Debating Africa’s Liberation and Transformation

To commemorate the 60th anniversary of the first All-African Peoples´ Conference in Ghana in 1958, the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana organized a conference under the theme ‘Revisiting the 1958 All-African Peoples´ Conference: The Unfinished Business of Liberation and Transformation’ which took place at the beginning of December last year in Accra. Zuzana Uhde describes how the conference evoked and celebrated the spirit of Pan-Africanism and socialism and debated vital questions of radical political economy.

By Zuzana Uhde

The conference, ‘Revisiting the 1958 All-African People’s Conference’ held in Accra at the end of last year, focused both on highlighting the historical impact and legacy of the 1958 meeting and on reflecting on the current development of the Pan-Africanist movement and various challenges people in Africa face decades after the historical moment of liberation from colonial occupation. Akilagpa Sawyerr served as a chair of the conference and Dzodzi Tsikata, the director of the Institute of African Studies (IAS), was a chair of the planning committee.

The significance of this conference was not only that it took place in Ghana, as did the first All African Peoples’ Conference (AAPC), but, more importantly, that it gathered together scholars, activists, trade unionists and artists mainly from Africa and the diaspora (in total 34 countries) who are as dedicated as the intellectual leaders of 1958 to engaging in the critical debates and social struggles to transform Africa. The legacy of Kwame Nkrumah, who played a key role in 1958 conference as well as establishing the Institute of African Studies in 1962, was a key theme for the whole conference.

While the 1958 AAPC was the starting point, around which the conference was built, its focus was on the critical diagnosis of today´s challenges. This was reflected in the conference plenaries as well as the parallel sessions. The first day focused on youth in Africa and its role in continuing social struggles for liberation and emancipation of the continent. Young participants were also given a special space in the closing session of the event.

The conference opening keynote speech was delivered by Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja, from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a global expert on Congolese history and politics. The second day plenaries focused on an analysis of economic domination and global capitalism. The third day plenaries dealt with knowledge production and democracy. While the final day plenary session was devoted to the future of Pan-Africanism. The stage was given to Womba Nkanza, representing the peasant movement, and Evelyn Davis-Poe from Lincoln University.

Horace G. Campbell, based at Syracuse University New York who also served as the third Kwame Nkrumah Chair at the University of Ghana, gave a vibrant closing keynote address on this matter, highlighting the necessary link between Pan-Africanism and anti-capitalist struggle. During the whole duration of the conference participants were engaged in the debate about actualizing the idea of Pan-Africanism and despite the ever-present disagreements between proponents of a political and nativist basis of Pan-Africanism, the overall interpretation inclined towards realising the fundamental idea of solidarity in social struggles for global justice without limiting it to an Afrocentric or racial framework.

Thursday´s presentations on neoliberalism and Africa´s political economy led to a lively debate. Gyekye Tanoh from Third World Network-Africa made a compelling argument that a full understanding of today´s challenges in Africa requires moving beyond the limited framework of neo-colonialism and prioritizing an analysis of capitalism and class relations. This sparked a debate evoking the long-running dispute about the relationship between analytical concepts of class and race. Tanoh argued that overlooking capitalist relations of production prevents the formulation of effective remedies to many contemporary problems. He gave as an example the Ebola outbreak in Sierra Leone and Liberia which was partly brought about by deforestation caused by the activities of transnational corporations in the mining industry.

‘Neoliberalism, Africa’s Economies and the Living Conditions of Africans’ Chair: Sylvester Akhaine. Speakers: Gyekye Tanoh, Kojo Amanor, Chambi Chachage, Anita Nayar

Kojo Amanor from the IAS at the University of Ghana also highlighted critical issues of political economy and focused on the commodification of agriculture. His example of a campaign against child labour launched by TNCs as a measure against local farmers in West Africa resisting the expansion of a transnational agribusiness showed, not only the cynical use of human rights language, but also how activism ignorant of capitalist dynamics can serve the interests of transnational corporations.

