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31.12.2018 15:16 Alter: 17 days

The Long History of Pan-African Intellectual Activism

Call for Papers

Theme: The Long History of Pan-African Intellectual Activism
Subtitle: More Than a Centenary, 1919-2019
Type: International Conference
Institution: Department of African Studies, University of Vienna
Location: Vienna (Austria)
Date: 16.–17.5.2019
Deadline: 6.1.2019

In 1919, parallel to the peace negotiations at Versailles and St.
Germain near Paris, African American historian and political activist
W.E.B. DuBois launched the 1st Pan-African Congress in order to
confront Western racism and call into question European colonial
rule. It was followed by another three Congress meetings until 1927
and an epoch making 5th Pan-African Congress in 1945. The year 2019
thus marks the centenary of the Pan-African movement, which, in
various forms and disguises, with varying success, survived into the
present. It is a welcome opportunity to look back on this crucial
part of Africa`s political intellectual history.

As is often the case with historical dating, clear-cut dates are
rarely available. That is the case with Pan-Africanism too. The
actual history of Pan-Africanism starts well before the Congress
movement got underway. Almost twenty years earlier, in 1900
Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams organised what he named the 1st
Pan-African Conference in London; however, no follow-up conference
came about, and although DuBois had attended it, nothing came from it
in terms of effective organisation. Moreover, the name
Pan-Africanism, inspired by DuBois` 1897 phrasing of “Pan-Negroism”,
was already available long before Pan-Africanism emerged as a
politically effective movement in the wake of World War One.
Historical research has followed the trails of Pan-Africanism and its
historical roots avant la lettre even further back in time.

Though 1919 was a watershed, it was not the beginning. Likewise,
Pan-Africanism experienced many twists and turns since the 1920s.
Only to mention some of the more important ones:

- Around the times of World War Two, Pan-African leadership had
relocated firmly to continental intellectuals and activists who led
their people in the struggle for political independence.

- Of great relevance were the great progresses in establishing
effective networks and lines of communication between the various
colonial territories and the metropoles in the interwar period.
Anti-imperialism and radical anti-colonialism linked more and more
closely with visions of Pan-Africanism. This development increased
dramatically in the wake of Italy`s military invasion and occupation
of Ethiopia since the mid-1930s. London, where the International
Friends of Abyssinia gathered in 1935, was one of the hotspots of new
Pan-African organisational work, while in Paris a more culturally
inclined Négritude movement was emerging among students from the

- The anti-colonialist movements in various African territories
highly active from the 1940s onwards were not only firmly nationalist
but, more often than not, explicitly Pan-Africanist in outlook and
rhetoric as well. The overall political history of Africa was then,
as it is now, determinedly marked by the ambivalences, antagonisms
and potential contradictions between the three different kinds of
nationalism ubiquitous on the continent – micro-level nationalism
(tribalism), meso-level nationalism or nation-statism (nation state),
and macro-level nationalism (Pan-Africanism). Problems arising from
the unresolved relationship between society and the state, the
missing emotional links between the mass of the people and the ruling
elite, which lie at the bottom of postcolonial and contemporary
African miseries, were perhaps never as clearly seen and critically
analysed by African politicians and thinkers as in the 1950s and 60s.
And it was in those two decades that unifying Africa seemed more than
just a dream but a real option.

- When the era of decolonization closed in the mid-1970s, continental
Pan-Africanism was undoubtedly in severe crises, as almost all of
those in power in the postcolonial states of Africa had disbanded the
unifying and integrationist ideals of Pan-Africanism. Nevertheless,
at the same time as Pan-Africanism seemed to be dead at the level of
African governments, lively networks and institutions of Pan-African
research such as CODESRIA were launched, and popular African artists,
like Miriam Makeba, Fela Ransome Kuti and others discovered
Pan-Africanism, ironically by way of their diasporic entanglements
much more than through continental roots. And like Youssou N`Dour or
Angelique Kidjo in more recent years, these artists began spreading
it among a younger generation of African people.

- Again parallel to the distribution of popular forms of
Pan-Africanism as youth culture during the 1990s, political discourse
reinvented Pan-Africanism as the likes of South African president
Thabo Mbeki and Libya`s Muammar Gaddafi spoke of African Renaissance
leading to the reformation of the OAU and its transformation into the
AU in 2002. This supported reinvigorated interest both in the history
and practical use of Pan-Africanism – exemplified, for instance, by
Ngugi wa`Thiongo`s recent book on what he calls “the decolonization
of modernity”, “Something Torn and New: An African Renaissance”, or
by Mahmood Mamdani`s book on the Darfur crisis, “Saviors and

On many levels, then, Pan-Africanism is alive. Moreover, it is on the
agenda lists of many engaged in African affairs again. To put these
current interests and recent developments in proper contexts is a
timely task for historians and intellectual history.

The conference welcomes contributions to the long history of
Pan-African intellectual activism in the 20th and 21st century. In
particular, papers that approach this topic through (auto-) biography
and close readings of Pan-African traditions and narratives are
called for.

Contributors shall hand in a significant abstract (300 to 400 words)
and a short CV (not exceeding 1 page) by Sunday, 6th January 2019.

Please save ABSTRACT and CV in one single WORD file and ATTACH it to
your mail. Please name the subject heading “Pan-African Intellectual
Activism” and send it to:

Organiser: Arno Sonderegger


Arno Sonderegger
Department of African Studies
University of Vienna
Uni Campus Hof 5, Spitalgasse 2-4
1090 Vienna