Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lectures 2006.
University of Cape Coast.
AFRICA’S UNFINISHED AGENDA: The legacy of Kwame Nkrumah.
The Pan African vision promoted by Nkrumah, won widespread support on the Continent particularly among the peoples still struggling for national liberation. It was both a vision for mobilization and a basis for seeking support from others. As the national struggles met greater resistance from colonial powers, liberation movements began to come together, based on common objectives, and in most cases a collective Pan African vision.
Among independent states there were, and continue to be, debates on reaching a common understanding on what is meant by unity. Should the objective be an immediate, political union with a continental government or a more step by step approach: which would be overcoming the historical and political divisions that were a legacy of colonial rule, supporting the struggle for independence throughout the Continent and consolidating independence, while building unity on the basis of regional groupings.
With the formation of the OAU, and later, both views were presented forcefully – primarily by Presidents Nkrumah and Nyerere. The latter argued for the step by step approach, while supporting a continental union as a goal. The step by step strategy was agreed by the OAU, and remained its policy. However, we need to acknowledge that a number of leaders had another view, which was not often articulated openly. They were not committed to the full Pan African vision of a united Continent, that would be an independent force in the global arena.
Though disappointed at the outcome of OAU decision, President Nkrumah continued to promote the vision, while also building alliances across the Continent and beyond.
Even as political pressures had forced some colonial powers to reluctantly cede some political control, they had devised alternate means of securing their economic and strategic interests. It is a tactic from time immemorial, that to win battles, you try and divide the forces against you. This approach was applied on a global scale in building the British, French, Portuguese, Spanish and German Colonial Empires in Asia, South America and particularly in Africa. In the latter, their own ignorance, arrogance, and racism informed the Continental divisions they sought to create.
Europe was ignorant of Africa South of the Sahara, and was not certain whether a land mass extended across the Southern part of Africa and Asia, or an ocean separated the two. As late as the 14th century, European Maps of Africa stopped north of the Equator with the legend “Terra Incognita” ”the Unknown lands” below.
Chinese Maps, 150 years earlier, reveal the entire Continent of Africa, with oceans on either side of the Southern part of Africa. A copy of this oldest surviving map of the entire African continent is on display in the South African Parliament. The map has never been placed on public display anywhere else, and the original is in the custody of the National Archives of China in Beijing.
It is interesting, that in 1962 while addressing the Congress of Africanists, President Nkrumah refers to the early contacts between China and Africa:
“The Chinese,too, during the T’ang Dynasty (AD. 618-907), published their earliest major records of Africa. In the 18th century, scholarship connected Egypt with China; but Chinese acquaintance with Africa was not only confined to knowledge of Egypt. They had detailed knowledge of Somaliland, Madagascar and Zanzibar and made extensive visits to other parts of Africa....”
He went on: “The European exploration of Africa reached its height in the 19th century. What is unfortunate, however, is the fact that much of the discovery was given a subjective instead of an objective interpretation. In the regeneration of learning which is taking place in our universities and in other institutions of higher learning, we are treated as subjects and not objects. They forgot that we are a historic people responsible for our unique forms of language, culture and society. It is therefore proper and fitting that a Congress of Africanists should take place in Africa and that the concept of Africanism should devolve from and be animated by that Congress....”
“Between ancient times and the 16th century, some European scholars forgot what their predecessors in African Studies had known. This amnesia, this regrettable loss of interest in the power of the African mind, deepened with growth of interest in the economic exploitation of Africa. It is no wonder that the Portuguese were erroneously credited with having erected the stone fortress of Mashonaland which, even when Barbossa, cousin of Magellan, first visited them, were ruins of long standing.”
European racism, that depicted Africans as lesser beings, ignorant and without culture, informed the historians who argued that what are the Zimbabwe ruins, could not have been part of an African civilization. They continue to argue that Europeans first discovered, mined and worked the Gold of Southern Africa, ignoring the beautiful (750 year old) Gold Rhinoceros, and other artifacts found in the Mapungubwe excavations in South Africa’s Limpopo Province. They have engaged in endless debates around the skin colour of the Egyptians responsible for the civilization that had so much influence on their own. They even went to the extent of denying that ancient Greece had drawn on, Egyptian culture.
