Address at The University of West Indies,
Kingston, Jamaica, 30 June 2003
Master of Ceremonies,
Vice-Chancellor of the University of the West Indies,
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I was asked to speak about the African Diaspora in
the 21st Century. Because I did not know what this would
entail, I did not say yes or no to this request. This
gave me the space to speak about anything, provided
I could claim it has something to do with the African
Diaspora in the 21st century. I trust you will accept
this manner of proceeding.
Over the last few years, we have made bold to speak
about an African Renaissance. We have also spoken of
the need for us as Africans to ensure that the 21st
becomes an African century. In reality, I stand here
today to talk about what we might do together to accomplish
these goals, understanding that when we speak of an
African Renaissance, we speak of a rebirth that must
encompass all Africans, both in Africa and the African
Since we are speaking at a university, we must also
make the point that we are proceeding from the thesis
advanced by a German philosopher of the 19th century,
who said - all previous philosophers have sought to
understand the world; the point, however, is to change
it. I believe that the African Universities, both in
Africa and in the Diaspora have a responsibility both
to understand the world and to change it.
What we must be about is changing the conditions that
for many centuries have imposed on Africans everywhere
the status of underlings.
Jamaica's nearest neighbour to the east is Haiti. Next
year, 2004, this Caribbean country will celebrate the
Bicentenary of its birth as the first Black Republic
in the world. We, for our part, will be celebrating
the 10th anniversary of our liberation from apartheid.
We have agreed with the Government of Haiti that, to
the extent possible, we should work together to celebrate
in an appropriate manner both anniversaries, informed
by the fact that the victory of the African slaves in
Haiti in 1804 is directly linked to the victory of the
African oppressed in South Africa in 1994.
In our capacity as the Current Chair of the African
Union, we have also put the matter of the celebration
of the Bicentenary of the Haitian Revolution to the
African Union, in the hope that all Africa can join
in these celebrations.
The historians at the University of the West Indies
will be better informed about the story of the great
struggles waged by the African slaves of Haiti to free
themselves from slavery and colonialism. In this regard,
I would like to pay tribute to the outstanding West
Indian historian, C.L.R. James, for his seminal work,
"The Black Jacobins".
In particular, the historians at the University will
be familiar with the direct linkages between the American,
the French and the Haitian Revolutions. But I dare say
that our people in general, whether in Africa or the
African Diaspora, will be most knowledgeable about the
American and French Revolutions, and least informed
about the Haitian Revolution.
And I know this as a matter of fact that very few of
our people in South Africa know the inspiring story
of the struggles of the African slaves of Haiti, which
resulted in the defeat of mighty France and its Emperor,
We are firmly of the view that we should use the occasion
of the Bicentenary of the Haitian Revolution to inspire
especially our youth to understand the capacity of the
African masses in Africa and the Diaspora to change
their social conditions.
The telling of the story of the Haitian Revolution
should communicate the message to all our people, that
the African people, both in Africa and the African Diaspora,
are capable of scoring major victories, whatever the
It must instil the confidence among the African masses
and their leadership that we need, so that we act as
our own liberators from poverty, underdevelopment and
marginalisation, extricating ourselves from the paradigm
that ineluctably positions us as dependants on the charity
When we tell the story of the Haitian Revolution, we
should not end with the glorious victory of 1804. We
should also speak about what happened afterwards, about
what has happened since the African Diaspora gave all
Africans everywhere the great gift of the first Black
Republic of Haiti.
In this regard, we have to contend with the fact that
whereas the American and French Revolutions succeeded
to create the conditions for the development of the
American and French people, Haiti has not experienced
similar development. Indeed, she has been subject to
the very opposite of development.
As Africans, in Africa and the African Diaspora, we
have to answer the question as to why there has been
this divergence of experience in the aftermath of revolutions
as interconnected as were the American, French and Haitian
Revolutions. In answering this question, we may also
be able to answer the question as to why, in many respects,
the African condition, certainly in Sub-Saharan Africa,
has been worsening over a number of years, despite the
fact that we now exist as Black Republics, as Haiti
has done for two hundred years.
