Feature Article of Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Columnist: Biney, Ama

Kwame Nkrumah's undying legacy

*By * Ama Biney

As the 21st century unfolds, the face of Nelson Mandela is instantly recognizable around the globe. That of Kwame Nkrumah, who was once the Nelson Mandela of the 1950s and 1960s is less known to a new generation of Africans on the African continent and in the Diaspora.

Therefore, it is essential that the achievements, relevance and a reassessment of Kwame Nkrumah's role and contribution to African history are acknowledged.

However, among diehard African political activists and Pan-Africanists, Nkrumah was and continues to remain a revered hero, committed nationalist and Pan-Africanist deserving of high esteem…

Nkrumah's Pan-Africanist vision has survived into the 21st century and shaped the thinking of a new generation of what Ali Mazrui refers to as 'Africans of the soil' (ie those Africans born on the African continent) and 'Africans of the blood' (those of African descent).

As one of Nkrumah's greatest critics, Mazrui acknowledges: 'Nkrumah's greatest bequest to Africa was the agenda of continental unification.

'No one else has made the case for continental integration more forcefully, or with greater sense of drama than Nkrumah.

'Although most African leaders regard the whole idea of a United States of Africa as wholly unattainable in the foreseeable future, Nkrumah even after death has kept the debate alive through his books and through the continuing influence of his ideas.'

As Nkrumah was one of the founding fathers of the OAU, it appears that the most visible impact of his ideas on African unity has been the institutional transformation of the OAU into the African Union in Durban, South Africa in July 2002.

However, prior to the formation of the AU, two years after his death in 1972, Tanzania hosted the Sixth Pan-African Congress in Dar-es-Salaam and the Seventh PAC took place from 3-8 April 1994 in Uganda.

There is no doubt that there has been a resurgence in Pan-Africanist thinking, policies and interests on the African continent since Nkrumah's death and it is Nkrumah's ideas and concept of continental unity that continues to motivate Africans within Africa and in the Diaspora.

Just as 'Africans of the blood' initially pioneered the movement for Pan-Africanism outside the African continent' such individuals again took up the initiative in the early 1970s.

'The initiative for organising the Sixth Pan-African Congress came from a small group of Afro-Americans and Afro-Caribbeans who met in Bermuda and the United States in 1971 and 1972.'

The Trinidadian scholar CLR James had put out a call for the Sixth PAC in the early 1970s and requested the congress be held in Tanzania because it was considered by progressive Africans to be a model of self-reliance.

President (Julius) Nyerere obliged. He gave an opening address to the Congress in which he reflected some of the ideas, principles and issues of his former ideological opponent, Nkrumah.

He paid tribute to leaders such as Booker T Washington, Marcus Garvey, Wallace Johnson, George Padmore and WEB Du Bois.

He commended Nkrumah's All African Peoples' Conference of 1958 to which Africans from North Africa and the Diaspora were present.

'It thus reflected the geographical unity of this continent, a policy which has also been followed in the invitations to our present Congress,' Nyerere said.

He recognized that the Pan-African movement was a broad one and 'not everyone here, and every government or organization represented, would be pleased to be described as 'socialist,' however vague in meaning that word has become.'

Of concern to all Pan-Africanists were the continued struggles for political freedom being waged in African territories such as South Africa, Namibia, Guinea-Bissau, Rhodesia, Mozambique, Angola, and Spanish Sahara.

Nyerere surprised the African-American delegates, many of whom were cultural nationalists and who on account of the historical experience of white supremacy in the USA considered race as the primary issue facing Africans, by identifying class oppression as another form of injustice and discrimination that Pan-Africanists needed to address.

Nkrumah had earlier made an emphasis on the class dimension of Pan-Africanism in his pamphlet entitled 'The Spectre of Black Power' and in his written exchanges with African-Americans whilst in Conakry.

The Tanzanian leader similarly advocated the need for unity between black Africa and Arab Africa. Lastly, Nyerere also remarked that Pan-Africanism should not isolate itself from the rest of the Third World and should seek solidarity with other oppressed groups and peoples of the world.

Similarly, Nkrumah had envisioned an 'Organization of Solidarity with the peoples of Africa, Asia and Latin America (OSPAAL)' in his writings of 1968, as well as creating 'links with all workers' movements in the capitalist-imperialist states.'

Despite the ideological diversity of views represented at the Sixth PAC, Nyerere's address reflected the continuity of Nkrumah's ideas.

Twenty years later, the Seventh Pan-African Congress took place in April 1994 in Kampala, Uganda.

Like the Sixth, a minority of individuals, in particular the Tanzanian Marxist and scholar-activist, Abdul Rahman Babu, initiated it.

There was greater representation in terms of numbers of political groups at the Seventh PAC than at the Sixth.

Similarly, there was a range of ideological viewpoints and conflicts expressed.

Congress participants unanimously agreed to resist what was perceived as the re-colonization of Africa by global capitalism in its final resolution statement.