My own academic career was affected, by a regius Professor of History, who refused to accept that there was any African history prior to the contact with Europeans. He remained comforted in his ignorance, that the civilizations of Akseem, Ghana, Nubia, Mali, Mapungubwe, Zimbabwe and many others did not exist!
European culture defined the globe in terms of its own perspective. Thus we find constant reference to “near east”, “middle east” and “far east”. East of where? Clearly Europe. In much of Asia, what is described as the “Middle East” is correctly referred to as West Asia. Why do we in Africa still speak of the Middle East?
President Nkrumah refused to accept the division of the Continent or its people, as “Sub-Saharan” or North of the Sahara. The term Sub-Saharan Africa is another reflection of a racist European perspective. The world known to Europe extended not far across the Mediterranean, where other fair skinned people lived. Beyond lay the desert and the unknown: except that it was inhabited by dark skinned people, the “monstrous races”, the “Blemmye”, “Scopapods” and “Troglodytes” cave dwellers and others, as described by Plene and Sir John Mandeville.
President Nkrumah saw the Continent as one, and the Sahara as a “bridge”. He therefore took the initiative to convene the first Conference of Independent African States within a year after Ghana’s Independence. In closing the Conference he said:
“It is certainly not just a figure of speech when I say, that if formerly, the Sahara divided us, this is certainly not the case to-day. The former Imperialist Powers were fond of talking about ‘Arab Africa’ and ‘Black Africa’; about ‘Islamic Africa’ and ‘non- Islamic Africa’; about ‘Mediterranean Africa’ and ‘Tropical Africa’. These were all artificial descriptions which tended to divide us. At this Accra conference, these tendentious and discriminating epithets are no longer valid. To-day, the Sahara is a bridge uniting us. We are one, an entity symbolized by our united African Personality. Indeed, we have an even wider association with the Asian and African nations, and that still wider one represented by the United Nations.”
During the World War against facism, the Colonial powers had promoted concepts of democracy, self determination, and equality. They did so to differentiate themselves from facist ideology, and to mobilize their own populations to greater efforts to defend their countries from Nazi invaders. Much of this propaganda was also promoted in the colonies, to ensure support by way of production of food and much needed goods, and to encourage the recruitment of troops for the colonial military forces. Not surprisingly, many subject peoples took them at their word. Black workers being paid wages, 10 or 20 times less than Europeans, began to form Unions to fight for their rights. The political aspirations in documents such as the Atlantic Charter, resonated amongst the oppressed, and stimulated them to action. In South Africa, African leaders met and produced a document, “African Claims” which is probably the earliest Charter for Human Rights, and predates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Military officers began to come together to discuss ways of expelling the colonial forces from their borders and seizing political power.
In 1952 across the Continent from Ghana, a group of Egyptian military officers staged a coup and expelled King Farouk. They did so for “freedom and the restoration of the country’s dignity.” Amongst those officers, there emerged a group that sought to transform the economy of the country beginning with radical land reform. In 1954, the Revolutionary Council proclaimed, one of their own, Gamal Nasser as Prime Minister. Nasser had negotiated for the withdrawal of all British uniformed forces from the Canal Zone, and he secured economic aid from the US and Britain, including support for the construction of the Aswan Dam, which would generate electric power and irrigation for Egypt.
However, as soon as Egypt took a non-aligned stand there was a severe reaction. In 1955 an agreement to purchase arms from Czechoslovakia brought retribution and financial support from the West was withdrawn. President Nasser then nationlised the Suez Canal.
Continuing the pattern, once economic interests were involved, Britain and France who were the major shareholders in the Canal colluded with Israel to regain control of the Canal. In the interim the U.N. Security Council had recognized Egypt’s right to control the Canal so long as it allowed passage to foreign ships.
