Toward an African State
by Molefi Kete Asante
Toward an African State
Molefi Kete Asante
Abuja Conference of Heads of State and African Intellectuals, November 12-13, 2005
President Obasanjo, our host, President Wade, my mentor, President Museveni, President Zenawi, other Excellencies, honorable ministers, as you know our elder Pan Africanists and our current Pan Africanists have spent many hours reflecting on the plight and potential of the continent. This is as it should be. I am happy to be invited to give brief remarks to the sub-committee of Heads of State and African Intellectuals. As the only representative from the African Diaspora I count this opportunity significant and historic.
There is no need to repeat the litany of our Pan African and Afrocentric achievements. We all know the names of Cheikh Anta Diop, Kwame Nkrumah, W.E. B. DuBois, George Padmore, and Marcus Garvey, warriors against disunity. But now the time has come for even more action than we have taken, and we must be careful not to disparage the action that has already been taken, because we are often accustomed to beating ourselves over the head as if we have never achieved when in fact we have been at the forefront of human achievement from the earliest times. Our struggle has been long and intense for a common formula for a great continental country. It is our destiny to achieve this goal in this century.
Excellencies, honorable ministers, you have been called by history to be the bridge to our future. Africa has gone through several stages: The Time of the Awakening, the Time of Literacy, The Moment of Realization, The Period of Construction, The Time of Chaos, The Period of Reconstruction, and now we are in the Time of Consolidation and Unity. We cannot ever allow others to define the shape of our future again.
During the 150 Year War on Africa that started in 1807 when the European slave trade was supposed to have ended on the seas but did not, but when a different interest in Africa was engendered in the hearts of Europe, our ancestors experienced the time when Otto Von Bismarck led a group of Europeans and Turkish leaders into the conference room off of the Unter den Linden in Berlin, arrayed with neo-Athenian public buildings, to express Europe’s will to subdue and exploit Africa forever. When Egypt in l952 and Ghana in l957 claimed independence we saw the beginning of the end of the war. You now have the chance to make Africa great forever!
Already King Leopold of Belgium had occupied the Congo through his surrogates, under the leadership of Henry Stanley. Already Africans were being brutalized in a severe way at home and abroad.
It is no accident that in the United States soon after the Berlin Conference we reached our nadir. The lynching parties at the end of the 19th and top of the 20th century were every bit as cruel and mean-spirited as what the Belgians and their allies were doing in Congo.
Race riots broke out in northern cities of America and blood ran through the streets of Chicago, East St. Louis, Gary, Detroit, and New York City. Convulsed by the racist appeals of white vigilante groups, African men born in the United States, descended from enslaved persons, took their guns and protected their homes and families in hundreds of stand-offs throughout the American nation.
In Namibia, the Germans used the Gatling machine guns to kill three-fourth of the Herero people, wiping them out for protesting the stealing of their lands.
Needless to say, Sylvester Williams, W. E. B. Du Bois, Jomo Kenyatta, George Padmore, and Kwame Nkrumah answered in Manchester, England in l945 with the Pan African call. The various Pan African Congresses were meant to establish the framework for African unity. At another level, Marcus Garvey had earlier called for a single African government for black people.
Almost sixty years ago in Manchester, England, W. E. B. Du Bois and other African men and women called for the immediate freedom of Africa. They put their hands together in the harambee spirit to make it happen, so dedicated were they to our liberation.
25 Years ago I published the book Afrocentricity: the theory of social change, intended to give African people the sense that we are capable, with our own agency, to operate in our own best interests.
Nineteen years ago in l986 Cheikh Anta Diop went home to the ancestors.
In the meantime, the continent is still being exploited. The imperial forces have set their eyes once again on the continent and the vile and obscene behaviors of Europe against Africa are once more coming in the form of missionaries and mercenaries.
Pan Africanism is the best defense of African resources
It is true as His Excellency Museveni declared that the aim of the West is to control land, sea, air and space. One of the famous white professors in the United States, Samuel Huntington, said as much in his book, The Clash of Civilizations. The strategies used to attack Africa are the following.
