Howard on Africa In-Brief
A publication of the Center for African Studies, Howard University
Africa Day Open Forum: The Role of Old and New Diaspora in Reshaping Africa-U.S. Relations
Prepared by Dr. Bob Wekesa and Dr. Krista Johnson
with assistance from DaQuan Lawrence and Rodney Smith
The Africa Day Open Forum “The Role of Old and New Diaspora in Reshaping Africa-U.S. Relations” took place on Thursday, May 25, 2023 at the Ralph J. Bunche International Center at Howard University in partnership with: Center for African Studies at Howard University; Constituency for Africa; and the African Centre for the Study of the United States, University of the Witwatersrand.
Dr. Wheeler Winstead, who formerly served as the Assistant Director of the Center for African Studies at Howard University, welcomed the participants. Winstead noted that some of the participants would join the event online thanks to digital technology which underline the evolving concept and practice of African diaspora in the digital age. Winstead highlighted that the session was planned to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and its successor, the African Union. Winstead also pointed out that the event would go beyond the commemoration to launch a study project on Africans and African Americans over the period since the liberation of Africa from colonialism. Winstead mentioned that the liberation of Africa was considered complete when South Africa moved from apartheid to a democratic state, and that the diaspora is now considered the sixth region of Africa. He noted that subsequent speakers would reflect on the six decades along with the changes that have occurred over time, before asking the audience how does gun violence in the U.S. affect African Americans and the issue of racial relations.
Winstead noted that while there has been progress in Africa, the continent has been on the back foot in many respects. Winstead declared that there are many contradictions about Africa, for instance, the many problems seen in the media as opposed to the emergence of many areas of innovation and creativity. Winstead mentioned that the many paradoxes and contradictions were catalysts for bringing together multiple stakeholders such as scholars, communities, the private sector and government representatives for joint discussions and creating a spirit of teamwork. Winstead emphasized that a team spirit among stakeholders would lead to more meaningful knowledge production. He added the collective approach to knowledge production would ultimately lead to better perspectives and insights that would improve teaching, research and knowledge production. Winstead mentioned that he hoped that the discussions would provide material to generate knowledge and theoretical conceptual approaches to studying Africa from different viewpoints. He noted that the continent has great diversity as evident in its five regions of southern, central, western, eastern and northern Africa, represented by the various regional economic communities. Winstead also mentioned that the continent’s population would reach 2.5 billion people in the next couple of years, thus becoming the most populous region in the world.
Winstead discussed the event’s agenda and the objectives of each session, before handing the program over to the event’s moderator, Dr. Bob Wekesa, who serves as the Deputy Director of the African Centre for the Study of the U.S. which is located at University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.
Session I: Reflections on the 60th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and the African Union (AU)
Speaker: Dr. Ron Daniels, President of the Institute of Black World: 21st Century
Dr. Daniels acknowledged the role of the Center for African Studies at Howard University and the Constituency for Africa as partners in organizing the event. Daniels shared that the organizations he leads – the Institute of the Black World and the National African American Reparations Commission –were proud to be associated with the event. Daniels mentioned the significance of lobbying for HR 40, for the creation of a commission to study and develop proposals on reparations rather than using racist proposals.
Delving into his presentation, Daniels framed the discussion on the Organization of African Unity (OAU) from the prism of Pan-Africanism because the OAU was initially a Pan-African movement. Daniels mentioned the Pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945 was a catalyst in moving the Pan-African philosophy beyond discussions and into practice. Daniels emphasized that the ambition of Pan Africanists in the mid-20th century was to move beyond negotiating with colonizers to achieve the goal of independence for African peoples.
Noting that the events’ audience was intellectual, Daniels expressed the importance of understanding that the Pan-African movement was led by revolutionary intellectuals who believed in the possibilities of freedom for the African diaspora. He pointed out that the call of a true intellectual is the fundamental question of whether to live in existing structures and systems of oppression or contribute to the struggle for emancipation. Daniels urged the participants not to wobble, vacillate and waffle but to contribute to eradicating structures of oppression. Daniels highlighted that intellectuals in places such as Nashville, Tennessee had committed class suicide – a notion introduced by Amilcar Cabral – by identifying with the downtrodden during the liberation struggle against racism in the U.S. Daniels criticized some individuals who had decided to identify with the system of oppression once they had graduated to the bourgeoisie or middle class.
Daniels reminded the audience that when you look at those who gathered at Manchester, most, if not all, of them were intellectuals representing their respective countries. He argued that these intellectuals had sacrificed their privileges because they had visions of a united Africa which was still an amorphous concept. Daniels equated the sacrifices of Pan-Africanists in the 1940s to class suicide since they forewent their privileges as intellectuals to focus on liberating the masses on the African continent. This vision would eventually evolve into African unity around political and economic development. Daniels explained that there had been tensions between radical progressives who sought the immediate and total unification of Africa – or the “United States of Africa” – and those who accepted a looser form of “African unity”. He reminded the audience that these tensions splintered into the Casablanca and the Monrovia groups representing those who were for a united Africa and those who were for the independence of individual nations, respectively. Daniels pointed out that in the radical Casablanca group there were leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah who were prepared to forego the assumption of presidencies in their countries for the sake of establishing the “United States of Africa” complete with a continental army. On the other side were leaders such as President William Tubman of Liberia who were opposed to the idea of a “United States of Africa”.
Daniels recalled that when the OAU was created, some of the leaders insisted on the principle of non-interference in the affairs of each sovereign African state. The idea was that Africa would be a confederation, but one country would not intervene in the affairs of another. He argued that this meant that there were no universal “pro-African” principles to guide the affairs of African nations on a collective level, which remains a key problem today. Daniels pointed out that such rationale led to conceptions of “liberation from colonialism” as the principal aim of African unity. This contrasted with the ideas of leaders such as Frantz Fanon and Nkrumah, who held the view that liberation from colonialism was the first phase in African unity, and the next phase would be national reconstruction, followed by a total decolonization of the mind and the removal of all forms of colonial structures.
