While the heads of state busied themselves with neo-liberal discourses about “poverty reduction and governance” at this year’s African Union summit, the intellectuals, activists, artists and writers focused on acceleration of the full unification of the peoples of Africa and the need for concrete steps towards a government that can defend Africans at home and abroad.
Sunday Discource by Horace Campbell
African Liberation day, May 25 2013 was marked with meetings and reflections in all parts of the Pan-African world, from Kingston to Abuja and from Kampala to Accra.
But it was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where the current heads of state held their celebration.
Many international leaders including the Secretary General of the United Nations participated in the celebrations in Ethiopia. The two-day event at the new headquarters were preceded by a week of meetings by many groups from across Africa and the dispersed African family. The reflections and discussions of these groups were very different from the communiques that came from the heads of state at the end of the celebration. While the heads of state focused on a standby force and their vision of Africa by 2063, the intellectuals, activists, artists and writers focused on the acceleration of the full unification of the peoples of Africa and the need for concrete steps towards a government that can defend Africans at home and abroad.
It was from the global African family where the activists were reminded of the spirit of 1804 and why the challenges laid down by the revolution in Haiti were still relevant, especially in relation to the dignity and citizenship of the African person in the 21st century.
Hilary Beckles of Barbados reminded the intellectuals who were gathered in a session called “Being Pan-African” that the question of reparations must be at the top of the agenda in order for there to be healing and peace in the 21st century.
The three terms of dignity, emancipation and unity were repeated and elaborated on by confident presenters who participated in a forum on “Framing a 21st century narrative on Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.”
In this submission, I want to share some of the discussions and reflections that went on at these side meetings to celebrate 50 years of African unity.
One memorable presentation was that of Beckles who spoke on the question of reparations and the healing of the African peoples.
Drawing extensively from his new book Britain’s Black Debt: Reparations for Caribbean Slavery and Native Genocide, Beckles reminded the Pan-African movement of criminal legacies of the mass enslavement of Africans in the trans-Atlantic slave trade.
From the moment of the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance (WCAR) in Durban 2001, European diplomats and politicians have been active in Africa, claiming that the enslavement of Africans was perfectly legal and moral.
Those Africans whose ancestors were complicity in this criminal enterprise argued that the matter was simply a commercial activity.
Beckles reminded the gathering that the same leaders who were selling their brothers and sisters in Africa yesterday, were the same leaders who were assisting in the plunder of African resources today.
The current African leadership remained deaf to the calls for reparative justice. The same leaders from the AU who were willing and able to place on the table the matter of the relationship between Africans and the current International Criminal Court could not whisper a word about the need to build a solid front over reparations.
The mandate of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), when it was launched on May 25 1963, was to speed the full decolonisation of Africa.
Throughout the meetings, there was the celebratory mood that Africans have been able to overcome colonialism and apartheid. At the time of the launch of the OAU there were more than 20 countries that had not yet achieved independence. Many have forgotten of the sacrifices that were made so that African states could achieve formal independence.
And yet, even in this moment of celebration, Pan-Africanists had to be reminded that the tasks of decolonisation have not yet been completed.
There are still colonial enclaves in Africa in Mayotte, Diego Garcia, Cueta and Western Sahara. Outside of Africa there are millions who are still in colonial territories in places such as Aruba, Cayman Islands, Montserrat, Virgin Islands, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Cayenne, Puerto Rico, Curacao and Saint Maarten.
During the period of the activism of the OAU Liberation Committee, Africans who were fighting for independence pressed that the status of these territories be placed before the decolonisation committee of the United Nations.
Beckles used his presentation to invoke what he called the spirit of 1804. This was the spirit of the Haitian independence struggle that conferred citizenship on all Africans.
Any enslaved person from any territory would automatically receive citizenship and be a free person in Haiti. The current leaders of the African Union were called upon to confer the same principle of automatic citizenship and freedom to all Africans and at the same time guarantee freedom of movement for Africans everywhere.
In my own presentation on reconstruction and transformation in the 21st century, I drew attention to the reality that the meeting was taking place at a moment of deep crisis within the international capitalist system and that the planning for a common currency in Africa may be overtaken by the present currency wars manifest in the competitive devaluations.
Focusing on the positive lessons of the OAU Liberation Committee at a moment when the majority of the African summit was dominated by generals, I reminded the Pan-Africanists that commitment and clear leadership can make a difference. Like many, I underlined the reality that there can be no unity without peace.
Mention was made throughout these meetings that the current leadership of the AU simply view the Global African Family in relation to remittances and the possible skills that could be useful for Africa.
In commemorating the African heroines and heroes over the past 50 years there was the effort to steel the next generation so that the present self-confidence will be imbued with new creativity to launch a leap so that African emancipation and dignity will be a beacon for humanity in the 21st century.
This is an abridged version of the full report published in Pambazuka News.