Institute of the Black World Holds Symposium on Afrika and the CaribbeanPrint This Page
By Cliff Kuumba
Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves of St. Vincent and The Grenadines
Prime Minister Ralph Everad Gonsalves, born August 8, 1946, has been the Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines since March 2001. He completed a Bachelors Degree in Economics at the University of the West Indies, there obtaining several noteworthy accolades, including President of the Debating Society and President of the Guild of Undergraduates. In 1971 he obtained a Masters in Government from the University of the West Indies. In 1974 and 1981 he obtained a Ph.D in Government and a degree of Utter Barrister at the University of Manchester, England and Gray’s Inn, London respectively. Concurrently while pursuing his political career and prior to his becoming Prime Minister of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Dr. Gonsalves practiced law extensively and successfully before the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court in a wide range of matters, bur particularly in the fields of constitutional law, administrative law, matrimonial law, real property law, law of tort generally and the law of contract. Dr. Gonsalves has researched, written and published extensively on a range of matters touching upon the Caribbean, Afrika, trade unionism, comparative political economy, and developmental issues (from the program introduction).
Dr. Gonsalves spoke on the evening of Thursday, October 17 in the main sanctuary of the Metropolitan African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Washington,DC. After a stirring speech by veteran Congressmember John Conyers and an introduction by his ambassador, Dr. Gonsalves spoke about the spirit of cooperation hat has historically existed between Afrikan-Descendant nations in the Caribbean and South America, specifically pointing out the invaluable assistance from Venezuela and Cuba as Caribbean nations faced constant diplomatic, economic and even military pressure from the United States. Special mention was made of the US invasion of Grenada in 1983, the continuing US embargo of Cuba, the destabilization of Ayiti (popularly known as “Haiti”) and the repeated efforts to overthrow the government of Venezuela, and the degree to which cooperation between the countries of ALBA (The Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas in English) has helped his and other countries to maintain their independence and develop their infrastructure. One key project he has implemented is an airport that will provide alternatives to US airstrips for people in South America, Central America and the Caribbean to travel to Afrika and the Global South. His story is an inspiring one, and an important lesson in cooperation between small countries that we could learn from as organizations here in the US.
Former President Pedro Pires of Cape Verde
The first speaker for the Friday sessions was former President Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires of Cape Verde. Born 29 April 1934, he was a Commander in the field with the famed Amilcar Cabral, leader of the anti-colonial liberation struggle against Portugal. He served as President of Cape Verde from March 2001 to September 2011. Before becoming President, he was Prime Minister from 1975 to 1991. He is a graduate of the University of Lisbon in Portugal. In May 2008, he said that he favored a cautious, long-term approach to the formation of a United States of Africa, preferring that regional integration precede a continent-wide union. He was awarded the 2011 Mo Ibrahim Prize for Achievement in African Leadership. It was awarded in recognition of his role in making Cape Verde a “model of democracy, stability and increased prosperity”. The prize included a monetary component of $5 million — which President Pires planned e to fund the Amilcar Cabral Foundation to train future leaders for Cape Verde and Africa. In their citation, prize committee members wrote that “Cape Verde is now seen as an African success story, economically, socially and politically.” President Pires himself told reporters that the prize was “a recognition of my 50 years of wholesale and exclusive dedication to politics, and the causes of independence and democracy.” (from the program introduction)
President Pires was lauded during the Friday morning panel for his commitment to democracy in Cape Verde, to the point of requesting a reduction of his own power as Prime Minister and the distribution of that power to other officials, including his political opposition. He is seen as having been so committed to democracy that he was willing to risk his own political career for that cause, as he lost an election shortly afterward, in part based on his own request to share his power.
President Pires concluded his remarks, which were interpreted from his home language of Portuguese, with nine “Priorities for an Afrkan Agenda for Progress”: (1) Peace and security throughout the entire territory of the Continent, including “a solid fight against religious fundamentalism” and intolerance; (2) “The pursuance of reforms in states practicing the rule of law, making them more democratic”; (3) “Taking effective advantage of the Continent’s enormous hydroelectric and agricultural potential”, ensuring food security on the Continent; (4) “The establishment of a common land policy that preserves Afrika’s land heritage and protects the mutual strategic interests of the Afrikan and cultural sector”; (5) “Devising solutions for the serious infrastructural and structural energy and communication deficits on the Continent”; (6) “The development of intra-Afrikan trade and intensification of Afrikan investments in Afrika”; (7) “Intensive investment and Continent-wide coordination in the areas of education, research and innovation in order to build human capacity”; (8) “Dissemination of technological knowledge among the population to the aim of extending national, social and technological basis”; and (9) “Continuous capacity-building of public and private leadership and the appropriation of a strategic culture.”
“I believe the Pan-Afrikanism as practiced in the Twentieth Century has begun to show signs of exhaustion.”
