South Africa, African Union, Caribbean Diaspora Conference, 16 - 18 March 2005 Kingston, Jamaica

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"Towards Unity and United Action of Africans and the African Diaspora in the Caribbean for a Better World: The Case of South Africa", Kingston, Jamaica, 16 - 18 March 2005.

1. Introduction

Since April 2004, South Africa has been celebrating the tenth anniversary of the defeat of apartheid, and the establishment of true democracy and social justice for all its people. The victory over apartheid was primarily the outcome of the struggle of those who were oppressed. At the same time, however, the contribution of the global anti-apartheid movement was equally critical.

It is in this context that in its celebration of this anniversary, the government of South Africa has organised a series of activities in various parts of the world with a view to thanking those who supported the anti-apartheid struggle and engaging them on the challenges of the post-apartheid transition. These celebrations are organised under the theme "A People United for a Better South Africa and a Better World".

One of the major activities envisaged for this year is a conference in the Caribbean on the
theme: "Towards Unity and United Action of Africans and the African Diaspora in the
Caribbean for a Better World: The Case of South Africa".

The contribution of the Caribbean region to the struggle against apartheid in particular, and colonialism in general, has for decades been an inspiration to the masses on the African continent. It is for this reason that South Africa's ten-year anniversary celebrations will be incomplete without touching base on the Caribbean islands. Celebrating this anniversary with a conference will not only provide a platform for reflection on the historic solidarity between the peoples of Africa and the Caribbean, but will also strengthen the resolve and determination of all people of African descent to confront, decisively so, the plight and predicament of the African continent.

South Africa's celebrations take place in the context of a 21st century that is underpinned by African development imperatives. In a speech at the University of the West Indies, Mr Thabo Mbeki, the President of South Africa, made the following observations:

Over the past 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 century 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 Diaspora.

The recent formation of the African Union and the formulation, adoption and implementation of the NEPAD agenda attest to the realisation of this quest for a rebirth of the African continent and its peoples. It is in the context, of the 21st century as an African century, that NEPAD has, amongst others, committed itself to "determine what is wrong in our societies and what we want done to correct these wrongs and design any programme of action arising out of this determination…"

At the university in the West Indies mentioned above, President Mbeki told the participants that the aim of the envisaged reforms is to change the conditions that have for many years imposed the "status of underlings" on Africans everywhere. He then reminded them of the first Pan African Congress in London, where WEB du Bois made the prophetic statement that the problem of the 20th century would be the problem of the colour line. President Mbeki said, "Then the African intelligentsia united in the search for ways and means by which to confront this problem."

President Mbeki then made his own clarion call: "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."

So too, the African Union, since its inception and especially in the aftermath of the Maputo Summit, has taken a number of decisions and measures aimed at strengthening links between the African continent and its Diaspora. The planned conference, therefore, is also a contribution to the efforts by the African Union to reach out to the African Diaspora.

2. Historical Justification

Africa's quest for unity and social and economic recovery is a centuries-old endeavour. The common historical experience of Africans of, first, slavery and, later, colonialism, ensured that Africans developed a commonly shared consciousness as one people with a common destiny. This consciousness converged into a Pan-African Movement, which developed institutionally from the turn of the 19th century under the leadership of the Diaspora. Pan-Africanism rests on four pillars: (a) a sense of common historical experience; (b) a sense of common descent, identity and destiny; (c) opposition to racial discrimination and colonialism; and (d) a determination to create a "new" Africa.

Pan-Africanism, a product of the negative encounter between Africa and European imperialism, is principally manifested in the record of the struggle of Africans against these foreign forces. Such struggles have taken place on the levels of overt, armed and covert resistance to enslavement and imperialism.

The relationship between Africa and the African Diaspora has its roots in the slave trade from 1500s - 1800s that transported millions of Africans across the Atlantic to the New World of Europe and the Americans. The so-called slaves struggled for survival and freedom to preserve their dignity and to assert their worth as human beings. They adapted themselves to the ways of their new environment but were never completely assimilated because they also retained as much of the African cultures that they represented. This bond of spiritual kinship that connected them to the African continent was reflected in the lyrics and cultural resonance that floated around the plantations and households in which they lived and worked amidst suffering, humiliation and various forms of depravation.

