Africa Gathers in Senegal

Published on 31st December 2010

African Renaissance: Is Senegal the torchbearer?
I think that it is safe to say that when many of us receive news from the mainstream media about Africa and Africans, all too often it is negative or disheartening.  Generally, such news reports are about conflict.  It might be about the crises in Darfur or Eastern Congo.  It is just as likely to be about Somali "pirates" or Somali "terrorists."  Right now, it is about Ivory Coast.  Today, I'd like to write about something positive from Africa.  Specifically, I want to write about the 3rd World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures.

The 3rd World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures began on December 10 until December 31.  It is to my knowledge the most comprehensive gathering of artists and intellectuals in recent times. It is the brainchild and creation of Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade and Dr. Iba Der Thiam--one of Africa's great intellectuals and the First Vice-President of the Senegalese National Assembly.

It has featured many of Africa's and the African Diaspora's greatest artists, activists, intellectuals, and educators, including Youssou N'dour, Angelique Kidgo, Wyclef Jean, the Kora Jazz Trio, Julius Garvey, Leonard Jeffries, Theophile Obenga, Chiekh Mbacke Diop, Joyce E. King, Hassimi Maiga, Johnnetta Cole, Wade Nobles, Ron Daniels, Julio Tavares, Ruth Love, Chief Benny Wenda of West Papua New Guinea, Dieudonne Gnammankou, Djibril Diallo, Runoko Rashidi and many, many more. And, all of this was in the shadow of the newly erected African Renaissance Monument.

I was a part of the United States delegation to the Festival.  It was a high powered group that included Black Mayors and elected officials, artists, athletes and actors, scholars and intellectuals, educators and activists.  The US delegation was coordinated by Dr. Djibril Diallo, who is both brilliant and hardworking.  He combines this with a calm demeanor and uncommon ability to focus.  He is one of the most impressive people that I have met in a long time and I pray that he will play an active role in Senegal's future.

Within the context of the Festival there were several conferences or forums.  The first one was on the African Diaspora, of which I had the honor of serving as President and Chairperson.  Dr. Sheila Walker was Vice-President.

The fact that the Diaspora Forum was the first of the Festival is an indication of the importance of the Diaspora in the eyes of the Festival organizers.  And it was not something that we took lightly.  Indeed, we worked on the structure and makeup of the forum for months.  The coordinator of the Diaspora Forum was Dr. Ibrahima Seck--a professor at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Dakar.  Nobody worked harder for the success of our forum than Dr. Seck.

As immodest as it may sound, I think that the Diaspora Forum was the best and most powerful of the Festival.  It was the first forum, it was the best attended, it was introduced by President Wade himself and, like all of the forums, it was presided over by Dr. Iba Der Thiam--one of Africa's great scholars and intellectuals.  On a personal level, I enjoyed Dr. Thiam very much.  He seemed firm but fair.  He was hardworking, pleasant and consistent.  He is a very dignified man who commands the respect of all around him.  It was both a pleasure and an honor to be in his company.

Dr. Thiam and President Wade made lengthy introductory remarks about the conference and the history and importance of Pan-Africanism.  Both of them referenced my work and President Wade went as far to wave a copy of my French language book on Asia around as he spoke. 

I was introduced as the first keynote speaker and I responded by giving one of my best presentations ever.  I was determined as president, chairperson and first speaker of the Festival to frame the African Diaspora beyond the realm of slavery.  I showed 135 of my very best photographs (shown across the auditorium on two gigantic big screen monitors) and spoke with great passion and conviction.  I spoke of Africa as the birthplace of humanity and African people as the aboriginal people of the world. I dedicated my remarks to President Wade and acknowledged in the audience Dr. Julius Garvey, Dr. Diallo and Dr. Seck.  I was very good, and received accolades through the duration of my stay in Senegal.

My presentation was followed by Dr. Sheila Walker, whose lecture topic was entitled A Map of the Americas.  For me, the great contribution from Dr. Walker is that she focused on African communities in the Andean and Hispanic countries of South America, areas often neglected in our studies and discussions.

Following Dr. Walker, we heard from Dieudonne Gnammankou, who discussed the lives of those great Africans in Russia--Ibrahim Hannibal and his descendant Alexandre S. Pushkin--and Chief Benny Wenda, who explained the plight of Blacks in West Papua New Guinea.

Our panel, for the most part, concluded the following day with presentations by Professor Solmaz Ceyik of Turkey, who spoke on the enslavement of Africans in Ottoman Turkey and gave a very moving personal account of the current conditions of Black people in Turkey.  Solmaz was followed by Dr. Hassimi Maiga--the great Songhoi scholar--who focused on the African background to rice production in the Americas, and the great educator Dr. Joyce E. King, who gave us practical ways to implement our ideas.  Dr. King was one of the great highlights of the entire festival.  She was succinct, powerful, scholarly and passionate.  The sister was awesome!

But perhaps the most emotional moment of the forum came with the presentation of Chief Benny Wenda of West Papua New Guinea.  It was Benny's first trip to Africa and his first time being around Continental Africans.  He was a huge success.  For the first time he was able to share with non-Melanesian Black people the horrors of the Indonesian occupation of his homeland.  It was an incredibly moving presentation that rose to its highest heights when he presented President Wade with the feathered headdress of a West Papuan chief, and he and the president embraced each other.

