture of unanimity
to the world.
The first conference assembled between 23 and 25 July 1900 and saw 30
delegates, most of who were from America and the West Indies. The aims of the
conference included first, to act as a forum of protest against the aggression of the white
colonizers. Second, to appeal to the missionary and the abolitionist tradition of the British
people to protect the Africans from the depredations of Empire Buildings. Third, to bring
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people of African descent throughout the world into closer touch with each other and to
establish more friendly relations between the Caucasian and African races and finally to
start a movement looking forward to the securing to all African races living in civilized
countries, their full rights and to promote their business interests.
Mathurin asserts that the conference originally had been designed to combat “the
widespread ignorance prevalent in England about the treatment of the native races under
European and American rule” and specifically those in South Africa, West Africa, the
West Indies and the United States. Williams’s 1900 conference remained essentially the
model for the latter Pan-African conferences organized by the distinguished African
American scholar W.E.B Du Bois co founder of the National Association for the
Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) and later by George Padmore and Kwame
Nkrumah. Du Bois convened his first Pan-African Congress in Paris in 1919. The
congress was held at the same time as the Paris Peace Conference, at which European
powers negotiated the aftermath of the war. The agenda of the first Pan-African Congress
resembled that of the 1900 conference in its concern for the plight of Africans and people
of African descent. Significant emphasis was placed on the provision of education for
Africans and the need for greater African participation in the affairs of the colonies.
Lewis et al (1994) asserts that the Pan African movement caught the imagination
of Africans because of the socio-politico psychological climate that existed there. By
1920, the whole African continent except Ethiopia and Liberia had been parceled out
among European colonial power (sanctioned by the Berlin Conferences of 1884 & 1885).
Africans had been bought to the reality of colonization with its racial intolerance,
economic exploitation, and social injustice. Thompson notes that the notion of the “dark
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continent” was a European concept that first emerged from sheer ignorance and later
from European Imperial ascendancy in Africa. As a result, the African became the “white
man’s burden”, just as the African of the Diaspora. The “Negro” after emancipation in
the western world became a “problem”. As such they were therefore receptive to any
movement which sought to emancipate them from European subjugation. African race
consciousness thus generated became one of the early manifestations of Pan-African
ideology at its inception (Thompson 1969).
The general African attitude to European Colonialism and Imperialism was
resentment against some of its ugliest socio-political features which included forced
labour, double standards of justice, denial of opportunities, taxation without
representation, racism, social segregation, the pass law (a hated symbol of servitude) and
land alienation (Thompson 1969). These issues were rampant not only amongst native
Africans but also amongst those born and living in the United States and the Caribbean.
Segregation amongst races had become even more pronounced in the United States than
ever before. This was especially so after the US Supreme Court established the doctrine
“separate but equal” after the case of Plessey vs. Ferguson in 1896. These new laws
(often referred to as Jim Crow laws) essentially maintained that Afro-Americans were to
have equal facilities as the whites because they were also “human” however these
facilities should, at all times, be separate so as to not upset the status quo. Davis (1977)
maintains that the laws were an attempt by Southern American states to systematically
codify in law and state constitution the subordinate position of African Americans in the
society. The most important laws required that facilities like public schools, seating on
buses and trains, parks, waiting rooms and lavatories be kept separated. In reality, this led
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to treatment and accommodation that were almost always inferior to those provided to
Significantly the laws gave rise to organizations like the Klu Klux Klan
(comprising of racist whites) seeking to control the political and social welfare of African
Americans. Klan terrorism, lynching and voting restrictions made a mockery of the Afro-
American rights granted by the 13th
amendments passed after the civil war.
The general sentiment was that American law betrayed its white citizens by attempting to
place these non- white servants on equal footing with them.
Though the level of discrimination in the Caribbean was not as devastating as in
the United States (because of limited white population that resided there) Afro-
Caribbeans faced socio- political conditions of oppression, depression and subjugation of
their own. The consequences of World War 1 (1914-1918) raised serious concerns among
blacks in the United States and the Caribbean. The main issues were the well-being of
African American and African soldiers who had served in the war and the status of
former German colonial territories in Africa that had been captured during the war by
Britain, France, and other Allied powers.
