Written by Rianna Raymond Williams
T WAS the legendary Kwame Nkrumah, who shortly after leading Ghana, formerly known as the Gold Coast, to independence from Britain on March 6th, 1957 said: “...We have won the battle and again rededicate ourselves ... our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa.”
Nkrumah, the first independent African head of state, was one of the founding fathers of Pan-Africanism, a philosophy that played a key role in the efforts of other African nations to free themselves from their colonial rulers and define their own national and cultural identities.
During this period, Nkrumah was the first African head of state to promote the philosophy of Pan-Africanism, effectively leading many other African states to independence. The philosophy is based on the principle that African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora, share not merely a common history, but a common destiny.
It was also rooted in a central premise that peoples of African descent needed to be unified to achieve progress. Among the prominent black leaders who have embraced Pan-Africanism are Marcus Garvey, Jomo Kenyatta, Hastings Banda, George Padmore, Martin Luther King and W. E. B. Du Bois.
The Pan-African movement has led to huge shifts in the socio-economic and political standing of Africa and its people across the world and was central to the formation of the Organisation of African Unity in May 1963.
Here in the UK, the First Pan-African Conference was held in July 1900 at Westminster Hall.
The conference marked an early stage in the development of the anti-colonialist movement, and was established to encourage the unity of Africans and people of African descent, particularly in territories of the British empire, concerning itself with injus- tices in Britain’s African and Caribbean colonies.
Bishop Alexander Walters, Trinidadian barrister, the primary organiser of the event stated in his opening address, The Trials and Tribulations of the Coloured Race in America noted that “for the first time in history, black people had gathered from all parts of the globe to discuss and improve the condition of their race, to assert their rights and organise so that they might take an equal place among nations”.
After the conference ended, Williams set up branches of the Pan-African Association in Jamaica, Trinidad and the USA. He also launched a short-lived journal, The Pan-African, in October 1901.
Later, the development of the Pan-African Congress developed, a series of gatherings subsequently took place – in 1919 in Paris, 1921 in London, 1923 in London, 1927 in New York City, 1945 in Manchester, 1974 in Dar es Salaam and 1994 in Kampala – to address the issues facing Africa because of European colonisation.
A centenary commemorative event was held in London on 25 July, 2000, attended by descendants of some of the delegates at the original conference, as well as descendants of delegates at the 1945 Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester.
Although Pan-Africanism has long roots here in London, it has been dormant for some time and not receive the same momentum and support as it did in the 1960s and ‘70s. But, surprisingly, the ideas of Pan-Africanism seem to be making something of a comeback among 20 and 30 something-year-old black Britons.
This year has seen the founding of the Centre of Pan-African Thought in London, an initiative that has seen large attendances at the events that is has put on so far. Nigel Stewart, founder of The Centre of Pan-African Thought, launched the center to challenge the view that the philosophy is no longer relevant to black people today.
“Pan-Africanism as a movement of ideas has been dormant for some time, but there are a lot of principles and tenets in Pan-Africanism that we can apply to our lives today” he tells The Voice.
“I believe that we have lost some of those ideals, so by reviving these ideas through the centre, and making them applicable to modern society, we can use them to as a tool for our liberation.
“I’ve always loved to study, so I’m naturally curious. But growing up in St Albans, I felt there wasn’t a space for aspiring black intellects like me to learn. So, I wanted to create an archive that would not only serve as a resource for people like me, but also bring leading academics and scholars out from the university classrooms and lecture theatre, into the community to teach our people.”
He continues: “Unfortunately, there seems to be opposition to academia in our community, but there are so many academics, activists and speakers who discuss Pan-Africanism, both in the past and present, all of which is speaks to our liberation. As a way of tackling this miseducation and to bring people together the centre was born.”
The Centre for Pan-African discuss Pan-Africanism, both in the past and present, all of which is speaks to our liberation. As a way of tackling this miseducation and to bring people together the centre was born.”
The Centre for Pan-African Thought is an educational space for Africans of the diaspora to critically assess, understand and develop the ideas of prominent black thinkers, activists and scholars, both past and present, with the aim of to improving the cultural, socio- economic and political standing of the black community.
It is a community of intellects and thinkers who share their essays, videos and research on original and contemporary Pan-African theory published on the centre’s website. It also offers an opportunity for individuals to learn about history and use it to shape their future.
The centre aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all people of African descent through building individual and collective consciousness. Since launching 18 months ago, the centre has hosted a range of events which have discussed prominent issues in the black community.