By Maura Mulholland
Despite misguided references to the “country of Africa,” the African continent is actually composed of fifty-four distinct countries. But despite social, cultural, and economic differences between these nations, Pan-Africanism has emerged as a solution to establishing African influence on the global scale. Some advocates have argued that Pan-Africanism promises a future where all of the inhabitants and descendants of the continent can coexist and stand together.
The movement of Pan-Africanism emerged out of a sense of shared struggle. During the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, the first uprisings against captors occurred when people from numerous tribes and linguistic backgrounds, who had all been thrown together indiscriminately in the hold of a ship, came together against the slavers. The practice of Africans from different backgrounds uniting in the face of these enemies, which continued on the American continents, was eventually consolidated into a body of thought by academics like Henry Sylvester Williams, and political leaders like Kwame Nkrumah.
The evolution of Pan-Africanism was directly spurred by the development of African diaspora communities. The Haitian Revolution was a turning point in asserting the power that Africans were able to wield, and it began an effort to weld various uprisings within global African communities to a singular cause. Various Pan-African conferences surrounding the African diaspora communities in major cities also followed this revolution. The formation of the country of Liberia was the most major effect of this organization, as the American Colonization Society sent thousands of African-Americans back to the continent to establish a country of their own, in an effort to reclaim their heritage and reject the countries their progenitors had been unwillingly brought to.
Today, Pan-Africanism continues in the form of social movements and in the creation of alliances that seek to encompass the whole continent. The African Union, whose goal is long-term economic growth in the region, and the African Continental Free Trade Agreement, which establishes a collection of countries involved in free trade, represent more individual nations than NATO or the European Union. In addition, the rise of social media, and the penetration of the Internet into Africa, has connected those involved in social movements on the continent with members of global diaspora groups. These online alliances have strengthened loyalty to the idea of a united Africa on the worldwide scale, and have increased awareness of social justice issues.
The reigning mindset in African-American diaspora communities is that “Black is beautiful”. It certainly is, and the unity of that simple phrase reflects centuries of an ongoing effort to create a more cohesive community for Africans and their descendants.