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The Historical and Ideological Foundations of Pan-Africanism                               

Ghelawdewos Araia, Ph.D

Paper presented at the annual conference of Reemergence of Pan-Africanism in the 21st Century: Implications for Empowerments of Black Educators and Students in the African Diaspora, Friday, November 3, 2006, Central Connecticut State University    

Pan-Africanism literally connotes to all-Africa (n) movement that embraces the ideology of liberation for continental and Diaspora Africans in the political, economic and cultural spheres. Pan-Africanism has a rich but complex tapestry that dates back to the 18th century. To be sure, however, the ideological roots of Pan-Africanism are not in Africa but in the Caribbean and the United States . In point of fact the early harbingers of Pan-Africanism are Prince Hall, who demanded the repatriation of Blacks to Africa by directly confronting the State Assembly in Massachusetts in 1787, and Paul Cuffee, another Bostonian, * Quaker, and a shipbuilder, who actually ventured in resettling 40 African Americans in Sierra Leone from the United States in 1815.

While repatriation became a manifestation of early Pan-Africanism in the last quarter of the 18th century and the first decade of the 19th century, race-relations took another dimension to propel pan-African resistance. In this regard, the epitome and forerunner in the struggle for racial equality, David Walker’s Appeal, published in 1829, reminisced the glorious past of African civilization, in an effort to educate people of African descent and challenge the then dominant white supremacists. Subsequently, by the mid-19th century, African pioneers such as James ‘Africanus’ Beale Horton and James ‘Holy’ Johnson of Sierra Leone and Edward Blyden from Liberia took the lead in the struggle against racism and European imperialism. Blyden is perhaps the first pan-Africanist thinker to use the concept of ‘African Personality’ and he portrayed Africa as “the spiritual conservatory of the world.”1  

Other less known advocates of repatriation and pan-Africanism were Daniel Coker, Lott Carey, John Russwurrum, Martin Delaney, Henry Highland Garnet, and Alexander Crummell. These pan-Africanists deserve credit and it is worth making a passing remark on their achievements. Dr. Carey, like Cuffee strongly supported repatriation and was involved in its making; Coker, an ex-slave and founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), settled 88 Africans at Cape Mesurado in Liberia.2    Russwurrum, a Jamaican educated in America , was founder and editor of the Freedom’s Journal, first published in 1827.  Later, Russwurrum himself migrated to Liberia and founded the Liberian Herald in 1830 and held various positions in the Liberian government from 1836 to 1857. Martin Delaney was a doctor trained at Harvard and an ardent abolitionist. However, unlike other pan-Africanists who advocated the repatriation of the African Diaspora to Africa, he advanced the idea of Negro colonization of central and south America and the Caribbean in his treatise entitled ‘The Condition, Elevation, and Destiny of the Colored People in the United States, Politically Considered’ written in 1852. Later on, however, Delaney too joined the chorus of his other colleagues and advocated on behalf of repatriating Diaspora Africans to East Africa . Crummell went to Liberia in 1853, worked in collaboration with Blyden and published The Relation and Duties of the Free Colored Men in America to Africa in 1861.3

On top of repatriation and race-relations issues and agendas, the one great historical incident that further precipitated the pan-African movement was the Haitian Revolution, first led by Boukman in 1791 and later by Toussaint L’overture that culminated in the founding of the first Black republic in 1804 in the western hemisphere. Another great historical event that raised the political consciousness and confidence of Africans in the continent and the Diaspora and added fuel to pan-Africanism was the resounding victory of Ethiopia over Italy at the battle of Adwa in 1896.

It is against this background and historical development that we must now examine the two prominent pan-Africanists, namely W. E. B. Du Bois from the United States and Marcus Garvey from Jamaica .       

The Trinidadian barrister Henry Sylvester Williams is credited for coining the concept of pan-Africanism, but ultimately Du Bois and Garvey championed the idea and cause of the pan-African movement. Bishop Alexander Walters of AME Zion Church and president of the National Afro-American Council was a close associate of Williams. Both played a major role in convening the first pan-African conference in London that took place in July 23-25 1900. The conference, however, could have not taken place without the support and cooperation of the African Association in London that included West Indians, West Africans, South Africans, and some White sympathizers.

