I was ten years old when I became aware of Ahmed Sékou Touré’s death. My dad and his friends were huddled in our living room on a Sunday morning. It was a typical scene consisting of booming voices that reminisced, debated and plunged into silences filled with shaking heads. Then finally, the same refrain: ‘Oh La Guinée!’. I was eating cereal in the kitchen when I overheard someone say, ‘When Sékou Touré died…’ To my young ears this was shocking and I immediately asked in surprise ‘He’s dead?’ Hearing his name so frequently, not once did I ever think that he could have already passed. His legacy obviously still haunted my father, his friends and their families across the Atlantic Ocean – in Maryland or wherever the Guinean diaspora now called home. In response to my reaction they laughed before being plunged into silence once again.
Unbeknown to me, Ahmed Sékou Touré, one of the many leaders of the Pan-Africanist movement, had indeed passed away five years before I was born, in 1984. For a variety of historical reasons, Touré alongside Amical Cabral, Kwame Nkrumah and others, remain very much alive in living rooms, coffee shops, lectures and conferences around the world. Whenever Pan-Africanism is mentioned these names come to mind. But as I reflect on Pan-Africanism’s impact today many questions occur to me. What were Touré, Cabral and Nkrumah’s roles? And how could their individual legacies be differentiated?
Analysing the Pan-African movement requires looking at the way it relates to its political ‘pioneers’ as well as examining its philosophical and ideological foundations. It goes without saying that there are many definitions of Pan-Africanism. Historian Hakim Adi describes it as ‘one river with many streams and currents’. Within the various definitions, there are two main strands: the former stemming from achieving unity after slavery and the latter based in the anti-colonial struggle after the 1940s. Each point to the notion of uniting Africans around the world to achieve social, economic and political emancipation from colonial power, taking on multiple forms, visible in the spheres of anti-racism, politics, and artistic expression.