Because they could not have known any better, given
the times during which they lived, some of the great
military leaders of the Haitian Revolution, such as
Henry Christophe and Jean-Jacques Dessalines, awarded
themselves titles as Kings and Emperors. This was understandable.
But very near the close of the 20th century, we still
saw the emergence of new African feudal lords, such
as Jean-Bedel Bokassa of the Central African Republic,
who proclaimed himself Emperor and renamed the Republic
Perhaps instead of treating this episode as a matter
of derision and dismissive comment, we should ask ourselves
whether Bokassa was not, in fact, giving a more precise
and honest form to the content of his rule as leader
of the Central African Republic.
It may very well be that many of us are projecting
ourselves as Presidents and Prime Ministers, with the
assumptions about democracy that attach to these posts,
whereas, in practice, we are little more than feudal
lords who rule by decree over our kingdoms or principalities.
I am suggesting that as we encourage the African masses
in Africa and the African Diaspora, especially the youth,
to study the Revolution of Haiti after the victory of
1804, we would enable them the better to understand
their own national conditions. This would empower them
to respond more effectively to the challenges of the
Entangled within the story of Haiti are many matters
relevant to the challenges we have to meet. These include
issues of race, class, gender, culture and social consciousness,
governance, globalisation and global imbalances in economic
and other matters, and the effect of the preponderance
of the major powers, possibilities for South-South cooperation
and so on.
Accordingly, I would request the University of the
West Indies, acting together with its counterparts in
Haiti, to take measures to ensure that the story of
the Haitian Revolution and its aftermath is told to
as many of the African masses as possible, both in Africa
and the Diaspora.
This will require material that can be conveyed in
printed form, through radio, television and the Internet.
It will require material that can be put on stage or
otherwise presented through film or other dramatic presentation.
What I am pleading for is that we should so profile
the Bicentenary of the Haitian Revolution that it catches
the attention of the masses of our people, leading them
to seek to understand what other fellow Africans managed
to do in Haiti, two hundred years ago.
I am asking that we use the unique occasion of the
Bicentenary of he Haitian Revolution to speak to ourselves
as Africans, wherever we may be, treating this great
victory scored by the African Diaspora as truly the
possession of all Africans, including those in Africa.
What I am further pleading for is that we as political
leaders, together with the African intelligentsia in
Africa and the African Diaspora, should use the occasion
of this Bicentenary to interrogate our own experiences
after the Haitian Revolution to understand the complexities
of that history and set ourselves the task of dealing
with the challenges of the future based on our learning.
I am pleading that we should use the occasion of this
Bicentenary to raise the level of consciousness of the
African masses about the tasks of the African Renaissance,
and mobilises them to act for change to advance their
It may be that there will be some who will say that
political activism is not the task of scholarship, that
such activism compromises the search for the truth by
those whose profession is to expand the frontiers of
knowledge. To these I would again say that the African
condition does not permit of an African intelligentsia
that merely interprets the world, while doing nothing
to change it.
Africans on the continent and in the Diaspora are today
confronted by a world of financial, investment and trade
regimes which unfairly favour the developed world and
which prevents them from improving their quality of
life. Skewed investment patterns, unfair trading systems
and a gross imbalance in terms of access to productive
capital continue to undermine development efforts in
the African and developing world.
At the moment, Africa is the only continent where poverty
is on the rise. Over 40% of the people of Sub-Saharan
Africa live below the international poverty line of
US$1 a day.
Africa's share of world trade has plummeted, accounting
for less than 2%. More than 140 million young Africans
are illiterate, and Africa is the only continent where
the number of children out of school is rising.