Such a unanimous statement was considered against the prevalent IMF and World Bank structural adjustment programmes adopted by many African countries in the 1980s and 1990s.

Many post-colonial states had become burdened with debt, civil wars, a continued brain drain, and the crisis of African refugees.

It was in this context that the neo-liberal agenda of the Bretton Woods institutions was attacked.

The tone, themes and condemnation of re-colonization of Africa echoed the emphases, thinking and positions expressed by Nkrumah in his famous book 'Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism'.

Three years after the Seventh PAC in 1997, President Nyerere made an important speech in Accra to mark the 40th anniversary of Ghana's independence. Nyerere confessed that: 'Kwame Nkrumah was the state crusader for African unity. He wanted the Accra summit of 1965 to establish Union Government for the whole of independent Africa. 'But we failed.

The one minor reason is that Kwame, like all great believers, underestimated the degree of suspicion and animosity, which his crusading passion had created among a substantial number of his fellow Heads of State.

'The major reason was linked to the first: already too many of us had a vested interest in keeping Africa divided.' Nyerere was quite clear that in 1965 the idea of working out Union Government for Africa 'was an unrealistic objective for a single summit'. More importantly, the failure lay in the lost opportunity to 'discuss a mechanism for pursuing the objective of a politically united Africa' via establishing a 'Unity Committee or undertaking to establish one. 'We did not. And after Kwame Nkrumah was removed from the African political scene nobody took up the challenge again.' In a forthright admission, the Tanzanian leader concluded: 'We of the first generation leaders of independent Africa have not pursued the objective of African Unity with vigour, commitment and sincerity that it deserves.

Yet that does not mean that unity is now irrelevant.' Two years after Nyerere's speech, at the OAU summit in Algeria in July 1999, Nkrumah's dream of continental union government for Africa became relevant to a number of African leaders who sought to transform the OAU into the African Union. The prime movers for the reform of the OAU into the AU were President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa and Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria. The Libyan leader, Colonel (Muammar) Gaddafi, later joined the motives of these leaders. Whilst in exile in Guinea-Conakry in 1968 Nkrumah had lambasted the organization as being weak and in need of a radical overhaul. In the (years) after his death, lack of strong constitutional structures, the adherence to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of member states, the inability to deal effectively with regional conflicts and the characterization of the OAU as a 'dictators club' contributed to the weaknesses of this continental body.

According to one academic interpretation, the foreign policy interests of Mbeki, (Olusegun) Obasanjo and Gaddafi initiated the rapid transformation of the OAU into the AU between 1999 and 2002.

At the extraordinary summit meeting held in Libya in September 1999 the members discussed methods of increasing the effectiveness of the OAU.

Both Mbeki and Obasanjo accepted the invitation to attend the meeting as they considered it an opportunity to advance their foreign policy objectives.

However, Gaddafi's motives for hosting the summit soon became apparent.

As Tieku argues: 'It came as a surprise to the 33 African leaders attending the Sirte Summit when Gaddafi opened the summit with a presentation of the 'United States of Africa' plan.

Equally shocking was his insistence that the plan, which entailed the creation of a continental presidency with a five-year term of office, a single military force, a common African currency, be approved 'then and there'.

Thus, there were now three rival policy interests to consider: those of Nigeria, South Africa and Libya.

A compromise was reached by the 33 African leaders to overhaul the OAU completely.

A constitutive legal document outlining a new continental body for Africa was prepared by the Council of Ministers who submitted it to the Thirtieth Ordinary Session of the OAU in Lome in 2000.

Fundamentally, it appears that of all the African leaders, Gaddafi, has taken up the Pan-African mantle of Nkrumah.

The motives of the Libyan leader for convening the extraordinary summit are tied not only to political vanity in seeking to take 'the credit for the re-launch of continental integration initiative in Africa' but his revived interest in Africa are also linked to wider strategic and geo-political considerations linked to sanctions, and ultimately Gaddafi's objective to maintain in power.

Despite this, it was Gaddafi who resurrected the ideals and vision of Nkrumah in his call for a 'United States of Africa' at Sirte.

However, the declaration made by the heads of state favoured South Africa's and Nigeria's position of a continental body pushing for economic integration and greater democracy, without calling for a 'United States of Africa'.

Reminiscent of Nkrumah's calls for continental union government at the OAU summits of 1964 and 1965, many during this time, as in Sirte, considered Gaddafi's proposal as too radical and over ambitious.

The constitutive text of June 2002, which was approved at the Lome Summit, signalled that the African heads of state desired a replacement of the OAU by the AU.

None of Gaddafi's ideas were contained in the document.

Nevertheless, the decision to replace the OAU was a historic one that eventually led to the inauguration of the AU in Durban on July 9, 2002.

At Durban, the Libyan leader was unrelenting and he attended armed with a number of proposed amendments to the Constitutive Act including a single army for Africa, the need for an AU chairman and greater powers of intervention in member states.

