I firmly believe that everything we need to know to solve today’s problems can be learned from our history (OUR-STORY) and our ancestors.
Rather than groping in the dark for solutions, if we only look to the lessons learned by those who came before us then we can move from discussion of problems to application of solutions.
A man that I once knew and greatly respect once told me “Don’t come to my office with a problem unless you bring a solution to go with it.” Such a statement forced me to elevate my consciousness from a position of helplessness and gridlock into a position of self-sufficiency and progress.
In that same spirit, we can all agree that unity is one of the biggest problems that the Black Conscious community faces. We have talked about the presence of this problem for decades and centuries, literally.
In Dr. Chancellor Williams’ work, The Destruction of Black Civilization, we are introduced to story after story of Black unity, disunity, reunification, and the subsequent destruction of that unity. It is through his work that we are also given lessons for nation building in the context of African history.
We are a people of many different shades, spiritual backgrounds, political views, orientations, languages and dialects, and academic backgrounds. This rich diversity across the diaspora makes unity that much harder. How do we unite, combine our diverse strengths, and fight as a coalition of one people? Is such a thing even possible?
Three great ancestors – Chief Woot, Queen Nzinga, and Marcus Garvey have already answered those questions for us. Keep reading to learn how they achieved the impossible and brought diverse nations together into powerful empires.
Kuba: The Children of Woot
Descendants of the Kingdom of Kuba in present day Democratic Republic of Congo.
Chief Woot, his Kingdom, and his achievements have been nearly forgotten, but such was his leadership by example and his dashing legacy, that even today the people of his federation are still called the “Children of Woot.”
During the 16th century, Africa was being surrounded from every direction – the Portuguese began closing in on West Africa, the English and Dutch from the southern Cape, and the Arabs had a stranglehold on the North and East from Morocco to Zanzibar.
This complete encirclement forced the Original People away from the all-important seacoasts and into Africa’s interior in an attempt to avoid slave traders, warfare, and integration with the alien races coming from every direction.
Chief Woot of the Bushoong Tribe responded to the warring tribes and slave raiders by leading his small group into the Iyool Plain in the Kasai region of what is today the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Here, Woot established the Kingdom of Kuba. The indigenous people of the area, the Cwa and the Kete, who had lived there “since the world began” welcomed Woot as a brother, and joined under him as members of the Kuba Federation.
Dr. Chancellor Williams writes the following:
“From the very beginning the core group of Bushoongs set an example for nation-building for all Africa, but few African states ever followed it. First of all, the total population at the formation of the federal kingdom can be estimated as between 75 to 100,000, of which the Bushoongs were 80 percent. All the other tribes were only one-fifth of the total population. This means that even under the most liberal democratic system the Bushoongs could have dominated and ruled all the other tribes by sheer numbers. However, they did not choose to do so
They transformed the Bushoong Village Council of Elders into a council of State in which each tribe, now constituting a constituent province, was represented as an equal by its own chief or a representative of its choice. As it was throughout Africa, the Council represented the people and, therefore all powers not delegated rested with the Council.”
The fact that there was no central authority was a strength, not a weakness here. I find it interesting to note that a Wikipedia search of the Kuba Kingdom asserts that there was “no real central authority”, as if such was to the discredit of the Kingdom.
The most significant aspect of Chief Woot’s leadership was that even the smallest group that comprised the Kingdom of Kuba was represented as having an equal say in the circle.
This is true democracy, and an innovation that helped him unify many smaller groups, including the Mongo, Pende, Ilebo, Shoowa, Kel, Kaam, Kayilweeng, Lulua, Luba, Ngeende, Maluk, Pyaang, Ngoombe, Byeeng, and Coofa into a mighty federation. Chief Woot also encouraged diversity, rather than trying to crush it and integrate these individual groups – each with their own individual languages, customs, and oral histories.
