Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lectures 2006
University of Cape Coast
AFRICA’S UNFINISHED AGENDA: The legacy of Kwame Nkrumah
LECTURE 1: “SEEK YE FIRST THE KINGDOM OF POLITICS.
I am honored and privileged to have been asked to deliver the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lectures as we approach the 50th anniversary of Ghana’s independence. On a personal note, as a member of the African National Congress of South Africa, I am particularly happy and grateful to have the opportunity to pay tribute to an African leader, who made such a significant contribution to the decolonization and liberation of the African continent and its unification. For many of my generation, who had to wait for independence and liberation for a further 3 decades, he provided the vision and the stimulation for us to continue the struggle for the realization of the liberation of our continent.
It would be presumptuous of me, as a non Ghanian to come here and lecture on the life and times of the man who led your country to independence, and became your first President. I will not dare to do so.
But as an African, and a citizen of a country that was almost the last to be liberated, I do lay claim to his legacy, and the right to speak of it and its significance for Africa.
Kwame Nkrumah’s primary focus was on the independence of Ghana and its development, but his vision spanned the globe. In my lectures, I will try and address only some aspects of his legacy: the political liberation and unification of the Continent, the emphasis on Pan Africanism and the extension of Africa’s links with other parts of the world. In doing so, I will consider briefly some of the relevant events and associations in his life: bearing in mind, that the manner in which individuals respond are influenced by, or react to particular circumstances and developments, shapes human agency in the making of history.
The story of the life of the first President of Ghana is, I assume, known to all Ghanians. A historian, Paul Lee describes the occasion of Ghana’s independence:
“Nkrumah’s star burst upon the world stage on March 6, 1957. At midnight, Nkrumah presided over a solemn ceremony at Black Star Square in the capital city of Accra, as the symbol of a century of British colonial rule over the Gold Coast, the Union Jack, slipped beneath the floodlights. Rising in its place was the tri-color flag of red, gold, and green, with a black star at its center, the standard of the new independent nation of Ghana, the first British colony in Africa to achieve sovereignty in the 20th century.
On the platform, Nkrumah was flanked by nationalists who, like him, had been imprisoned by the British for demanding: “Independence Now.” Resplendent in traditional Kente cloth, they proudly donned their prison caps again, this time in victory.
His face streaked with tears, Nkrumah electrified the crowd when he declared: “At last, the battle has ended. Your beloved country is free forever.”
However, while Ghana has remained free of colonial rule, President Nkrumah’s confident assertion and promise that “the battle has ended” was not to be realized.
The independence of Ghana was an event of great significance for all Black and colonized peoples. The Indian subcontinent had begun the process of decolonisation of the British Empire with India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon emerging as sovereign states. Ghana’s independence signaled that the process had begun for Africa “south of the Sahara”. (I do not like this artificial division of the Continent and use it here for want of a better term. I will address this matter later.). The event was the beginning of decolonisation, though it came at a time when there was still fierce resistance from the colonial powers, especially when economic and strategic interests were involved, or where there were large numbers of white settlers, as in Algeria.
African Americans also marked the significance of the event. Amongst those present on that occassion in 1957 were many civil rights leaders from the United States including Ralph Bunche, Martin Luther King Junior who had just led the successful Montgomery bus boycott, A. Phillip Randolph, the veteran of the labor and civil rights movement, and Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Junior, of Harlem, who was the pastor of the Abyssian Baptist Church, attended by Kwame Nkrumah while he was a student in the United States. Absent was W.E.B du Bois prevented by ill health from travelling. Dr. du Bois sent a letter of apology to his friend, which was more realistic on the significance of the occassion.
In this letter he placed in the hands of Kwame Nkrumah, what he described as the “empty but still significant” title of President of the Pan African Congress – a title which was to be bestowed on an elected successor who would preside over a Pan African Congress held on African soil. Dr. du Bois went on to give advice on what remained for Ghana and Africa. It was prophetic in its vision and I shall elaborate on this later. Half a century after it was written, regrettably, it remains a document that could be titled “Africa’s Unfinished Agenda.”
At the age of 26, Kwame Nkrumah travelled to the United States. In the early years, he worked in a soap factory, and as a waiter on coastal ships sailing between the United States and Central America, and hawked fish in Harlem. These experiences were probably unique for any African Head of State! He had left Ghana with few resources to further his education. He won the confidence and support of many African American scholars and leaders of the period, including the head of Lincoln University. In many other ways, he benefitted from the solidarity extended to him.