— former Cape Verde President Pedro Pires
He noted the need for strong leadership fro the African Union (AU), the establishment of the rule of law and good governance throughout the Continent, Afrika’s need to modernize and industrialize itself, the need to respond effectively to important issues of the Continent, and “an ethics-based commitment on the part of Afrikan elites to the strategic interests of Afrika and its respective countries in favor of progress and the effective liberation of the countries.”
President Pires closed his remarks with a warning of sorts to the Continent’s leaders and would-be leaders: “I am faced with another concern. I believe the Pan-Afrikanism as practiced in the Twentieth Century has begun to show signs of exhaustion. So what will the journey of the Pan-Afrikanist ideals mean in the age of highly-competitive economies under the fast-paced globalization and in the expansion of the Information Society? I leave you with this question for further deliberation. Thank you very much.”
The Friday panels provided some important perspective on many of the issues that impact Afrika, the Caribbean and the Diaspora, and we will focus on them for the remainder of this article.
The Panel on Afrika
The first panel on Friday morning concerned The Future of Democracy and Development in Afrika, and brought together several significant advocates for the Continent from Afrika and the Diaspora.
The first speaker was Her Excellency Amina Salum Ali, African Union Ambassador to the United States. She began on a hopeful note, pointing out the face that seven of the top ten growing economies in the world are in Afrika. She spoke about the African Union’s efforts to for a Continental Union akin to a federalized Continent (what some refer to as the United States of Africa or Union of Afrikan States). She stressed the importance of democracy and elections on the Continent and the need to create a more peaceful, prosperous and people-centered Afrika. The election last year of Madame Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma as the Chair of the African Union Commission was an important step in Afrika’s advancement and renaissance. Of course, the Diaspora must contribute to this progress as well, and it will have a important role to play as the AU proceeds with its plan to establish a unified Continent by 2063. Ambassador Ali also pointed out that “growth and development are not necessarily the same thing.”
Dr. Pearl Robinson is a current Professor at Tufts University and is the President Emeritus of the African Studies Association. She has held positions on the Board of Directors of TransAfrica, Oxfam and the National Council of Negro Women, as well as serving on he Boston Pan-Africa Forum. She made mention of the Afro-Barometer, an online “Gallup Poll of Afrika” that compiles “the views, opinions and attitudes of ordinary Afrikans in political and economic issues in their countries.” While she acknowledged the “Afro-Optimists” who see the economic growth of the Continent as the fastest in the world, she stated that for ordinary Afrikans, “life is a little bit different.” 22% lack clean water. 20% receive no medical care. 53% rated their economy negatively, 38% said it was worse than before and 56% say their governments are doing a bad job with the economy, jobs and the income gap. Afro-Barometer will release three more reports on Democracy, Corruption and Internet Usage before the end of 2013. She stated that we each have an “opposite number on the Continent, someone whose abilities, aspirations and work parallels our own, and she asked us, “How can we work to improve conditions and prospects for our “opposite numbers” on the Continent?
Wale Idris Ajibade is the Executive Director of African Views, an Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) focusing on a framework for research and communications for Afrikan development. He is also the Chairman of a proposed Afrikan Diaspora Credit Union and the founder of the Foundation for Cultural Diversity. He referred to the issue of development and democracy as “a great responsibility that we can no longer outsource.” He noted the issue with Afrika’s youth in which “Niger Republic has the highest youth population in the world. They are at risk. Uganda has the next population of youth in the world. They are in great danger.” Unrest has led to situations where the youth are “uneducated and in atrophy.” The AU and CARICOM (The Caribbean Community of economies) need to cooperate to expand opportunities for youth in Afrika and the Diaspora. He stated the need to shift the current paradigms “from conflict to resolution, from confrontation to truce, from hostility to hospitality, from poverty to sustainable democracy to empathy, from fear to comfort, negligence to conscientiousness, from crisis to confidence, from threat to security. This is the true principle of democracy and development.”
Emira Woods is a Liberian activist and is Co-Director, Foreign Policy in Focus for the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS). She made reference to the responses to the Afro-Barometer survey and stated the need to “dive deep” into what impacted the people to respond as they have. “This is our century. We have had enough of being dictated to in the decades past, and we are claiming our collective vision as a continent and as a people, and we are moving forward.” The AU’s 2063 Plan provides a framework for that progress. Still, there is growing inequality. “The 1% elite tied to multinational corporations are living large … they are really enjoying the benefits of the Continent … not putting the people first.” The resources of Afrika are not benefiting the people but are driving the global economy and enriching international industrialists, from the “unconscionable” exploitation of coltan in DR Congo and oil in the Niger River Delta, to commodity-pricing of goods where “we are not controlling the prices of [our own] resources”, to the two million acres that are being taken from the people to grow biofuels. “It is devastating our communities … people being pushed off their land … to urban areas where there are not enough jobs … it is a scourge that must end.” She also noted that remittances, which far outweigh trade and aid to Afrika, are down, and the riding sea levels are threatening countries like Cape Verde with land loss. Finally, she stressed the need to get past the “us vs. them” mentality that pits Christian against Muslim, tribe against tribe, country against country and is creating “a world where we are all terrorists” as weapons, drones and military contractors are flooded into Afrika, undermining democracy and development, devastating communities throughout the Continent. She ended with the advice of veteran activist and entertainer Harry Belafonte during his visit for IPS’s 50th Anniversary: “Be Radical!”
