Celebrating Kwame Nkrumah's centenary

Publié le par hort

http://pambazuka. org/en/category/ features/ 58958

Nkrumah at 100

 Dr Ama Biney



Commemorating the centenary of Pan-African ‘political prophet’ Kwame Nkrumah on 21 September, Ama Biney pays tribute to ‘a titan of the anti-colonial struggle and African history that all people of African descent – both young and old – should be proud of.’ But what would Nkrumah make of ‘retrogressive developments that have taken place during the last 50 years of Africa’s history’ if he were alive today?

In commemorating the centenary of Nkrumah on 21 September 2009, we are remembering a titan of the anti-colonial struggle and African history that all people of African descent – both young and old – should be proud of. Why? Nkrumah was among those many Africans, who, to use the language of the 44th President of the United States of America, the first African American to occupy such a position – had the ‘audacity of hope’ to challenge Europeans in an era long before the generation of Obama. Nkrumah encouraged Africans and people of African descent to have the audacity to dream of political freedom and to organise for it at a time when the vast majority of African people across the globe were ruled by Europeans and white supremacy was considered the natural order of things. Nkrumah instilled hope in Africans. He inspired Africans to have dreams. As the late great Pan-Africanist, Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem once succinctly said in relation to a debate on whether Pan-Africanism was an essential vision or a fantasy: ‘If you have a dream, you must keep it alive.’

The world of Nkrumah was a very different one from the world that President Obama presently confronts. Despite this, there are some parallels that can be drawn between the skills and backgrounds of the two men during their political campaigns. Firstly, both men came from humble non-distinguished backgrounds. Whilst Nkrumah came from the small ethnic group, the Nzimas in south-western Ghana, Obama was born to a white mother from Kansas and an African father, who descended from the Luo ethnic group of Kenya. Both leaders were able to use their backgrounds to transcend division. Obama was able to appeal across racial lines in America to a wide section of voters: whites, Latinos, African Americans and other minorities. Similarly, Nkrumah was an unknown entity when he left Ghana in 1935 and returned 12 years later with the same status.

Secondly, both men possessed brilliance in oratorial skills that enabled them to connect with ordinary people.

Thirdly, both men discerned the necessity for building organisations. It was Nkrumah’s mantra and practical implementation of ‘organisation decides everything’ that led his party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP) to win three electoral victories and ultimately independence. He organised by foot, from village to village in the then Gold Coast, taking his message to ordinary people and to market women, the youth, farmers and the chiefs. It was their money that funded the CPP.

Nkrumah was an organisational genius in being able to take the initiative in setting up a newspaper for the CPP, the Accra Evening News, as a mouthpiece for his party. Similarly, Obama waged a campaign that drew in people who donated whatever small sums of money they had (as well as big business, banks and the wealthy). He travelled up and down the length of America to win votes in swing states such as Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. His campaign used the Internet to communicate with his supporters.

Fourth, both communicated aspirations for individuals. Nkrumah showed it was possible to move from being a prison graduate one day and Prime Minister the next. He also communicated the ambition to ordinary people of the Gold Coast that a free Ghana could become an economic powerhouse and paradise under self-rule. Obama’s mantra: ‘Yes we can!’ inspired African Americans and all people of African descent to believe once more in the American dream. As one Congolese rapper from Paris put it: ‘Obama tells us everything is possible.’

Fifth, both leaders were able to give hope and confidence to ordinary people and particularly the youth. Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast in 1947 and radicalised the youth of the country – the ‘verandah boys’ – by setting up the Committee on Youth Organisation that later broke away from the elitist United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) and became the CPP. Obama’s campaign also had a very strong radicalising impact on America’s youth – black, white, Latino, Chinese, and Asian – who had become disaffected. Many were enthused to vote for the first time in their lives and they genuinely believed their vote could make a difference.

Finally, both Obama and Nkrumah, at the time of their political campaigning, represented political change: Nkrumah represented a fundamental break from British colonial rule and Obama represented a change from eight years of an administration that had lost America respect around the world. Both promised to resolve the most pressing national problems of the day.