He studied Theology, Economics and Sociology, and his graduate studies focused on Education and Philosophy. Over a period of eight years he earned a Bachelor of Arts, a Masters of Science in Education, and a Masters of Arts in Philosophy. He took the opportunity to study the early history of African peoples and civilization as well as the history and culture of African Americans. He was later to explain the choice of the name Ghana to replace the colonial Gold Coast: “We take pride in the name Ghana, not out of romanticism, but as an inspiration for the future.”
Outside of the classroom he learnt from the experience of daily racism, to which African Americans were subjected. His intellect and curiosity ranged widely, exploring the local culture and history of the community. He was no bystander and actively engaged in debates, arguing that African Americans had retained cultural links with the Continent of Africa. He was elected as the leader of the African Students Organization of America and Canada.
He consciously established contact with as many black organizations concerned with black rights. It was in the United States, that he first met Nnamdi Azikwe (Zik) who was to become the first President of Nigeria and Johnstone Kenyatta, who we know as Jomo Kenyatta, the first President of Kenya.
He met with Dr. W.E.B du Bois of the NAACP and assisted him in organizing a “Colonial Conference” in early 1945, and in the 5th Pan African Congress in London later that year.
Nkrumah drew his greatest inspiration from Marcus Garvey and his philosophy of “Africa for the Africans” and his movement for “Back to Africa.” The black, green and red flag and black star reflect the aspirations of the heroes and intellectuals of African Americans.
Ever hungry for more knowledge, Nkrumah went to London in 1945 to continue his studies. There he met George Padmore and became involved in helping to organise the 5th Pan African Conference in Manchester. He remained in London and continued to work for the independence of Ghana and for the decolonisation of the Continent. He also became the Vice President of the West African Students Union.
While so engaged he accepted an invitation from Joseph Danqua, to return and serve as general secretary to the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC). He arrived there in December 1947 twelve years after he had left. Within two months Nkrumah and leaders of the UGCC were arrested after police fired on ex-servicemen demonstrating against the rising cost of living. However the UGCC leaders were soon released.
From the outset Nkrumah had promoted a concept of a genuine broad based democracy in which all Ghanians could participate. He travelled across the country, often hitch-hiking from village to village, rallying support for “self government now.” Farmers and trade unions came out in support. At a time when in many western democracies women had not been enfranchised, Nkrumah called on women to join the political process. By 1949, he broke with the UGCC and formed the Convention Peoples Party.
In response to his campaign, Britain promoted a new constitution, with property qualifications for the franchise. Nkrumah convened a People’s Assembly which proposed universal franchise, a responsible cabinet, a separate House of Chiefs, and full self governing status. The rejection of these demands by Britain led to “Positive Action” including civil disobedience, boycotts and strikes and non co-operation. Members of the CPP were arrested and Nkrumah was sentenced to 3 years imprisonment.
Faced with continuing internal protests and international pressure, the colonial authorities organized a general election with universal suffrage in 1951,-the first in Africa. The CPP won by a landslide, with 80% of the vote. Nkrumah was released and invited to form the government. In 1952, the British Governor was withdrawn and Prime Minister Nkrumah took office. He led Ghana to independence in 1957 and became President of the Republic in 1960.
After World War II, the colonial powers had hoped to be able to retain their colonial empires. However the relatively muted requests for equality and emancipation began to shift into demands for respect for Africans, autonomy and independence. These demands had been articulated at the 1945 Pan African Conference, and were fuelled by developments in Asia. Even before independence, Nkrumah began to locate Ghana as part of the international movement against colonialism. In 1955, the Gold Coast attended the Afro Asian Conference in Bandung. Other African countries who attended were Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia, Libya and Sudan.
The CPP expanded education of adults as well as children, started schools, built roads and bridges. Importantly tap water was installed and proper sanitation provided, and health services extended. Nkrumah attacked corruption in the government and party. He tried to industrialize the economy and electrify the country, building the Volta Dam and the hydroelectric power plant.
Some of these measures met with resistance even from those who had supported him. It has been postulated that he proceeded too quickly and did not balance the competing needs and interests for the country’s resources. This is a perennial debate in all post colonial countries and falls into the domain of development policies and the role of the State. These are important debates for all of us, but I will not enter into them in the course of these lectures.
He believed that the resources of his country and the Continent should be utilized for the benefit of its people. Accordingly, he did not limit his country’s relations to the former colonial powers, but expanded them. He established political and economic links with Asia, and did not accept the colonial division of Africa – as Black Africa, and Arab Africa, North or South of the Sahara etc.
