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Pan-Africanism, general term for various movements in Africa that have as their common goal the unity of Africans and the elimination of colonialism and white supremacy from the continent. However, on the scope and meaning of Pan-Africanism, including such matters as leadership, political orientation, and national as opposed to regional interests, they are widely, often bitterly, divided.

One catalyst for the rapid and widespread development of Pan-Africanism was the colonization of the continent by European powers in the late 19th cent. The First Pan-African Congress, convened in London in 1900, was followed by others in Paris (1919), London and Brussels (1921), London and Lisbon (1923), and New York City (1927). These congresses, organized chiefly by W. E. B. Du Bois and attended by the North American and West Indian black intelligentsia, did not propose immediate African independence; they favored gradual self-government and interracialism. In 1944, several African organizations in London joined to form the Pan-African Federation, which for the first time demanded African autonomy and independence. The Federation convened (1945) in Manchester the Sixth Pan-African Congress, which included such future political figures as Jomo Kenyatta from Kenya, Kwame Nkrumah from the Gold Coast, S. L. Akintola from Nigeria, Wallace Johnson from Sierra Leone, and Ralph Armattoe from Togo. While at the Manchester congress, Nkrumah founded the West African National Secretariat to promote a so-called United States of Africa.

Pan-Africanism as an intergovernmental movement was launched in 1958 with the First Conference of Independent African States in Accra, Ghana. Ghana and Liberia were the only sub-Saharan countries represented; the remainder were Arab and Muslim. Thereafter, as independence was achieved by more African states, other interpretations of Pan-Africanism emerged, including: the Union of African States (1960), the African States of the Casablanca Charter (1961), the African and Malagasy Union (1961), the Organization of Inter-African and Malagasy States (1962), and the African-Malagasy-Mauritius Common Organization (1964).

In 1963 the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded to promote unity and cooperation among all African states and to bring an end to colonialism; it had 53 members by 1995. The OAU struggled with border disputes, aggression or subversion against one member by another, separatist movements, and the collapse of order in member states. One of its longest commitments and greatest victories was the end of apartheid and the establishment of majority rule in South Africa. Efforts to promote even greater African economic, social, and political integration led to the establishment in 2001 of the African Union (AU), a successor organization to the OAU modeled on the European Union. The AU fully superseded the OAU in 2002, after a transitional period.


See C. Legum, Pan-Africanism (rev. ed. 1965); R. H. Green and K. G. V. Krishna, Economic Cooperation in Africa (1967); J. Woronoff, Organizing African Unity (1970); I. Geiss, The Pan-African Movement (1974); P. O. Esedebe, Pan-Africanism (1982); C. O. Amate, Inside the OAU; Pan-Africanism in Practice (1987).

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



an ideological political movement. Pan-Africanism, the original goal of which was the unification of Negro Africans fighting throughout the world against racial oppression and inequality, gradually turned into a movement of African nationalists supporting the political independence, economic emancipation, and unity of the peoples of Africa. The movement began to take shape at the turn of the 20th century, on the initiative of the Negro intelligentsia of the USA and the West Indies, who demanded an end to racial discrimination, as well as the granting of civil and political rights to black people. The further development of Pan-Africanism was associated with the activization of forces opposing colonial oppression in Africa.

The first four Pan-African congresses, in which W. E. B. Du Bois participated, were held in 1919 (Paris), 1921 (London, Brussels, and Paris), 1923 (London and Lisbon), and 1927 (New York). They were marked by a sharp ideological struggle between partisans of a radical orientation, who demanded the liberation of the African peoples from colonial oppression, and conservative elements, who were opposed only to the most glaring manifestations of colonial exploitation in Africa and racial discrimination in the USA.

The foundations of contemporary Pan-Africanism were laid by the Fifth Pan-African Congress (Manchester, 1945), at which Du Bois was again active, together with K. Nkrumah, N. Azi-kiwe, J. Kenyatta, and other figures in the African liberation movement. The Manchester Congress drew up the general outlines of a practical program for the political liberation of Africa. Proposing the task of liberating all the peoples of Africa, regardless of their race, the Pan-African movement contributed to the general upsurge in the liberation struggle in Africa.

After the majority of the African countries had won political independence, Pan-African ideas were embodied in the initiation of comprehensive ties among the African countries, as well as in support for movements seeking the elimination of colonial and racist regimes. The breadth of the social base of contemporary Pan-Africanism and the sharpening of the class struggle in Africa have led to a struggle between different ideological political orientations within the movement, ranging from the revolutionary democrats to the extreme nationalists.

On the whole, Pan-Africanism stands for the rallying of all liberation forces in the struggle against colonialism, neocolonialism, racism, and Zionism. The joint program of the Pan-African-ists was presented in documents of the Sixth Pan-African Congress (Dar es Salaam, 1974), which demanded an end to the exploitation of Africa’s natural and human resources by imperialism, the implementation of progressive reforms, and the intensification of the struggle for human rights throughout the world.


Potekhin, I. I. “Panafrikanizm i bor’ba dvukh ideologii.” Kommunist, 1964, no. 1.
Vysotskaia, N. I. “Panafrikanizm.” In Ideinye techeniia v Tropicheskoi Afrike. Moscow, 1969.
Zahorski-Koiszewski, J. “Pan-Africanism—Attempt at Definition.” Przeglqd socjologiczny, 1972, vol. 25.
Thompson, V. B. Africa and Unity: The Evolution of Pan-Africanism. [New York] 1969.
Makonnen, R. Pan-Africanism From Within. Oxford, 1973.
Du Bois, W. E. B. The World and Africa. New York [1965].
Nkrumah, K. Africa Must Unite. New York [1970].
Geiss, I. Panafrikanismus: Zur Geschichte der Dekolonisation. Frankfurt am Main [1968].


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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