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8th Pan African Congress: The congress is not the movement

Summary & Comment: Would xenophobia and Afrophobia happen if the ideals of pan-Africanism were alive and strong in Africa. Not really but this exposes the challenges of building a solid Pan African Movement. The Pan African Congress in Accra, Ghana, in March showed that a Pan Africanist political culture must be inculcated, nurtured and institutionalized throughout the six regions of the African world. MM

Author: Ikaweba Bunting Date Written: 6 May 2015
Primary Category: Africa General Document Origin: Pambazuka News, Issue 725
Secondary Category: -none- Source URL: http://www.pambazuka.net/
Key Words: Pan African, Ghana, diaspora, Ebola

African Charter Article #20: All peoples shall have the right to existence and self determination and the right to free themselves from the bonds of domination. (Click for full text...)

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In early 2012, a collective of Pan Africanists in Africa, the Caribbean, South America, Europe and North America began to circulate a call for the 8th PAC congress. Proposals and discussions were exchanged via social media, radio programs, local Pan African and community mobilization forums, workshops and town hall meetings. The discussions, comments and reactions generated by the call for a Pan African Congress reflected a mosaic of ideas, sentiments, analyses, criticisms, denouncements, claims and affirmations.

Among the various comments and responses, three characteristics of particular significance emerged. The first being the many different perspectives, ideas, dogma and positions related to defining Pan Africanism, who qualifies as a Pan Africanist, how to organize the congress, and who should or should not participate. In regards to participation, there were divisions as to whether or not the African Union and other state actors should participate. Would their very presence be the antithesis of Pan Africanist objectives or are African governments and the AU essential partners in achieving Pan Africanist objectives?

A second characteristic was that despite the many differences, there was consistent concurrence that in order to redress the economic, cultural and political disempowerment and racial based oppression of African peoples, mobilization and organization globally under the structure of Pan Africanism is essential. The consistency of this perspective is of strategic significance. It reveals a common basis for building a Pan African Movement. Simultaneously the array of ideological differences and dogmatic exclusiveness reveal the amount of work remaining and the characteristics of the challenges to overcome in order to build the Pan African Movement.

The third notable feature apparent during this process was the absence of institutional sustenance of Pan Africanist political culture. Despite a broad recognition of the critical need for a Pan Africanist’s method of organization there is an absence of cohesive and persistent effort, clarity of purpose and sustainable institutional support. To realize the objectives of a Union Government and create a movement to rectify the social, economic and political exploitation of African peoples, a Pan Africanist political culture must be inculcated, nurtured and institutionalized throughout the Six Regions of the African world. It is the task for the Global Pan African Movement to ensure that Pan African institutions and organizations at all levels are functional and effective, and imbued with a Pan Africanist political culture.

The absence of functional Pan Africanist institutions and Pan African political culture has left a vacuum that has been filled with a potpourri of ideas formulated under the rubric of Pan Africanism. What materializes is an amalgam of values, notions, ideas and dogma that are perplexing or contradictory to Pan Africanist purpose and ideology.

As the efforts for the convening of the 8th Pan African Congress began to gain momentum a meeting was held in South Africa. Although convened as a Pan African Congress it suffered from lack of consultation and inclusion. A non-inclusive method of organizing that circumscribes broad based participation is contrary to the purpose of convening a Congress as well as the principles of Pan Africanism. In February 2014, the South African meeting convened with an ideological perspective of Pan Africanism that explicitly excluded North Africa and Arab-speaking North Africans. The 8th PAC North American Organizing Committee together with the Caribbean Pan African Network, the PAM Governing Council and many Pan Africanist activists and organizations decided not to associate with this meeting. Though held under the umbrella of Pan Africanism, it fostered an ideological position that apparently coincided with the imperialists’ fabricated narrative that severs the land and peoples of North Africa from the continent.

This offers one example of the many ideological contradictions and breaches that exist within the movement. Coupled with the array of logistical, organizational and financial challenges the situation epitomizes challenges confronting our efforts to convene a credible and representative Congress and building the Global Pan African Movement.

In the lead up to the meeting in Ghana, various Pan African organizations, members of the Governing Council of PAM and regional organizing committees in the Caribbean and North America protested that November 2014, a date proposed by the Ghana Local Organizing Committee, was too soon. The primary concern was that it did not allow sufficient time to mobilize for broad based representation from the different regions of the continent and the diaspora.

Concerns were also expressed regarding the Ebola outbreak and the subsequent travel restrictions that prevented Pan Africanists from several West African nations from attending. The Government of Ghana and the LOC moved the date from November to March 4-7, 2015. It had been recommended by the majority of stakeholders that, at the earliest, May 25, 2015 (African Liberation Day) could be an acceptable date. However, even with the May 25 proposal, several participants in the preparatory dialogue were skeptical in regards to sufficient time and resources being available to mobilize a truly representative, broad-based Pan Africanist participation. The Ghana Government and LOC insisted on March. Consequently, there was a tentative and conditional agreement to participate provided Ebola had been contained and the broad based consultation with Pan Africanist organizations throughout all of the regions of the world had taken place, ensuring their input and participation in the Congress.

