R. Rabaka: Routledge Handbook of Pan-Africanism

Routledge Handbook of Pan-Africanism.

Rabaka, Reiland
London 2020: Routledge
548 S.
Reviewed for Connections. A Journal for Historians and Area Specialists by
Ulf Engel, Institute of African Studies, Leipzig University

The voluminous book adds to the resurge in interest into the nature and prospects of Pan-Africanism in recent years. The monographs authored by Hakim Adi, Peter Michael Karibe Mendy, Michael Amoah and Dawn Nagar 1, to name but four important contributions to the debate, are indicative of a persisting fascination with the ideas and practices of Pan-Africanism in a changing global order.

The editor of the Handbook on Pan-Africanism is Professor of African, African American and Caribbean Studies in the Department of Ethnic Studies at the University of Colorado, Boulder CO. He has a strong interest in Africana studies as well as critical race, class, gender and sexuality studies. Additionally, Reiland Rabaka is a Research Fellow in the College of Human Sciences at the University of South Africa (UNISA, Pretoria). And he has published extensively on Pan-African icons such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral, the Negritude movement, but also the Hip Hop movement.2

The handbook aims at providing an international, intersectional and interdisciplinary overview of Pan-Africanism. Following a systematic introduction into the field, it is structured into seven parts and 36 chapters: (1) on the intellectual origins, historical evolution and radical politics of Pan-Africanism, (2) Pan-Africanist theories, (3) Pan-Africanism in the African diaspora, (4) Pan-Africanism in Africa, (5) literary Pan-Africanism, (6) musical Pan-Africanism as well as (7) the continued political relevance of Pan-Africanism in the 21st century. Acknowledging the simultaneity and elasticity of Pan-Africanism as well as the longstanding definitional difficulties in dissecting it, the handbook looks into the historicity and surrounding controversies of the notion Pan-Africanism. Through the broad choice of both topics and authors the editor gives justice to the multiplicity of perspectives on Pan-Africanism; the approach is truly intersectional. In the following I will concentrate on a selection of chapters which address the politics of Pan-Africanism in the contemporary phase of globalisation and the question of what these chapters tell us about the relevance of Pan-Africanism at the beginning of the 21st century.

In chapter 25, Timothy K. Murithi from the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (Cape Town) looks at the Institutionalisation of Pan-Africanism through the African Union which was established in 2001 (in addition, in chapter 22 Kathleen Sheldon, from the Center for the Study of Women an UCLA, also briefly reflects on the important role of women in forming the emerging peace and security agenda of the continent). Murithi treats the African Union as the “latest institutional incarnation of the idea of Pan-Africanism” (p. 373) – following the Pan-African Congress’ around the turn of the 20th century, that were held from the end of the nineteenth century and into the beginning of the twentieth century and the inauguration of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) which was established in 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. However, he admits that the African Union “has only had a limited degree of success in forging a Pan-African consciousness and identity, both within the continent and among the Diaspora around the world” (p. 373). Regarding the development of the Pan-Africanist project Murithi discusses both the proposal towards the establishment of the “United States of Africa” introduced by Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddafi (which actually led to the adoption of this idea by the AU Assembly of Heads of State and Government in 2009, an initiative which was dropped after Gaddafi was killed in 2010), and the contemporary reform project of the African which is based on the proposals on “The Imperative to Strengthen our Union: Report on the Proposed Recommendations for the Institutional Reform of the African Union” formulated by Rwandan President Paul Kagame in 2017. According to Murithi African states have so far failed to forge a Pan-African consciousness and identity: “The African continent is afflicted by a crisis of identity and is still plagued by deep seated euro-centric civilizational agendas, which infiltrated and were un-critically adopted by a sector of Africa’s political and economic elite to frame the governance and socio-economic systems of their countries” (p. 380). Combined with an external extractive agenda, ongoing leadership failure is said to has created situations in which the livelihoods of the majority of the people have not improved and distributive economies are lacking. Instead of a focus on African nations, Murithi speaks out in favour of regional policy approaches.

In chapter 35, Mueni wa Muiu, a political scientist with Winston-Salem State University NC, discusses “The contemporary relevance of Pan-Africanism in the 21st century”. In contrast to Murithi, this chapter is not based on a sound interrogation of institutional and political dynamics of the OAU/AU. Wa Muiu elaborates on a “radical” version of Pan-Africanism along the lines of Nkrumah or Gaddafi, calling for the elimination of colonial borders, free movement of people and unity throughout – without really detailing relating debates, real-life challenges and opportunities. Sounds a little bit like what could be called armchair or salon Pan-Africanism. And in the final chapter Guy Martin, a senior colleague of wa Muiu’s at Winston-Salem State who has written a number of important books on the topic of political Pan Africanism 3, takes up the debate on Pan-Africanism and African Unity. The chapter serves as conclusion and way forward chapter for the edited collection. Martin recaps the history of “radical” and “functional” Pan-Africanism in the history of the OAU/AU – from Kwame Nkrumah’s seminal book Africa Must Unite (Heineman, 1963) and the socialist Casablanca group of states with their vision of African unity to the gradualist approaches which at the end of the day guided the establishment and development of the OAU. Yet he also draws on the utopian Fundi wa Afrika, a vision of African unity Guy Martin and Mueni wa Muiu have developed together (Palgrave, 2009): It is based on the formation of five sub-regional political entities (Mali, Kimit, Kush, Kongo and Zimbabwe) that form a Federation of African States with a federal capital (Napata) and a rotating presidency. On the immediate way forward, Martin concludes that the inclusion of the African diaspora as the sixth region of the African continent (in addition to the five regions defined by the African Union: North Africa, West Africa, Central Africa, East Africa and Southern Africa), could be the next and final stage of the Pan-Africanist project in practice. This is building on concrete policies which repeatedly have gained currency in the history of the OAU/AU – through cultural congresses, festivals, institutes and not least the (by and large irrelevant) Pan-African Parliament which seems to represent both the hopes, but also the (sad) political realities of Pan-Africanism at the same time.

In a recent article Rita Abrahamsen, the Director of the Centre for International Policy Studies in Ottawa, has suggested that Pan-Africanism informs and legitimises diverse political agendas when it comes to questions of revived multilateralism or narrow nativism and sovereigntism.4 Rabaka’s great Handbook on Pan-Africanism indeed confirms this observation and offers plenty of reflective insights into the history, diversity and continued relevance, but also contestation, of various forms of political and cultural Pan-Africanism. The Handbook constitutes an important background reading to ongoing political debates about the imminent institutional reform of the African Union, and its embeddedness.

1 Hakim Adi: Pan-Africanism. A History, London 2018; Peter Michael Karibe Mendy, Amílcar Cabral. A Nationalist and Pan-Africanist Revolutionary, Athens, OH 2019; Michael Amoah, The New Pan-Africanism. Globalism and the Nation State in Africa, London 2019; Dawn Nagar, Politics and Pan-Africanism. Diplomacy, Regional Economies and Peace-Building in Contemporary Africa, London 2020.
2 See his list of publications at: https://www.colorado.edu/ethnicstudies/people/core-faculty/reiland-rabaka
3 Including African Political Thought (Palgrave, 2012) and Africa in World Politics. A Pan-African Perspective (Africa World Press, 2002).
4 See Rita Abramsen, Internationalists, Sovereigntists, Nativists. Contending Visions of World Order in Pan-Africanism, in: Review of International Studies 46 (2020) 1, pp: 56–74.

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