Pan-African Dreams Editor’s Foreword: The Republic V7, N3

60 years since the founding of the Organization for African Unity (OAU), where is pan-Africanism today? Amidst rising coups, a stalled African Continental Free Trade Area and the emergence of China and Russia in the [new] scramble for Africa, can the African Union (AU—the OAU’s descendant organization) still fulfil its promise of uniting Africa towards a shared vision of progress? Our latest issue, Pan-African Dreams, looks at the significance of the AU today and the future of pan-Africanism. Purchase the issue here. We ship worldwide.

When Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, declared that, ‘We face neither East nor West: we face forward,’ he could not have anticipated the struggles that stood ahead of Ghana let alone Africa. Nkrumah made this remark in 1960, in Accra, amidst the Cold War. In 1957, Ghana became the first previously colonized, majority-Black African country to gain independence; if Ghana was not influential, its independence was infectious. By 1960, more than ten other Black African countries—including Nigeria—had either gained independence or were in the final stages of achieving it. Like many other African leaders of his time, however, for Nkrumah, gaining independence was not sufficient evidence of African liberation. The world around Africa was changing, had become ‘multi-polar’, East (Soviet Union-led) vs West (United States-led), and Africa could only be free if we had a collective, united means of navigating these changes.  

The possibility of this collective means was already emergent. Pan-Africanism, a movement that spanned both the African diaspora and the continent, had been instrumental in galvanizing Africans around the world towards pushing for Africa’s independence. What pan-Africanism lacked, however, was an institutional vehicle, a means of realizing its ideals as vast as the movement’s ideas had spread. A pan-Africanist, Nkrumah was a key advocate of what eventually emerged in 1963 as the Organization for African Unity (OAU). Founded in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the OAU drew on the pan-Africanist movement and was intended to help materialize the vision of a united Africa—that is, if African countries could achieve consensus. Where countries like Ghana, Libya and Morocco (the Casablanca bloc) aspired towards a grand united Africa, countries like Liberia, Nigeria and Senegal (the Monrovia bloc) sought to prioritize their own sovereignty over collective unity. And even back in Ghana, Nkrumah did not anticipate that his pan-African vision would be among the features that eventually alienated him from his citizens. He certainly did not foresee that in 1966, while he was away on a peace-making mission in Vietnam, he would be overthrown in a coup.  

More than half a century later, Africa seems to be confronting familiar uncertainties. Coups are on the rise, with the most recent including the July 2023 coup in Niger and the August 2023 coup in Gabon. West Africa, where Russia and China are gaining popularity over the US and France, it seems, is already foretelling the world’s multi-polar future. The difference today is that mechanisms such as the African Union exist—even if theoretically—to convey a collective African interest. Formed in 2002 as a transition from the OAU, the AU has been operating under its Agenda 2063, a 50-year development plan introduced in 2013, to ‘[transform] Africa into the global powerhouse of the future,’ according to the AU. Ten years on, what successes and challenges has the AU experienced? Against the return of multi-polarity, does pan-Africanism inspire nostalgia over an Africa that could have been or hope for an Africa that is yet to come? 

Abel B. S. Gaiya launches the issue with a critical overview of the AU’s ideological approach to pan-Africanism, a concept he refers to as ‘crisis pan-Africanism’. Gaiya argues that the physical and ideological strength of the AU is tied to the presence of perceived external threats. According to Gaiya, in the absence of a strong external military threat, the subtlety or patchy overtness of ‘neo-colonialism’ was not enough to pressure African leaders to relinquish some national sovereignty in favour of a stronger AU. As such, major progress in economic, redistributive, political and military intergovernmental coordination in Africa has happened mainly because of major internal pressures from war, famines and/or geopolitical competition—crisis pan-Africanism. However, this crisis pan-Africanism, Gaiya explains, has its own limitations, and does not appear to be viable at the continental scale. 

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Sarah Laniyan looks closer at the OAU’s transition into the AU, asking what lessons we can learn from observing the AU’s evolution from non-interference to non-indifference in responding to regional conflicts. Since its inception in 1963,Laniyan writes, the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which subsequently became the African Union (AU), has had varying and questionable ways of dealing with challenges and opportunities on the continent.’ Historically, the OAU had been criticized as being a ‘toothless bulldog’ due to its policy of non-interference. However, Laniyan explains, a key difference between the OAU and the AU is that the AU was set up with rights to ‘intervene in domestic affairs of member states in cases of war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and serious threats to legitimate order.’ Despite its divergence, the AU still shares several challenges with the OAU, a situation that questions the AU’s ability to fulfil its mission and equally indicates opportunities for the AU’s further development. 

Kai Mora, who writes on the origins of pan-Africanism, takes us further back in history. According to Mora, leading up to the founding of the OAU in 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia emerged as an unlikely progenitor of the unprecedented moment. Ethiopia’s rise to the forefront of pan-Africanism was sustained by the influence of Black consciousness in the African diaspora, culminating with the far-reaching activism of Jamaica’s Marcus Garvey. Mora helps us better understand the conditions that gave rise to the OAU, as well as what factors motivated the decision to establish the OAU in Ethiopia. One might call Ethiopia’s rise as a key driver of the pan-Africanist movement ironic since Ethiopia had never been formally colonized in the same manner or chronology as the rest of Africa,’ she writes. But Ethiopia had been a symbol of Black liberation and pan-African unity to the African diaspora long before pan-Africanism reached the continent.   

Our third issue of 2023, this issue also features additional essays and interviews commemorating the 60th anniversary of the OAU’s founding and other key African events. These include a tribute essay to late Ghanaian author, Ama Ata Aidoo, by Nii Ayikwei Parkes; a sixtieth-anniversary review of Chinua Achebe’s No Longer at Ease by Adebola Rayo; a roundtable discussion on the state of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)—a highlight of this debate is that despite the delays in implementing the AfCFTA, the AfCFTA presents Africa with significant opportunities. This issue also includes an assessment by scholars Blessing Simura and Phatsimo Praymore Phida of the challenges and opportunities ahead of the AU in today’s multi-polar world.  

Since our previous issue, The Republic has received funding and capacity-building support from Africa No Filter (ANF) as well as an award from the Google News Initiative’s Innovation Challenge. ANF’s support contributed towards the production of this issue. Additionally, Google’s award will go towards helping us to build ATLAS, a photo discovery and licensing platform.  

As usual, we encourage our readers to engage with our essays and articles and to provide insightful comments. Readers may send their views directly to the Editor by addressing emails (of no more than 700 words) to [email protected], with the subject, ‘Comment on Xyz Essay’, or ‘Letter to the Editor’ as applies. Comments and letters will be archived and, depending on the quality of the arguments presented, we may reach out to assist in developing your letters and comments further for publishing in the magazine.  

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