Article 3 of the Protocol on Amendments of the Constitutive Act of the African Union recognises the important role the African Diaspora has to play in the development of the continent and states that the Union will “invite and encourage the full participation of the African Diaspora as an important part of our Continent, in the building of the African Union.”
“The African Diaspora consists of peoples of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and building of the African Union.” In the AU definition, the diaspora as having the following characteristics:
The AU’s commitment builds on earlier vision in establishing the African Union’s Economic, Social and Cultural Council (ECOSOCC) under the provisions of Articles 5 and 22 of the African Union’s Constitutive Act as the vehicle for building a strong partnership between governments and all segments of African civil society. The Statute of ECOSOCC, adopted by the Heads of State and Government at the Third Ordinary Session of the Assembly in July 2004 defines it as an advisory organ of the African Union composed of different social and professional groups of the Member States of the African Union [Assembly/AU/Dec.42 (III)].
The African diaspora and the United States of Africa
It is essential to address the African diaspora’s involvement in the process of continental government. As we descend into the next phase of the African Union’s summits in Ghana, critical analysis of the African diaspora’s meaningful contribution must be integrated from here on, writes Selome Araya.
‘An African, therefore…is one who by accident of history and the reality of geography is wedded to the African continent. A leading advocate of this concept was Kwame Nkrumah’ – Professor Godfrey N. Uzoigwe
The current sea of summits and articles about the proposed ‘United States of Africa’ has raised numerous discussions with regards to its challenges and necessity. While these discussions are imperative, it is also essential to continue to address another key element: the African diaspora’s involvement in the process. As we descend into the next phase of the African Union’s (AU) summits …, critical analysis of the African diaspora’s meaningful contribution must be integrated from here on.
The African diaspora are people of African descent who live outside continental Africa, having been dispersed around the world through colonialism, the transatlantic slave trade or voluntary migration. The AU has defined the African diaspora as ‘[consisting] of people of African origin living outside the continent, irrespective of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and the building of the African Union‘.
Though the AU proclaims the importance of the African diaspora’s contribution, the minimal presence of the diaspora in the United States of Africa decision making bodies sparks the question: Is the United States of Africa being proposed only for those living in the African states, or does it extend to those in the diaspora as well? Does this unification really include the contribution of all African people who are willing to participate?
The answer to these questions could potentially be the catalyst to revive the once active plea for Pan-Africanism. More than unifying the 54 states of the African continent, it could serve as the mechanism to facilitate unity and solidarity amongst a people who are dispersed throughout the world, yet still connected by their history, ancestry, and bloodlines.
Though it has been adopted and embraced by African state leaders, the notion of a United Africa has always resonated with Africans in the diaspora. The concept of a ‘United States of Africa’ in fact was originated by Jamaican-born leader and activist Marcus Garvey. He first used the phrase in 1924 to call for the unity of Africans collectively fighting for human rights, resisting racism and exploitation in all parts of the world. Garvey’s teachings helped to shape the Pan-African movement, a movement formed in part with the intent to bridge the diaspora with its homeland. The Pan-African movement was also influenced by a United States-born African, W.E.B. Du Bois.
Professor and author Godfrey N Uziokwe define Pan-Africanism as ‘a political movement initiated by peoples of African descent in the Americas, and later taken over by continental Africans, which aims to liberate all Africans and people of African descent from the shackles of political, economic, cultural, and intellectual domination’. Ghanaian president and activist, Kwame Nkrumah, and other leaders from the continent later adopted the Pan-African movement, expanding it to include the decolonisation of the African continent politically. At the first Pan-African Congress to occur in Africa in 1958, Dr Nkrumah acknowledged the extraordinary contribution of people of African origin in the diaspora to Pan-Africanism:
‘… Many of them have made no small contribution to the cause of African freedom. Names which spring immediately to mind in this connection are those of Marcus Garvey, and WEB DuBois. Long before many of us were even conscious of our own degradation, these men fought for African national and racial equality.’
The Pan-African movement solidified the need for global solidarity of people of African descent to defend their human rights. Inspired by the Diasporic Pan African Movement, Nkrumah, Haile Selassie, and others, formed the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. However, though the initial Pan-African movement included Africans in the diaspora, the OAU began to focus more on continental concerns and did not develop a specific role for people of the African diaspora. ‘While the OAU helped speed the independence of African nations, it did not reach out to the African diaspora in a meaningful way.’ This was first seen during the early stages of the OAU, where members of the diaspora were largely absent from the Pan-African meetings.
The OAU transitioned into the AU in 2001, and during this time, ’it began the long-awaited outreach to the African diaspora’. The AU verbally recognised the diaspora as the ‘6th region of Africa’, adding it to the other five geographical regions on the continent. Article 3 (q) of the AU’s Constitutive Act Amendments states that it shall ‘invite and encourage the full participation of the African diaspora as an important part of our Continent, in the building of the African Union’.