More threatening, in the perspective of the West, was his refusal to align himself in the “Cold War” as he established links with the Soviet Union, China and other countries.
On the Continent of Africa, his Pan African vision was not limited to rhetoric, but took concrete form. Within a year of independence he convened a conference of independent African countries: Ethiopia, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, Sudan and the United Arab Republic
(Egypt President Nasser was unable to attend as he was in (Moscow), a conference that did not accept the Sahara as a dividing line. Though participation was confined to independent African Countries, by agreement, the content of the speeches, revealed a common commitment to chart new paths.
Prince Sahle-Selassie Haile Selassie was the first speaker and announced the creation of 40 scholarships annually for African students. The Minister of Commerce showed the new direction in which Africa could move:
“Our regret” he says, “is that the free peoples of Africa represent but one-third of the total population of this Continent. Although we count some 70,000,000 inhabitants, twice as many await to see the dawn of freedom. Nor is it a question solely of political freedom. In certain parts of Africa the most inhuman regime of purely racial discrimination is being perpetrated under the guise of so-called democratic government. It becomes the duty of us, the independent nations of Africa, to mobilize world conscience and public opinion with a view to eliminating the injustices of this most inhuman practice. Our deepest promptings must be far more that a mere defensive reaction against the forces of colonialism.”
The Moroccan Foreign Minister supported the demand for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Algeria, and proclaimed Africa’s task was “to go to the rescue of our friends who are fighting for their freedom.” The Foreign Minister defined one of the important issues as the promotion of understanding “among the different races and religions of Africa, especially among the Arab countries and the people of Africa South of the Sahara.” Others spoke of the need not to align themselves in the Cold War, and for encouragement and support for African liberation movements. There were also calls for the rights of Palestinians.
What distinguished Kwame Nkrumah was the actions he took to support the usual rhetoric of Pan Africanism, concrete support for liberation of Africa, and its unity. As we are all aware, former colonial powers resisted independence in a variety of ways. In the colonies of white settlement, as in Algeria, Kenya and elsewhere, there was direct military confrontation. In others, proxy wars were fought and internal differences formented.
In 1960 after the Sharpville massacre, the liberation movement of South Africa, the ANC, implemented an earlier decision to establish its external mission. Having arranged for the late Oliver Tambo and other leaders to travel illegally across Southern Africa, I arrived in Dar-es Salaam to receive them. The banning of the liberation movements, led to a number of other South Africans leaving the country. As the travel of the ANC leaders was preplanned, they were able to move on. I was requested to assist all compatriots. One of the biggest problems was that no one had passports or any other travel documents. I was aware that there would be many more ANC cadres coming out of the country, especially once it became known that we were establishing an external mission. Tanganyika was still not independent and though prepared to give us refuge, it could not as yet issue travel documents. I appealed to Ghana and India.
Imagine my joy, when within a short time former South African, who was working in Ghana, arrived in Dar-es Salaam, with a pile of Ghana passports sent by President Nkrumah. He was one of a number of South Africans who had moved to Ghana after its independence. Amongst these were a number of African educators who had refused to teach the Bantu Education syllabus of the apartheid regime.
Arrangements were made with the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU) for an official in the office of President Julius Nyerere, to issue the passports to South Africans. On the instructions of Oliver Tambo, I also facilitated the issue of Ghanaian passports for a group of PAC leaders, whom we found when we arrived in Dar-es Salaam.
It might appear a small matter but at that time was crucial for our work. I have not known of any other African Head of State who has responded so appropriately and promptly to meet the needs of liberation movements. Undoubtedly, there were legal obstacles, and probably objections from other Commonwealth Countries – none of these were allowed to stand in the way of meeting the needs of those struggling to free South Africa. Let me take this opportunity to extend the sincere thanks of my country and people for that very crucial assistance when it was most needed. Needless to say, that is not the full measure of support the liberation movements received from Ghana, but perhaps it is not as well known.
I wish today, to reveal another aspect of President Nkrumah’s support for Africa’s liberation, which as far as I am aware has not been in the public domain. A few weeks ago I learnt, that in 1961 President Nkrumah had sent an envoy into the Congo to meet with Patrice Lumumba. That envoy was Kwaku Boateng whom he appointed as Ambassador and Minister Plenipotentiary. Later he became Minister of Information. I am grateful to H.E. Paul Boateng, currently British High Commissioner in South Africa, who has agreed to make this known. Mr. Boateng received the information from his father, who was the envoy involved.
