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Opinions of Friday, 25 September 2015

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis

Nkrumah’s Enduring Importance And Legacy

A Molefi Kete Asante Quote

“The structure for peace as a doctrine in world affairs has largely been left to European thinkers and politicians, with little attention paid to ideas from Africans. Yet it is clear that while Africans have looked to more practical examples of peace, the absence of war and the massaging of dignity, there have been political philosophers who have proposed enterprises that could create the conditions for world peace. Kwame Nkrumah was one of such philosophers. He was, in fact, from a long line of such philosophers dating back to Imhotep, whose name means, ‘He Who Comes In Peace’… It is necessary for us to view Nkrumah, neither as a local politician, nor as a Ghanaian politician, but as an African political philosopher whose approach to governance was based on his 'big heart' theory of the black world.”

A Martin Luther King, Jr. Quote

“About 1909, a young man [Nkrumah] was born on the twelfth of September. History didn’t know at that time what that young man had in his mind. His mother and father, illiterate, not a part of the powerful tribal life of Africa, not chiefs at all, but humble people. And that boy grew up. He went to school at Achimota for a while in Africa, and then he finished there with honors and decided to work his way to America. And he landed to America one day with about fifty dollars in his pocket in terms of pounds, getting ready to get an education. And he went down to Pennsylvania, to Lincoln University. He started studying there, and he started reading the great insights of the philosophers, he started reading the great insights of the ages…And went over to the University of Pennsylvania and took up a master’s there in philosophy and sociology. All the years that he stood in America, he was poor, he had to work hard…

“And I stood there thinking about so many things. Before I knew it, I started weeping. I was crying for joy. And I knew about all of the struggles, and all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment.

“Ghana has something to say to us. It says to us first, that the oppressor never voluntarily gives freedom to the oppressed. You have to work for it. And if Nkrumah and the people of the Gold Coast had not stood up persistently, revolting against the system, it would still be a colony of the British Empire. Freedom is never given to anybody. For the oppressor has you in domination because he plans to keep you there, and he never voluntarily gives it up. And that is where the strong resistance comes. Privileged classes never give up their privileges without strong resistance…

“If there had not been an Nkrumah and his followers in Ghana, Ghana would still be a British colony…And this is one thing that Ghana teaches us: that you can break aloose from evil through nonviolence, through a lack of bitterness…Ghana reminds us that freedom never comes on a silver platter. It’s never easy…You better get ready for some homes to be bombed. You better get ready for some churches to be bombed. You better get ready for a lot of nasty things to be said about you…

“It never comes with ease. It comes only through the hardness and persistence of life. Ghana reminds us of that. You better get ready to go to prison. When I looked out and saw the prime minister there with his prison cap on that night, that reminded me of that fact, that freedom never comes easy. It comes through hard labor and it comes through toil. It comes through hours of despair and disappointment. And that’s the way it goes. There is no crown without a cross…

“The road to freedom is difficult, but finally, Ghana tells us that the forces of the universe are on the side of justice. That’s what it tells us, now. You can interpret Ghana any kind of way you want to, but Ghana tells me that the forces of the universe are on the side of justice. That night when I saw that old flag coming down and the new flag coming up, I saw something else. That wasn’t just an ephemeral, evanescent event appearing on the stage of history.

“But it was an event with eternal meaning, for it symbolizes something. That thing symbolized to me that an old order is passing away and a new order is coming into being. An old order of colonialism, of segregation, of discrimination is passing away now. And a new order of justice and freedom and good will is being born. That’s what it said. Somehow the forces of justice stand on the side of the universe, so that you can’t ultimately trample over God’s children and profit by it…


Dr. Molefi Kete Asante delivered this speech on September 20, 2009 at the Schomburg Research Center for Black Culture (New York), on the occasion of the centenary anniversary of Kwame Nkrumah. Dr. Asante is the author of nearly 80 books, with his book “The History of Africa” displacing J.D. Fage’s “History of Africa” on the Routledge Publishers’ list of historical texts on Africa. Also his text “African American History: Journey of Liberation” is used in over 400 schools across America.

Last but not least, he has been honored with at least 100 awards for scholarship (including honorary doctorates and the Fulbright); the creator of the first doctoral program of Africa/African-American Studies in the world; as well as being counted among the “100 Leading Thinkers in America”; described in such terms as “Asante may be the most important professor in Black America” and “One of the most influential leaders in the decade.”

No doubt he is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s most influential and accomplished scholars.

Last but not least, Dr. Asante has directed at least 140 doctoral dissertations in addition to being the founder of the Journal of Black Studies, one of the prestigious peer-reviewed journals dealing with the African world (and her external relations, historical and contemporary). As a matter of fact, the internationally respected New York-based Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture hosted Nkrumah’s centennial anniversary where individuals from all walks of life—Africans, Canadians, Latin Americans, Australians, Asians, namely every conceivable race under the sun—famous writers, scholars, historians, activists, movie stars, poets, professors, musicians, politicians, members of international organizations, diplomats, representatives of universities and research institutions (think tanks, etc.), etc., from around the world gathered to honor and celebrate Africa’s Greatest Personality.

