Unite Or Perish – A Pan-African Cry

Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah (in suit) and his Egyptian-born wife, Madame Fatima Nkrumah (on Nkrumah's right), are flanked by paramount Chieftains January 20, 1963, as they dance to high life music during a reception. The affair was staged on the grounds of the Flagstaff House in Accra. Image: Bettmann Archives.

The outburst of joy and excitement that marked Ghana’s historic feat as the first African country south of the Sahara to gain its independence on 6 March 1957 had not died down when the government, led by Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, began working towards the attainment of the status of a republic. On 1 July 1960, Ghana was declared a republic and Dr Kwame Nkrumah, having defeated Dr JB Danquah in a general election, was sworn in as the country’s first president. September 21 marks the birthday celebration of this astute son of Africa. Born in Nkroful on this day, Kwame Nkrumah grew to become a thorn in the flesh of colonial authorities in the Gold Coast, as well as the capitalist imperialists who had sworn to control the destiny of Africa by subjugation. On this day, people of Ghana and the entire continent of Africa, in unison, celebrate the life and work of Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah.

After spending 10 years in America, Osagyefo returned to Gold Coast (Ghana) in 1947 and led the country to its independence in 1957, 10 years later. Woeli Dekutsey, in Kwame Nkrumah: The Great African, states that “this was long enough for him to have watched at first hand the working of the American system of government in capitalism. He witnessed the economic inequalities the system had generated.” It is imperative that as Ghana celebrates the 109th birthday of its first president, we remind ourselves of the need for the fight towards African unity, as a way to defeat the enemy of neo-colonialism.

Africa must unite: a Pan-African cry

After Ghana’s independence, the country became the headquarters of the Pan-African movement in Africa. Nkrumah conveyed his message of Pan-Africanism and African unity at various Pan-African conferences held in Accra. The writer Francis Botchway described Nkrumah as the “brain” behind the discussions to bring African states together to form a political union and to grow Pan-Africanism. Three years after Ghana became a republic, in 1963, Dr Nkrumah published his book Africa Must Unite. This was a blueprint detailing the mischievous agenda of the neo-colonial states and trumpeted the need for Africa to unite if it were ever going to see the continent attain total freedom. For Prof Tim Murithi, ”Freedom without development, however, is not genuine freedom.” For Nkrumah, as he says in Africa must Unite, “In practical terms, this deep-rooted unity has shown itself in the development of Pan-Africanism, and more recently in the projection of what has been called the African Personality in world affairs.” In his book, Nkrumah acknowledges the existence of those sceptics who do not believe in the possibility of a united Africa, saying, “There are those who maintain that Africa cannot unite because we lack three ingredients for unity: a common race, culture and language. It is true that we have for centuries been divided.” He, however, remained convinced that the forces seeking a disunited Africa had been outweighed by those making for African unity. He exhorted African leaders to eschew all forms of action and resist oppression by the neo-colonial states to discredit the unity of Africans. At the Casablanca Conference in 1961, he declared that:

What I fear worst of all is the fact that if we do not formulate plans for unity and take active steps to form a political union, we would soon be fighting and warring among ourselves with imperialists and colonialists standing behind the screen pulling vicious wires, to make us cut each other’s throat for the sake of their diabolical purposes in Africa).

In light of this strong desire for African unity, Nkrumah, in the opening statements of his passion-filled speech at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1963, impressed upon the African leaders gathered there the need to unite, saying, “The objective is African union now. We must unite now or perish.”

Nkrumah, in the opening statements of his passion-filled speech at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1963, impressed upon the African leaders gathered there the need to unite.

It is obvious that the relevance of the issues raised by Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah cannot be overemphasised in discussions on Africa’s impoverished state in this contemporary era. For well over 50 years, the paradox of Africa has defined the state of the continent in her inability to develop in spite of the richness of the resources and productivity of their populations, causing Africans to wallow in poverty. Nkrumah lamented that “much of the general wealth of Africa, which ought to have been kept in Africa to develop basic industries here, has been systematically shipped away.” With Africa’s over-dependence on the exportation of raw materials, it opens up the continent to suffer from the unholy conditions of exploitation by the industrialised states. According to Mgina, “Another method is world market control; Europe and America maintain their control by fixing the price of African cash crops, keeping the prices low so that Africa remains dependent on their aid.” The resources of Africa must and should benefit the sons and daughters of the motherland. It is for this reason that, in my Letter to Mr Government, I admonished ‘him’ to materialise the dream of an industrialised Ghana through its 1D1F policy. Therefore, I look forward to its fruition.

Military bases on African soil

Additionally, Kwame Nkrumah envisioned that:

There would be no foreign military bases on African soil. With a united foreign policy and a common defence plan, there would be no need for them. In the concourse of African union, no Africa could be left in a position of solitary weakness in which it could be bullied into allowing them. Any kind of military pacts or alliances with outside powers would be unnecessary (pp. 202-203).

