The Past, Present, and Future of Pan Africanism- Prof. PLO Lumumba


The speech was delivered in Ethiopia

The subject of Pan-Africanism is one that remains as important today as it was in my view many years ago. Those of you who are familiar with the struggle of Pan-Africanism will remember its story, particularly through the activities of Africans in the diaspora. You’ll particularly remember that, prior to the much more famous meeting held in 1945 in Manchester in the United Kingdom, Africans in the diaspora particularly in the Caribbean; Trinidad and Tobago, and Jamaica, were very particular about having connections with the continent of Africa. You remember that they had many meetings and you’ll be familiar with some of the names such as Sylvester Williams from Trinidad and Tobago, such as Marcus Garvey and his call for Africans to go back to the mother continent. You will also remember African Americans such as W.E.B Du Bois who was very active in the process of liberating the African  Americans from the clutches of slavery and discrimination and also played a very critical part in the struggle of decolonization culminating in the 1945 meeting which for the first time was attended by Africans who later played a critical role in the struggle for decolonization.

Of course, Ethiopia does stand out to the extent that it was not successfully colonized. There was limited occupation and you are familiar with that history therefore it is not mine to educate you on your own history, but you are familiar with it. But it must concern us, particularly at this time and I hope during this conversation I will be able to demonstrate why in order for us to understand the present we must understand the past which will also enable us to have a glimpse of what the future holds. And one of the speeches which is seldom referred to is a speech that was delivered in the year 1906 in the month of April by a South African called Pixley Ka Isakar Seme and it is instructively that Ka Isakar  Seme was the first president of the African National Congress when it was founded in 1912.

When Seme delivered that speech as a student at the University of  Columbia, his title was the “Regeneration of Africa” and what he was talking about at that time was an Africa that has burned the brand of slavery and was laboring under the pain of colonization. Pixley Ka Isakar Seme reminded his audience on that day that when the European powers assembled in Berlin in 1884-1885 they agreed to divide Africa into spheres of influence for purposes of exploitation.  So that the Germans had their share, if you remember the Germans were present in what we now call Namibia, they were present in what we now call Benin, but was then known as Dahomey, they were in what is now a part of Ghana which was then the Togoland ;the volta area.

The Belgiums were present in Rwanda, and Burundi, and they were also present in what is now called the Democratic Republic of Congo. The Italians to the extent that they could try to occupy Ethiopia and   Eritrea and were present in a portion of Somalia. The British were present in of course Uganda, Kenya, Nyasaland in Rhodesia, Nigeria, and many other places. The French, of course, were also present and all these powers, even the Spaniards were present in Equitorial Guinea as were the Portuguese. And the whole idea was to use the resources both natural and human of the African Continent so that the partition of Africa was one that was designed to benefit the European powers. The partition was arbitrary if you look at the nation-states that we now have or is it states that we now have, with many nations in them. Every African country that we are talking about is struggling to be a state, all of them without exception, all of them. And this is what Pixley Ka Isakar Seme was saying how will we regenerate the continent when the entire continent of Africa was under colonization excluding Liberia and Ethiopia.

Therefore when in 1945 Africans were represented in Manchester, Kwame Nkrumah was present at that meeting, Marcus Garvey was present at that meeting, Jomo Kenyatta was present at the key meeting, Obafemi Awolowo was present at that meeting and the drive was to decolonize Africa. And one of the things that amazes me is that, at that time these individuals do not have the internet they did not have WhatsApp, and they did not have the kind of communication that we have now. But it is amazing how they were communicating, even air transport was not as it is now. I was recently reading the activities of one of the greatest Africans who in my view ever lived and who many people do not know about, the Great Ghanaian James Emman Kwegyir Aggrey normally referred to as Aggrey of Africa. I read how he traveled from the United States, and went to many countries in Africa traveling by sea and talking about why Africa should be united and that was Pan Africanism, the Pan African spirit at that time.

