Kwame Nkrumah: World Peace, African Unity and a United Ghana
Ade Sawyerr on the 40th Anniversary of the passing of the Osagyefo
I start this retrospective with a quotation on African Unity by Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah and here I quote
“We all want a United Africa, United not only in our concept of what unity connotes, but united in our common desire to move forward together in dealing with all the problems that can best be solved only on a continental basis.” Kwame Nkrumah
I intend to talk about Kwame Nkrumah and his contribution to World Peace, African Unity and a United Ghana against the back drop of current events.
World Peace and Unity
Few people view Nkrumah as a man of peace; they perceive him more at home in supporting the freedom fighter movements in Africa, but there was a time when Nkrumah’s stature in the world was that of a peacemaker.
Nkrumah left Ghana on 21st of February 1966. He had not gone abroad for medical reasons or to a conference, or to sign an agreement for a loan to Ghana, or for a holiday, or with a cap in hand, or indeed just to collect some per diem, he was on a highly publicised mission to Hanoi to find a peaceful solution to the Vietnam War. He had been invited by the Vietcong leader, Ho Chin Minh and he had the assurance of the American government that they would do nothing to compromise his safety during the trip.
Sadly, the fact that he was overthrown before he could complete his mission leaves most people wondering why the Americans, who were complicit in his removal, approved the trip. The jury is still out as to whether this was a mere contrived ruse to get him out of the way, or they felt that he had overreached himself as a world statesman. However, the fact that the trip had been sanctioned by the Commonwealth Head of States Conference suggests that Nkrumah was well regarded as one who could provide the road-map for peace.
After the end of the Second World War, there was still a need for peace as the arms race escalated between the Warsaw Pact countries of the East and the Nato alliance of the West. This Cold War continued till the dismantling of the Soviet Union in the mid 1990s was a war for ideological influence and control in the world. Though not a military war, the several flash points such as the Bay of Pigs incident, the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Russian foray into Afghanistan, which resulted in the boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow by the western block countries, threatened the peace of the world.
Developing countries were caught up in this ideological divide of the superpowers and were being asked to take sides between the capitalism of the west and the socialism and communism of the east. The need however, to steer a middle course was captured in the bold statement by Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah – “we face neither east nor west, we face forward”, which typified the stance of the Non-Aligned Movement that unified over 75% of members of the United Nations and more than half of the world’s population behind this movement for peace.
The world owes a debt of gratitude to the boldness and bravery of the ‘initiative of five’, Tito of Yugoslavia, Nehru of India, Nasser of Egypt, Surkano of Indonesia and Nkrumah of Ghana who gave birth to what is probably “history’s biggest peace movement“, the Non-Alignment Movement.
Without this ‘declaration on promotion of world peace and cooperation’ embracing five principles of Mutual respect for each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty, Mutual non-aggression, Mutual non-interference in domestic affairs, Equality and mutual benefit, Peaceful co-existence” the world would have been a more polarised one. Their commitment to the cause of peace must be applauded and the active involvement of Nkrumah in this must be acknowledged as someone who stood for peace in the world.
Nkrumah’s role in forging African unity is better known and I continue to be fascinated about how he negotiated through the many disparate influences and alliances he made on this long journey.
Nkrumah acknowledged his teacher at Achimota, JEK Aggrey of Africa as the first to arouse his nationalism. Other notable people, ITA Wallace Johnson and Nnamdi Azikiwe who he worked with on the Morning Post and who were both deported out of Ghana after being convicted of sedition because of the article – ‘Has the African a god’ did influence him. He followed on the Zik’s alma mater, Lincoln College in America.
America and then Britain was about learning the business of organising in the students and workers movements which culminated in his organising the 5th Pan Africanist Congress in Manchester with George Padmore. He along the way had to imbibe the different philosophies of the movement, that would inspire him and guide him on this task of African unity.
Booker T Washington was promoting technical education to enable Negros learn a trade in Tuskegee College, Marcus Mosiah Garvey was using his Negro Worker newspaper to preach the politics of capital formation and the back to Africa movement of the United African Improvement Association. There were others such as WEB Dubois writing in the high brow Crisis, the mouthpiece of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People on promotion of liberal arts education, socialism and communist theories for the emancipation of people of African descent.
