HISTORICAL RECORDS SERIES
WHY I SET OUT IN 1982 ON
THE JOURNEY TO CONVENE THE SEVENTH PAN-AFRICAN CONGRESS
essay was the very first document I (NAIWU OSAHON) sent
along with a covering letter to the media and several
leaders of thought
around the black world to announce my ambition
convene the seventh Pan-African Congress
within ten years from 1982 in an African
also used it as an address at several diaspora fora under the title
400 years and
still a slave, a message to the black world.
Of course, we sold you into
slavery. The slave merchants did not come badgering into our huts to drag
you screaming blue murder to their boats. They did not have to chase and
hunt you down our jungle paths like animals. They found willing
accomplices amongst us and in exchange for cheap ridiculous items like a mirror,
tobacco, cutlass, gun or a drink, we did their dirty jobs for them.
But if you expect us to feel
guilty about our negative role in slavery, you are not being realistic because
Africans, like the other species of the human race, have their own greedy ones
too. In relative terms though, only a very small minority of Africans
benefited commercially from your enslavement considering the quantities of
mirrors etc they acquired, and they were loathed by their captive
majority. Names of such African traitors like the notorious Kosoko of
Lagos still invoke hate today in Africans when mentioned.
Collectively, Africans did
not understand what slavery was really all about. Even including the
traitors, we had no idea we would never see you again or how far the ocean
stretched to keep you apart from us. Parents hoped that their children
being kidnapped into slavery would be treated no worse than we treat our
houseboys today. Houseboys or girls in Africa are slaves in a sense but
slavery to an African is like an adoption. Africa is almost a free slavery
system, more akin to the system the Greeks and Romans adopted from us. A
parent who cannot cope with bringing up a child may hand over the child to
another parent in a better position to give the child a good home. A
parent may give a child to a Chief because usually, Chiefs are well placed to
provide food and shelter through the communal tax systems. The slave in an
African home often has the rights of the adopted child.
Even now, a hundred years
after the supposed end to cross Atlantic slavery, Africans on the continent
still do not know the hell you went through in the hands of your slave
You have kept your
historical perspective on slavery intact whereas, in Nigeria for instance, the
only reminder of it is a solitary slave chain preserved as a tourist attraction
in a run-down hut in Badagry, a coastal suburb of Lagos. Ghana has more
terrifying evidence in their fantastic Castles, but Africans on the continent
hardly visit or relate to the evidence. One of the Castles in Ghana has
been given over to the African Descendants association. They have a guest
book you sign, and looking through, you see very personal and emotional comments
by black visitors from abroad to the Castle. For you in the diaspora, the
reaction when faced with damning evidence is painful. It is painful to
remember that you were sold here like cattles but for us Africans on the
continent, our memory of slavery is completely blank.
We sold you into slavery
alright but Africa as a whole was not just waiting to be dismembered without a
fight. Names of our warrior nationalists, mostly Kings and Queens
abound: Queen Nzingha of Angola, King Nana Kwamena Ansa of Ghana, Nehenda
of Zimbabwe, Anowa of Ghana, Ashanti King Prempeh, the Jaja of Opobo, Queen Idah
of Benin City, Oba Overamwen Nogbaisi of Benin City, Madam Tinubu of Lagos,
Queen Amina of Zaria, Behanzin Hossu Bo Willi of Dahomey, Samory Toure of Mali,
Moremi of Ile-Ife, Mohammed Ahmed the mahdi of Sudan, Nefertiti of Nubia,
Mohammed Ben Abdulla Hassen the Mad Mullah of Somaliland, Chaka the Zulu and
many others, gave good account of themselves in our honour. Africans had
to be beaten and dragged on board slave ships.
ships, many Africans starved themselves to death, cut their own throats with
their fingernails, threw themselves overboard to escape torture and slavery and
quite a number of them succeeded in over powering their captors and taking over
their slave ships as was the case with AMISTAD or Joseph Cinque, the son of a
Mendi King of Sierra Leone.