Daniels went on to question the nature and definition of Western-conceived “democracy” and the international commitment to fundamental human rights for all peoples. He said this was an important question because the OAU evolved in a way that tolerated violations of democracy and human rights in African states. In fact, Daniels argued, the OAU aided and abetted anti-democratic practices as seen in the plague of the “president for life syndrome”. He argued that one set of oppressors – colonialists – were replaced by another set of oppressors – African leaders – and this transfer of power was condoned because the new oppressors were African rather than European.
Considering the problems that the OAU has endured, Daniels argued the institution has led to moderate forms of progression. Daniels introduced the example of subregional cooperation as a pathway to continental unity as an instance of partial success. He stated that the pooling of resources and other forms of solidarity had helped liberate all African nations from overt European colonialism. Daniels expressed that commemorations of Africa Liberation Day was a statement of hope and explained that he was among a group of leaders that planned a commemoration in 1972 in Washington D.C. in honor of Pan-Africanism. Daniels recalled his travels with the “Godfather of African liberation”, Dr. James Coleman, to Kenya and Ethiopia where he met the then Secretary General of the OAU.
He also reminisced about a visit to Tanzania where the delegation met with Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, pointing out that Tanzania was the host country for the leaders of several liberation movements. Daniels said that such encounters led to several African Americans contributing resources for liberation movements in Africa. Daniels recalled that a former AU Head of Mission to Washington D.C. was pushed out because of her radical stance questioning the neocolonial practices by former European colonial masters. He critiqued the negative aspects of the noninterference principle, using the example of African leaders such as Abdel Fattah El-Sisi of Egypt not being called out for their anti-democratic practices. He laid the problem of the AU’s impotence in the face of conflicts on the continent to the noninterference principle. Daniels argued that while we would not prefer the involvement of Europeans in internal African affairs, it is also important to have a credible AU to intervene in countries that take poor paths of governance. He pointed out that during the State of the Black World V conference, which his organization hosted in Baltimore in April 2023, Bobi Wine, a young Ugandan leader battling long-serving president Yoweri Museveni, was invited because he stands a chance of restoring Uganda to democratic governance.
Daniels argued that human rights must be a part of conversations about the future of Africa and that the question of the diaspora as the sixth region of the AU had not been properly defined and implemented. He upheld that the tensions between African Americans and Africans should not be ignored but addressed. Daniels gave the example of reparations as an issue that needs to be addressed from an African diaspora and continental perspective. Daniels asked: are there reparations for descendants of enslaved Africans or continental Africans – some who might have been involved in the enslaving of their fellow Africans? He pointed out that an IBW initiative called the Pan African Unity Dialogue was established to serve as a platform for addressing the difficulties in relations between continental Africans and diasporan Africans.
In response to audience questions and comments, Dr. Daniels emphasized the following points:
- Members of the African diaspora must be relentless about good governance and apply equal standards on human rights in Africa instead of accepting excuses about African leaders being beyond accountability. Based on this standard, the U.S. engagement with autocratic African leaders should be rightly criticized.
- A fundamental contradiction that is currently happening in Africa, is imperialized racialized capitalism, where economies are still controlled by former colonial masters long after the independence of Africa.
- Criticism of the African diaspora should not be treated as tearing ourselves down but as a means of strengthening ourselves. We cannot build relations with corrupt leaders who are siphoning billions of dollars from their countries for personal gain. It would be better to instead build relations on a people-to-people basis.
- Movements for change that are being led by young Africans such as Bobi Wine in Uganda, who are standing up to autocrats in a bid to stop the plunder of resources should be applauded. It is for this reason that Bobi Wine was invited to the State of the Black World Congress because he’s not just an artist but a courageous, revolutionary leader and potentially a liberator.
- We should be able to practice Pan-Africanism from wherever we are, as Dr. Walter Rodney insisted.
- One of the lingering issues that must be addressed is: the U.S. government has solicited thousands of African immigrants who are extraordinarily wealthy because they attended college. Just because African immigrants occupy the same spaces as descendants of enslaved Africans, does not mean perfect alignment in terms of interests and goals. The Pan African Unity Dialogue attempts to address the issue of misalignments in the diaspora community, and the model can be extended to Washington D.C., Baltimore and other cities and regions.
Speaker: Professor Ezrah Aharone, Founder and Executive Director the Center for Global Africa at Delaware State University
Professor Aharone started by mentioning that he and Dr. Julius Garvey of the Marcus Garvey Institute were preparing to travel to South Africa to attend an event to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the OAU and AU. Aharone conveyed greetings from Dr. Garvey, who could not attend Howard’s Africa Day event. Aharone pointed out that his comments would be aligned with the institutional connections that the Marcus Garvey Institute and the Center for Global Africa (CGA), where he serves as director, are working on. Aharone mentioned that his remarks would try to answer questions about how organizations like CGA could work with the AU, and what the African diaspora as the sixth region of the AU actually means in practice. Aharone mentioned that his comments would also address ways of changing the conditions of Africans on the continent, in the U.S and around the world.
Aharone explained that the CGA, which is now in its fifth year, was established with the idea of the diaspora as the sixth region of Africa and that its work is focused on governance, public policy and socio-economic development in Africa. Aharone pointed out that though the diaspora in the U.S. is not a sovereign state, it has many assets, particularly intellectual capital which could be defined as intellectual sovereignty. Aharone argued that how the African diaspora thinks about the world and understands the AU’s mandate and mission are critically important.
Noting that the key mission of the OAU was to attain freedom and that the AU sought to continue the OAU’s mandate, Aharone highlighted that it was important to understand freedom as “a moving target”. Aharone mentioned that the objectives of freedom in the 1960s during the revolutionary period in Africa and the Civil Rights and Black Power movements in America are defined differently today. Aharone used the example of countries never having to worry about cybersecurity in the past. He then posed rhetorical questions: were Africans in America really emancipated in the 1860s? Was Harriet Tubman, an iconic freedom fighter, [actually] free? Aharone noted that freedom in the 1960s meant integration into wider American society, such as the right to sit anywhere on a bus. Whereas in modern society, freedom means addressing questions such as: who owns the bus? Who develops buses and what is a feasible costs for oil and gas?
