By Rev. Buddy A. Larrier
BRIDGETOWN, Barbados -- From 17-25 May, 2012 the African Union (AU) held the first Global African Diaspora Summit in Pretoria and Johannesburg, South Africa, attended by representatives of approximately 100 nation states. The conference consisted of the Heads of State Summit, the Ministerial Conference and the Civil Society Conference.
I was privileged to have been invited by the AU to this historic assembly as a Civil Society delegate. For over 35 years now I have been active in the struggle for African liberation and for African nations and people to take their rightful place in the political and economic affairs of the world. What follows below is my report on the proceedings.
The purpose of the conference was amongst other things to produce a declaration and programme of action towards the United States of Africa. The gathering was the culmination of 10 years of international dialog with Africans both on the continent and in the Diaspora to plan projects and programmes for the full liberation of African people.
During these international dialogues and at this conference, references were made to the major areas of human activities; i.e. religion, politics, economics, education, law and order, human sexuality, gender equality, war, sports, etc. and the impact that these are having on the global African family.
The past 500-plus years came under particular scrutiny because this was when the first Africans were forcefully taken from the continent to the Americas and used as slaves. This period had been the focus by the United Nations in a series of conferences beginning from 1973. At the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance, which was also held in South Africa (Durban), the transatlantic trade in Africans, chattel enslavement and colonialism were all deemed crimes against humanity. This global conference welcomed the Durban declaration and programme of action (DDPA) from that 2001 conference which strengthens the resolved for justice, healing and reconciliation.
The conference acknowledged the work of the UN’s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (WGEPAD) in monitoring the implementation of the DDPA and for their recommendations. These recommendations, at the 2009 conference, included that the year 2011 be an International Year for People of African Descent (IYPAD) with the theme Recognition, Justice, Development; in 2010 that there be an International Day for People of African Descent (IDPAD); and in 2011 for a Decade for People of African Descent (DPAD) commencing January 2013, with the same theme Recognition, Justice, Development.
The Civil Society conference, which was held from 17-18 May, adopted a proposal that 12th October be the IDPAD as recommended, and for it to commence during the first year of the decade 2013. This proposal was then tabled at the Ministerial conference on 23rd May for endorsement by the representative from the Republic of Suriname but was deferred. The proposal recognises that this year marks the 520th anniversary of 12th October 1492, which saw the arrival in our region of Christopher Columbus and so was the gateway to the transatlantic trade in Africans, chattel enslavement and colonialism, all of which the UN has deemed crimes against humanity. Therefore, Civil Society delegates considered it appropriate that a decision on the proposal for 12th October should be made at the highest level of African people sometime this year to take effect next year, the start of the decade for people of African descent.
The conference expressed appreciation of the UN’s decision to erect a permanent memorial at its headquarters in New York to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic trade in Africans. The conference agreed also on five key immediate African Diaspora legacy projects;
1. A database of professional skills in the African Diaspora: Africa is losing too many African Diaspora professionals. This project is aimed at alleviating the challenge of the brain-drain and its negative impact to Africa’s development.
2. African Diaspora Investment Fund: A partnership between the International Finance Corporation, the African Development Bank, the World Bank, African governments, international donors, the financial institutions and development partners.
3. Remittances in Sub-Sahara Africa: This project is aimed at reducing costs of remittances, integrating remittances with financial systems, leveraging remittances for innovative finance, and improving data on remittances.
4. The Development Marketplace and youth development project: This project seeks to encourage entrepreneurs, particularly youth, in the Diaspora to participate in development in their countries.
5. Volunteer Corps Programme. This project is aimed at canvassing professionals within the Diaspora to leverage on their expertise and skills, particularly in reconstruction and development areas.
In the Heads of State Summit, the Ministerial Conference and the Civil Society Conference it was noted with satisfaction that territories of CARICOM had achieved black majority governments and could therefore play an encouraging and pivotal role in the development of a United States of Africa, which includes the Diaspora. This confidence is expressed in the pages of the ‘Declaration of the Global African Diaspora Summit 25th May 2012’.
Had any CARICOM head of state been present he or she would have been humbled by the high esteem in which CARICOM is held. The Barbados government was represented by Dr Erskine Simmons, chairman of the Commission for Pan-African Affairs. He was accompanied by Hugh Arthur OBE, High Commissioner to Great Britain. The other Barbadians in attendance were Oscar Braithwaite, an educator who lives in Canada, and myself, president of the Universal Day Hope Trust (UDOHT) and IYPAD Barbados NGO Chapter. I record my gratitude to the president and government of South Africa for the gracious hospitality accorded to the delegates of the conference and to the African Union for their kind invitation which gave me the honour and privilege of participating in this historic conference.
The conference has produced an outline of projects and programmes for action of outcomes, the result of a number of regional gathering in various parts of the African Diaspora, along with several technical workshops from 2007 through 2011, plus AU Ministerial conferences.
