By Pusch Commey
If there ever was a man whose heart, body and soul was totally African, that man was the first president of the republic of Ghana, Dr Kwame Nkrumah. And if there was a man who thoroughly understood the African condition and how Africa could win the future, it was the man then popularly known in Ghana as Osagyefo (saviour). A visionary, real leader and philosopher King, his untiring effort to unify and make Africa great again is unrivalled in the post independence history of the continent.

Kwame Nkrumah with U.S. President John F. Kennedy, 8 March 1961

For Nkrumah, African independence was not an end in itself. The impact of an Africa deliberately divided and partitioned served no other purpose than the satisfaction of the economic needs of the marauding colonialists. He knew that most of the colonies could not make viable countries. In most cases the borders had divided families into different countries, where tribalism, colonial languages, education systems and religious differences were promoted as a means to keep the people divided. Nkrumah knew that without unity Africa will lag behind the world for a long time to come. For him, the ideology of Pan-Africanism was the only means for Africans to recover their humanity taken away by centuries of slavery and colonialism. He also understood that 500 years of subjugation was temporary – just a blip in the worlds history spanning thousands of years. And that a historical understanding of the world many centuries before that, pointed to Africa as the origin of civilization. And that Africa had had an enormous civilizing impact on the rest of the world. His seminal and insightful book Africa must Unite, first published by Panaf books in 1963 ( amongst several others ) lays out a roadmap for African self realisation.
As the first sub-Saharan African nation to win independence in 1957, Nkrumah also knew that a huge responsibility fell on Ghana to show the way towards the redemption of Africa. But as most African countries were still fighting for independence, the first step was for Ghana to commit her resources to lead a collective effort towards ridding Africa of colonial rule.  It is why on the attainment of independence by Ghana he announced that “The Independence of Ghana is meaningless without the total independence of the continent. Africa today, the United Sates of Africa tomorrow”. Without a United Africa, the continent was bound to be a vassal state of those intent on exploiting it for their own gain.
From 1958 Nkrumah embarked on a liberation crusade, organizing several conferences of leaders of African States , leading to the rapid decolonization and independence of several African States in the short space of time until he was overthrown by a coup d’etat orchestrated by the CIA on February 24 1966.

Kwame Nkrumah’s call for African unity is still relevant.

Nkrumah was a man of action who believed that only a united effort by Africans, and not just the heads of states, would secure the total liberation of the continent. On this note, he sent invitations to all known nationalist organizations, women’s groups, trade union groups, and youth groups, all over Africa, to come and discuss the final overthrow of colonialism. And between 5th-13th December 1958, at the First All African People’s Conference (AAPC) held in Accra, Ghana, Nkrumah dubbed the conference “The Plan for the Liberation of Africa by Gandhian Nonviolence”.
The conference, whose slogan was “Hands off AfricaAfrica must be free” condemned imperialism and colonialism in whatever guise they were perpetuated. It was also resolved that “a permanent secretariat of the All-African People’s Conference be set up to organize the All-African Conference on a firm basis”. The conference declared full support to all freedom fighters in Africa, including, “those who resort to peaceful means of non-violence and civil disobedience, as well as to all those who are compelled to retaliate against violence to attain national independence and freedom for the people”. It further condemned all laws that treated such freedom fighters as common criminals.
The conference had condemned apartheid in its totality and had called on the independent African countries to boycott South African goods and impose other economic sanctions, as a protest against racial discrimination. It was also declared that “no African state should have any diplomatic relations with any country on our continent that practices race discrimination”. What later became known as the international movement for sanctions against apartheid South Africa originated at this historic conference organized by Nkrumah.
Nkrumah was also keenly aware that the battle for liberation would not end with political independence, and that the colonialist would re-invent themselves in several forms to continue to exploit and enrich themselves at the expense of Africans.

