Rebuilding the Pan-African Movement: Some Lessons From Togo’s Uprising

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I explained in Faure Must Go, my involvement in assisting the struggle that began in Togo in August 2017 was part of my effort to help rebuild the Pan-African movement. I had noticed that the Pan-African movement in my lifetime has not been as strong as it was in prior decades. I explained: “ In a sense I was born into a generation of people of African descent that were freer than our parents and grandparents, yet I also came to recognize that I was also born into a generation without a clear direction. The struggles of African people persisted, but those struggles were now being waged in a manner that was more disorganized than the struggles of previous generations.” The uprising in Togo coincided with my decision to launch a Pan-African movement of my own, so I was determined to support the struggle in Togo anyway that I could.

This month marks two years since the uprisings in Togo began, so I hace decided to reflect on some of the lessons that I have learned about contemporary Pan-Africanism from my involvement in Togo’s struggle. The first lesson is that, as I had known before, the Pan-African movement is not what it once was. When I first reached out to Farida Nabourema, who is one of the co-founders of the Faure Must Go movement, one of the things that she told me was that I am one of the few Pan-Africanists who pratice what I preach. I understood what she meant because this was a problem I’ve noticed myself.

A lot of Pan-Africanists in the diaspora do not engage in the political struggles in Africa. Togo itself came to become an example of this for me because the uprising began in August of 2017 and one of the things that struck me was the fact that none of the Pan-Africanists in the diaspora seemed to be paying attention to the political unrest there. Umar Johnson has labeled himself the “Prince of Pan-Africanism.” Aside from the fact that I do not believe leaders should bestow such lofty titles upon themselves, the other issue that I have with this is that I rarely if ever see Umar speak on the political struggles that are being fought in Africa. The time Umar spent bickering with Tariq Nasheed and Boyce Watkins could have been spent discussing more serious issues in Africa, such as what has been happening in Togo, but Umar does not speak on things like this.

It is not just Umar alone. I single him out because he proclaims to be the Prince of Pan-Africanism, but in the United States there are many Pan-Africanists who speak of Pan-Africanism and African liberation, but do not involve themselves in the actual political struggles being fought in Africa or even in other parts of the diaspora for that matter.

A similar problem exists in the Caribbean as well. In a previous article, I criticized the fact that St. Kitts and Nevis opted to establish diplomatic relations with Togo, despite the brutal nature of the Togolese regime. In the Caribbean, Pan-Africanism seems to mean support for African governments, even at the expense of ignoring the abuses that African leaders inflict on their own people. For example, the president of Uganada, Yoweri Museveni, was invited to Trinidad for Emancipation Day. Emancipation Day celebrations are organized by the Emancipation Support Committee, which is headed by Khafra Kambon. I have much respect for the work that Kambon has done over the decades, but I wish he was more outspoken about the political struggles in Africa. For example, to my knowledge the ESC did not speak out about how the government of Uganda tortures political opponents. The human rights abuses committed under Museveni are well-known, yet Trinidad had no problem welcoming Museveni to Trinidad for Emancipation Day.

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So those of us in the diaspora who are serious about Africa’s liberation must understand that we have to assist in the political struggles against neo-colonialism. In the past, the diaspora supported many of the struggles against colonialism throughout Africa. Today the struggle is a struggle against neo-colonialism and many Pan-Africanists are not engaged in that struggle, or at least not as engaged as they need to be. Some Pan-Africanists think any form of engagement with Africa is enough, but that is not the case, especially if engagement with Africa is done through neo-colonial leaders.

The other lesson I learned from Togo is the importance of building a Pan-African network. In a previous atricle, I mentioned that one of the successes of the Togolese uprising is that Faure Gnassingbe has been exposed and he is now desperately searching for ways to improve that tainted image. This was not only because of the protests of the Togolese people, but also because of the efforts of those living outside Togo who have been sharing information about what is happening there.

African dictators typically suppress their own citizens, but it is much more difficult for dictators to do this when people who are not citizens of their countries speak out, which has been the case for Togo. The government of Togo tried to shut down the internet in the country, but quickly had to reverse this move when information about what was happening in Togo was being spread by people from outside of the country. The international support for Togo is one of the reasons why the Faure Must Go movement has been gaining international recognition and one of the reasons why Faure is running to American law firms to help save his image. A similar thing happened in South Africa with the struggle against apartheid. The apartheid regime in South Africa could repress activists and censor information, but it was powerless to stop the onslaught of criticisms it was receiving from African people from around the world.

The system which oppresses us is global. This is a point that I make very clear in Faure Must Go and I make this point because when I first began advocating for Togo, there were some who did not understand why what is happening in Togo is relevant to African Americans. One of the areas where I demonstrate this connection is the amount of money and resources that the United States spends on helping to prop up these corrupt African regimes like the one in Togo. That is millions of dollars — which African Americans pay for through taxes — that is not being invested into solving the problems that African Americans are facing. Instead, that money goes to programs like AFRICOM, which the Pentagon itself admits is a failure. And now Togo is being used as a pilot for the Trump administration's Prosper Africa program. So advocating for Togo has also been an opportunity for me to elaborate on the interconnected nature of African oppression because many of us are not aware of how interconnected these issues are.

There is still a lot of work that needs to be done to free Togo from five decades of dictatorial rule, but in the nearly two years that I have been working to advocate on Togo’s behalf I have learned a great deal about the Pan-African struggle that is being fought today.

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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