Feature Article of Thursday, 22 October 2015
Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis
Nkrumah’s place in human history is assured. This statement needs no defense because it is entrenched in the annals of the universal mind. New information about his greatness surfaces day in, day out and his stature as a global phenomenon seems to grow from year to year. This African hero has no peers in the history of Africa—from ancient times to the contemporary dispensation.
Even as others influenced him, so did he likewise influence others (and continues to influence others around the world to this day)—from Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Jr., the African National Congress (ANC) and the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC), Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall, Sam Nujoma to Steve Biko. Little known, however, is Nkrumah’s influence on Biko and his Black Consciousness Movement (BCM), a topic we want to look briefly at in this essay.
SOME BASIC FACTS ABOUT BIKO AND HIS BLACK CONSCIOUSNESSS MOVEMENT
There is no doubt in our minds that the theoretical foundations of Biko’s Black Consciousness ideology derived from multiple sources, strategically evolving from within certain socio-historical contexts, and counter-driven by the aggregate forces of Apartheid, white supremacy, privation, internalization of inferiority complex on the part of Black South Africa, structural inequality, and grave distortions in black collective psychology. The ideas of Frantz Fanon, Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Toure), W.E.B. Du Bois (“double consciousness”), Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Robert S. Taylor, Nyameko Pityana, Marcus Garvey, Basil Moore (“black liberation theology,” “black theology, etc.), and Mahatma Gandhi fundamentally gave moral, philosophical, and political direction to the evolution of the Black Power Movement in South Africa (Note: Ashwin Desai & Goolam Vahed, two South African scholars, show in a new book that Gandhi was a racist. See “Further Reading” at the end of the essay for additional information).
Essentially, the Black Consciousness Movement came into being as a tactical and strategic antithesis—a radical counter-revolution—to the imposed hegemony of white supremacy and of its intended correlate, black dehumanization, within the South African politico-historical context. What is, however, missing from the general narrative is the ideational fingerprint of Nkrumah in the overall evolutionary internationalization of the concept of Black Power, given Africa’s collective history of dehumanization. On the other hand, while Frederick Douglass may have loosely appropriated the phrase in the second half of the 19th century and used it in a sense quite different from its contemporary political connotations, the concept has come to assume a serious political character with undertones of ethno-racial self-determination, solidarity, and collective self-awareness.
Respected politicians, activists, and musicians from Richard Wright (1954), Adam Clayton Powell (1966), Malcolm X (1960s), Nina Simone (1964), Stokely Carmichael (1966) to James Brown (“Say it Loud—I’m Black and I’m Proud,“ 1968) further invested the phrase with additional layers of political impetus and social consciousness.
These facts may be widely already known. Perhaps not widely known are the contributions of Nkrumah’s “Consciencism: Philosophy and Opinion for Decolonization,” “The African Genius,” “African Personality” (and some of his other writings) and theoretical arguments for his continental goals to the debate, as well as to the political and philosophical development of Black Power. For one thing, Nkrumah’s version of “African Personality” and “Consciencism” greatly impacted the intellectual development of Biko. For another, Nkrumah primarily inspired the Black Power Movement in South Africa via his influence on Biko, his colleagues, and South African politics.
Further, Nkrumahist philosophy generally influenced Carmichael’s intellectual-political character and revolutionary rhetoric. We now know why Carmichael idolized Nkrumah. We now know why Carmichael officially changed his first name to Kwame. We now know why Carmichael impressed on Nkrumah an imperative need to establish and dispatch an army to Ghana, to overthrow the National Liberation Council from their base in Guinea, a radical suggestion Nkrumah vetoed. We now know why Carmichael became one of the important leaders of the “All African-People Revolutionary Party,” a name with an Nkrumahist thrust. In his book (1968) “Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare,” Nkrumah wrote: “formation of the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party.” As we implied elsewhere, the Carmichael example does not stand in total isolation from the examples of other important historical personalities like Biko who came under Nkrumah’s influence.
Perhaps, an important point worth stressing is Nkrumah’s own definite statement on the concept. Our primary focus is on his 1968 pamphlet, “The Spectre of Black Power.” While this essay may have been published in 1968, it does not in and of itself lend credence to the idea being developed in 1968. What is important for us at this juncture is that, Nkrumah’s work with W.E.B. Du Bois and others in American prior to his relocation to England, without a doubt, points to practical and theoretical traces of Black Power. His work as Leader of Government Business (internal government) during the dyarchic period (1951-1954), as Prime Minister, and as President—all speak to the political ideology of Black Power. In fact, his entire political career and intellectual development were expressions and embodiments of Black Power.