Fidel Castro and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana

Nkrumah was thus deeply troubled when a crisis unfolded in the newly independent Republic of Congo in 1960 , where the tiny country of Belgium had colonized plundered and sought to reduce this independence into a farce. Kwame Nkrumah exploded in rage, and mobilized Ghanaian troops to go into Congo to support the democratically elected nationalist president  Patrice Lumumba. It ended tragically when Ghana placed its troops and faith in the United Nations, who under their watch stood by and allowed Lumumba to be captured by Belgian forces backed by the CIA , summarily executed, and his body reportedly dissolved in acid. Belgium had then sent its troops to the Congo and bankrolled a secession in the copper rich Katanga province. Its companies had then extracted concessions from the puppet regime of Moise Tsombe in the province to exploit mineral rich areas in the Congo half the size of Belgium. The Congo is still yet to recover from the devastating impact of the kleptocratic misrule of Mobutu Sese Sekou, the Army chief installed by the colonialist to replace the nationalist Patrice Lumumba, and who opened up the mineral wealth of the Congo for their further plunder. It is instructive also to note that those same patterns of economic exploitation stubbornly persists some 22 years after the last of the African states, South Africa, was politically decolonized.
In a Speech to the Ghanaian National Assembly during the Congo Crises Nkrumah ably summed up THE AFRICAN CHALLENGE. He notes:
“Political freedom is essential in order to win economic freedom, but political freedom is meaningless, unless it is of a nature which enables the country which obtained it to maintain its economic freedom. The African struggle for independence (political and economic ) and unity must begin with a political union. A loose confederation of economic cooperation is deceptively time delaying. It is only a political union that will ensure a uniformity in our foreign policy projecting the African personality and presenting Africa as a force to be reckoned with. I repeat, a loose economic co-operation means a screen behind which detractors, imperialist and colonialist protagonists and African puppet leaders hide to operate and weaken the concept of any effort to realise African unity and independence. A political union envisages common foreign and defence policy and rapid social, economic , and industrial development. The economic resources of Africa are immense and staggering. It is only by unity that these resources can be utilised for the progress of the continent and happiness of mankind.”

on reports released by the United State Department’s Office of the Historian, the article showed, in part, American foreign policy manoeuvres in Ghana, under the Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration (1964 – 1968).

Nkrumah was prepared to surrender the sovereignty of Ghana for African unity when he joined with Guinea and Mali in January 1961 to form the Union of African States as a precursor to the United Sates of Africa. But soon different blocs of African groupings in the form of the The Casablanca, Monronvia, and Brazzaville groups emerged, some influenced by their colonial masters. A protégé of Nkrumah was Lumumba, amongst many others including Robert Mugabe. The Congo, among the richest countries in the world in terms of resources, was to join the union after its independence, to spearhead the economic revitalization of the continent, only to be subverted by the colonialists, who also controlled the United Nations
Internally, on the continent itself, many leading African leaders including Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere had a different view and sought to protect their own small power bases and regional influences, even accusing Kwame Nkrumah of being over ambitious and desirous of becoming the President of Africa ( the same charge against Muammar Gadaffi who carried Nkrumah’s vision and championed the re-invention of the Organization of African Unity into the African Union).

Leaders of the OAU 1963

It was the very danger Kwame Nkrumah spoke about tirelessly. Many decades later after his overthrow and death in 1972, and after his warnings manifested itself years down the line, Nyerere made a famous confession.
To mark the 40th anniversary of Ghana’s independence, Julius Nyerere, while talking about Nkrumah in his speech said, “He ( Kwame Nkrumah ) 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 further confessed when he added , “We of the first generation leaders of independent Africa have not pursued the objective of African Unity with vigour, commitment and the sincerity that it deserves. Yet that does not mean that unity is now irrelevant.”
Pusch Commey is an Advocate of the High Court of South Africa, Associate Editor of the London based New African Magazine, and author of several books, including the best selling 100 Great African Kings and Queens.
(On and in all major bookshops).

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