Pan-Africanism originated in the late 19th century in the West Indies. The spark for its enunciation was European colonialism's impact on Africa and African-descended people around the world. In the mid-20th century, Pan-Africanism became a rallying cry for the African independence movements. Some elements sought a unified postcolonial continent-wide African nation.
The Pan-African movement developed two strains. Continental Pan-Africanism dealt with the continent itself, emphasizing political union or international cooperation. Diaspora Pan-Africanism attempted to bring together all black Africans and persons of African descent.
The underlying assumption of Pan-Africanism is that all African people have common ties and objectives that can best be realized by united effort. All Africans around the world have a common future based on a common past of forced dispersal through the slave trade, oppression through colonialism and racism, economic exploitation, and denial of political rights. All Africans also share a common history, culture, and social background, all of which are denied by white racism.
"All Africans" has been variously defined as including all black Africans, all people descended from black Africans, all people in Africa regardless of color, and all African states. All people working together for a common African goal based on a common African experience are considered part of the Pan-African movement.
Originally, Pan-Africanism sought unity of all African black cultures and countries. It expanded to encompass all black-descended people in the world, those who had been forced to the Caribbean, the United States, Latin America, the Middle East, and South Asia through the transatlantic and Islamic/East African slave trades as well as later immigration.
Some Pan-Africanists include the Sudroid and Australoid blacks of India. Also included are the Andamanese Island Negritos and the black aborigines of Melanesia, New Guinea, and Australia.
Colonial conquest was commonly followed by control of the native populations as a source of cheap and reliable labor in mines and on African plantations. Europeans came to dominate a market-based production of raw materials.
Europeans imposed a caste system and a foreign type of governance over the tribal peoples, and the British were notable for using the local officials as pawns. Internal developments were made to facilitate the extraction of African wealth for European benefit.
Africans fought the colonialists from early on. Discontent with the system and dislike of the colonialists led to efforts to unify Africans for their own good. African rulers protested in writing to their European counterparts, and slaves rose against oppression periodically in the Americas and the Caribbean.
At the Congress of Berlin in 1884 to reduce European rivalries and friction in Africa, the European powers prepared to divide Africa among themselves. The race for Africa led George Charles of the African Emigration Association (AEA) to declare in 1886 that the AEA intended to establish the United States of Africa. A Pan-Africanist conference in Chicago in 1893 denounced the European division of Africa, particularly the actions of the French against Liberia and Abyssinia.
In 1900 Henry Sylvester-Williams organized a Pan-African conference that brought Africans from the Caribbean and United States to London to discuss common concerns with white Britian. Initially, the meeting sought to protest unequal treatment of blacks in colonial Britain and in Britain itself. Speakers also spoke of the need to preserve the dignity of African peoples and to educate them and provide social services.
The conference also heard W. E. B. DuBois predict that "the problem of the twentieth century is the color line." Williams died in 1911, and DuBois took over management of the congresses. He organized the next several meetings.
DuBois, one of the founders of the Niagara movement and the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), and other black leaders were concerned after World War I about the treatment of African-American and African soldiers as well as the status of the former German African colonies. The first Pan-African Congress took place in 1919 in Paris, where the European powers were holding the Paris Peace Conference.
The 1919 Pan-African Congress had an agenda similar to that of the 1900 meeting. Africans needed education and the right to participate in their own affairs. The former German colonies were of particular interest, and a proposal was made that the League of Nations hold them in trust until they were ready for self-determination. The league did take the territories under nominal oversight but gave them to the other European states without requiring any move toward self-determination.
The congresses became larger as attendance from the Unites States, Africa, the Caribbean, and Europe increased. Reasons for the growth included sponsorship of delegates by international labor movements, which were growing during the 1920s.
Also, the black nationalism of Marcus Garvey was on the ascent. Garveyites in the United States sought African unity as well as improvement of the lot of working-class blacks. They contrasted with the elite blacks who tended to support DuBois.
The Jamaican Garvey formed the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in 1914 as a vehicle for instilling black pride and improving the political and economic lot of blacks everywhere. Garveyism also called for repatriation to Africa, the Back to Africa movement.
Garvey's movement rose rapidly, expanding beyond the United States. His UNIA had chapters in Europe, Australia, and South Africa, and his Negro World sold widely. The Black Star Line was Garvey's vehicle for entry into international trade as well as for transporting blacks to Liberia.
In 1925 Garvey was arrested on mail fraud charges in connection with the operation of the steamship line, and the movement faded. Garvey's ideas lingered on, stimulating African students in London to create the West African Student Union (WASU) in 1929. WASU brought together the young, aggressive African and Caribbean blacks who wanted political independence for the African colonies.
Drawing attention to the problems of black people in the late 1920s and 1930s was the Harlem Renaissance, the most prominent of the black cultural movements of the time. The Harlem Renaissance, centered in New York's predominantly black neighborhood, brought public awareness of the work of such black writers as Richard Wright, Langston Hughes, and Claude McKay as well as DuBois.
It also featured black artists who called for black pride and an end to racial injustice. France's African and Caribbean black artists founded the négritude movement, which stated that all Africans regardless of geographic location had a common set of traits.
Négritude rebuffed those who alleged African inferiority. It included authors such as Aimé Césaire, Alioune Diop, Leon-Gontran Damas, and Leopold Sédar Senghor, who later would serve as Senegal's first president.
The Great Depression of the 1930s and the world war of the 1940s set back the Pan-African movement. British and U.S. blacks remained involved, though, protesting the 1935 invasion of Ethiopia by Italy, for instance.
African-American organizations established the Council on African Affairs in 1937; this was the first black-led U.S. lobbying organization. It sought to increase Americans' awareness of the problems of blacks subjected to colonialism and sought independence for the African colonies.
While in the United States as a student in the early 1940s, Kwame Nkrumah of the British colony the Gold Coast (now Ghana) founded the African Student Organization. He moved to London in 1944 and joined the Pan-Africanist movement led by the Jamaican George Padmore and the Trinidadian C. L. R. James. Other members were Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, both of whom, like Nkrumah, would eventually lead their countries.
This group sponsored the fifth Pan-African Congress in 1945. That meeting brought together trade unionists and nationalists from England, the United States, Africa, and the Caribbean in Manchester, England, and it spurred African leadership in the Pan-African and African independence movements.
Independence came to 17 African countries in 1960; 80 percent of the continent was independent by the end of 1963. Many of the new leaders resisted Nkrumah's United States of Africa, preferring to preserve newly won autonomy.
The Organization of African Unity (OAU, now the African Union), founded at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, by 32 north and sub-Saharan African nations in 1963, was a loose federation dedicated to cooperation across the continent. Political union failed to materialize because Africa's new states were preoccupied with political differences and widespread poverty.
The last European colonies became independent between 1974 and 1980. Pan-African groups throughout the world continued to pressure governments and increase public awareness through the 1980s and early 1990s of the injustice of white minority rule in Namibia and South Africa.
Continental Pan-Africanism remains as a means of addressing Africa's severe problems. It takes the form of regional cooperative groups including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC, originally the Southern African Develop Coordination Council, SADCC). These trade organizations have promoted regional economic integration. They provide a counterforce to the international trade blocs led by North America, Asia, and Europe.
African-descended people throughout the world still face political, social, and economic challenges. Because their problems are similar, international cooperation and common problem-solving strategies remain essential. These approaches are the fruit of Pan-Africanism.
Critics note that Pan-Africanism fails to acknowledge that blacks around the world are not one unit. They have different cultures, ethnicities, societies, and political structures.