Africans in both the Diaspora and the continent have
entered the 21st century still confronted by the hard
realities of entrenched poverty, general underdevelopment,
death from curable diseases, illiteracy, international
marginalisation and little prospects for rates of growth
and development that will close the gap between themselves
and the rich countries.
One only has to take a look at Harlem in the US, the
ghettoes in cities such as Johannesburg, Lagos, Nairobi
and Sao Paolo, and the squalid slums in the cities of
Europe, to see the desperate conditions that define
the lives of Africans everywhere.
However, I would also say that, certainly in Africa,
we are seeing perhaps the beginning of a determined
response to this situation, with the continent working
to find practical ways to advance towards its renaissance.
Last year we established the African Union (AU), which
is our purpose-built African continental vehicle to
deal with the challenges we face, including the historic
objective to advance in a more determined manner towards
Yet, even in this endeavour, we are reminded of our
close linkages with the part of the world within which
you reside. Indeed the stirrings and fermentation of
the notions of decolonisation and freedom on the African
continent were significantly inspired by the courageous
pioneers of African freedom in the Diaspora.
It was in the year 1900 when the Trinidadian barrister,
Henry Sylvester Williams initiated the first Pan-African
conference, in London. That conference was seminal to
the political and philosophical movement of Pan-Africanism
throughout the world, the catalyst that has ultimately
led to the formation of the African Union, at the beginning
of the 21st century.
The 1945 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England
which featured anti-colonial thinkers and activists
such as George Padmore and W.E.B. Dubois, again impacted
on the young African freedom fighters and intellectuals
such as Kwame Nkrumah, and gave sustenance to the struggles
which finally saw the realisation of the process of
African independence and freedom that started with the
liberation of Ghana.
African freedom from the bondage of colonialism, together
with the freedom of Africans in the Western Hemisphere
evoke names such as Marcus Garvey, Theophilus Sholes,
Paul Bogle, Norman Washington Manley, Alexander Bustamante,
Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, C.L.R. James and many
This unity of the founding fathers even as they had
to traverse the seas, was born of the realisation that
as one people with one history we are bound by the same
future. It was the realisation that unless closer links
were forged to work towards our betterment, we would
be failing African posterity on both sides of the Atlantic
Ocean, in an unpardonable manner.
And yet long after the demise of slavery and colonialism,
the lives of Africans and their descendants are still
blighted by a plethora of challenges not unrelated to
the past whose imprints the present bears.
As I tried to suggest earlier, we should, together,
try to answer the question - what went wrong in Haiti!
I am certain that if we answer this question honestly,
it will help us to answer the question - what went wrong
in the aftermath of our victories over colonialism and
the crudest forms of racial discrimination.
Shared oppression in the United States, the Caribbean
and Africa at the end of the 19th century, took some
of the foremost thinkers and activists for the emancipation
of Africans everywhere to London, to participate in
the 1st Pan-African Congress.
As you will remember, it was at this Congress that
W.E.B. du Bois made the prophetic statement - the problem
of the 20th Century is the problem of the colour line!
Then, the African intelligentsia united in the search
for ways and means by which to confront this problem.
Perhaps the time has come for the African intelligentsia
in the Americas, the Caribbean, Europe and Africa to
come together again, this time to make the statement
- the problem of the Africans in the 21st Century is
the problem of poverty, underdevelopment and marginalisation
- and together search for ways and means by which to
confront this problem.
As each one of us works to discover these ways and
means, operating within our national and regional boundaries,
we are confronted by the reality that those who have,
do not hesitate to tell us the have-nots what to do
to extricate ourselves from poverty, underdevelopment
However we all know that if the African slaves of Haiti
had asked the slave masters what they needed to do to
secure their liberation, they would never have secured
Perhaps the first determination we must make together,
and borrowing a phrase from Shakespeare, is that the
fault is not in our stars but in ourselves that we are
underlings. We should then come to a common resolve
that we have it in our power to change our condition,
as did the African slaves of Haiti.
