- Pan-African History: Political Figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787
Profiles of political and cultural leaders from Africa and the diaspora are still a largely undeveloped genre. The best examples so far are Robert A. Hill's Pan-African Biography (California, 1987), Norbert C. Brockman's An African Biographical Dictionary (ABC-CLIO, 1994), and Ralph Uwechue's Makers of Modern Africa: Profiles in History (Africa Books, 1996). Volume 3 of the ten-volume Encyclopedia Africana project, initiated in 1961 in Ghana under the editorial directorship of W.E.B. Du Bois, was to comprise biographies written by W. Alphaeus Hunton. Unfortunately, that project did not survive the death of its initiators. It eventually was revived by the Harvard University team of Kwame Anthony Appiah and Henry Louis Gates, in a much watered-down and truncated version; the result, the one-volume Encyclopedia Africana (Basic Civitas Books, 1999), generally reflects a woeful ignorance of all things African and hardly does justice to the memory of its illustrious initiators. In these circumstances, Pan-African History could even be viewed as some sort of rescue operation.
Hakim Adi and Marika Sherwood, two British-based academics associated with the Black and Asian Studies Association, provide in condensed fashion the profiles of forty major political figures in the history of pan-Africanism, by which they mean "women and men of African descent whose lives and work have been concerned, in some way, with the social and political emancipation of African peoples and those of the African diaspora" (vii). According to them, "Pan-African history... includes chronicling a variety of ideas, activities and movements that celebrated Africanness, [End Page 214] resisted the exploitation and oppression of those of African descent, and opposed the ideologies of racism" (vii). The earliest entries are devoted to three antislavery and antiracism activists of the eighteenth century: Toussaint L'Ouverture, the leader in St. Domingue of the only successful slave revolution in history; and two British-based abolitionist activists and pioneers of the slave narrative, Olaudah Equiano and Ottobah Cugoano. In the nineteenth century, pan-African history was characterized by the need to refute the pseudoscientific racist ideologies of social Darwinism and to "vindicate the race." Some, like Martin R. Delany and Edward W. Blyden, called for an actual return to Africa, while others, such as Frederick Douglass, were determined to struggle to end slavery and achieve their human and civil rights in the country of their former enslavement, the United States. At the turn of the century, a number of prominent West African intellectuals—among them, Blyden, Joseph E. Casely Hayford, and James Africanus Horton—began to promote African nationalism and to advocate African self-government with the motto "Africa for the Africans."
The authors trace the birth of the organized pan-African movement to the founding of the African Association in London in 1897 and the convening, in the same city, of the first pan-African conference three years later. They note that during the 1930s pan-Africanism was strongly influenced by the ideology of Marxism-Leninism and socialism as a model of development. This was reflected in the life and work of such scholars and activists as Du Bois, Hunton, C. L. R. James, George Padmore, and Paul Robeson. As the authors rightly observe, while Europe was the center of the pan-African world before 1945, the focus of pan-African activity switched to Africa after that date. Stimulated by the independence of Ghana (1957) and the dynamic leadership of its first president, Kwame Nkrumah, a new type of pan-Africanism emerged, aimed at the total liberation of Africa from colonial and white minority rule and culminating in the founding of the Organization of African Unity in May 1963. In addition to Nkrumah, the political standard-bearers of this radical and militant brand of pan-Africanism and African socialism were Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria, Amilcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde, Patrice Lumumba of the Congo, Jamal Abd al Nasser of Egypt, Julius...