Written by Dr. Charles Quist-Adade
In this four-part article, Dr. Charles Quist-Adade traces the historic links between Continental Africans and their cousins in the Diaspora and argues that distance-physical and temporal (time) should unite rather than divide peoples of African descent notwithstanding their cultural differences. He asserts that no man or woman of African descent will be free or will be able to walk chest up anywhere in the world unless African is politically and economically successful.
In early December 2003, Oprah Winfrey, the very successful African American talk show host, discovered a mission in her ancestral Africa. With one hundred volunteers, she went to South Africa, where she distributed toys, clothes, and soccer balls to orphans of AIDS victims. She completed her visit with a philanthropic vision-to build schools for girls in Africa. She and her foundation will start with $10 million leadership academy for 450 girls, which opened in 2005.
Oprah’s mission, vision, and action are a timely reminder that together people of African descent can accomplish a lot for themselves. It demonstrates what Franz Fanon said about every generation discovering its mission and either fulfilling it or betraying it. But Oprah is only one woman. Alone, she cannot accomplish, not even with her millions of dollars. That is why, more than ever before, all people of African descent must join skills and energies, talents and resources to build a better future themselves both in Africa and Diaspora.
More than 50 years ago, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah observed that the close links between Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora by nearly a century of common struggle must inspire and strength them. For, he continues, although the outward forms of their struggle may change, it remained in essence the same, “a fight and to death against oppression, racism and exploitations”
The same sentiments were echoed by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, when he said of relations between African American and Africa.” “…We are tied together in a garment of mutuality. What happens in Johannesburg affects Birmingham, however indirectly. We are descendants of the Africans. Our heritage is Africa. We should never seek to break ties, nor should the Africans”
Nkrumah and King
The statements by Dr. Nkrumah and Dr. King were both prophetic and a rallying point. Prophetic because today, more than four decades after these statements, the struggle of Africans on both sides of the Atlantic against oppression, racism, and exploitation continue unabated. In the United States of America, the dream of Martin Luther King Jr. of a colour-blind society is far from reality, as racism in its multi-faceted forms permeates that society. Far form the racially tolerant, just and fair society the Civil Rights leader campaigned and died for, America is still afflicted by the racial maladies of his time, albeit in more muted, subtle and sophisticated forms. With highest unemployment levels, highest school drop out rates, increasingly high violence and illegal drug use rates millions of Africans and live on the edge of society.
The picture is no different in Canada, although Canadians tend to pride themselves on the false notion that they are less racist than their neighbours to the south. The poverty rate among people of African descent spiked during the past ten years. Statistics Canada reported recently that in many visible ethnic minority groups in Toronto, more than half of the families live below the poverty line, while among other European and British origin groups, the rate is less than ten per cent.
The wealth of the economic rain did not fall on the roofs of the majority of African Canadians and other ethnic or racialized minorities. In fact, the plight of many is worse off what they faced ten years ago. While national unemployment shrank significantly, their unemployment levels reached new highs. According to Statistics Canada, Ethiopians, Ghanaians, Jamaicans, West Indies, and Somalis are most severely disadvantaged, with poverty rates ranging from over 52% to 70% in the province of Ontario.
The plight of Africans in North America is not any different from that of those in Europe and Britain.
In Africa, the scourge of impoverishment, deprivations and diseases runs rampant. According to the United Nation Development Programme (UNDP), 20 out of Africa’s 53 countries are poorer now than they were in 1990. The UNDP’s latest report lists a litany of afflictions affecting Africa, from AIDS to malnutrition, and shows that African countries come last in nearly all categories of the Human Development Index, the method of measuring countries’ levels of development.
The rallying calls of Dr. Nkrumah and Dr. Martin are relevant today more than ever among Africans and people of African descent on both sides of Atlantic. The moral of these rallying calls is that the destinies of continental Africans and their cousins around the globe are tied together directly or indirectly, and that “we swim or sink together.”
A report by West Africa of a town hall meeting in 1993 on “race in America” in Washington, DC, indicates that African-Americans leaders agreed to look inward for the answers to the African American predicament. The Million Man March organized by Minister Louis Farakhan of the Nation of Islam in 1995 and Million Women’s two years later addressed the same problem.
Soul of Black Folks
In his book the Soul of Black Folks, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois wrote about the agony of the “double consciousness” of Africans Americans. Double consciousness is the dialectical struggle of being both African and American in a highly racist America. It is the tension African Americans feel between trying to fit into an American society which does not consider them full- blooded citizens and the rejection and alienation they face when they try to retain or reclaim their African roots. Yet in the face of these challenges, increasing numbers of African Americans have retained or re-found their African roots. From Marcus Garvey, who in early 1900s started the “Back to Africa’ movement among African Americans, to the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s coining of the name “African- American”, and to Molefi K. Asante and other Afrocentric scholars, African Americans have made impressive effort to rediscover and identify with their African heritage. As one columnist recently wrote, “today”, if one were to ask the question once asked in the Sixties by Malcolm X the slain Black Muslim leader, “Who or what were you before the white man named you “Negro”‘?, the answer would be overwhelming, “African”.
A West-African article recently noted that not only do “Black” Americans seem comfortable calling themselves African-Americans these days, but many see improved, if not good, relationship between Africa and “Black”-America.
“We will see a greater improvement as African Americans begin to identify and recognize the importance of Africa. African Americans begin to identify and recognize the importance of Africa is important to their heritage and also their future,” said the late Rev. Leon Sullivan, the architect of the African-African American Summit.
The sentiment can be heard expressed across the board among both Africans and Continental Africans. In various forums, many have been the voices that have called for the building of “economic and business bridges among African Americans and their brethren in Africa”. They point to the continent’s vast and untapped natural resources and to the potential wealth that could be generated to improve the lots of peoples of both sides of the Atlantic through the creative combination of the skills and talents African-Americans with the natural resources and the underutilized talents and skills of Africans on the continent.
Dr. Nkrumah once observed, emphasizing the need for African unity, that, “if in the past the Sahara Desert divided us, today it must unite us” Many in many global African community today express similar views as encapsulated in these observations by the author of this article: Today if the European slave trade and the Atlantic Ocean divided us, today they must bring us together. We must organize joint micro-business across the Global African Landscape. Africa is home to over seven hundred million people. The economic and commercial potentials of the world’s second largest continent are enormous.”
No man or woman of African descent will be free or will be able to walk chest up anywhere in the world unless African is politically and economically successful.
A prosperous and booming Africa is a boon, not a bane, to all people of African descent.
To be continued…