P209 – Mobilizing Pan-Africanism in Relation to the Nation-State
9 July, 16:00 – 17:30

Bloom Peter / University of California, Santa Barbara
Miescher Stephan / University of California, Santa Barbara


This panel explores the discourses of Pan-Africanism in a transnational context of media modernity since the interwar period. With the rise of nationalism and struggle for independence, Pan-Africanism served as a powerful arbiter of coalitions and resistance to the colonial context. It offered an ideological index for emerging African nation states through political discourse and artistic expression. Moreover, Pan-Africanism provided a framework for national development and identity formation. However, such efforts were contested from within and without. In Nkrumah’s Ghana, for example, questions about large infrastructure projects activated political debates intersecting with party affiliations that became allied with an international consensus building. The media of newspapers, film, radio and television gave expression to the staging of these debates as part of a circulatory matrix of distribution in relationship to citizenship rights. Furthermore, political parties and their leaders came to play a critical role in forging alliances on the African continent and beyond. How, then, has the evolving context for and representation of Pan-Africanism functioned as a dialectical form of mobilization as both an internal dynamic and external global discourse? We are interested in papers that address the myriad contexts for Pan-Africanism on the African continent and in its equally formative transnational frame.

Mobiliser le panafricanisme en relation avec l’État-nation
Ce panel explore les discours du panafricanisme dans le contexte transnational de la modernité médiatique depuis les années 1920. Avec la montée des nationalismes et les luttes pour l’indépendance, le panafricanisme a servi d’arbitre puissant des coalitions et résistances aux contextes coloniaux. Pour les États-nations africains émergents, il offrait un vocabulaire idéologique au travers de discours politiques et d’expressions artistiques. En outre, le panafricanisme offrait un cadre au développement national et aux formations identitaires. Pourtant, ces efforts ont été contestés en son sein et en dehors. Dans le Ghana de Nkrumah, par exemple, les grands projets d’infrastructure ont suscité des débats politiques traversant les affiliations partisanes qui se sont alignées sur un consensus international. Ces débats ont été mis en scène dans les médias de presse, films, radio et télévision, offrant une matrice de distribution circulaire des droits liés à la citoyenneté. De plus, les partis politiques et leurs leaders en sont venus à jouer un rôle critique en forgeant des alliances sur le continent africain et au-delà. Comment est-ce que le contexte changeant du panafricanisme et les représentations de celui-ci ont fonctionné comme une forme dialectique de mobilisation d’une dynamique interne et d’un discours externe et global ? Nous sommes intéressés par des contributions qui abordent le panafricanisme par la myriade de ses contextes sur le continent africain autant que par le cadre transnational qui l’a généré.


Paper 1

Bonacci Giulia / Institute of Research for Development (IRD) / Research Unit Migrations and Society (URMIS)

Ethiopia’s (Pan African) Renaissance: Ethiopian Medias and the Golden Jubilee of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), May 2013

The celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the OAU gave way to numerous events and commentaries in Ethiopia. A diplomatic landmark, it was organized both by the African Union (AU) and by the Ethiopian government through an ad hoc secretariat in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. However the commemoration remained out of reach for many ordinary people, raising questions about the social significance of today’s Pan-Africanism and of its political use. This presentation analyzes the coverage of the Golden Jubilee of the OAU in the Ethiopian medias. It seeks to understand what the medias portrayed of the commemoration, and how was Pan-Africanism given a particular shape on this occasion. This study is based on an exhaustive press review of Ethiopian medias (newspapers, TV, radio) conducted with Law students of Addis Ababa University, and is cognizant of the difficulties faced by journalists and private medias in the country. It shows eventually how the role of Ethiopia in the development of Pan-Africanism was often underlined by the medias, and it questions the often-contradictory nature of simultaneously nationalist and Pan-Africanist political aims.

Paper 2

Bloom Peter / University of California, Santa Barbara, Department of Film and Media Studies

La radia in the Pan-Africanist Imagination

The wireless imagination, or la radia as allied with the second wave of Italian Futurism, is a significant context for understanding the circulation of Pan-Africanism as an emerging activist discourse during the late interwar period. The second Italo-Ethiopian War (1935-36) reinvigorated a particularly virulent strain of Italian militarism under the banner of fascism while also provoking an internationalist campaign against it led by black Atlantic and African intellectuals (e.g., W.E.B. DuBois, C.L.R. James, Ras Makonnen, George Padmore, and later Kwame Nkrumah). This paper examines how the wireless imagination serves as an organizing principle for the act of transmission itself. As a new spatial configuration of verticality and encompassment pace Ferguson and Gupta (2002), the horizon of la radia, I argue, links participatory communities in a contradictory alliance. The radiation of data through wireless telegraphy and the transmission of radio waves served as a basis for a new mode of international circulation that materialized as daily newspaper reports and radio transmissions within an emerging context for simultaneity and urgency. It is the foundation for this emerging political apparatus of transmission that became aligned with Pan-Africanism. The paper will culminate in a discussion of how these strands coalesced in late colonial and early independent Ghana by examining the Pan-Africanist approach of Radio Ghana’s External Broadcasting Services starting in 1961.