“The 1% elite tied to multinational corporations are living large … they are really enjoying the benefits of the Continent … not putting the people first.”
— Liberian activist Emira Woods
Mel Foote is the President of the Constituency For Africa (CFA), which sponsors the Ron Brown African Affairs Series every September in Washington, DC. He spoke about CFA’s work to help shape US policy towards Afrika, including talking to the “Evil Empire” of the World Bank, the State Department and the White House. CFA has also partnered with the AU and Ambassador Ali, and attended the May 2012 Diaspora Summit in South Africa. He spoke a bit about the AU’s five Legacy Projects: the African Diaspora Marketplace, the Diaspora Volunteer Corps, the Remittance Institute, the Investment Fund and the Skills Database. Mr. Foote sees “challenges” but he is “energized.” He noted that land-grabbing happens not just in Afrika but in the Diaspora as well, including right there in Washington, DC. In referring to similar issues in New York, DC and rural communities around the globe, Mr. Foote stated that “Afrika is where Afrikan people are.” In that regard, he stated that Afrikans living in the US are in a unique position, whether we came here by slave ship or by airplane, whether we were born here, came from the Caribbean, from South America, from Central America or were the children of those who did, were “officials like Ambassador Ali” or “regular folks”, all of whom “look at the Diaspora differently.” He said, “we’re the wealthiest Afrikans in the world … throwing away food … obesity … push a button, there’s clean water.” In any case, he sees the Afrika that the AU is building for 2063 as being “for the younger people. We’re not going to be here.” The biggest challenge, he said, will be educating Americas about Afrika, “the cradle of civilization.”
The Panel on The Caribbean
The second panel, The Future of Democracy and Development in the Caribbean, featured speakers from a variety of perspectives representing Haiti, Panama and the Caribbean overall.
Col. Dr. Joseph Baptiste is the Chief of Dental Services at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, DC and one of the founders of the National Organization for the Advancement of Haitians (NOAH). He is also a current member of the Board of Advisors on the Maryland Governor’s Commission of Caribbean Affairs. He made note of the fact that the May 14, 2011 inauguration of Michel Martelly as Haiti’s 56th President was the first peaceful transfer of power from one political part to an opposition party in the country’s history. Dr. Baptiste noted Haiti’s issues and difficulties but also made mention of the country’s progress under Martelly, with the expectation that “Haiti will become a middle-class country” in the near future. Haiti currently receives much more in remittances from its Diaspora, many of whom live in the United States, than from aid from the US.
Esmeralda Brown, born in Panama, is the President of the Southern Diaspora Research and Development Center. Speaking about the impact of slavery (“a crime against humanity”) and the need to fight for reparations, she recalled the 2001 World Conference Against Racism (WCAR) in Durban, South Africa and how “descendants of the colonizers have conspired to retain the power to deprive people of Afrikan descent and indigenous peoples of their assets, including their land and the ability to develop … freedom and opportunity.” She referred to several terms that are used to differentiate and cause disunity between people of Afrikan descent, from mulatto to mestizo to creole to octaroon to the exploitation of gender differences. Afrodescendant advocacy groups in Latin America, including the Caribbean, Central America and South America, have worked to bridge the gaps under the principle that “discrimination on the basis of … gender and race are a human rights violation.” She concluded her remarks with “we are on people. We are from Latin America, the Caribbean, but we mostly are Afrikan.”
Dr. Karl B. Rodney, Publisher of the New York Carib News, concentrated on the fact that “both democracy and development in the Caribbean at this time is really threatened, and threatened by internal and external forces.” Among those forces, he included loans that lead to crippling debts that are designated by the World Bank as “first to be serviced” and thus work to prevent “practical development plans” in favor of global banks, even preventing some countries from being able to assume any further debt. This leads to dependence on foreign investors who then control what projects will receive any funding, to the detriment of development plans. Examples include Chinese, Japanese and other foreign investors who support only plans that will benefit them and them alone. This “pick-and-choose” approach leads to development that is haphazard at best. CARICOM as a regional trade organization “is a shell” because the development plan that they should be planning and coordinating “does not in fact exist.” Manufacturing is local and largely nonexistent. “We are losing the battle even in agriculture. We cannot feed ourselves effectively.” The creative industries (including music, fashion and film) “are not organized around any program that can be expanded.” Tourism is the main driver of the Caribbean economy, but it is controlled by foreign investors. Even the financial services have largely been shut down, especially with he pressure now being put on offshore banking. Thus, the illegal drug trade has become a major player. And with that come gangs and crime. This includes “shootings, kidnapping; even beheading has started in Trinidad and Tobago. … It’s not a pretty picture. … Those forces that controlled the economy are now looking to control the democracy.” With all these issues, however, Dr. Rodney says we need not be discouraged. The increase in literacy and certain economic indicators shows that we can come together, unite and fight back, if we have the will to do so.
