Skip to main content Accessibility help

Internationalists, sovereigntists, nativists: Contending visions of world order in Pan-Africanism

  • Rita Abrahamsen (a1)


Contrary to common assumptions that the liberal world order was ‘made in the West’, this article argues that it was produced in interaction with Pan-African ideology and actors. Developing a morphological analysis, it identifies three contending visions of world order within Pan-Africanism: a world of continental unity and transnational solidarity; a world of national sovereignty; and a world of racially defined units. It concludes that Pan-Africanism contains intellectual and political resources for the defence, reinvigoration, and invention of a more just, equal and rule-bound multilateral world, but that this cannot be taken for granted. Pan-Africanism is neither inherently progressive, nor reactionary, and can support multilateralism and sovereigntism in equal measure. Pan-Africanism's nativism also carries particular risks at a time when similar identitarian viewpoints are promoted by Radical Right movements. Understanding the manner in which Pan-Africanism informs and legitimises diverse political agendas is thus of crucial importance for IR, for Pan-Africanists, and for the future of world order.


Corresponding author

*Corresponding author. Email:


Hide All

1 See Anthony Dawkin and Mark Leonard, ‘Can Europe Save the World Order?’, European Council on Foreign Relations (May 2018), available at: {}; Robert Kagan, ‘The Twilight of the Liberal World Order’, Brookings (24 January 2017), available at: {}; Slaughter, Anne Marie, ‘The return of anarchy?’, Columbia Journal of International Affairs, 70:1 (2017), pp. 1116.

2 Nyerere, Julius, ‘Stability and change in Africa’, in Nyerere, Julius (ed.), Man and Development (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1974), p. 43.

3 Phillips, Andrew, ‘Beyond Bandung: The 1955 Asian-African Conference and its legacies for international order’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 70:4 (2016), p. 330.

4 Rosenboim, Or, The Emergence of Globalism: Visions of World Order in Britain and the United States, 1939–1950 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2017), p. 16.

5 Acharya, Amitav, ‘Studying the Bandung Conference from a global IR perspective’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 70:4 (2016), pp. 342–57; Conrad, Sebastian and Sachsenmaier, Dominic (eds), Competing Visions of World Order: Global Moment and Movements, 1880s–1930s (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Getachew, Adom, Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2019); Helleiner, Eric, Forgotten Foundations of Bretton Woods: International Development and the Making of the Postwar Order (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2014); Australian Journal of International Affairs, 70:4, Special Issue (2016); Special Section: Principles from the Periphery: The Neglected Southern Sources of Global Norms’, Global Governance, 20:3 (2014).

6 Acharya, Amitav, ‘Global International Relations (IR) and regional worlds’, International Studies Quarterly, 58:4 (2014), pp. 647–59; Tickner, Arlene B. and Wæver, Ole (eds), International Relations Scholarship around the World (London: Routledge, 2009); Shilliam, Robbie (ed.), International Relations and Non-Western Thought: Imperialism, Colonialism and Investigations of Global Modernity (London: Routledge, 2010); Vitalis, Robert, White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2015).

7 Freeden, Michael, ‘The morphological analysis of ideology’, in Freeden, Michael and Stears, Marc (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Political Ideologies (Oxford Handbooks Online, 2015).

8 Chaturvedi, Sanjay and Painter, Joe, ‘Whose world, whose order? Spatiality, geopolitics and the limits of the world order concept’, Cooperation and Conflict, 42:4 (2007), pp. 375–95; Hans Kundani, ‘What Is the Liberal International Order?’, German Marshall Fund of the United States, Policy Essay no. 17 (2017).

9 Cox, Robert W., ‘Social forces, states, and world orders: Beyond International Relations theory’, Millennium: Journal of International Studies, 10 (1981), pp. 126–55 (p. 151).

10 Edozie, Rita Kiki (with Gottschalk, Keith), The African Union's Africa: New Pan-African Initiatives in Global Governance (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2014); Tieku, Thomas, ‘Collectivist worldview: Its challenge to International Relations’, in Cornelissen, Scarlett, Cheru, Fantu, and Shaw, Timothy M. (eds), Africa and International Relations in the 21st Century (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012); Murithi, Tim, The African Union: Pan-Africanism, Peace-building and Development (Farnham: Ashgate, 2005); Ferim, Valery B., ‘Reassessing the relevance of the Pan-African discourse in contemporary International Relations’, Theoria, 153:4 (2017), pp. 85100.