The Caribbean has made a crucial contribution to Pan-Africanism at all levels and in all its modes. First, in the grand record of anti-slavery struggles conducted on the plantations (slave conspiracies and revolts against enslavement, with the Great Haitian Revolution of 1791-1804 being its highest achievement) as well as struggles against the plantation establishment (grand marronage and, later, in anti-slavery campaigning in the metropoles). Olaudah Equiano, once enslaved in the Caribbean, is a good example for his involvement in British anti-slavery. Crucially, Diasporan African anti-slavery struggles were frequently guided by specifically African cultural - including military - practice and by a deep and abiding commitment to the idea of return to the African continent.

Numerous 19th and early 20th century Caribbean personalities contributed decisively to the development of the Pan-African movement and its ideas. These personalities include Edward Wilmot Blyden (Virgin Islands), TES Scholes (Jamaica), Henry Sylvester Williams (a Trinidadian who placed the word 'Pan-African' on the political map and organised the first Pan-African Conference in 1900), Marcus Garvey (Jamaica), George Padmore (Trinidad), Norman Cameron (British Guiana) and CLR James (Trinidad). The fight against white supremacist racism, the liberation of Africa from colonialism, and the unification of Africans were their principal focus.

Indeed, the activities and challenges of both continental Africans and Africans in Diaspora continued to impact upon each other, with history as a common reference point. Those transported across the Atlantic began as second-class citizens in their new abode just as the establishment of the colonial order on the African continent relegated their brothers and sisters to the same status on the continent. Hence, the quest for freedom and social emancipation became a shared concern. Africans on both sides of the Atlantic divide felt the impact of vestigial discrimination in the aftermath of the abolition of the Slave Trade and the onset of the twentieth century.

Thus, for example, the Civil Rights Movement in the Diaspora and the Independence Movement in Africa coincided with each other and became mutually reinforcing. Continental Africans supported the African Diaspora quest for equality and civil rights while the latter campaigned strenuously for African Independence. The Pan-Africanist philosophy of founders of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) drew inspiration from their predecessors in the Diaspora Pan-Africanist movement. The combined vision of continental Africans on both sides of the Atlantic created a vision for development and self-actualization that gave impetus to the struggle for independence in the 1960s and the formation of the OAU in 1963.

To be sure, in Africa, the period towards decolonisation witnessed the emergence of a new breed of African leaders in the form of, notably, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Sekou Toure, Kenneth Kaunda, and Leopold Senghor. These leaders not only led their respective countries to independence, but also pioneered new ideas on African unity, which resulted in the founding of the OAU.

Clearly, the Pan-Africanism of 19th and early 20th century was not confined to pamphlets, meetings, conferences, congresses, conventions and schemes for return to Africa. The role and contribution of ordinary masses of Africans in their daily struggles against chattel slavery and colonialism was equally critical.

The vital factor in the post-World War II phase of the Pan-African movement, with its primary focus on colonialism, was the bringing together of the ongoing and distinct struggles of the masses of the African people, from the peasants, workers, and the unemployed, to the lumpen elements and the intelligentsia.

In this phase of the movement, the contribution of the people of the Caribbean to Pan-Africanism was considerable and took many forms. Frantz Fanon - from the French Caribbean - is one good example of direct militant engagement by a Caribbean in the African anti-colonial struggle. Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks and Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa remain the must-read books for any person interested in the political economy of the African predicament.

Rastafari, the Jamaican-originated philosophy, was to have a pervasive influence at the more broadly cultural and psychological levels of support for the liberation of continental Africa and the freeing of the consciousness of Africans more generally. The names of Bob Marley, Mutabaruka, Tappa Zukie, Peter Tosh, and Tony Rebel represent a small part of a lengthy list of popular artists (griots) in the reggae genre who amplified the message of freedom for Africans.

Some Caribbean governments also became directly involved in the African anti-colonial struggles. The best example is that of Cuba: this country's role was not limited to providing educational and health training and other civil support to African liberation movements, but also included direct military engagement in Angola against the apartheid army. This latter role contributed directly to the ultimate victory of the liberation movement in Namibia.

At the start of the 21st century, Pan-Africanism retains its relevance, because the historical dynamics, which produced it, remain a factor to this day. The conditions of poverty, underdevelopment and marginalisation of Africans are but one example. The challenges to Pan-Africanism today must include generating an understanding of the political economy of the African predicament, and organising Africans on the continent and the Diaspora.

3. Conference Theme and Sub-Themes

It is against the above background that this historic conference is being organised, with the theme: Towards Unity and United Action of Africans and the African Diaspora in the Caribbean for a Better World: The Case of South Africa. The main objective of the conference will be to provide an opportunity and initiate a dialogue process to find ways to unite Africans in Africa and those in the Diaspora and to search for solutions to problems that confront them.