Soon after the first pan-African conference, in an attempt to disseminate pan-African ideas, Sylvester Williams founded a paper, The Pan-African in 1901, but it did not last long. However, other papers in Africa like the Lagos Standard and the Gold Coast Chronicle followed the footsteps of The Pan-African and carried pan-African news and views on their respective issues. Meanwhile, a Nigerian student at Edinburgh University, Bandele Omoyini wrote a book in 1908 entitled Defence of the Ethiopian Movement; in a similar vein, Casely Hayford of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) authored a book entitled Ethiopia Unbound. In both titles the word ‘Ethiopia’ refers to all ‘sun-burnt faces’ Africans.

Although he did not use the term ‘pan-Africanism’ succinctly, Du Bois embraced Pan-Negro or pan-Africa, as an ideology, as early as 1890 when he was post-graduate student in Germany, but his ideological foundation was eclectic to say the least. On the one hand, he was for pan-Africa liberation; on the other, he sought white technology and capital for its realization. On the one hand, he advocated for ‘alliance between black and white labor [class], and on the other he preached the color line as the problem of the 20th century. To be sure, a majority of white progressives founded his NAACP at Niagara in 1909, and it was an elitist organization owned and managed by the ‘Talented Ten’.  This, however, is only to critically extrapolate the early Du Bois ideological orientation and not to belittle his ideas by any means. Du Bois is a giant among African Americans who deserves a huge acclaim. He was a prolific writer on African and African American issues. His early articles like “The Negro Race in the United States” that appeared in the London Times and “The African Roots of War” in the Atlantic Monthly are towering expressions of pan-Africanism. Du Bois book The Negro published in 1915 dealt with the history of the kingdoms of sub-Saharan Africa and it was widely read by Africans and non-Africans alike along with Carter G. Woodson’s Journal of Negro History and his book The African Background Outlined.

Marcus Garvey, by contrast, founded a grassroots organization, the UNIA, managed by Africans that represents 400 million Africans that Garvey claimed to liberate. Moreover, Garvey founded self-reliant stores, factories, corporations, and shipping lines, owned and run by Africans in the Diaspora. Although the advocacy of self-sufficient economy is stronger in Garvey, Du Bois also entertained the same economic agenda. Booker T. Washington influenced Garveism at least in its early stage. While Garvey was in favor of capitalism, the Du Boisian ideology was similar to George Padmore and others who were socialist in orientation.

In 1919 and 1920 a series of race riots took place in the United States, and coincidentally the first UNIA meeting or the Negro Convention as it was popularly known took place in New York in August 1920 and was attended by delegates from 25 countries. The conference adopted, among other things, a comprehensive agenda known as ‘Declaration of Rights of the Negro Peoples of the World.’ The motto and slogan of the Declaration, in brief, was “We shall ask, demand, and expect of the world a free Africa.” Garvey also called his second Negro Convention in 1921 at Liberty Hall in New York and meanwhile Du Bois’ Pan-African Congress took place in London in 1921 from 27-29 August. Apparently, the 1921 Pan-African Congress, with its attendant Declaration to the World or the London Manifesto though considered the most radical congress, Garvey and his followers perceived it as reformist and integrationist.

The third Pan-African Congress met in London and in Lisbon on November 1923 but the conference was ill prepared and had no clear-cut conference programme. Du Bois held his last congress in 1927 in New York and this congress came close to Garvey and the UNIA’s racialist agenda in its tones and program. The participants were predominantly African-Americans, but Africans from the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone, Liberia and Nigeria also attended the conference. One of the speakers in the conference was the famous Melville Herskovits, anthropologist and author of Myth of the Negro Past.

Despite the reformist Du Boisian pan-Africanism and the radical pan-African Garveyism, however, it was the former that had more influence and ideological impact on Africans in the Continent. With the exception of Lagos where the UNIA enjoyed temporary acceptance and its Negro World circulated in and around Lagos, most of the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA) members were either independent pan-Africanists or to some degree supporters of the Pan-African Congresses of Du Bois.