11 Gilroy, Paul, The Black Atlantic: Modernity and Double Consciousness (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993); Vitalis, White World Order. For a similar argument regarding the discipline of Sociology, see Morris, Aldon D., The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology (Oakland: University of California Press, 2015).

12 Du Bois, W. E. B., The World and Africa: An Inquiry into the Part which Africa has played in World History (New York: International Publishers, 2015 [orig. pub. 1946]), p. 7.

13 Ibid.; Blyden, William, Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race (Baltimore: Black Classic Press, 1994 [orig. pub. 1888]).

14 In Edozie, The African Union's Africa, p. xxi.

15 Norval, Aletta J., ‘Review article: The things we do with words – contemporary approaches to the analysis of ideology’, British Journal of Political Science, 30:2 (2000), pp. 313–46. Norval shows how the study of ideology has much in common with the tradition of intellectual history fostered by John Dunn, Quentin Skinner, and James Tully, seeking to recast the study of the ‘history of ideas’ in a manner akin to Michel Foucault's by emphasising the importance of language and context.

16 Freeden, ‘The morphological analysis’, p. 1.

17 Freeden, Michael, Ideologies and Political Theory: A Conceptual Approach (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), p. 3.

18 van Dijk, Teun A., ‘Ideology and discourse analysis’, Journal of Political Ideologies, 11:2 (2007), pp. 115–40.

19 See Freeden, Ideologies and Political Theory, ch. 2.

20 Ibid., p. 6.

21 Freeden, ‘The morphological analysis’, p. 5. Freeden draws on Gallie's analysis of essentially contested concepts. Gallie, W. B., ‘Essentially contested concepts’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 56 (1955–6), pp. 167–98.

22 For this reason, Freeden argues that ‘we have no access to political ideas and thinking except as ideologies’. Ibid., p. 5.

23 Tully, James, ‘The pen is a mighty sword: Quentin Skinner's analysis of politics’, in Tully, James (ed.), Meaning and Context: Quentin Skinner and His Critics (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1988), pp. 725 (p. 13).

24 Freeden, ‘The morphological analysis’, p. 13.

25 Norval, ‘Review article’, p. 342. Freeden analyses liberalism, conservatism, socialism, feminism, and green ideology. Freeden, Ideologies and Political Theory.

26 Freeden, ‘The morphological analysis’, p. 3.

27 For such treatments, see Adi, Hakim, Pan-Africanism: A History (London: Bloomsbury, 2018); Esedebe, P. Olisanwuche, Pan-Africanism: The Idea and the Movement, 1776–1991 (Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1994).

28 Bell, Duncan, Reordering the World: Essays on Liberalism and Empire (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2016).

29 Mazower, Mark, No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009), p. 63.

30 In Ibid., p. 63. Du Bois was a consultant to the US delegation in San Francisco. See also Sherwood, Marika, ‘“There is no new deal for the blackman in San Francisco”: African attempts to influence the founding conference of the United Nations, April–July, 1945’, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 29:1 (1996), pp. 7194.

31 Nkrumah, Kwame, Africa Must Unite (New York: Praeger, 1963), p. 135.

32 Getachew, Worldmaking after Empire.

33 Nkrumah, Kwame, Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Colonialism (New York: International, 1965), p. 33.

34 Nkrumah, Africa Must Unite, p. 217.

35 The split gave rise to the so-called Monrovia and Casablanca Groups. See Adi, Pan-Africanism.

36 Nyerere, Julius, ‘A United States of Africa’ (1963), in Nyerere, Julius (ed.), Freedom and Unity: A Selection from Writings and Speeches, 1952–65 (Dar es Salaam: Oxford University Press, 1967), p. 194.

37 Julius Nyerere, ‘The Dilemma of the Pan-Africanist’, Speech (16 July 1966), available at: {}.

38 Nnamdi Azikiwe, ‘The Future of Pan-Africanism’, Speech (1962), available at: {}.

39 See Aydin, Cemil, The Politics of Anti-Westernism in Asia: Visions of World Order in Pan-Islamic and Pan-Asian Thought (New York: Colombia University Press, 2007); Ledwidge, Mark and Parmar, Inderjeet, ‘Clash of the Pans: Pan-Africanism and Pan-Anglo-Saxonism and the global colour line, 1919–1945’, International Politics, 55:6 (2018), pp. 765–81; Friedman, Max Paul and Long, Tom, ‘Soft balancing in the Americas: Latin American opposition to U.S. intervention, 1898–1936’, International Security, 40:1 (2015), pp. 120–56.

