Umar Johnson Isn’t Pan-Africanism

Ahjamu Umi
Self-proclaimed "Prince of Pan-Afrikanism" Umar JohnsonI have belonged to the All African People’s Revolutionary Party (A-APRP) for 37 years.  Before that, I spent four undergraduate years and one graduate college year as a leader in campus Pan-African Student Unions.  That means I’ve spent 42 of my 59 years on earth involved in Pan-African thinking and work.  I certainly don’t know everything.  I learn new things about our movement every day, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to act like I don’t know any more about this movement than every random person out there.  I’ve been fortunate enough to do concrete on the ground Pan-African work in more cities than I can count in the U.S.  I’ve done this work in Canada, Britain, Ghana, Gambia, Tanzania, Senegal, Jamaica, Cuba, and other places I can’t remember right now.

When I was a student Pan-Africanist I thought Pan-Africanism meant a nebulous global unity of all African (Black) people.  There was no class or gender analysis for me in those early days.  If you were “Black” that was the only requirement.  The A-APRP taught me immediately that Pan-Africanism properly defined has a very concrete and specific definition and that definition is one unified socialist Africa.  And, I’ve also come to understand clearly that our revolutionary Pan-African objective comes with uncompromising principles i.e. a commitment to support struggles against injustice everywhere, including those carried out by non-African people.  And, that the destruction of capitalism is a core element to our ability to achieve and sustain our objective while patriarchy and other forms of human oppression are just as evil as white supremacy.

Beyond the years of physical work I’ve done for the party, the element that has concretized my developing understanding is the A-APRP’s work-study process.  For 37 years I’ve participated in this process, studying everything from the ideas of Kwame Nkrumah, Sekou Ture, Walter Rodney, etc., to the concepts of zionism, patriarchy, and more.  Then taking that developed analysis to do work among our people.  I’ve seen a lot in 37 years.  I’ve seen people come to work-study a few times and then disappear. I’ve seen people attempt to misrepresent the A-APRP.  I’ve seen abusive people.  I’ve never understood any of it.  Since day one in 1984, I’ve taken this entire process as seriously as I could at all times.  I did so because I’ve always seen it as my life mission.  One that has been provided to me by our glorious ancestors.  I’ve always believed that this reality required me to always approach my work with the highest level of integrity, selflessness, and consistency that I could muster.  All of this study and work have taught me several things, but one of my earliest lessons was to distrust anyone talking about liberating our people without any level of organization backing them.  In other words, I freely admit, I’m always suspicious of individuals claiming to have ideas about how to liberate our people because I know individuals can never free our people so whenever I see that, I know there’s something else taking place.

All of the above is why someone like me, with the Pan-Africanist exposure I’ve had, can never take someone like Umar Johnson seriously.  I came to be aware of him several years ago and I’ve been forced to address him nonstop, ever since.  The reason for this is because regardless of what you say about Umar Johnson, he has developed a widespread online presence that he has been able to convert into book sales, etc.  He has also spent the last several years promising people an independent school that people have reportedly donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to. Umar Johnson has done this by presenting himself as the “Prince of Pan-Africanism.”  Although I curse the repeated number of times I’ve had to spend talking to people whose only interpretation of the word “Pan-Africanism” came from their exposure to Umar Johnson on youtube, etc., his existence has helped provide us with plenty of opportunities to help people actually understand what revolutionary Pan-Africanism is about.

And, this point is the main premise of this piece because my first strong clue that Umar Johnson was not serious about Pan-Africanism was when I realized he didn’t even have an organization.  The majority of African people (and everyone else) are not involved in organizing work among our people.  As a result, many of us wouldn’t know what this work looked like if it walked right up to us and slapped us silly, but you can’t tell most of us that.  That’s why most people who have followed Umar Johnson probably didn’t think much about him lacking any type of organizational structure, but those of us serious about this work could never ignore that.  We highlight that because we know from our work that revolutionary Pan-Africanism is only achievable through the power of the organized masses.  The forces who built a system of institutionalized oppression of Africa and humanity are extensively organized.  The capitalist system – built exclusively by seed money provided from the transatlantic slave trade (the enslavement of our ancestors financed the industrial period), is organized on every single level in a way to ensure the interests of capitalist multi-national corporations are always represented.  They control the education you receive.  They control the job you work at.  They control the messages transmitted in the house of worship you attend.  They even control how you view sports (by making you believe the imperialist national anthem, designed to promote support for their mercenary military, is supposed to have something to do with basketball, football, etc.).  And, if you resist any of that they control the judicial system to send you to prison and/or force you to serve their violent interests in their military.  All of that obviously requires intense organization on a mass level.  And, since the system we are fighting is organized, we know we have to exceed their level of organization.  That is the reason we understand clearly that anyone talking about our people uniting who doesn’t even prioritize or discuss the need for us to be organized on a mass level cannot be serious about our liberation.