However, it is my contention that whilst Nkrumah is a visionary, Obama is not. Obama does not spell out a radically transformed vision of America in an altered world, because the problems of America are rooted in its ideological commitment to free market enterprise and serving the interests of the American empire abroad. (Obama can never be a visionary for African people since he is working on the side of the oppressor, Hort’s comment)

Nkrumah was brilliant in a number of ways. He was the first successful leader in post-war Africa to lead his country to independence in March 1957. Ghana became a beacon and a trailblazer for others to follow. Secondly, Nkrumah was the first modern African leader to achieve international recognition on a world stage.

Thirdly, Nkrumah was not only a nationalist and Pan-Africanist but also an internationalist. He is most widely known as the prophet of Pan-Africanism but Nkrumah was also concerned with the whole of humanity and took positions on pertinent issues of his time such as the Cold War, which led him and others to adopt ‘non-alignment’ and ‘positive neutrality’. He was opposed to the nuclear arms race and challenged Charles De Gaulle’s testing of an atomic weapon in the Sahara in the early 1960s and dubbed it ‘nuclear imperialism’. He supported an end to the Middle East conflict; he was in favour of world peace and wanted to help end the Vietnam and American war. As a result, he sought to facilitate peace in this region of the world by accepting the invitation to visit President Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam. It was on this mission that the coup d’etat took place and toppled his government on 24 February 1966.

Nkrumah was determined that Ghana and Africa should escape the fate of being a hewer of wood and drawer of water for the industrially rich nations of the world. In the centenary of Nkrumah’s birth, I have often wondered, what would he make of our globalised world, particularly the grave issues of today? If he had lived to be a hundred years old, he would have bitterly lamented some of the profoundly retrogressive developments that have taken place during the last 50 years of Africa’s history.

To mention a few, we have seen severe brutality carried out by Africans against Africans, aided by the proliferation of small arms by European companies that prolonged wars and conflicts in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Burundi, Uganda, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Many of these conflicts involved child soldiers and gang rape of women. In terms of trade, many African countries have seen worsening terms of trade for minerals and agricultural crops. In addition, the treacherous impact of the Cold War years saw the contradictory nature of imperialism in Angola, whereby the Angolan Marxist government was protected by Cuban soldiers and the Soviet Union, whilst its oil was extracted by American oil corporations with the American government supporting the rebel led movement, UNITA. The tragic consequence of that war has left many landmines and amputees in that country.

Yet, overall, the blame for Africa’s continued impoverishment lies squarely with the system of neo-colonialism that Nkrumah analysed. It is a system by which a segment of Africa’s corrupt leadership colludes with Western governments and multi-national companies to bleed African countries of their resources for their own political and economic class interests. It is a system in which anti-people African governments have looted their nations, or, as Winnie Mandela once eloquently said, ‘the elite of the oppressed and the elite of the oppressor are united against the people.’

Yet Africa is one of the richest continents on the planet, and its wealth continues to develop other nations to the detriment of its own people. Nkrumah’s recognition of this class alliance was not articulated until the late 1960s in his book Class Struggle in Africa published in 1970. Here he openly embraced internal class enemies in Africa as a hindrance to unity and the development of Africa’s resources for the majority rather than a minority of interests.

Nkrumah was a political prophet who warned as far back as the Conference of Independent African States in April 1958 of the new forms of colonialism i.e. neo-colonialism that would engulf Africa in spite of political freedom. Nowadays it appears it is no longer acceptable to talk about imperialism or neo-colonialism, particularly in Western academic circles, which seem to consider the terms obsolete and totally irrelevant to discourse on Africa. Similarly, some Africans remain uncomfortable with the terms because they cannot publicly condemn the hand that feeds them. Fundamentally, neo-colonialism and imperialism are current realities that manifest themselves in highly exploitative and sophisticated forms on the African continent and Nkrumah was vehemently opposed to both.

In his book Neo-colonialism – The Last Stage of Imperialism, published in 1965, it led to a break in relations with the United States of America, as Washington recalled their Ambassador. In the introduction, Nkrumah wrote, ‘The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it, is in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside… More often, however, neo-colonialist control is exercised through economic or monetary means. The neo-colonial State may be obliged to take the manufactured products of the imperialist power to the exclusion of competing products from elsewhere.’[1] Those words are as valid in 1965 as they are today, for neo-colonialism continues to be a serious threat to the future of African unity.

