Yonas Biru, PhD
November 26, 2022
Some of the comments I got in reaction to my recent articles include the following. One in-boxed me via Facebook Messenger: “Why are you so vehemently against Pan Africanism and #NoMore?” Another texted me “Please stop your attack on #NoMore.” One was a free-spirited girl/woman: “Dude, you are too old to understand current events. So, STFU !!!!!”
Let me start with a general observation. In a world where systemic injustice exists, radical movements can contribute a positive role only where a moderate force is in play as a dominant or moderating force. This was the dynamics that served Martin Luther King’s and Malcolm’s movements. In the final chapter of Apartheid and since the end of it, Mandela was in the mold of Dr. King not of Malcolm. He was neither Anti-White nor pro-Black. He was just an equal rights champion.
Let us look at Pan Africanism. Some historians trace the origin of Pan Africanism to 1898. The first meeting was held in 1900 primarily by African American and Caribbean intellectuals. It was only after 1919 that the African diaspora started to attend Pan Africanism meetings in Paris, London, and New York. I think it was in the early 1970s that the first Pan Africanism meeting was held in Africa (Tanzania).
Pan Africanism has taken different forms, including the Harlem Renaissance (New York), Afrocentrism (London and Paris), African Liberation (Ethiopia and Ghana), Rastafarianism (Jamaica), even Hip Hop (US). Undoubtedly, Pan Africanism has played a positive role in the liberation of Africa. Outside of the African liberation, it was and continues to be a fringe movement without discernable positive outcome for continental Africa.
Why has Pan African movement failed to make a dent on African economic development in the increasingly globalized and integrated world? There are two key reasons. First, it has increasingly become a radical African movement. Since 1957, Africans have tried to use Pan Africanism as an economic solution, if not panacea. It has not worked. And it will not work in the foreseeable future. There are institutional, legal, and physical (capital and infrastructure) limitations. Most importantly, Africa’s growth is intertwined with the global economic order.
Second, there is nothing wrong if Pan Africanism is used as a regional economic association as a part off the global economic order. The problem is that it is often peddled as a protest movement. Nations such as Ethiopia have a lot to gain from leveraging their strategic geopolitical advantage rather than squandering it by hawking a nonsensical anti-neocolonialism and anti-imperialism movement.
As I have written before, when we talk about #NoMore we need to separate the intellectual genesis that gave birth to it and the young social media drivers who encapsulated it in an enchanting hashtag and propagated it to a global audience. It is an unfortunate marriage between antiquated intellectuals and modern-day social media connoisseurs. We need a divorce, followed by retiring the former and equipping the latter with the art and science of diplomacy. Only then can ourcapable social media connoisseurs put their expertise to use to advance Ethiopia’s geopolitical and diplomatic interests.
Professor Tesfaye Demmellash: “Unique in Africa in its abiding national civilization and its fierce resistance against European colonial encroachment, modern Ethiopia can become a much more significant, independent regional power in Africa. The colonial and post-colonial West’s concern for decades has been to constrain Ethiopian development…”
Professor Al Mariam: “What is happening in the relationship between Ethiopia and the U.S. is a ‘clash of civilization. It is a clash between a civilization founded on white European supremacy and an African civilization deeply rooted in black independency.” The colorful Professor went on to add: The US aims to “dismantle Ethiopia by orchestrating ethnic and religious warfare, making Ethiopia the Libya/Syria of Northeast Africa” because US leaders are “doggedly committed to destroying Ethiopia because [they] want to avenge the humiliating and devastating double loss of a white army in Africa in recorded history.”
The same sentiment is echoed by PM Abiy who believes the West is against Ethiopia because “they are afraid of Ethiopia’s potential.” Why? “In 2050 there will be two superpowers and Ethiopia will be one of them.”
In the absence of a moderating and sane voice, Ethiopia’s public diplomacy and geopolitical narrative is dominated by such unfounded paranoia. The #NoMore movement was a byproduct of it. What made the bad situation worse is that our Embassies in Washington and European cities are voiceless. They have been crowded out by the #NoMore street diplomacy. I do not see anything Ethiopia has gotten from it in the short term or in the long term.
The utter nonsense in our public diplomacy and geopolitics is that for two years we condemned the west of being the enemy of Ethiopia driven by a desire to stop Ethiopia from becoming a “significant, independent regional power in Africa.” As soon as the war ends, we turn to the people we condemned as our enemies to help us build regions destroyed by the war.
I never cared for Thomas Sankara, the young officer who took power in Burkina Faso and became a champion of Pan Africanism in his generation. But I respect him because his first international affairs decision was to stop accepting international aid, saying: “He who feeds you, controls you.”
Our people hold a “Down with Imperialism” banner on one hand and a begging pan on the other to beg money from the very western countries that they see as their existential enemies. As I noted in my last article, there is something unsavory or even shameful about it.