Providing insights into the CGA’s institutional relations based on the concept of the sixth region, Aharone argued that certain AU agencies were important points of contact. Aharone explained that one of the most important agencies is the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), a branch of the AU that evaluates the governance and socioeconomic performance of member nations. Aharone explained that the APRM produces review reports by African experts who assess factors such as best practices and negative developments. Aharone said that the mechanism encourages the replication of exemplary practices. Aharone mentioned that the COVID-19 pandemic provided an opportunity to look at health governance in Africa. He also explained that the CGA, which is part of Delaware State University, a historically Black college and university (HBCU), provides intellectual capital to enhance the APRM’s work.
Aharone informed participants that the CGA collaborates with the APRM to harness the expertise of professors from HBCUs to add to the capacity and structural design of the review process with a focus on increasing traction for the sixth region. Aharone explained that the structural design of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is an area the CGA is collaborating with the APRM, with the aim of increasing revenue collection and boosting economic opportunities. Aharone pointed out that regional economic communities such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community (EAC) are important avenues for development yet require support to boost trade and development in each region. Aharone argued that political independence in Africa was not matched by the development of a strong civil society and that universities did not produce the necessary intellectual capital to support governance in African states. He explained that because of these missing elements, Africa is still catching up to fill an intellectual void and that HBCUs could help fill such a void. Aharone pointed out that the intellectual capacity of HBCUs and African experts in the U.S. was not being sufficiently harnessed to support Africa’s development. Aharone cited Lincoln University, the HBCU that Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana and Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria attended, as examples. He said part of the responsibility has to do with African diaspora intellectuals and specialists who have not worked to contribute to Africa’s development. Further expounding on the concept of the sixth region, Aharone observed that although the African diaspora in the U.S. looked at itself as a minority, its population of 50 million people would be the eighth largest nation in Africa and the thirtieth largest nation globally if it were an independent nation.
Aharone drew parallels between the AU as a partnership of African states and the aggregate of HBCUs, noting that HBCUs could partner to advance African causes. He emphasized the need for HBCUs to work collectively rather than as individual institutions, in conjunction with AU organs toward achieving the AU’s Agenda 2063. Aharone upheld that such partnerships would constitute a collaborative way of operationalizing the sixth region concept. He argued that the proposed partnerships would serve as a means of reuniting the diaspora with a continent they were separated from due to slavery and colonialism, and address some of the issues among the diaspora and the continent. Aharone explained that a critical analysis of slavery and colonialism leads to the conclusion that African Americans and Africans are one and the same and that such an understanding removes divisive notions pronounced by external actors. He argued that intellectuals should look at Africa as it is and start from there in terms of applying intellectual capital rather than focusing on what the AU does and doesn’t do.
Aharone was optimistic that Africa would change for the better, citing the example of his travel to the continent during the 1980s when the continent was under the leadership of dictators such as Samuel Doe of Liberia. Using this example, Aharone said that Africa is a different place today even though the export of raw materials – including rubber from Liberia – and the import of goods manufactured from the same raw materials – including tires – ought to be addressed. Aharone highlighted America’s challenges with governance, citing the previous administration to drive home the point that intellectuals should not give up. He expressed his willingness to work with Howard University and other HBCUs to advance the ideas he shared, noting that Pan-Africanism and philosophies such as “Garveyism” should intrinsically connect the diaspora with the continent.
In response to audience questions and comments, Prof. Aharone emphasized the following points:
- It is the responsibility of the African diaspora to work with the AU to make the idea of the sixth region successful, which requires differences among Africans and its diaspora to be addressed.
- The APRM is one of the available avenues for addressing the new problem of military coups on the continent. E.g., reviewing the factors that result in unconstitutional changes of government.
- Considering the contradiction of the U.S. advocating for good governance and democracy yet embracing autocratic leaders, Aharone mentioned that governance is a “dirty business”. He declared that “racism in the U.S. is a form of corruption and poor governance” as it benefits a small group of people.
- Aharone also mentioned that “we need to rethink and create a common definition of ‘sovereignty’”, and that it should be a best practice embraced by African diaspora intellectuals.
Session II: African and African American Experiences – Convergences and Divergences
Mr. Deogratias Kawunde, Programming Specialist for the District of Columbia, and Civic Organizer for New African Diaspora
At the outset, Mr. Kawunde indicated that his presentation would focus on the lived experiences of members of the African diaspora based on his eleven years in the U.S. Kawunde observed that there are many divergences between diaspora communities. He noted some of the differences between immigrants who came to the U.S. years ago and as opposed to individuals who arrived as recently as two years ago. Kawunde also highlighted factors that unite the African diaspora, noting a shared belief in the centrality and power of the “family” as a universal value. Kawunde emphasized that whether a member of the African diaspora arrived in the U.S. recently, or is a descendant of enslaved Africans, he or she is an African and should be identified as such. Kawunde noted that many African immigrants never abandoned their culture and that they still believe in African ceremonies and traditions, and try to speak or learn African languages. He evoked the example of parents giving their children African names with the understanding that African names confer ancestry and discussed how alien names are given and accepted as a means of coopting members of the African diaspora. Kawunde highlighted that for over five hundred years foreign names were used as a means of reducing African heritage and the memory of African ancestors as part of the broader project of slavery.
