By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor's Note: The following article is being published in honour of the 50th anniversary of Ghana's national independence. Kwame Nkrumah led this revolution which transformed the African world both on the continent and in the Diaspora.
Pan-Africanism as a political objective is being accepted by growing numbers of people of African descent. This objective, Pan-Africanism, in its modern-day definition, is the total liberation and unification of Africa under an all-African socialist government. This objective, when achieved, (according to Pan-Africanist) will bring about the freedom of all peoples of African descent world-wide and at the same time make a monumental contribution to the world socialist movement. All political objectives require an ideology that encompasses the guiding principles aimed at the achievement of the political objective. Nkrumaism is an ideology which is designed to pave the political path toward the liberation of African peoples world-wide from the historic exploitation they have suffered as a result of European imperialism.
What is Nkrumaism and how does it relate to other ideologies such as Liberalism, Conservatism and Marxism-Leninism? In this article I will examine the history of Nkrumaism and its influence on the pan-African and international horizons.
Nkrumaism did not begin with the political activities of Kwame Nkrumah; the foundation of this ideology has been developing since the late 19th and early 20th century. The need for an international organization of peoples of African descent was realized by a number of Africa intellectuals who were mostly born in the western hemisphere. These intellectuals realized that the main source of the powerlessness among African peoples derived from the fact that the Africans were dispersed from their national home and their historic land base Africa was colonised by European imperialism.
In 1900 the first Pan-African Conference was held in London with the driving force behind the event being a Trinidadian-born barrister by the name of Henry Sylvester Williams. The conference assembled between July 23-25. There were thirty delegates, most of them from America and the West Indies. The aim and purposes of the conference were drawn up and distributed prior to the event and read as follows:
(1) to act as a forum of protest against the aggression of white colonisers;
(2) to appeal to the missionary and abolitionist tradition of the British people to protect Africans from the depredations of empire builders;
(3) to bring people of African descent throughout the world into closer touch with each other and to establish more friendly relations between the Caucasian and African races;
(4) to start a movement looking forward to the security of all African races living in civilised countries their full rights and to promote their business interests.
It is evident that self-government was not embodied in the above aims of the 1900 Pan-African Conference in London, however, the bringing together of this group of Africans from various geographical locations was a significant milestone in the movement towards justice, equality, freedom and independence.
After the meeting in London in 1900 there was a series of Pan-African Congresses held under the direction of WEB DuBois. The first of these congresses was held in Paris in 1919 immediately following the conclusion of World War I.
In Dr. DuBois' book entitled "The World and Africa" (1965), he recalls his involvement in the early phase of the Pan-African movement:
"My own study had for a long time turned toward Africa. I planned a series of charts in 1900 for the Paris Exposition, which gained a grand prize. I attended a Pan-African conference in London and was made secretary of the meeting and drafted its resolutions.
"In 1911 the Ethical Cultural Societies of the World called a Race Congress in London and made Felix Adler and me secretaries for America. In 1915 I published my first book on African history and there was much interest and discussion. In 1919, I planned a Pan-African Congress, but got little support. Blaise Diagne of Senegal, whose volunteers had saved France from the first onslaught of the Germans in World War I, induced Clemenceau to allow the Congress despite opposition of the United States and Britain. It was a small meeting, but it aroused a West African Congress the next year which was the beginning of independence of Ghana and Nigeria.
"In 1921 I called a second Pan-African Congress to meet in London, Paris and Brussels. This proved a large and influential meeting with delegates from the whole Negro world. The wide publicity it gained led to the organization of Congresses in many parts of Africa by the natives. Our attempt to form a permanent organization located in Paris was betrayed but I succeeded in assembling a small meeting in London and Lisbon in 1923. I tried a fourth congress in Tunis but France forbade it. At last in 1927, I called the fourth Pan-African Congress in New York. It was fairly well attended by American Negroes but few Africans. Then the Second World War approached and the work was interrupted.
"Meanwhile methods changed and ideas expanded. Africans themselves began to demand more voice in colonial governments and the Second World War had made their cooperation so necessary to Europe that at the end actual and unexpected freedom for African colonies was in sight."
The most significant force in the early phase of the Pan-African movement was Marcus Garvey, who was born in Jamaica. Garvey founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) also called the African Communities League in 1914. This organization became the largest international African organization that has ever existed up until this day. The UNIA had a membership of 6,000,000 Africans from various parts of the world where African peoples resided. The UNIA had chapters in many of the Caribbean islands such as Trinidad, Jamaica, the Virgin Islands, Costa Rica, etc. In addition, there were many UNIA chapters in the United States, both in urban and rural areas. The UNIA also had chapters in several African territories that were under the yoke of European imperialism.