1. The West questions our sense of purpose: replace our purpose with the need for external validation and approval from outside of African culture. We are made to believe that the only people who can tell whether or not we are educated are in Cambridge, at Harvard, Oxford, the Sorbonne, Madrid, or Lisbon. They tell us that we need external validation, that means, that as Africans we cannot validate each other. Thus, they urge the intellectuals of the world to compete for the Nobel Prize by doing something that advances European thought or ideals. Our greatest minds often seek the approval of Europe because regardless of what Africa or for that matter, Asia, says, it is Europe that has been made to matter. This means that the minds of our people are sick. Your task, Excellencies, is to cure our minds of this gross illness.
When we are unfree in our minds, we are victims to the West and anyone else. They are able to exercise an arrogance of will that will keep us political, cultural and economic victims. We need a constructural adjustment that will allow us to create new concepts and terms from our own sense of agency. As many of you know, I have called this idea, Afrocentric, if you will. We need a continental-wide party of Pan Africanists affirmed by current Heads of State whose only ambition is the creation of a continental government. This is one way to ward off the attacks of the enemies of Africa.
2. The enemies will attack the collective cultural consciousness of Africa and seek to replace it with outside cultural icons as points of reference. They say there is no African culture. They say Africa is White and Black. They say there is a Sub-Saharan Africa and a North Africa. However, we say that the African Union has established regions of Africa, but there is no such thing as sub-Saharan Africa as if the Sahara itself is not Africa. The Sahara is no dividing line. Black people at one time occupied all of Africa. The Nuba who now live in Sudan were in the area of Tunis when the Princess Elyssa came from Phoenicia with her small band of 52 followers to establish themselves at Carthage.
3. The West minimizes our history and traditions by insisting that Cleopatra was equal to Hatshepsut, by suggesting that Alexander was like Thutmoses III, by calling Shaka, the Black Napoleon, by forgetting the deeds of Owolowo, Azikiwe, Sundiata, Nehanda,
Chilembwe, and Chaminuka. Or the thousands of men and women who fought against stones of tyranny and brutality cast by the shadows of Europe to free our mother’s land. Here at beautiful Aso Rock, today, we resurrect our ancestors and build in the new Africa monuments to their greatness.
4. The Western scholars attack our reverence for elders; they criticize our reverence for traditions. They replace elders and traditions with youth and false merit, thus, obliterating the respect that comes from experience. In the new continental state we must find ways to protect both traditions and innovations, both the elders and the youth. We can do this; it is possible. Excellence in quality is not a contradiction to ancestral wisdom; it is actually refined by the sebayet, teachings, of the ancient philosophers.
5. The West defines poverty on the basis of consumer value rather than relational value of being in community. How can you have poverty in a rich nation? How can you have poverty in a nation where you have people who have a hundred billion dollars personal money? You can only have poverty in that situation if you define poverty as a consumer value and not in relationship to others in the community. We must introduce a new ethic in relationships as we introduce a new governance structure.
They say Africa is poor and mean by that that the people are poor in consumer value. The continent is rich.
6. The West would like us to disconnect education from society, to define it as careerism. If you cannot find a job in your career, you are unemployed. But you may be able to do something that benefits society; you could have been educated another way, but you are caught in the vise of careerism. This means that you have acquired tastes and habits based on European experiences that may not be readily useful in a particular African experience. Obviously we should educate our people to perform for ourselves the jobs that we often pay consultants to do. They are no smarter than we are; they have no greater abilities that we have, and they do not have the same interest in our ultimate victory over poverty and second class status as we have.
7. The West argues that it supports the rule of law. But we say that the rule of law must be tempered with culturally based morality. Apartheid in South Africa was legal, so was segregation in the United States of America. Law is not moral simply because it is articulated; it must be based in the proper distribution of justice. This is why we must pay special attention to the issues in Sudan, Somalia, Congo, and Zimbabwe. We must always be for justice, what our ancient ancestors used to call, maat. A United States of Africa is the most visionary solution to the minor issues of ethnicity and regionalism because in an African Federative Union we are all Africans.