We should however make it clear again that the Black Power we have in mind is one that eschews ethnocentrism. Rather, the Black Power we have in mind is one that promotes unity, encourages the idea of internal ethnic differences as the handiwork of the genius of nature, and places the collective empowerment of African people and their strategic, tactical interests at the center of international relations and of the enterprise of continental development. The corpus of his [Nkrumah’s] writings is a true reflection of this fact as well. Indeed, Biko wanted to make a difference in the lives of black South Africans via his Black Consciousness Movement and political activism. Here, we discover a moral imperative for innate goodness on the part of both Nkrumah and Biko and by extension, a concomitant discovery of a politico-philosophical intersection between his vision which, of course, was curtailed by the racist regime for political convenience and for purposes of deterrence to potential emulators of Biko’s vision, and that of Nkrumah’s.
Likewise, the 1966 coup and the several abortive assassination attempts on Nkrumah’s life bespeak the naked apprehension of the West and its local Machiavellian political prostitutes toward Black Power and Pan-Africanism. We need to reconsider this in re-orienting our location in international relations and even more important (Amos Wilson), for the sake of our strategic and tactical collective self-interests as a people hemmed in by the counterfactual illogic of internal and external forces.
NKRUMAH AND BLACK AMERICA
Granted, the Black Power concept was and still is an international phenomenon sharing a space of intellectual, political, and moral intercourse between Africa and the Americas, particularly the United States. We have already shown in some of our writings how Nkrumah and his ideas connected with and by extension, resonated with the Americas, particularly Black America, in the case of the Civil Rights Movement.
As a matter of fact we did this in an essay, titled “Martin Luther King, Jr. On Nkrumah.” In this same essay the author mentioned “The Birth of a Nation,” a speech King gave outlining his impressions about Nkrumah and about the lessons Ghana’s political independence held for the US Civil Rights Movement. What may not be widely known, perhaps, goes to the heart of the question of the development of King’s political consciousness which, we may want to emphasize, partly derived from his encounter with Nkrumah and his ideas. King would later become a member of the advisory board of the Council on African Affairs (CAA), a Pan-African think tank.
Others associated with the CAA included such notable personalities as Paul Robeson, W.E.B. Dubois, Esther Jackson, Max Yegan, Ralph Bunche, Alphaeus Hunton, Jr., and Lorraine Hansberry, author of the classic play “Raisin in the Sun.” Malcolm X who also met with Nkrumah would replicate his [Nkrumah’s] idea of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), which he called the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU). Maya Angelou was instrumental in the founding of this organization. So too was John Henry Clarke. Black Power was part of this institutional framework.
As well, Thurgood Marshall, Nkrumah’s Lincoln classmate and the first African-American Supreme Court Justice (US), met with Nkrumah during Ghana’s Republican celebration. Elsewhere Nkrumah, the United States (US) and the United Kingdom (UK) engaged the services of Marshall in the drafting of a new constitution for Ghana, a proposed engagement Marshall obliged. Other African-Americans who visited—from 1958 to 1966—and or relocated to Ghana included the following personalities: Prof. St. Claire Drake, Maya Angelou, Julian Mayfield, Prof. Martin Kilson, Drs. Robert and Sara Lee, Dr. Du Bois and Shirley Graham Du Bois, George Padmore, CLR James, Bankole Timothy, John Henry Clarke, Alice Windom, Sylvia Boone, Tom Feelings, and Robert Freeman (Gaines).
“Most of them lived in Ghana till the US-backed military forces overthrew Nkrumah’s government,” writes Kwame Botwe-Asamoah. What may have actually driven these corps of great men and women to Nkrumah’s Ghana, could as well have been what motivated the pre-eminent African-American scholar, W.E.B. Du Bois, to write: “I hereby put into your hands, Mr. Prime Minister [Kwame Nkrumah], my empty but still significant title of ‘President of the Pan-African Congress,’ to be bestowed on my duly elected successor who will preside over a Pan-African Congress due, I trust, to meet soon and for the first time on African soil, at the call of the independent state of Ghana.”
The renowned historian, sociologist, activist, philosopher, and author Du Bois was fully aware of Nkrumah’s stature as a politically savvy, brilliant, and visionary personality, a man qualified to assume the “chairmanship” of the international Pan-African Movement, hence the humble language of his well-crafted request. Others from around the world saw the same enviable qualities in Nkrumah, including the likes of Biko, knowing fully well he was up to the task. They watched and monitored his [Nkrumah’s] every move and political adventurism with rapt attention.
