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Paying tribute to prominent Pan-Aficanists from the diaspora

By Paul T. Shipale
This article follows the one written by Tendai Mwari who paid a glowing tribute to the late Dr Walter Rodney in the last edition of Namibia Today. I understand that my colleague Tendai Mwari wanted to pay tribute to the late Dr Walter Rodney in order for his Birthday Anniversary not to go unnoticed. So taking a cue from him, I thought to myself, 'why not pay tribute to all prominent Pan-Africanist from the Diaspora, especially those who played a pivotal role in the struggles for our independence, and practiced what they preached when they came to settle on the continent?' As Mwari rightly pointed out, the late Dr Rodney was born in Georgetown, Guyana on March 23, 1942 and took up his first teaching appointment in Tanzania before returning to his alma mater, the University of the West Indies, in 1968. Having been expelled from Jamaica, Walter returned to Tanzania after a short stay in Cuba. There he lectured from 1968 to 1974 and continued his groundings in Tanzania and other parts of Africa.

My interest in this prominent son of the African soil is borne from the fact that when he returned to Tanzania in 1974, this was the period of the African liberation struggles and Walter, who fervently believed that the intellectual should make his or her skills available for the struggles and emancipation of the people, became deeply involved in our struggles for Independence, especially here in Southern Africa. This Tanzanian period was perhaps the most important in the formation of Rodney's ideas. It was partly from these activities that his second major work and his best known "How Europe Underdeveloped Africa" emerged. His work was published in conjunction with Tanzanian Publishing House in 1972.

I will not dwell on many sons and daughters in the Diaspora, who immensely and in one way or the other contributed to the liberation of Africa, suffice to say that today, I will single out three of them who not only preached about Pan-Africanism and the unity of our people but literally practised what they preached when they came to live among us here in Africa. Apart from Dr Walter Rodney as pointed above, another prominent Pan- Africanist from the Diaspora was the intellectual and visionary William Edward Burghardt "W. E. B." Du Bois (February 23, 1868 - August 27, 1963) a sociologist, historian, civil right activist, Pan-Africanist, author and editor, born in western Massachusetts, in the USA. After graduating from Harvard, where he was the first African American to earn a doctorate, he became a professor of history, sociology and economics at Atlanta University. Du Bois was one of the co-founders of the National association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in 1909.

Du Bois rose to national prominence when he insisted on full civil rights and increased political representation for blacks, and believed that African Americans needed the chances for advanced education to develop its leadership. His cause included colored persons everywhere, particularly Africans and Asians in their struggles against colonialism and imperialism. He was a proponent of Pan-Africanism and helped organize several Pan African congresses to free African colonies from European powers.

Du Bois was also a prolific author. His collection of essays includes The Souls of black folks, which was a seminal work in African American literature and his 1935 magnum opus Black Reconstruction in America. He wrote the first scientific treatise in the field of sociology; and he also published three autobiographies, each of which contains insightful essays on sociology, politics and history. Ghana invited Du Bois to Africa to participate in their independence celebration in 1957, but he was unable to attend because the U.S. government had confiscated his passport in 1951. By 1960, Du Bois had recovered his passport, and was able to cross the Atlantic and celebrate the creation of the Republic of Ghana. He returned to Africa in late 1960 to attend the inauguration of Nnamdi Azikiwe as the first African governor of Nigeria.

While visiting Ghana in 1960, Du Bois spoke with Dr Kwame Nkrumah about the creation of a new encyclopedia of the African Diaspora, the Encyclopedia Africana. In early 1961, Dr Nkrumah notified Du Bois that they had appropriated funds to support the encyclopedia project, and he invited Du Bois to come to Ghana and manage the project there. In October 1961, at the age of 93, Du Bois and his wife travelled to Ghana to take up residence and commence work on the encyclopedia.

In early 1963, the United States refused to renew his passport, so he made the symbolic gesture of becoming a citizen of Ghana. He died on August 27, 1963, in Accra at the age of 95 and was buried in Accra near his home, which is now the Du Bois Memorial Centre.

Another Prominent Pan- Africanist from the Diaspora who played a crucial role in our struggles for Independence was George Padmore, born Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse in Trinidad whom after his death, Dr Nkrumah paid tribute to him saying "One day, the whole of Africa will surely be free and united and when the final tale is told, the significance of George Padmore's work will be revealed."

In 1957, when Ghana became fully independent, Padmore moved to Accra to become Dr Nkrumah's personal adviser on African affairs when he accepted Dr Nkrumah's invitation to move to Ghana and remained in Accra in an attempt to press forward his Pan- Africanist ideals During a conference in Liberia in 1959 he was struck with acute dysentery and he flew to London for medical care but died shortly thereafter in September 23, 1959. He was buried in Christianborg Castle, Accra.