Garvey's movement had a tremendous impact on African peoples around the world. The movement's main propaganda tool was its newspaper entitled the "Negro World." This newspaper printed in three languages (Spanish, French and English). This publication carried news of various political, economic and cultural issues that affected Africans on the continent and throughout the Diaspora. The main slogan of the UNIA was "Africa for the Africans, Those at Home and Abroad." Garvey's program was aimed at organizing peoples of African descent around the world to struggle against European imperialism in Africa and to establish a "United States of Africa" free and independent of foreign exploitation and domination.
During the height of the UNIA's organizing efforts, Garvey was indicted and convicted on charges of using the mail service to defraud the public. The circumstances around this case caused many heated arguments and debates among the contending political factions within the African community in America. Garvey was convicted on bogus and ludicrous grounds and deported from the United States in 1925.
Despite Garvey's removal from the American scene, his organizing efforts and political propaganda had made an indelible impression on the collective consciousness of peoples of African descent around the world.
Kwame Nkrumah was born into the Nzima ethnic group located inside the West African country of Ghana in 1909 (then known as the Gold Coast). Nkrumah attended a Catholic missionary school in Ghana and later attended Achimota College.
After Nkrumah completed his academic studies at Achimota College, he taught there for a short period of time. In 1935 he obtained a loan from a relative who lived in Nigeria in order to travel to America and further his academic studies. Nkrumah attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania where he obtained two Bachelor of Arts and two Masters of Arts degrees.
During Nkrumah's stay in America, 1935-1945, he became acquainted with the reality of American society by way of his having to work himself through college. He took a great interest in political developments inside of America during this period, and consequently was greatly influenced by many leading figures in America. He describes the impact of his American experience on his political and philosophical development in his autobiography published in March of 1957 at the time of Ghana's independence:
"...I made time to acquaint myself with as many political organizations in the United States as I could. These included the Republicans, the Democrats, the Communists and the Trotskyists. It was in connection with the last movement that I met one of its leading members, Mr. C.L.R. James, and through him I learned how an underground movement worked. I was also in contact with organizations such as The Council on African Affairs, the Committee on Africa, the Committee on War and Peace Aims, the Committee on African Students, the Special Research Council of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, and the Urban League. My aim was to learn the technique of organization. I knew that when I eventually returned to the Gold Coast I was going to be faced with this problem. I knew that whatever the programme for the solution of the colonial question might be, success would depend upon the organization adopted. I concentrated on finding a formula by which the whole colonial question and the problem of imperialism could be solved."
Nkrumah then goes on to write about the intellectual influence of many monumental historical figures:
"I read Hegel, Karl Marx, Engels, Lenin and Mazzine. The writings of these men did much to influence me in my revolutionary ideas and activities, and Karl Marx and Lenin particularly impressed me as I felt sure that their philosophy was capable of solving these problems. But I think that of all the literature that I studied, the book that did more than any other to fire my enthusiasm was the "Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey" published in 1923."
Nkrumah's political development led him back to Ghana in 1947. He returned there after a two year stay in London, England where he helped organize the significant Fifth Pan-African Congress at Manchester while studying at the London School of Economics. The attainment of independence by Ghana in 1957 under the direction of the Convention People's Party headed by Nkrumah placed the struggle for Pan-Africanism on the African continent. Ghana became the centre of two significant gatherings in 1958: the Conference of Independent African States in April and the All-African People's Conference in December.
The political rule of the Convention People's Party lasted from 1951-1966 when Nkrumah was overthrown by a right-wing military coup which was supported by the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). During this period Ghana was the centre and base of liberation movements struggling for the liberation of Africa.
Nkrumah was an uncompromising Pan-Africanist; he stated consistently that the independence of Ghana was meaningless unless it was linked with bringing about the total liberation and unification of the African continent. He also stated that the African revolutionary struggle is a world-wide movement:
"The Black Power movement in the U.S.A. and the struggles of peoples of African descent in the Caribbean, South America and elsewhere, form an integral part of the African politico-military revolutionary struggle. Our victory will be their victory also and the victory of all the revolutionary oppressed and exploited masses of the world who are challenging the capitalist, imperialist and neo-colonialist power structure of reaction and counter-revolution."