Despite the chasm between Du Bois and Garvey, and the UNIA and NAACP leadership styles, the torchbearers of pan-Africanism in the Continent marched unabated. Some of these protagonists were Professor Adeoye Deniga of Nigeria, Joseph Casely Hayford (founder of NCBWA) of Ghana, and Ladipo Solanke of Nigeria. After the death of Casely Hayford in 1930, the West African Student Association (WASU) carried his legacy; and when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1935, prominent Nigerians formed an Abyssinian support association, and subsequently they formed the International African Friends of Abyssinia in London. Ultimately, this organization transformed itself into the International African Service Bureau in 1937. The Italo-Ethiopian conflict ignited a Black-White clash in Harlem, New York and by default heightened the pan-African consciousness of Black New Yorkers. All of a sudden, Ethiopia became a rallying cry and nerve center for pan-Africanism, although as shown earlier the name was associated with the Black experience as a whole; and to be sure, Garvey’s national anthem incorporated, in part, ‘Ethiopia, land of our fathers.’ Likewise, George Padmore, in his article ‘Ethiopia in world politics’4 condemned the Italian aggression against Ethiopia as racist and a conspiracy of revenge. In West Africa, major newspapers like The Sierra Leone Weekly, the Nigerian Daily Times, the Vox Populi of Gold Coast, The Gold Coast Spectator, and the West African Pilot all expressed the fury of the African people against Italian attack on Ethiopia. Jomo Kenyatta, who served as honorary chair of the International African Friends of Abyssinia, wrote “Hands of Abyssinia” in Labour Monthly of September 1935.

While Italy was determined to attack Ethiopia, in the 1930s an African Diaspora group comprised of Leopold Senghor, Jean Price-Mars, and Aime Cesaire founded an extension of pan-Africanism organized around Negritude. They were, in effect, against the moderate and conservative leadership of Blaise Diagne and Gratien Candace, and in favor of cultural and heritage reaffirmation of the African people. In turn, however, Senghor was moderate compared to other revolutionary pan-Africanists such as Kwame Nkrumah and Sekou Toure.

The legacy of Du Bois, Garvey, and the various pan-African conferences resulted in the formation of the Pan-African Federation in Manchester in 1944 by the International Service Bureau. The Federation had the following objectives:

  1. To promote the well-being and unity of African peoples and peoples of African descent throughout the world;
  2. To demand the self-determination and independence of African peoples and other subject races from the domination of powers proclaiming sovereignty and trusteeship over them;
  3. To secure equality of rights for African peoples and the total abolition of all forms of racial discrimination.5               

The Federation created a special secretariat and included the following famous pan-Africanists: Dr. Peter Millard of British Guiana as chairman; R. T. Mekonnen (formerly known as Peter Griffith) of (now) Ethiopia, treasurer; George Padmore of Trinidad and Kwame Nkrumah of the Gold Coast, joint secretaries; Peter Abrahams of South Africa, publicity secretary; Jomo Kenyatta, assistant secretary.6

The first congress of the Federation in Manchester attracted 200 delegates from all over the world, and for the first time it bridged pan-Africanism and the liberation struggle in Africa. It was also for the first time that a majority of continental Africans attended the Congress. The Manchester Congress was a radical departure from pan-Africa ideals to a concerted action for the total liberation of African colonies. Out of this congress also evolved the West Africa National Congress in august 1946 with Kwame Nkrumah as its outspoken leader.

A decade later, i.e. In March 1957 Ghana became independent and Nkrumah called the first pan-African conference of independent African countries (Ethiopia, Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Liberia, Ghana) in Accra from 15 to 22 April 1958. The first conference of independent African countries agreed to launch pan-Africanism in Africa; to promote economic cooperation; to appreciate one another’s culture. Above all, they agreed on the total independence of the continent and declared war on apartheid. They have also agreed to meet every two years, and decided the second conference, thus, to be held at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1960. African states expected to attend the Addis Ababa conference were Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Togo, Tunisia, Madagascar, Congo Kinshasa (as it was then known), Mali, Nigeria, and Somalia. But, while Morocco and Congo stayed away due to internal crisis, Mali, Togo and Madagascar opted not to go due to pressure from France and their own indifference to pan-Africanism.

The 1960 all African conference, thus, gave way to dissension and division among Africans and by April 1961 they formed two seemingly antagonistic groups, namely the Casablanca and Brazzaville. The Brazzaville group constituted Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, Central African Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, and Senegal; and the Casablanca group comprised of Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Algeria (represented by the Provisional Government), Libya, and Egypt. Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Congo Kinshasa, Nigeria, Togo, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Tunisia, remained neutral and uncommitted. Although for the most part the ideological differences between the two groups are not clearly delineated in some literature, they essentially differed in their political and economic outlooks. The Brazzaville group thought embracing pan-African socialism would keep the former colonizers (or the West as a whole) at bay and deprive Africa of the potential aid needed for development that Europeans can provide. By contrast, the Casablanca group equated Western aid with panhandling and dependence and argued instead that Africa must develop its own common market for a viable development.