Amara Essy was appointed interim Chairman of the AU Commission and in his address he said: 'When we mention Kwame Nkrumah, we have summed up in one name the appeal of all our heroes and precursors who, from the embryonic stage of Pan-Africanism to the doors of our present situation, have embodied our thirst for justice and dignity.' Hence, an integral motivating factor in the creation of the AU was as Essy alluded to, the historical Pan-Africanist quest for justice, dignity and greater equality in the world. These were the ideals Nkrumah had remained committed to throughout his life.

In order to create an environment of peace, it seems the leaders of the AU have approved Nkrumah's brainchild in the initiative of an 'African Standby Force'.

This plan bears striking resemblance to Nkrumah's call during the 1960 Congo crisis for an African High Command, which was rejected then and subsequently.

Since Nkrumah's death, the idea of a regional versus continental armed force, whose objective would be to enforce peace in various war-torn regions was revived in the early 1970s by the OAU after the November 1970 Portuguese-led attempted invasion of Guinea by the OAU.

It was again revived by Nigeria in 1972 at the OAU Ministerial Council meeting in 1977 and 1978.

In the decades of the 1980s and 1990s the proposal has undergone various permutations as civil wars raged in several African countries.

As the AU is still in its infancy, the proposal for an African Standby Force has been scheduled to be set up in a phased manner by 2010.

Its remit is to provide an effective mechanism for conflict resolution via peacekeeping operations, including military intervention if necessary.

Other functions of the force are likely to include humanitarian operations and post-conflict reconstruction.

At the Fifth Summit of the AU held in Libya in July 2005, Gaddafi once again resurrected the ghost of Nkrumah.

He called for a mechanism of defence to oversee the defence and security of the continent that was realistic as opposed to being a paper exercise.

He proposed there be a Minister of Defence to implement the AU's joint security and defence charter as stated in Article 3 of the AU's Constitutive Assembly.

Gaddafi called for allocating responsibility and accountability for decisions made.

He warned against laudable objectives that remained unfulfilled on account of 'no official who assumes the job of implementing these polices at the Union level' and at the national level.

He criticized the OAU for achieving little during its forty-year life span and cited Nkrumah's address at the founding of the OAU in 1963.

Gaddafi said that in 1963 Nkrumah had predicted that artificial borders would create conflicts and that ordinary Africans desired an improvement in their daily standards of living.

He remarked that Nkrumah's words 'were brushed aside and Africa paid the price. The average African has paid the price in the form of subjugation to disease, exploitation, backwardness and blackmail'.

Gaddafi criticized those who considered the idea of a 'United States of Africa' as too premature.

He claimed: 'We have been moving gradually for 100 years.'

To his fellow heads of states, he proclaimed: 'Had we heeded (Nkrumah's) advice at that time, Africa would now be like the United States of America or at least close to it.

'But we did not heed his advice, and even worse we ridiculed those predictions.'

It seems Gaddafi has invoked the language, spirit, ideals and convictions of Nkrumah.

It is far too early to assess the effectiveness of the AU. Nevertheless, the radical transformation of the OAU into the AU appears to have re-ignited Nkrumah's vision of a long-term transformation of the inter-African system into a confederated supranational unit able to reposition itself within an unfolding world context.

Without a doubt, Pan-Africanism was what Nkrumah passionately and consistently worked for throughout his life.

Whether the AU will achieve the political, economic and social unification of Africa in the decades to come, in order to meet the basic needs of ordinary Africans remains to be seen.

However, it is clear that Nkrumah continues to provide the ideological inspiration for a new generation of architects.

Nkrumah's Continuing Relevance During the 1960s proponents of African unity considered the prospect of various forms of supra-national federations.

However, lack of political will and increasing self-interest made the realization of such perspectives unviable.

As Cooper contends, 'Nkrumah's hopes for a United States of Africa achieved little support from African leaders intent on protecting the sovereignty they had so strenuously fought for.'

Yet, there is no political figure on the African continent who waged the struggle for Pan-African unity with such indefatigable energy and sincerity of commitment than Nkrumah.

He was the embodiment of a specific historical era in Ghanaian and African history.

Moreover, he was a political prophet ahead of his time for many of his pessimistic cautions for the fate of the African continent have borne true.

(Years) since his death, the ideas and issues that Nkrumah lived for and wrote about continue to reverberate across the continent.

In his … book 'Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism', Nkrumah denounced the rampaging nature of multi-national companies, Africa's dependency on aid, debt and increasing poverty in the absence of greater economic and political integration.

As Mazrui points out, Nkrumah's book, like Lenin's … 'Imperialism: The Last Stage of Capitalism', identified the negative side of globalization.

For Nkrumah, African unity was neither the dream nor fantasy that his detractors and enemies accused him of.

He considered African unity as a precondition for the survival of Africa and Africans. In the present era of globalization or unbridled capitalist expansion, it appears that Nkrumah's socio-political and cultural thought continues to have a relevance to a new generation of scholars and African people around the world.

• The Journal of Pan African Studies, vol.2, no.3, March 2008


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*Forward Ever! Backwards Never!!!*


*Nana Akyea Mensah, The Odikro*