Padmore was instrumental in pushing for Dr Nkrumah's idea of the total liberation of the entire African Continent. In this regard, we recall Dr. Kwame Nkrumah's famous dictum, "The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked to the total liberation of Africa."

Indeed, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was a firm believer in African liberation and pursued a genuine Pan-African policy, playing a key role in the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) with Padmore at his side as his personal adviser on African affairs.

The ideology of non-violence was very acceptable to the colonial imperialists as it did not fundamentally challenge their control of power. This is why Frantz Fanon dismissed that philosophy.

Fanon's contemporaries would remember how he railed, at the All African Peoples' Conference in Accra in 1958, at peaceful solutions and the nonviolence approach. Fanon maintained that it is untenable to have an Africa that fights colonialism and another Africa that collaborates with it (including as apologetics) as he was quoted saying in The African Nation, p.276.

The colonialists are not going to withdraw easily, he said, pointing to the situation in Congo and the assassination of Lumumba. Fanon was convinced that the unity of the African revolution calls for solidarity against settler colonialism as well as neo-colonialism and he took part in every African conference he could attend, including those held in Accra, Tunis, and Conakry. In Accra, his assault on the philosophy of nonviolence prompted many to change their position and support armed struggle even in the framework of the Organization of African Unity.

Noting that political solidarity is not enough and that actual action is needed, he supported the idea of forming an African legion, composed of African volunteers, to support the movements of African liberation.

When the Algerian revolution appointed him ambassador of the Algerian interim government in 1961, he visited Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, and Mali, all the time making preparations to smuggle weapons to southern Algeria. It is in this context that in 1963 our Founding President and Father of the Nation, Dr Sam Nujoma, obtained two PPSH sub-machine guns and two TT-pistols from the Algerian Government under the leadership of Ahmed Ben Bella, first Prime Minister of Algeria.

It is barely a few years since Fanon wrote "Black Skin, White Masks" in 1952 and the Wretched of the Earth" in 1961 and hardly a decade went by without someone rediscovering the value of "human consciousness", wrote Helmi Sharawy, who recently attended Dr Kwame Nkrumah's memorial held in February here in Namibia.

The world's situation today matches the one Fanon so aptly described. In less than half a century, we are back to the questions Fanon raised in the Wretched of the Earth. As the situation deteriorates, Fanon's work becomes as relevant as ever, especially now that we even hear the 'Anti-Owambo' rhetoric that some are advancing here, something unheard of in the past.

To paraphrase Chinweizu, frankly, I don't care what these 'Anti-Owambo' say. They are rabble-rousers and active in their chairs, which is fine; but what is not fine is that they consider their own words as holy writ, infallible and true for all time, and are hostile to the intelligent debating of ideas-which is very damaging for the country and for Pan-Africanism.

They are a bunch whose minds are marooned in the yester years and insist that whatever solutions they proffer must be foisted on the majority of the population, even against their will. Such is their peculiar wisdom. And worse, being allergic to hindsight and its benefits, they insist that they alone, being perfect, should supply all the answers to all our problems, hence their 'Anti-Owambo' rhetoric. I hold that is an infantile disorder, for only infants can believe that they are all-knowing and infallible.

If recent criticism, including mine, have stung some to start explaining and intellectually defending their ideas, all well and good. Let them think, write and publish more, hopefully not hiding behind pseudonyms with the help of some newspapers. I don't expect these die-hard 'Anti- Owambo' to accept my writings. They seem more concerned with self-indulgently preserving their cherished little agenda than with anything else.

As Taliban-like sectarians, they want only their ideas to be recognized and disseminated, errors and all. But only the ignorant can fall for this cheap gambit.

The country's interest should be upheld at all times and should never be sacrificed for anything else. What happened to One Namibia, One Nation? Why single out people's tribal backgrounds against the principles of our Parties and the country? Let us build this nation and not destroy it. Let us cherish and preserve the peace we have been enjoying for the last 22 years as President Pohamba called on the nation on the occasion of the 22nd independence anniversary to rededicate itself to the enduring motto of One Namibia One Nation and to cherish the policy of National Reconciliation.

As I always say, the use of misleading misconception of elitist rivalry mobilizing ethnic sentiments for narrow political objectives needs to be exposed and unmasked so that the drift into conflict can be avoided. For this reason, we need the courage and foresight of these prominent Pan-Africanists to fight against the tribal rhetoric rearing its ugly head in our country.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper and are not in any way connected to my position but merely reflect my personal opinion as a citizen.


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