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Re-defining Pan Africanism roadmap a key challenge for AU

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Picture: IRM/OAU – Representatives of some of the independent African states participating at the founding conference of the Organisation of African Unity, May 1963.

By Adeoye O. Akinola

The history of the transatlantic slave trade involved the exportation of 12 to 15 million African slaves to the Caribbean and the Americas from the 14th to the 19th centuries.

European colonial powers further exacerbated the situation by partitioning Africa during the infamous Berlin Conference in 1884/1885. Consequently, Africans, within and outside the continent, have endured racial discrimination and economic exploitation for more than five centuries, through colonial brutality and neo-imperial relations.

Despite the symbolic attainment of political independence by African and Caribbean countries, African people and their diaspora communities continue to face socio-economic and political marginalisation at the hands of global powers, including global governance institutions.

Reflecting on the collective experiences of people of African descent, whether on the continent, in the Caribbean, or within the diaspora at large, it becomes evident that Africans have displayed resilience in the face of centuries of slavery. While there have been discussions about forgetting the past, Africans should use their historical experiences to confront existing challenges and chart a path toward a self-sustained future.

Indeed, the decolonisation process has been derailed by comfortable independence, primarily benefiting political leaders who reinforce colonial divisions and ethnic cleavages.

While colonial gradualism has instilled fear, insecurity, and dependency among African descendants, these should be transformed into resilience, inclusive governance, and Africa- driven innovation. Both Africa and the Caribbean have recognised the limitations in their pursuit of sustainable development and appear to be simultaneously pursuing nationalism, regionalism, and multilateralism. These concepts are adjudged to be interlinked; however, regional and national leaders should prioritise placing Africans at the centre of policies and ideological inclinations rather than navigating between confusing ideologies.

Additionally, an outward-looking economic development perspective and a “blame your neighbour” ideology have hindered progress. Small and underdeveloped economies in Africa are still being denied the opportunity for self-determination and are instead utilised solely for resource extractions and dumping grounds for inferior goods and services, including “used clothes”.

To achieve progress, a focus on an Africa-centric development agenda is crucial. Institutions of governance should exhibit greater unity and solidarity in pursuing a common agenda. Just as the European Union (EU) continues to shape important discussions in Europe, the African Union (AU) and Caribbean Community (Caricom) must take the lead in defining the trajectory of African states and their people, both within the continent and globally.

National leaders also have a share of responsibilities. Reclaiming African identity and humanity lies at the core of the rebirth process. The past may be gone, but African leaders can reclaim the violated aspects of African humanity by rejecting all forms of foreign abuse and interference and, implementing sound developmental policies and inclusive governance, which will eliminate structural violence and other ills confronting the African child.

Unlike Africa, where all states have achieved political independence (either real or symbolic), colonialism persists in the Caribbean with about six territories still considered British Overseas Territories.

Why are there still wars and violent conflicts in Africa? Why is Haiti still in distress? Why is there still gross inequality between the global North and the global South?

Geographical factors, such as the distance between Caribbean countries, pose challenges to conventional regional integration. Other obstacles include size differences, language barriers, inventory management, economic development, trade, market development, distribution and transportation, and energy security. Despite these challenges, the potential for deeper relations between Africa and the Caribbean should not be overshadowed.

Unfortunately, developing countries have been overshadowed by global distractions, liberal and illiberal templates, and agendas that hinder regional progress and self-sufficiency. Many national leaders have been denied internal and external sovereignty due to foreign interference, including the manipulative influence of multinational corporations rapidly penetrating Africa.

Disruptions in the global economy or global economic crises often create opportunities for peripheral economies to specialise, innovate, and transform. Although the 2008 global economic recession and the Covid-19 pandemic have had a more detrimental impact on developing countries, Africa and the Caribbean need to explore gaps in the existing international economy to their advantage.

The Russian-Ukraine war has also created space for these regions to assert themselves in the global socio-economic order, yet Africa and the Caribbean seem hesitant to leverage their potential.

Apart from economies in East Asia, most developing countries, including Africa and the Caribbean, struggle to effectively compete in the global economy, despite their enormous mineral resources. Therefore, there is an urgent need to advance the case for innovation governance, moving beyond mere discussion of innovation policy. Innovation and policies must be embedded within effective governance frameworks. Unfortunately, both Africa and the Caribbean have grappled with poor governance for decades.

It is essential to reassess Pan-Africanism and the celebrated concept of “African Solutions to African Problems”, redefine the road maps towards socio-economic development in Africa and the Caribbean and re-imagine the Renaissance of the Africans in and outside the continent.

Recognising the legacies of the past, the division and suffering through the Atlantic, and the development of underdevelopment in both regions, the destiny of Africans – whether on the continent, in the Caribbean, or elsewhere – may depend on the sincere commitment of regional leaders to foster Africa-Caribbean partnership.

The AU should be commended for categorising the “African Diaspora” as the sixth region, but continental Africa and the “African Diaspora” are still so far from relating as people of the same descent.

*Dr Adeoye O. Akinola is Head of Research and Teaching at the Institute of Pan-African Thought and Conversation at the University of Johannesburg.