“I do not think we can construct a future that is inclusive, prosperous and sustainable in the current environment in which we, the human race, find ourselves on the continuation of a Western capitalist paradigm that served to enslave us in the first place.”
— Dr. Claire Nelson
Dr. Claire Nelson, Executive Director of the Institute for Caribbean Studies, spoke of envisioning a society that truly puts people first. She sees ICS as part of the “Revisionist” Afrikan Diaspora in the Caribbean region, having been founded in 2013 from the traditional Reparations Movement and considering itself charged with developing a “new paradigm of human development … learning from the triumphs and challenges of slavery, colonialism and the Western capitalist paradigm. … I do not think we can construct a future that is inclusive, prosperous and sustainable in the current environment in which we, the human race, find ourselves on the continuation of a Western capitalist paradigm that served to enslave us in the first place. We cannot construct our future … on rules that consigned us to mere chattel.” Looking at the state of Black people around the world, “we still live in a state of self-doubt, a state of skin-color consciousness and worshipping, a state of seeing ourselves as victims and not as victors. … Where I our vision of the New World Order … that devises [so] many ways for u to kill ourselves? … Where is the future that we want to construct?” She mentioned the Caribbean Cultural Enterprise Initiative, which is assembling 5,000 new culture creators” employing 50,000 people and resulting in the creation of 55 new patents. As for the classical Reparations Movement, “Yes, I believe that we need to b compensated. … Europe does bear some culpability in the fact that we seem to be a basket case. … [They tell us] ‘You should get your act together.’ No, we don’t have our act together and you [Europe, the US and Western capitalism] have something to do with it.” She concluded, “We must engage our minds … to make a better world for all … bring the next generation to he table. … We can indeed create the vision and the future. … We can begin to see and build and fight for ourselves.”
“The baton that fell to the ground 30 years ago with the destruction of the Grenada Revolution has been picked up, and is being carried forward, not by the governments of the Caribbean, but by an array of civil society organizations (CSOs) all across the region.”
— Don Rojas, IBW Communications Director
The final presenter for the Caribbean Panel was Don Rojas, former Program Manager of Pacifica Radio WBAI in New York City, current CEO of Progressive Communications Online, founder of The Black World Today and Communications Director of the Institute of the Black World. He began by giving mention to the 30-year anniversary of the “illegal and immoral” US invasion of Grenada under the Reagan Administration in 1983. The US military “smashed an exciting and inspiring development in democracy.” Maurice Bishop’s government made a point to instill true participatory democracy, involving the people of the country regularly and systematically instead of the “intermittent” form of democracy practiced in the US. People were mobilized into mass organizations, formed monthly parish councils, and received regular reports from government officials in “a democratic process of profound transparency. … ordinary people becoming activators instead of passive subjects in the transformation of their own country.” Mr. Rojas described the excitement, energy, enthusiasm and pride of in the faces of the people that “their ideas, their recommendations, had value, had worth, and would be considered.” A democracy with the people, not just for the people. That was Grenada in the early 1980s. No such process exists today. Now, there is a “top-down democracy dominated by the political and economic elites. The masses are allowed to exercise universal suffrage, the right to vote, once every five years. “This top-down model of democracy is not a model that empowers people. It does not organize people. It does not mobilize people to participate in their own socioeconomic development and nation-building.” He does see hope for true democracy, however. “The baton that fell to the ground 30 years ago with the destruction of the Grenada Revolution has been picked up, and is being carried forward, not by the governments of the Caribbean, but by an array of civil society organizations (CSOs) all across the region.” Comprised mostly of social justice advocates, environmentalists and community activists that have no formal structural relationships with governments or state institutions in their respective countries, but “this does not mean they are ineffective or impotent.” Grenada is experiencing economic growth without aid from the US because of an engaged and mobilized people in their society. Several region-wide networks have been formed, including the Pan-Caribbean Civil Society Reparations Network and an electronic region-wide Town all Forum called Haiti 1804 Carib Voices, named after the 1804 Haiti Revolution and created by Dr. Norman Girvan from Jamaica (www.normangirvan.info/1804-
The Panel on the Diaspora and 21st Century Pan-Afrikanism
Dr. Ron Daniels, Elder Joe Beasley, Mr. Siddique Wai, Dr. Waldaba Stewart,
Ms. Estella Vasquez and Dr. James Early of the Diaspora Panel.