The book remains highly important and relevant in speaking of the hegemonic mechanisms employed by the West to economically entrap African countries despite political independence. Nkrumah’s prescience was remarkable in that he seemed to warn of the Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) and entire international aid architecture that emerged on the back of Live Aid.

Aid, in terms of long-term government-to- government loans to Africa by Western countries, is now an industry that provides careers for Europeans. It simply perpetuates the economic subservience of African economies; it by no means provides the engine to trigger economic growth and independence of African economies. Western countries have no interest in eradicating the economic underdevelopment of Africa because, as Walter Rodney pointed out, the continued development of Europe rests on the continued underdevelopment of African countries.

Therefore, African cocoa, coffee, cotton farmers will continue to loose out to subsidised American and European farmers as European and American governments continue to subsidise their farmers, engage in protectionist trade policies, whilst denying African countries genuine opportunities to develop a manufacturing base for the production of raw their materials.

The current neo-colonial trend in Africa is ‘land grabbing’ by developed countries who wish to ensure their own food security as a consequence of the savage system of capitalism that is now in fundamental crisis. As far back as 1945 when Nkrumah published his little book Towards Colonial Freedom – as the Second World War came to an end, he contended that colonial economics was fundamentally concerned with the exploitation of the colonial subject and the resolution then was the organisation of the colonial masses to overthrow colonialism.

Today we have seen an implosion of the financial markets in the West and a transfer of wealth at a phenomenal rate from the public i.e. taxpayers money to bail out the bankers at the expense of ordinary people. As the Brazilian president said, it is ‘white blue-eyed bankers [who] have brought the world economy to its knees’. Yet, surely in the present economic crisis in which capitalism is being discredited, it raises questions as to what kind of economic system is desirable to provide the maximum benefit to the majority of the people? It is not neo-liberal capitalism but one that genuinely redistributes wealth in the interests of the majority.

If Nkrumah had lived to be a hundred, he would have considered the roots of the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) as deriving from America’s lack of even-handedness in its position on the Arab-Israeli conflict; America’s decades of silence in the light of Israel’s flouting of numerous Security Council Resolutions and the recent announcement by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to build more Jewish homes in the occupied territories in the West Bank; as well as America’s duplicitous need to secure Iraq’s oil fields. It is the perceived bias of America in support of Israel’s unjust occupation and oppression of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and its military presence in Saudi Arabia, Iraq and in Afghanistan that provides foot soldiers for Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Similarly, would not Nkrumah have sided with the 30 year-old journalist, Muntazer al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at former President George W. Bush, in Dec 2008? The Iraqi reporter expressed the height of his political indignation by throwing his shoe at Bush who was speaking at a joint news conference in Baghdad with the Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri-al-Maliki. Despite the shoes narrowly missing its intended target, al-Zaidi has currently been released after serving nine months in jail for assaulting a foreign head of state. For ordinary Iraqis al-Zaidi is no criminal but a hero who challenged the neo-colonial hegemony instigated by the US invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

If Nkrumah had lived to be a hundred what would he have made of AFRICOM established by George W. Bush, and inherited by President Barack Obama? Lest history forget, the concept and vision of an African High Command was Nkrumah’s. During the Congo crisis in August 1960 both Nkrumah and Patrice Lumumba signed a secret Joint Communiqué in which they agreed to work together to set up a Union of African States and a Combined High Command. Nkrumah then wrote to a number of his contemporaries including President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, President Sekou Touré and others proposing the formation of the African High Command.[2] Its initial purpose was to intervene effectively to bring about a speedy withdrawal of foreign troops in the Congo. It would be comprised of the Chief of Staff of the Independent African States (IAS). It would meet periodically to review the common defence of Africa in the case of aggression
against any part of the continent. Nothing came of Nkrumah’s call for an African High Command during the tragic Congo crisis, despite the fact that it was supported by the radical Casablanca countries, including Ghana.

Yet, Nkrumah continued to champion its rationale and realisation more fervently after his emotional devastation on hearing of the assassination of his ideological ally, Lumumba in January 1961. In his book, Challenge of the Congo, published in 1967 Nkrumah became far more uncompromising in his demand for an African High Command. He warned in this book that if African countries did not unite and combine military forces for common defence they would be drawn into making defence pacts with the former colonial powers which would endanger the security of all in the face of neo-colonialism.