NKRUMAH AND SOUTHERN AFRICA
The fact of the African National Congress and the Pan Africanist Congress idolizing Nkrumah for his grand political vision and revolutionary nationalism is a bold statement of the obvious. This acknowledgment takes into consideration, the fact of Biko’s Black Consciousness Movement gaining ideological shape and political concreteness, in the wake of the banning of the Pan Africanist Congress and the National African Congress and of the political imprisonment of the organizations’ leaders. The strategic and tactical collaboration between the CPP government, led by Nkrumah, and these two organizations in overthrowing the Apartheid Government is well known, in spite of two major reasons given to account for why Nkrumah reportedly refused to meet with Mandela:
1) That Nkrumah favored the PAC over the ANC because he considered the former more militant that the latter, the latter of which was, supposedly, more liberal in its attitude toward the power structure of White South Africa; and 2) That Nkrumah did not want to offend the Americans who were sponsoring Ghana’s Akosombo Hydroelectric Project and therefore distanced his [Nkrumah’s] government from the ANC, represented by Mandela, which was fighting the Apartheid Government.
Is there any truth in these statements? Far from the contents of the agitprop writings or agitational propaganda churned out by the professional enemies and detractors of Nkrumah, the truth lies beyond the narrative reach of the afore-reference canards. This truth came from an unlikely source—from nuclear scientist Dr. Kwame Amuah, Mandela’s eldest son-in-law and the husband of Makaziwe Mandela-Awuah, who was asked the question, “Why Do You think Mandela Never Met Kwame Nkrumah,” to which he responded in the following measured tone (with emphasis):
“Mr. Mandela visited Ghana around 1960 or thereabout, for over 10 days but unfortunately he could not meet Nkrumah personally for good reasons. NO DOUBT HE SAW NKRUMAH AS A HERO. He did travel to Ghana to meet him. The intermediary was Kofi Batsa, the then co-editor of the CPP-owned newspaper, The Spark. Mr. Batsa, whom my wife and I met on two occasions in the US, on authority provided the known reason why Mr. Mandela did not meet Nkrumah on his first visit to Ghana.
“At the time Nkrumah was recovering from a major assassination attempt on his life and therefore access to him was restricted. Mandela, though, met all the relevant cabinet and party officials and the ANC was accorded fulsome support.
“This bit of history is important here as there are some who attribute Mandela’s failure to meet Nkrumah as a snub. They claim the reason was that the ANC was open to all races and was losing its Pan-African identity, and that Nkrumah was leaning towards the Pan-African Congress.
“The idea that Nkrumah refused to meet Mandela because the ANC was opened to all South African races is far from the truth, and in fact it is not even a historical fact in the least. Nkrumah, while Pan-Africanist to boot, was equally non-racial.
The question is: Why did Nkrumah’s cabinet and party officials meet with Mandela and other leaders of the ANC? The answer, of course, is not difficult to find. In fact it is right there, as it were embedded somewhere in Dr. Awuah’s response. It is also most likely Dr. Awuah may have sought confirmation of Mr. Batsa’s explanation from Mandela. What is more, his statement to the effect that Mandela said “NO DOUBT SAW NKRUMAH AS A HERO” directly speaks to Nkrumah’s greatness, grand vision for Africa, and as well, his influence on Mandela. Mandela himself was a direct influence on Biko! And Mandela himself, like Biko, was a “student” of Nkrumah! Of course, there existed another important connection between Nkrumah and Mandela that has not been given much publicity. Ayi Kwei Armah gives us this on Mandela:
“In the conflict between South African democrats and apartheid supremacists, European nations such as Britain, France and Germany, along with the USA, were not bystanders. They were active allies of the white supremacist regimes.