The final panel of the Symposium was Practicing Pan-Africanism in the 21st Century: The role of the Diaspora. This panel was moderated by Dr. Ron Daniels, President of IBW.
The first speaker was Sidique Wai, President of the United African Congress, a not-for-profit umbrella organization representing the interests of Afrikan immigrants in the United States with its headquarters in New York City and branches in Georgia, Ohio, California, Atlanta and Connecticut. His main point centered around the prospects of the official organization of the Afrikan Diaspora as the Sixth Region, as it is being promoted by the AU. The Sixth Region is not into law. We have no power. You can’t elect; you can’t vote. We can write papers, but … somebody else will put it somewhere, but noting’s going to happen. … So, I hate to say this, but the truth is, the Sixth Region of the Afrikan Diaspora is only something that they wish, but it’s not happening.” He mentioned the AU’s plan to unify the Continent by the year 2063. “What about Afrika today? … The people who attended that two and a half-day session gave a critical critique of Afrika and how they see it. … What is the role of the Diaspora? … If anybody in this room believes that the Diaspora is going to be taken seriously by commissions, by reports, by getting hot, by inviting people to fund raisers and all tat kind of stuff, 20 years from now we’ll be having tis same conversation and nothing’s going to happen. Now let me tell you what I think. No one is going to give you power. You have to take it. … You have to find people with credibility, who are honest. Integrity, transparency, cooperation and truthfulness.” He made reference to populations within the Continent who are internally displaced from their home countries as people who should be included in the definition of the Diaspora. Finally, he quoted two Afrikans from Jamaica who gave him some eye-opening critiques some time ago: “‘You guys who are Pan-Afrikanists, that we on the ground look up to for the salvation of the Afrikan Continent, are by your benign neglect helping dictators and corrupt leaders pull the trigger that is slaughtering countless members of our future leaders of the Afrikan Continent that you often glorify but do nothing to save. Start doing some things that help us protect he Afrika that you often talk about via Facebook and Twitter.’ The other person said to me, ‘Use me, don’t abuse me, don’t confuse me, don’t disrespect me, and still us me to do the people’s business.’ And I thank you.”
“If anybody in this room believes that the Diaspora is going to be taken seriously by commissions, by reports, by getting hot, by inviting people to fund raisers and all tat kind of stuff, 20 years from now we’ll be having tis same conversation and nothing’s going to happen.”
— Sidique Wai, President, United African Congress
Elder Joe Beasley from Atlanta, Georgia, the Founder and resident of African Ascensions, spoke next. He called for us all to recognize the debt we all owe to Haiti for its Revolution in 1804. He then began his discussion about the African Diaspora and its place in today’s society. “They don’t like us any better now than when they marched u 1,000 miles across the Continent of Afrika to Cape Coast Ghana and Goree Island. … Wherever you’re from, from theUnited States or other parts of the Diaspora, we’re on the margins, and we’re never going to get out of the margins by somebody else’s desires. Slave masters never change their minds. We have to change our minds. … Maybe (we won’t be given recognition as the Sixth Region); maybe we have o take it.” This would mean standing up to the AU, to the US Government, even to our Afrikan-American President. “It was a President that called the War On Drugs. … We need a President to call off the War On Drugs because it’s really been a War On Us, on Black People.”
Estella Vasquez is the Executive Vice President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) No. 1099 out of New York. She began her comments concerning SEIU-1099’s work for solidarity (a common Union watchword) with working people from the US, the Caribbean, Central and South America by paraphrasing Amilcar Cabral: “He said, ‘Solidarity is not an act of charity. Solidarity is an act of defense.’ … When we exercise solidarity, we not only defend the interests of our own members, (but also) the interests of poor and working-class people.” Her own story began in 1948 (her birth) but took a turn in 1965, when she left her home country of the Dominican Republic as the US military staged an incursion into her country in response to the brewing civil war: “President Lyndon B. Johnson used the excuse that there were fifty-five Communists in the Dominican uprising and sent twenty-two thousand Marines to deal with the fifty-five Communists.” She went on to denounce the Dominican education system that “distorts who we are, that brainwashes us into thinking that we are children of ‘Mother Spain’. … but ‘Mother Spain’ was a real bad mother to all of us in the Continent. … We are all children of Afrika and not children of Spain. … How do (unions like SEIU-1099) educate workers about who they are; how do you use the struggle for better working conditions, for better housing, for better schools, as a way to unify people that have the same history and should have the same interests because they belong to the same economic class, and how do we use the opportunity to educate workers around the question of why there is oppression and how collective action can bring about change? … [T]he question of immigration reform is not one only of the Latino/Hispanic community, but is an issue also if the Afrikan community, the Asian, the Pacific Islander communities that are undocumented in this country.” She turned to more local matters, specifically New York’s infamous “Stop-And-Frisk” policy. “Millions of children, Black and Brown children, topped by NYPD [New York Police Department].” SEIU organized an ‘End Stop-And-Frisk’ March with the NAACP and other organizations. Now, victims of Stop-And-Frisk are starting to get their day in court and can sue the police for harassment. Finally, she weighed in on the issue of the Dominican Republic’s Constitutional Court ruling denying birth certificates, passports and the rights of a citizen to a woman of Haitian heritage born in the Dominican Republic, which was applied to all Haitians born in the Dominican Republic between 1929 and 2007, “ten of thousands … over five generations … no passport, they can’t get married.” Because hey were not born in Haiti, they have no rights there either, thus rendering them stateless. She called upon organizations to work together on a campaign to “shame the Dominican Government. … We Are All Haiti.”