At best, what you are looking at is someone who has figured out how to become what Geronimo Ji Jaga (Pratt) called a “black power pimp.”  And, that brings us to Johnson’s alleged school project.  Our poor people.  So oppressed and desperate to alleviate that oppression that we are easy fodder for opportunists.  Plus, capitalism trains us to look for the easy way to prosperity (who wants to marry a millionaire), so when someone like Johnson comes along with a shiny message, there are always plenty of us willing to listen.  There are plenty of us who will give money or whatever.  Chicken wing church preachers have been exploiting this weakness in our communities for centuries.  So, Johnson tells you he’s starting a school and people donate money.  Lots of money.  A year passes.  Then two.  Then several years, right?  No school.  No accounting of the money.  Nothing, but more solicitations. Those of us who do revolutionary Pan-Africanist work in as sincere a fashion as we can just shake our heads at this.  Within the A-APRP I’ve worked in numerous schools in four different countries in Africa and two states within the U.S. to provide our youth a revolutionary education.  A couple of those schools I’ve helped initiate.  We have been able to run these institutions based on contributions from the community, book royalties I’ve received from my books, and other creative revenue streams.  We’ve actually never had a money problem.  When we ask the community for things, since we have a proven track record of integrity, people have no problem contributing money for a projector, transport, passports, school materials, etc.  I will never forget when we made a community call for school supplies for our youth in Portland, Oregon, U.S., in 2016, we received so many contributions we had nowhere to house them.  Quality stuff too.  One young person donated several Skull Kandy backpacks that were extremely popular with the youth.  Those backpacks had speakers built within them so that when the youth plugged their phones into them they could listen to music, etc.  I didn’t even realize that until one of the youth showed me from the backpack they chose.  The point, if you are working with the people and earn their trust, regardless of how low-income people are, the money will always come for the work you are doing for the people.  Kwame Nkrumah addressed this when he was asked about Ghana prioritizing economic development in the 50s.  He responded that we must “seek ye political kingdom first” meaning the consciousness of the people is the priority, not money.  When you have a conscious people, they will give their last nickel to support the work.

As I’ve said, I’ve had countless discussions with people, cleaning up the confusion related to Johnson and others.  That’s a part of our mission i.e. helping our people understand what revolutionary Pan-Africanism is.  That it always has to be centered around the liberation of Mother Africa and that all of us are a part of the African nation.  And, that this liberation can only happen through an organized revolutionary struggle that is protracted and designed to eliminate neo-colonialism and its puppeteer – capitalism/imperialism – and replace them with the total liberation and unification of Africa under one continental socialist government.

Umar Johnson advances ideas committed to capitalism, individualism, patriarchy, and homophobia.  None of those qualities match revolutionary Pan-Africanism which is always a universal humanist ideology and objective centered on the masses of Africa and all of humanity.  The challenge we have are the strengths we have are the organizing work we are doing worldwide and the hard work, focus, and commitment it takes to sustain that work.  As a result, we don’t know, nor do we desire to learn, how to craft a soundbite message with no substance.  Such an approach would never work for what we are doing any more than it would work for someone who uses the same superficial tactics in a relationship with another human being.  It’s a superficial approach which means it will fool people for a while, but eventually, people start to wise up to it.  Kwame Ture labeled that the case of “when you boil dirty water, the scum always rises to the top!”  Meanwhile, we will continue doing what we have always been doing, serving our people to develop a capacity to forge the type of strong fighting force that will bring us the freedom we desperately deserve.  We will continue to straighten out the confusion.  And, when you are ready, we will be here ready to work with you for the real work to bring justice for our people.

Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People’s Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.