Dwayne Akio Wong-Omowale, Florida International University Alum
One of the appeals of the Black Panther is that he lives in Wakanda, which is a fictional African nation that was never colonized. In Marvel comics Wakanda is the most technologically advanced country in the world, which is especially impressive considering the number of geniuses and advanced technology that exists in the Marvel universe. Wakanda not only represents a glimpse of what could have been had it not been for centuries of colonial domination, but it also represents a glimpse of what Africa could be once it is completely liberated from colonial domination.
The adverse impact of colonialism was well-documented by Walter Rodney in his book How Europe Underdeveloped Africa. Aside from underdeveloping Africa there was also a great deal of trauma that went along with colonialism as well. This is something that Toyin Falol documents in Colonialism and Violence in Nigeria. Colonialism was a very brutal and violent process that has left a lasting impact in Africa. Many of the conflicts that Africa has experienced since independence can be traced to colonial policies. For example, the genocide in Rwanda was largely fueled by the German and Belgium policy of dividing the Hutu and Tutsi population. One of the things that we have to understand about Wakanda is that by having never been colonized Wakanda has avoided all of the negative legacies of colonialism that other African nations have had to confront.
Rebuilding from the legacy of colonialism is no easy task, especially when one considers all of the issues that Africa has been plagued with which includes civil wars, poverty, famine, diseases, and corruption. Overcoming these challenges will not be easy, but it can be done, especially if the Africans in the diaspora are involved in this process. Despite the fact that Killmonger is the antagonist of the film, his vision for global African liberation is one that is very relevant for African people today. His vision is also one that is rooted in the historical tradition of PanAfricanism. Killmonger, in a sense, represents people like David Walker, Martin Delany, Robert Campbell, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Kwame Nkrumah, Thomas Sankara, and others who recognized that African people are collectively oppressed and need a collective liberation.
One of the main themes of the movie is the fact that Wakanda has not only escaped the negative legacy of colonialism, but that Wakanda has withdrawn itself from the rest of the world. The primary conflict between the protagonist and the antagonist of the movie is that Killmonger believes that Wakanda should be using its resources to assist in the global liberation of African people, whereas the Black Panther is committed to maintaining Wakanda’s isolationist position in world affairs. By the end of the film Killmonger succeeds in getting the Black Panther to reconsider Wakanda’s position in the world and to become more engaged in the struggles of African people. Those of us who want to make Wakanda a reality will likewise need to become more engaged in the global Pan-African struggle that is taking place.
In a previous article True Culture University’s founder Miles Henderson wrote about the technological advancement of Wakanda and how Pan-African unity among Africans on the continent and African Americans could bring about a global Afro-Tech revolution. What I intend to do for this piece is to look at the political aspect of building Wakanda. The main advantage that Wakanda has that many African nations do not have is that Wakanda is a politically stable nation. Yet another negative legacy of colonialism is that it destroyed traditional African methods of governance and put in place oppressive political structures that remain in place to this day.
These political structures are not only oppressive, but they severely limit the potentials of the general population because it traps them in a cycle of poverty. In Africa we have seen brilliant thinkers accomplish great things with limited resources. For example, Kelvin Doe is a selftrained engineer from Sierra Leone who, at the age of thirteen, built batteries and generators from material that he found in trash bins. In Liberia, Fatu Kekula was able to treat her family members who were infected with Ebola while avoiding becoming infected herself. She did this by using thrash bags as protective gear. The innovative and creative scientific ability is certainly there, but it is limited by lack of resources, lack of infrastructure, and a poor educational system.
Wakanda’s political stability is what allows the nation to be as advanced as it is and one of the main plot points in the Black Panther movie is that this stability comes under threat from Killmonger. Killmonger is more interested in his own personal agenda than he is with governing Wakanda, which is very similar to the approach that many African leaders have, although their personal agendas are more about enriching themselves than global African liberation. Wakanda, in escaping colonialism, has maintained the political traditions that sustained that nation for thousands of years. No African nation has this advantage. Even the political structures of Liberia and Ethiopia, the two African nations that were never officially colonized, were still adversely impacted by Western imperialism in Africa.
Pan-Africanism can play a critical role in helping to stabilize Africa’s politics. I will use Togo as an example since much of the work that I have been doing recently has been assisting the struggle of the Togolese people. The people of Togo have been protesting against the dictatorship of Faure Gnassingbe, who has been the dictator of Togo since 2005. Togo is one of the poorest countries in Africa and the infrastructure there is so poor that in some of the schools the children have to use cinderblocks as desks. This is a perfect example of how an inept political system stifles the potential of its citizens. One of the challenges that the people of Togo have been struggling with is the lack of international attention and support for their struggle to end a military regime that has oppressed them for over fifty years. Togo is far from the only African country where we see the masses rising up against the corruption, dictatorship, and neocolonialism that continues to rob Africa of its potential. Wherever we see these uprisings emerging in Africa we in the diaspora should support them in whatever ways that we can.
The precedence for this type of support was already set during the period of colonialism. Africans in the diaspora played a significant role in liberating Africa from colonial rule. One cannot speak about the decolonization of Africa without discussing the role that people like Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois played. Africans in the disapora also supported liberation struggles in Angola, Mozambique, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and other countries. The Africans of the diaspora have contributed to Africa in many other ways as well, so there is already a long and established history of Africans on both sides of the Atlantic working together and assisting each other.
We should also make an effort to get involved in the various Pan-African organizations that exist on the African continent. The most obvious institution that we can look at is the African Union, which actually includes the African disapora as a sixth region. There are also grassroots organizations that we can participate in as well. Earlier this year I also found out a about a newly formed organization in Africa known as Africans Rising. Africans Rising is a Pan-African organization which seeks to organize people and organizations on the African continent for the purpose of building a peaceful and prosperous Africa. The Kilimanjaro Declaration that was drafted by Africans Rising specifically includes the Africans of the diaspora. It reads: “Africa’s Diaspora whether displaced through slavery and colonialism or part of modern day migration are part of Africa’s history and future. They are a reservoir of skills, resources and passion that must be harnessed and integrated into our movement.” The organizations through which the African disapora can become more engaged with the African continent are already in place. We just have to do our part to engage with them.
It is possible to build an Africa that resembles Wakanda and those of us in the diaspora who felt a great deal of pride after watching the Black Panther movie do have a very important role to play in making this a reality. In order to do so we not only have to become more engaged with Africa, but we also have to directly assist in the struggle to liberate Africa from neo-colonialism. Killmonger may be the antagonist of the film, but his vision for the collective liberation of all African people is a vision that we should be striving to turn into a reality.