“… if we are serious, we must be sure we understand the importance of power, especially in a democratic society.”
— Dr. Waldaba Stewart, Medgar Evers College
Dr. Waldaba Stewart is the Chairman of the Caribbean Resource Center of Medgar Evers College. His remarks centered around the need for Afrikans to unite to accumulate, develop and exercise power. “Power is what we need if we want to change anything on the global stage, on the national stage, on the regional stage. Therefore, if we are serious, we must be sure we understand the importance of power, especially in a democratic society. Power consists of population count, of voter count … and if you don’t have that right, you really have no power.” He sees the whole issue of immigration reform as a means of “diminishing the power of people of Afrikan descent.” Europeans will soon comprise “less than 47% of this country … so Europeans have a problem. They have to see who the are going to hook up with to protect them against their mortal enemy, on whom they have committed so many human rights violations and genocides. … The have already accepted Jews to keep themselves above the 51% number. So no, who (will they hook up with) next? Asians? Hispanics? And — oh, look — Blacks? Never! The only way we can neutralize that equation is by reaching out and dealing wit the fact that one-third of the so-called Hispanic number are Afrodescendants. And here we are, we reject them! ‘They will never be considered part of us.’ For, we reject them automatically! … We need to get to the place where we are proud to be of Afrikan descent, because that is the only thing that unites us worldwide. So we should be concerned of the fact that immigration reform could reduce Afrikan (immigrants) to zero. That’s the new immigration-reform equation.” He took care to differentiate between Latinos and Hispanics, who he defined as the “blood descendants of the Spanish, who conquered Latin America and … parts of the United States also.” Getting back to Pan-Afrikanism, he noted that “as Marcus Garvey, of whom I am his disciple, has said, we have to accept and discover that we are people of Afrikan descent, and if we come together and change our mindset, we can liberate ourselves, economically.” The New Paradigm for the Eradication of Poverty, with which r. Stewart is affiliated, has “declared that that we cannot trust any of our governments, even if they look like us.” They are working to link “people of Afrikan descent in all countries of Central America and use our own resources and the resources of our Diaspora to start our own economic initiatives.” The four key goals are (1) use the land we occupy to launch initiatives in agriculture to go beyond mere subsistence farming to feeding the people of Afrika and the world; (2) the creation of Community Commissions to challenge those who come into our communities and impoverish them; (3) a consortium of universities and research centers in Black communities of the US, linked with universities and research centers in each of the countries we occupy, with cooperative requirements for those who wish to join the consortium; and (4) creation of “a market penetration system so tat anything we have to sell in the United States, we a sell it to you around the world.” His final remarks were: “If we [are to] get out of our individual frustration, because of the enormity of changing a paradigm that was created by the Pope year ago, we have to begin to think differently. We have to decide that the same way we are doing in Central America, we need to transfer that to the Sixth Region, we need to transfer that to the Caribbean, and we need to use that in our poor communities here in the United States. Thank you.”