Of course, we then went into the era of decolonization and the spirit of Pan Africanism again was one which was consistent. You had people from the Caribbean participating in the struggle, in that regard we have people like W.E.B Du Bois saying that African must be free. A little later, people like Martin Luther King Jnr., Malcom X, and Goerge Padmore were talking about how Africa should be liberated and we should work with people with the diaspora. And then the agitation was there that we must regain our independence. And famously 1949, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah says “seek ye first the political kingdom and the rest will be given unto you” and I dare say that the rest has never been given unto us. And even if it is, it is coming too slowly. It is instructive that at that time the spirit was about the continent of Africa we were conscious, the leaders were conscious that Africa decolonized without Unity will remain weak and of course, Africa is weak the weakest continent on Earth.

Is this continent in which we are, our continent so the struggle for independence was everywhere across the world, across the continent of Africa. So when on the 6th day of March Ghana regained her independence as Ghana it was then  Gold Coast. I think the most eloquent and the most passionate warrior for Pan Africanism was Nkrumah, he said on that day and again later that “the independence of Ghana means nothing if the rest of Africa is not free” and he meant it. Because when Ghana regained independence in 1957 one year later Guinea regained her independence, and a year later the friends Sudan or what we now call Mali regained her independence. They signed a pact to create what they called the African Union.

They thought at that time that, that will be Africa in her embryonic days and they invited Patrice Emery Lumumba in 1961, but of course, Patrice Lumumba was then assassinated in the month of  January 1961. And he warned, this is one of the things that always stands out in my mind that Nkrumah among all leaders at that time was able to see that if we are not united we would go nowhere. So in 1958 he summoned a meeting in Accra, Ghana of the then independent  Africa Countries and tells them if we don’t unite now then the neocolonialist is going to ensure that we remain disunited and remain small and their going to ensure that the neocolonial projects continues.

In 1961, on the 1st day of January again in Casablanca, Morrocco, he tells his audience let us unite now before each one of our leaders begins to get used to power because power is easy to get used to. You who have been elected will know once you become a minister you become used to people saluting you and opening your doors. If it happens for one month you will find it difficult when you lose your ministerial position and there is nobody to salute you and open your doors. That is how attractive power can be and he warned the people then, but the colonial project was alive and well. Because as they were meeting in Casablanca, Morrocco there was another group that was meeting in Monrovia, in Liberia that is how Africa started splitting creating the two groups the Casablanca group and the Monrovia group.

The Casablanca group which comprised, I think famously Kwame Nkrumah was there from Ghana, Gamal Abdel Nasser was there from Egypt, Ahmed Ben Bella was there from Algeria, and Modibo Keita was there from Mali they took the view “unite now” the Monrovia group comprised of William Taubman at that time, Emperor Hail Selassie was also in the Morovia group Malumu Kambarage was in the Monrovia group. They took the view we want to “unite but gradually“, let it be gradual so that when Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia convenes a meeting in Addis Ababa on the 23rd to 25th of May 1963 there were two groups already; the Pan African Agenda is already being watered down.    

 There was the Casablanca group and there was the Monrovia group, and the creation of the Organization of African Union was the victory for the Monrovia group. There were 32 heads of state, and government who met in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and I want you to listen to all those speeches or the compilation of them. There is a compilation that was made in 2013 when we were celebrating the 15 anniversary of the organization of African Unity. I listened to all the speeches and I picked out a speech from the leader of the Central African Republic, David Darko. David says that the Central African Republic is so small that if we are not part of an African Union the French will come again and they have come again.

Wasim Nyerere of Tanzania says we are not here in order to remind ourselves of how important unity is we are here to talk about the unity of Africa. The host Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, says it is important for us to realize that we must make sacrifices for the future if not united Africa will never realize her potential. But the most passionate speech given was that of Kwame Nkrumah. He tells them let us not leave here without one government, without one army, without one currency, and without having chosen a capital. And I propose that the capital of the new Africa either be located in Bangui in the Central African Republic or Leopoldville now Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo. But I’m open to any other suggestions and let us leave here once we have put together a council of foreign ministers in order to begin to work towards an African Union.

