Afrikans in Nova Scotia Consider Joining the African Union

While the African Union is a highly problematic institution of the Afrikan bourgeoisie this still an important moment in the building of an Afrikan national consciousness for Afrikan people at home and abroad. Also, as a quick blogger’ note, the author of this article from the Media Co-Op (Ted Rutland) claims that “the effort to create a political organization representing all African people is unprecedented” which is most definitely untrue. One only has to look at the example of Garvey’s United Negro Improvement League, which had millions of members across the world in a period long before the internet, which includes members in the Americas, Europe and Africa.

“I’m a black man from a hostile environment,” says David Horne.

Horne is an international facilitator with the Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus (SRDC), and he was in Halifax recently to address a town hall meeting at Africville Park. Along with the other organizers of the event, Horne was hoping to gauge the interest of the African Nova Scotian community in becoming part of the SRDC – and, indeed, becoming leading members of it. Around 150 people attended the town hall, trekking through a major, day-long downpour to discuss their collective future under the ceiling of a event-sized tent.

As Horne explained, the SRDC is a new initiative of the African Union, the organization that links together 55 of 56 countries on the African continent and is intended to create a common voice for African people in international affairs. Until recently, representation in the Union was limited to African people living on the continent. The estimated 350 million Africa-descended people living in the worldwide diaspora were excluded. But the African Union now wants to reach further. In addition to the five regions of the continent, the Union aims to create a “sixth region”: the worldwide diaspora.

For Horne, the creation of the sixth region is an acknowledgement of the affinities and commonalities that have endured among African people, wherever they happen to live in the present. “You aren’t an African because you were born in Africa,” he tells the town hall audience. “You’re African because Africa was born in you.” The sixth region initiative, in offering the diaspora an official role in the African Union, finally promises to create a venue large and inclusive enough for African people to come together and plot a better, collective future.

At this point, the sixth region is only an invitation. It remains to be accepted, Horne explains, and that means “organizing ourselves to present ourselves and represent ourselves.” Canada is one of many countries with a significant African diaspora, and the sixth region initiative calls for African Canadians to decide if they want to be included in the African Union and, if so, to elect a set of representatives. Each recognized community within Canada is to elect a “community council of elders,” while the overall African Canadian population is to elect a single representative to send to the African Union.

Horne hopes that the African Nova Scotian community will play a leading role amid the Canadian-based diaspora. The province is home to 47 black settlements with a history that predates the founding of Canada, and North Preston is recognized as the largest black community anywhere in the country.

Recognizing Nova Scotia as the first home of African people in the country now called Canada, and the black residents of the province as the “elders” of the overall African Canadian population, the organizers of the sixth region initiative chose to begin their work on the east coast. “This is where the black population started [in Canada],” Horne explained, “We can’t go to Montreal, we can’t go to Toronto, we can’t go anyplace else before we go here. You are the beginning.”

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While the effort to create a political organization representing all African people is unprecedented, it is not the first initiative in Nova Scotia to be rooted in a vision of African unity. As explained by another presenter at the town hall, longtime Halifax-based activist Rocky Jones, a pan-Africanist vision was also central to earlier initiatives like the Black United Front (BUF), formed in the tumult of the late 1960s. Jones himself was there for the founding of BUF at a “family meeting” of the African Nova Scotian community at the Halifax North Branch library, and he played a leading role within the new organization. The history of BUF, Jones suggested, offers important lessons for the initiatives of the present.

“We started the Black United Front,” Jones told the audience, “because we believed it was necessary for the black community to come together as a family and look at the ways that we could define our problems and work toward a solution, together.” BUF was intended to create a “common voice” for African Nova Scotians and to devise programs that responded to community-defined needs and aspirations.

While the organization did some important work in areas like housing and community development, it came to rely heavily, and fatefully, on financial support from the Federal government. This reliance on the government changed the organization. “The projects that we offered,” he explained, “were there because the government wanted the project and put up the money, not because of our needs or our definitions.” Over time, Jones said, “the agenda of BUF became the agenda of the Federal government.”

For Jones, the history of BUF – which the government eventually de-funded in 1994 – demonstrates the importance of developing initiatives that are grounded in the African Nova Scotian community as well as independent of the Canadian political structure.  The sixth region, he believes, fulfills this purpose. The connections among African people that the full, six-region African Union will recognize and formalize, he suggested, have the potential to put everyone in a better position. Not only will African Nova Scotians have a say in what happens in Africa, but African people around the world can offer ideas, investment, and other forms of support to projects in Nova Scotia.

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Participants in town hall seemed impressed, and often inspired, by what they heard.  Loud applause from the audience followed many of the presenters’ propositions, and there was a tangible sense of excitement about the overall vision – a vision that Jones summarized as “African people pulling together.”

Still, there were questions about some of the details. One participant asked what the African Union was doing about the NATO-led bombardment of Libya, a still-ongoing attack that the Union seemed to support in the early days, but has vocally opposed, and been unable to stop, since late May. Participants raised questions, as well, about who would be eligible to represent the African Nova Scotian community within the Union. The Sixth Region Diaspora Caucus calls for Nova Scotians to elect a “council of elders,” but the meaning of “elders” was the subject of respectful debate during the town hall. Some participants mentioned a minimum age of 55 or 60, while others suggested that a committed leader of any age should be eligible. Rather than closing the debate with a firm answer, the issue will be carried forward into future discussions among sixth region organizers and the community.

What no one disputed was the need for a strong, united effort to solve the problems that African people, as African people, continually encounter. David Horne hails from Florida, but the “hostile environment” that he mentioned exists in Halifax as well. In the last decade alone, the HRM municipal government has been criticized for a number of issues, including; sanctioning police-force racial profiling; closing public schools with a relatively high proportion of black students;  siting a waste treatment facility in a poor and racialized neighbourhood, and undertaking  repairs to Lake Major Road that greatly inconvenienced the residents of North Preston, while making a shortcut available to a neighbouring white community. And this string of issues stems from one institution: City Hall. Discrimination in the school system, the labour market, and in housing remain serious issues as well.

For Horne, however, African people are not only defined by the common problems they face. In the communities formed in hostile environments, there is a rich cultural and political tradition that needs to be recognized, honoured, and carried forward. “When I was a child,” recalled Horne, “my parents said [life] would be difficult, but to keep going.” He hopes the sixth region initiative will provide a venue for African people to contribute their individual energy and talents toward the making of a “collective,” and then to move forward as a collective. “We’re here to talk about moving forward,” he concluded. “You’ve been given a choice: you can get involved in the organizing of your part of the African diaspora. And in this world, you’re not always given a choice.”

The choice will need to be made by the community itself, and the town hall concluded with the formation of a committee that will seek to spread information about the sixth region and mobilize community members for a vote on the initiative, at a later date. In the meantime, the organizers of the event – including Horne, Jones, and Halifax resident Denise Allen – headed off to other African Nova Scotian communities to spread the world and offer new choices.

The Halifax Media Co-Op

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Posted on August 11, 2011, in African Struggles and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Afrikans in Nova Scotia Consider Joining the African Union.

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