Friday, May 27, 2016

Pan-Africanism: From Nkrumah to Nollywood
22 May 2016 at 10:58am
By Adekeye Adebajo

Africa is still on a quest for three magic kingdoms: peace and democratic governance, socio-economic transformation, and cultural equality, writes Adekeye Adebajo.

Johannesburg - Founding Ghanaian president and Pan-African prophet Kwame Nkrumah’s famous injunction, “Seek ye first the political kingdom, and all else shall be added unto it”, continues to reverberate across Africa six decades after it was first uttered.

Africa’s 1 billion citizens celebrate Africa Day on Wednesday, the anniversary of the birth of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), forerunner of the AU.

Having achieved Nkrumah’s political kingdom with South Africa's liberation in 1994, Africans, however, found that all other things were not added unto it.

The continent is still on a painful quest for three magic kingdoms: peace and democratic governance, socio-economic transformation, and cultural equality. This griot’s tale of prophets, kings, divas and marabouts focuses on this elusive quest.

Between 1919 and 1945, five Pan-African Congresses took place in Paris, London, New York and Manchester, dominated at first by African-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans such as WEB Du Bois and George Padmore. By the time of the fifth congress in Manchester in 1945, the meeting was dominated by future African “Kings” such as Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah and Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta. In May 1963, 32 African states met in the ancient Ethiopian empire of Addis Ababa to create the OAU, rejecting Nkrumah’s federalist vision in favour of a gradualist approach to regional integration. Despite its administrative and capacity shortcomings, the OAU doggedly led Africa's decolonisation and the anti-apartheid struggles.

The martyrdom of South African intellectual diva Ruth First - through a letter bomb in Maputo in 1982 - underlined the brutality of the apartheid regime.

Starting with Africa's quest for the security and governance kingdom, the threat of foreign intervention in the heart of Africa was tragically symbolised by the martyrdom of Congolese leader Patrice Lumumba in 1961. This led to a recognition of the need for what prophetic Kenyan scholar, Ali Mazrui, described as a Pax Africana - a peace created and consolidated by Africans themselves. The OAU’s aspirations for Pax Africana were, however, destroyed by the “proxy wars” waged by the US and the Soviet Union in Africa, and the pyromaniac adventures of the French gendarme.

Nkrumah was in a minority of one in calling for the establishment of an African High Command of peacekeepers in the 1960s. OAU leaders, however, rejected his ideas and sought instead to freeze the colonial map of Africa. Thus, Africa's new “kings” stressed the inviolability of borders and sought to entrench their own positions behind the shield of sovereignty. Several post-independence leaders committed gross human rights abuses in Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda.

Military “marabouts” also rode on to Africa’s national stage, urging citizens to “stay by their radios” following coups d’atat. But the soldiers failed as spectacularly as the politicians to transform their societies.

One of the early prophetic champions of African democracy was William Arthur Lewis, St Lucia's Nobel economics laureate, who had served as Nkrumah’s economic adviser. Lewis called for multiparty democracy in Africa’s diverse states, involving proportional representation, coalition government, and federalist devolution.

In the post-Cold War era, prominent African statesmen and scholars such as Tanzania’s Salim Ahmed Salim, South Sudan’s Francis Deng, South Africa’s Nelson Mandela, Egypt’s Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Ghana’s Kofi Annan took up this call, advocating a dilution of absolute sovereignty and respect for human rights.

There have recently been some grounds for optimism: regular elections now take place across Africa; the technology-wielding youths of the “Afro-Arab Spring” famously toppled mummified Pharaohs in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya in 2011, with the harmattan winds blowing south to help a popular uprising oust the 27-year autocracy of Burkinabè former military marabout Blaise Compaoré three years later; and alternance (change) of ruling parties has occurred in countries such as Ghana, Senegal, Zambia, Malawi, and Nigeria.

Despite Africa being a young continent where 70 percent of its population is under the age of 20, several countries are still ruled by septuagenarian and octogenarian “presidents-for-life”, and the extension of presidential terms has seen the return of autocratic “kings”.

In the quest for the socio-economic kingdom, though the percentage of Africans living in absolute poverty has fallen since 2000 from 58 to 41 percent, most of the world's poorest economic performers remain on the continent.

Walter Rodney, the prophetic Guyanese scholar-activist who taught in Tanzania in the 1970s, had earlier lamented the consumerist rather than productive nature of African economies. Nigerian scholar-prophet Adebayo Adedeji was undoubtedly Africa’s most renowned visionary of economic integration, overseeing the creation of regional bodies in West, Central and Southern Africa, while like Rodney, championing collective self-reliance.

Less than 12 percent of current continental trade is, however, intra-African. South African diva and outgoing chair of the AU commission, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, has meanwhile championed the quixotic 50-year vision, Agenda 2063.

The final magic kingdom Africa embarked on over the last five decades has been cultural equality. Martinique’s Aimé Césaire and Senegal’s Léopold Senghor were early poets of négritude, which glorified black culture and affirmed the worth and dignity of black people across the globe. The Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s was an era of incredible artistic creativity that produced great poets like Langston Hughes, much quoted by a more contemporary prophet of Africa's Renaissance, Thabo Mbeki. Tanzania's Philosopher-King, Julius Nyerere, famously translated Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar into Swahili in 1963 to prove that an African language could carry a classic Western tragedy.

The post-independence era also produced six Nobel literature laureates from Africa and its diaspora: Nigeria’s Wole Soyinka, Egypt’s Naguib Mahfouz; South Africa’s Nadine Gordimer and JM Coetzee; St Lucia’s Derek Walcott; and America’s Toni Morrison.

In the world of cinema, Denzel Washington brought the life and times of martyred hero Steve Biko to a global audience; Haitian-American director Raoul Peck produced tragic tales on Patrice Lumumba and on the Rwandan genocide (Sometimes in April); the SA film Tsotsi won the best foreign film Oscar; Forrest Whitaker gave a nuanced Oscar-winning portrayal of Uganda’s Idi Amin (The Last King of Scotland); while Nigerian-Briton Chiwetel Ejiofor and Oscar-winning Kenyan Lupita Nyong’o teamed up with Grenadian-Trinidadian British director Steve McQueen to produce the Oscar-winning best film, 12 Years A Slave. If more diaspora directors could make films about Africa with genuine characters for a global audience, it would probably do more to change negative media stereotypes about the continent than any other act.

We end this griot’s tale with the phenomenon of Nigeria’s prolific film industry, “Nollywood”. The $5bn (about R80bn) industry employs about 1 million people and makes over 2 000 films a year: more than Hollywood, and second only to Bollywood. In actualising Nkrumah’s dream of an African personality on the global stage, Nollywood may be leading the way to the first authentically Pan-African cinema.

* Adebajo is executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution, Cape Town, and visiting professor at the University of Johannesburg. He is the author of Thabo Mbeki: Africa’s Philosopher-King (Jacana, 2016).

** The views expressed her are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

The Sunday Independent

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