Other leaders of the Pan Africanist movement who influenced him included CLR James and Ras Makonnen and at the defining conference in Manchester there were many from the Caribbean and the African diaspora; WEB DuBois who organised the first conference was in attendance as was the wife of Marcus Mosiah Garvey. Hastings Banda from Malawi, Jomo Kenyatta from Kenya, Peter Abrahams from South Africa, Jaja Wachuku and Awolowo from Nigeria, Rev Harry Sawyerr and ITA Wallace Johnson from Sierra Leone. There were several from Ghana. EJ Duplan, DeGraft Johnson, Joe Appiah, JS Annan, WJ Kwesi Mould, Koi Larbi, Bankole Awoonor Renner and G Ashie Nikoi all of whom would play a part in the formation of the Convention Peoples Party of Ghana.
Most of these were burning with the desire to free their countries from oppression and the yoke of colonial rule and the conference considered for the first time independence for the colonies as a legitimate extension of the pan africanist cause. The baton was passed to Nkrumah to champion the course of African unity.
His focus on Pan Africanist Unity was the main cause of his break with the United Gold Coast Convention who had invited him to Ghana to transform their movement into a national political party and he saw the CPP that he formed with the slogan self government now as the vehicle for achieving African unity which was why on the most important day of our lives in Ghana the day of our independence he make his most important declaration of intent – ‘the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of Africa’.
The three all African peoples conferences that were organised after independence became the successor to the Manchester Pan-Africanist congress and were expected to lead us to fulfil his vision of African unity. The conferences were held in quick succession Accra in December 1958, Tunis in January 1960 and Cairo in March 1961.
The delegates came from all over Africa, the Caribbean and the Diaspora and all people of African descent, the delegates included legitimate governments, revolutionary governments in waiting of non independent African countries, radical governments that were pushing and supporting the armed struggle for liberation and essentially anyone who was anyone in the Pan-Africanist movement.
The initial conference organised by the eight independent African countries, Ghana, Ethiopia, Guinea, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt focused on the themes of unity and solidarity as the key to the fight against colonialism and the economic domination after colonialism and called for the formation of Africa-wide organisations of trade unions, youth movements and the setting up of a permanent secretariat, a Bureau of Liberatory Movement.
Rifts developed along the way to unity, the Monrovia Group was formed to attract 24 newly independent states that preferred a more gradualist approach and were suspicious of the speed for unity and they started organising their own conferences. But Nkrumah was in a hurry and formed a union with Guinea that was joined by Mali to become Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union. This union became the Union of African States with its own flag, the Ghana flag with three stars in the yellow, more stars to be added as other countries joined. Algeria, joined to coalesce into the Casablanca Group, the progressive group that was calling for immediate unity. In May 1963, 32 independent states of the Monrovia and Casablanca groups came together to form the Organisation of African Unity. The host of the conference Haille Sellasie noted
“We know that there are differences among us. Africans enjoy different cultures, distinctive values, special attributes. But we also know that unity can be and has been attained among men of the most disparate origins, that difference of race, of religion, of culture, of tradition, are no insuperable obstacles to the coming together of peoples. History teaches us that unity is strength and cautions us to submerge and overcome our difference in the quest for common goals, to strive, with all our combined strength, for the path to true African brotherhood and unity…. Unless the political liberty for which Africans have for long struggled is complemented and bolstered by a corresponding economic and social growth, the breath of life which sustains our freedom may flicker out.”
Nkrumah brought more clarity to the reasons in his address.
“No independent African State today by itself has a chance to follow an independent course of economic development, and many of us who have tried to do this have been almost ruined or have had to return to the fold of the former colonial rulers. This position will not change unless we have a unified policy working at the continental level… We need a unified economic planning for Africa. Until the economic power of Africa is in our hands, the masses can have no real concern and no real interest for safeguarding our security, for ensuring the stability of our regimes, and for bending their strength to the fulfilment of our ends. With our united resources energies and talents, we have the means, as soon as we show the will, to transform the economic structures of our individual states from poverty to that of wealth, from inequality to the satisfaction of popular needs. Only on a continental basis shall we be able to plan the popular utilization of all our resources for the full development of our continent.”