One of these attempts included the creation of the diaspora Initiative within the framework of the OAU, created in 2003 to connect people of spiritual and ancestral kinship to one another through various mechanisms. In 2006, the AU’s 6th Region Education Campaign also partnered with the Western Hemisphere Education Campaign (WHADN) in an initiative to serve as the ‘interface mechanism’ that linked the diaspora with the AU.
However, while the diaspora has been invited to conferences and summits, sometimes to merely ‘observe’, their role in making decisions within the AU appears to still be minimal. The full participation of the diaspora in the development of the United States of Africa has yet to be conceptualised and there is currently no policy to facilitate the involvement of the diaspora in the process. In addition, although the AU’s Constitutive Act states that it will include the diaspora in its processes, there have been no written policy changes. ‘Examination of the Amendment, Article ‘q’ to the Constitutive Act of the African Union reveals, however, that no such ‘significant structural change’ has occurred, stated Professor Maurice Tadadjeu in a recent address to Repatriation News. This is illustrated through the diaspora’s inability to join or take part in an important governmental body in Africa, the Pan-African Parliament (PAP).
The diaspora currently does not take part in any deliberations. The PAP states that it represents all people’s of Africa, yet its objectives focus solely on Africans living on the continent and make no mention of the African diaspora’s inclusion in or benefit from these objectives. Full participation of the diaspora within the AU would mean the diaspora having seats within the PAP. An example of how this could be facilitated is by developing a joint body between the AU and a governmental body in the diaspora. A policy report entitled ‘Building an African Union’ suggests that ‘Existing institutions and organizations in the diaspora should be integrated with the AU. A Pan-African parliamentary union between the PAP and the US Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) would be one such Innovation’.
An attempt at including the voice of all African peoples (the diaspora) in the AU’s decision-making process was with the creation of the Economic, Social and Cultural Council of the African Union (ECOSOCC) in 2002. The ECOSOCC is to serve as a consultative body and is working to bring together civil society groups, including some from the diaspora, to work with the AU. In regards to the United States of Africa, this body is intended to serve as a consultancy at assembly deliberations.
Diasporic ‘representation’ and decision making within the ECOSOCC, however, doesn’t equate to the diaspora having decision making power within the AU or its United States of Africa government. However, the ECOSOCC claims that this consultative body will play an active role in partnership with African governments to ‘contribute to the principles, policies and programs of the Union’. Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem, General-Secretary of the Pan-African Movement in Kampala Uganda and Co-Director of Justice Africa, however, believes that the diaspora’s role is not quite as active as it appears. He states, ‘Even at the launch of the General Assembly (of the ECOSOCC) the few diaspora persons there were mere observers’.
Mutually beneficial relationship and solidarity
The call for the African diaspora’s full participation in the formation of a United Africa may cause some to wonder, why is the diaspora’s full participation important and who would benefit from such a relationship?
The theme of a proposed global summit in South Africa focusing on the unity of Africa and the diaspora provides an overall response to this inquiry. Entitled ‘Towards the Realization of a United and Integrated Africa and its diaspora’, this summit will aim at producing ‘a shared vision of sustainable development for both the African continent and the millions of people around the world who share an African heritage’. The participants of this summit are calling for a global dialogue regarding regional development and integration, economic co-operation, and historical, socio-cultural and religious commonalities.
There are over 150,000,000 people in the diaspora who not only could play a role in strengthening Africa’s development and attempt at unification, but who could also greatly benefit from a united Africa. In essence, a mutually beneficial relationship would result from the diaspora taking part in the development of a United States of Africa. Revived Pan-African solidarity between Africa and the diaspora would create partnerships needed to address issues of global concern and provide mutual support as both groups are still weaning off the impact that western imperialism had (and still has) on both.
If the diaspora and the African’s living on the continent joined forces with consistent cross-continental relations, support, and inclusion, it could strengthen the entire African presence and power in the world. Empowering Africans both at home and abroad is essential in order to address the inequities and imbalances that continue to bond us by our collective experience of oppression. Through building mutual solidarity, networking, and mobilization, both continental and diasporic Africans would gain strength.
According to the diaspora Initiative within the framework of the AU, the diaspora can be of great benefit to the AU through:
As this initiative reflects, the benefit that Africans in the diaspora could bring to the United States of Africa is multi-layered. Collectively the diaspora possesses an economic power that could greatly assist African economic development initiatives and assist in the continents struggle to break from the shackles of structural adjustment programmes, globalisation, and ‘debts’. The power that the diaspora holds could also knock out the devastating choke-hold that international NGO’s have over continental crises. Due to proportionately more access to resources, there is a wealth of financial, technical and intellectual expertise in the diaspora.
The amount of resources and education that African’s in the diaspora have access to could surely help to strengthen the continental quest at unity, provide support for other concerns affecting Africans on the continent, as well as developing Africa’s human resource capacity. ‘The African diaspora can play a part in enhancing Africa’s role in the world by promoting the development of the continent. A genuine engagement by the AU with the diaspora could enhance Africa’s negotiating and resource mobilization capacity with the international community.’