Ghanaian troops were already part of the UN Contingent in the Congo. The Minister made at least two visits to the Congo and reported on the situation to President Nkrumah. He had been asked to meet with Lumumba who was the Prime Minister, and to discuss his needs with specific reference to his capacity and security, the extent to which the UN was fulfilling its mandate, the efficacy of the mandate and what more could be done.
It is likely that the information President Nkrumah received from Prime Minister Lumumba, informed the strong positions he took regarding the need for the continued involvement of the UN in the Congo, in order to facilitate a settlement. In January 1961 Heads of State from Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Morocco, the United Arab Republic and the Algerian Provisional government met in Casablanca together with the Libyan Foreign Minister and Ceylon’s Ambassador to Cairo.
Contemporary reports describe the delegates as “men united by their common anger about the immediate issue of the deteriorating situation in the Congo”. All these countries had contributed troops as part of the U.N. forces and were now threatening to withdraw them in protest at the UN’s failure to comply with its mandate. President Kasavubu and Prime Minister Lumumba with the Congolese Parliament, were the constitutionally established government, which had invited the U.N. Instead of providing support, the United Nations Operational Command (U.N.O.C.) stood by, as a member of the Congolese National army assumed the authority of the central government; the main leaders in support of a unitarian solution including Prime Minister Lumumba were arrested and ill treated; Belgian technicians and advisers and military volunteers returned to join those who were the secessionist and federalist supporters, while the national army was allowed to break up into tribally based and conflicting units. The resentment of the African countries came to a head when the western powers supported a representative of the federalist elements taking the Congo’s seat in the U.N. General Assembly on his own. This lent evidence to the belief that instead of supporting the central government, the West was trying to impose a neo-colonialist solution.
President Nkrumah had maintained that only the U.N. was capable of producing a lasting solution to the Congo, if it restored the constitutionally established government of President Kasavubu and Prime Minister Lumumba, and the Congolese Parliament. He was determined to keep the Cold War out, and strongly advised Lumumba not to call the Russians in to bolster his campaign for a unitary government, but to seek a settlement with Kasavubu. Cold War conflicts would precipitate a civil war in the Congo, divide Africa, and deal a mortal blow to Pan Africanism and non - alignment. Most of the participants at Casablanca argued for a withdrawal of their forces, but Nkrumah and Mali argued strongly against. A compromise was reached to try and persuade the U.N to return to its initial mandate.
However, though Afro Asian countries and the Soviet Union supported such a resolution in the Security Council, it was defeated by the Western powers. Thereafter, there was a steep descent into the decades of violence and war, from which the Congo is only now emerging. As we know Patrice Lumumba was murdered.
President Nkrumah’s statement to students at the inauguration of the ideological institute, after the announcement of Lumumba’s murder warned that the murder should teach them about “the diabolical depths of degradation to which the twin monsters of imperialism and colonialism will descend”.
Some years ago, I was informed by President Nyerere that at the time when Patrice Lumumba’s whereabouts were unknown, he had considered sending some people into the Congo to rescue Lumumba and bring him out. But Lumumba was murdered before the Tanganyika initiative could succeed.
I hope African historians will be able to investigate the events in the Congo and possibly locate the reports that reveal what President Nkrumah may have learnt from his envoy. Apart from Tanganyika, did any other African or non aligned governments try and act to save Lumumba’s life?
I am convinced that CIA files will contain some of this information. It will also be part of the dossiers in which they expressed concern at the direction being taken by Ghana’s President, both in his thinking and actions. In 1965, after his book Neo-Colonialism: The last Stage of Imperialism was published, there was swift retaliatory action from the U.S: the State Department sent a sharp note of protest, and $25 Million US aid was cancelled. The following year President Nkrumah was overthrown by a military coup.
He believed the U.S was implicated in the coup and warned other African States:
“An all-out offensive is being waged against the progressive, independent states,” he wrote in Dark Days in Ghana his 1969 account of the Ghana coup.
“All that has been needed was a small force of disciplined men to seize the key points of the capital city and to arrest the existing political leadership.
“It has been one of the tasks of the CIA and other similar organisations,” he noted, “to discover these potential quislings and traitors in our midst, and to encourage them, by bribery and the promise of political power, to destroy the constitutional government of their countries.”