The dawn of the 21st century, an era that sees the
intensification of the process of globalisation with
all its attendant ills to the marginalised sections
of humanity, including us the Africans, must inspire
us into an active mode to determine, define and shape
our collective future with clarity of vision.
Quite clearly, we need unity in our thinking and unity
in our actions. We need a united movement of Africans
on the continent and the Diaspora to bring us together
to confront our common challenges. Acting as atomised
entities, we will not be able to achieve the successes
we have to score.
We have come to the Caribbean to join in the celebrations
of the 30th Anniversary of CARICOM and convey a message
of solidarity from the African Union, which is barely
a year old, having evolved out of the Organisation of
African Unity (OAU). Both organisations represent the
outcome of the correct determination that Africans on
the continent and in the Diaspora have made, that it
is only when we are united that we will advance our
I believe that the next step we will have to take is
actively and consciously to share experiences with regard
to the task of promoting the unity on which CARICOM
and the AU are focused. We would do this to assist one
another to ensure that both organisations succeed in
the tasks they have set themselves.
I further believe that we must also arrive at a common
conclusion with regard to the critically important matter
of determining who or what our enemy is. I am convinced
that the conclusion cannot be avoided that the deepest
structural fault in global society and the global economy
is the poverty in which millions of Africans in Africa
and the Diaspora are immersed.
Immanent within the process of globalisation is the
inherent tendency towards the further widening of the
gap between the rich and the poor. By definition and
in reality, that process is also characterised by the
accelerated integration of the countries of the world,
with some being more equal than others.
From this it follows that we will not be able to solve
the problems that confront us, outside the processes
that shape the contemporary world. But, equally important,
it also follows that we cannot depend on the dominant
global system spontaneously to solve our problems.
Thus we come back to the point we made earlier, that
we must be our own liberators from poverty, underdevelopment
and marginalisation. Nobody will do this for us, even
as they may be able to help us to achieve this goal,
provided that they act with us, in partnership with
us, to implement what we would have decided needs to
be done to free us from poverty, underdevelopment and
Following the example of CARICOM, the African continent
has elaborated its own development programme, NEPAD,
the New Partnership for Africa's Development. Fundamental
to its conceptualisation and implementation are the
we must ourselves determine what is wrong in our societies
and what we want done to correct these wrongs;
we must design any programme of action arising out of
this determination, ourselves;
we must implement this programme within the context
of a social partnership in each of our countries, bringing
together government, business, trade unions and civil
we must further act in partnership as African countries,
informed by the need to ensure balanced and mutually
we must, in the first instance, depend on our own resources
for the elaboration and implementation of our programme
of action; and, finally,
we must enter into a partnership with the rest of the
world, for the implementation of what we have decided.
We are still at the beginning of these historic processes
and know that we should not expect easy victories. Nevertheless
we can make bold to say that not only has a beginning
been made, but that a good beginning has been made.
The question we have yet to pose and answer together
is what practically must we do to effect a real and
meaningful partnership between CARICOM and the African
Union and its development programme, NEPAD. I trust
that our participation in the celebrations of the 30th
Anniversary of CARICOM will take us even one step forward
towards finding an answer to this question.
Again I do not believe that it will be easy to determine
what needs to be done. But it would equally be wrong
and undesirable to come to the conclusion that nothing
can be done. Something must be done, in our collective
interest as Africans.
Similarly, having made the common determination that
we are confronted by the structural fault in global
society and the global economy to which we have referred,
we must act in unity to correct this fault. This relates
to a whole range of matters including the democratisation
of the multilateral system, and ensuring that the ACP-EU
and the WTO negotiations produce results that are in
our favour, in favour of our efforts to eradicate poverty
and overcome the scourge of underdevelopment.
More fundamentally, central among the objectives we
have to pursue together, is the transfer of productive
resources from the rich to the poor, to give us the
means to achieve development. This cannot happen in
a situation in which we continue to carry an intolerable
debt burden and are subjected to terms of trade that
continuously move against us.