The ideological development within the Pan-African movement took a qualitative leap with the advent of Nkrumah and the political movements of African peoples during the 1950s and 1960s. Nkrumah through his writings clearly outlined the developing dimensions of the revolutionary struggle and the role that Africans must play in the modern world.
He illustrates in the book "Class Struggle in Africa," published in 1970, how the ideology prevalent in a society is reflective of the class relationships that exist:
"Ideologies reflect class interest and class consciousness. Liberalism, individualism, elitism and bourgeois 'democracy', which is an illusion, are examples of bourgeois ideology. Fascism, imperialism, colonialism and neo-colonialism are also expressions of bourgeois thinking and of bourgeois political and economic aspirations. On the other hand, socialism and communism are ideologies of the working class, and reflect its aspirations and politico-economic institutions and organizations."
In another chapter in the book "Class Struggle in Africa", Nkrumah outlines the dynamics of the revolutionary struggle that is being waged against the exploitation and colonisation of Africans and all oppressed peoples. He states clearly that only through a complete break with the capitalist mode of production and social relationships can a just system be established that can begin to reconstruct the African continent and liberate Africans and other oppressed peoples everywhere:
"The highest point of political action, when a revolution attains its excellence, is when the proletariat, comprising workers and peasants, under the leadership of a vanguard party the principles and motivations of which are based on scientific socialism, succeeds in overthrowing all other classes.
"The basis of a revolution is created when the organic structure and conditions within a given society have aroused mass consent and mass desire for positive action to change or transform that society. While there is no hard and fast dogma for socialist revolution, because no two sets of historical conditions and circumstances are exactly alike, experience has shown that under conditions of class struggle, socialist revolution is impossible without the use of force. Revolutionary violence is a fundamental law in revolutionary struggles. The privileged will not, unless compelled, surrender power. They may grant reforms, but will not yield an inch when basic pillars of their entrenched positions are threatened. They can only be overthrown by violent revolutionary action."
Nkrumah deals with the race and class factor in the exploitation of African peoples. His analyses lead him to stress the significance of the dynamics of racism and colour prejudice and its relationship to the exploitation of Africa's natural and human resources. The following excerpt explains this situation as Nkrumah viewed it:
"Each historical situation develops its own dynamics. The close links between class and race developed in Africa alongside capitalist exploitation. Slavery, the master-servant relationship and cheap labour were basic to it. The classic example is South Africa, where Africans experience double exploitation, both on the ground of colour and of class. Similar conditions exist in the U.S.A., the Caribbean, in Latin America and other parts of the world where the nature of the development of productive forces has resulted in a racist class structure. In these areas, even shades of colour count, the degree of blackness being a yardstick by which social status is measured."
The development of the international struggle of African peoples has been a key and fundamental part of the world's shift towards an anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist posture. The advent of new independent African states that are constructing a socialist economic system has accelerated the continued liberation of colonised territories in Africa.
However, it is obvious from the history of the 1960s through the conclusion of the 20th century, that these states in Africa can no longer remain autonomous divided regions struggling for economic independence and sovereignty. The validity of Nkrumah's views is more evident today than ever before in Africa's history. This is why the struggle for Pan-Africanism continues.
Ideology provides a systematic set of principles, ideas and objectives which are aimed at influencing and shaping a society's institutions and values. In order for correct objectives to attain primary priority on the agenda of African governments, political organizations and institutions, we must wage a relentless struggle for mass political education among the African workers and farmers internationally.
This was the primary problem in the decline of Nkrumah's regime in Ghana. There was not enough progress made in regard to creating socialist and pan-Africanist values among the key sectors of Ghanaian society. Widespread discontent resulting from the contradictions still embodied within a post-colonial African nation could not be transformed into a constructive economic and political thrust on the part of the nation of Ghana as a whole. What resulted in the February 24, 1966 military and police coup was a total sell-out to western economic interests and the collapse of the revolutionary socialist process initiated under Nkrumah's leadership.
African revolutionaries must learn from these developments in the African historical process and use this knowledge as a guide to building even stronger revolutionary parties and mass movements.
Only the African workers and farmers organized into a revolutionary party can bring genuine socialist reconstruction in Africa. The objective of the revolutionary is to hasten the process of the revolution by working for a free and humane existence for all oppressed peoples.
Abayomi Azikiwe is currently the editor of the Pan-African News Wire.