That is Kwame Nkrumah, nobody listened to him, we ended up with the OAU, and the story of the OAU can be told and retold some say that it was the toothless bulldog, others say that it was not even a dog, but whatever it was it cannot be denied that it made a contribution to the process of decolonization of the continent in many ways. Complete with the establishment of the deliberation unit of it which was headquartered in Daar Salam in the United Republic of Tanzania which has spearheaded the decolonization of quite a number of countries at that time. But the point that I’m making is that the Pan African Spirit at that time was about a united Africa. Because you will remember at that time that France never wanted to leave and has never left.

It is always instructive that when the French left they formed an organization called the organization for French-speaking countries. The British also created their own  Common Wealth of Independent Nations, but what is instructive is that the queen is always the head of those independent nations, I never understood that perhaps the presidents do. The Portuguese, of course, you know never left easily until 1980 when  I was an adult they were still fighting in Mozambique, in Cape Verd, in the Guinea Bissau, and Angola. The apartheid regime of course only left in  1994 and I wonder whether they have left. That is Africa for you, so that the fears of Kwame Nkrumah, that “if you are not united we would have problems” started hunting us. He said that if we are not united in the Pan African spirit what is going to happen is that the imperialist is going to control us. They are going to emphasize our ethnic differences and they’re going to ensure that we begin fighting amongst one another and as we do so they are going to exploit us and they started.

In January 1961, they assassinated Patrice Emery Lumumba and Congo has never been the same again. In 1963 they assassinated Sylvanus Olimpio in Togo, and Togo has never been the same again. Then there were coup d’etats, Kwame Nkrumah himself in 1966 was eliminated via coup d’etat, all his writings and speeches were burnt never to be read, never to be listened to until 1972 when Ignatius Okutu Acheampong rehabilitated him. Ahmed Ben Bala en Algeria gone, in Nigeria Namdia Izikwe and Abubakar Tafawa Abalewa gone, in Mali Modi Boketa gone, in Chad, everywhere coup d’etats. Here in Ethiopia in 1974, if I’m not wrong there was a Coup d’etat the emergence of the tegreshie. In East Africa, Uganda coup d’etat, and mutinies in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania in 1971, all orchestrated because we were disunited and we were weak. The predictions of our forefathers and founding mothers that disunited we will remain weak came through.  

That is the history of it, so that, today when we talk about the African continent and we talk about Pan Africanism we must understand it in the context of that history. And you will remember that it is not as if Africa never realized or never recognized that our weakness will be in our disunity, we did because regionally we were trying to integrate. In the East African Community, we were creating the East African community, in South Africa, we were creating the SADAC, in West Africa, we were creating ECOWAS, in Central Africa, we were creating the organization of central African communities. In the north we were creating the Maghreb even in this region we were converting EGAD into something in the nature of an economic community we were creating COMESA. We were aware that  Africa could only operate and operate meaningfully if we were integrated.

We are not trading with one another intra-African trade is not anything beyond 15% the lowest anywhere in the world. If you look at all our sectors and look at our agriculture almost all our African countries are net food importers. There is not a single African country that is into meaningful technology. Not a single African country produces a single mobile phone, yet the single most important ingredient in mobile telephony is to be found in the Demographic Republic of Congo, not a single African country produces a car other than assembling completely knock-down kits. There is no meaningful production of pharmaceutical products in Africa and if there was any doubt COVID exposed it all. African countries the 55 of them are waiting to either receive Zeneca from China, sputnik from Russia, AstraZeneca, Johnson or Modena, and we don’t even know what they are because our bureaus of standardization do not know. If you ask the Tanzania bureau of standards what they are asking us to be injected with they do not know. They just believe it is a vaccine because the Americans have said so or because the Chinese have said so. 

Africa is weak so that, even this magnificent edifice I suspect it has not been erected by Ethiopian engineers, when I see the signage in Chinese I suspected its the Chinese. That is how weak we are, that is the reality of our mother continent. It is because we are politically weak, were are economically weak, socially we are disorganized, culturally, and spiritually we are confused. That is the continent in which we are today and the question therefore what would we do continentally in terms of trade in 1980 under the Lagos Plan of Action? Some of you have been ambassadors, and some of you are now serving cabinet ministers, you will grapple with this on a daily basis. Under the Lagos Plan of Action Africa sat down in Lagos and said we are going to improve trade amongst ourselves.

