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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Z014-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved June 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

Pan-Africanism covers a wide range of intellectual positions which share the assumption of some common cultural or political projects for both Africans and people of African descent. The political project is the unification of all Africans into a single African state, sometimes thought of as providing a homeland for the return of those in the African diaspora. More vaguely, many self-identified pan-Africanists have aimed to pursue projects of solidarity – some political, some literary or artistic – in Africa or the African diaspora. The Pan-Africanist movement was founded in the nineteenth century by intellectuals of African descent in the Caribbean and North America, who saw themselves as belonging to a single negro race. As a result the Africa of pan-Africanism has sometimes been limited to those regions of sub-Saharan Africa largely inhabited by darker-skinned peoples, thus excluding those lighter-skinned north Africans, most of whom speak Arabic as a first language.

In the twentieth century this racialized understanding of African identity has been challenged by many of the African intellectuals who took over the movement’s leadership in the period after the Second World War. Founders of the Organization of African Unity, such as Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana had a notion of Africa that was continental. However, the movement’s intellectual roots lie firmly in the racial understanding of Africa in the thought of the African-American and Afro-Caribbean intellectuals who founded it.

Pan-Africanism began as a movement in the diaspora among the descendants of the slave populations of the New World and spread to Africa itself. As a result the forms of solidarity it articulated aimed to challenge anti-black racism on two fronts: racial domination in the diaspora and racialized colonial domination in the African continent. The movement’s fissures have occurred where these two clearly distinguishable projects have pulled it in different directions.

Citing this article:
Appiah, K. Anthony. Pan-Africanism, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Z014-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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