African Nationalism Is Not European Nationalism: Stop Projecting

Ahjamu Umi
African nationalism on display in GuineaEveryday, everywhere on Earth, some European is coming into spaces with African people (or Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere) to express their perspective that nationalism is a primitive form of human consciousness. Even most of these people who claim to support national liberation for colonized people still see any semblance of national identity as reactionary and contrary to forward human progress.

We have the European socialist left to primarily thank for this racism disguised as class analysis. How and why do we call nationalism racist? Mostly because the basis of this inept analysis is that the history of Europe is the history of the world, meaning whatever has happened to Europe and European people is the definition on how everyone else in the world needs to view a phenomenon. Based on this perspective, since nationalism in Europe has meant ethnic chauvinism in. Nazi Germany, and more recently, the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia, and ethnic challenges in the former Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries, for these people these examples must of course apply to everyone on Earth because what makes sense for white people must be the model for all of humanity.

We aren’t mad at Europeans for this bit of racism. We understand their conclusion was unavoidable. It’s not an accident that most people on Earth, including many Africans, know virtually nothing about African history. It’s equally not an accident that I sit here in the Western Hemisphere and virtually no one, including many Indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere, knows anything of the history of this hemisphere. The dominant message for over 500 years has been that Europeans are the innovators, leaders, and framers for all of humanity so of course it would never occur to these people to examine the histories of Africa and Europe (for example) independently to determine the important differences.

There are significant differences in history. Sekou Ture, that great Pan-Africanist, gave a resounding analysis of this question. He talked about the fundamental differences between African and European nationalism. He explained how Europe, culturally overwhelmed with intolerance of every kind, has historically engaged in a struggle of nations (Yugoslavia and other countries), “evolving” from countries into states as a result of struggles for independence, resources, freedom from oppression, etc., that areas of Europe have suffered for centuries. European nations have proven to be threats not only to surrounding nations, but to the entire world. It’s a fact that Germany was splintered as a nation (West and East) due to its role in initiating both world wars. There is probably no better example of a people’s chauvinism.

By comparison, Ture further explains that in Africa the “countries” that pass today as states like Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, Sudan (over 60 in all if you include all the surrounding islands) were created by European colonialism. His argument is that consequently, these “countries” having been created for the benefit of Europe without regard for Africa’s ethnic reality, are not countries, but states. As a result, colonialism works against African freedom and self-determination. In fact, the only solution for Africa to correct this problem is the unification of Africa (under one continental socialist government). In other words, the evolution from states to one nation.

Following Ture’s correct logic, African people, and all colonized communities, must use nationalism as a tool to unite themselves against colonial oppression. This strategic approach has absolutely nothing to do with the ethnic chauvinism of Europe, but everything to do with serving as the prerequisite step towards socialist development. Since current African states were created to serve European colonial interests, none of those so-called countries have the capacity to ever become self-sufficient on their own. Even ethnic groups in Africa, divided without regard by the European colonizers, extend beyond these colonial borders. For example, Akan are found in Ghana, Ivory Coast, Togo, and other neighboring countries. The way Africa is set up currently, it would be like dividing Britain so that many of the people in Britain would now find themselves in France and Germany being referred to as French and German despite the fact those people still speak English and operate specifically as British people. Mind-boggling, yet the current day reality for Africa for centuries now. Since the current version of countries in Africa are not viable, initiating socialism in each of these micro-states will never achieve socialist development. That would be like you trying to declare your house a socialist entity while the entire city, state, and country you live in is capitalist to the core. How much success would you have beyond symbolism within this reality?  By comparison, all of Africa provides exactly what would be needed for the successful development of a socialist entity. And, since none of these micro-states agreed to be split up, and none of the African people violently and viciously pulled from Africa to be enslaved, agreed to that terror, its completely logical to unite Africa and to advance a collective African identity for all people of African descent everywhere.

One unified socialist Africa is viable and feasible, and the pathway towards true independence and self-determination for Africa and all her two billion children worldwide. And once that socialist entity is created it clears the way for Africa to make its contribution to worldwide communism. At that stage where most of the world is socialist, we can start talking about nationalism no longer being needed, but for today, nationalism is an invaluable tool for colonized people.

What makes the modern day European resistance to these concepts strange, is that there is ample evidence that core European socialists have always been aware of and supportive of this analysis on nationalism against colonialism that we speak of here. Vladimar Lenin, the co-founder of the socialist party which governed with the creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Soviet Union) and the October revolution of 1917, says quite clearly in his book Imperialism that nationalism is “the prerequisite of socialism.”  We agree.

The other element of this discussion that must be discussed is the question of national identity. Since we are colonized, our history demands that we reject Joseph Stalin’s definition of nationality as “common language and common geographical location.”  That definition speaks volumes to the issues Europe has historically had with the concept of nationalism. For us, nationalism is defined correctly by Kwame Nkrumah when he said nationalism is “common history and culture.”  Nkrumah’s definition speaks directly to Mississippi activist, Ms. Fannie Lou Hamer’s, comments to Kwame Ture (Stokely Carmichael) and other Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee members in 1964 when she returned from Guinea. She told them that “they look like us, talk like us, and stand like us! They even be holding they babies like we do!”  I build on Ms. Hamer’s comments to say you can stand anywhere in Africa and observe social interactions like this. If you are from the U.S., although the people you are observing may not be speaking English, you can pretty much figure out what the basis of the exchange is based on observing their body language and non-verbals. Why? Because we are the same people. We didn’t separate and divide ourselves. The Hutus didn’t struggle to be separated from the Tutsis. Colonialism pitted them against one another. France and Belgium are the reasons for the conflict between those two groups in Central Africa. Nationalism is what will help us resolve conflicts like that one. The one in Sudan. The one in Western Sahara. Ethiopia/Eritrea, etc. These situations are completely different than Serbia and Croatians and anyone who compares the two doesn’t understand anything about Africa.

National identity and consciousness isn’t bourgeoisie. The negation of the necessity for colonized people to utilize nationalism as a tool for unity and forward progress towards socialism is extreme petite-bourgeoisie ideology. Pan-Africanism has absolutely nothing to do with oppression against non-Africans just like Irish nationalism against British colonialism isn’t racist. Actually, Irish national identity is the closest thing in Europe to understanding the argument about nationalism that we make here. So the best thing anyone seeing the world through a European socialist worldview can do going forward is stop talking about African nationalism until you properly understand it and colonialism. The white socialist left has spent the last 100 years working overtime to recruit African people into it. Today, you can count the number of Africans in those organizations while our political formations continue to grow, grow, grow!

The white socialist left will never have any type of relationship with African people (beyond token representation) until they learn to respect African people and you cannot respect African people anywhere without respecting Africa. You also cannot respect Africa without respecting what’s going to be required to uplift Africa: national liberation and Pan-Africanism.

Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People’s Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.