The theme of the Festival then shifted to the Nile Valley.  Among the major speakers were Dr. Theophile Obenga, the great linguist from Congo Brazzaville, Cheikh Mbacke Diop, the son of Cheikh Anta Diop, Dr. Mario Beatty of Chicago State University, Anthony Browder, currently conducting the only African-American archaeological dig in Luxor, Egypt, Dr. Rosalind Jeffries, who focused on the art and imagery of Kmt, and Marie Louise-Maes, the widow of Cheikh Anta Diop.  All of the presentations were brilliant.

All of the forums were well done and each of them was accompanied by excellent photo exhibits.  The most impressive such exhibit was organized for the Africans in Science and Technology Forum by Cheikh Mbacke Diop.  It was marvelous.  The Africans in Science and Technology Forum was chaired by Dr. Julius Garvey--son of Marcus Garvey.

The other two forums focused on African Resistance to Invasion, Enslavement and Colonization and Africa's Contribution to the Free World and Democracy.  In the resistance forum great presentations were made by Dr. Wade Nobles and a number of women, including sisters from Haiti and Jamaica on the role of African women in the resistance to oppression.  In the freedom and democracy forum I was most impressed, interestingly enough, by a speaker from Khartoum, Sudan who emphatically mentioned the contributions of Marcus Mosiah Garvey.  Ron Daniels and Shelby Lewis gave great presentations within their forums.

One of the highlights of the Festival for the US delegation was a visit to the Presidential Palace where we heard remarks from many of the US participants and received Goodwill Ambassadorships to the United States of Africa.  During the ceremonies we were able to meet with the Haitian students being housed in Senegal as a result of the massive December 2009 Haitian earthquake.  These students being in Senegal is a singular gesture of Pan-Africanism in practice.

That night was my third interaction with President Wade and he impressed me as one of Africa's great visionaries.  He honored me as the first recipient of the Goodwill certificate. Riding back to the hotel that night I got my clearest view of the African Renaissance Monument.  It is both large and impressive and will surely outlive all of us. The US delegation finished its stay in Senegal with a major Forum on HIV/AIDS.  Dr. Diallo was at his best and excellent presentations were made by Vera Nobles, Ruth Love and Rosalind Jeffries.

Sisters and brothers, the gathering in Senegal was both historic and awesome.  In addition to the artists and scholars and activists and athletes, several African heads of state either appeared or were scheduled to appear.  Of course, there was President Wade, but also there were the former president of Benin, and the presidents of Liberia and Nigeria.  And Moammar Khadafy was there. 

It is wonderful to have the sense that you have been a part of history; that you were involved in something the results of which are destined to outlive you. The participants in the Festival represented much of the African world.  Scores and scores of papers were presented and circulated.  The photo exhibits for all of the forums were exquisite.  We were well treated, well housed and well fed. 

Do I have criticisms of my stay in Senegal?  Of course I do.  I would have liked to have stayed longer.  I would like to have had more interactions with students, particularly the university students.  I would have liked to have heard more presentations from the other members of the US delegation.  We had some really powerful people in our midst.  But you can't do everything, at least not at one time. 

And what of the criticisms directed against the Festival organizers and hosts, including President Wade himself?  All that I can say is that I was always treated, and I think that I can say the same for the entire US delegation, with the greatest courtesy, dignity and respect.  Great efforts were made to ensure our comfort, safety and security. 

There are those who will say that the Festival, and the construction of the African Renaissance Monuments itself, was a lavish waste of resources at a time when many Senegalese are simply struggling to have regular electricity, clean water, good schools and full bellies.

There may be some truth to that. I cannot really say.  Not being Senegalese, it is not a subject that I feel competent to address.  But I do know that the problems that we confront as a people will not be solved today, and that the 3rd World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures is a bold attempt to link Africa’s and the Diaspora's past and present as a foundation for the future.  It is my hope that, among other things, it will promote tourism to Senegal and stimulate the economy beyond today and into tomorrow. 

I am looking at the positives from the 3rd World Festival of Black Arts and Cultures, and I think that Pan-Africanism is alive and well.  Indeed, although it was certainly the biggest, I participated in a series of such gatherings this year.  In April I went to Mexico with a delegation from the Nation of Islam.  We participated in a historic gathering with African descendants in Costa Chica, Mexico. In August I was the first keynote speaker at the first Global Black Nationalities Conference in Oshogbo, Nigeria.  That same week and in September I spoke at two more scholarly Pan-Africanist gatherings in Nigeria.  So I bear witness to the strength of the Pan-African ideal, and all of these gatherings demonstrate the importance of the relationship between African people--those at home and those abroad.

Family, I regard the gathering in Senegal as a great triumph.  Rarely, if ever, has such a assembly of such distinguished Africans taken place.  And for me personally, it was clearly one of the crowning achievements of my life.  I have rarely received such recognition.  I was actually referred to by Dr. Diallo as "one of the world's great intellectuals."  That is fine praise indeed, and I was accepted as an equal and a peer by some of the world's most outstanding scholars.

Sisters and brothers, I think, in spite of obstacles and setbacks, that African people are moving in the right direction.  Who would have thought, hundreds of years ago, that the descendants of those Africans who were taken out of the door of no return would indeed return to plot and plan and continue to lay the basis for the return of Mother Africa to her Ancestral glory?

In love of Africa!

By Dr. Runoko Rashidi

Dr Runoko Rashidi is an Author, Scholar, Historian, World Traveler and Researcher. Dr. Rashidi’s work is primarily focused on the “Global African Presence” and he has authored hundreds of articles on the African presence in Asia, India, Europe, Australia, Canada, North America, South America as well as the Caribbean.

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