Kawunde pointed out that the enemies of African diasporans do not want discussions about colonialism and reparations, and instead come up with methods to divide the diaspora. He explained that members of the African diaspora live in similar conditions around the world, and provided the example of Africans living in informal settlements in France, Brazil and Belgium. Kawunde also argued that the dislocation of members of the African diaspora to various parts of the world and the diversity of circumstances they endure must not be overlooked as many people have similar experiences. He argued that the oppression leveled against Africans provided a good reason for liberation and urged people of African descent to run for political positions to influence domestic and international politics. On the international front, Kawunde pointed out the exploitation of African natural resources to the detriment of Africans, citing the trend as an issue that could be addressed through elected diasporans in the U.S.
Kawunde shared that he hopes that young people will lead the way toward diaspora liberation because of their innovative ideas. He challenged the contemporary youth of the African diaspora to have the mentality of African leaders who led countries to independence in the 1960s. Citing the example of national boundaries in Africa that should be removed, Kawunde called for a change in the continental order to new ways of thinking. He also called for uniformity in the application of civil liberty and introduced the example of “the right to demonstrate” in the U.S., which is denied in countries such as Uganda. Kawunde expressed that such a goal would require African nations to exhibit unity around common goals and overcoming the practice of working in silos. He advocated forging relationships between community organizers, faith leaders, politicians and scholars in universities with a focus on specific solutions to problems based on common principles. Kawunde further proposed that a limited number of priorities should be addressed at the state and federal levels with practical goals set per year. For instance, Africa’s growing population called for investment in young people to gain from the demographic dividend. He advocated for the empowerment of youth and workforce development in new areas of the economy such as digital media and cultural industries. Kawunde also proposed the diaspora be involved in shaping relations between the U.S. government and African countries. He mentioned the December 2022 U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, as an example of [collective] members of the diaspora being left out of the discussions even though the diaspora has the expertise and lived experience in the relations.
- The African diaspora needs more mentorship programs where youth can learn from elders with expertise in specific fields. This will promote youth development and prevention of mistakes their elders made in the past.
- We need to develop and offer expertise on African issues so that others do not speak on our behalf. We need to take charge of our stories. This should include developing bodies of information that young African diasporans can access and use as resources to develop their knowledge bases and skills.
- There should be no division between democracy and development in Africa as both are equally important.
Session III: African Diaspora and Africa-U.S. Foreign Policy
Mr. Bobby King III, Board Member, International Association of Black Professionals in International Affairs (BPIA)
Mr. King started by noting an increase in engagement between the diaspora and the U.S. government. However, he observed that the engagements between African countries and the U.S. are often seen from the lens of the U.S. competing with China in Africa, as opposed to direct relations between the U.S. and African nations. King said the concern is that other nations have more pronounced relations than in Africa-U.S. relations, giving the example of the closeness in Africa-China engagements and Russia-Africa relations. He highlighted that a factor influencing African diaspora and U.S. government engagement on foreign policy issues is the diaspora returning to the continent. He also noted that some African countries had started elevating African diaspora issues into their foreign policies and gave the example of Ghana. He said this was an example of policy leading to action as many African Americans had set up shop in Africa taking advantage of the idea of diaspora return.
King pointed out that one of the problems African Americans endure their bid to connect with the continent is a knowledge gap in their heritage, which has been lost over the past decades. He argued that it is in the context of reconnecting with the continent that the idea of “diaspora return” became attractive. King recognized that the term diaspora was expansive, covering new and old diaspora in the U.S. and Caribbean nations. King explained that some African Americans were eager to support the continent’s development beyond spiritual linkages and there are initiatives focused on investment and business in Africa. He cited a lack of information as a major challenge for members of the diaspora who pursue developmental goals such as creating jobs both in the U.S. and in Africa. Pointing out that Africa is the only continent without a permanent seat in the U.N. Security Council, King advocated for campaigns that would help elevate the African voice internationally. King mentioned such a campaign would not be unprecedented as campaigns against colonialism and apartheid were conducted in past.
- The idea of the return of the diaspora to the continent has not been fully explored and more can be done particularly by African countries. Tourism alone can be a major source of income for countries. Ministries of foreign affairs of African nations should be more proactive in strategizing on this.
- In terms of economic connections, members of the African diaspora should not focus only on big business transactions undertaken by multinationals or government-to-government trade and economic arrangements. Entrepreneurship and social enterprises are equally important in the diaspora economic relations sphere.
Dr. Gilbert Khadiagala, Director of the African Centre for the Study of the U.S. at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa
Dr. Khadiagala started by noting the symbolism of hosting the sixtieth anniversary of the AU at the Ralph Bunche International Affairs Center at Howard because Ralph Bunche played a critical role in establishing modern connections among Africans and African Americans. Khadiagala pointed out that several African American leaders intellectually contributed to broadening the meaning of Africa to America and vice versa under difficult circumstances. Khadiagala proposed that the best way to understand the contributions made by African Americans and the African diaspora to foreign policy is by asking: what are the big issues that animate, impact and galvanize the diaspora to engage in foreign policy? He argued that this question is important because stakeholders must examine significant issues because the African diaspora is very diverse and as well as fragmented. Khadiagala noted that finding unifying drivers for diaspora-based foreign policy engagement can be problematic due to the fragmentation of the diaspora. Khadiagala proposed being strategic about curating the issues that constitute areas of interest for members of the African diaspora to address fragmentation around foreign policy issues within the diaspora. He observed that the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit held in December 2022 provided critical issues around which diaspora attention can be mobilized. Noting the importance of historical context, Khadiagala delineated two important periods for the African diaspora and foreign policy.
Firstly, Randal Robinson and the TransAfrica movement in 1980s and early 1990s, during which various political forces were mobilized to campaign against apartheid. Khadiagala recalled that during this period, the Congressional Black Caucus had a prominent anti-apartheid role during the Ronald Reagan administration. A key outcome of the campaign – which Khadiagala attributed to the Congressional Black Caucus – was the sanctions that were imposed on the white regime in South Africa, which accelerated the fall of the apartheid regime. He mentioned that this first period included the initiative that was led by Reverend Leon Sullivan giving rise to the Sullivan Principles which were important in defining American companies’ engagement in apartheid South Africa.
