Pan-Africanism has lengthy roots from the first Pan African Conference at the end of World War I, the work of Dr. W.E.B. Dubois (of the NAACP), the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah (the first president of Ghana) to the present-day calls for Unity from President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal.
There is no question that Africa can reach a position of power and influence only in unity and that the heritage of colonialism and neo-colonialism has set up a multitude of barriers. Yet there is progress on the ground, where these steps are moving forward.
In 1990, African scientists from Senegal, Nigeria and Kenya, following a conference where the Large Marine Ecosystem (LME) approach to marine and coastal management was presented, jumped on this concept and initiated efforts to move forward in Africa in the Canary, Guinea and Somali Current LMEs.
Soon after the majority population won elections and took over the government in South Africa, efforts for the Benguela and Agulhas LMEs began. The first breakthrough came when international funding became available in 1995 for a pilot project managed by a U.N. agency for six countries in the Gulf of Guinea.
The goal of the LME effort is, at the end of a 12-year period, to have established for the LME in question an entity responsible for overseeing management of the marine and coastal trans-boundary issues in the scientifically defined LME area with an ongoing stream of scientific monitoring and assessment information upon which to base that management.
The entity would be controlled and funded by the countries and be able to seek donor monies directly for projects in the LME, rather than having the funds go through a U.N. agency for management.
The success of the pilot project led to expanding it to the entire 16-country Gulf of Guinea LME and to the initiation of projects in all the other African LMEs, from the entrance to the Mediterranean to the entrance to the Red Sea.
The Guinea Current and Benguela Current projects have established interim commissions and are on the way to taking charge. These are building blocks of working Pan Africanism breaking down barriers and working together to solve problems despite national boundaries. A Pan African LME organization is in the works to link these efforts together. The African Union supports the LME efforts to improve the lives of the estimated 250 million persons living in the coastal zone of these LMEs.
I have been involved with African LMEs since 1995. Recently, I spent more than three weeks in Dakar, Senegal, helping prepare for, hold and write reports of the meetings starting the Canary Current LME project, the last to begin, thus closing the loop of coverage which no other continent can match.
The countries involved in the Canary LME are Cape Verde, Morocco, Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Guinea. Some of these countries have internal elections issues which are being addressed. There is a history of issues between countries. There are different cultures: Arab and Berber in the North merging into Black Africa as one moves south; there is a history of French, British and Portuguese colonialism and neo-colonialism. Yet these countries have committed themselves to working together to address issues of over-fishing, pollution, destruction of habitat (such as mangroves), coastal erosion and climate change.
The tone has been set at ministerial levels but the working relations between scientists and resource managers across disciplines is where the building of Pan Africanism takes place and it is exciting to be part of seeing this come together and giving hope to the goal of the 21s century being the era of the African Renaissance.
Brad Brown is the first vice president of the Miami-Dade NAACP. He is also a contractor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where he works on African coastal and marine projects.