Pan-Africanism is an ideology that recognizes the struggles of all people of African descent as one. As a movement, it advocated for the unification of all Black people, and in its early beginnings, the independence of African countries and tackling inequality in the West.
Pan-Africanism first took shape in the mid-19th century as two African-Americans, Martin Delany and Alexander Crummel, and West Indian Edward Blyden, came up with the idea that African-Americans should return to their homeland to create their own nation and “civilize” those who lived there. Later, in the early 20th century, W.E.B DuBois, one of the most prominent scholars in Africa at the time, made the famous statement, “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line”. DuBois turned the American “Negro Problem” into one that Blacks on both sides of the Atlantic could identify with, as Africans dealt with the growing pains of colonization.
Marcus Garvey, the founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, planned to transport African-Americans back to Africa on the Black Star Line, a ship as well as a method to spread Black businesses. His plan ultimately failed. Several others also contributed to Pan-Africanist thought in the years between the 1920’s and the 1940’s.
Africans started to take over the movement in the late 40’s, led by Ghana’s first president Kwame Nkrumah, who pushed his country to independence in 1957. This was the first African country to gain freedom from European rule and was applauded by Africans in the West.
By the late 1960s, Pan-Africanism took on a new form in the Black Power movement of the United States, which prompted African-Americans to embrace their African roots and cultures. Another movement that began in the 60’s was the Afrocentric movement which centered on the history of Africans and their contributions to society.
The Pan-African Congress was a formal organization that came out of the movement, the first meeting taking place in 1900. Only six Congresses were held before its end in 1974, but its successors were the Organization for African Unity and later the African Union, which began in 2002 and only represented the interests of African countries.
We still need Pan-Africanism, maybe now more than ever. African-Americans are facing police brutality and mass incarceration while Africans are facing extreme poverty and hunger. Pan-Africanism was a bridge across the vast ocean, connecting African-Americans and Africans. The Pan-Africanist theory evolved through decades, shifting into different shapes, and reaching different people. Now, we wait for Pan-Africanism to make its way back to us.