But in the spirit of pan-Africanism, Africans wanted to reconcile and iron out their differences, and Senghor of Senegal took this noble initiative. It was agreed upon to form a six-state sponsoring committee, two from each group, to call a pan-African meeting. Liberia and Nigeria from the neutral group, Cameroon and Ivory Coast from the Brazzaville group, and Guinea and Mali from the Casablanca group. On May 8, 1961 the pan-African conferees met at Monrovia, capital of Liberia. However, not all African states attended the conference. Morocco stayed away because, this time, it resented Mauritania’s presence with which it had territorial dispute; Ghana, Guinea, and Mali wanted to postpone the meeting on the ground of ill preparation by the conference; and for unknown reason, Sudan and Egypt declined to attend.

The African leaders should have read Patrice Lumumba’s poem, written five months before the Monrovia conference, for inspiration and commitment to pan-Africanism. Lumumba’s poem, in part, reads:

The dawn is here, my brother, dawn! Look in our faces,

A new morning breaks in our old Africa,

Ours only will now be land, the water, mighty rivers

Poor Negro was surrendering for a thousand years.

And hard torches of the sun will shine for us again

They will dry the tears in eyes and spittle on your face.

The moment when you break the chains, the heavy fetters,

The evil, cruel times will go never to come again.7

Despite the absence of some African states, however, at least 18 African states fully participated and decided to invite the missing sister-states to attend in the forthcoming Lagos conference of January 1962. In the Lagos conference, the Dakar recommendation and the proposal put forth by Ethiopia, Liberia and Nigeria were accepted, and after long and arduous deliberations, the African states resolved to set up an inter-African and Malagasy organization with an assembly of heads of states and governments, a council of ministers, a general secretariat and commissions. This resolution, named The Lagos Charter, was a milestone in the annals of African history. Now, two camps within the pan-African movement, namely Casablanca and Monrovia existed but they were all in favor of the formation of a pan-African organization, only differing in approach. At the same time, the Pan-African Freedom Movement of Eastern, Central and Southern Africa (PAFMECSA) transcended the PAFMECA of 1958 was formed.

Africans, irrespective of their affiliation, focused on their similarities rather than on their differences, and there was a consensus amongst the pan-Africanists that the formation of an African union was imperative and urgent. With respect to this sense of urgency, it is important to recite retrospectively Emperor Haile Selassie’s speech in the Lagos Conference. This is what he said:

“We are told that Africa has been split into competing groups and that this is inhibiting cooperation among the African states and severely retarding African progress. One hears of the Casablanca group and the Monrovia group, of the Conakry and Dakar Declarations, and we are warned that the views and policies of these so-called groups are so antithetical as to make it impossible for them to work together as partners in an enterprise to which all are mutually devoted. But do such hard-and-fast groupings really exist? And if certain nations sharing similar views have taken measures to coordinate their policies, does this mean that, as between these nations and others, there is no possibility of free and mutual cooperation? …Ethiopia considers herself a member of one group only – the African group. When we Africans have been misled into pigeonholing one another, into attributing rigid and inflexible views to States which were present at one conference but not at another, then we shall, without reason or justification, have limited our freedom of action and rendered immeasurably more difficult the task of joining our efforts, in harmony and brotherhood, in the common cause of Africa…No wide and unbridgeable gulf exists between the various groupings which have been created …We urge that his conference use this as its starting point, that we emphasize and lay stress on the areas of similarity and agreement rather than upon whatever disagreements and differences may exist among us.”8  

By the end of 1962 and early 1963, thus, preparations were underway for the formation of the pan-African union. By the end of December 1962, there were at least 32 independent African states and on March 1963 Ethiopia invited African heads of states and governments to convene in Addis Ababa in May 1963. Foreign ministers meeting began on May 15 1963 and when they ended their meeting, they appointed a sub-committee composed of Algeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Madagascar, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Tunisia to draft a charter. Beyond this, however, the foreign ministers meeting did not achieve much, but it paved a way for the summit conference of the 32 independent African states. This would be a historic conference because the Casablanca and Monrovia groups ironed out their differences and sat together.