Paper 3

Miescher Stephan / University of California, Santa Barbara, Department of History

A Dam for Africa?: The Volta River Project and Pan-Africanism in Ghana

IIn 1966 President Kwame Nkrumah commissioned the Akosombo Dam across the Volta River, Ghana’s largest development project. Originally designed during the interwar period, the Volta River Project was reshaped with the advent of self-rule in the 1950s to include a hydroelectric dam, an aluminum smelter, and other infrastructure investments. The project moved to the center of a modernization program that promised rapid industrialization in the soon-to-be independent nation. Rallying support, Nkrumah’s emphasized Akosombo’s Pan-African development potential. Yet, plans to extend Akosombo power to “African sister states” remained unresolved. Instead, Akosombo was a national project that provided electricity to the towns and industrial centers of southern Ghana. In 1972, when Ghana began exporting electricity to Togo and Benin in exchange for hard currency, the Pan-African rhetoric resurfaced. Some Ghanaians critiqued the export of Akosombo power at the expense of rural electrification. This paper, based on newspapers accounts, archival reports, and oral research, explores the tensions between Pan-African discourses, national politics, and citizen demands for electrification. The Pan-African dimension of Akosombo, I argue, remained a rhetorical aspiration in the name of African unity. For many Ghanaians, the buoyancy of a Pan-African discourse deferred the benefits of national citizenship. They challenged a Pan-African agenda that hindered the promise of national electrification.

Paper 4

Jean-Baptise Rachel / University of California, Davis, Department of History

“We Will Remain Métis:” Race, Belonging, and Pan-African Identities in Francophone Africa, 1945-1960

In September 1959, the International Union of Métis convened their 2nd International Congress in the town of Neu-Asel, Germany. With headquarters in Dakar and Paris, the leadership and membership were mixed race persons from throughout French-speaking Africa. On the agenda was to address “the métis problem” of the thousands of persons born of interracial sexual relationships between Africans and other historical actors in the French empire who were “not black.” The Congress took place in a moment of immense flux in the meanings of belonging, citizenship, and nation across francophone Africa and France.The French empire was fading away to become the French Community. Métis delegates’ insistence that race mattered presented a vexing problem for African and French thinkers and political leaders.Congress participants expressed that the in-betweeness of skin color made “métis” a distinct and collective social, cultural, and legal category. Métis could be at once citizens of territorial nation-states within the new Africa and nationals of France, as well as espousing an alternative Pan-African identity based on their genealogy of French and African bloodlines. The transnational practices of mixed-race persons in francophone Africa to carve out public recognition based on ideas of racial difference compel us to rethink our understanding of how Africans conceptualized identity and belonging in twentieth century colonial and postcolonial Africa.

Paper 5

Jules-Rosette Bennetta / University of California, San Diego

Agitating Art: Populist Influences in Pan-Africanism and Négritude from Senegal to France and Beyond, 1966-2014

As president of Sénégal, Léopold Senghor devoted nearly a third of his nation’s budget to promoting the arts. Négritude as an aesthetic and political philosophy valorized universal principles of African identity filtered through the canons of the West by emphasizing pan-African iconic forms and cultural expressions. Following the 1966 World Festival of Black Arts in Dakar, Senghor traveled across Africa to establish outlets for the philosophy of négritude in new universities and art schools. The founding of the École de Dakar reinforced state-supported networks for the dissemination of the arts of négritude. This paper addresses responses to négritude as circuits of exchange and reappropriation extending from localism to globalized cultural networks. Three grass-roots artistic responses to négritude include: (1) the 1980s SET SETAL mural movement in Dakar; (2) the 1990s Sénégalese avant-garde art movement, Laboratoire Agit-Art, under the leadership of artists El Hadji Moussa Babacar Sy and Issa Samb; and (3) the 1980s Congolese New Figuratist movement with Diouf (Moussa) Kabamba and his followers. These popular artistic movements demonstrate that Senghor’s vision of universal cultural humanism stood in contradistinction to the globalization of African art. This discussion concludes by underscoring the distinction between négritude as a national identity discourse, with pan-African humanism as its goal, and the global circuits of African-based popular artistic movements.

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