Stop questioning the “African-ness” of Algerians
Many critics have questioned the authenticity of Algeria’s “African-ness”. This is part of a greater malaise which unfortunately is becoming more apparent in African international relations. Here we revisit the history Pan-Africanism in relation to Algeria.
Of the 5 African nations which qualified for the Fifa World Cup in Brazil, only Algeria and Nigeria progressed to the “last 16” phase of the tournament. Though 53 European states enter World Cup qualification and 52 African states likewise, Europe is allowed thirteen finals participants in comparison to Africa’s five. This results in “TeamAfrica” fever, with Africans adopting any African team which is playing.
Despite Algeria’s impressive displays, many critics have raised negative questions regarding the Algerians, focusing on racial distinctions to question the authenticity of Algeria’s “African-ness”. This scenario is just a part of a greater malaise which unfortunately is becoming more apparent in African international relations; that is, an “Us vs. Them” paradigm. This short analysis seeks to address this concern by revisiting the history Pan-Africanism in relation to Algeria.
Pan-Africanism and Algeria
The various fathers of Pan-Africanism, in their various definitions, steered clear of using race as a defining factor, with one author noting that “Pan-Africanism refuses to acknowledge the European notion of race.” Indeed, to many authors like Thompson (1969), Ackah (1999) and Howe (1999), Pan-Africanism is a response against European ideas of superiority and imperialism. This philosophy hence speaks to the whole of the so-called “third world” who identify with colonial exploitation. To the Pan-African “activists” such as Williams, Nyerere, Nkrumah, Nasser, Toure and Garvey, Pan-Africanism was more than an ideology but a means to an end; the end being the unification of Africa politically and economically.
The Algerian war of independence (1954-1962) strengthened ties between Pan-Arabism and Pan-Africanism. The Algerian anti-colonial war had originally split intellectuals and politicians in Francophone Africa, due largely to the special status accorded the territory as a legal part of France. This changed when Kwame Nkrumah became president of Ghana, and Guinea and Mali joined the predominately Arab, pro-Algerian Casablanca Group which promoted African unity over nationalism.
After Algeria gained its independence in 1962, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) emerged as the primary agent of Arab-African cooperation after 1963. Many then interpreted the Israeli pre-emptive strikes of June 1967 against Egypt as an attack on the OAU. This served to strengthen the importance of anti-Israeli sentiment as a basis for Arab-African solidarity. By the time of the October 1973 Yom Kippur War between Arab nations and Israel, politics in the Middle East and Africa was so cohesive that there was unanimous severing of African states’ diplomatic ties to Israel.
Nkrumah’s vision of African unity was shared by the Algerian leader Ahmed Ben Bella who advocated that African boundaries were superficial (Adi and Sherwood 2003).
According to Zoubir (2013), Algeria within the OAU focused on supporting national liberation movements, African unity and fairer global economic exchanges. Under Ben-Bella, Algeria hosted the First All African Cultural Festival in 1969. Within that “Pan-African Cultural Manifesto” the word “Arab” is not mentioned once.
Because of the legitimacy earned through their involvement in the fierce anti-colonial war against France, Algerian nationalist assumed a leadership role in the OAU (Chikh 1968). Indeed, Algeria was one of the initial nine members of the OAU Liberation Committee, whose task was to raise and disburse funds to national liberation movements. Nelson Mandela received his first military training in Algeria in 1962 and on his release from imprisonment in 1990 Algeria was the first state he visited in a symbolic gesture.
21st century Pan-Africanism was founded in Sirte, Libya by Muammar Gaddafi, one of the biggest funders of Pan-Africanism. According to Okhonmina (2009), through political engineering Libya championed the 1999 Sirte Declaration which initiated for the establishment of the AU. Gadhafi sought to re-vitalise pan-Africanism via the Nrkumahism, with the aim being a United States of Africa.
The overall challenge of Pan-Africanism according to the late Nigerian intellectual Nnamdi Azikiwe was that parochialism in the realms of race, language, culture or religion was leading to social disintegration. Therefore, it constitutes a social and psychological barrier which must be hurdled if Pan-Africanism is to become a reality.
Unfortunately, this metaphorical hurdle has only been raised in recent years. In Ivory Coast, Libya, the DRC, CAR, Sudan and Mali, massacres along ethnic groups have occurred without further thought. In Nigeria and Kenya, fundamentalist are using religion as a dividing factor. In South Africa, government documents request that you classify yourself as either “White, Coloured, Indian, African.” Does being White, Coloured or Indian make you a non-African? In the case of Algeria, despite its pivotal role in forming the OAU, history has been revised to suggest that Arabs are not Africans.
Felix (2002) sees Pan-Africanism as a concept of “unity in diversity in terms of an extended and expanded African community.” The creation of the AU definitely triggered pacification across the continent but lack of further implementation and a deceleration on the process of integration both politically and economically is leading to fragmentation.
If this disintegration trend is to be reversed, then the ideology and philosophy of Pan-Africanism must be revisited.
Ackah, William B., 1999, “Pan-Africanism: Exploring the Contradictions-Politics, identity and development in Africa and the African diaspora”, Interdisciplinary Research Series in Ethnic, Gender and Class Relations, Ashgate Publishers, p 12
Adi, Hakim, and Sherwood, Marika, 2003, “Pan-African History : Political figures from Africa and the Diaspora since 1787”, Routledge, London, Preface, Vii
Felix, Chinewe, 2002, “Africa and the Challenges of Globalization: A critical appraisal of the relevance of Pan-Africanism”, Enugu State University of Science & Technology, Nigeria, p 9
Okhonmina, Stephen, 2009, “The African Union: Pan-Africanist Aspirations and the Challenge of African Unity, The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.3, no.4, December 2009, Available here
Slimane Chikh, “L’Algérie et l’Afrique: 1954–1962,” Revue Algérienne des Sciences juridiques,
politiques et économiques, 3 (1968):703–46.
Thompson, V.B., 1969, “Africa and Unity: the evolution of Pan-Africanism”, London. Longmans,
Green & Co. Ltd.
Zoubir, Yahia H., 2013, “The African union in Light of the Arab Revolts: An Appraisal of the foreign policy and security objectives of South Africa, Ethiopia and Algeria”, The Swedish Defence Research Agency and Nordiska Afriainstituetet, Available here