40 Acharya, ‘Studying the Bandung Conference’; Phillips, ’Beyond Bandung’.

41 Acharya, ‘Studying the Bandung Conference’, p. 350.

42 Hongoh, Joseph, ‘The Asian-African Conference (Bandung) and Pan-Africanism: The challenge of reconciling continental solidarity with national sovereignty’, Australian Journal of International Affairs, 70:4 (2016), pp. 374–90 (p. 383).

43 Phillips, ‘Beyond Bandung’.

44 It also continued, as Getachew argues, in the form of demands for a New International Economic Order (NIEO), supported by many Pan-Africanists. Getachew, Worldmaking after Empire.

45 Tieku, ‘Collectivist worldview’.

46 A full explanation of the emergence of the AU is beyond the scope of an article focused on ideology. See Tieku, Thomas Kwasi, ‘Explaining the clash and accommodation of interests of major actors in the creation of the African Union’, African Affairs, 103:411 (2004), pp. 249–67.

47 Commission of the African Union, ‘Strategic Plan of the Commission of the African Union Volume 2: 2004–2007’ (African Union, Addis Ababa, May 2004).

48 Article 4(h) of the Constitutive Act of the African Union.

49 Mochochoko, Phakiso, ‘Africa and the International Criminal Court’, in Ankumah, Evelyn A. and Kwakwa, Edward K. (eds), African Perspectives on International Criminal Justice (Accra: Africa Legal Aid, 2005), pp. 247–51.

50 In Labuda, Patryk I., ‘The International Criminal Court and the perceptions of sovereignty, colonialism and Pan-African solidarity’, African Yearbook of International Law Online, 20:1 (2015), pp. 289321 (p. 292).

51 Mochochoko, ‘Africa and the International Criminal Court’, p. 243.

52 In Labuda, ‘The International Criminal Court’, p. 306.

53 Ibid., p. 307.

54 Ibid., p. 310.

56 Assembly of AU, ‘Decision on Africa's Relationship with the International Criminal Court’ (12 October 2013).

57 Assembly of AU, ‘Decision on the International Criminal Court’ (30–1 January 2017).

58 Labunda, ‘The International Criminal Court’.

59 Freeden, ‘The morphological analysis of ideology’.

60 Labunda, ‘The International Criminal Court’, p. 312; see also Nouwen, Sarah M. H. and Werner, Wouter G., ‘Doing justice to the political: The International Criminal Court in Uganda and Sudan’, European Journal of International Law, 21:4 (2010), pp. 941–65.

61 Desmond Tutu, ‘In Africa, seeking a license to kill’, New York Times (10 October 2013).

62 Appiah, Kwame Anthony, In My Father's House: Africa in the Philosophy of Culture (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), p. 17.

63 Bell, Duncan, ‘Race and international relations: Introduction’, Cambridge Review of International Affairs, 26:1 (2017), pp. 14 (p. 1). See also Vucetic, Srdjan, The Anglosphere: The Genealogy of a Racialized Identity in International Relations (Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2011).

64 Appiah, In My Father's House, p. 62.

65 To recall the racial thinking of the time, consider David Hume's ‘Of National Characters’, published in 1748: ‘I am apt to suspect the Negroes to be naturally inferior to the whites. There never was a civilised nation of any other complexion than white, nor even any individual eminent either in action or speculation. No ingenious manufactures amongst them, no arts, no sciences … Such a uniform and constant difference could not happen, in so many countries and ages, if nature had not made an original distinction between these breeds of men.’ Hume Texts Online, available at: {}.

66 Crummell, Alexander, The Future of Africa: Addresses, Sermons, Etc., Etc. Delivered in the Republic of Liberia (New York: Charles Schribner, 1862).

67 Between 1856 and 1887 Blyden wrote four books: A Voice From Bleeding Africa (1856); A Vindication of the African Race: Being a Brief Examination of the Arguments in Favor of African Inferiority (1862); Africa for the Africans (1872); and Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race (1887).

68 Blyden, Christianity, Islam, p. 94.

69 Ibid., p. 58.

70 Ibid., p.110.

71 As he wrote, ‘The law of God for each race is written on the tablets of their hearts, and no theory will ever obliterate the deep impression or neutralise its influence upon their action; and in the process of their growth they will find or force a way for themselves.’ Ibid., p. 115.

72 Ibid., p. 227.

73 Mudimbe, V. Y., The Invention of Africa: Gnosis, Philosophy, and the Order of Knowledge (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1998), pp. 115–19.

74 Blyden, Christianity, Islam.

75 Ibid., p. 124.

76 In Mudimbe, The Invention of Africa, p. 104.

77 In Ewing, Adam, The Age of Garvey: How a Jamaican Activist Created a Mass Movement and Changed Global Black Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2014), p. 42.