The final speaker on the panel was Dr. James Early of the Smithsonian Institution. He agreed with Dr. Stewart that we currently are dealing with “a very nuanced and not pure term of the Afrikan Diaspora. … How do you position yourself? … The question is the question of power. It is not speaking truth to power. It is about becoming power. And in the real negotiation of power, in what I call the paradigm of realpolitik [a usually expansionist national policy having as its sole principle advancement of the national interest, definition from Yahoo—Ed.] in the 21st Century, it is called neoliberalism, that we struggle with, in regard to questions of discrimination, and with regard to questions of exploitation of working people and the poorest of us. It’s privatization, it’s deregulation of the global estate … and the public welfare of its citizens, it is corporations making decisions for the people and not in service to the people.” He stressed that he is not anti-business or anti-investment: “The idea that you can make 30 times your money by investing in Haiti is not a social construct, that is a persona construct. I’m not against people making money, but I think we have to deal with the fact that the notion of investment as we talk about it, is not about social welfare; it is about individual gain or small-group gain. So, up against that neoliberal paradigm, which has the most powerful life-defying effect on the quality of life, the quality of reproduction, the environment, the context of our happiness, that’s the framework that I would urge us to think about.” And one area which is especially threatened by that paradigm today is “that area where 150 million Afrodescendants are currently living, south of the United States.” He mentioned different countries, from the Capitalist to the Marxist to the Socialist, all of which express different aspects of Pan-Afrikanism in the way they cooperate with each other, wit even South Americans of European descent, such as President Lula of Brazil, acknowledging Afrikan culture and supporting the rights of Afrikan descendants. Dr. Early urged us to move away from the Afro-Pessimism that Prime Minister Pires had mentioned in his remarks that morning, and he left us wit three main points: (1) “We need to put some of what I like to call wholesome, critical, embracing attention to the African Union. Why are our five Legacy Projects sitting in the World Bank? Why are they not sitting in the Bank of the South, wit Brazil, with Venezuela, wit South Africa? … What is the policy? Where is the World Bank leading us? What is the juridical issue about the Sixth Region? Why can’t we get an answer (on this matter) to those of us in the Diaspora? The problem is we don’t have transparency and we need to put some pressure on the African Union on that.” (2) “We need to look at the issue of the Caribbean and Latin America and see how we can build solidarity.” (3) The power of ordinary people … Civil Society is democracy. Not the Communist Party of Cuba. … They don’t produce anything because of the paternalism of the Communist Party. Go to (local bookstore) Busboys and Poets and pick up the book of essays in English by Esteban Morales Dominguez, who is a Black Communist in Cuba, and look at his critique, his running critique of his revolution, in order to make it better. We have to be honest about some of these things. We have to put pressure on the ALBA [Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our Americas of the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean] Presidents … to talk about Afrodescendants. … We have to put some wholesome, productive, embracing tension in tis and deal with realpolitik.”
“We need to put some … wholesome, critical, embracing attention to the African Union. Why are our five Legacy Projects sitting in the World Bank? … What is the juridical issue about the Sixth Region? … The problem is we don’t have transparency and we need to put some pressure on the African Union on that.”
— Dr. James Early
Each of the panel discussions was followed by a question-and-answer session that allowed the speakers to embellish some of their points further, brought out some new points and allowed those in the audience to offer some analyses of their own. We were able to offer some of our thoughts in the Afrika and Caribbean panels.
Our Impressions of the IBW Symposium
I learned more and gained more inspiration from the sessions on Afrika, and especially the Caribbean, than I had expected. My main concerns going into the Afrika Panel centered around the advance of Afrika’s agriculture and infrastructure without the too-often accompanying infiltration of the Continent by global corporate power, which infuses Monsanto into the soil, the extractive mineral industries into the ground and Big Oil into the land, sea and air. Food security was mentioned but not, as I recall, food sovereignty, which is a critical prerequisite for Afrika’s food security. Energy was mentioned, but not the need to essentially kick Chevron and Shell out of the Niger River Delta. Development was mentioned, but it needs to be on Afrika’s terms so she can avoid the scourge that accompanies globalization and industrialization. The Afrika panel did establish that there was an important difference between development and growth, which was excellent.
The destruction of home-grown industries as well as budding participatory-democratic movements in the Caribbean, as was pointed out very well in the Caribbean panel, is testimony to what happens when the West and its globalizers get their talons in. It echoes the remarks from Dr. Claire Nelson about attempting to build a future on the foundation that was laid by our historical oppressors and current-day exploiters. The problem we face, of course, is that the current institutions that we use to connect with each other and to build economic and political power are built on just such a flawed foundation, and our efforts to advance ourselves are too often controlled or influenced by the mindset of those who remain tied to, and thus loyal to, that foundation. We will need to find ways to cooperate with each other in a sufficiently effective way that we can do so without depending on that Western capitalist paradigm. I hope there will be opportunities for Afrikans in the US to more fully cooperate with our Brothers and Sisters in the Caribbean and the Mother Continent in the near future as a result of this Symposium.
The main problem I saw with the Diaspora panel was that there did not seem to be a proactive, positive direction to it. When the remarks were not rather pessimistic (“You can’t elect, you can’t vote”) based on the very real obstacles that do exist, they seemed theoretical and philosophical, if eloquent (“It is not speaking truth to power. It is about becoming power”). Dr. Stewart and Dr. Early did have some general recommendations related to building power, but even these were a bit too general and not based on concrete, practical plans and objectives for Pan-Afrikan Diaspora organization and actualization to become that power we need to be, which is what 21st Century Pan-Afrikanism must be about. In fact, there are concrete plans being pursued right now which did not have an opportunity to be discussed. The sharing of these plans in an open session such as the IBW Symposium could have led directly to the formulation of specific, proactive and implementable cooperative plans that would jump-start the process of organizing the Diaspora that we all seek. For example, people are apparently still unaware that the African Union has tasked the Diaspora to organize around just such a grassroots-Diaspora-
There are concrete plans [to organize the Pan-Afrikan Diaspora] being pursued right now which did not have an opportunity to be discussed.