Notwithstanding U.N decisions, as planned Israel attacked and seized the Sinai Peninsula, and British and French troops entered ostensibly to create a buffer zone between Egyptian and Israeli forces. The U.S. continued to pressure its allies into withdrawing their forces, going to the extent of threatening to destabilize the still fragile British economy. The Soviet Union threatened to take action if all foreign troops did not withdraw. The two initiatives succeeded in securing the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Egypt.
Egypt under President Nasser played a significant role in forging African unity, as well as in the Arab countries. He supported the liberation movements, and many of us established offices there, as did Afro-Asian solidarity movements.
Chairperson, the relevance of this brief outline of developments in Egypt is to draw attention to the similarities of the colonial experience and the extent to which colonial powers were prepared to go to preserve their economic interests.
At the Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung in April 1955, Egypt and the Gold Coast (as Ghana was still known) participated. President Nkrumah saw the need to bring together and unite Africa and Asia on the basis of shared experience and common objectives. Within a year of independence he convened the Conference of Independent African States to which I have referred earlier. For the rest of his life, He continued to build bridges across real or artificial divides throughout the Continent. He built links with peoples in Asia, and wrote politically on neo-colonialism, and the need for more socialist based development.
The expectations of consolidating independence, and a speedy end to colonialism proved to be over-optimistic. The colonial powers were determined to resist both, and did so with force whenever necessary.
Algeria, had been ruled as part of France. In 1945 a popular uprising was put down with force, with about 10.000 Algerians killed. Resistance escalated and so did repression. The Bandung Conference expressed its support for Algeria’s struggle and in 1958, a government–in-exile was formed. Independent African countries described French actions as “an act of aggression by NATO against the whole Continent.” In 1960, French settlers in Algeria, “rebelled” against the Paris government, and the possibility of negotiations. The war continued, and the Algerian people’s resistance won world wide support, eventually forcing France to concede.
Independent Algeria gave a new impetus to the liberation movements, and much needed military support. Nelson Mandela went to Algeria and arranged for training of Umkhonto we Sizwe recruits. Samora Machel was among the first groups of Mozambican fighters who received their training there. Many other liberation armies: including, Angolans and Zimbabweans were assisted.
Kenya, a British colony which was defined as a colony of white settlement, also took to arms (Mau Mau) to regain its land and independence, under the leadership of Jomo Kenyatta who eventually emerged as the country’s popularly elected President.
Freedom spread southwards, and was confronted by a coalition of forces against decolonization: “The Unholy Alliance” of Portugal. South Africa, Rhodesia under Ian Smith, and Britain. However, the independence of Tanganyika had provided an outpost of support for the liberation movements. The OAU had continued to give its support, and established a Liberation Committee in Dar-es-salaam which was then the nearest place to the still dominated countries. This Liberation Committee both provided and channelled support for all the liberation movements, and coordinated assistance.
The project of consolidating independence in Africa, started well, but later faltered. Economic targets in the early years after 1960 were generally met. For the first 15 years, GDP grew at an average of 4.5%, and exports grew by 2.8%. Manufacturing grew by 6%, but agriculture by only 1.8%. After the first decade, the signs were ominous, and leading African development economists were issuing warnings, of a serious crisis to come. Later the World Bank was adding similar predictions.
Africa was divided on which political and economic path to follow. Abdalla Bujra, Director of the African Development Institute describes the divisions:
“Yet within the decade of the 1960s, there appeared a major division of African countries into two blocks i.e. the Monrovia and Casablanca blocks. The Monrovia block adopted a more radical vision of the future, emphasising faster continental political unity, self-reliance and equity, socialism being the main path to development. The Casablanca block, on the other hand, had a less radical vision that ignored issues of equity and self-reliance but emphasised nation building, and a laissez faire and open market development path.”
Further divisions arose from the Cold War, as African countries were coerced into taking sides, or did so voluntarily in order to obtain aid and arms. The severe draught led to serious food shortages, and the U.S. unashamedly threatened to withhold food aid, unless African countries voted in particular ways for or against U.N. Resolutions. Many of the gains liberation movements had made through the United Nations were rolled back, including resolutions on apartheid and those in support of the Palestinian people.