On plantations, Africans
continued their acts of rebellion through sabotage at work or by running away
into hardly accessible swamps, forests and mountains to continue the fight for
their freedom. Africans cursed their tormentors in work songs,
communicated with each other, even under severe restrictions, with body language
and signs, and transformed their religious inductrination to their advantage by
replacing, for instance, "Heaven" with "Africa" in Christian songs about the
joys of Heaven. Flying away home to Zion and crossing the River Jordan was
translated by slaves to mean the joyful return home to Africa through the
Atlantic. Death was seen as a welcome means of returning to Africa and
with that, African slaves conquered the fear of torture and death.
Amongst the slaves, one of
our wicked traits soon began to show. Slaves spied on other slaves to win
a lousy cup of porridge. They betrayed confidence to gain their masters
small favours but our finer nature prevailed and produced many nationalists and
inspirers of freedom in the new world such as: Blyden, Frederick Douglas, Nat
Turner, Sam Sharpe, Gabriel Prosser, Denmark Vasey, Paul Cuffee, Harriet Tubman,
Sojourner Truth, Martin R. Delany and numerous others.
Then came August 1791, when
the slaves of the Island of San Domingo revolted under the leadership of
Toussaint L'Ouverture, Boukman, Dessalines, and Henry Christophe. The
struggle lasted for twelve years, during which time, they defeated in turn, the
local whites and soldiers of the French monarchy, a Spanish invasion force, a
British expedition of some 60,000 men, and a French expedition of similar size
under Bonaparte's brother-in-law. The defeat of Bonaparte's expedition in
1803 gave us Haiti, our first independent anti-slavery state.
The revolt is the most
successful slave revolt in history and to quote C.L.R. James in black Jacobins:
"The odds it had to over-come is evidence of the magnitude of the interests
involved. The transformation of slaves, trembling in hundreds before a
single white man, into a people able to organize themselves and defeat the most
powerful European nations of their day is one of the great epics of
revolutionary struggle and achievement."
Haiti's revolution inspired
other liberation wars and in particular the growth of what Prof. John Henrik
Clarke described as "intellectual Pan-Africanism," expressed immediately then
through the building of cultural and religious ties across state
To quote John Henrik Clarke
in Pan-Africanism, a brief history of an idea, published in Third World First
Journal, Lagos, Nigeria: " In 1804, Jacques Dessalines, the Governor-General of
Haiti, issued an appeal for American Blacks to settle in his Island. In
1819, Henri Christophe, King of Haiti, negotiated for the settlement of 200,000
Black Americans who ultimately settled in Liberia. Denmark Vasey sought
the assitance of Haiti in his slave conspiracy of 1822. Jean-pierre Bayer,
who later became President of Haiti, pushed for similar emigration and the
Maryland Haitian Society was formed in 1821 by free Blacks to facilitate
In the continent itself, the
military Pan-Africanists were reacting to the so called scramble for Africa,
which in effect was the transformation of the early nineteenth century system of
slavery into the system of colonialism - an extension of slavery. Two new
European powers (Germany and Belgium) entered the scene, and with the old
colonial powers (mainly England, France and Portugal), began to spread their
control from the coastal holding stations to the hinter-land. There was
much rivalry amongst the scramblers so, like a bunch of hungry demon butchers,
they assembled around a table in Berlin in 1884, carving knives in hand, map of
Africa as their prized beef, to chop away to their heart's content.
Vandalising our economic resources beyond recognition to enrich their
homelands. Ruining our mind and personality with their religion.
Turning us into apes of their decadent culture.
We fought back with, for
instance, the Zulu wars in South Africa, the islamic or Mahdi wars in the Sudan,
the Ashanti wars in the Gold Coast and others that will last for the next
received a boost with its series of congresses from 1900. Europe
grudgingly granted some of us 'flag independence' with deafening fanfare to
distract our attention while they stayed quietly on in the guise of
neo-colonialism. Now their cartels bestride our continent like giant
Octopuses, crushing and absorbing all indigenous initiatives thrown in their
The question now is, why has
intellectual Pan-Africanism, to which Africa surrendered its militancy, not
routed our tormentors in ninety years of organising congresses? Why are
you still the underdog here and I their footmat back in Africa?
