One of the most important processes in African history is happening right now, and by nation standards it is happening at breakneck speed. It is of such a magnitude and scope that it has the potential, if assisted by changes in the New York City school curriculum, to change the thinking and the lives of African-Americans within a generation. This process came to Harlem this past September, when the Schomburg Center for the Research of Black Culture, hosted “A New York Conference on the Contributions of Black Intellectuals to the African Union (AU) and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).” It is a process African leaders have named the African Renaissance and it is being spurred on by the African Union.
The African Union is a coming together of countries on the continent to chart a new and unified course for Africa. NEPAD is a project of the AU for social and economic development. And with globalization making Africa only a phone call or Web page away, then-descendants of the historical diaspora, with their economic and intellectual resources and with their many skills, have a lot to offer to a system looking for synergy.
In his introduction to this conference of scholars, Dr. Howard Dodson, Schomburg Director, noted that the African Union had decided early on to have the African Diaspora play a role in its agenda. And that these discussions were to “begin the process of thinking about how we go forth organizing ourselves in the diaspora to become participants in the advancement of the AU and NEPAD agendas. Also exploring ways in which their agendas can intervene in the ongoing struggles for freedom, justice and human dignity throughout the diaspora.”
The first part of the program was devoted to understanding the nature of the AU, and that was done through a presentation by Dr. Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, Senegal’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Senegal President Abdoulaye Wade.
The second part of the program was devoted to working groups, discussing how the participation of the diaspora might operate and what it might look like. Several persons made brief welcoming remarks as the conference opened. “We are in the time of the beginning of the return,” said Councilman Bill Perkins. “What left Africa was not just bodies, but human resources, intellectual and spiritual.” Said the councilman, “We are talking about the reuniting of a people, the coming together of dried bones.”
In brief remarks, the Honorable Rex Nettleford, Chancellor of the University of the West Indies, said that groups such as this “have to look seriously at our curricula, to get the next generation to understand they have a real job to perform. Not only in terms of economic imperatives, but the continuing concern with what’s happening in the spiritual and intellectual life of our communities”. “The creative imagination and the creative intellect are the two tools that people like us have had to fight all the oppression for the past 500 years,” said the chancellor. He noted also that “NEPAD has pedigree, because it comes from the African people themselves and not the United Nations.” Nettleford ended by saying “No one but ourselves can release us.”
The Sixth Region
In his presentation, Dr. Gadio said that central to Senegal’s Africa and international policy is the role and place of the diaspora in the movement an of African Renaissance. “There is no future for Africa without the involvement of all its children, as Marcus Garvey used to say, ‘at home or abroad’.”
Dr. Gadio said that Senegal felt the Constitution of the African Union was originally flawed “because the diaspora was left out” and that corrective measures were underway. He said that President Wade was able in the revision process, to get a line concerning the diaspora added. But he said, “the goal of Senegal is to have the diaspora in the Constitution of the AU as the Sixth Region of Africa,” joining East, North, South, West and central Africa. Dr. Gadio assured the group that Senegal will bring the issue to the table until it succeeds.
Why Now the Diaspora?
Globalization, New Leaders
and Global Drive for the African Renaissance;
Dr. Gadio explained that there were a few reasons for the “coming back of the diaspora,” into the African political agenda. “Globalization is one factor and new leaders in Africa is another.” He said that President Wade and President Obasanjro of Nigeria are examples of two African leaders who are trying to symbolize a leadership that believes in an African Renaissance and Pan-Africanism.
Saying there was a global drive for African Renaissance, Senegal’s foreign minister asserted that African people in Africa had realized that they were at an impasse. Echoing the words of Professor Amos Wilson, he said, “The richest continent in the world, with a people who had the richest history and background and culture, were convinced that they were poor, going around saying they were poor. That had to stop and this movement of African Renaissance is underway and we are proud to be a part of it.”
The New Partnership
for African Development ( NEPAD)
As Dr. Gadio spoke about NEPAD, he asked that we use the French pronunciation, “Naypod” instead of the English “Kneepad”, which Dr. Gadio explained was what Africa was too much associated with. Recalling that the original name of what is now NEPAD was “New African Initiative.” he was disappointed that it was not kept. Citing the great Senegalese scholar Cheikh Anta Diop, he said it was important for people to reconnect with an historical initiative. “What happened to the African people is that we lost the initiative. Other people came and took over our people, our lands and we lost that historical initiative. It was a good name, but I like NEPAD, also.”
The foreign minister said that NEPAD was a merger of two important projects that were happening on the continent. “One was the Millennium African Renaissance Program, headed by Thabo Mbeki of South Africa, with the support of Abdelaziz Bouteflika president of Algeria and Olusegun Obasanjo, president of Nigeria.”
When President Wade came to power in a peaceful transition in March 2000 in Senegal, the continent now added “a man who had spent the previous forty years as a Pan- Africanist, economist and lawyer” and had been reflecting on Africa in a holistic way. Dr. Gadio said that soon after assuming the presidency, President Wade was joining with the others in this new thinking. They were actively looking at the situations confronting their countries from a regional and continent-wide perspective.