Chancellor Williams continues:
“They not only treated all of the different language groups as equals, but they promoted a national policy of glorifying the cultural variations in any groups which were so outstanding that they should be adopted nationally. Hence, every tribe that in isolation had developed something noteworthy, but peculiar to itself could see its unique culture pattern become a national institution and be filled with both pride and gratitude.”
Every segment of the Kingdom of Kuba was represented by the overall term Bakuba, or, the “People of Kuba”. Out of many people came one mighty nation. Kuba gave rise to the King-General Shyaam the Great , one of the greatest leaders in human history and was responsible for the “Revolution of 1630, a period of African economic, academic, social, and scientific innovation unprecedented in the area, and a long line of strong leaders who observed the individual rights and culture of the individual diverse groups that they led.
Kuba only fell in the late 19th century when its people turned their backs on the democratic principles laid down by Chief Woot, and forgot the Great Prophecy. From Chief Woot and the Great African Kingdom of Kuba, we learn that only by uniting diverse groups into a federation where their interests can be represented and their unique culture observed, preserved, and honored can we hope to bring about one unified people.
The Black Terror – Queen Nzinga
When the first white faces started showing up in the powerful kingdom of Matamba, they were viewed as an opportunity to expand trade and commerce. These new white faces extended their hands in brotherhood as simple traders and were allowed to establish trading posts in the area.
These traders were soon joined by missionaries, and then by armed militias who all three began sweeping through the countryside in search of slaves to support a Europe on the rise.
The greed for both human and material capital by the whites became insatiable, and they became increasingly more violent. Whole villages were laid to waste as they began capturing men to sell into labor and beautiful Black women to turn into sex slaves.
In 1571, Portugal ordered the complete and total conquest of Angola and declared the country a Portuguese colony in 1575. Confident that they could do with the Africans as they wished, the Portuguese went insane with bloodlust and greed.
But their behavior would not go without consequence, for they gave rise to who they would call the Black Terror and the leader of the First War of Liberation, Queen Nzinga.
Nizinga was born as heir to the throne of Angola as the sister of the King. The King had cooperated with the Portuguese for years in an effort to appease them and to stop the merciless slaughter of so many of his people.
His attempts had led to the capture and enslavement of hundreds of Chiefs under his rule, who the Portuguese then replaced with their own “governors”. Nzinga saw the foolishness in the King’s cooperation with these new white devils and openly opposed him.
Her opposition earned her the love of her people, who flocked to her side. When the King died in 1623, Nzinga rose to the throne and would make Portugal suffer for 40 years.
Because of her unwillingness to side with the enemy or cooperate with them in exchange for material wealth or safety, the people rallied to her side. She declared her kingdom a “free zone”, where slavery was forbidden, and any slave that could escape would be under her protection and forever free. She was, indeed, the first Abolitionist.
Queen Nzinga could have become rich and powerful by following the path of her brother but chose instead to follow a path of righteousness and resistance. She understood that any so-called leader that does not have the moral courage to fight for what is right is subject to suspicion by the people.
More importantly, Queen Nzinga understood that although people may be temporarily united by wealth and commercial interests, only the fight for liberty and self-determination in opposition to evil would be able to mobilize the millions.
The Whirlwind and The Storm – Marcus Garvey
In a time when the Ku Klux Klan lynched Black men and women at leisure, when the movie of the day was the infamous Birth of a Nation, and in a time when radio broadcasting was still an “experimental transmission”, Marcus Garvey’s voice rang out in the darkness to call forth the largest Black organization in history.
In May 1917, Garvey started the New York Division of the U.N.I.A. with only 13 members. After three months, the organization’s dues-paying membership reached 3,500. By June 1919, the membership of the U.N.I.A. had grown to over 2 million members. And by 1926, the U.N.I.A. was 6 million strong.
At its height, Marcus Garvey’s organization was larger than the population of 131 nations…and thats by today’s numbers!
The secret to Garvey’s success lied in his ability to organize, teach, and articulate the vision of his organization.
The United Negro Improvement Organization was structured to support a large number of members in multiple locations. The Constitution of the organization established the offices necessary for administering a global organization.
