Friday, 24 February 2006
24 February 1966 could be described as one of Africa’s darkest days. It was the day that Nkrumah was overthrown by a military coup with the support of the American CIA. Nkrumah was not only passionate about Africa but he was obsessed with the unity of Africa.
He put Africa’s interest above that of Ghana by declaring in one of his most emotional and moving speeches that “The independence of Ghana was meaningless unless the whole of Africa was liberated from colonial rule”.
Nkrumah’s importance to African political practice does not lie in the fact that he led the first country in tropical Africa to gain independence (1957). Its significant contribution stems from Nkrumah’s introduction tothe African political struggle, the theory and practice of “mass movement”. Until then, politics was preserved for the educated elites, lawyers, civil servants, journalists, progressive school teachers and disgruntled intellectuals. The politics of these elites was limited to the demands for equality with the colonialists, better working conditions and privileges for senior civil servants or against racial discrimination.
It was not until Nkrumah spearheaded the formation of a militant political movement with one principal and concrete political demand: Self-Government Now. He did not appeal to the British Government to grant them their demand, but he made the masses aware of the need to govern themselves. And he achieved this through mass strength and determination of the Ghanaian people to bring about the desired goal. The people in turn responded to his trust and confidence in them by giving him their whole-hearted support.It was not until 1947, when Nkrumah went back to Ghana that Pan-Africanism was elevated from the realm of an ideal, to that of a concrete, mass-based political practice.
Nkrumah launched the Conventional People’s Party (CPP) in 1942. Nkrumah’s CPP won independence for Ghana in 1957 and in 1958, he hosted the All-African People’s Conference (AAPC). It was the first post-Manchester conference, which sought to put into practice on the African continent that vision of liberation and socialism expressed in 1945.The AAPC brought together for the first time all liberation movements in Africa.
As stated by my former lecturer, Abdou Rahman Muhammed Babu when the delegations of the Pan-African Movement for East and Central Africa stopped over at Congo in 1958, they discovered Patrice Lumumba and his Congolese comrades who were not aware of the impending All-African People’s Conference, although it had been widely publicised all over Africa. For soon as Nkrumah was informed of the impending participation of the Congolese delegation, he gave instruction that they should see him as soon as they arrived, and when he eventually met them, he requested them to stay longer in Accra after the conference was over.
Ghana’s commitment to Congo’s independence henceforth was to become Nkrumah’s obsession
Only 14 months after Lumumba’s visit, the Congo was liberated. But the significance of the Accra conference was even deeper than the liberation of Congo. With the influence of Frank Fannon and the Algerian delegation, the theme of the conference was transformed from a non-violent liberation struggle to the “struggle by any means, including violence”. This was a decisive departure from the Manchester conference which favoured Ghandhian non-violence and passive resistance to colonialism.
This changed the form of the liberation struggle, and there was a proliferation of the Africa-wide Ghana-inspired “mass parties” involving entire populations. It forced the colonialist to accept, in the words of Harold Macmillan, then British Prime Minister, speaking to South Africa’s white dominant parliament in 1961 that the “wind of change was blowing across Africa.” If the 1945 Manchester meeting ushered in the epoch of hope and great expectations, the 1958 the Accra meeting concretised those hopes and expectations by making Africa no longer governable by the colonialists. One by one, African countries began to win their independence.
After inspiring the independence of most African countries, Nkrumah moved on to ensure the unity of Africa. As stated in his speech delivered in 1963, at the founding conference of the OAU, “we have already reached the stage where we must unite or sink into that condition which has made Latin America the unwilling and distressed prey of imperialism after one-and-a-half centuries of political independence. He further added that not one of us working singly and individually can successfully attain the fullest development. Only a united Africa functioning under a union government can forcefully mobilise the material and moral resources or our separate countries and apply them efficiently and energetically to bring a rapid change in the condition of our people.”
Nkrumah’s idea of African unity was conceived as a means of fighting two scourges inflicted on Africa by colonialism. One was the fragmentation of the continent, which resulted in the weak and unviable states; second was poverty, which was a consequence of the fragmentation, extensive colonial exploitation and an illogical and primitive colonial, economic structure which obstructed development.
These two scourges were inter-linked, designed to facilitate colonial domination and exploitation. It was impossible to abolish one without abolishing the other, both had to be tackled simultaneously, beginning with the institution of a basis for a continental unity.
Owing to the division between radical and conservative tendencies among independent African states at the time, the radicals had to compromise a number of their principles of unity so as to persuade the conservatives to join the organisation. Unfortunately, the inclusion of the conservative states turned the OAU into a moribund institution. The conservatives’ first success in obstructing the move towards continental unity was achieved at the OAU Cairo summit in 1964. It was at this crucial conference that Julius Nyerere, then President of Tanzania, cunningly pushed through a resolution which urged the OAU to accept the colonial borders as permanent, recognised frontiers of the OAU member states.