There was also concern that four days for a congress were insufficient. Particularly so because the dates proposed coincided with the Government of Ghana’s Independence Day Celebrations. Two of the four days were predominantly concerned with ceremony. Approximately 11 hours only over the course of four days were available for deliberations. As a consequence critical questions arose as to the purpose of the meeting in Ghana. Was it for revitalizing the Pan African Movement or was it for Ghana’s Independence celebration and internal Ghanaian politics? Communications became disjointed as it appeared these concerns were not being responded to. The prevailing sentiment across the scope of a four-continent-wide discussion and commentary was that the meeting in Ghana, if convened as planned, could only be a regional preparatory meeting and not a Congress and due to its not representative process a decision not to participate had been taken. However, compromise and shared purpose prevailed to make the best of a difficult situation and facilitated the convening of the meeting in Ghana despite all of the shortcomings.

An emergency meeting of the Governing Council and the International Preparatory Committee was held in Accra on 28 February 2015. The meeting recognized the grave concerns that had been expressed by the various local organizing committees and Pan African organizations worldwide. The meeting assessed the situation and addressed the following issues:

(1) the government of Ghana in agreeing to host 8th PAC had incurred certain obligations, made commitments and invited high level international guests;
(2) the desire to ensure that 8th PAC was truly global in character and was more representative in terms of delegates, content and purpose;
(3) the general need to ensure a unifying and broadly inclusive 8th PAC process and outcome truly owned by all constituent elements of the Pan African Movement.

During the meeting it was noted that several organizational and operational challenges existed, partly emanating from the 20-year lull after 7th PAC. The criticisms also noted that in regards to the preparation of 8th PAC there was inadequate coordination and communication as well as financial and administrative constraints and inadequate representation of PAM structures in the planned 8th PAC (Ghana). The International Preparatory Committee considered the historical precedent set by various PACs and in particular the 2nd PAC that was held in phases. Subsequently the meeting unanimously agreed to follow the historical precedent of the 2nd PAC of 1921 that took place in phases in different cities including London, Brussels and Paris. This compromise reflected the overall desire to have a congress and to build upon the momentum of organizing and overcoming the challenges we face in building the Pan African Movement.

In Ghana the meeting itself was raucous, often times descending into shouting matches and vociferous protests referencing, what seemed to be, randomly selected rules from Robert’s Rules of Order. The glaring need for improved communications, organizational functionality and leadership within the movement and Governing Council was perhaps the most pronounced weakness revealed in the lead up to and the convening of Phase 1 of the 8th Pan African Congress/Ghana.

There were issues regarding the criteria and method of accrediting delegates that were never clear or coordinated sufficiently. In attendance at the Ghana meeting were participants that did not have historical knowledge or working understanding of Pan Africanism. Quite a number of participants were more familiar with the NGO agendas and NGO discourse than they were of Pan Africanism. This is reflected in some of the resolutions and the nature of discussions. There were elements in each committee whose singular focus was on holding elections, changing the leadership of the GC and the location of the secretariat rather than the issue the committee was constituted to deliberate. The obviously prearranged caucusing and tactic threatened to undermine the process as well as purpose of the Congress and spirit of the compromise agreement.

Many of the contradictions that emerged during the Ghana meeting were reflections of issues of concern expressed before the meeting. However as we criticize the mistakes and contradictions it is also correct to acknowledge that there were actions taken that resulted in positive outcomes. This reflected strength of commitment, political maturity, compromise and common purpose thus preventing a rupture and allowing for broader participation and inclusion. Individuals took initiative to work through the problems.

8th PAC Phase One (Ghana) concluded with several resolutions being passed. The resolutions together with other documents of the North American Organizing Committee are on this website. The contribution of the resolution drafting committee was a particularly valiant effort working well into the early morning to fabricate a coherent set of resolutions that reflected the content and intent of committee reports together with the comments and recommendations from the plenary sessions.

However in effect the conclusion and outcome of the meeting in Ghana is the agreement to organize the 8th Pan African Congress as a two -process. 8th PAC Phase One was the meeting convened in Ghana March 4th -7th 2015. The agreement states that 8th PAC Phase Two will convene no later than May 31st 2015. The interim period would be used to organize regional meetings and consultations to ensure broad base participation.

The responsibility is with the Governing Council and the IPC to immediately rectify the operational and structural impediments that have undermined the efficiency of the Secretariat. The secretariat is the operational extension of the GC tasked with coordinating regional consultations, laying the groundwork for elections of new office-bearers and managing the overall planning and preparation for the final phase of 8th PAC.

It is important to recognize when reviewing our efforts the weaknesses and mistakes we reveal is a positive outcome when we use it to our organizational advantage!

* Dr Ikaweba Bunting lived and worked in eastern and southern Africa for almost three decades before returning to the US in 2002. He was a member of the organizing committee of the 7th Pan African Congress in Kampala in 1994.
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