A Trinidadian lawyer called
Henry Sylvester Williams, practising in Britain at the time and married to a
white woman, convened the first Pan-African Conference in 1900.
I am aware of the arguments
for and against Henry Sylvester Williams as a major figure in the African
consciousness movement and I think being able to call a Pan African Conference
at the time ought to confer some honour on Mr. Williams. This is not to
say, however, that the content of this conference should escape the critical
judgement of history.
Mr. Williams' Pan African Conference was attended
by thirty delegates mostly from the USA and the West Indies, Its aims were
to act as a forum of protest against the aggresiveness of white colonialists; to
bring people of African descent throughout the world into closer touch with one
another; and to start a movement which would secure to all African races living
in civilised countries, their full rights and would promote their business
Our Sylvesters of the 1900s obviously did not
have a great deal of respect for Africa if they had to describe us as
uncivilized. In any case, they did not camouflage the fact that the
conference was to promote their individual private business interests in our
Actually, the opening address of the conference
was given by a white man, the Bishop of London at the time, who supported the
needs of Africans: "To be educated into a sense of responsible
self-government." Isn't that condescending?
The conference addressed a petition to Queen
Victoria through the British government protesting against the treatment of
Africans in South Africa and Rhodesia at the time. The petition, in a
nutshell, could be interpreted in modern idiom as follows:
Our mighty and generous
The mother of the
The great one without
We are not worthy
But whose mercy we seek
all the same,
Being your meek and
In the warmth of your matronly
We beg your majesty on our bended
To spare a thought, however
For those we left behind in the jungles
To which the all conquering white goddess
boys, I will see what I can do."
Do not quote this as the reason why Mr. Williams'
conference is not counted amongst our Pan African Congresses today, but I would
be surprised if other reasons are stronger.
Dr. W.E.B Dubois attended that first conference
and seems to have been greatly influenced by it. A great deal has been
written and said about Dr. DuBois. That he was the brightest star ever to
have graced our firmament of ideas or words to that effect. I am too
inconsequential to even begin to challenge such a reputation in any way.
So if you will pardon me, I will take nothing away from this intellectual
colossus. But I have problems accepting that he served me any better than
poor Henry Sylvester Williams did. I am talking about how DuBois relates
to me as an individual. I know that Dubois wrote some thought provoking
books in his life time and called four Pan African Congresses between 1919 and
1927 that set in motion the tradition that has brought me here to address you
today on Pan Africanism, and I am grateful for this.
But Dubois himself never claimed to have been the
indispensable factor in our chequered journey. After all, he admits in his
essay: Four congresses, "that he, through his
congresses, was not on our behalf, seeking control of our economic and social
life nor our independence." So, we might be tempted to ask:
what was this brilliant man seeking in our name then?
We know, for instance, that DuBois was half Black
and never tired of reminding everyone who cared to listen to him about his
aristocratic white half. Mind you, his was very much the era of the darker
you are the further down the social ladder of progress you were confined.
So, DuBois had no respect for Garvey, not because Garvey was dark
Dubois' congresses dissociated from the patriotic
Pan African posture of the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) of
Marcus Garvey, opting instead, for the rather tame tactics of begging Europeans
politely to be nice to their African servants. Garvey wanted African
progress through self development and self efforts. DuBois insisted that
co-operation with whites was vital to our struggle. In fact, the opening
speech at DuBois' first Pan African Congress claimed that European governments
were not the enemies of Africans, a sentiment that flavoured all his resolutions
afterwards on our behalf.
Whites responded by assisting Dubois' programmes
while vehemently opposing and discrediting Garvey's and banning Garvey's
newspapers throughout Africa.
But did ordinary Africans forget Garvey?
May be a little story from my past can help provide a possible answer. It
is a true story about my mother. I have never told anyone the story before
and I hope my mother would forgive me for exposing her so far away from
home. I don't know if you can guess my age but my mother is over seventy
years old and she has never been inside the four walls of any school. It
is not something to boost about but that is the position. She never had
the opportunity to go to school. She is the picture of ancient African
motherhood, the type white television thinks they are taunting us with. My
mother does not watch white television and does not miss it.