3.1 Key Objectives

  • To create linkages between Africa and the Diaspora and initiate a dialogue on common challenges;
  • To strengthen partnerships and co-operation between the peoples of the two regions;
  • To establish mechanisms for building stronger political and economic relations between Africa and the Caribbean;
  • To identify new opportunities for future collaboration that can be of mutual benefit in the political, economic and socio-cultural spheres;
  • To develop a common agenda for confronting common problems between Africa and the Caribbean;
  • To support the implementation of the African Union decisions on the African Diaspora.

3.2 Sub-Themes

  • Pan Africanism revisited

    The discussion will:

    • revisit the understanding and definition of Pan Africanism and the African Diaspora;
    • trace the relations between South Africa, Africa and the Caribbean;
    • Analyse the relations between the above and the rest of the world, and in particular, with the developed countries.
    • Situate the material conditions of Africa and its Diaspora in the current global environment

  • International Affairs, Peace and Security
    The discussion will explore the dynamics of contemporary political and foreign policy challenges such as globalisation, asymmetric North-South power relations, and international peace and security; and how all these impact on South Africa/Africa and the Caribbean and their relations with other countries.

  • The Report of the UN High-Level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change
    The discussion will focus of various aspects and implications of this report from the African and Caribbean perspectives.

  • Democracy and Good Governance
    The discussion will focus on the evolution of democracy in Africa and the Caribbean, drawing from the experiences of the first as well the most recent democracies. Discussion will also focus on race, class, ethnicity and gender and their implications for effective nation building.

  • Regional Development and Integration
    The discussion will analyse the efforts of the African Union and the Caribbean states in building regional integration. The discussion will also investigate the role of NEPAD in the attainment of effective continental integration.

  • Economic Co-operation and Trade Links
    The discussion will interrogate challenges relating to economic co-operation between South Africa/Africa and the Caribbean in the context of various other initiatives within and between the two regions and other economies. This discussion should include debt cancellation, reparations, and the MDG agenda, as well as co-operation between Africa and the Caribbean in the democratisation of the international financial and trade architecture.

  • Historical, Socio-Cultural and Religious Commonalities
    This discussion will address the nature and evolution of the social, cultural and religious relations and artistic heritages in South Africa/Africa and the Caribbean with a view to identifying areas of convergence and divergence as well as lessons from history.

  • South-South Cooperation and Solidarity
    The discussion will look at the challenges relating to issues of development and poverty with a specific focus on crime, HIV/Aids, transnational crime and narcotics trafficking, as well as environmental problems.

  • Knowledge Sharing
    This discussion will address the nature of contemporary challenges related to the production, distribution and sharing of knowledge and information between South Africa/Africa and the Caribbean in the context of global trends and challenges. The delegates should identify how the two regions ought to respond to the challenges and what strategies should be developed to address contemporary and future challenges with a view to enhancing the mutual interests of both regions. The following aspects should be considered:

    • the nature of the challenges posed by the production and distribution and utilisation of indigenous knowledge and information within and between the two regions.

      o the challenges posed by the production, distribution and utilisation of academic and scientific knowledge and information within both regions and between the two regions.

      o the challenges posed by the production, distribution of technical knowledge information and innovations with the aim of enhancing productivity, competitiveness, and inclusive and equitable growth and development in light of the current global order and the opportunities and constraints that it poses.

      o the challenges posed by the monopolisation of processes of global cultural exchange on the intellectual property of the people of Africa and the Caribbean

3.3 Anticipated Outcomes

The anticipated outcomes of the conference are the following:

  • Concrete proposals on economic and trade links in specific areas and embarking on collaborative programmes on common areas of interest
  • Commitment to solidarity and mutual support in international forums
  • The beginnings of institutionalised Africa-Caribbean co-operation and collaboration amongst governments and civil society
  • A common agenda for collaboration with the view to furthering the objectives of the African Union
  • Publication of conference proceedings.

3.4 Partners

The following are the principal partners in the organisation of this conference:

  • The South African Government
  • The African Union Commission
  • Government of Jamaica.

3.5 Participants

A total of 250 participants will be drawn from the following stakeholders:

  • Ministers and Parliamentarians
  • Business people
  • Academics
  • Civil Society and NGOs
  • Media
  • Cultural organisations.

4. Conclusion

This tenth anniversary celebration conference is a historic and critical project. It will help take the debates and projects of both South Africa and the African Union to higher levels. It is important that it is understood as an initial exploration whose outcomes should lead to, and or connect with, other long-term projects on the Diaspora. Its success is thus critical not only for South Africa but also for the agenda of a better world.

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