Khadiagala declared that the second period of significance, was the South Sudan period of the 1990s where several South Sudanese activists and African American representatives in Congress pushed for the liberation of Southern Sudan from greater Sudan. He pointed out that this period was distinctive because issues around South Sudan became prominent in Washington D.C. during the 1990s. Khadiagala recalled that many intellectuals and groups galvanized around South Sudan’s liberation including university professors, human rights activists and diplomats, making this period a key foreign policy moment during the Clinton Administration.
Khadiagala concluded that there have not been any significant periods of equivalent importance in the 21st century, especially in Africa-related public policy. He argued that for the African diaspora to have relevance in the foreign policy sphere, there is a need to identify an issue or issues where disparate groups in the diaspora can work collaboratively. He proposed that the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) are policy issues that have the potential to create another key period in Africa-U.S. foreign policy. Khadiagala reiterated the importance of identifying foreign policy issues around which the African diaspora’s attention can be galvanized. He suggested that the entity within the AU that should be at the forefront of developing diaspora relations is the Diaspora Division, because it has not performed optimally since its establishment. As a result, Khadiagala emphasized the need to enhance the AU Diaspora Division’s capacity with a focus on diaspora-related issues that are connected to broader foreign policy issues.
In response to audience questions and comments, Dr. Khadiagala mentioned:
- African diaspora engagement on the personal and social level and outside of government-to-government engagement have been expanding and should be encouraged. Engagement among HBCUs and African universities should be encouraged but will require planning and institutional investment. The aforementioned examples demonstrate that the potential of African diaspora engagement outside of formal government-led initiatives.
- Stakeholders can use avenues such as the AU Diaspora Division’s office to elevate the voice of the African diaspora in decision-making in Washington D.C. There are formal mechanisms that members of the diaspora, particularly civil society, can join. The Biden Administration has elevated the African diaspora as a foreign policy priority, which provides an opportunity for the inclusion of more voices from the African diaspora.
- Despite criticism of the Sullivan Principles during the fight against apartheid, they were based on good ideas that are still utilized in the form of corporate social responsibility (CSR) by American companies. Although there are approximately 600 U.S. companies operating in South Africa, the question of how they contribute to Black economic empowerment remains.
- African nations that solicit skilled members of the African diaspora to relocate for business or specialized work, need to create good business and working environments. Such environments should apply to old and new members of the African diaspora as well as individuals and communities because cross-cultural exchanges are important. Ghana is an example of an African nation that is leading the way in these respects and its story needs to be studied in terms of what has worked and what has not worked.
- In terms of managing African diaspora diversity, stakeholders should identify who is interested in contributing to African issues as some people are simply not interested. Stakeholders should start with the identification process, followed by creating a good environment to support those interested in moving to Africa temporarily or permanently.
Session IV: The Role of Universities and Think Tanks in Africa-U.S. Relations
Mr. Adam Clayton Powell III, Director of Africa -U.S. Initiative at the University of Southern California
Mr. Powell commented on the need to invest more in technology, especially artificial intelligence, as the cutting-edge frontier for African diaspora education. In response to a question, Powell said that each time he has traveled to South Africa, he was surprised about how technology is being utilized. Powell gave the example of a professor at Rhodes University in Grahamstown, South Africa, who used technology to positively impact education in a nearby township. The professor was motivated by the idea of training pupils and students to work in a digital economy, instead of physical jobs. Powell emphasized the importance of including information communication technology in university networks.
In response to audience questions and comments, Mr. Powell mentioned:
- Africa provides good examples for the U.S. and other developed countries. Mr. Powell used the example of the Washington Post acquiring computer software written in Nairobi to demonstrate that technology transfers do not only occur from developed nations to African nations. In South Africa, Rhodes University had a project that helped children from impoverished communities near the university improve their educational potential and eventually join the university as students.
- Powell rhetorically asked: how can people who are interested in Africa, but based in the U.S., provide resources for students across the African continent?
Dr. Wheeler Winstead, Assistant Director, Center for African Studies at Howard University
Dr. Winstead mentioned that his area of interest in African diaspora matters was Africa-U.S. university networks and institutional strategies. Winstead rationalized that for Africa to address multiple challenges, it needs multiple strategies such as social, university and business strategies. Winstead further justified the need for multiple approaches based on Africa’s diversity, which includes over 2000 languages across its vast geographical land mass. Winstead also mentioned that the African diaspora is spread across many countries and regions. He pointed out that most enslaved Africans were shipped to Brazil rather than the U.S., a fact Winstead became aware of during his studies in Brazil. Winstead noted that African Americans have had an impact in Brazil, which is evident in the recognition of historical U.S. figures such as Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who are memorialized in Brazilian libraries.
Considering the diversity in the African diaspora, Winstead presented the idea of a U.S.-Africa university-based think tank as one of the potential solutions. To emphasize the need for collaboration, he challenged participants to search for the phrase “African diaspora” on the internet. Winstead highlighted that such a search reveals several organizations representing many interests, yet few focus on Africa-U.S. university partnerships.
Winstead explained that such a network aims to use the relationships that have been developed by the emerging centers for the study of the U.S. at Africa-based universities and African studies centers in the U.S. He also highlighted that the HBCUs that are interested in African studies would be a major part of the initiative. Winstead explained that the plan is to organize five regional conferences in Africa and ultimately one major continental conference to discuss areas of partnership between the universities.
In response to audience questions and comments, Dr. Winstead mentioned:
- The Africa-U.S. universities initiative was not initially a Howard University proposal but an African initiative that started at the University of the Witwatersrand, making it an example of an Africa-led initiative.
- Instead of being overambitious, we should be realistic and have a set of realizable initiatives.
- We sometimes fantasize about Africa’s past and African traditions. It is/was not all rosy. There are some African traditions that needed to or need to “fall apart”.
- The utilization of African languages is an issue area that requires more attention. South Africa, which has eleven official languages, is still struggling with the utilization of all its languages.