This new African leadership is, according to Dr. Gadio, focused on infrastructure, education, agriculture and health. He said there was a paradigm shift away from loans and the accompanying chains of interest payments to setting up self-help priorities. He also noted that this process of rebirth traces back to Marcus Garvey, to Sylvester Williams in Trinidad, and to others that were a part of a one- hundred and fifty year struggle. “Pan-Africanism started with the Diaspora.”
African Woman Initiative
Dr. Gadio spoke about how the African woman is central to the development of Africa, and the black community, therefore Senegal proposed that there be an African woman initiative in NEPAD and they also proposed and were able to obtain, “for the first time in the history of the continent and perhaps of the world, that the executive branch of the AU, the Commission, be composed of five men and five women.”
African Peer Review
Dr. Gadio said that while the OAU had a hands -off approach in dealing with internal problems of countries, the AU has taken a very different approach. The African Peer Review Mechanism is an extraordinary process and a guide to the management of a continent. It provides for a committee composed of Heads of State of Member Governments of the AU to act for, as its base document says, “mutual learning and capacity building, and for exercising the constructive peer dialogue and persuasion required to make the APRM effective, credible and acceptable.”
Fifteen of the 53 African Union members have so far volunteered to have this extensive and independent national auditing done. They are Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa and Uganda. The first countries audited will be South Africa and Ghana.
The African Peer Review Mechanism is only one of the elements of the AU process. Dr. Gadio likens it to a train picking up ideas and structures at various stops. He can see the president of the AU as the spokesperson for the continent and the Council of Ministers as the beginning of a federal government.
Diaspora, Historic and Modern
Since all human life stems from Africa, there was some discussion regarding what constitutes the diaspora. Dr. Gadio said there were the historical, those descendants of Africans who had been captured and taken to the Americas, and the modern, those who have migrated throughout the world. The foreign minister sees these two groups as having tremendous potential and says the question is, “What can Africa do for the diaspora and what can the diaspora do for Africa?”
He suggested that as commerce grows between the Diaspora and Africa, and as the African Renaissance grows, there will be a Diasporan Airline Company that would travel a new Atlantic Triangle of Trinidad, New York and Senegal. Trading with, visiting and supporting each other. “Only when we reunite will our ancestors be satisfied.”
The Dakar Conference
The Dakar Conference, originally scheduled for December, was specifically meant to get the contributions of intellectuals in the diaspora, and African intellectuals in general, to the building of the African Union. Because of the time constraints, the Dakar meeting will be a preparatory one in anticipation of the conference itself, which they plan to have on the scope of the First World Festival of Negro Arts, that President Leopold Senghor held in Dakar in 1966.
In his address to the assembly, Abdoulaye Wade, president of the Republic of Senegal, said “The relationship between Africa and the diaspora has a very deep grounding, stemming from slavery, colonization and economic exploitation. The Pan-African Movement is an idea, a logical outgrowth that has permeated these relations, and it is symbolized by such historic figures as Marcus Garvey, William DuBois and Kwame Nkrumah.
Africa now is in the historical process of rebuilding from the past and Africa needs the mobilization of all its children.”
President Wade pointed out that “after the independence of our countries, the international community developed a doctrine of development founded on aid and debt.”
He noted further that the African Union was moving away from that model and that “You, as African-Americans and we, as Africans, have a common future despite some very slight differences. We have to develop the dimension that will be the foundation of our partnership. That is why Senegal lead the modification of the protocols African Union to recognize the Diaspora as a full member of the African population.”
President Wade said that the Pan-African Conference of Intellectuals will welcome 350 delegates from Africa and 150 from the Diaspora and that “the goal of the conference is to determine what is the role of Africans on the continent and in the diaspora to each other and the world community.”
This December preparatory meeting would decide the format of the conference, determine needed workshops and themes and decide on the desired outcome. The goal is to produce a memorandum at the end which will be given to the African Union, outlining what can be done for the continent. “It will be an unprecedented platform for the launching of the African Renaissance.” In this anticipated gathering of five hundred intellectuals, the focus will be on determining what role the African Diaspora will play in the African Union.
In order to select from this distinguished assemblage, five men and five women who will represent the group in Senegal, the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture had them break into working groups based on randomly distributed folders with a colored star that determined the discussion among group members.
The group then worked on the questions below, and based on those discussions, selected a male and a female member to represent them in Dakar. These are the kinds of questions that would result from a curriculum designed to produce active participants in the African Renaissance.
I. The African Union and the African Diaspora
This conference assumes that African peoples in the diaspora can become critical contributors to the development of the African Union and NEPAD. It also assumes that the African Union and NEPAD have the potential of becoming critical actors in the advancement of the agendas of peoples of African descent in the diaspora.
1. What are the areas of common interest between the peoples of the diaspora and the African Union?
2. What are the primary items on the AU and NEPAD agendas that would benefit from support and involvement of African Diasporan peoples and governments?
3. What are the major issues facing African peoples in the diaspora that would benefit from African Union and NEPAD support and involvement?
II. Organizational Structure