The 1980 Lagos plan of action did we do it? No, we did not do it. We did not do it because the European Union was instead engaging us under African Caribean, the Lome convention of 1975, or the Cotonou of 2000, Africa remains the only continent which is described as Anglophone in Kenya or Uganda we are possible only 20% that speak the English language we are Anglophone. In former French colonies they are Francophones, former Portuguese colonies they are lusophones, in the same Arab counties they are arabophones, that is who we are so.  

When the OAU met in 2013 they asked the question what happened to the Pan African spirit? And when therefore they met in Sirte in Lybia under the tutelage of  Muammar Gaddafi. It was revolved in 1999 that OAU be renamed and be referred to as the  African Union. And it was relaunched as you know in Durban South Africa in the year 2000. But one of the most important things in 2013 was the speech of the then chairman of the OAU council Nkosazan Dlamini-Zuma here in Adis Ababa in Ethiopia. I want you to read that later which I will paraphrase in which she writes an imaginary letter to Kwame Nkrumah. He tells and apologizes to Kwame telling Kwame we apologize to you because we did not listen to you we are weak because we did not listen to you. We are divided into 54 or 55 independent states depending on whether the Morrocos agree that the Sahara is a country.

Nobody cares about us, and brothers and sisters if you want to know how weak we are and we are weak, look at how we are treated. Last month the world met in New York for the general assembly, when African heads of state and governments are speaking the hall is empty nobody bothers because they are saying nothing. Even if they are saying something, it is something that can be ignored. Compare when an African head of state is speaking and when the Prime Minister of little Israel is speaking they will listen. Because we are weak and disunited, so we have a weak continent because the spirit of Pan Africanism disappeared so the question that we can ask is what is the state of Pan Africanism as we speak today.


 The African Union which is weak says the right things and does the wrong things nine out of ten times. What are the critical areas in which we are weak? We are weak politically because nobody listens to us. On the 6th day of March 1997, Mwalimu Julius Kambarage of Tanzania speaking in Accra Ghana on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of the independence of Ghana said the speech is entitled we unite or we perish and Mwalimu says I want to apologize to Kwame Nkrumah, those of us who believed in gradualism were wrong Nkrumah was right. But Nkrumah also did not appreciate the level of suspicion that existed among the leaders at that time, our generations he says fought for the liberation of Africa it is the duty of the new generation to carry the torch forward he says in his plea.

He says that I do not believe that the tribe can be the basis of mobilization in Africa and he said as  I travel across the world, people do not care about our Tanzanianess or our Ghanaianess or our Kenyaness or our Ethiopianess in their eyes we are all Africans. And perhaps that is what we should use as the building block in other to talk about African Unity. But we are not being naive about that unity because sometimes when we talk about Pan Africanism and about  African Unity people think we are being too simplistic about it. No, it is not being simplistic and being naive, it is recognizing that as long as we remain the way we are then Africa in the next 25 years will be recolonized. Do you know what is the state of Africa as we speak now, what is the state of your continent as we speak now?

Because of our disunity, because when we are disunited then it is good for Europe and America, and China progressively, look at the state of your continent. As I speak, conflicts of one kind or another, I will name the countries for you to know just how bad it is because that is how it is. Go to Northern Mozambique, the gas that is there can not be produced because there is conflict. Go to Somalia conflict, here in your motherland (Ethiopia) conflict. Go to South Sudan conflict, go to Sudan conflict, go to Lybia conflict, go to Central African Republic conflict, go to the democratic Republic of Congo conflict, go to Burkin Faso conflict, go to Mali conflict, go to Chad conflict, go to Niger conflict, got to Cameroon conflict, go to Nigeria conflict, do I go on, that is the state of the continent.