In brief the document refers to the following:
PROGRAMME OF ACTION
i. POLITICAL COOPERATION
In the area of political cooperation, we commit to the following:
• Continue to support the role of the AU as the focal point and the coordination hub of all Diaspora initiatives in the continent. To this end, Diaspora issues should be a standing item on the programmes and agenda of AU Summits, and the AU’s Directorate tasked with Diaspora matters should be strengthened and capacitated in financial and human resource terms;
• Encourage AU and CARICOM to create a conducive environment for the African Diaspora to invest, work, and travel on the African continent and the Caribbean;
ii. ECONOMIC COOPERATION
Government Action to Foster Increased Economic Partnership
• Take concrete measures that would promote and sustain linkages between AU and the Diaspora in the following priority areas: trade and investment, science and technology, travel and tourism, communication and transportation infrastructure, energy, information and communication technology and cultural industries;
• Explore the possibility of creating a Development Fund and/or African Diaspora Investment Fund to address development challenges confronting Africans in the continent and the Diaspora.
iii. SOCIAL COOPERATION
In the area of social cooperation, we commit to the following:
Knowledge and Education
• Design and develop platforms for African and Diaspora educators and scholars to address the developmental agenda of the Continent and the Diaspora. These would include, among others, the establishment of African-centred institutions and programmes and increased collaboration efforts between academic and research institutions in Africa and the Diaspora regions;
Arts and Culture
• Further encourage and disseminate information to all Member States on African-Diaspora projects which are being implemented such as the Museum of Black Civilisations, an African Remembrance Square, the African Renaissance Monument, the Joseph Project and slave route;
• Support, encourage and promote the celebration of global observance days as symbols of solidarity for the commemoration of the common heritage and vision of Africa and its Diaspora, in order to strengthen Pan-African unity and identity, in particular, Africa Day, African Union Day, Black History Month and Emancipation Day;
To these days should be added the International Day for People of African Descent for Recognition, Justice and Development – 12th October.
iv. IMPLEMENTATION AND FOLLOW-UP
We adopt the following implementation and follow-up mechanism/strategy:
• Agree to establish multi-stakeholder working groups comprising the AU, CARICOM and representative from the Diaspora in the following priority areas: economic cooperation (including infrastructure, sea and air links, trade and investment, and travel and tourism); science and technology (including the establishment of low earth orbit satellite, and research in agriculture, biotechnology, renewable energy technologies, infectious and non-infectious diseases);
• Agree to set up a Diaspora Advisory Board, which will address overarching issues of concern to Africa and its Diaspora such as reparations, right to return and follow up to WCAR Plan of Action, amongst others;
The contributions from early visionaries Pan-Africanists from the Diaspora such as Sylvester Henry Williams, Marcus Mosiah Garvey, Bob Marley, Baba Dudley Thompson and others were recognised and applauded. Participants in the conference renewed their commitment to Pan-Africanism as the liberation ideology for African people.
The gathering recognised that Pan-Africanism in the 21st century must be helped forward by a balanced combination of government action, consistent with relentless community-based organisation, mass political mobilization, international networking and technological expertise by Africans, with the timely and relevant assistance of specific allies for particular issues. The African Diaspora is thus a major part of that equation.
The gathering also recognised that Africans must have control over the resources of Africa. Therefore, a United States of Africa benefits and inspires Africans living everywhere. The conference considered that reclaiming and strengthening our African spirituality is crucial to our liberation and that the Diaspora once inspired, energized and motivated regarding the AU’s Roadmap, will be a tremendous and lasting asset to Africa.
The gathering was informed that there is a core of capable people in the Diaspora ready to disseminate knowledge to other people in the Diaspora to get involved in the programme. All that is needed is the approval and go-ahead from Heads of State where African people are in the majority. That credibility is a crucial component for the efforts.
The final declaration and programme of action is a huge step forward but it was agreed that much more needs to be done, some of it immediate and urgent. It is a call for African people to join hands, hearts, minds and our skills to accomplish the United States of Africa. Reference was made to the message from Marcus Garvey; “Up you mighty African people you can accomplish what you will”.
In this regard, delegates were of the view that this summit was the most significant of all conferences of African peoples. It provided representatives of the global African family with the ideal opportunity to draw up a programme of action, a Roadmap towards our full liberation at a time in history when people across the world are demanding change. The conference ended with delegates in very high spirits, as if they sensed that victory was finally within our grasp.
Personally, I am convinced that the outcome of this Global African Diaspora Summit of 2012 will have a tremendous impact on African peoples worldwide, similar to that of the three other significant gatherings that impacted on peoples across the globe ie;
• the first Council of Nicaea Conference A.D-325, the results of which is present day Christianity;
• the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, the results by which Africans lost their land and natural resources. The continent was carved up by Europeans and shared amongst themselves and global colonialism established;
• the UN World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance of 2001, the results by which the transatlantic trade in Africans, slavery and colonialism are now legally deemed to have been crimes against humanity. This was the third conference of a 30 years process to find strategies that would advance the eradication of Racism (1973-2003).
In addition, the UN’s Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent has also produced a Declaration and Programme of Action for the Decade for People of African Descent 2013-2023. This document complements the Declaration of the Global African Diaspora Summit 25th May, 2012.