According to Lewis et al, the post World War I years found the Caribbean colony
of Jamaica in crisis. There were strikes in a number of parishes primarily among dock
workers, railways employees and labourers on sugar and banana estates, who were
protesting working conditions and calling for more wages. Large numbers of oppressed
black people in Trinidad and Tobago participated in a series of violent challenges against
British colonialism. The disturbances were precipitated by a strike of dock workers in
Port-Of-Spain however racial tensions had been simmering for some time. Black
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members of the British West Indian Regime (BWIR) were most eager to fight at the
beginning of the World War 1 however maintains Martin (1983), black soldiers suffered
massive blows to their dignity and their physical well-being. They were confined for
most of the war to fatigue duty, menial labour, carrying ammunition under heavy fire and
garrison duty. Back soldiers saw some of their comrade’s die from neglect in white run
hospitals. After the war, promised remuneration and benefits was either inferior to those
of white troops or non existent. It was the years following World War 1 that witnessed
the great expansion of the Garvey movement in the United States, the Caribbean and
parts of Africa, the basis of which was to be found in these severe conditions of
exploitation and oppression to which the African people were subjected (Martin 1983).
Du Bois 1919 conference placed specific interest in the African territories
belonging to the conquered German colonial empire. It was proposed that these territories
be held in trust by the newly founded League of Nations (known today as the United
Nations) with the goal of granting the territories self-determination as soon as possible.
Nevertheless, the territories were placed under the nominal supervision of the league,
which distributed the territories to other European colonial powers without demanding
that the new colonial rulers move the territories toward self-determination.
The next Pan-African congresses sponsored by Du Bois were held in 1921 (in
London, Paris, and Brussels, Belgium), 1923 (in London and Lisbon, Portugal), and 1927
(in New York City). These congresses were attended by increasing numbers of
representatives from the United States, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean. These
Congresses created the context for black intellectuals, political leaders and reformers to
continue challenging the prerogatives and power of white colonialism.
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In conclusion, the Pan African idea- the concept of black race pride solidarity and
initiatives in the face of white exploitations and domination- long predates Williams,
going back atleast to the nineteenth century. Thompson holds that its earliest exponents
were frustrated and race proud members of the westernized black elites in the Americas
and later in the West Indies. Amongst his predecessors are the Afro-Americans Paul
Cuffee, Martin Delaney and West Indian Edward W. Blyden and the African Dr. J.B.
Africanus Horton, just to name a few. Williams was the first Pan- Africanist as not only
did he invent the term but also because more than any of his predecessors he strove to
give organizational form to the Pan-African idea. Indeed in the history of Pan
Africanism, Williams’s concern for establishment of local branches of Pan-African
Association throughout the black world was emulated and surpassed only by Marcus
Garvey and his United Negro Improvement Association. Martin maintains that Garvey
founded and led the largest Pan-African movement in history. After combining the best
qualities of the men before him, Garvey used his vision, his organizing ability and his
staying power to spread the greatest African message of unity ever.
Today Pan-Africanism remains an essential democratic vision, to deconstruct and
uproot the inequalities of racism; to challenge the capitalist "New World Order"
represented by the International monetary fund (IMF), the World Bank, and more
recently by the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and their effect on
developing third world countries like those in Africa and the Caribbean. Pan-Africanism
remains vital as a political framework bringing together the collective perspectives of
people of African descent in our eternal struggle to assert and to affirm all humanity. Our
struggle for the empowerment of the African world is, as W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, "the last
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great battle of the West." (Manning,1995). Despite DuBois vision of Blackness,
Oppression, Equality of the Races and a place for the Marginalized, he did not see
Garvey as critical to the struggle, movement, vision and protection of the legacy of Africa
and the Africans. Both men disagreed on the path to travel to for the equality of the
Blacked skin, which expressed the divisiveness between these two influential Black men.
The Blackness, Equality, Vision, Oppression, and Reliance of the Africans are still
challenged daily, while some slumber because of complacency the crosses are different
but many and vision of the predecessors must be rekindled among those who sleep as
them are lost in the ‘Ideas’ of the masters, the imperialists and colonizers.