Nkrumah pointed out that the financial waste that individual states spent on their individual armies was a drain on much needed resources, when the weight of this burden could easily be shared by all in a joint defence structure. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, the African High Command would be a necessary corollary in the setting up of a common economic policy that would co-ordinate Africa’s entire economic and human resources for the benefit of African people in a Continental Union Government for Africa. For Nkrumah Pan-Africanism was and remains the solution to combating neo-colonialism and imperialism.

Forty-seven years after Nkrumah’s proposal of an African High Command, the then President of the USA, George W. Bush, announced in February 2007, the establishment of an African Command, otherwise referred to as AFRICOM. Despite the rhetoric of US officials that AFRICOM is a new hybrid organisation of both civilian and military organisations including the US Department of Defence, the State Department, USAID into a functional Unified Command, with the aim of assisting Africans in capacity building, the objectives and vision of AFRICOM are to fundamentally serve the interests of the American empire in the 21st century.

Those interests are bound with what some have called America’s ‘grand strategy’, which involves a preservation of America’s future oil supplies, particularly as Nigeria and Angola and other African countries are projected to provide a quarter of US oil imports by 2017.[3] America is also intent on challenging China’s increasing economic presence on the continent and confronting the threat of the GWOT in the Horn of Africa. Hence, there is a small US presence in Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, as well as naval operations in the Gulf of Guinea.

However, on the one hand, it is clear that apart from Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, no African country is rushing to provide a headquarters for AFRICOM, because not only were Africans not consulted, but African civil society organisations have remained very critical of AFRICOM.

Yet, African governments have quietly and disturbingly accepted the numerous range of military training programmes that the Americans have provided under the auspices of AFRICOM.[4] It seems in the aftermath of decolonisation, the former colonial powers of Portugal, France, Britain and Belgium encouraged the newly independent states to establish military pacts and training programmes to safeguard Western economic interests in the ex-colonies. Today the US has now taken up that role in the ostensibly benevolent guise of AFRICOM.

As Daniel Volman contends, by consolidating the internal security capabilities of neo-colonial African states, such states can perform the role of ‘surrogates’ in protecting US interests on African soil.[5] Presented as a benign force for peace, the military nature of AFRICOM represents not only the militarisation of Africa but also a reconfiguration of imperialist and neo-colonial interests in Africa under the guise of what the Deputy Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Theresa Whelan, describes as ‘helping Africans build greater capacity to assure their own security.’[6]

It is astute that Obama sidelined any extensive mention of AFRICOM in his address during his July visit to Ghana. However, it is necessary to speculate on how the Obama administration will implement the objectives of AFRICOM. AFRICOM is simply a thorough negation of Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanist vision and therefore it is imperative that Africans continue to resist the very notion of it as well as its operations on the continent itself.

In reflecting on the legacy of Nkrumah, Ali Mazrui is incorrect in his contention that Nkrumah is responsible for introducing the authoritarian template of single party rule. He claims: ‘By a strange twist of destiny, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was both the hero, who carried the torch of Pan-Africanism, and the villain who started the whole legacy of the one-party state in Africa (emphasis is mine).’[7]

The criticism that Nkrumah instituted a one-party state in the face of the challenge of building a nation-state is a valid one. That his concept of the state was on account of his own intellectual concept of the nature of the state and its functions influenced the nature of state formation in Ghana.

However, Nkrumah reached the same conclusion as his contemporaries Sekou Touré, Houphouet-Boigny, Leopold Senghor, Modibo Keita, Julius Nyerere and Jomo Kenyatta. Whilst the Ivory Coast and Senegal purported to be multi-party states, they were de facto one party states in which other parties had no chance of winning state power. These various African states were all attempting to grapple with the same issues as Nkrumah: How does a nation-state prevent descent into a religious and ethnic fragmentation of society?

Setting aside ideology, Houphouet-Boigny and Jomo Kenyatta were publicly committed to capitalist economics whilst Nkrumah adhered to what he termed ‘scientific socialism’ from 1962 onwards. All resorted to similar political methods to deal with the societal problems of building a united nation – that is they all created a single party state and Nkrumah was therefore, by no means the progenitor of what Mazrui calls ‘the whole tradition of Black authoritarianism in the post-colonial era.’[8] The legacy of authoritarian rule is one that characterises post-independence politics in Africa and is shared and started by all leaders of this era.

