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The road to the 7th Pan African Congress in Kampala 1994

The road to the 7th Pan African Congress in Kampala 1994

The defeat of the apartheid army at Cuito Cuanavale in 1988 laid the foundations for a new lease of life in the Global Pan African Movement. In the early 1990s Namibia acceded to its independence and the apartheid regime unbanned the liberation movements (the ANC and PAC) and released Nelson Mandela. This was the milieu in which the 7th Pan African Congress took place in Kampala, Uganda, April 3-8 1994. It was originally scheduled to take place in December 1993 but had to be rescheduled due to lack of sufficient funds to host the meeting and the logistical problems that arose from the lack of funds.

More important, than the shortage of funds were the ideological differences over the future of the Pan African Movement. There were questions as to whether it was possible to hold a Pan African Congress in Uganda. Should African governments be invited? Who is an African? Could activists and opponents of governments take part in the Congress? In fact, there were two motions for the 7th Pan African Congress. Apart from the Kampala Initiative which was driven by A.M Babu and Karrim Esack, there was the Lagos Initiative for the 7th Pan African Congress spearheaded by Naiwu Osahon of Nigeria.

Tajudeen Abdul Raheem who had been recruited by Babu to serve as the core organizer for the Congress has written on the twists and turns between the varying factions that dogged the 7th Congress. This Congress had been called under the broad theme of “Facing the Future of Unity, Social Progress and Democracy.” Those who believed that governments should not be invited to the Congress stayed away. However, all but 17 of the governments boycotted the Congress. Ghana, Libya, Namibia, provided important resources for the 7th Pan African Congress. Most of the governments that had leaders such as Mobutu of Zaire stayed away because these governments feared that the Congress would be dominated by revolutionary groups opposed to dictatorial governments.

With over 2000 delegates, the ideological and political struggles in the wider Pan African world exploded at the plenary sessions of the Congress. The government of Sudan sent one of the largest delegations to the 7th Pan African Congress and sought to direct the proceedings by opposing the participation of the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army/Movement (SPLA/M), represented by Joseph Garang who raised the ideas of self-determination.

The other major question that was hotly debated was the question of who is an African. There was one tendency within the 7th PAC that argued that Pan Africanism should only include black Africans along with the African descendants in the wider African Family outside of Africa. This tendency opposed what they called continentalism and the inclusion of Africans of Indian descent (such as Gora Ibrahim, who was the spokesperson for the Pan African Congress of Azania).

Many of the discussions on the 7th Pan African Congress were recorded in the text, Pan Africanism: Politics, Economy and Social Change in the Twenty First Century. Tajudeen Abdul Raheem was elected Secretary General of the Secretariat that was established in Kampala, and he exposed the differing ideological positions of the members who comprised the International Preparatory Committee of the Congress. Tajudeen and Babu worked diligently to ensure that despite the wide differences, the Congress could accommodate those who supported the progressive traditions of Kwame Nkrumah, Malcolm X. Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, Amy Jacques Garvey, Bob Marley and Patrice Lumumba.

Betty Shabbazz, the widow of Malcolm X was one of the many prominent leaders who articulated the need for women’s leadership in the Pan African movement. This Congress reaffirmed the question of the full unification of Africa and established a permanent secretariat of the Pan African movement to advance the cause of African liberation and the total elimination of colonialism. The congress took place in the same month when the historic elections took place in South Africa in 1994 to end formal colonial rule and elect Nelson Mandela as president.