A unified Ghana
Despite what several of his opponents have said about Nkrumah neglecting Ghana for the cause of African unity, no other leader of Ghana has done as much to unify our country and to guarantee that it does not disintegrate at the seams of tribalism. We have been spared ethnic conflicts despite the many ethnicities that make up Ghana and if the tensions are still bubbling below the surface, it is because successive heads of state have not built on the sterling foundation laid by Nkrumah. If Ghana is a relatively peaceful state today, it is because Nkrumah created a unitary state in the hope that all the peoples will develop together and become one country.
So the events taking place during this bio-metric registration exercise and the various movements complaining about their marginalisation, though worrying can be excused as emotive rant from irresponsible politicians. The attempts to stop people from registration can only be likened to the Jim Crow days in America when Americans of African descent were turned away when they attempted to exercise their right to vote. Ghana belongs to all of us, not just to one tribe and people in Ghana should be welcomed wherever they chose to reside.
These events are certainly not what one would expect of a maturing multiparty democracy such as Ghana where the preference for a unitary state instead of a federal state was settled at independence. The prospect of a return to the violence of the 50s and early 60s is extremely disturbing and the attempts to polarise the country on tribal lines serves no purpose to anyone; it will result in stunted development and growth of the Ghana.
I credit Kwame Nkrumah with the foundations for peace and unity because of several measures and mechanisms that he utilised to forge Ghana into a cohesive whole.
When Nkrumah broke with the UGCC he formed the CPP, a party that embraced all sections of the community, not just the elite or the intelligentsia or the high breed royals, or the professionals; his party was embraced all sections of the community, young and old, men as well as women, workers, business people, artisans, professionals, fishermen, farmers, market women, people of all religions, Muslim, Christian and traditional, socialists and capitalists, people from the left and right of the political spectrum, trade union activists, even fellow travellers and above all people from the all the different tribes in Ghana. The CPP was an inclusive party welcoming all shades of opinion. It appealed to all.
Nkrumah unified the country in opposition against colonial rule and attracted those in the urban as well as the rural areas. The party won seats in the rural areas but swept all the seats in the more diverse urban areas for the legislative assembly.
Nkrumah went on to ensure that there was ethnic balance in all the appointments including ministers to give confidence to all that no ethnic group would be left behind or excluded from his government.
Nkrumah fought against the efforts Ewe Unification Movement to merge with Togo, he made certain that in the 1956 plebiscite the Mamprusi, Dagomba, Gonja, Buem, Krachi, Kpandu and Ho areas that formed the TransVoltaTogoland would be part of Ghana. So at independence, the Northern Protectorate, the TransVoltaTogoland, the Ashanti and the Southern colony all came together to form a one Ghana unitary state not a federation as some sectional interests wanted.
Nkrumah fought against the secessionist intentions of the NLM party that had been formed out of the Ashanti Youth Association and that took away some prominent CPP members such as Victor Owusu and Joe Appiah, RR Amponsah. He won elections against all the other sectional parties, the Togoland Congress, the Anlo Youth Organisation, the NLM, the Northern People Party, and the Muslim Association Party. When the tribalist Ga Shifimo Kpee reared its ugly head to threaten the peace of the country in the capital,Accra he used the law, passing the Avoidance of Discrimination Act that banned parties based on sectional interests. The unintended consequences of this law resulted in the formation of the United Party, a motley crew of tribalist and sectional parties.
When the violence grew after independence because those who lost the elections wanted to use any means to destabilise the country, he was bold enough to pass the Preventative Detention Act to stop them.
He created regions that were not based on tribe alone. In the colony the Central, Western and Eastern regions were created. The Northern region was created to include parts of what was then TransVoltaTogoland, the Volta region was created, as was a new region, the Brong Ahafo region carved out of the Ashanti region. These were deft political moves to balance the country and change the order of things so that it would hold together.
In the area of education, he set up more secondary schools and training colleges so that most regions would have their own secondary school but maintained and expanded the boarding school system. Since entrance was based on merit, young people could travel to schools outside their regions, live with people of other tribes and make life long friendships that were not based on tribal affiliations but based on the newer opportunities that Ghana as a country afforded us.
