Towards a Pan-African vision: the current state of affairs in Somalia.

Author:Ilmi, Ahmed Ali


The term Pan-Africanism has taken on a life of its own. From a disciplinary stance, PanAfricanism has been written about in a wide array of academic disciplines, including political science, history, sociology, cultural studies, and African studies. What is astonishing in my view is that the social/political idea of Pan-Africanism has been attributed to the failure of the African continent to resolve any of the standing challenges throughout Africa. Moreover, the very idea of Pan-Africanism signifies, to some people, an outdated idea that cannot succeed. For me, the idea of Pan-Africanism is born out of the everyday anticolonial struggles of the African people, wherever they reside. It is a vision to restore all that is thought to be lost, and to hold on to key ideas which encompass the African creed. It is the living quest to restore the dignity of the African, move succinctly towards the unity of African peoples, and to exercise selfdetermination. Moreover, it is central to decolonization as a process which leads to emancipation and freedom. When I think of Pan-Africanism, I'm drawn, first, to the issue of land in Africa. To draw on the words of Frantz Fanon (1967) from the Wretched of the Earth,

For a colonized people, the most essential value, because it is the most meaningful, is first and foremost the land: the land, which must provide bread and, naturally, dignity.... The colonized subject has never heard of such an ideal. All he has ever seen on his land is that he can be arrested, beaten, and starved with impunity (p.9).

The colonial powers have enslaved millions of African people, and have carved out the Continent to dominate the social, political, and economic affairs in Africa. Nugget We Thing's (1986) in his works decolonizing the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature eloquently captures this sentiment when he explains:

The contention started a hundred years ago when in 1884 the capitalist powers of Europe sat in Berlin and carved an entire continent with a multiplicity of peoples, culture, and languages into different colonies. It seems it is the fate of Africa to have her destiny always decided around the conference tables in the metropolises of the western world (p.4). In strong agreement of Thiong'o's articulation, the idea and the movement of Pan-Africanism emerged in response to colonization. The writer of Remembering the Dismembered Continent, Ayi Kewu Armah (2010) goes even further with his analysis explaining:

We, the people of Africa, have tended to regard the continent--all of it--as our home; that regimes imposed by invaders from Europe and Arabia, ... have attempted to configure African space and time in ways beneficial to themselves ... [F]formalized in Berlin in 1885, the residual fragment was further subdivided into separate plantation-style colonies (p.9). The first part of the quote is instrumental in thinking of the historical genesis of the collectivist Pan-African identity. As such, the articulation of Pan-African ideology is the work of key African intellectuals and activists such as W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, and Jomo Kenyatta to name a few, as they express, collectively of what it means to be African socially, politically, and ideologically. According to W.E.B. Du Bois "the pan-African movement aimed at an intellectual understanding and cooperation among all groups of African descent in order bring about the industrial and spiritual emancipation of the Negro peoples" (Cited in Walters 1993, p.1). Therefore, we must re-think Pan-Africasims within the contemporary moment to address some of the historically rooted challenges facing African peoples. Reiland Rabaka (2010), in his work, Africana Critical Theory: The Black Radical Tradition, From W.E. B Dubois and C.L.R. James to Frantz Fanon and Amilcar Cabral, also echoes this sentiment as he examines the intellectual traditions of Black political activists. He argues that we need to revisit the rich theoretical African traditions as we fight for freedom and re-think the possibilities of resistance in this colonial world order. Although we have celebrated a defeat of colonialism during the 1950s, 1960s, and well into the 1990s throughout the colonies, colonialism is alive and well. As such, it is present in the colonial discourses that are imposed on former colonies, which are now referred to as the developing world (see Bhabha, 1984; Kelley, 1999; Said, 1994; Tiffin, 1995; Williams & Yousaf, 1994). Throughout Africa colonialism still has a firm grip on our minds, bodies, and souls. Ngugi wa Thiong'o (1993) articulates this reality as he states:

In the particular case of Africa, people struggled against the slave trade and slavery; against the colonial invasions and occupations by forces armed with the latest technologies; and today they continue that titanic struggle against neocolonial encirclement. Between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries, African people fought wars to preserve their independence against the various invasions from Europe. Under the colonial phase they fought wars for national independence. Today Africa is still engaged in wars to complete the national democratic revolutions as the very first and necessary step towards social change. And in all these phases, the struggle to bring about people's power, social change, a new society is still continuing with even greater intensity as imperialism and its internal allies in Africa put [up] barrier after barrier. (p.54) Here wa Thiong'o gives a well conceptualized, historically grounded point of departure to engage in conversation about the contemporary Pan-African struggle in Africa.

Given the extraordinary challenges facing Africa in the era of universal human right, stemming from colonialism and its aftermath, we must rethink the Pan-African ideals that our anticolonial struggles were founded upon. This work calls for a Pan-African vision that is rooted in the historical struggles of the colonized as a means to think through the contemporary challenges facing Africa. The discussion strives to make sense of the current state of affairs in Somalia from a Pan-African perspective, and works to historicize Somalia and draw attention to its nuances by affirming the place of African peoples to exercise true social, political, and economical selfdetermination. In this inquest, the author locates himself in the conversation to indicate how he comes to engage with Pan-Africanism; articulates theoretical frameworks, and operationalize as he draws on his understanding of Pan-Africanism. Next, the importance of re-thinking PanAfricanism both as a social movement and as an anticolonial political ideology, and as a guiding framework in the struggle of Somali peoples is discussed. And finally, the paper concludes by offering pedagogical possibilities of thinking through a Pan-African vision.

This exercise draws on indigenous knowledge, coupled with anticolonial thought. I have chosen to build upon these theoretical paradigms, in order to explore the ways in which Pan-Africanism can be operationalized to better understand the role of colonialism in some of the contemporary challenges in Somalia. By facilitating this discussion through a Pan-African conceptual framework from an indigenous Somali stance, I am able to raise critical questions about power, African self-determination, and freedom.

The African Self and the Pan-African Political Ideology

I am a Somali living within the Canadian Diaspora. I conceptualize Pan-Africanism as the social/political moral ideal that is rooted in the quest for self-determination. I come to engage with Pan-Africanism as a social/political paradigm, with the ability to move Africa towards the revolutionary path of contesting the current colonial powers. As such, this ideology is equipped with an African tradition of leadership, integrity, and selfless sacrifice to respond to colonialism and its aftermath. As a Somali, Pan-Africanism enables me to ground my thoughts in the histories of the anticolonial struggle, as I make sense of the contemporary colonial relations which have been ascribed to my place of origin. A Pan-African vision also enables me to stand in opposition to the Eurocentric theorization of the current state of affairs in Somalia, to express agency, and to think about methods of decolonization from an African perspective (Du Bois, 1989; Fanon, 1967; wa Thiong'o, 1993; Childs & Williams 2014; Tageldin, 2014). PanAfricanism is an oppositional paradigm that enables me to keep a gaze on colonial oppression and to evoke the voices of the Ancestors who have fought, and sacrificed their lives for the African way of life. Moreover, it enables me to walk their courageous path and to hold on to the rich African anticolonial traditions.

Discursive Framework

As I try to make sense of how colonialism has configured and reconfigured Somalia, it is imperative for me to use a theoretical framework that centers colonial social, political, and economic relations to bring forth my understanding of, not only the historical challenges faced by the colonized, but also the nuances of some of the contemporary challenges. By engaging in a discussion about colonialism in Africa, with an emphasis on Somalia, it is crucial for me to ground my analysis in a theory that is built upon notions of resistance and self-determination. Most importantly, I am drawn to anticolonial theory because it arose out of the struggle as an intellectual...

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