Integral to Nkrumah’s vision and legacy are five intellectual and political strands that have relevance to Africans in both the continent and diaspora. Firstly, there is the legacy which lies in is his vision of African unity. We still have along way to go to realise African union despite the metamorphosis of the Organisation of African Unity into the organisational entity known as the African Union in 2002.

Secondly, all Africans must understand, challenge and eradicate the vestiges of neo-colonialism in all its reconfigurations, and that requires challenging an African neo-colonial elite and AFRICOM.

Thirdly, in his book entitled Handbook for Revolutionary Warfare (1968) Nkrumah called for greater South to South cooperation in the formation of the Organisation of Solidarity with People’s of Africa, Asia and Latin America (OSPAAL). Such a bloc which would also need to include the Caribbean nations would counter Western imperialist domination and be the beginnings of a new economic world order based on genuine cooperation and a more egalitarian economic system. In the latter years of his life, Nkrumah expressed the view in Class Struggle in Africa that the destruction of the capitalist economic system would eliminate neo-colonialism and contribute positively to the creation of a united Africa under a socialist government.[ 9]

Fourth, in his book Consciencism, he argued that Africa must seek to synthesise the three cultural currents of Africa’s history: Africanity, Islam and Euro-Christianity. In short, if the Japanese can make use of technology and still retain their Japanese identity in a globalised world – Africans can do the same and re-assert an African Personality on the world stage.

Lastly, Nkrumah connected Africa and her children in the diaspora in concrete ways, not only by employing them in his government when he was president, but urging them to return to Africa and contribute their skills and talents. He also unequivocally asserted that: ‘all peoples of African descent, whether they live in North or South America, the Caribbean, or in any other part of the world are Africans and belong to the African nation.’[10] Therefore, with such a proclamation, it is no wonder that under Nkrumah’s leadership, Ghana became what Malcolm X aptly called after his own visit to Ghana: ‘the very fountainhead of Pan-Africanism’. Since Nkrumah’s death, Ghana continues to be a Mecca for Africans born in the diaspora. Sadly, the other African leader of recent times who articulated the connection of the African diaspora to the continent with drama, passion and unrelenting commitment to Pan-Africanism in a similar charismatic manner, was the late Dr Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem. He died tragically and ironically in this year of the centenary of Nkrumah, on 25 May, Africa Liberation Day. To paraphrase Kofi Hadjor slightly, both ‘Nkrumah [and Tajudeen] are a reminder not of what Africa is, but of what Africa must become.’[11]


* This article is an extended version of a piece which first appeared on Nyansapo, published by Ligali, a Pan-African human rights organisation based in the UK.
* Dr Ama Biney is a pan-Africanist and scholar–activist who lives in the United Kingdom.


[1] K. Nkrumah, Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, 1965, p. ix.
[2] K. Nkrumah, Challenge of the Congo, 1967, pp. 115-116.
[3] Guardian, UK, 9 Feb 2007.
[4] D. Volman,
http://concernedafr icascholars. org/africom- and-the-geopolit ics-of-african- oil

[5] Ibid.
[6] Cited in Volman.
[7] A. Mazrui, Nkrumah’s Legacy and Africa’s Triple Heritage: Between Globalization and Counter Terrorism, 2004, p. 3.
[8] Ibid, p. 4.
[9] K. Nkrumah, Class Struggle in Africa, 1970, p. 87.
[10] Ibid, p. 87.
[11] K. Hadjor, Africa in an Era of Crisis, 1990, p. 162

.Further Reading

Let Nkrumah’s birthday unite us

http://news. myjoyonline. com/news/ 200909/35456. asp
Nkrumah and Pan-Africanism

http://www.sfgacc. com/node/ 81
  Nkrumah's centenary will re-kindle the spirit of patriotism

http://www.ghanaweb .com/GhanaHomePa ge/NewsArchive/ artikel.php? ID=168498
  How Nkrumah Empowered Ghanaian Women

http://www.graphicg hana.com/ news/page. php?news= 4245
MP wants Nkrumah's body returned to Nkroful

http://www.ghanaweb .com/GhanaHomePa ge/NewsArchive/ artikel.php? ID=168992
Nkrumah Never Dies Party Formed

  http://www.ghanatod ay.com/index. php?option= news&task= viewarticle& sid=25704
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