Cheikh Anta Diop

The last of the Pharaohs clarifies the differences between Pan Africanism and African Continental federalism/Le derniers des Pharaons clarifie la difference entre Pan Africanisme et Federalisme Continental Africain


Cheikh. Anta Diop speaks to us about his vision of the United African States(UAS).  Cheikh makes it clear in this interview that Pan Africanism shall not be confused with African Continental Federalism.  Please take the time to read this very enriching and entertaining discussion between Carlos Moore of Afriscope and the man many African intellectuals refer to as the last of the Pharaohs.


Cheikh Anta Diop nous parle de sa vision des Etats Africains Unis(EAUs).  Cheikh Anta est sans ambiguïté dans cette interview sur la différence entre le Pan Africanisme et le fédéralisme continental africain.  Prière de prendre le temps de lire cette portion d’une excellente discussion entre Carlos Moore d’Afriscope et celui que beaucoup d’intellectuels Pan Africanistes appellent affectueusement le dernier des Pharaons.



Afriscope:The aim of Pan-Arabism as defined by Gamal Adbel Nasser, is the formation of a federation of North African and Asian Arab states as a single political and economic entity.  Doesn’t that project conflict with that of a federal continental African state?

Cheikh Anta Diop: The way I see it is that there already exists a continental African consciousness.  For lack of a precise Pan African(federalist) project, however, certain North African Arab countries might be tempted to group separately with Asian Arabs.  In face of the disunity and uncertainty characteristic of intra-African politics, North African Arabs states might indeed be instinctively tempted to seek fusion with their Middle Eastern brethren. Nevertheless, I believe that a continent-wide African consciousness  does exist already.  When you go to North Africa, to Algeria, to Morocco, to Egypt, for example, you can detect an African behavior. We can build on this as long as an effort is made to forget many painful things of the past(and of the present).  Africans to the North and the South of the continent must think in terms of uniting because it is in their global interest to do so.  If we can overcome prejudice, and fears through information and open discussion, then the advantages of a ContinentalFederalState are apparent. We might nuance our opinion on the steps to be taken towards establishing such a state.  To begin with there could be a federation of the Maghreb(Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt) on the one hand, while on the other, a federation of all the sub-Saharan African countries. A Confederation of these two federations could then be envisioned. With time, both federations could then be envisioned.  With time, both could fuse to arrive at a true continental federal state.  This is possible. Hence the North and the South could be federated independently, then subsequently fused.  A lot of effort would have to be expended in destroying prejudices, fears and susceptibilities and crating the basis for a common understanding between North African Arabs and Sub-Saharan Africans.

Africascope: Nevertheless, Arab countries are increasingly forming exclusive organizations of all kind from which Sub-Saharan African States are excluded but which include Asian Arabs.  In fact there are no less than 25 such organizations. The most recently formed are ALECSO(an exclusive Arab UNESCO) and CASTARAB(or standing for Arab scientific conference). Besides, isn’t there a discrepancy in North African Arab states being members simultaneously of the Arab League and the OAU?

Cheikh Anta Diop: I won’t deny that there are great difficulties in bringing Arab North Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa together in a federal continental political union. Difficulties do exist. I still continue to believe, however, that a an African continental state is vital to the survival of all Africans to the North and the South of the Sahara.  Ways and means must be found to overcome the obstacles in its path.

Africascope: Supposing the assumption of common historical destiny between North African Arabs and Asian Arabs proves stronger than pan-African common interests you speak of?

Cheikh Anta Diop: If despite good will on our part, North African Arabs were to refuse a continental federation, than nothing should stand in the way of the formation of an exclusively sub-Saharan continental federation.  However I feel that if the perspective of a continental federation were clearly defined, backed by a strong by a strong sub-Saharan wish in this direction, then North African states would have to reconsider their position on that score when if prior to that they were thinking along other lines.  Should this not be the case, then Black Africa couldn’t be blamed in the future for grouping along purely sub-Saharan lines.  The fault would not be ours.  Nevertheless we must push the experience to its logical conclusion. 

Africascope: Gamal Abdel Naser’s project was that of an “Arab Nation” from the Nile to the Euphrates. Egypt tried to federate with Syria and Northern Yemem. Liby has now taken the project.

Cheikh Anta Diop: The very failure of the Syria/Egypt federation shows how difficult it is for African states to look outside of Africa for federation.  In fact, that failure should be a warning; a political federation involving states situated in Africa cannot be extra-African.  Nothing prevents North African Arab states, within the context of a continental African state, to maintain cultural contacts with Arabs of Asia, with whom they share a common language. Again, it would be as if Black Africans are prevented from establishing close cultural links with black of America and the rest of the back world. One thing is to establish a cultural ties and another to form a political federation.  This is absolutely clear.  Our objectives must be the creation of an economic and politically federated continent. All Africans who express the desire to build such federation, irrespective of whether they be from the North of sub-Saharan Africa, must be welcomed on equal footing.  I am convinced that if vigorous propaganda were made in this sense, we would end up with very positive results.