One eveining after a busy weekend of reading
publications on Dr. DuBois and Marcus Garvey, I felt like teasing my mother a
little. I asked her on the spur of the moment, half expecting a rebuff, if
she had ever heard of a man called Marcus Garvey. My mother, without
appearing to have seriously thought about my question said in my native
language, Bini; "Is that not our son who lived abroad?"
I was her only son who had lived abroad until
that time so obviously she did not mean me. I proded her further and found
that by calling Garvey son, my mother was not only appropriating Garvey, she was
showing her pride in him as a dedicated African son.
Encouraged by my discovery, I asked her about
DuBois: "I have never heard of that one," she said promptly but
I have still not been able to figure out how my
illiterate mother who had never travelled more than twenty kilometres from our
home base could relate to Garvey and not Dubois. I have not tried to
influence her on the matter since either. I do not think she knows about
my activities in the Pan African Movement yet. I am saving my shock for
when I hope to ask her in about ten years time, what she knows about her real
If at that point, my activities in the Pan
African Movement have still not directly touched the lives of the likes of my
mother, then it would be difficult for me to claim to have been
I don't want you to go away thinking that I have
no respect for Dr. Dubois. Of course, he was a great man, only that he
never managed to win my illiterate mother over to his side like Garvey did and
that is what has been bothering me really about intellectual Pan
The fifth Pan African Congress was the first
serious one in the redeeming sense. Without its bold features, the need to
continue the congresses would have been lost forever.
The congress, held in Manchester in 1945,
coincided with the second conference of the World Federation of Trade Unions,
thus enabling several trade union delegates from the African world to attend and
broaden the narrow intellectual base of the Pan African Congress for the first
time. It, of course, also helped to lock Pan Africanism more firmly into
the Marxist-socialist politics of the unionists, thereby diverting us witlessly
from our original goal of racial emancipation, to a formless, rhetorical and
tedious sing-song about the working class uniting to over throw the nebulous
bourgeois. The truth of the matter is that traditional African politics is
not homogenous and there is no reason why the fortunes of a whole race of people
should be condemned to the status of the working class for ever. A billion
virile, determined and ambitious people scattered all over the economies of the
world can not and must not be restricted from reaching even beyond the
That fortunately is the kind of positive and
forthright posture that informed the broad activities of the team of George
Padmore, C.L.R James, Kwame Nkrumah and others at the fifth congress on the
issue of our independence. They not only demanded immediate independence
for all African countries, they threatened to use every means, including
violence if necessary, to achieve their aims. Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo
Kenyatta, Nnamdi Azikiwe who was represented and many other potential African
leaders left the congress determined to do battle with our colonisers.
Out-break of mass anti-colonial struggle followed throughout Africa. Armed
uprising in Kenya and Algeria, mass nationalist parties in Zaire, Ghana and
Nigeria etc. This phase of the struggle led to Ghana's independence in
March, 1957, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah. Ghana's example
electrified the African world resulting in scores of free African countries
between 1960 and 1963.
Ghana's independence also provided intellectual
Pan-Africanism with its first real foothold on the continent. Nkrumah
consolidated this by convening the first Conference of Independent African
States (CIAS), in furtherance of his Pan-Continental ideas, in Accra in April,
1958. The participants of this historic conference were Ghana, Ethiopia,
Lihya, Liberia, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia and the United Arab Republic.
These were the then independent African states except South Africa which was
actually invited but refused to come because the colonial powers were not also
Other meetings followed until a broader
conference of independent African states took place in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in
June 1963, establishing for the continent, the OAU, a loose interstate
The OAU, of course, did not fulfil the ambition
of Kwame Nkrumah for a strong political union of all African states but it
opened the Pan-African ideology institutionally to non-Blacks, some of
them colonisers and oppressors racially marginalizing Africans in Northern
Africa. This is how George Padmore defended the trend at the time: "
In our struggle for national freedom, human dignity and social redemption,
Pan-Africanism offers an ideological alternative to communism on the one side
and tribalism on the other. It rejects both White racialism and Black
chauvinism. It stands for racial co-existence on the basis of absolute
equality and respect for human personality. "
I would have had no quarrel with that if the rest
of the world was a rational place but it is not so, we needed to have asked
(1) Why other races can join our
institutions and would not let us join theirs?