So that even when we talk about intercontinental trade, you tell me can you drive from Addis Ababa to Darka in Senegal unless you’re the devil himself. Which group will not kidnap or ambush, that is the state of the continent because we are weak and disunited. I fly from Nairobi, Kenya for one and half hours, I come from the shilling zone, I go into the barely 33 currencies in Africa, none of which is used to conclude transactions anywhere. I come to Adiss Ababa Ethiopia and I show my shilling they say what is this, but let me show the dollar oh this is it, let me show the euro this is it. 80% of transactions in Africa are concluded outside of the continent in Dollars.

So you may have the central bank or the federal bank of Ethiopia or Mickey mouse you may have the central Bank of Kenya, mickey mouse, you may have all these 54 central banks useless because we are not playing in the real league, we are playing in the small league. That is why when the Chinese presence summons all our presidents and they summon them the letters may be polite, but it summons, they go to Beijing tails between their legs. And they are told and the Chinese president gives them, gives Africa $60 billion what is $60 billion dollars, Jeff Bezos has more than that given to a whole continent, that is the state of the continent. So as you have the honor and privileged of serving in the government of Ethiopia and as you think about integration that is the continent in which you are now, weak.

Two weeks ago I watched in great pain on television in Bamako Mali, young Malians celebrating in the street that the government of Mali have entered into successful or possible successful negotiation with Wagner which is a Russian masonry group to replace the French. And they are saying how beautiful it is now and I said a slave celebrating the departure of one slave master and the arrival of another slave master, that is the state in which we are. I watch a woman from Nigeria who had been rescued from the Mediterranean around Lampedusaai I will not go back to Africa even if I die in the Mediterranean I will try again and again. What is it that can make a human being say that I do not want to go back to my home? Because the natural instinct of a human being should be that you want to go home. It is because we are weak, so we are invited to  Beijing then we are invited to Tokyo, the Japanese African conference, then we are invited to Europe, then we are invited to the United States and lately, even the Arabs invites us because we are weak that is Africa now.

But let me conclude by looking at Africa in the future. What is the state of Pan Africanism? Africa finds herself in a very difficult situation, what Nkrumah fears today many African leaders have gotten used to the trappings of power, and those who speak about power write, power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. I remember in 1997 I think I may be wrong about the year, 1995 I think I was serving as an intern at the Mwalimu Julis Nyerere foundation in Daar Salem that the privilege and honor of driving with Mwalimu Nyerere in Daarsalam. He had only one guard and the driver and he stopped at the few traffic lights and only moved when the traffic light moved. And I asked him Mwalimu how did you leave power? He said “oh when I said I wanted to leave office there was no shortage of people telling me don’t leave us as orphans” it is very rare to find those in positions of leadership in Africa today who willingly leave office.

Power in Africa is now sought by hook and crook and retained by hook and crook.  Because the trappings of power are good and permit when I’m gone even if I irritate you in fact, perhaps my intention is to irritate you so that you reflect upon what I’m going to say. And this is a personal thing, I will give you an example when I was appointed as the director of the anti-corruption commission I drove in the morning in my car with my driver in the evening when I was leaving they were three cars. Mine, what was allocated to me, and another in front and another one behind me, and 12 individuals. And I asked, who are these fellows? And they said these are your security, and I said I don’t need my security, and I don’t need two cars. I only need one car, because this thing you call security is a spectacle. And throughout the period that I served, I had only one security and one car.

I say this because it is in the nature of power to make you use the things that you don’t need and once you get used to them, then without them you feel empty and lonely. You’ll find them, you’ll be told and many of you will love them. They are good, when doors are open for you, they are good, when you occupy front sits it is good. When you are addressed your excellency it is good, when you eat the best food it is good, when you have the security it is good. But it can also dehumanize you, it can also monsterize you. I am asking you today that part of the problem of Africa is that we found human beings and we monsterize them. Writing in 1983 Nigeria’s Chinua Achebe writes in a book which I commend to you the trouble with Nigeria which could have well been the trouble with Africa. It says the trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely the problem of leadership.