“In a conversation with Ahmed Kathrada, an ANC comrade, Mandela is prodded to remember the moment of his betrayal and arrest. Mandela, disguised and underground, was driving to an appointment with a US embassy contact. The contact tipped off the apartheid security service, and Mandela was taken off to spend 27 years in jail. Here, there is no mention of the embassy’s role. Instead, we are served shreds of misleading gossip. Did Walter Sisulu betray Mandela? Was it Kathrada? Red herrings. It is handled as if it belonged to the field of trivia. The impression this casualness creates is that the struggle is past, no longer a matter of serious attention…
What Armah may not have known was that the Nkrumah government had given Ghanaian passports to Mandela and other leaders of the ANC, which they could use to enter Ghana whenever they decided to do so, given the political pressure mounted on them to renounce violence and to submit to white supremacy. We have it on authority that Mandela, in fact, was on his way to Ghana that day when the CIA tipped him off to the Apartheid Security. That said, Mandela’s post-prison rejection of certain core demands of the Freedom Charter, an egalitarian document that aimed at reconstituting South African society along the paths of social justice, redistribution of land, etc., may not have augured well for the new direction the country sought. Mandela may have taken that line of policy action as part of his negotiated release arrangement.
Steve Biko may have been aware of the Machiavellian tactics by which the power structure of the Apartheid Regime treated Mandela and other prominent leaders of the PAC, of the ANC. And as we said before, this and the banning of the PAC and ANC created a political vacuum which Biko and his friends, particularly Nyameko Pityana, filled with the founding of the Black Consciousness Movement. There is a seeming thread that joins Nkrumah, Mandela, the PAC and the ANC, and Biko. That thread originated—for the most part—from the theory and praxis of psychological catharsis which Nkrumah’s “African Personality,” “Consciencism,” “African Genius,” “The Spectre of Black Power,” and body of writings bequeathed to the world. Kirsten Peterson was right to note:
“Kwame Nkrumah was the single most important theoretician and spokesperson of this decade…Hutchinson, a South African nationalist, captured Ghana’s centrality to the era when he called his book, itself an account of his life and his escape from South Africa, simply, ‘Road to Africa.’ All the continent’s nationalist roads of the fifties led to Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana. Everywhere on the continent, the former colonial slave was breaking his chains, and singing songs of hope for a more egalitarian society in its economic, political and cultural life and Nkrumah’s Ghana seemed to hold the torch to that Life!”
SOUTHERN AFRICAN LEADERS HOLD A BRIEF FOR NKRUMAH
In the essays “Nkrumah and the Forgotten Anglo-Portuguese Alliance,” “I Don’t Think We Will Ever Recover From the 1966 Coup,” and “Heroes Beget Heroes,” all published by the New African Magazine, Antonio de Figueiredo, Kenneth Kaunda, and Sam Nujoma respectively gave poignant accounts of Nkrumah’s positive influences on them and how, among other things, his [Nkrumah’s] policies contributed to the eventual decolonizing of Southern Africa. Amilcar Cabral’s eulogy to Nkrumah looked at the bigger picture of Nkrumah’s achievements from the point of view of the larger context of the African world. The 1978 posthumous gold medal award given to Nkrumah by the United Nations confirms the views and policy statements made by Figueiredo, Kaunda, and Nujoma. The South African government acknowledged Nkrumah’s contributions with another posthumous award. Mr. Enoch Ampofo, a Ghanaian official who received the award on behalf of the Nkrumah government and of the people of Ghana had this to say:
“Gaining perspectives into how Dr. Kwame Nkrumah has affected the lives of people in South Africa, I found out that back in the days of Apartheid, the oppressed people went to school and were taught about the principles of Kwame Nkrumah or Nkrumahism.”
As this statement makes it clear, Nkrumah’s ideas may have filtered to Black South Africans like Biko and many others. But we do know for a fact that, even without the benefit of the medium of pedagogy, Biko and his friends read some of the works of Nkrumah. Nkrumah’s influence on Biko was therefore spatially direct!
MOLEFI KETE ASANAT AND THE BIKO FAMILY
It is important we stress the fact that, Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, one of the world’s leading intellectuals, financially supported Biko’s widow and children through subscription fees THAT accrued from articles he wrote for some South African publications (see his memoir “As I Run Toward Africa”).
Nkrumah influenced a generation of thinkers, scholars, writers, activists, politicians, and freedom fighters. One of such great men was the South African political activist Steve Biko, one of the prominent founders of the Black Consciousness Movement. Moreover, just like Martin Luther King, Jr. Patrice Lumumba, Malcolm X and several others who came under Nkrumah’s influence and ended up dying via Western-orchestrated machinations, Biko came under Nkrumah’s influence and ended up in a horrific death at the hands of the architects of Apartheid South Africa. Yes, Biko died as a “student” of Nkrumah! Even so how could a non-violent person like Biko have suffered death via state-sponsored terrorism? After all, he did not resort to the terrorism and bombing campaigns Nkrumah’s political enemies subjected him, his supporters, innocent men and women and children, and the country to!