- Building good institutions that help Africa-U.S. relations is often dependent on the integrity of individuals. For instance, compare the integrity of leaders who have been involved in fraud and bad governance, with others who seek to institutionally serve the masses. However capable an institution is, it can be brought down by the poor governance of its leaders and sometimes a sole individual. We need to be mindful of this as we work toward an Africa-U.S. university partnership initiative.
- There is a conference at Morgan State University in November where some of the issues that will be discussed are related to fundraising for Africa-U.S. university partnerships, which can facilitate resource mobilization for Africa’s development.
Session V: Deconstructing African and African American terms and concepts
Dr. Krista Johnson, Director of the Center for African Studies at Howard University
Dr. Johnson started by asking: “how do we define and engage with the African diaspora?” Johnson highlighted that the “African diaspora” is a disputed concept because it can be defined in multiple ways. Johnson observed that the African diaspora is often defined on a continental scale, which has some benefits, yet there are limitations that come with such an undifferentiated definition. One such limitation, Johnson explained, is that there are several linguistic, cultural and economic differences on the continent. Johnson mentioned that diversity is also evident in the U.S. where there are differences such as the genealogies or construct through which members of the African diaspora identify themselves. Johnson offered a perspective that takes account of the racialization of the African diaspora in the U.S. acknowledging that race tends to shape much of the conversation and discourse around the African diaspora. Johnson observed that there is a potential danger in over-racializing the African diaspora, which is a phenomenon that is inexplicably linked to U.S.-Africa relations. The racialization of the African diaspora can be problematic, particularly as the African continent begins to occupy more prominent role in the global economy and international politics.
Johnson then posed the question of whether the African diaspora can be viewed through a “new” (those who have direct familial connections to the African continent) and “old” (people of African descent in the U.S. without ties to Africa) framework, tying it to the Biden Administration’s proposal for the establishment of a Presidential Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement, which was formally announced in September 2023. Johnson rhetorically asked whether the Biden Administration is only courting members of the new diaspora? She urged that issues of race should be considered by intellectuals working on policy decisions and practices. Johnson also argued that the U.S. has been incapable of embracing and elevating the descendants of enslaved Africans who have been in the country for many generations. Johnson mentioned that the U.S.’ struggle is partly because key stakeholders have issues dealing with America’s difficult history. She cited the banning of books and resistance to curriculums that account for the history of enslaved Africans and their descendants. Johnson advocated for scholarly work on potential sources of friction in the collective African diaspora. She observed that it was refreshing to have an African diaspora that is not tethered to the baggage of slavery yet succeeding generations must address issues of racialism that have undergirded U.S. history. Johnson explained that addressing the divisions would help build an inclusive diaspora that embraces the experiences and interests of the “new” and “old” African diasporas, while evading the baggage of prevalent race relations debates around the U.S.
Dr. Johnson mentioned that the distinctions in the understanding of the diaspora is used as a soft power and public diplomacy tool for U.S. policy toward Africa. She argued that if a narrow understanding of the African diaspora is limited to the “new diaspora” – those who have direct familial connections to the African continent – it brings into play a very instrumentalist understanding of the diaspora. Instead, the approach should be inclusive, in which all African diasporas contribute and benefit from the global economy. Johnson noted that a broader and more inclusive definition of the African diaspora would infuse social justice meanings into U.S. foreign policy toward Africa, which is currently missing. Such an approach would not only prioritize contemporary diaspora dynamics but also incorporate historical perspectives and discourses, many of which remain unaddressed. She said that downplaying the “old”, or historical, African diaspora defeated the purpose of a just U.S. foreign policy that promotes global order that is fit for the twenty-first century.
In response to audience questions and comments, Dr. Johnson mentioned:
- Data on the African diaspora is not readily available in a direct or an accessible way, as anyone interested in the African diaspora in all its rich diversity must search in various places. The idea of creating a database or portal on the African diaspora is worth considering, as it would help research and policy projects. Such a database would be of interest at Howard University as it would help scholars understand campus-related trends.
- The fastest growing portion of the African American community includes new African immigrants, whereas Black immigrants to the U.S. historically came from Caribbean nations such as Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Grenada and others. The largest percentage of immigrants are from the African continent, which has various countries with different cultures, political systems and economies. As a result, the question of the African diaspora is as complicated as its diversity. The current demographics of the African American community creates significant implications for the community itself, as well as domestic and international politics.
- While it might not be possible to have “universal agreement” on every policy issue, given the diversity of the African diaspora, there can be consensus on certain issues relating to how Blackness is defined, the role of the African diaspora and an agenda of common interest.
- The African diaspora contributes positively and gives back to African through remittances, which are an important economic driver in many African countries. Remittances to African states are sometimes more than foreign investment and foreign aid.
Dr. Bob Wekesa, Deputy Director, African Centre for the Study of the U.S., University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa
Dr. Wekesa started by pointing out that the effort to bring together university academics and practitioners can be considered as praxis, which is the convergence of theories and concepts with practices. Wekesa discussed some of the latent terms that underlie the field of the African diaspora such as “African Americans” and “American Africans”. Wekesa attributed the definitions of the terms to the late Kenyan professor Ali Mazrui, who argued that African Americans were the Africans who were born on the continent and immigrated to the U.S. more recently, while American Africans are Africans who were born in the U.S. Wekesa suggested that these terms could be revisited and used to conceptualize the new scholarship on the African diaspora because how notions are defined is important to the meanings ascribed to them.
