Afriscope:The aim of Pan-Arabism as defined by Gamal Adbel Nasser, is the formation of a federation of North African and Asian Arab states as a single political and economic entity. Doesn’t that project conflict with that of a federal continental African state?
Cheikh Anta Diop: The way I see it is that there already exists a continental African consciousness. For lack of a precise Pan African (federalist) project, however, certain North African Arab countries might be tempted to group separately with Asian Arabs. In face of the disunity and uncertainty characteristic of intra-African politics, North African Arabs states might indeed be instinctively tempted to seek fusion with their Middle Eastern brethren. Nevertheless, I believe that a continent-wide African consciousness does exist already. When you go to North Africa, to Algeria, to Morocco, to Egypt, for example, you can detect an African behavior. We can build on this as long as an effort is made to forget many painful things of the past(and of the present). Africans to the North and the South of the continent must think in terms of uniting because it is in their global interest to do so. If we can overcome prejudice, and fears through information and open discussion, then the advantages of a ContinentalFederalState are apparent. We might nuance our opinion on the steps to be taken towards establishing such a state. To begin with there could be a federation of the Maghreb(Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt) on the one hand, while on the other, a federation of all the sub-Saharan African countries. A Confederation of these two federations could then be envisioned. With time, both federations could then be envisioned. With time, both could fuse to arrive at a true continental federal state. This is possible. Hence the North and the South could be federated independently, then subsequently fused. A lot of effort would have to be expended in destroying prejudices, fears and susceptibilities and crating the basis for a common understanding between North African Arabs and Sub-Saharan Africans.
Afriscope: Many Africans argue that the very cohesion of the Arabs as an ethno-cultural entity would pose the problem of their dominating any con-federal arrangement.
Cheikh Anta Diop: Sub-Saharan Africans must realize that they have nothing to lose culturally, politically or otherwise in a federation which includes the Arab North Africa. Black Africa would not be an appendage of the Arab world in such a federation. There is a distinct African identity which can and ought to be continually developed. In the past 20 years a lot of work has been done in terms of linguistic and historical identity of African peoples. The black world has reinforced its cultural personality. As a consequence of this development, our cultural, linguistic, and historical personality can no longer be strangled in any way by cultural contacts with other peoples. The time has come for us to abandon our complexes and work in favor of a union that is favorable to all Africans. That’s the crux of the matter.
In the final analysis, what is really at the core of the controversy of whether North and sub-Saharan Africans can join in a common federation is the question: Are we culturally ready to meet with the Arab world? Are we culturally ready to join in a common federation without surrendering an inch of our cultural, linguistic, and historical identity as black Africans? This is the real question. My answer is affirmative. Black Africa has recovered its cultural personality to an extent and vigor which makes it impossible for anyone to strangle it. What remains to be done is the day-to-day work of solidifying and redefining in all areas the contours of this personality. Considering of all of the efforts which have been accomplished in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of restoration of our historical and cultural identity, Africans no longer have to fear being dominated by the Arabs.
Africascope: Don’t you think that another serious stumbling block in the way of the constitution of a continental state would appear to be the entrenchment of staunchly egotistic neocolonial regimes both in North and Sub-Saharan Africa?
Cheikh Anta Diop: Definitely. It’s obvious that once we eliminate difficulties of a subjective nature-that is whether North and sub-Saharan Africans do or do not want to federate-there remain the objective obstacles of a political nature. The egotistic nature of certain political regimes, north and south of the Saharan, is such that they are terrified at the idea of a continental African state. The stranglehold of alien economic interests is not foreign to that fear. The neocolonial character of such regimes is therefore an objective factor in the way of constituting a continental federation.
African unity, I feel will come from the base and develop as an undercurrent to the present political sterility and economic stagnancy rampant on our continent. A feeling of general insecurity, generated by the ineptitude of African regimes in dealing with the most crucial issues will result in the masses entering the picture sooner or later. As generalized insecurity spreads, no African regime will be able to prevent the masses from seeing that the ineptitude of their own government is linked to this general insecurity. At that point, I feel the masses will find within their own ranks the type of political vanguards, made up of young, altruistic and politically motivated Africans to unleash a powerful continent-wide movement. This political undercurrent would eventually be forced to sweep away the objective obstacles standing in the way of a continental African federation.
Cheikh Anta Diop was interviewed by Carlos Moors of Afriscope. It was first published in the Africascope of February 1977(Vol.7 no.2). Can be foundt in the Expanded edition of “Black Africa: the economic and Cultural basis for a federated state