78 Andreas Eckert, ‘Bringing the “Black Atlantic” into global history: The project of Pan-Africanism’, in Conrad and Sachsenmaier (eds), Competing Visions of World Order, pp. 237–57 (p. 247). Garvey was particularly popular and influential in South Africa. See Marks, Shula and Trapido, Stanley (eds), The Politics of Race, Class and Nationalism in Twentieth Century Africa (London: Longman, 1987).

79 In Garvey, Amy Jacques, The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey: Africa for the Africans (2nd edn, Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2013), p. 71.

80 In Lewis, David Levering, W. E. B. Du Bois: A Reader (New York: Henry Holt and Co, 2009), p. 340.

81 W. E. B. Du Bois, ‘Andromeda: Of the future of the darker races and their relation to the white people’, in The World and Africa, pp. 226–60; Morris, The Scholar Denied.

82 In Lewis, David Levering, W. E. B. Du Bois: Biography of A Race (New York: Henry Holt and Co, 1994), pp. 194–5. Du Bois's views on race are much debated; compare Appiah, My Father's House and Morris, The Scholar Denied.

83 Achille Mbembe, ‘Afropolitanism’, Africa Remix: Contemporary Art of a Continent (2007). See also Gilroy, The Black Atlantic, ch. 6.

84 Mbembe, ‘Afropolitanism’, p. 28.

85 Mbembe, Achille, Critique of Black Reason (Durham: Duke University Press, 2017), p. 88.

87 Ndaba, Obadias, ‘Afropolitanism and its discontents’, in Hodgson, Dorothy L. and Byfield, Judith A. (eds), Global Africa: Into the Twenty-First Century (Oakland: University of California Press, 2017), pp. 366–75.

88 Emma Dibiri, ‘Why I'm not an Afropolitan’, Africa is a Country (21 January 2014), available at: {}. Binyavanga Wainaina similarly entitled his address to the UK African Studies Association in 2012: ‘I am a Pan-Africanist, not an Afropolitan.’

89 Asante, Molefi Kete, Afrocentricity (Trenton: Africa World Press, 1989), emphasis added.

90 See Gehrmann, Susanne, ‘Cosmopolitanism with African roots: Afropolitanism's ambivalent mobilities’, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 28:1 (2016), pp. 6172; Kasanda, Albert, ‘Exploring Pan-Africanism's theories: From race-based solidarity to political unity and beyond’, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 28:2 (2016), pp. 179–95.

91 Freeden, ‘The morphological analysis’, p. 13.

92 See Sedgwick, Mark (ed.), Key Thinkers of the Radical Right: Behind the New Threat to Liberal Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019).

93 Camus, Renaud, Le Grand Remplacement (Neuilly-sur-Seine, David Reinharc, 2011).

94 Drolet, Jean-François and Williams, Michael C., ‘Radical conservatism and global order: International theory and the New Right’, International Theory, 10:3 (2018), pp. 285313 (p. 305).

95 Benoist, Alain de and Champetier, Charles, Manifesto for a European Renaissance (London: Arktos, 1999), p. 28.

97 Drolet and Williams, ‘Radical conservatism’, pp. 301–02.

98 de Benoist and Champetier, Manifesto, p. 34.

99 Séba, Kémi, Supra-négritude: Autodétermination, antivictimisation, virilité du peuple (Paris: Fiat-Lux editions, 2013), p. 189. All translations are mine.

100 RFI Afrique, ‘L'étrange lien tissé entre le panafricaniste Kemi Seba et le gouvernement italien’ (RFI, 3 February 2019), available at: {}.

101 Seba, Supra-négritude, p. 144.

102 In Cristiano Lanzano, ‘Twisting Pan-Africanism to promote anti-Africanism’, Africa is a Country (9 September 2018).

103 Drolet and Williams, ‘Radical conservatism’, p. 305.

104 In Ibid., p. 304.

105 ‘African and Russian Sovereignty: A Natural Alliance’, Sputnik interview with Kémi Séba’ (22 December 2017), available at: {}; Alexander Dugin, ‘Free Africa or Death! Kémi Séba: African goal of a multipolar world’, Fort Russian News (20 May 2019), available at: {}.

106 Gilroy, Paul, Postcolonial Melancholia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), p. xv.

107 Ibid., p. 6.


Internationalists, sovereigntists, nativists: Contending visions of world order in Pan-Africanism

  • Rita Abrahamsen (a1)


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed