Dr. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem
ACTING FOR AFRICANS ON THE WORLD STAGE –TAJUDEEN ABDUL-RAHEEM – A LIFE OF SERVICE
If my memory serves me well, I first met Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem in London, where I was living involuntarily in 1988, whilst working the night shift at Rochelle Laundry, having left Rawling’s Ghana hurriedly. He was then Editor of Africa World Review and a member of The African Information and Research Bureau (ARIB), involved in African community outreach work, especially with refugees, and Pan African information dissemination, whilst pursuing his Doctoral studies at Oxford University.
At the Acknowledgements page of the book ‘Pan-Africanism’ , published in 1966 by Pluto Press in London, edited by Tajudeen, which is supplemented by ‘Globalising Africans’, being a collection of papers on the preparatory work of the 7th Pan African Congress (PAC), published by The Centre for Advanced Studies of African Society (CASAS) in Cape Town, Tajudeen refers to the phone call in the summer of 1992, which the late Abdul Rahman Babu and self made to him in London from Entebbe, requesting him to serve as the Secretary-General of the 7thPAC, which convened in Kampala in 1994. It was this acceptance which promptly relocated Taj back to Africa. There was no alternative candidate to take Pan-Africanism out of its dormancy, the last Congress being the 6th, had been held in Dar es Salaam in 1974. Tajudeen succeeded in the mission. This success is attributed to the message, Tajudeen’s personality and his tireless efforts.
It took some of us a while to grasp the ins and outs of Africanism in a rapidly evolving world, going forward. At the 7th PAC there was a large contingent of Sudanese, from north and south, including John Garang de Mabior. It was probably the largest delegation after the Ugandan hosts. It was only later that the significance of this fell into place – the reasons for Sudanese pre-occupations with Africanism.
Practically Tajudeen was plunged into the affairs of the region and his Kampala office was people by Rwandese, who later returned home to lead their country. Then the Congo events engulfed Central Africa in the First African War, so-called. In all this Tajudeen, the Pan-African diplomat, had to navigate his way, remaining focussed on his mission, dependent on his hosts. A difficult task. This would have meant him concentrating on pursuing the aspirations of the global African community, whilst ensuring he retained the favour of his hosts, whose ambitions might best be described as imperial.
As world attention shifted from South, to Central Africa, inevitably it reached the Afro-Arab Borderlands. Libya was pressing for a United States of Africa. North Africa demanded more attention from Pan-Africanists and its stranglehold on the finances of the Organisation for African Unity (OAU)/African Union (AU) posed a conundrum for all engaged in the pursuit of African unity. Tajudeen was unable to address the issue of Arab hegemony in Africa. Darfur left him exposed and he would not pronounce himself on the issue, neither would he critique Sudan in general. Belatedly in 2007, he came out to censure Arabia in Sudan, but it was too little, too late. Thereafter he reverted back to his silence on the Borderlands, by which time he was working in the UN system.
Apart from the heated public exchanges around 2007, I enjoyed an almost parental relationship with Tajudeen. It is easy to criticise, but hard to be an active role model, on a continuous basis for years on end. Those who criticised demanded too much of the man. He did his best. The question is, were those who criticised ready to take his place ? None of them stepped up to the plate. Pan Africanism has no walls. All can contribute.
Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. One of Tajudeen’s strengths was his public relations. In that arena he was a practitioner par excellence. Initially there was a worry that his background reading on Pan Africanism/African nationalism, might have been inadequate.
Tajudeen was a man of his times, not of the future, and was thus unable to project, to handle the next major challenge, Arab hegemony, in which African nationalism will be determinant. He would not have understood the concept of an African Eastern Diaspora in Arabia, the Gulf States and points eastwards. His embrace of North Africa, forgetting that there are no permanent friends, only permanent interests, rendered him impotent in addressing the challenges arising from those quarters, which are historically determined. He was in so deep, he could not extract himself. In that sense he belonged to the era of Butros Butros Ghali and Salim Salim.
The outreach of Pan-Africanism into Arabia is a work in progress and will test the stamina of youthful Pan Africans coming forward. Africanism is dynamic. It has no centre. It represents the essence of Africa’s contribution to world culture, ethics and public affairs. Tajudeen, in his way, revived these, sustained a vision and struggled to take it forward. For this we thank him, for selfless service in the cause of humanity in general and Africans in particular.
Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem made his transition on Africa Day the 25th May 2009.
Bankie Forster Bankie, Windhoek, July 2009