The Fire This Time?

What If All the Africans in the World Had a Meeting?

People perhaps remember the UN World Racism Conference in Durban, South Africa, last year for the noisy departure of the delegations from the U.S. and Israel and one of the rare moments, probably, that Secretary of State Colin Powell has been soundly booed. But it was also historic because the world community came together and agreed on a declaration that the transatlantic slave trade was a crime against humanity. This statement was, to some, the most important outcome of Durban, but the conference also identified issues that NGOs would work on in the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

One result is the African and African Descendants World Conference Against Racism (AADWCAR), October 2 through 6 in Barbados, which will bring together groups from all over Africa and the African diaspora. What is tantalizing, of course, about representatives of all the Africans on the planet having a meeting (aside from sublime conditions for people-viewing and world-music sampling) is that they might agree to form an organization.

Asked about organizers' primary goals, Roger Wareham of the December 12 Movement, who is one of the two Americans on the Barbados organizing committee, told the Voice, "It's really to provide an action plan for the issues we were able to highlight at the world conference in Durban. My own focus is the reparations issue, because I think it speaks to the fundamental question affecting African people around the world—that is, the right to development. Racism, discrimination, economic issues, education, and all the other issues we face speak to development." The December 12 group started working with the UN back in 1989, and has been pushing the reparations discussion since 1992, he said. "We were doing it from the perspective that Malcolm X had said we must put our situation in the international arena, and we thought the UN world conference was the best vehicle for highlighting these issues," he said. "We think of Durban as a success because it brought international attention to reparations. It forced those issues onto the national agenda here [in the U.S.] as well, complementing the work that has been going on here."

The Barbados meeting will focus on 10 areas of concern and propose ways to work on economic development, the negative impact of globalization on the diaspora, youth issues, education, health, culture, and gender-based issues, in addition to reparations. Organizers have also been working since before Durban on ways to build a pan-African NGO, with regional chapters.

"We have to have an organization," said Wareham. "There needs to be a pan-African organization. Steps were made before Durban. We set up an African descendants caucus, and whatever body comes out of [Barbados] will probably work with the existing group and other pan-African congresses."

Like many other activists, Wareham is personally inspired by the early days of Pan-Africanism. Probably the first ever meeting of this kind was a pan-African conference in 1900 in London, at which W.E.B. Du Bois was secretary, and he then convened the First Pan African Congress in Paris in 1919.

But the Fifth Pan African Congress, held in Manchester, England, in 1945, was certainly the barn burner and a Pan-Africanist all-star confab. Ceremonially hosted by the 77-year-old Du Bois, the group demanded an end to colonial rule and race discrimination, and the militancy of its members and its language served to fuel the African and Caribbean independence movements. Among the 90 delegates were Peter Abrahams of South Africa's African National Congress (ANC); Kwame Nkrumah, first prime minister of independent Ghana; Jomo Kenyatta, first president of a free Kenya; Hastings Banda, first president of Malawi; Obafemi Awolowo, Nigerian political analyst; and George Padmore, revolutionary organizer in Africa and the Caribbean.

Originally, Wareham said, the Durban congress, like several before it, was tightly focused on racism and racial discrimination. "But in the process of the organizing, the Western countries didn't want anything to do with these issues, and they know if you deal with these issues, you have to come at white supremacy, and they don't want to do that. There were a lot of other issues that drew people's attention and, to a certain degree, really allowed Western countries to skate."

 
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