African Nationalism was a response of Africans to the conquest, enslavement, the subjugation, plunder, and exploitation, of Africa by the powerful nations of Europe.
Many other countries and peoples have had that similar experience in history.
There is, however, something singular, unique, about the African experience.
Because Africans had black skin colour, the peoples of the entire African continent, one of the largest continents in the world, were demoted, degraded.
As the German scholar Frobenius put it, the “African was turned into a semi-animal”.
It entered the mind and consciousness of all other civilisations and peoples, across generations and centuries, to regard Africans as inferior beings.
Their cultures, their physiological features, their languages, their art and religions, were all considered inferior.
This was the case for all Africans on the continent, as well as outside the continent.
It was taken for granted that Africans were not entitled to any human, civil, or political rights that any other person, particularly the white or European person, was obligated to respect.
That is the basis of African Nationalism. African Nationalism is the response of Africans to the treatment they have received in the world that has been controlled by whites or Europeans.
It is important to stress that as the denigration of Africans has been a universal phenomenon in modern history, so African Nationalism has a universal aspect – it is Pan Africanism; it is a struggle for the entire Africa, and for all people of African descent.
Having suffered so much from racism, from being regarded and treated as a “semi-animal”, the first reaction of African Nationalism was a total rejection of racism in all its forms: the first axiom of Pan Africanism is, in Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe’s formulation: there is only one race, the human race.
The second principle is the desire and demand of Africans to rule over their own land, and to rule over themselves.
This means political independence and self-determination.
A major issue and factor in political independence and self-determination is the LAND QUESTION.
The masses of Africans were dispossessed of the land.
The issue of the land must be resolved.
President Robert Mugabe and his government dealt with that issue directly; the South African government has lately proposed a new way of transforming land ownership.
Of course, there must be an effective policy for the development of the land and of the countryside.
The many different nations of contemporary Africa, which were created and carved by colonial powers, must combine and form a United Africa, as in the United States of America, as the EU is a step towards the Unification of Europe.
No other African Nationalist leader left a more cogent, more realistic, still valid, proposal and plan for the Unification of Africa than Kwame Nkrumah:
“We therefore need a common basis for the integration of our policies in economic planning, defence, foreign and diplomatic relations. That basis for political action need not infringe the essential sovereignty of the separate African States. These states would continue to exercise independent authority, except in the fields defined and reserved for common action in the interests of the security and orderly development of the whole continent.
“In my view, therefore, a unified Africa – that is, political and economic unification of the African continent – should seek three objectives:
“Firstly, we should have overall economic planning on a continental basis. This would increase the industrial and economic power of Africa… The resources of Africa can be used to the best advantage and the maximum benefit of all, only if they are set within an overall framework of a continentally planned development. An overall economic plan, covering an Africa united on a continental basis, would increase our total industrial and economic power…
“Secondly, we should aim at the establishment of a unified military and defence strategy. I do not see much virtue or wisdom in our separate efforts to build up or maintain vast military forces for self-defence which, in any case, would be ineffective in any major attack upon our separate states…
“The third objective, which we should have in Africa, stems from the first two which I have just described. If we in Africa set up a unified economic planning organisation and a unified military and defence strategy, it will be necessary for us to adopt a unified foreign policy and diplomacy to give political direction to our joint efforts for the protection and economic development of our continent.
“The burden of separate diplomatic representation by each state on the continent of Africa alone would be crushing, not to mention representation outside Africa. The desirability of a common foreign policy, which will enable us to speak with one voice in the councils of the world, is so obvious, vital and imperative that comment is hardly necessary.” (Nkrumah, Kwame, Revolutionary Path, London, PANAF Books, 1973, pp. 224-226)
Intimately tied up with the need to solve the land question, that is, to end the exclusion of African people from ownership of the land, which was forcefully taken out of their hands, is the need to end the exclusion of African people from ownership of the immense natural resources of Africa, that is, the mineral resources, and the “commanding heights” of the economy, such as big banks and big industries.
This emphatically does not exclude a transitional arrangement of the leasing of these industries to private companies during the transitional period.
(Keep in mind that as a result of the 2007 economic collapse in the US and certain European countries, the US and British governments, for example, intervened with massive “bailouts” of the corporations threatened with collapse, and some of these industries, such as big banks, insurance companies and General Motors, were, in fact “nationalised”; some of these are being handed back to private owners!)
The next major facet of independence and self-determination is in the sphere of culture, thought and speech: the right of Africans to think their own thoughts; to freely speak their own thoughts in their own languages; to have African culture, African thought, African languages, African philosophies, African values, as equal independent factors, as over-riding factors, in the construction of the new South Africa and the new Africa.
The great German writer, Goethe, likened world culture to a great “Fugue, in which the various nations, one after the other, stand forth to make their contribution to the Fugue”.
The tragedy and deep injustice of the oppression of Africans is that Western civilisation and Western rulers denied Africans the right to stand forth and contribute to the great Fugue, which is world culture.
African cultures, African values, African thought, were not considered, and are still not considered, major factors in the shaping of world history and world politics.
It is in this light that we can understand Nkrumah’s stress of the role of the “African personality” among the nations of the world.
Through political independence, Africa would get a chance to remove the chains around her, the chains around Africa’s cultures, languages, philosophies and arts, so that Africans can stretch, develop, and display the “African personality” and creative talents, and make a major contribution to world politics and world history.
We want African culture and African traditions to be used as a source, among others, for the solutions of the problems of our time and problems of the world.
The last major point is that all the great leaders of African Nationalism argued that Africa must build upon the socialist, or collectivist orientation of Traditional African Society.
The ultimate aim is to create a United Socialist Africa.
This emphatically was not an aim to be reached overnight.
Any underdeveloped, or developing society, shall be compelled for many years, even decades, to have a mixed economy, in which capitalist economic elements and socialist economic elements co-exist.
The hope is that, through correct policies, the socialist elements shall grow steadily in strength, preponderate over the capitalist elements, until the socialist elements triumph completely.
There shall be no abrupt, political, administrative commander’s interference in the economic process.
In the competition between the capitalist and socialist elements, the triumph of one over the other shall flow from the superiority of one over the other in the economic-social processes themselves.
African Nationalists were, and are, of course, aware of the fact that the mere existence of African Nationalism, with all that it stands for, shall generate hostility and irrational fears in the minds and hearts of former colonial powers, in the hearts and minds of the major capitalist powers, and in the hearts and minds of those who took, or take, the subservience and inferiority of the masses of Africans for granted.
Those who got used to thinking for Africans, or to guiding the thinking of Africans, also feel aggrieved by the masses of Africans rising to be thinkers and spokespersons of their own thoughts, by Africans rising to be leaders of thought.
Major capitalist powers are driven by the urge to protect capitalist civilisation.
Any genuine nationalism is viewed as a potential enemy.
The major capitalist powers then directly or indirectly put in place policies that shall weaken, destabilise, or destroy African Nationalism.
Then emerges the field of misinformation, disinformation and lies, about African Nationalism.
This hostility can rise to sabotage, economic and diplomatic sanctions, bribery and corruption to turn individuals in African politics against nationalist politics, the declaration of African Nationalism as an enemy of “progress”, as a “reactionary” force, attempts to cleanse African Nationalism from African political movements, the organising and financing of civil wars, even direct military attacks to overthrow nationalist governments.
Great African leaders shall be those who are wise enough, strong enough, intelligent enough and realistic enough to be able to navigate successfully through these dangerous waters.
Professor Herbert Vilakazi is an independent scholar and contributed this article in his personal capacity. Note: Reference works used in this piece have been acknowledged by the editor.