He set up a Young Pioneer Movement that would bring people of different religions together in youth activity and provide leadership and much needed extra-curricular activities to young minds of the country. The Movement was based on the Christian Boys Brigade of the Methodist Church and the Muslim Youth Association but what he wanted was a secular movement that would unite people of different faiths.
In his efforts to dismantle the colonial economy and to forge industrialisation, he built the township of Tema, built by Ghanaian technical people to ensure that there would be accommodation for the large number of workers who would come to work in this industrial town from the different tribes and regions of Ghana; today Tema continues to have a very cosmopolitan population not based on any tribe.
Even in his industrial policy he ensured that no region would be left without an industry that would provide jobs for the people in that region, so in every region there were industries intended to prevent the unnecessary drift into Accra to work in low level service jobs and sell dog chain.
Of course there were several other initiatives that Nkrumah undertook to establish the bonds of unity across people of different ethnicities and how these have yielded benefits across Africa and the Diaspora.
Today the work that Nkrumah did to bring peace to Vietnam needs recognition. America lost the Vietnam War, its soldiers defeated, there was no victory for America and Britain in Iraq and there will be no victory for them in Afghanistan.
The world is less polarised. The battle lines have shifted from old ideologies; socialism versus capitalism that dominated the previous century, have been replaced by issues about banking crisis, globalisation and the rise of China as an economic power.
The Africa Unity project was disrupted by the spate of military takeovers that occurred in Africa. Most of the military regimes were not interested in African unity; they were more interested in ruling their countries for their own benefit, today as many more of Africa is turning into multiparty democracy there is more hope for the African unity envisaged by Nkrumah, there is more discussion on how to incorporate the Diaspora into the African union and how the links forged over the years would not be lost. The efforts of Nkrumah were recognised by the erection of a statute in the front of new building donated to them by China.
Ghana still presents a problem, there is lack of vision about what we want and we are yet to frame our development question in terms of unity in Africa. There is polarisation between the urban and the rural, between the rich who have amassed wealth based on political affiliation and contacts and those who do not have any, between the educated and the uneducated and this threatens the stability and cohesiveness of the country.
The ethnic rumblings are distressing and the work of Nkrumah in forging a cohesive country could crumble under the weight of an election campaign. And yet the people of Ghana, the ordinary masses, the workers who produce and provide services are struggling and the fear and danger is that it them who will suffer and die if these calls to arms are heeded. The political leaders cannot recognise the need to refocus on how we can rid our country of poverty and misery.
But we know that there is an option under a unified Nkrumaist front and that is what the CPP and other Nkrumaist parties need to be working towards. The message should re-echo Nkrumah’s stand on African Unity
No country has substantially and consistently increased the standard of living of its people without industrialization. Our underdevelopment and inability to industrialize are the result of the strangle-hold of our economy and country which has turned us into cheap raw materials exporters and importers of highly priced value-added goods and equipment. The very existence of the CPP is to ensure that the current Ghanaian society breaks away from this stranglehold as a necessary condition for the creation of a new society based on the party’s principles of Self-determination, Social Justice and Pan-Africanism.
We should differentiate ourselves from other parties by emphasising that any overarching framework for the social, economic and political transformation of the country should take us out of dependency and make us more interdependent in an increasingly globalised world where the interests of our country will be paramount.
A social programme with focus on development and address the causes of poverty and deal with health, education and skills, and housing within a clean and ecological friendly environment. An economic programme with focus on growth in our productive capacity and address how we can create a diversified agricultural base, use science and technology in the exploitation of our resources in our industrialisation drive and create jobs for the people. A political programme to empower the people through political activity at the grassroots to provide more accountability, strengthen parliament and provide for more transparent government at all levels by dealing with corruption.
Whilst the new found oil and gas will be used responsibly for the people of Ghana, this is the time to underline the importance of our collaboration with other African countries. We must resist the temptation to think that we can go it alone, other countries have found oil and mineral wealth but their growth has still been challenged by forces that confront us in Africa. We must therefore emphasise that it is only by collaboration with other countries in Africa into an effective economic, social and political block that we can begin to solve our problems of growth and development.
Let me end by saying that the history of the world will not be complete until the influence of Nkrumah as a man for world peace, as a beacon for the unity of all African people and as symbol of a united Ghana is recognised.
Nkrumah Never Dies!