As we look at Africa today I hope that this administration which has now committed itself to the Pan African Movement will think in that direction and this brings me to what I think should be contemporary Pan Africans. If you look at the treaty of the east communities, it says that there shall first be a common market, then a common currency, and then a political federation which ought to have happened in the year 2010. East African communities should have had their first president in 2010 that is now 10 years later there is no such thing. In ECOWAS it ought to have been the same in SADAC it ought to have been the same. I hope with your population of 120million because Ethiopia is an Economic powerhouse potentially you know the new Pan Africanism must have an economic component of it that is how I understand African agenda 2063.

Africa agenda 2063 says that by the year 2063 Africa will have pulled up her people into a middle-level Economy on seven pillars, economically, politically, and otherwise and the African continental free trade area suggests to me that we will have broken all the tariffs and nontariff barriers. Will we be able to achieve this in the new spirit of Pan-Africanism? Will we have one currency, and will we have one passport ? We have already said so under the Kigali agreement that we are going to have one passport. Will we have one telephone code we have 55 telephone codes you move from Nairobi 254, you come here you have another one, you go to a different area you have another one, there is no connectivity in this 21st century. How can you be taken seriously those of you who are in the united states of America you fly from Boston Masacchucesst to San Fransisco 6 hours 40minites the code is one, the tariff is one the covid test in one. I move from Nairobi to Addis Ababa COVID test, if I don’t travel this evening I will be subjected to another COVID test. I go to Tanzania COVID test Uganda COVID test your nose will begin debating with you. In the United States of America, you take one covid test from Miami and you don’t take it as you go to Saint Louis in Missouri.

I’m talking about very practical things I come here and I have to go through immigration and my passport has to be stamped by somebody. In the US you don’t have to do that, somewhere in the European Union across 27 countries you don’t have to do that, in China which is of course 1.4 billion does not have to do that. Until we change all those things we are going nowhere. So that we have only one telephone code, so that we have only one currency, so that we have only a single immigration so that we eliminate all these armies. You know, you look at some African countries and they have an army complete with 5-star generals who have never even stopped a street riot and they are generals. Money goes into maintaining militaries maintaining embassies that you don’t need. You see why Africa is poor all these 55 countries have embassies if we are one the will only be one ambassador for Africa in the US.

There would only be one army with regional policing. Am I being naive or simplistic yes we can create a single Africa with a loose government. A confederal government dealing only with foreign affairs, and defense and monetary policy, and general policy formulation with a different governance system that is the only way in which these narrow tribal instincts will be dampened. But as long as and now I want to conclude if we only see Pan Africanism as sentimentalism, as a romantic idea about which we debate and we remain as we are, then this is the Africa that I see in 25 years’ time. Many Africans either legally or otherwise would break into different autonomous countries, many of them. We will have more than 100 countries in Africa, each claiming self-determination and it has already begun to happen.  Because we will be looking at narrow ethnic agenda as the only way of defining our affairs.

Ethiopia will break down, Kenya will break down, South Africa will break down and look at South Africa the whites in western Cape in South Africa have delivered a petition to the government in Pretoria saying they want to create their own country. The Democratic Republic of Congo will break down, and Lybia will break down. The only way in which we can immunize ourselves against all those things to create a Pan African nation that allows for self-determination within the nation and we must redefine terms such as self-determination. Self-determination must mean the ability of a people within a bigger unit to enjoy their culture to enjoy their tradition to speak their language, they do it on a smaller scale in Switzerland. Those of you who are familiar with Switzerland and we de-emphasize the presidency, we de-emphasize the Prime minister’s offices.

Pixley ka Isaka Sema said and I conclude with him ” Africa is diverse some people say that because of our diversity she cannot unite, she can because unity in diversity is possible. If we understand what human beings need in the nature of things, human beings need security, in the nature of things human beings need medical services, they need infrastructure. If you have a government that allows that he said then it reminds me of the piano, if you press the black button of the piano it produces some sound if you press the white one it produces some sound but if you press both the black and the white it produces melodious music and I think that the new Pan Africanism must look to that. And you who have the honor and privileged of thinking and working in government it is your duty to start that journey. It is not going to be easy, but it is an intergenerational journey play your part for it can be done, and it must be done.    

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