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Blood is thicker than water: it is rare for an African president to visit the Caribbean, yet blood and struggle are the ties that bind the Caribbean to Africa. Lisa-Anne Julien reminisces on the strategic alliances between Africa and the Caribbean, and the contribution made by Caribbeans to African liberation.

The intention as well as the culmination of the recent visit by President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa to the Caribbean island of Haiti (on the occasion of Haiti's 200th independence anniversary on 1 January 2004), remains steeped in controversy.


The current global climate with its infinite degrees of power games has succeeded in allowing various interpretations of Mbeki's visit, ranging from an important ideological encounter of Africa and its Diaspora, to ulterior motives of political manipulations.

The former may be reserved for idealists, Africanists and those who believe in the enduring spirit of the African Renaissance. History in the making recalls it as a meeting of minds that also finds resonance in those aware of the valuable contributions the Caribbean has made to the African liberation struggle.

At the turn of the 20th century, with the slave trade formally abolished, the "Back to Africa" movement and sentiment was expressed and actualised through the lives and work of many Caribbean intellectuals. This period saw the crystallisation of the concept of Pan-Africanism with close collaboration between Caribbean and African scholars.

It was in 1900 that Sylvester Williams of Trinidad, a lawyer living in England, organised the very first Pan-Africanist Congress in London. This conference was the first of its kind, pooling together African activists from Caribbean countries such as Jamaica, St Lucia and Trinidad, along with North America and African countries such as the Gold Coast (Ghana), Sierra Leone and Liberia, among others.

The African continent as well as the Diaspora, saw its survival threatened by a common enemy--European colonialism and the inherent exploitation that accompanied it. The denial and contravention of basic human rights and the lack of political rights, coupled with racial discrimination experienced in everyday life relayed the feeling that no African could truly be free unless the entire African world was free.

The issue of South Africa was also on the agenda at this meeting as the country was in the throes of the 1900 Anglo/Boer war. Intellectuals at the conference were informed enough to know that whichever white side emerged victorious in the war, the black people of South Africa were ultimately going to lose.


Financial constraints at the time did not allow for action any more radical than petitioning the British government about the African situation. The concept of Pan-Africanism also did not take firm hold on the African continent and hence, the tiny spark ignited by this first meeting was snuffed out.

The concept remained dormant until 1919 when the American activist, W.E.B. DuBois, organised the second Pan-African Congress in Paris. This Congress helped to crystallise the concept of Pan-Africanism.

The results of these Congresses was increased communication among Africans from 1900 onward and African newspapers such as the Gold Coast Leader offered analyses and news about the Caribbean situation.

Similarly, in 1912, the African Times and Orient Review (published in London), were distributed throughout Africa, Asia and the Caribbean, and one could be informed about African affairs anywhere in the world.

Even though only availed with scant technology, the need for intellectual analysis of the global African question and the publication and circulation of this information, subsequently translated into a feeling of African brotherhood that transcended the subjected limitations of the cliche.

The 1945 Pan-Africanist Congress in Manchester, England, has often been hailed as one of the greatest gathering of African minds. This congress was a joint collaboration between Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and George Padmore of Trinidad, the latter applauded by W.E.B. DuBois as "the organising spirit of that congress".

George Padmore was another esteemed Trinidadian thinker and initially a socialist; his close friendship with the great Nkrumah would affect the history of Ghana forever.

In 1934, after his breakaway from communism, Padmore championed a fiery brand of Pan-Africanism and used his journal, The International African Opinion, to spread its message. It found deep resonance with Nkrumah and the two set about taking the African world by storm, with Padmore eventually travelling to Accra to become personal adviser to Nkrumah, as well as to Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya.

The introduction of Nkrumah and Padmore was facilitated by yet another Trinidadian, C.L.R James.

James, who Nkrumah credits his knowledge of counter-intelligence to, saw a charismatic and vibrant potential leader and believed his introduction to Padmore would give the young Nkrumah direction and his political aspirations structure.

Many authors on the subject have asserted the emphasis of Padmore's role in Nkrumah's life and in Ghana's political development as a whole. James goes as far as saying: "It is impossible to understand the development of the revolution in the Gold Coast that brought Ghana, unless you realised from the start, the man behind it was Padmore."

While relationships cooled after Nkrumah's rise to power and subsequent decline, the importance of the alliances formed between tiny Caribbean islands and African countries cannot be overemphasized. The 1945 Pan-African Congress had moved its focus squarely onto the African continent and it is no coincidence that the decolonisation period of African countries began a little over a decade after that.

While much of the work carried out in the name of Pan-Africanism was popularised by intellectuals, there was one man who really took the ideology and practice of Pan-Africanism to the streets and made it possible for the ordinary man to dream.

This man commanded the largest ever following of black people globally, the biggest Pan-African movement ever, and a phenomena that the world has yet to see repeated. That man was Marcus Garvey.