“The rulers of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities’ League shall be a Potentate and Supreme Commissioner, a Supreme Deputy, a President-General and Administrator, First Assistant President-General, Second Assistant President-General, who shall also be titular Leader of American Negroes; Third Assistant President-General, who shall also he titular Leader of the West Indies, South and Central America; a Fourth Assistant President-General, a Secretary-General, a First Assistant Secretary-General, a Second Assistant Secretary-General, and a High Chancellor; a Counsel General, an Assistant Counsel- General Auditor-General; a Minister of Labour and Industry, High Commissioner-General A Chaplain-General, an International Organizer, a Minister of Legions and a Minister of Education, all of whom shall form the High Executive Council representing branches throughout the world.”
In today’s Black Organizations, both the leadership and the membership believes that each and every task should be the responsibility of all members. “Somebody needs to do this! Somebody needs to do that!” Marcus Garvey understood that this philosophy was a recipe for disaster: when a particular person was held responsible and accountable for a particular result, then when things needed to get done (or went wrong), Garvey knew exactly who to go to. He became skilled at delegating authority, and ensuring that each chapter had access to the resources needed to conduct day to day operations.
Activities, business investments, and Liberty Hall leases were funded by revenue generated from the sale of organizational newspapers, entrepreneurial activities, and member dues. Each local treasurer was answerable to both their local body and the High Executive Council for misallocation or missing funds, and delivered regular reports to members on the financial health of the organization.
As a young man and well into adulthood, Marcus Garvey spent the greater part of his time reading, learning, and studying. As a result, he became a Master Teacher, and was able to synthesize the information that he acquired into easy to understand sermons delivered to everyday people.
His self-education laid the foundation for his leadership of the United Negro Improvement Association, and was directly responsible for the development of his vision for the future of our people and our nation. In one of his few recorded speeches, he outlines his vision:
“For two hundred and fifty years we have struggled under the burden and rigors of slavery. We were maimed, we were brutalized, we were ravaged in every way. We are men, we have hopes, we have passions, we have feelings, we have desires just like any other race.
The cry of race all over the world, of Canada for the Canadians, of America for the Americans, Of England for the English, of France for the French or Germany for the Germans; do they think it unreasonable that we the Blacks of the world should raise our cry Africa for the Africans?
Well the Belgians have control over the Belgian Congo, which they cannot use. They have not the resources to develop, nor the intelligence. The French have more territory than they can develop, there’s certain parts of Africa in which they cannot live at all. So it is for YOU to come together and give us a United States of Africa. We are not going to be a race without a country. God never intended it and we are not going to disappoint God’s confidence in us as Men.
Rise up Black Men, and take your stand. Reach up black men and women and pull all nature’s knowledge to you. Turn ye around and make a conquest of everything North and South, East and West. And then we you have wrought well, you will have merited God’s blessing, you will become God’s chosen people and naturally you’ll become leaders of the world. And as you bow down to the white man today, so will others bow down to you and call you a race of masters because of the intelligence of your mind and your achievements.
We’ve prayed to God for vision and for leadership and he has given us a Universal vision. A vision that will not limit our possibilities to America, a vision that will not limit our possibilities to the West Indies but a vision that says that there must be a free and redeemed Africa.”
Organization, knowledge, and vision became the context for Marcus Garvey’s nation building success.
Leadership Lessons for the Modern Pan-Africanist
Remember the lessons of the ancestor Woot:
Rather than trying to dominate and uniform the diverse people and groups of people that we seek to unite, we must create federations that respect and honor the unique and individual customs, beliefs, and cultures of the people that we unite.
Remember the lessons of our Great Queen Nzinga:
The promise of material gain is never enough to unite a people. Appeal to the higher ideals that we all seek: freedom, justice, peace, and safety.
And finally, let us never forget the wisdom of the ancestor Marcus Garvey:
Intent and desire are not enough to unite a people. Nations are built on the foundations of organization, knowledge, and action.