Excluding Arab states contradicts the ideals of pan-Africanism

8th Pan-African Congress continues to be more exclusionary than the state-centric AU.

8th Pan-African Congress continues to be more exclusionary than the state-centric AU.

The 8th Pan-African Congress marks a dramatic, racialised rupture from 12 previous Pan-African congresses, because, as Bennie Bunsee writes, "the congress did not allow participation from Arab countries in North Africa".

Since the 1893 Congress on Africa, where the name "pan-Africanism" was coined, the delegates have included an Egyptian. A pan-Africanist leader such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana invited the Algerian liberation movement, the Front de Libération Nationale, to the All-Africa People's Conferences. In fact, the second and third All-Africa People's Conferences were held in Tunis and Cairo respectively and Nkrumah married an Egyptian.
Algeria also gave Nelson Mandela some military training.

For 50 years, Algeria has been a steadfast anti-imperialist pillar of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the African Union (AU) and, while Gamal Nasser ruled Egypt, he gave free use of Radio Cairo to the ANC and other liberation movements and strong support to the OAU liberation committee in Dar es Salaam.

Closer to home, the all-African dimension of pan-Africanism enjoyed bipartisan support from the ANC and the Pan Africanist Congress.

The 8th Pan-African Congress said it excluded North African countries because of the centuries of Arab slave trading and because, "in all Arab countries where Africans were a minority, they faced racist discrimination and Arabisation".

Undeniably, there was Arab slave raiding and trading for 1 000 years across the Sahara. In fact, this dates back to pre-Arabic North Africa: Pharaonic Egypt launched slave raids against Nubia for more than 1 000 years.

But, if that is a reason not to invite Arab-Africans to a pan-African congress, first, you would also have to exclude many states south of the Sahara. The ancient Axum kingdom traded so many slaves to Meso­potamia that its Zanj revolt was the biggest slave rebellion ever in Arab or other Muslim countries. The Kingdom of Dahomey had an economy based on the slave trade, as did other kingdoms on what was called the "Slave Coast" (as opposed to the Ivory Coast).

Second, if the organisers of the 8th Pan-African Congress wish to send a signal against "racist discrimination and Arabisation", why not at least invite the indigenous North Africans, the Amazigh (Berbers)? Their movement's website shows that these potential allies constantly protest against the suppression of their language and forced Arabisation.

Third, African minorities in Arab-dominated countries such as Mauritania and Sudan, which complain of "racist discrimination and Arabisation", are not alone. The paler-skinned Arab and Tuareg minorities in Mali and Niger also complain that those black-ruled countries discriminate against and marginalise them.

Closer to home, the Nigerian diaspora suffers from such extreme xenophobia that even their South African wives have had to form an association, the United Nigerian Wives in South Africa, to lobby against their victimisation as amakwerekwere (foreigners) through marriage.

Ubuntu is a major dimension of pan-Africanism. As such, the majority of pan-Africanists oppose racism and xenophobia against Africans, whether from historical white imperialism and settler colonialism or divisively from fellow Africans.

The AU's economic, social and cultural council includes 20 diaspora organisations and 24 from the continent, from Cape to Cairo.

It will be sad if the civil society grouping that organised the

8th Pan-African Congress continues to be more exclusionary than the state-centric AU.

The overwhelming majority of pan-Africanists object to World Bank literature and other Western publications that dismember Africa and even its statistics into "sub-Saharan Africa" versus "North Africa and the Middle East".

Pan-Africanists have never read Western publications dismembering Europe into "sub-Alpine Europe" versus "North Europe and Eurasia". Pan-Africanists overwhelmingly oppose the dismemberment of Africa – their slogan is Africa Must Unite.

Keith Gottschalk is a political scientist at the University of the Western Cape.

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