To view Garvey as the grandfather of Pan-Africanism is to still fail to accredit him fully. He was expelled from England in 1914 due to the radicalism of his words and actions; and soon after his return to Jamaica, he formed the United Negro Improvement Association (UNIA).

The organisation struggled financially and in 1916 Garvey moved to the United States. He formed links with other black leaders there and by the early 1920s, there were 1,200 UNIA offices in 41 countries worldwide.

Garvey established the largest ever black newspaper, The Negro World, and built the Black Star Line Shipping Companies, an ambitious effort to take all black people back to Africa.

Many of the African-born Pan-Africanists who lead their countries to independence were heavily influenced by Marcus Garvey. Jomo Kenyatta considered himself a Garveyite; Nkrumah stated in his autobiography that during his years of politicisation in the US, the book that impacted on him most was the Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey.


Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first governor-general of independent Nigeria, attributed the emergence of his political concretisation to his first read of The Negro World. There were UNIA offices in Basutoland (now Lesotho), Namibia and 12 branches in South Africa, more than in any other African country.

The Caribbean writer, Tony Martin, believes Garveyism heavily influenced South Africa's African National Congress (ANC). Martin goes as far as saying that the ANC had an ideological make-up that was totally Garveyite, but due to the strength of the modern-day relationship between the ANC and the Communist Party of South Africa, this "fact" has been suppressed--possibly because of the inherent antagonisms between Garveys'race-based perceptions and the Communist Party's advocation of classism over racism.

The Pan-Africanist Congress has moulded the principles of its party from Garvey's philosophy, although in the context of South Africa, by virtue of itsi demographic make up, the emphasis has been on a non-racial society and the resistance of domination by foreign, colonial minority.

The black consciousness ideology of Steve Biko was also seen as a tenet of Pan-Africanist thought; a 1970s expression of a rebel cause executed by the youth of the day, but really a long conceived belief in the greatness and beauty of the black man coined by Pan-Africanists.

To struggle against apartheid on a mass scale was not uppermost in the consciousness of the ordinary Caribbean man and woman, in part due to media manipulation citing the South African situation as "problematic blacks" trying to overthrow an elected government, as well as the physical locality of South Africa, resulting in a feeling of remoteness for the Caribbean people.

Any sort of liberation literature was banned in South Africa, an indication that the apartheid regime knew full well the extent the effect of a global black resistance against South Africa would have on the minds and morale of the oppressed masses.

Still, pockets of protests were evident as the 1970s was the decade of Black Power in the Caribbean region. This fervour spilt over in the 1980s and saw Caribbean countries such as Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad take a stand and ban those West Indian cricketers who had gone to South Africa in 1983.

The year also saw the meeting of the United Nations Committee on Apartheid in Venezuela and the honouring of Nelson Mandela. Anti-apartheid movements also mushroomed in the Caribbean after the events of June 1976 in Soweto.

In Barbados, the Southern African Liberation Committee and the Marcus Garvey committee kept Barbadians aware of the unfolding events in South Africa. The Workers Party of Jamaica and the National Joint Action Committee of Trinidad have also done their part in conscientising the population about South Africa.

In 1979, Guyana's highly educated social activist, Walter Rodney, visited Grenada and gave a lecture to an Anglican school about the liberation process in Southern Africa.

Rodney had taught history at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania for eight years (from 1966 to 1974) and his teaching and analyses of African history, race and class struggles, propelled him on a mission to return to his native Guyana and take up the fight there. Rodney is best known for his book, How Europe Undeveloped Africa.

The relationship between the Caribbean and Africa with respect to black liberation is a symbiotic one; each drawing strength and knowledge from the other. The zeal and meticulousness with which Africa attempts to align with the US and UK must also be ingredients in a unity between Africa and its Diaspora.

Africans in the Diaspora are yearning for perhaps, a mythical Africa. Yet, it is a yearning that sows the seeds of an idealism; an opportunity to analyse and help provide solutions-based observations and theory but without the emotion and at times, trauma of lived experiences.

In the face of the globalisation giant, identities are being reconsidered and the Caribbean identity, propelled by calypso, steel-band, reggae and a defiance to US imperialism, is a distinct one.

Self-descriptions such as Afro-Guyanese and Indo-Barbadian are now commonplace. Yet, Africans on the continent may be surprised by the extent to which residual Africanisms are present in religions, languages and cultures in the Caribbean. If nothing, the political meeting between Thabo Mbeki and the Haitian president Jean Bertrand-Aristide, has resulted in South Africans receiving more media coverage of the political situation in Haiti--evidence of the manner in the results of a controversial alliance can positively penetrate our all-too-often insular perception of life and its inherent struggles.

Oceans did not separate the Pan-Africanists at a time when technology was at a modest stage of development, and hence the ability to foster understanding today is easier than ever.
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Title Annotation:Diaspora
Author:Julien, Lisa-Anne
Publication:New African
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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