(2) Why we are the only race of people in
the world striving desperately to tag on to others. We
Black-Arabs, Black-Marxists, Black-Muslims, Black-Eskimos. Isn't that
(3) Whether having a union of our own
necessarily makes us any more racist than the EEC, the
Congress, the Arab league etc?
(4) If our propensity to be seen to be
identifying with our oppressors has helped to solve
our being the
racial underdogs of the world?
(5) And whether we do not need to tackle
our peculiar racial problems first before contributing
expertise at problem solving to the rest of the world? After all, charity
to begin at
Also, Nkrumah and Padmore needed to have been
asked to explain how their Pan-Continental politics was going to solve the
deteriorating problems of the African diaspora? 40% of the Black world do
not live in Africa and are, as a result, ignored by the OAU.
The overall success of the 5th Pan African
Congress blinded us to some of its not so sound pre-occupations. The 5th
PAC set off many half-baked diversionary ideas which unfortunately led to the
failure of the 6th Pan African Congress. The conveners of the 6th PAC did
not reckon, for instance, with the selfish interest of the newly independent
African governments of the time so:
(a) They let government delegations
dominate the congress,
(b) Who in turn prevented leading Pan
Africanists from participating.
(c) None Blacks, without obvious commitment
to Pan African ideals, were able to attend as delegates.
(d) The regular negative ideological
division between our pseudo socialists and capitalists occupied
(e) And, of course, University dons, as
usual, were able to use congress to enhance their cvs and show
off their borrowed
language facilities and richly tailored tuxedos.
And yet, the 6th PAC succeeded in filling a
yearning vacuum and keeping the movement alive, at least, in academic circles,
29 years after the 5th congress. More papers than ever before, were
submitted or read at the 6thPAC and a great deal more resolutions were left
behind for scholars to pore over till eternity as to their motives etc.
The 6th PAC piled considerably more library materials, and gathered more
delegates and observers, some 600 of them at one count, than all congresses
before it, put together. To the extent that the 6th PAC achieved these
feats administratively, therefore, it deserves to be recognised as a gathering
of some sort.
But did the congress touch the lives of ordinary
Africans in the streets? No. Was the 6th PAC any better than the
jamborees called first, second, third and fourth congresses? No.
Ask any African in the streets of Europe
and America about the 6th PAC and you would draw a blank. Ask any
grassroots African on the continent about Pan Africanism today and he would
think you are speaking Greek. The 6th PAC has not stopped the continued
racial rape and murder of our people in the diaspora nor has it educated
Africans on the continent, sixteen years later, to think beyond the severely
Only the 5th congress was able to make immediate
direct impact on our lives with its independence fire sweeping rapidly across
colonial Africa soon after the congress. The 5th PAC set the standard by
which to measure the success of all future PACs. The 6th PAC, therefore,
was no more than a boring charade and if Pan Africanism is to be saved now, it
must be moved beyond the constraining walls of our Ivory Towers, the deadly hold
of our narrow-minded political leaders and deposited squarely on the laps of
Professors do not mobilise
people, neither do professional hirelings. Pan Africanism is the property
of all Africans and that is what the 7th PAC is striving to achieve. That,
in fact, is what my institutionalising ambition for our movement is about.
I want to take us into the era of institutional Pan-Africanism. A
grassroots league restricted absolutely to the black race and like the Jewish
World Congress, to cause an earthquake every time it
Copyright: The Black
Agenda, written by Naiwu Osahon and published in April
1994 by Heritage Books, Apapa, Lagos, Nigeria. Several editions in
pamphlet form were published between 1982 and 1990 by Heritage Books, Lagos,
Nigeria and in the Obobo Books series for children under the title: 400 years
and still a slave, a message to the black world.
Homepage / Historical Views / European History / Recommended Books
^^ Back to top