During the Second World War the British naval garrison
in Singapore was fortified to repulse any attack from
the sea. But the Japanese invaders came overland by
bicycle and attacked the British from the rear.
Similarly, the rich cannot insulate themselves from
the billions of the world's poor. We too will place
ourselves in the midst of the rich, having arrived not
on formidable battleships, but by bicycle and on foot.
Common sense would seem to dictate that the problem
of poverty is not a problem of the poor only. And because
we are poor, it is our common responsibility to ensure
that those who are rich hear our voices.
We also have a responsibility to ensure that developments
in modern technology, together with the uni-polar world
of today, do not turn, once again, Africans and their
descendants into superfluous beings, dispensable and
without meaningful impact on the course of human evolution.
The exigencies of survival compel all Africans, in
the motherland and in the Diaspora, to re-think our
position, to move ahead in unison in the face of these
rapidly changing times.
We should seize with vigour, the lessons and legacy
of Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the organization he helped
found, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA),
which taught us self-reliance, hard work and confidence
as virtues we can use to navigate a vast, cold and turbulent
We have declared this century the African Century knowing
the challenges that face our continent as it strives
to clamber out of this chasm of despair, into which
it has been cast by the disheartening history of slavery,
colonialism, imperialism, apartheid, and economic exploitation
Clearly, this movement towards the Renaissance of Africa
belongs also to you. Without your meaningful involvement
and participation the African Century cannot come to
be, nor can it be complete.
We need to take a leaf out of the book of Sylvester
Williams, Marcus Garvey, and George Padmore, in whose
vision there were no borders nor barriers to re-connections
and co-operation between and amongst Africans across
Marcus Mosiah Garvey's back to Africa call greatly
aroused consciousness in the Diaspora about their unbreakable
linkages with their African brothers and sisters. In
a globalised world, there are many ways in which Garvey's
call may be realised.
The question that arises is, what can institutions
of knowledge such as this University do to assist with
the achievement of the objective of empowering Africans,
both in Africa and in Diaspora, to meet these challenges.
What can we do to empower our people with scientific
and technical knowledge in this information society
era? What engineering, marketing and information technology
skills can we impart to each other to ensure our survival
What political roles can we collectively play in the
international arena - including but not limited to,
the Commonwealth, United Nations, and Non-Aligned Movement
- to elevate our agenda, the African agenda, in its
complexity, to the top of global priorities?
Should we not consider exchange programmes between
our countries, between the institutions of higher learning,
between our business people, from people to people to
ensure that from each other we acquire valuable skills
and participate meaningfully in the renewal of African
We are all sons and daughters of Africa; we dare not
lose sight of this transcendental fact. We should always
remember, whether we reside in Africa physically or
spiritually, that Africa is our beginning and the world
is our ending.
We are not simply at the mercy of the circumstances
that presently define our future. On the contrary, collectively
we are at work at the foundry of knowledge, which must
both engender and determine the outline of this future.
There is no doubt, that Africans are experiencing a
rebirth. As Africans, fortified by the experiences on
the continent and in the Diaspora, we are undergoing
a thorough-going process of re-inventing ourselves,
of reclaiming our glorious past, of using that which
is good and best for our development.
Let us also rediscover those long hidden links which
have always bound us together, and use them in the new
context , which faces us both on the continent and the
We are forging new links within the continent and across
the seas with Africans in the Diaspora and with our
development partners, to create a new continent driven
by the imperatives of development and modernisation.
Today, the situation calls for us to recognise our common
interests in a globalised world and to collectively
fight for these in multilateral fora.
The poet, William E. Henley, in his poem 'Invictus',
speaks for all of us when he says:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud,
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how straight the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll;
I am the Master of My Fate;
I am the Captain of my Soul.
I thank you.