We must concern ourselves with protecting the nation once we have built it, and build it we must, build it we will. We cannot promote the culture of contract over the culture of trust, and we need both. Our people should not replace spirituality with religions of materialism imported from the West or anywhere else. We must not allow abstract art and art for art’s sake to dominate our way of thinking about art that is art for the sake of community. Let us emphasize community and the promotion of community and let us create systems where we advance health over individualized medicine.
This is our way. As an aside some of us Africans have become so unbalanced and shaky in our own cultural reality that we seek to alleviate the incongruence and discomfort in our thoughts, not by re-assertion of Africa, but by embracing whiteness.
To overcome the goal Europe has of creating sustainable exploitation of Africa and African people we must be fully awake to our own history and advance the culture in every sphere all the time.
Critical Issues Confronting the Union
There are several problems that must be overcome if we are to implement a common, united Africa, a task that must be done. We will have to meet head-on the African-Arab issue. Since the 7th century AD African has had a growing Arab population. We must admit that there have been conflicts, violations, aggressions, and confrontations between Africans and Arabs over this period of time. However, we cannot allow these issues to stop the spread of African unity. Africans and Arabs must work together to resolve disputes around land, heritage, and religion. There can be no dispensation of one religion on the continent of Africa. Even as we separate Arabs from Islam it must be clear that the original value system of Africa was and remains the traditional African system everywhere. If anything is inviolate, it must be the traditions of our fathers and mothers. It appears that Arabs, who have been on the continent for nearly 1500 years will remain here, but it must be clear in their minds that Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and Morocco are African countries; they are not in the Middle East, but rather on the African continent. Their destiny is forever tied to ours, but not as masters or slaves, but as brothers and sisters with the common purpose of transforming Africa into a nation of the future. We must also insist that the invasions, encroachments, and aggressions against African people in countries like Mauritania and Sudan end. With the United States of Africa the following issues will be confronted with new vigor and energy.
1. The Refugee Problem will no longer exist as such since everywhere will be home to African people.
2. We will establish a national way to address immigrants since there will be no immigrants as such since we will just have Africans moving from one province or region to another.
3. We will have to seriously discuss citizenship ideas for Diasporan Africans.
A Pilot Project
Perhaps there should be a demonstration of Union by those countries that are ready for union. Perhaps there should be five years of action and then reports on the efficacy of the union. This pilot project idea will have to be worked out by the proper government figures. But there is no reason why this should not be done and done as soon as possible.
Keys to Resurgence
There are three key avenues to a resurgent African world once we have gained historical consciousness:
1. The Creation of the Union of African States (United Africa, or Union of African Republics) with a commitment to economic justice and common policies
2. Use of the best classical principles from our most ancient culture, i.e., Maat, for relationship to humans and the environment, including all gender relationships.
3. Involvement of the African Diaspora (Gulf States, North and South America as well as the Caribbean region) in the resurgence of Africa at an economic, cultural, and political level.
In the end, there can only be one cause, the creation of the United States of Africa, all else are deviations. We can, as Armah warned, know the way to replenish the reciprocity that we have received from the ancestors. Others have done as much.
When the Europeans met in Philadelphia, my home city, and created their union they did it with commitment, courage, and a sense of history. If the white men who organized the United States of America could do it with their limited knowledge and skills at the time, who is to say that African presidents and leaders such as yourselves, with far greater knowledge and more education, cannot create the United States of Africa. It will take men and women who have a high understanding of history, an appreciation for destiny, and selflessness, to be able to do this. It will take those who have the courage, the passion, the wisdom, and the ability to plan for posterity to do this.
I ask you, “Can we do it?” We can do it! We will do it by the grace of the ancestors and the bones of the dead Diasporans stripped from this continent, we will do it. You must do it!
Molefi Kete Asante is the most published African author with more than four hundred publications, including 68 books. His books, The History of Africa, Customs and Culture of Egypt, and An Afrocentric Manifesto have become standard works in many universities and schools. Asante is Professor, African American Studies, Temple University, and President, Association for Nubian Kemetic H