Chambi Chachage, a blogger and researcher, then emphasized economic Pan-Africanism, and Anita Nayar, a director of Regions Refocus, stressed the importance of a feminist analysis of economic structures beyond a limited focus only on redistribution. In the afternoon plenary session, Adotey Bing-Pappoe from the University of Greenwich in London, spoke about cooperatives, and Donna Andrews from the University of the Western Cape, in Cape Town, criticized the environmental destruction by TNCs and highlighted the concept of resource democracy. Yao Graham, the coordinator of Third World Network-Africa, discussed the ideological bias behind the mainstream focus on corruption which overshadows the exploitation by and immense increases in profits of transnational mining companies in Africa.

‘Ending Imperialist Domination and Transforming Africa’s Economies’ Chair: Charles Abugre. Speakers: Adotey Bing-Pappoe, Yao Graham, Donna Andrews, Neville Singham 

The parallel sessions opened debates on diverse topics, such as Pan-Africanisms today, emancipation of women, youth, neo-colonialism and imperialism, migration, knowledge production, reparative and restorative justice, global environmental risks, African Union, etc. One point which deserves highlighting is the effort of the organizers to bring to the forefront different feminist perspectives which are an integral part of the history of African thought. Both at the plenaries and in the parallel sessions many presenters challenged gendered disparities within African society.

Whilst Mpumelelo Tshabalala and Mandy Banton, David Wardrop and Susan Williams, who wrote an earlier review for on the symposium at the University of London, noted that the speakers at the London event were predominantly male and it was dominated by white African Studies scholars, the Accra event felt more balanced in terms of gender as well as representation of people from Africa and the African diaspora. However, the backstage debates noted the tendency of scholars from the global North to overlook conferences and academic events at African universities. This trend goes hand in hand with the prevailing whiteness of African Studies in the global North which reproduces the old approach towards Africa as an object of Western knowledge production. Ultimately it is not only about an individual´s colour but about the racial structures within institutions: academia is not immune to racial domination in knowledge production.

The four days in Accra evoked the spirit of Pan-Africanism and socialism which was also shown in the participatory approach towards adopting the conference resolutions. Whilst the 2018 conference was more academic than the politically mobilizing 1958 event, there was a clear effort to strengthen critical engagement of academic scholarship in Pan-African social movements built from the bottom up. The final resolutions focused on six areas: Pan-Africanism today and tomorrow and building a new politics for substantive democracy and security; Pan-African Epistemologies for knowledge production; Ending imperialist domination and transforming Africa’s economies; Climate change and environmental repair; Restorative and reparative justice; Youth, workers, progressive women, and Africa´s transformation. The conference resolutions are published online on the conference webpage.

Zuzana Uhde specializes in critical social theory, feminist theory and research of global interactions. She focuses on the research of political economy of transnational migration in relation to global justice and sub-Saharan Africa, and transnational care practices. Zuzana is a visiting researcher at Makerere University in Kampala.

Featured Photograph: Kwame Nkrumah was the first leader of Ghana, until he was overthrown in a coup in 1966.


  1. I have read through and deeply appreciate the analysis by Gyekye Tanoh of TWN in one of the videos. Many activists of Pan Africanism do not build capacity to understand and analyse the class relations in production or what is termed property-relations. Property-relations, its antagonism in classes, and its effects on exploitation, disposition, marginalization and conflicts is growing sharply and developing rapidly within the context of Africa’s greater participation in the global economy. As a phenomenon on the continent, it is beyond using the lenses of neocolonialism as a framework. Neocolonialism must be examined beyond, with the lenses of examining Capitalism. Neocolonialism has often left activists to just discuss the control of resources by foreign actors whiles a focus on Capitalism helps look at the development of the economic relations (in all spheres of industry) to the superstructure. Capitalism, essentially, should be the object of investigation and confrontation in dealing with the root of neocolonialism, thus the extraction of magnitude of value in the production process at the expense of the worker.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.