Modern Day Pan-Africanism: The Example of Togo

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When I began writing and speaking about Togo, the response I received from some was skepticism. Even some fellow Pan-Africanists did not understand why I was putting so much energy into assisting the struggle in Togo. When I wrote Faure Must Go one of the goals that I had in mind is to address some of those comments from people who failed to recognize the connection between the African American struggle and the Togolese struggle.

In the first place, Togo is located in a region of West Africa that was known as the “Slave Coast” because of how many of our ancestors were stolen from that region of Africa. The struggles of Africans in the diaspora began as an attack on Africa and that is also when the present day struggles of the people of Togo began. Not only do we share an ancestral connection with the people of Togo, but our struggles also share a common origin. The slave trade not only stole us from Africa and brought us to the Americas, but it also underdeveloped and destabilized Africa. This process would continue under colonialism.

The second point that I note in Faure Must Go is that the same American government which neglects poor African American communities here in the United States also sends resources to African dictatorships to assist them with oppressing their own people. The same system which allows African American boys such as Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin to be killed without receiving justice is the same system which allows Togolese boys like Anselme Sinandaré and the other children that have been killed by the regime in Togo to be killed without receiving justice. So there is a very direct connection between the oppression of African people in the United States and the oppression of those in Togo. This is a political reality. I pointed out in a previous article that America had no issue with dropping bombs on black people in Grenada and then two years later America did the same thing to African Americans, so we cannot afford to pretend as though we do not have a common struggle.

With the emergence of the American Descendants of Slavery (ADOS) movement, there has been a serious debate regarding the modern merits of Pan-Africanism. Some in the ADOS movement have declared that Pan-Africanism is dead and outdated, whereas others have complained that Pan-Africanism is a burden that is being placed on African Americans. I use Togo as an example to demonstrate that the political realities which gave rise to Pan-Africanism as a political ideology still exists today. This is not merely dated rhetoric from the 1960s. Those who think that serious Pan-Africanists are still trapped in the 1960s simply are not paying attention. In the 1960s the African American struggle and the Togolese struggle were very much different from the struggle that we are fighting today. The two struggles are even more interconnected today than they were in the 1960s due to America’s emergence as a dominate imperial power.

Malcolm X had predicted that America would take the place of the European colonial powers. Malcolm stated:

After 1959 the spirit of African nationalism was fanned to a high flame, and we then began to witness the complete collapse of colonialism. France began to get out of French West Africa; Belgium began to make moves to get out of the Congo; Britain began to make moves to get out of Kenya, Tanganyika, Uganda, Nigeria, and some of these other places. And although it looked like they were getting out, they pulled a trick that was colossal.

In that — when you’re playing basketball and they get you trapped, you don’t throw the ball away, you throw it to one of your teammates who’s in the clear. And this is what the European powers did. They were trapped on the African continent, they couldn’t stay there; they were looked upon as colonial, imperialist. So they had to pass the ball to someone whose image was different, and they passed the ball to Uncle Sam. And he picked it up and has been running it for a touchdown ever since. He was in the clear, he was not looked upon as one who had colonized the African continent. But at that time, the Africans couldn’t see that though the United States hadn’t colonized the African continent, he had colonized twenty-two million Blacks here on this continent. Because we are just as thoroughly colonized as anybody else.

Malcolm’s words are still relevant today. The United States stepped in an assisted the European colonial powers with suppressing the the independence movements on the continent. To this day the United States continues to support dictatorships across Africa. In December of last year Yahya Jammeh was blocked from entering the United States, but when Jammeh was in power and brutalizing the Gambian people the United States happily invited him to the White House.

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In 2015, President Barack Obama visited East Africa to talk about human rights. The response he received from many was that America should clean up its own house. An Ethiopian named Shiferaw Tilahun stated: “They are interested in other people’s problems but they don’t care about black people in their own country. Most of our black brothers and sisters are suffering in the US.” People on the African continent are very aware of America’s hypocritical policy of preaching human rights to Africans as the American government continues to ignore the suffering of African Americans. The reality is that America’s racist foreign policy is merely an extension of its racist domestic policy. This fact alone makes Pan-Africanism as a political ideology very relevant.