Yet, when we look back on Nkrumah’s legacy and his wide-raging influence on the world we come full circle to what a leading NPP politician told this author in private some years back: That Nkrumah has no peer in the entire political history of Ghana and that the honchos of the NPP, keepers of the UP tradition, are even aware of this fact, except that they have chosen to demonize him just to score political points as far as winning elections and strengthening the political base of the NPP go. This is part of the strategy we have been reading in the agitprop writings and agitational propaganda churned on Ghanaweb and other online portals by the professional enemies and detractors of “Africa’s Man of the Millennium.” But the hard facts of history and the weight of global conscience are on Nkrumah’s side.
No amount of urban mythology can negate these facts. Nkrumah never dies. Biko never dies. Long live all the great men and women of the African world. And long live Nkrumah’s legacy!
1) Steve Biko. “I Write What I like.”
2) Pusch Commey. “How do you write on death when you haven’t experienced it?’ Nelson Mandela to his son-in-law.” New African Magazine. December 2, 2013.
3) Kirsten Holst Peterson. “Criticism and Ideology: Second African Writers Conference Stockholm (Seminar Proceedings from the Scandinavian Institute of African Studies)
4) Ayi Kwei Armah. “South Africa: Liberating Mandela’s Memory.” New African Magazine. December 18, 2013.
5) Alfred Hutchinson. “Road to Ghana.”
6) Richard Wright. “A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos.”
7) Malcolm X. “The Autobiography of Malcolm X.”
8) Kevin K. Gaines. ‘American Africans in Ghana: Black Expatriates and the Civil Rights Era.”
9) Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture). “Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael.”
10) Kwame Ture & Charles Hamilton. “Black Power: The Politics of Liberation.”
11) Stokely Carmichael. “Black Power.” The US Oratory Project. October 29, 1966.
12) Marcus Garvey. “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey.”
13) Goolam Vahed & Ashwin Desai. “The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire.”
14) W.E.B. Du Bois. ‘The Souls of Black Folk.” (see the essay “Of Our Spiritual Strivings”)
15) Kwame Botwe-Asamoah. “Kwame Nkrumah’s Politico-Cultural Thought and Policies.”
16) Frantz Fanon. “The Wretched of the Earth.”
17) Gail M. Gerhart. “Black Power in South Africa: The Evolution of an Ideology.”
18) Gail M. Gerhart & Thomas G. Karis. “From Protest to Challenge, Vol. 5: Nadir and Resurgence, 1964-1979.”
19) Barney Pityana et al. “The legacy of Stephen Bantu Biko: Theological challenges.”
20) Mamphela Ramphele et al (editors). “Bounds of Possibility: The Legacy of Steve Biko and Black Consciousness.”
21) Mamphela Ramphele. “Across Boundaries: The Journey of a South African Woman Leader.”
22) Kopano Ratele & Norman Duncan. “Social Psychology: Identities and Relationships.”
23) Saleem Badat. “Black Man, You Are On Your Own.”
24) Saleem Badat. “Black Student Politics: Higher Education and Apartheid from SASO to SANSCO.”
25) Amos Wilson. “Blueprint for Black Power: A Moral, Political and Economic Imperative for the Twenty-First Century.”
26) Ngugi wa Thiong’o. “Decolonizing the Mind.”
27) Cheikh Anta Diop. “Black Africa: The Economic and Cultural Basis for a Federated State.”
28) Chinweizu. “The West and the Rest of Us.”
29) Carter Woodson. “The Miseducation of the Negro.”
30) Kwame Nkrumah. “The Spectre of Black Power.”
31) Kofi Kissi Dompere. "The Theory of Philosophical Consciencism: Practice Foundations of Nkrumahism"
32) Kofi Kissi Dompere. "The Theory Of Categorial Conversion: Rational Foundations of Nkrumahism"
33) Kofi Kissi Dompere. "Polyrhythmicity: Foundations of African Philosophy"
34) Kofi Kissi Dompere. "African Union: Pan African Analytical Foundations"
35) Kofi Kissi Dompere. "Africentricity and African Nationalism."
36) James H. Cone. “Black Theology and Black Power.”
37) James H. Cones. “A Black Theology of Liberation.”
38) Smangaliso Mkhatshwa. “Black Priests’ Manifesto: Our Church Has Let Us Down.”
39) The Steve Biko Foundation (www.sbf.org.za)
40) 1965-1976: Steve Biko: The Black Consciousness Movement: The SASO, BCP & BPC Years