“If a man cares not for his roots, how then can he care for his branches?” –Doyle M. Davis
Pan-Africanism is a philosophy or movement with a plethora of definitions but the underlying goal has always been succinct–uniting people of African heritage. The outcome of unification is empowerment and freedom from dependence. It was a fundamental concept in fighting slavery, colonialism and apartheid. Advocates of ‘African solutions to African problems’ still view pan-africanism as a necessity to tame neo-colonialism and the ghosts of the inferiority complex. Some of the movement icons include Edward Blyden, WEB Du Bois, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta and Nelson Mandela among others. Pan-Africanism has historically been a political engine with major goals and accomplishments towards fighting injustice, inequality and human rights violations. In modern day Africa and the Diaspora, pan-africanism has become more or less a philosophical and toothless cultural phenomenon. One would need an archeologist to unearth what is left of pan-africanism. The skeletal remains of the once dynamic creature are currently on display in the museum known as the African Union (AU).
Following the death of Muammar Gaddafi, numerous scholars, pundits and media outlets condemned the National Transitional Council (NTC) and NATO allied forces for facilitating the killing and overthrow of Gaddafi’s regime. Some branded Gaddafi as the remaining voice and visionary of Pan-africanism and indeed an African hero. Opponents of the UN Security Council resolution 1973 also alleged that the mission was primarily a quest for black-gold (oil) masquerading as protecting civilians. Before we all get carried away, I think we ought to shine some light at Pan-Africanism and refresh our minds about the core principles laid out by the founding fathers. Dictatorship is the antithesis of Pan-Africanism. This movement was about nurturing political, social and economic unity, mutual respect and creating a climate of opportunity for all Africans. Pan-Africanism was not about power greed, the goal was empowerment. It was about creating a new breed of leaders– not locking them up behind bars. Pan-Africanism was about human rights, justice and tolerance not fear and intimidation.
It is sickening that Gaddafi, Robert Mugabe, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and others shelter under the umbrella of Pan-Africanism while oppressing their own citizens. It has become common practice for dictators to resort to anti-western rhetoric when questions have been asked about their patchy and often inconsistent human-rights record and abuse of power. The Pan-Africanism card has historically been played effectively by the likes of Idi Amin who expelled Asians from Uganda and Robert Mugabe who reclaimed land from white farmers in Zimbabwe—to appease at the expense of democracy. Anyone who flies the Pan-Africanism flag in the name of protecting Africans from carnage and exploitation of the western world while engaging in the same behavior he condemns is a hypocrite. Robert Mugabe, Muammar Gaddafi, Mobutu Sese seko, Idi Amin, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Kamuzu Banda and many other dictators don’t deserve to sit on the same table as the founding fathers of Pan-Africanism.
Leaders should never consider themselves to be under the spell of Pan-Africanism without preparing their respective countries for the future. This involves putting in place strong and independent institutions of democracy that would plant the seeds of a peaceful power transition. Pan Africanism was never about simply ranting anti-imperialist or anti-western rhetoric. Pan Africanism is about building a foundation from which African nations can stand on their own feet. Having stability and independence from foreign intervention– such as foreign aid and policy influence by the Bretton Woods institutions.
If Gaddafi and other African dictators had the interests of Africa at heart, they would have created a free political environment in their countries. This would involve promoting and strengthening independent branches of government through the ideals of ‘separation of powers’ and nurturing future leaders. There would have been no need for war, turmoil and blood-shed in Libya because people would have had a platform to make their voices heard. Instead the power hungry leaders create a political environment in which they are the heart and soul of the nation. Libya and other new governments have to start from scratch to fill the power vacuum and rebuild the broken and nonexistent political infrastructure. That’s not the behavior of an individual or leader who acts and leads in the best interest of his people or his continent. It is rather symbolic of the current breed of African leaders with an insatiable appetite, desire and hunger for power.
Dictators are the enemy of African unity and the sole reason Pan-Africanism lies in ruins today. It is no secret that what happened in Libya could happen in Zimbabwe, Uganda and a host of other African nations. Pan-Africanism could still be relevant today if Africa had leaders that lived up to the core principles of this movement. Commentators who claim that the fall of Gaddafi’s regime was a counter-revolution and a battle against the vision of a United Africa are forgetting the essence of Pan-Africanism. “If a man cares not for his roots, how then can he care for his branches?