Africascope:  However Col. Muammar Qaddafi of Libya and others still agitate along those lines.

Cheikh Anta Diop: People must have entire freedom to talk and expound their views even when these ideas are not realizable.  My opinion is that too many divergences exist for such a project to materialize.  The concept of an Arab state from the Atlantic to the Persian Gulf  is devoid of on any economic base, whereas I can very well conceive of North African Arab states joining the rest of Africa to form a viable political economic entity.  As I said, membership is such a continental political arrangement should not prevent North African Arabs from continuing to entertain close cultural links with the Arabs of Asia.   By the same token, a continental political federation including the North African Arabs should in no way prevent black Africans from entertaining the closest cultural links with blacks of the Americas, Oceania, Asia.  It is absolutely indispensable to make the difference between relationships based on a cultural continuum and those based on a geopolitical entity.

Africascope: suppose Asian and North African Arabs short-circuited black Africa and agreed to set up what Qaddafi has been agitating for?

Cheikh Anta Diop: If that was ever to be the case, then, it would be explicitly clear that a federation with black Africa was being rejected.  If we black Africans take steps to include North African Arabs into a continental federation and the latter prefer instead to elaborate organic political ties with Arabs in Asia, this would be tantamount to a rebuff.  If north African states rather than looking to black Africa in a natural partnership, preferred a federation with Asian Arabs extending to the Persian Gulf, then we would be entirely justified to organize ourselves in an exclusively sub-Sahara federation.  In such an eventuality, no one could accuse sub-Saharan Africans of being guilty of exclusivism, since their appeals to the North would have been refused.  However I do not really envision this being the case.  Rather, my feeling is that the necessary ideological and propaganda work in favor of an all inclusive continental federation has to be undertaken as of now.

Afriscope: Many Africans argue that the very cohesion of the Arabs as an ethno-cultural entity would pose the problem of their dominating any confederal arrangement.

Cheikh Anta Diop: Sub-Saharan Africans must realize that they have nothing to lose culturally, politically or otherwise in a federation which includes the Arab North Africa.  Black Africa would not be an appendage of the Arab world in such a federation.  There is a distinct African identity which can and ought to be continually developed.  In the past 20 years a lot of work has been done in terms of linguistic and historical identity of African peoples.  The black world has reinforced its cultural personality.  As a consequence of this development, our cultural, linguistic, and historical personality can no longer be strangled in any way by cultural contacts with other peoples.  The times has come for us to abandon our complexes and work in favor of a union that is favorable to all Africans.  That’s the crux of the matter.

In the final analysis, what is really at the core of the controversy of whether North and sub-Saharan Africans can join in a common federation is the question: Are we culturally ready to meet with the Arab world?  Are we culturally ready to join in a common federation without surrendering an inch of our cultural, linguistic, and historical identity as black Africans?  This is the real question.  My answer is affirmative.  Black Africa has recovered its cultural personality to an extent and vigor which makes it impossible for anyone to strangle it.  What remains to be done is the day-to-day work of solidifying and redefining in all areas the contours of this personality.  Considering of all of the efforts which have been accomplished in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of restoration of our historical and cultural identity, Africans no longer have to fear being dominated by the Arabs.

Africascope: Don’t you think that another serious stumbling block in the way of the constitution of a continental state would appear to be the entrenchment of staunchly egotistic neocolonial regimes both in North and Sub-Saharan Africa?

Cheikh Anta Diop:  Definitely.  It’s obvious that once we eliminate difficulties of a subjective nature-that is whether North and sub-Saharan Africans do or do not want to federate-there remain the objective obstacles of a political nature.  The egotistic nature of certain political regimes, north and south of the Saharan, is such that they are terrified at the idea of a continental African state.  The stranglehold of alien economic interests is not foreign to that fear.   The neocolonial character of such regimes is therefore an objective factor in the way of constituting a continental federation.

African unity, I feel will come from the base and develop as an undercurrent to the present political sterility and economic stagnancy rampant on our continent.  A feeling of general insecurity, generated by the ineptitude of African regimes in dealing with the most crucial issues will result in the masses entering the picture sooner or later.  As generalized insecurity spreads, no African regime will be able to prevent the masses from seeing that the ineptitude of their own government is linked to this general insecurity.  At that point, I feel the masses will find within their own ranks the type of political vanguards, made up of young, altruistic and politically motivated Africans to unleash a powerful continent-wide movement. This political undercurrent would eventually be forced to sweep away the objective obstacles standing in the way of a continental African federation.   


This interview by Carlos Moors of Afriscope was first published in the Africascope of February 1977(Vol.7 no.2).  We found it in Expanded edition of “Black Africa: the economic and Cultural basis for a federated state.