However, we cannot absolve African leaders from responsibility for the situation on the Continent. To the legacy of colonialism must be added post colonial mismanagement, personal ambitions, greed, corruption and incorrect policies. European countries, the US.and Soviet Union, for their own domestic interests, supported, protected and bankrolled and sustained in power, undemocratic and corrupt leaders. The result was weak states, poor economic growth and a shortage of human and financial resources to rectify the damage.
I need to say however, that support from the Soviet Union and its allies for the Southern African Liberation Movements was crucial and remained constant, as did the opposition to the armed struggle by the U.S. and Britain. Scandinavian and some other European countries did not supply arms but gave material and political support. The Soviet Union and its allies as well as China were the major source of arms and military training. We survived on food and medical supplies from Eastern Europe. They also provided non military training to the thousands of young people seeking an education, and as we know Cuban soldiers came in to fight South African troops operating outside South Africa’s borders. It is a debt that we acknowledge, and can never forget.
In 1979, in the context of economic decline on the continent, African intellectuals and politicians were called together by the OAU and UN Economic Commission for Africa. Out of this emerged the Monrovia Declaration, and the Lagos Plan of Action adopted the following year - as well as the final Act of Lagos. These programmes maintained the goal of African unity, but focused on detailed proposals, addressing not just economic growth, but development, and included equity in distribution of wealth, peaceful settlement of disputes on the Continent, promotion of people’s and human rights, popular participation in development and accountable governments. There were also calls for a new (and more equitable) International Economic Order and governance.
However, notwithstanding the best of plans, change could not come overnight. The fall in commodity prices, globalization and the increasing power of multinational corporations, mitigated against African aspirations. The solutions such as Structural Adjustment Programs put forward by the Bretton Woods Institutions and many donors, served to aggravate rather than help to improve the African condition.
During this period, there were developments in the OAU’s other project – the liberation of the Continent. The struggle for liberation gathered strength among all sectors of the population. Youth and Women joined the armed struggle in large numbers. All members of oppressed communities engaged in popular resistance. There was growing international support from progressive governments, and peoples. The liberation movements of southern Africa had begun to work together, spoke with one voice on international platforms, and some units fought together. But they faced new forces. Portuguese colonialism was not prepared to give up its large and potentially rich colonies of Mozambique and Angola. British failure to act against its kith and kin in Southern Rhodesia led to a unilateral declaration of independence by white settlers under Ian Smith, and an immediate more overt alliance with apartheid South Africa.
Increasingly desperate as liberation neared apartheid borders. Pretoria began a campaign of undermining the support for the liberation struggle, among South Africa’s neighbours. It provoked ethnic and other divisions, supported collaborationist elements in Mozambique, Angola and Zimbabwe, armed and trained them, and unleashed them to try to undermine all the gains of independence.
In Mozambique alone, over a 100.000 people were killed. There are not even estimates of casualties in other countries. Renamo, Unita and other proxy forces rampaged across southern Africa, destroying schools and clinics, roads and bridges, and committing atrocities against the peasantry and burning crops.
South Africa raided the front line States, mined roads and planted bombs. Their army invaded Angola. All the while Pretoria proclaimed its innocence, and continued to receive protection from Britain and the US. whose governments regarded the apartheid government as part of the “free world” and a strategic ally in the fight against communism.
However, popular mobilization in the western countries helped turn the tide. Solidarity movements against Portuguese colonialism, the Ian Smith Regime and apartheid, applied pressure on their own governments to change their policies. They also provided material support, including medicines, food, and educational materials. Eventually, Pretoria grew even more isolated, deprived of foreign investment and loans, the economy weakened. Independent Africa, reached the borders of the apartheid state.
The armed struggle and internal resistance was intensified, and the Pretoria regime eventually had to acknowledge that it could not continue to govern South Africa. It accepted the demand to unban the liberation movement, release the political leaders, allow exiles to return and start negotiations for a new democratic constitution. The liberation project of Africa launched by President Nkrumah was victorious.
The 21st Century leaves open how we should address long standing problems, in particular development, but it also poses new challenges and opportunities. The realisation of the Pan African vision remains before us.