This move was in collaboration with Emperor Haile Selasie of Ethiopia, who one year earlier had annexed Eritrea. The underlying motive of the resolution was to frustrate Nkrumah and his Pan-Africanist ideals, though Nyerere claimed that the intention was to minimise border conflicts in Africa. The resolution was carried by a simple majority and became a key binding principle of the OAU Charter. Ironically, instead of abolishing Africa’s primary malady of disunity, the OAU encouraged it.
Secondly, the conservatives strove to make the OAU serve their interest and not those of Africa as a whole by altering the balance of forces on the continent in favour of the conservatives rather than the radicals who were still dominant in African politics. Beginning with Ben Bella of Algeria in 1965 and Nkrumah in 1966, the conservatives in collaboration with their ex-colonial masters, engineered the overthrow of radical leaders via military coups.
Henceforth, the OAU ceased to be an instrument of the Pan-African revolutionary change and became an apologist or the statusquo. Even the liberation of the remaining colonies was conceived in the context of maintaining this statusquo. It did not take long for Nyerere himself, the architect of the OAU statusquo, to publicly admit in 1972 that the OAU had become no more than a “trade union of Africa’s heads of state.”
According to Baffour Ankomah of the New African magazine, Nkrumah was not only a thinker, visionary and orator but also a doer. Nkrumah knew that Africa’s future and prosperity lay with rapid industrialisation, to create the goods and jobs that would economically empower the people of the continent. As such, he set out to industrialise Ghana in one generation as a guide for the continent.
By the time his Government was overthrown in that dreadful coup of 1966, he had established 68 sprawling state-owned factories producing every need of the Ghanaian people, and this was within the space of nine (9) short years. Among the factories were a distillery, a coconut oil factory, a brewery, a milk-processing plant, a lorry and bicycle plant, a modern oil refinery, an iron and steel works, a flour mill, sugar, textile, cement factories, shoe factory, a glass factory, a tyre factory, a meat processing factory, two canneries for fruits and tomatoes, a chocolate factory etc.
This was in addition to building the huge hydro-electric plant at Akosombo, the nations major source of electricity supply, a motorway from Accra to Tema, expanding at breakneck speed, free education and medical services that made Ghana the showcase of Africa. As Nkrumah has stated, “for unless we attain economic freedom, our struggle for independence would have been in vain, and our plans for social and cultural advancement frustrated.”
While in office, Nkrumah did not accumulate a large private fortune. His years of exile in Guinea as co-president to Sekou Toure were spent writing and tending his rose garden. Nkrumah remained modest in his private life. His relaxation was not wining and dining but the conservation of intelligent companions.
His left all his possessions to his political party and asked his wife and children to be properly cared for by the party. Perhaps one of the most significant legacies of Nkrumah to all Africa was his commitment to ending the ethnic frontiers. Tribalism he had seen as a great stumbling block to national achievement. Nkrumah’s vision of the African past was more grandiose, with an emphasis on trade and empire rather than on community and lineage.
If they had listened to Nkrumah on that faithful day in 1963, in which he declared “we meet here today not as Ghanains, Guineans, Egyptians, Algerians, Moroccans, Malians, Liberians, Congolese or Nigerians, but as Africans.
Africans united in our resolve to remain here until we have agreed on the basic principles of a new compact of unity among ourselves, which guarantees for us a continental government.” He continued, “If we succeed in establishing a new charter of statute for the establishment of a continental unity of Africa, and the creation of social and political progress for our people, then in my view, this conference should make the end of our various groupings and regional blocs. But if we fail and let this grand and historic opportunity slip by, then we shall give way to greater dissension and division among us for which the people of African will never forgive us.” Africa is divided today as it was forty-six years ago resulting in the devastation of the nations’ self-esteem and livelihood of their people.
Africa is the basket case of the world, riddled with indebtedness, Aids, war, displaced people, refugees, poverty and a colonial economy that was not in the interest of its people.
Thank you for this importnat piece of history. We must not forget what Nkrumah did for the advancement of the African continent. I was particularly pleased that you exposed how Nyerere succeeded in frustrating Nkrumah's efforts. Infact he went further by acting always in the interests of the colonial powers and further disuniting Africa with his actions. Despite being hailed as a pan africanist and champion of the southern liberation struggle.
I am researching how Nyerere betrayed the Pan Africanist movement and the southern African liberation struggle in order that he could hold onto to power in Tanzania.neema Masika, April 9, 2006 6:29