From the Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter: The African Union and the African-Americans in the United States.

Author:Yeboah, Roland Mireku


The African Union replaced the OAU in 2001 and unlike its predecessor, the AU for the first time called the African Diaspora to the negotiation table to begin an inclusive process. The importance of this agenda was clearly captured in the swiftness with which the AU moved to include Article 3(q) in its Constitutive Act in 2003, just two years after the Union's establishment (Ngulube 2013). This was a special provision for the African Diaspora as a whole. Later in Addis Ababa in March 2005, ECOSOCC (Economic, Social and Cultural Council) with several members of the Diaspora who were present as non-voting members met to discuss how the African Diaspora could be incorporated into the AU (Horne, The AU as such, for the first time in history, established a policy through the ECOSOCC to rigorously engage the African diaspora (1)Ikome 2009). From the viewpoint of the author, the swiftness with which the AU moved to formally engage the African diaspora (in 2003) speaks volumes of how important the AU considered the Global African family. Clearly, the AU was, and is, much readier for the African diaspora than its predecessor. What waits to be revealed is the manner in which the AU finds the African diaspora relevant.

The AU is a continental institution that represents the African peoples. Its historical foundations lie in the ethos of pan-Africanism, a concept that is concerned not only with continental Africa, but the global African family. It was therefore only proper that the new continental institution found the need and means to engage the African diaspora. Indeed, the AU as an institution falls within the theoretical framework of neo-institutionalism, which among other features assumes the position that by their very establishment, institutions are to satisfy the mutual interest of all its members and avoid partial tendencies likely to generate apprehensions. For what it is worth, the relationship between the Union and its African diaspora must be mutually beneficial, one that satisfies the interests of both parties and which this paper strongly supports. The AU subsequently established the Sixth Region as a constituent part of the Union, solely designated to the Global African family (Edozie 2012).

This paper examines the relationship between the AU and the African Diaspora with special reference to the African-American Diaspora. It advances the argument that while the AU has done much better than its predecessor in engaging the African diaspora, the relationship between the two is relatively beneficial to the AU rather than mutually beneficial to both parties.

It draws parallels between the desuetude of the Civil Rights Movement (CRM) and the Black Lives Matter while placing the AU at the center of this comparison. To this end, the article is in three sections. The first part examines the political and economic relevance of the African-American Diaspora (AAD) to mother Africa and the AU in particular. The second part examines the Black struggle in the US. A clearer picture, however, of the second task would not be achieved without situating it within the historical context of the OAU, as the latter's formation coincided with the peak of the CRM. Doing so, by extension, paves the way for a proper analysis of the relationship between the two parties and the extent to which the AU has been receptive to America's Black struggles which is what constitutes the third section. It should be mentioned that the paper examines policies of engagement of the AU (as an institution) with its Sixth Region and not that of individual arrangements of member states in engaging the Global African Family.

The Global African Presence

Scholars like Shepperson, Manning, Alpers, Falola, Zeleza, Akyeampong, Kambon, Cohen, Gilroy, Safran and Palmer have already expended thorough intellectual energy into the study of spatialization and periodization of African diaspora studies. This is therefore not the avenue to add to this exercise, except to draw on its relevance for a work like this. The African diaspora encompasses both the Eastern (Asia and the Middle East) and Western hemisphere (Europe, North and South America and the Caribbean). Out of these two groups are three kinds of diaspora groupings based on periodization. There is the Ancient Voluntary Migration (AVM) which consists of African people who migrated on their own free will throughout the world in ancient times 100s of thousands of years ago (Kambon 2013). They can still be found in places like the Pacific Islands (West Papua New Guinea, Bougainville, Vanuatu, Andaman Islands, etc.), Southern India, Southwestern Asia, Australia, and Central America (Ibid). There is also the African diaspora created through the forceful removal of African people called maafa. This group of African diaspora is inextricably connected to the continent and out of consciousness for this connection is making contacts with Africa through calls for repatriations and occasional visits (Ibid). Then there is the Contemporary diaspora which constitutes a crucial part of the African diaspora. This group constitute Africans who migrated outside Africa during the period of colonization, decolonization and during the implementation of the structural adjustment programme (Zeleza 2008). Added to this group are those who travel abroad to seek for greener pastures (Kambon 2015). The African diaspora of this nature constitutes the Voluntary form of migration. They have direct blood relations in Africa and frequently return home to the continent (Ibid).

This work, however, restricts itself to the people of African descent in North America (United States of America). It must be pointed out that the author is fully conscious of the Atlantic hegemony in African diasporic studies and that the author's reason for choosing the African American Diaspora (AAD) as a case study is far from being a victim to the universalization of the Black Atlantic model as the central category of analysis for African diaspora studies.

In fact, the reason for such special attention is not only due to the strong historical ties between Africa and African Americans, but to the social and political relations that have over time been galvanized and crystallized between the two different geographical people. Most significant is the recurrent attention the Black struggle in the US continues to receive in international media in the wake of the emergence of the Black Lives Matter Movement. As such, while the article offers a glimpse of the relationship between the AU and its Sixth Region, it may or may not be a generic reflection of the relationship between the AU and the whole Global African family.

The African American Diaspora and Mother Africa

In an interview with the President of the African-American Association of Ghana (AAAG), it was revealed that African Americans (AAs) have made immeasurable contributions to the political and economic development of Africa and particularly Ghana. (2)

In 2016 there were approximately 5,000 African-Americans living in Ghana. Five years ago, in 2011 this number was approximately 2,500. Clearly, there is an upward trend in African Americans seeking to call Africa in general and Ghana in particular home (AAAG 2017). In 2016, African Americans contributed over $25 million annually in pension remittances alone (Ibid). Within Ghana, African Americans and other diasporans of African descent generate millions of dollars annually, not to mention the intellectual capital they provide. They own businesses and employ people. They built schools, and medical clinics, run businesses, and work for Ghanaian and international companies as they work toward the development of Africa. It must be pointed out that the presence of AAs on the African continent as well as their significant contribution is not a recent development. Even though their presence has been felt on the continent for a long time (with the creation of Liberia by the American Colonization Society), contemporary repatriation of AAs to Africa began from the 1950s (Gaines 2012). This was inspired by both political and cultural reasons. Politically, the painful experience of anti-Black racism in the United States triggered their intention to repatriate en masse back to Africa (Ibid). Africa for Africans was the solution to the institutionalized racism against the Black race as some AAs thought.

Although this was an old message preached by Martin Delany, Edward Wilmot Blyden and given momentum by Marcus Garvey, the message became ever more relevant during the Civil Rights era in the US in the 1950s (Ibid). The blatant, naked racial discrimination and lynching of African Americans convinced a number of America's Blacks that it was high time they repatriated to Africa. This was against the backdrop that by this same time, Africa was already announcing its presence and taking its rightful place in international politics (Meriweather 2002). AAs felt it was time for them to flee from the oppressive American system, and Africa offered the opportunity (Ibid). In this instance, the country among others in Africa that became a symbol of hope for the Black struggle was Nkrumah's Ghana, which had assumed Pan-African leadership on the continent.

In this regard, the work of Kevin Gaines (American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era) remains a very useful research publication that provides a wealth of information. The other reason is the spiritual connections AAs make with Africa which is thought to be their motherland and ancestral home (homeland). This more than anything binds them to the African continent.

As much as Africa presented an opportunity for repatriation of America's oppressed Blacks, AAs also helped to internationalize Africa's anti-colonial struggles through support in diverse ways (Von Eschen 1997). Martin Luther King, Jr., George Padmore, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcom X, Maya Angelou, John Henrik...

To continue reading