The main sticking point is how this election of representatives is to be done. The Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus or SRDC (www.srdcinternational.org) has proposed a method (a plan or “how”) and has been sharing that method with grassroots communities wherever a public meeting could be organized. The African Union is still in the process of reviewing proposals from Afrikan Diaspora organizations and is supposed to make its assessment of these proposals known sometime in the near future. In the meantime, Afrikan people have the human right to organize ourselves, do we not? We have the right to meet in public sessions to decide who our local spokespeople will be, do we not? And, given the increasingly critical situation our people face on the Continent, in the US and elsewhere in the Diaspora, there really is no time to waste with regard to getting this done. On this basis, SRDC has embarked on its program to inform our grassroots communities and let them determine the issues that are important to them in their localities as well as the local activists who they feel will best give voice to their concerns on the national (and hopefully international) level. These Town Hall Meetings have been held in eight states in the US, and SRDC will soon hold them in more states as well as in Canada. Similar models are being implemented and refined in Central America, the Caribbean and Europe. While this is certainly not the only way for the Diaspora to organize itself and prepare to assist in the Afrikan Renaissance, I believe it is onemethod that must be pursued as well as the critical cultural, economic, political and diplomatic initiatives with which we are familiar.
A major impediment to the advancement of SRDC’s plan is the lack of communication between our various organizations about the plan and the resultant lack of cooperation between organizations and activists. More often than not, the dialog has tended toward expressions of cynicism and downright opposition toward the SRDC plan and, in general, any idea that differs from the established order of either leadership from the “Anointed Black Elite”, classical politics or economic (meaning business) development. As a result, it has been difficult to spark the interest and involvement in our communities that would come if our organizations were at least together in support of such a plan, even if they were not themselves directly contributing to it. The speakers in the IBW Symposium did occasionally make reference to the need to organize Civil Society, with Mr. Rojas in particular giving us a fine example of how this worked in Grenada before the US invasion 30 years ago. But plans to implement something similar in the here-and-now, which would be in accord with SRDC’s plan, were not discussed as a plan moving forward from this Symposium. In that regard, an opportunity was missed in an otherwise informative and inspiring Symposium.
One thing that needs to happen with greater frequency is the establishment of concrete plans and objectives to come out of our many and varied Conferences and Symposia. There is a need for us to be more proactive and to find ourselves in a position to actually give concrete assignments to many of our activists so that true Pan-Afrikan Unity can be achieved in some key areas. Too many Conferences have ended with the pronouncement that “this is not the end of our work; we will follow up”, and yet they seldom do that. Thankfully, in the case of IBW, there are strong indications that they are indeed prepared to follow up on their prior work, and we hope that will continue to be the case. When we are called upon to assess the state of activism in our community, we are often faced by the question, “What did you accomplish?”, and we are usually hard-pressed to demonstrate that our meetings, conferences and conventions are anything more than “talk shops” which accomplish little on-the-ground. This leads to a feeling of cynicism among our activists about the real commitment of our intellectuals and leaders to actually bring about the change they call for, and sometimes leads our best and brightest to leave the struggle entirely, citing burnout from “beating their heads against the wall” of community apathy, inconsistent commitment and intellectual inertia.
Even with these concerns, this Symposium represented an honest, proactive effort to bring a variety of Pan-Afrikan tinkers and doers together to see if a way forward can be charted, and IBW has demonstrated a desire to hear a variety of viewpoints that might help advance the aspirations of Afrikan people everywhere. I feel that a solid foundation has been laid for me concerning where IBW is going, and I also hope that I, for one, will be able to give a more definitive answer to the question “What did you accomplish?” upon my return from future Conferences. I hope that this represents the continuation and expansion of a cooperative, productive relationship between IBW, activists like me and the many leaders, scholars and workers who helped to bring this Conference together and participated in it.
Bro. Cliff Kuumba
Editor, KUUMBAReport Online
Connect With IBW
Martin Luther King/Malcolm X Community Revitalization Initiative
Pan African Unity Dialogue
Immigration Policy Reform
Call to Action
Click to Read Report
Collaborative of progressive, African-centered scholars, think tanks and research centers dedicated to utilizing theoretical and applied research to address issues of vital concern to people of African descent and enhance the development of Black communities.
Haiti Support Project
An Initiative committed to “Building a Constituency for Haiti in the United States,” focusing on mobilizing/organizing African Americans and other people of African descent to strengthen the process of democracy and development in the world’s first Black Republic.