The Pan-African struggle on the continent today is a struggle against the neo-colonial regimes which oppress their own people with the support of Western governments. Even some people who call themselves Pan-Africanists are confused on this issue. This is why in a previous article I addressed Dynast Amir’s complaint that the Gambian government does not provide citizenship for Africans in the diaspora who wish to return to the Gambia. Dynast attempted to frame the discussion as one in which Gambians should be grateful to Alex Haley for making Roots. Dynast seems oblivious to the real political struggles which are be waged on the continent. The truth is that citizenship for Africans in the diaspora will only come when truly committed Pan-African leaders take leadership over the continent, but Africa has not reached that stage yet. The Gambia only recently freed itself from Jammeh’s rule, which Dynast mentioned at no point at all in his video.

When I was on Search for Uhuru to discuss the situation in Togo along with Farida Nabourema, Dynast did not even seem aware of the political situation in Togo. This is why I take issue with Dynast’s complaint about Pan-Africanism not creating anything tangible for African Americans. The citizens of Africa are themselves fighting for tangibles from their own governments, so there is no reason for African Americans to except tangibles from those very governments.

I have engaged with ADOS supporters enough to know that the counterargument is that African Americans have no time to fight for Togo and will not receive anything tangible from Togo’s freedom. These views are not new. Malcolm dealt with this in his time. Malcolm explained:

The purpose of our meeting tonight, as was announced, was to show the relationship between the struggle that is going on on the African continent and the struggle that’s going on among the Afro-Americans here in this country. I, for one, would like to impress, especially upon those who call themselves leaders, the importance of realizing the direct connection between the struggle of the Afro-American in this country and the struggle of our people all over the world. As long as we think — as one of my good brothers mentioned out of the side of his mouth here a couple of Sundays ago — that we should get Mississippi straightened out before we worry about the Congo, you’ll never get Mississippi straightened out. Not until you start realizing your connection with the Congo.

Malcolm did not believe that African American liberation could be achieved independently of Africa’s liberation. There was good reason for him to hold this view because Africa’s independence movements helped to advance the African American struggle in the 1960s. I will not go into the details of the connection between the two struggles in this piece, but one example I will give is the fact that when diplomats from the newly independent African nations arrived in the United States they were denied entry into segregated restaurants. This became an international problem for the United States, so the State Department stepped in and told these segregated restaurants to make exceptions for the African diplomats. Kwame Ture, who was a college student at the time, took advantage of this by dressing up in African clothing and ordering food from these segregated restaurants. Africa’s independence had helped to weaken segregation in America. That alone should demonstrate the importance of Pan-Africanism.

Kwame Ture tells this story around 51:50 in the video

As Kwame Ture said, when Africa becomes strong we in the diaspora become strong. One reason for this is that our self-esteem is directly tied to our African identities. This is why the slave masters stripped us of our African identities by taking away our names, languages, and religions. The slave masters also fed us with propaganda about how Africans are savages and how grateful we should be for our enslavement because it civilized us. This is why Malcolm X explained that you cannot hate the roots of a tree without hating the tree itself.

A recent example of this was the excitement surrounding Black Panther. African Americans were filled with sense of pride in finally seeing a film which represented Africa in a positive light, as opposed to films such as Blood Diamond or Hotel Rwanda which have only highlighted the bad things that happen in Africa. Black Panther demonstrated that, as Malcolm X said, Black people in America are still more African than American. That is why Black Panther produced the type of psychological reaction among African Americans that it did. There was a similar reaction when Ghana became independent in 1957. Africans around the diaspora were inspired by Ghana’s freedom. When Africa rises so does the collectively self-esteem of those in the diaspora.

To return back to the topic of Togo; the struggle being fought in Togo is not just the struggle of the Togolese people alone. Africans Rising, an organization made up of Pan-African activists from around the continent and the diaspora, sent a mission to Togo in 2017 to support the struggle there. There are those of us who are aware of the present Pan-African struggle that is being waged and are involved in this process, whereas others are not. The problem with the ADOS movement, is that it is supported by people who are not involved in the Pan-African struggle, but continue to give their misinformed opinions on a struggle that they know little about and are not engaged in. This video below is an example of this. The creator of this video speaks of “debunking” Pan-Africanism through his YouTube videos, as if making a few YouTube videos somehow erases the political and economic realities which drives the modern Pan-African movement.

I use Togo as an example of the context within which modern day Pan-African operates. Pan-Africanists have organizations are actively participating in the global struggle for liberation. So far none of the ADOS critics of Pan-Africanism seem to be able to point to an ADOS organization or an international plan for African people. This is why Pan-Africanism continues to remain relevant, despite what the critics seem to believe.

Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook and Twitter.

Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is a Guyanese born Pan-Africanist, author, and law student.

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