That is, it was in effect the world coming together to celebrate the Africa’s “Man of the Millennium.” We did in fact attend this memorable occasion when Dr. Asante gave this rousing speech:

“It is rare in human history that one discovers a philosopher-political leader whose voice resonates with that of his people as clearly as that of Nkrumah. He is at once a consummate political activist and a master of the internal tensions of history and politics; these qualities made him an advance signal for a continuing victory sign.

There is something deep and reflective in the way that Nkrumah handled his own inadequacies and tamed the various emotions, colors, nuances, and obstacles in the ordinary African’s everyday life. His creative energy and massive range of interests were great enough to encompass the continent and the Diaspora, but also his depth in terms of philosophy, science, social development, and revolutionary anger and action was profound.

I like the fact that every word, even if I disagreed with some of his words, appeared to have been thought about, pondered, and perfected by his keen Afrocentric and social sensibilities.

Nearly 50 years ago on October 9, l959, Patrice Lumumba spoke in Accra on the invitation of Kwame Nkrumah. He observed then at the Pan African Conference that he had three objectives: the independence of the Congo, the creation of the constitution of the United States of Africa, and the establishment of friendly economic relations with other countries.

Unquestionably he had been influenced by the insistence of Nkrumah that Africa could not withstand the gathering forces of anti-Africanism in the political centers of the vanquished colonizers. Each nation, acting alone, would not be able to sustain its freedom. It would be shaken to its economic, political, and social core as France, England, and the United States had seen to it that Haiti, since Dessalines proclaimed independence, was shaken and abused.

Nkrumah was a prophet of reality; his politics took the form of proactive work to raise the level of consciousness of the masses. But the process is long; the job is hard, and the people are often unwilling to give up the devil they know for the devil they do not know. Yet Nkrumah’s influence, as we celebrate him today, continues to grow as it has grown each year that we do not bring into existence the united Africa for which he devoted so much of his energy.

If Nkrumah had been only a student of W. E. B. Dubois and George Padmore, and acted on the basis of what he learned from them about society, economics, systems of oppression, he would have made a major mark on the earth. But he was more, he was a teacher and he was forced by time and place, by commitment and culture, to be himself a vanguard political actor. He used all of the creative wit, dancing ironies, and meaningful metaphors he could muster from his time in America and Africa, from his life as a Westernized Christian and an African Socialist, from his politics of national independence and African personality.

Nkrumah gave meaning and direction to our best political and philosophical ideals and raised the level of thinking about a United Africa. Who are we today if we are not the voices of the ancestors? If the ancestors’ voices are not heard in our speech, our song, and our poetry, does not this mean that we have cease to be who we ought to be? If we cannot call upon our own sources of cultural and spiritual power then aren’t we nothing more than poor imitations of others?

And if a people cease being who they ought to be then they become nothing because without anchors, without roots, without nananom nsamanfo, we are cast aside in the stream of history. Nkrumah knew this and took his time with the masses of his people, our people, and asked us to imagine a new future, a future without oppression, a future where we would determine our own destiny and help create a mature Africa.

Is this not what we have been told by other African patriots, by Amilcar Cabral, by Agostino Neto, by Samora Machel, by Marcus Garvey, by Patrice Lumumba, and most recently by Cheikh Tidiane Gadio? Didn’t Fanon counsel that the best way to deal with violence and oppression was to maintain our own courage to confront, to challenge, and to inflict pain on the oppressor if necessary? Are we not children of the brave? Are we not the descendants of the endarkened Nkrumah whose wish for us, for Africa, was for us to be truly committed to the rise of the African personality in every way?

The reason Mugabe is loved in Africa and hated in the West is the same reason Chavez is loved by the oppressed masses and hated by the Western elites. They both see the same truth that Nkrumah saw and that made him the victim of Western intrigue. How to silence the voice of the truth-tellers becomes the obsession of the Condoleezza Rice, Cheney, Bush and other reactionary types. This is why Nkrumah was assaulted, curtailed, ambushed in political policy, and eventually overthrown by the CIA. He was a myth-buster, a thorn bush in the side of those who talked about Africa in terms of disbelief.

I am convinced that what Nkrumah told us, he keeps telling us, and that is that our connectedness is a part of our centering and that we must choose ourselves in order to be chosen. Of course, we know this in the depths of our souls but we are often invaded by the loudness of an inauthentic word that wants to make us post racial, and meta-racial, but not anti-racial. Nkrumah knew that the gross and vile materialism and obscene and rough individualism that haunt Western culture helped to create negativity and fear in the oppressed. Thus, we could never see the truth of the beauty that exists all around us.

This is why I am an ardent celebrator of Nkrumah’s life and voice because in celebrating him we celebrate the best in us. This giant was real, genuine, with all of his human flaws, the essence of African intelligence and anti-fascist activism and he showed us what we must be and what we must do to remain centered and not simply shoved to the side as trash on the road of history.

Our politics must be vigorously ethical and fundamentally proactive, if we are to be anyone and if our work is to be anything that can address the monstrous wrongs of society.

If we cannot name our authentic path because we have lost our own way, then we are truly lost. One cannot know lost-ness and loss-ness until one has forgotten the ancestors. In the name of Nkrumah, let us re-orient ourselves, to our commitments to each other, to our drive toward a federative African union, a united Africa, and to a connection to Africans everywhere. FORWARD EVER! BACKWARD EVER!”