Whilst similar events elsewhere in Africa lent support to this view, there was no concrete evidence of U.S involvement until 1978, with the publication of the memoirs “In Search of Enemies: A CIA story” by John Stockwell, a former CIA case officer. Even then the evidence was anecdotal, until the declassification of National Security Council and CIA Documents which were released in 1999. African scholars, including myself, have been dilatory in not harvesting the information that is contained in documents such as these. According to the historian Paul Lee,
“While the newly-released documents, written by a National Security Council staffer and unnamed CIA officers, confirm the essential outlines set forth by Nkrumah and Stockwell, they also provide additional and chilling details about what the U.S. government knew about the plot, when, and what it was prepared to do and did do to assist it....
“Significantly, the Africa division was part of the CIA’s directorate of plans, or dirty tricks component through which the government pursued its covert policies....
“On March 11 1965, almost a year before the coup, William P Mahoney, the U.S. Ambassador to Ghana, participated in a candid discussion in Washington, D.C., with CIA Director John A. McCone and the deputy Chief of the CIA’s Africa division, whose name has been withheld....
“According to the record of their meeting (Document 251) topic one was the “Coup d’etat Plot, Ghana.” While Mahoney was satisfied that popular opinion was running strongly against Nkrumah and the economy of the country was in a precarious state, he was not convinced that a coup d’etat would take place....
“Mahoney recommended denying Ghana’s forthcoming aid request in the interests of further weakening Nkrumah. He felt that there was little chance that either the Chinese Communists or the Soviets would in adequate measure come to Nkrumah’s financial rescue, and the British would continue to adopt a hard nose attitude toward providing further assistance to Ghana....
“According to Mahoney’s account of their April 2 discussion (Document 252), “at one point Nkrumah, who had been holding face in hands, looked up. With difficulty he said I could not understand the ordeal he had been through during the last month. Recalling that there had been seven attempts on his life....
“Mahoney did not attempt to discourage Nkrumah’s fears, nor did he characterize them as unfounded in his report to his superiors.”
Lee concludes: “It was not necessary to add that Mahoney was helping to apply the pressure, nor that any hysterical outburst by Nkrumah played into the West’s projection of him as an unstable dictator, thus justifying his removal”.
President Nkrumah’s experience illustrates the challenges African countries have faced in gaining independence and consolidating it. His vision of Pan Africa was not realized in his lifetime. Yet it led into the formation of the Organization of African Unity of which Ghana is a founder member. The OAU was not the fulfillment of his dream, but it did provide a platform for unifying the Continent, articulation of Africa’s demands and a means for channelling political, economic and military support to the liberation movements.
At the U.N and other global forums, within the Commonwealth, Afro-Asian and other similar platforms, successive Ghanaian governments have participated fully, building on the vision of your founding President, and often taking the lead in support of the liberation of our Continent.
I deliberately left out of the title of this lecture the second half of the phrase of Nkrumah’s. In full, it reads: “Seek ye first – the kingdom of Politics, and the rest shall be added thereto”
There have been debates, about what this means, some have argued that Nkrumah put forward the view, that it was enough to focus on political freedom, and the rest would follow without human agency.
I do not subscribe to this view, and Nkrumah’s life belies such an interpretation. His policies after he became Prime Minister and later as President, as well as his numerous writings clearly indicate that he believed in both popular mobilization, as well as strategic interventions by the State to bring about the social and economic changes necessary. It is most instructive to revisit the books, pamphlets and essays he produced before and after he went into exile in Guinea. They are still relevant.
I support the analysis put forward by Prof. Ali Mazrui in the UNESCO History of Africa:
“Kwame Nkrumah is on record as having said that the
Freedom of Ghana would be meaningless if it was not accompanied by the freedom of the whole of Africa. By “the political kingdom” did he really mean just the independence of each separate African Country? Or did Ghana’s supreme Pan-Africanist mean instead the full liberation of the African continent as a whole?
In the context of Kwame Nkrumah’s political philosophy as a whole, it seems more probable that he meant the following incremental stages:
(1) The independence of each African country will help the independence of the next one, a stage-by-stage approach to political decolonization.
(2) Only when the whole of Africa is decolonized will the “political kingdom” of the whole continent stand a chance of having “all else” added unto it.”
In 1994, South Africa became independent after 350 years of colonial and apartheid rule. Our path was not always smooth, but we were able to persevere and succeed with the support of a united Africa. On April 27th as our flag flew in Pretoria we could all say that Africa had succeeded in the kingdom of Politics.
But what of African Unity, and promoting the wellbeing of our people? I leave you to consider.
It is clear that Africa could not begin to claim the 21st century, until each of our countries had succeeded in the kingdom of Politics.