However, on the reciprocal end, the AU could also greatly assist in the struggle of African people’s globally. At the Pan-African Congress in 1958, Nkrumah recognised Africa’s unity as being crucial for the human rights of Africans in the diaspora to be respected.
‘Long may the links between Africa and the peoples of African descent continue to hold us together in fraternity. Now that we in Africa are marching towards the complete emancipation of this Continent, our independent status will help in no small measure their efforts to attain full human rights and human dignity as citizens of their country.’
According to the diaspora Initiative, the AU can offer the diaspora:
The United African governmental body could also show solidarity and provide support for the many injustices being inflicted on people of African descent throughout the diaspora. This includes places like Brazil, the United States of America, Haiti, France and elsewhere, where people of African descent are suffering from human rights violations exponentially by imperialist governments.
Speaking from the experience of an African living in the United States of America, we have repeatedly found ourselves victims of human rights violations and racist oppression by this government since we arrived here. We are not supported, respected, or represented by this government and have been mistreated by the government itself. Examples of this include the continuous unjust murders of African peoples by the state police departments as well as the gross injustices against African people that preceded and followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Although there have been governments and leaders in Africa who have fully acknowledged the injustices that are occurring in America and elsewhere, being a part of an African government would strengthen the diaspora’s continual struggle for justice. If Africans in America were a part of the United States of Africa government, they could possibly have a mechanism of support to hold the United States government accountable for the violations they inflict on people of African descent. Africans throughout the diaspora could have a connection to a universal African government that advocates for drastic changes to be made in regards to the global mistreatment of people of African descent. In other words, Africans in the diaspora would have a government that they feel a part of, instead of one they are in constant combat with.
Just One Struggle
Proclamations about the African diaspora’s right to play a crucial role in the development of a United States of Africa also call for an all-inclusive definition of what it means to be African.
Whether you identify as African, Black, being of African origin or descent, African-American, Caribbean, Afro-Latino, New Afrikan, or an African living abroad, one common trait holds true: we are all bound by our origination from and lasting connection to the same land. The African world is bigger than the territory and borders of the continent. It spans the entire globe, and includes our presence on all seven continents. The linguistic, geographic, and cultural differences amongst us cannot negate the reality that we are brothers and sisters. Separated by force, we have clearly been fragmented in a myriad of ways. But beyond the borders and boundaries, throwing away visas and passports, sidestepping our lack of common languages, combating the cowardly European divide and conquer techniques, and underneath any perceived differences, we are yet roots from the same tree.
This attempted disjointing and cultural destabilisation should not be the excuse for not supporting one another’s struggles for emancipation and freedom. In this case, realised Pan-African unity could be our channel to justice on the continent and abroad.
This common ancestry has made our universal struggles and resistance against oppression one in the same. Human rights activist and Pan-Africanist El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) stated in his address at the OAU summit in Cairo, Egypt in 1964, ‘We in America (and elsewhere) are your long-lost brothers and sisters, and I am here only to remind you that our problems are your problems’. He also added, ‘Since the 22 million of us were originally Africans, who are now in America, not by choice but only by a cruel accident in our history, we strongly believe that African problems are our problems and our problems are African problems’. More than being bonded by our common African descent, Pan-Africanism was born out of this collective bond to resist these ‘powers’ in solidarity, hoping to strengthen our calls for justice and accountability. Shackled by European states and scrambling for civil rights, the only true difference in our struggle is geographic location.
We (African’s globally) are all continuing to endure various forms of oppression and atrocities inflicted on us directly, indirectly, institutionally, economically, and even under the guise of ‘humanitarian assistance’ and development projects. Whether we live in the United States, Europe, the Caribbean, or Africa, African peoples have been subjected to imperialist policies that have undermined our worth, dehumanized our souls and attempted to keep us enslaved under capitalism.
The diaspora Initiative also recognises this common African struggle:
‘Indeed, the activities and challenges of both continental Africans and Africans in diaspora continued to impact upon each other, with history as a common reference point. Those transported across the Atlantic began as second-class citizens in their new abode just as the establishment of the colonial order of the African continent relegated their brothers to the same status on the continent. Hence, the quest for freedom and social emancipation became a shared concern. Africans on both sides of the Atlantic divide felt the impact of vestigial discrimination in the aftermath of the abolition of the Slave Trade and the onset of the twentieth century.’
And so, if Africans in the diaspora are truly embraced as being African and if the African struggles globally are acknowledged as being one in the same, their inclusion in the development of a United States of Africa should be automatic, clearly defined, and truly participatory, and move beyond observer status. While there have been attempts over the last six years to include the diaspora in discussions pertaining to the African Union, a stronger presence in the United States of Africa must be actualised and written policy on the reciprocal relationship must be created.
*Selome Araya holds an MPH in Forced Migration and Health from Columbia University. She works with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in New York and is a freelance writer.