What is our reality now? The United States of America, dreadfully, can boast of a military base in Djibouti and African countries are ‘jubilant’ over several military agreements with the US. I did not foresee this ‘renewal of vows’ between Ghana and the US prior to my Letter to Mr Government. I am yet to come to terms with how an agreement spanning over 20 years, our government does not deem fit to terminate. Has our military not learnt enough from this cooperation all these years? Who else must defend Africa but Africa? A unified African defence collaboration should be sufficient to safeguard the continent since an attack on any African country would be regarded as an attack on all African states and receive a unified response. Wasn’t this the underlying ideology of the ‘neo-colonialist’ states’ Collective Security principle? Marcus Garvey proclaimed that, “the reliance of our race upon the progress and achievements of others for consideration in sympathy, justice and rights is like a dependence upon a broken stick, resting upon which will eventually consign you to the ground.” This economic colonisation of Africa has done as much damage to the continent as the imperial colonialism and its aftereffects did.

Nkrumah cautioned that neo-colonialism would implicate the continuation of asymmetric trade between Africa and foreign nations, particularly those that had historically colonised the continent. He warned that any form of economic union negotiated singly between the fully industrialised states of Europe and the countries of Africa was bound to retard industrialisation, and therefore, the prosperity and the general economic and cultural development of these countries. He cautioned that any African country that was conned into joining this union will continue to serve as secured overseas markets for manufactured goods of their industrialised ‘partners’ and as sources of cheap raw materials. The Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) ought to be executed with apt precision and commitment to save the continent from the unbalanced trade terms it shares with the world. Africa is the only continent whose foreign trade is largely with the outside world. On 1 March 2018, Graphic Business reported that “Africa’s total exports of manufactured products is less than that of Vietnam, a single country. The value of Africa’s total exports in 2016 was US$91,7 billion against US$138,7 billion of Vietnam”. The CFTA was launched by the heads of state in June 2015 to fast-forward Africa’s economic integration. The agreement was signed at a summit in Kigali, Rwanda. It is hoped that the deal will increase prosperity for 1,2 billion Africans. Trade between African countries accounts for only 10 percent of all commerce on the continent.

The Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) ought to be executed with apt precision and commitment to save the continent from the unbalanced trade terms it shares with the world.

However, in theory, it is expected to boost commerce, growth and employment. To succeed, “the countries will need to summon the required political will,” says Moussa Faki Mahamat, the head of the AU Commission. There is the urgent need for a unified Africa in order to eradicate the damning effects and rid the continent of these ‘superpower’ states lest we perish. Nkrumah averred that:

We in Africa who are pressing now for unity are deeply conscious of the validity of our purpose. We need the strength of our combined numbers and resources to protect ourselves from the very positive dangers of returning colonialism in disguised forms. We need it to combat the entrenched forces dividing our continent and still holding back the millions of our brothers. We need it to secure total African liberation (pp. 217).

Unifying the masses against capitalism and imperialism

Pan-Africanists, representatives of workers’ unions, socialists and communists from over 60 countries, including Brazil, Cuba, DR Congo, Ghana, South Africa, Tunisia and Zambia, converged at the University of Education, Winneba in Ghana to remember this remarkable African figure. The conference was convened by Pan-Africanism Today under the theme “Unifying the Masses against Capitalism and Imperialism”. Kwame Nkrumah remained committed to the fight against capitalism and its effect – the underdevelopment of Africa. Delegates described capitalism as “a crime against humanity” and that it possessed no answer or solutions to the problems of Africa. Speaking at the conference, Professor Ernest Wamba dia Wamba, historian and philosopher, stated that Africans need to “follow, without deviating, the path Kwame Nkrumah carved for us to follow” and to realise the need for “a resolution of reincarnation” of Nkrumah’s “way of dreaming, acting, believing and living”. In so doing, Africa could liberate themselves from the “life-threatening nature of capitalism.”

Adding his voice to the call for the fight against capitalism, Fred M’membe, presidential candidate for the Zambian Socialist Party, proclaimed, “The ideas of Nkrumah will live forever.” He stressed that workers’ unions and cooperatives should unite in order to eradicate the harmful effects of capitalists’ exploitation and robbing of lands and resources by multinational corporations. He called for greater solidarity between Africans at home and abroad since a key feature of socialism is international solidarity against capitalism. He shuddered to think capitalism can solve “the inequality that has gripped our society today”, and prophesied that “a new wave of revolution has started here in Ghana today.” As capitalism and imperialism increase, so does our resistance and fight against it.

Pan-Africanism seems to have lost its lustre in the 21st century among the leaders on the African continent, with African leaders and their governments under the shackles of neo-colonialism. It is important that Africans remind themselves of the need to revisit the tenets of the movement in order to achieve their continent’s freedom and prepare Africa for the arrival of our economic independence. Let me re-echo the words of Osagyefo at the Casablanca Conference: “I can see no security for Africans unless African leaders, like ourselves, have realised beyond doubts that the salvation for Africa lies in Unity.”