In his opening address, Emperor Haile Selassie reiterated the urgency of the formation of African unity and said, “This conference cannot close without adopting a single African charter. We cannot leave here without having created a single African organization…If we fail in this, we will have shirked our responsibility to Africa and to the peoples we lead. If we succeed, then, and only then, we will have justified our presence here.”9          

President Sekou Toure of Guinea was of the opinion that the previously proposed Casablanca and Lagos charters aimed at uniting Africans and not dividing them. At the Addis Ababa summit, thus, he proposed what he called the Charter of United Africa. President Senghor of Senegal was in favor of an economic committee and gradual unification of Africa. President Nkrumah, influenced by Garvey and the UNIA and who, for sure, read a book entitled The Philosophy of Marcus Garvey (1926), however opposed the idea of gradual unification and proposed rather an All-Africa Committee of Foreign Ministers. And most importantly, Nkrumah said, “we shall thus begin the triumphant march to the kingdom of African Personality, and to a continent of prosperity and progress, of equality and justice…” What Nkrumah calls ‘African Personality,’ if understood contextually, is simply an extension of Aime Cesaire and Leopold Senghor’s Negritude. Incidentally, although the African American writers and artists of the Harlem Renaissance in New York (e.g. Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Zola Neal Hurston, and Paul Robeson) did not expressly used Negritude or ‘African personality’ in their works, they were diligently in search of their African identity.

Finally, with the exception of Togo, whose admittance to the Addis summit refused following the assassination of its president Sylvanus Olympio, all 31 independent African states became signatories and founding members to the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Thanks to the long and arduous struggle of Africans in the Diaspora and the Continent, African countries are now completely independent and the pan-African organization, has been reformed and renamed African Union (AU), but whether the latter realizes the mission and objectives of the former and its founding fathers remains to be seen.

As the early pan-African ideology had a tremendous impact on Africa, the struggle of the African people in Africa and the subsequent formation of the Organization of African Unity had an impact on the African Diaspora too. Among prominent African American leaders, Malcolm X clearly understood the nexus between the African experience and the Black Diaspora. On December 12, 1964, he stated: “When the African continent in its independence is able to create the unity that’s necessary to increase its strength and its position on this earth, so that Africa too becomes respected as other huge continents are respected, then, wherever people of African origin, African heritage or African blood go, they will be respected – but only when and because they have something much larger that looks like them behind them.”10    

Notes and bibliography

  1. J. Ayodele Langley, Pan-Africanism and Nationalism in West Africa, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1973, p. 8
  2. Ghelawdewos Araia, LIBERIA: Rebirth of a Nation, Vol. 6, No. 3, 1997
  3. J. Ayodele Langley, Pan-Africanism and Nationalism in West Africa, Ibid, p. 20
  4. Crisis, lxii, no. 5 (May 1935), p. 139, quoted in Ayodele Langley
  5. Adenkule Ajala, Pan-Africanism: Evolution, Progress, and Prospect, Andre Deutsch, 1974, p. 10
  6. Adenkule Ajala, Ibid, p. 10
  7. Adenkule Ajala, Ibid, p. 131; reproduced from the West African Pilot, Lagos, 6 May 1961
  8. Addis Ababa Summit 1963, Publication and Foreign Language Press Dept, Ministry of Information; quoted in Adenkule Ajala, Ibid, p. 48
  9. Adenkule Ajala, Ibid, p. 53
  10. Sis. Marpessa Kupendua, “Africans on the Move,” Nkrumaist, 19 February, 1998

* Some historians contend that Paul Cuffee is originally from Rhode Island

Other relevant sources for Pan-Africanism:


  1. Ghelawdewos Araia, “What is Wrong with Afrocentrism?” African Link, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1997
  2. Ghelawdewos Araia, “The Philosophical and Historical Roots of Racism,” African Link, Vol. 8, No. 3, Third Quarter, 1999
  3. Ghelawdewos Araia, “Tribute to Julius Kambarage Nyerere,” African Link, Vol. 8, No. 4, Fourth Quarter, 1999
  4. Ghelawdewos Araia, “Shades of Black and White: Conflict and Collaboration Between Two Communities,” African Link, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2000
  5. American Society of African Culture, Pan-Africanism Reconsidered, University of California Press, 1962
  6. Manthia Diawara, Pan-Africanism and Pedagogy, http://www.blackculturalstudies.org/m_diawara/panafr.html
  7. New Internationalist, http://www.newint.org/issue326/simply.htm


This article is especially posted for Black History Month 2007. All Rights Reserved. Copyright, Institute of Development and Education for Africa (IDEA)Inc. 2007