Politically we have made some progress, as the OAU has been transformed into the African Union. Many organs have been established, but many remain, and the financial, political and human capacity to operate the institutions remains a challenge.
The OAU has established mechanisms to resolve conflicts and peace making organs. There is acceptance that, addressing conflicts is a collective Continental responsibility, and interventions have met with some success. Yet a number recur, and we need to find means to ensure that, the power-sharing agreements that we see as the first stage of conflict resolution, are taken further and the causes of conflict addressed, so that peace can be built. The OAU’s conflict resolution and peacemaking capacity is still dependent on financial support from donors which is not always sufficient to meet the need, and on logistical support from outside countries. Nonetheless, progress has been made.
Though the founding documents of the AU, gives the Union the right to intervene in cases of gross human rights violations and genocide, Africa has not been able to protect the people of Darfur. Preserving unity is important, but at what cost? The unity we need is to benefit the people of the Continent. How many more casualties are necessary before the right to protection is extended to the people of Darfur?
Africa has made progress in establishing democratic governance and a human rights culture, but it is too sporadic, and we cannot afford complacency.
The principle that unity should be built in stages, starting regionally, was accepted at the founding meeting of the OAU, but until recently there were no systematic efforts at doing so. However, African countries have taken initiatives, particularly in West Africa. Ecowas is probably the broadest community and has integrated in many areas. East Africa, is about to become a full union shortly, and other countries have decided to join Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.
The AU Summit has now agreed that, the regional economic committees will take responsibility for regional integration and unity, and will expedite the process. However, as we are all too aware, giving responsibility to structures needs to be followed by providing the capacity for them to function, as well as the political will to implement their recommendations. A great deal more has to be done, to expedite progress in all parts of the continent.
The global environment has also changed dramatically. We live in a unipolar world with the counter balance of the Soviet Union no longer operating. So far, we have witnessed no reluctance to exercise power unilaterally, in pursuit of national interests, with scant concern for the multilateral institutions built up in the 20th century. The U.S appears determined to shape other countries according to its own prescriptions, and regardless of the loss of thousands of lives.
The developing countries have begun to build new alliances and strengthen old ones. These extend along three Continents – South America, and the economic giants of India and China, on either side of the African Continent, and the revival of the Non-aligned Movement. But this does not obviate the need for a strong independent Africa, that speaks with one voice.
However, the African voice is weak, not always united, and all too often by selective invitation rather than as of right. Though African representation on the Security Council is to be increased, and is welcome, without a veto it still falls short of sufficient or equal; and we need to persue that objective.
The African voice can only grow louder to the extent we are able to successfully address the challenge of development. Why do economic disparities within African countries continue to increase, as do disparities between countries globally. New development plans for the Continent continue to be made, within Africa, and by international institutions, as well as groups of countries. But too often they have gathered dust. How much political will is there on the Continent itself to implement them? For too many leaders, this is not a priority, and dependence on the international community seems a relatively easy option. Often it seems, academics and experts propose and governments dispose.
Many countries remain dependent on aid, even for their basic budget needs. We agree to revive the development round of trade negotiations – but the lack of progress calls into question, the real intentions of the developed countries. Market access remains a challenge: Africa continues to face market entry restrictions: high tariffs and tariff escalation, restrictions based on product standards, domestic support and export subsidies.
While we can continue to negotiate, we need to actively promote trade within Africa and among the developing countries. Go into your supermarkets, and take note of the many products bearing labels of non African countries, when they can and are being manufactured on this continent. Apart from trade, the architecture of the financial institutions needs reform – to allow us a voice as of right, and to create sensitivity to the needs of the poor.
Africa has been decolonized, but the threat of a new kind of neo-colonialism is ever constant, and is manifesting itself. The Continent is still rich. To old natural resources, new ones have been added, oil in particular. We need to be alert to the dangers of a second Scramble for Africa, albeit that is more covert and sophisticated. We will need to build partnerships, but these must be, based on equitable benefit. Resources need to be managed for the benefit of the people of Africa, not for pockets of leaders, foreign multinationals, or to meet the strategic, national or economic, needs of any other country.