Considering the terms “new African diaspora” and “old African diaspora” introduced by Dr. Johnson, Wekesa highlighted that alternative terms could be “contemporary African diaspora” and “historical African diaspora”. Wekesa mentioned that the use of the term “old diaspora” can imply derogatory connotations. He also pointed out that “new diaspora” may also be inappropriate because there are children of Africans who migrated from the continent who consider themselves as de-facto members of the old diaspora. Wekesa cited members of the diaspora who were born in the U.S., but their ties to the African continent have weakened to the point where they do not fit the categorization of “new diaspora”. Wekesa also highlighted that some members of the African diaspora straddle the “historical” and “contemporary” categories forming a third classification of a “historical-contemporary” African diaspora. Furthermore, Wekesa also mentioned “continental Africans” based in the U.S. as well as Africans native to the U.S. He argued that this final categorization is also problematic because some Africans who were born in the U.S. have moved to Africa, and therefore can now be considered as continental Africans. Wekesa also mentioned that some Africans circulate between the U.S. and the African continent considering both regions their homes, which defies any neat classification.
Wekesa noted that the idea of global Africa has gained traction in contemporary society, promoting the idea that “Africans anywhere are simply Africans”. He cited that the concept of Afropolitanism is another categorization that distinguished younger Africans around the world from their older forebearers along the lines of modern culture. Wekesa observed that along with the many definitions of the African diaspora, the idea of African agency has also become prominent. He argued that African agency could be used as a means of shedding light on what the African diaspora wants to be seen and understood. Wekesa mentioned that African agency would initiate research agendas that consider theories, concepts and philosophies that provide knowledge on the African diasporas.
Session VI: Diaspora Youth Exchanges: The case of the Payne International Development Fellowship
Ms. Eurica Huggins Axum, Director of the Donald M. Payne International Development Fellowship Program at Howard University
Ms. Huggins began her presentation by saying that the Payne Fellowship program is named in honor of the late New Jersey Congressman, Donald M. Payne. Huggins expounded on the fellowship, which is supported by the U.S. International Agency for Development to support graduate education for American students. Huggins agreed with earlier comments about second-generation African youth who come from the continent and identify themselves as people of color. Huggins mentioned that such individuals have a passion for environmental, humanitarian, health, economic and developmental issues but often struggle to get university funding. She highlighted that thanks to the scholarship, these young people can help address some of the problems back home in their countries in line with the fellowships’ placement component. Huggins explained that the fellows often work with communities and governments in various countries to design and implement programs on the ground.
Huggins argued that the problems faced in the U.S. are often like problems in other parts of the world, which justifies the need for youthful graduates to experience life outside of the U.S. She mentioned that this should be a driver in designing programs that contribute to solving problems abroad and implementing practices that can be applied in the U.S.
Huggins shared views on the possibility of expanding the Payne Program, arguing that a model is in place. She mentioned that virtual professional development programs that connect American and African students is a viable option. Huggins noted that young people on the African continent would rise to upwards of 40 percent of the global population, making it important to start having conversations on their professional development early so they can implement global solutions. Huggins proposed that American students should spend time at African universities as part of their learning process.
Drawing on the Payne Fellowship examples, Huggins shared that youth professional development initiatives bring knowledge from youth themselves. Citing a meeting between the fellows and the USAID administrator in early May 2023, Huggins said that youth know the key issues the world faces. She shared that the fellows asked questions about the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit, emphasizing the need for USAID to prioritize trade over aid in implementing the Summit’s resolutions.
Session VII: Keynote Address
Mr. Melvin P. Foote, Founder and President of the Constituency for Africa (CFA)
Mr. Foote started by appreciating the partnership of his organization with Howard University’s Center for African Studies and Wits University’s African Centre for the Study of the U.S. It showed that universities and diaspora organizations can work together where their goals and objectives intersect. Foote wished the participants a happy Africa Liberation Day.
Mr. Foote mentioned that he saw the day’s events as part of a broader initiative for more conversations that not only map the African diaspora but also inspire action toward solving real problems. He said the day’s presentations were evidence that there is a “brain bank” of ideas that can be developed into the desired African diaspora outcomes. Referring to Ms. Axum’s speech, he suggested that more Black people should consider joining the Peace Corps volunteer program as a means of their contributions to African diaspora-specific issues and projects. He also urged that some of the advocacy work should go toward getting more Black people into the U.S. foreign service in institutions like the State Department, USAID and the World Bank. He argued that these are consequential entities for Africa-U.S. relations and that having more people of African descent there is not only a matter of equitable representation but a means to ensure African diaspora issues are on the agenda.
Foote observed that while Africa Day was being celebrated worldwide, the celebrations were low-key in Washington D.C. To drive this point home, Foote recognized the presence of several people in the room who had worked on African issues for many years and whom he characterized as “a wealth of talent”. He said their presence at Howard University was evidence of the need to celebrate Africa Day by looking back to their contributions as a means of reflecting on the history of Africa-U.S. engagements. This would help with forward-looking strategies and action.
Concluding that the African Union had gone backward rather than forward, Foote recalled the excitement that accompanied the launch of the African Union Diaspora Program in South Africa in 2012 during the “Global African Diaspora Summit”. Mr. Foote explained that the designation of the African diaspora as the sixth region of the continent had not moved beyond the declaration in South Africa as there were no tangible projects and milestones to speak about.
He observed that the declaration to accelerate the implementation of the program had not achieved much over a decade later. He attributed the failure of the AU-led African diaspora programs on several factors. One factor is that from the origin of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the plan by leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah to make Africa one political and economic entity with a single army, joint diplomatic missions had been opposed by some leaders who prioritized national sovereignty over continental unity. Mr. Footer pointed out that this was the case today; he argued that national sovereignty justifications did not make sense and gave the example of the Gambia which has an embassy in Washington D.C. and yet it is smaller than the District of Colombia.
