Malcolm X correctly said that land equals power. What he said in more detail is the people who control the land control the natural resources mentioned above. The people who control those resources control their destiny. What Malcolm’s statement should lead us to is the control of land is our key to self-determination, not voting and/or attempting to gain wealth within the systems that are built and maintained based on exploiting Africa. And, going further, our land as African people, the only land we have any moral right to – no matter where we live – is Africa. That’s it, plain and simple. That’s what Pan-Africanism seeks to do. Organize Africans everywhere on earth to reclaim the political and economic direction of Africa. What Pan-Africanists in theory and action understand is that this objective is crucial to addressing every problem we face as people everywhere we exist.
Marcus Mosiah Garvey certainly understand this. He understood this so well that he initiated the largest organization African people have ever had to serve as a vehicle to pursue a Pan-Africanist objective. The Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA), founded by Garvey in Jamaica in 1915, sought to create an international army of African people focused around liberating Africa to serve the African masses. And, Garvey’s organization was not just a rhetorical venture. The UNIA established chapters in dozens of countries around the world. Its literary organ – “The Negro World” was published consistently in English, French, and Spanish, in 33 countries. Much has been written about the UNIA’s purchase of three ships and its efforts to launch a shipping line, but possibly the most impactful project the UNIA embarked upon was its political efforts to strengthen relationships between the UNIA and the government of Liberia in West Africa.
Although it is true that Garvey himself never set foot on the African continent (which further illustrates how ill relevant it is what our individual circumstances are as it relates to worldwide African unity), he was able, along with Amy Ashwood Garvey (his first wife and co-founder of the UNIA), and later Amy Jacque Garvey (his second wife), to organize an organizational apparatus that was able to establish relationships with officials within the Charles King regime in Liberia. What the UNIA did was win over the King administration in Liberia with ill refutable logic about the need for African people worldwide to bypass the colonial powers and start putting the pieces in place to establish independent African control throughout Africa. Garvey and the UNIA convinced the King administration that Liberia’s massive rubber plantations could be properly managed if the UNIA secured the commitment from trained engineers and science professionals, trained in the U.S., the Caribbean, etc., to move to Liberia and replace the colonial expertise that permitted the colonial powers to dominate Liberia’s rubber production. Based on the Pan-African argument advanced by the Garveyites and the fact every person wishes to live in dignity and pride, something Pan-Africanism has always offered the oppressed African masses, an agreement was reached between the King administration and the UNIA on developing this rubber project in Liberia.
Due to the success of the Garvey movement in galvanizing the African masses, there were countless forces who attempted to sabotage the work of the UNIA. The white left, guided by the Communist International financed through the Soviet Union, advanced the idea of the Black belt South within the U.S. (where the Southern U.S. states would be acceded to the African masses within the U.S.) to attempt to dissuade people away from the UNIA and a Pan-Africanist objective. On a much more insidious level, the U.S. government, fearful of the UNIA’s rising influence among African people, started engaging in nefarious activities designed to discredit the work of the UNIA.
J. Edgar Hoover is well known as the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the U.S. where he held that position for 54 years over the bureau. His infamy is his role in advancing, endorsing, and facilitating the illegal, immoral, and violent counter intelligence program (COINTELPRO) where the FBI carried out systemic and violent sabotage against the African liberation movement. Countless people were murdered, incarcerated, and discredited due to the dirty tricks and out and out terror the FBI facilitated against African organizations, but most people don’t realize Hoover’s terror in the 50s and 60s was set in motion by work he did several decades before that to sabotage African self-determination.
In 1917, Hoover, as a very young man of 22, joined the Justice Department. In 1924, the department was completely reorganized into the Bureau of Investigation as its official title and Hoover was given the rank of director which he held until 1974. His quick rise in the ranks of the highest intelligence organization within the U.S. was facilitated largely by his work to undermine the UNIA. By 1919 Hoover was fast at work developing strategies and tactics to fire at the work of the UNIA. One of the most important salvos he fired that caused immeasurable damage against Garvey and his organization was Hoover’s efforts to intimidate Liberia away from its agreement with the UNIA. During the early part of the 1920s, Liberia was threatened by France with invasion. Liberia’s government as it was then and as we know it today is a product of the so-called “Americo-Liberian” legacy. This reality is a reflection of Africans who were enslaved within the U.S. who traveled back to Liberia starting in 1820. These Africans established a Western style government in Liberia that borrowed heavily from African cultural norms in the slavery dominated U.S. This quasi-colonial government dominated the traditional Mande, Kwa, and other African ethnic groupings making the Liberian government Africa’s U.S. representation in blackface.
Exploiting the insecurities of the King administration about its standing among the people of Liberia as well as the pending French invasion, partly to exploit Liberia’s vast rubber resources, Hoover through the U.S. government was able to convince the King administration that if they severed their relationship with the UNIA, the U.S. would prevent France from invading Liberia. The King administration buckled under this threat and the potential of the Pan-African development of rubber in Liberia was eliminated.
France didn’t invade Liberia. Instead, they invaded Vietnam and the subsequent developments from that led in part to the U.S. invading Vietnam and engaging a 10 year war in that country. Hoover in his role as the newly reorganized FBI Director, continued to harass and terrorize the Garvey movement. The FBI was able to generate a mail fraud case against Garvey, although he himself didn’t participate in the alleged crime, and in 1927 he was deported to Britain which more or less eroded the UNIA’s core work within the U.S. and in the African world overall at that time (the UNIA is still active today). And, a part of the offer the U.S. made to the King administration in Liberia was to replace the technical help the UNIA had promised to develop rubber production, Firestone Rubber would instead “partner” with Liberia. In 1924, that 100 year contract was signed and Liberia has controlled rubber production, for its corporate profits, not African development, for the last almost 100 years throughout most of Africa. Firestone has played other sabotage roles including partnering with U.S. imperialism again in 1966. When the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) illegally overthrew the government of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, the CIA-backed coup makers closed the Ghanaian Tire Factory in Takaradi, Ghana. That factory was producing 100,000 tires annually through Ghana’s socialist economy. More tires than any other entity in Africa at that time. Once the coup happened, that factory was sold to Firestone who promptly closed it permanently to ensure the competition the socialist Ghanaian factory posed to Firestone’s profit driven production would never happen again.
A lesson to be learned from this tragic history is that Pan-Africanism achieved is scientific socialism for all of Africa. Garvey’s efforts to create a partnership with the neo-colonial government of Liberia was ill fated because the interests of neo-colonialism are always beholden to the power of capitalism. There was no mass involvement and organization in Liberia, just the existence of a colonially trained leadership who’s only grasp of power was based solely on approval of the forces who are oppressing Africa. Still, Garvey and the UNIA’s example that Pan-Africanism, even in the lacking method that they pursued it, is clearly the solution to the problems African people face. And, we were able to generate an agreement between an independent Pan-African organization and a region of Africa, to develop resources for collective African advancement 100 years ago! That effort generated the full focus of U.S. imperialism to destroy it. So, then imagine what could prosper if we embarked upon a mass, organized effort to control our resources under the banner of socialist Pan-African revolution. Revolution where no agreement with colonialists or neo-colonialists is appropriate because we are organizing simply to take back what rightfully belongs to us. So, for this vision, we appreciate and thank the UNIA and we continue to engage our work to advance their efforts.