I am aware, I have listed many problems and challenges and have not provided solutions. It would be hazardous for one individual to try. But I will presume to draw attention to a major deficiency in our approach and suggest an appropriate gauge to measure progress.
The Pan African Vision always encompassed the involvement of people, not just governments, in its achievement. Reference is made to this in the OAU and the founding documents of the African Union, as well as the Protocol of the Pan African Parliament. To what extent have we involved the people of Africa? Kwame Nkrumah stressed the importance of involving the peoples, not just in rhetorical speeches, but in action, and went around Ghana mobilizing popular support for the demand for full independence.
I have referred to the Conference of independent African States, he convened shortly after Ghana’s independence. His suggestion that, representatives of countries not yet independent be invited, was turned down by other governments. He reluctantly accepted this, but almost immediately convened the All Africa People’s Conference in Accra in 1958. Leaders of the soon to be banned ANC attended the first conference and returned to South Africa excited and inspired. The Secretariat was established in Ghana, and the second Conference held in Tunis in 1960.
These conferences were attended by political parties, trade unions, popular leaders, nascent regional institutions such as PAFMECA and others. Significantly, they were not hurried one and two day events, but ran for a week. I hope full reports of the proceedings may exist in Ghana – but newspaper reports, and personal statements refer to a new spirit, and co-operation, notwithstanding vigorous debate over different views. One event stands out. Towards the end of the Accra meeting, the delegations from Southern and East-Africa were called together by Julius Nyerere. Together they sang “Nkosi Sikelele Africa”, “God Bless Africa”, which was to become the National Anthem of many independent countries, including my own. To the surprise of other delegates, the words were in many languages, but the singing was in perfect harmony.
Let us now consciously ensure the engagement of the people of Africa, in both the making of development policies and in implementing them. I want to stress that, means both women and men, the youth and the aged.
How should we measure progress in development? Most certainly, it should not be the number of documents we produce, the workshops and strategy sessions we attend. Nor can it be the numbers of cars we own, the foreign trips, the ostentatious display of wealth and palatial homes, the tables laden with rich and unhealthy food.
Instead, I offer as a focus, and gauge of progress in development, a woman living in the rural heartlands of each of our countries. To what extent is she involved in development? Daily, weekly, annually, governments and society need to consider also, to what extent have they improved her condition. In that measure will they be able to gauge progress in development, and the future progress of the country and the well being of their people.
Finally, I return to the letter sent by Dr du Bois to Kwame Nkrumah on the occasion of Ghana’s independence and to which I referred in my first lecture. In it, he passed leadership of Pan Africa, to Kwame Nkrumah and to this Continent. Offering advice on what needed to be done he wrote:
“All the former barriers of language, culture, religion and political control should bow before the essential unity and descent, the common suffering of slavery and the slave trade and the modern colour bar. Pan Africa, working together through its independent units, should seek to develop a new African Economy and cultural centre standing between Europe and Asia, taking from, and contributing to both. It should avoid subjection to and ownership by foreign capitalists who seek to get rich on African labour and raw material....”
He goes on:
“It will refuse to be exploited by people of other Continents for their own benefit and not for the benefit of the Peoples of Africa....”
“It will seek not only to raise but to process its raw material and to trade it freely with all the world on just and equal terms and prices. Pan Africa will seek to preserve its own past history and write the present account, erasing from literature the lies and distortions about black folk which have disgraced the last centuries of European and American literature; above all, the new Pan Africa will seek the education of all the youth on the broadest possible basis without religious dogma and in all hospitable lands.”
Referring to diversity he urges us:
“to proceed not by inner division, but by outer cultural and economic expansion, towards the outmost bounds of the great African peoples, so that they may be free to live, grow and expand, and to teach mankind what non-violence and courtesy, literature and art, music and dancing, can do for this greedy, selfish and war-stricken world”
This was written 50 years ago. Sadly, it remains relevant today.
It is “Africa’s Unfinished Agenda”.
It was bequeathed to all of us to pursue.