Mr. Foote shared the value of being ambitious and leveraging one’s talents through his personal story. He said he grew up in Rockford, Illinois, a place his parents moved to during Jim Crow laws and slavery in the South. Foote mentioned his talent in basketball helped earn a high school scholarship to Colorado, where he started a newspaper column called “The Back of the Bus” which dealt with issues affecting Black people. One of the readers was white man, who had been a Peace Corps in Ghana, approached Mr. Foote for advice regarding a racial relationship issue. This led to his interest in the Peace Corps which he was accepted into and sent to Asmara which was then in Ethiopia (long before Eritrea’s separation from Ethiopia in 1993). He was evacuated by the U.S. embassy to another part of Ethiopia after armed conflict erupted in the country. Saying he has been engaged with Africa for close to fifty years, Mr. Foote said the Peace Corps is a great entry point for those interested in careers in African affairs and was the most important foreign policy program that the U.S. government has instituted and maintained. He observed that a very small percentage of people of African descent joined the Peace Corps, yet it provides lived experience in Africa along with language and culture skills.
Foote narrated how the Peace Corps had opened a pathway for his Africa-focused career. On returning to the U.S., he went to graduate school and was then posted to Somalia for three years as a country director. In the coming years, Mr. Foote would visit 45 countries, the latest being an early 2023 trip to Nigeria to attend a diaspora event that gathered participants from 60 countries.
Mr. Foote explained that he established the Constituency for Africa in 1990 after his tour of duty in Somalia. He explained that he worked alongside Randall Robinson, the founder of TransAfrica, and C. Payne Lucas, the founder of Africare, and observed that both had passed away leaving a legacy of advocacy on African issues, particularly the liberation of South Africa from apartheid.
He urged young scholars not to forget the history of these diaspora organizations and individuals and proposed that one way of honoring them is to continue the legacy of their work. He also urged the older leaders of diaspora organizations to mentor and give room to younger leaders so that there is memory and continuity from one generation to the next. Mr. Foote observed that organizations such as TransAfrica, Africare and the initiatives established by Rev. Leone Sullivan had disappeared due to failure in mentorship and long-term visions. Foote also observed that funding for African diaspora initiatives had dried up over the years and gave the example of his own work at the Constituency for Africa which is voluntary and goes on without support. He argued that lack of support by some foundations may be calculated at forcing diaspora organizations to stop advocacy work.
Foote agreed with Dr. Johnson’s comments, as he observed that in the past there were Black American foreign service officers working at the State Department, USAID, World Bank and other agencies. However, they have been replaced by African migrants whom the U.S. government cultivated from universities to important positions. He argued that the outcome was sowing division in the African diaspora community by cutting off Black Americans from mainstream government entities. He further argued that the justification of diversity in favoring African immigrants over descendants of enslaved African Americans does not add up. Mr. Foote noted “tribalism” in the Black American community as something that should not be unaddressed.
Mr. Foote advised that instead of agonizing, it is better to organize. He appreciated the work that scholars do but critiqued the practice of intellectual analysis that doesn’t lead to action. Drawing on an initiative in 2008 called the African American Unity Caucus, he proposed that scholars and practitioners should get together to figure out practical ways of elevating African issues. He mentioned some of the successful U.S. policy initiatives he and other African American leaders had been involved in, such as the passing of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDs Relief (PEPFAR). In the case of AGOA, Foote narrated how he was involved in town hall meetings across the country to lobby for it. In the case of PEPFAR – which was established by former President George W. Bush, he argued that it demonstrated that some Republican leaders could have a positive impact on Africa. Foote mentioned the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) as a successful program that he had lobbied former President Barrack Obama to establish, pointing out that he had developed the initial concept note for the program. He said YALI is particularly important because it focuses on youthful talent from Africa who represents the future.
Noting that funding from white organizations had dried up, Foote proposed that alternative sources of funding for the African diaspora must be found. One idea would be to approach African American philanthropists such as Magic Johnson and Oprah Winfrey, among others. He also suggested that virtual meetings and spaces that have become popular since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic provided an inexpensive opportunity for engagement between the African continent and the U.S. He pointed out that it was impossible for one person to do everything and collaboration was necessary.
Foote speculated that the Presidential Advisory Council on African Diaspora Engagement would be tied to political interests tied to the 2024 elections. He also noted that with only 12 seats on the Council, it was going to include a balance of people representing Black Americans, African immigrants, sportspeople or celebrities, women and youth. He further pointed out that for the proposed Council to be effective, the appointees would need time to develop synergy among themselves. Foote concluded that the Council would take time to achieve its objectives. Foote referenced history during his conclusion about how the effort toward a diaspora council could be more talk than action. He recalled that in 1994 a similar initiative called the National Summit on Africa had been initiated and given millions of dollars, but the money was spent and there were no results. He however said the President’s Council should be given a chance hoping that its members would be receptive to ideas from the African diaspora community.
Appreciating the energy and effort in linking the AU to the diaspora during the ambassadorship of the AU Permanent Representative to the U.S., Ambassador Arikana Chihombori-Quao, he criticized the poor engagement of the current leadership of the AU mission in Washington D.C. He pointed out that the fact that the AU mission did not organize a commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the AU was the tip of the iceberg in terms of current disengagement. Foote said that the AU ambassador to the U.S. had been in Washington D.C. for over two years but her engagement with the African diaspora had not been felt. In the absence of the AU’s supposed role of organizing the diaspora, he argued that diaspora organizations and institutions such as Howard University should fill the gap. He also appreciated the work being done by the Center for Global Africa at Delaware University and offered his support for its work.
In response to audience questions and comments, Mr. Foote mentioned:
- It is important to be as inclusive as possible when we think about the African diaspora community, e.g., Black, brown and all other complexions as well as Spanish and Portuguese-speakers and speakers of other languages should also be incorporated.
- It is good to have conferences and seminars to discuss ongoing research and studies. It helps gain a deeper understanding of what is happening, but all the time should not be spent on doing research. Academics should work with practitioners who often have information on African diaspora communities all over the U.S. and in other countries. If you get 40 people from diverse backgrounds into a room, you can get a lot of practical and forward-looking strategies.
Howard on Africa in Brief is published by the Center for African Studies at Howard University. Contributors include prominent scholars, policy makers, Howard faculty, alumni and graduate students. Our papers provide open access to research and make a global contribution to understanding Africa-related issues. The views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s).