By Spy Uganda
Nkrumah was a man of foresight. He had a noble vision for Africa and the Black race. He saw the metropolises of Africa becoming the headquarters of science, technology, and medicine. He saw in Africa a giant hypnotized, made dormant by years of foreign tutelage and exploitation. And he sought to awaken this giant. But time and his contemporaries were not on his side. He seemed to have moved ahead of his time and his contemporaries.
As the celebrated British historian, Basil Davidson put it: Nkrumah lived far ahead of his time. It is in the year 2060 when people will come to read about his works and wonder to themselves why such a man should live at such a time. But Nkrumah was not a paragon of political virtues. He committed mistakes, including his allowing bootlickers and sycophants in his party to make a tin god out of him and to tear him away from the ordinary people.
Had he lived, he would have hit the ripe old age of 113 years today. But as fate would have it, Kwame Nkrumah, the man his admirers called “Osagyefo,” the redeemer left our shore to join the ancestors when he succumbed to cancer on a cold Romanian hospital bed in 1972.
He did not only bring Pan-Africanism to its natural home when he returned to the Gold Coast after his sojourn in America and England to lead the independence movement, he also established and sustained till the end of his regime, a link between the continent and the Diaspora. He borrowed many brilliant ideas from his inspirer and admirer Marcus Garvey, including the Black Star as a national symbol (in the center of Ghana’s flag, the names of the country’s shipping line and soccer team). He made Padmore his adviser and invited the grand old man of Pan-Africanism, Du Bois to live his last days in Ghana.
In Africa, Nkrumah attempted to form the kernel of his pet dream—the United States of Africa with Sekou Toure of Guinea and Modibo Keita of Mali, and Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Without doubt, Nkrumah ranks among the greatest political figures of the 20th century. An indefatigable champion of world peace, advocate, and spokesperson of the Non-Aligned Movement, it was only ironic that his government was overthrown in a violent CIA-masterminded coup while he was on his way to Hanoi to negotiate peaceful settlement of the war in Vietnam.
His courageous and tactical (Gandhian passive non-violent resistance or what he termed positive action) leadership led to the wrestling of political independence of his country from Britain, the first in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana’s independence did not only become a power-keg that ignited a continental revolution against European imperialism, but Nkrumah also consciously made his newly liberated country the powerhouse of the African revolution.
Nkrumah’s revolutionary and pan-Africanist ideas swept across the entire continent—from Casablanca to Cape Town. Consistent with his independence-day declaration that the independence of Ghana was meaningless unless it was linked with the total liberation of the entire African continent, Nkrumah trained African liberation fighters, financed their movements, and encouraged them to dislodge colonial rule from their territories.
It was no wonder that in less than a decade after Ghana’s independence in 1957, over 90 per cent of African countries had attained their own independence.
All of Nkrumah’s adult life was devoted to one and only one passion—the liberation and unity of the African race. He lived, dreamed, and died for this ideal. This passion and quest for a continental union government prompted his enemies to brand him dreamer, a megalomaniac, an African Don Quixote. But judging from the parlous state of the continent’s desperate, dispirited, non-viable fifty-four countries today, Nkrumah’s call for the formation of a United States of Africa government was a wise one, if brazen at the time. The largely ineffective African Union established some 60 years ago is a testimony to Nkrumah’s warning that only a continental government of political and economic unity could save the continent from the encircling gloom spawned by enraging internecine wars, famine, and disease.
Nkrumah argued forcefully that it was only a federal state of Africa based on a common market, a common currency, a unified army (a African High Command), and a common foreign policy could provide the launching pad for not only a massive reconstruction and modernization of the continent, but also optimize Africa’s efforts to find its rightful place in the international arena and to effectively checkmate internal conflicts, fend off superpower interference, predatory and imperialistic wars.
But Nkrumah’s tragedy was probably that he came to power at the wrong time, in the “heat” of the cold war, a period when the bi-polar East-West ideological confrontation made leaders like Nkrumah sacrificial lambs on the altar of superpower chauvinism. Cold War politics broached no homegrown nationalists and patriots; it did not forgive leaders who refused to worship the gods of Soviet communism or American capitalism. Would Nkrumah’s ideas have been much more welcome in this post-cold war, uni-polar, “de-ideologized,” globalized world? It is difficult to say.
To many, the idea of a union government of Africa remains a utopia. True, the enormity of the task ahead is quite great; the task of ironing out political and ideological differences, overcoming the vestiges of colonial divisions and neo-colonial machinations are enormous. But this sense of utopia should not push Africans into resignation or inaction. After all, history has amply demonstrated that, all great ventures of human civilisation were conceived, as it were, in the womb of “utopianism.” What is more, Africans should remind themselves that “any programme, no matter how poorly conceived, if imaginatively executed, is better than complete inaction.”
A continental union government may not have been a magic bullet or a panacea for all of the continent’s seemingly intractable problems, but one can say without fear of contradiction, that the situation in the continent would been better than it is today. For such a union would have made it possible for the marshaling and pooling of the continent’s rich resources for the collective benefit of the citizens of Africa. Advantages of economies of scale, the avoidance of duplicity, presenting a united voice in world affairs, and a collective bargaining power in international trade (instead of Africans competing among ourselves for the lowest commodity prices at the international bargaining table) are, but a few of the fruits to be reaped in a continental union government.
The examples on both sides of the Atlantic where the European Union and the North American Free Trade Agreement have united countries of disparate cultures, languages, and political and even ideological orientations, coupled with the surging globalization of the world economy point to the breadth of Nkrumah’s vision.
The ongoing civil wars in various parts of Africa today stem partly from the inability of regimes in Africa to meet the basic needs of the people as leaders compete in cynical popularity contests parading as “saviors, “redeemers,” and “liberators” in countries, some of whose national airlines have no more than one aircraft, whose only source of foreign currency earning is a perishable and dispensable crop. In fact, the only trappings these “nations” can boast of are a rickety national army, a national flag, and a national anthem. How can such “flag and anthem” countries become viable in a lop-sided global economy that is so much skewed against small and weak nations?
Africans have themselves to blame if they continue to plough their narrow furrows instead pooling their efforts, human and material resources in order to stay in the race of globalized 21st century. If Africans fail to take the challenge of continental unity now, the continent will inevitably be gobbled up by the colossus of capitalist globalism this century, just as it was enslaved, balkanized, and exploited of its human and natural resources through the trilogy of slavery, colonialism, and neo-colonialism of the 20th century.