“If Africa does not set forth on the path to socialism, it will fall back instead of advancing.”
- Kwame Nkrumah
President Kwame Nkrumah is still the only African head of state to have elaborated a coherent theory of African unity based on the practical realities of African society rather than on feelings and communiqués.
His theory asserts that African unity must necessarily take the form of a continent-wide political unification. There will have to be a Continental Government charged with the management of all essential functions, notably the economy, defense, and foreign affairs.
The thesis is outlined in his book ‘Africa Must Unite’, first published just before the May 1963 Addis Ababa Conference which set up the O.A.U. On 11 November 1963. He spelled out his position to the Pan-African Conference of Journalists:
“If Africa does not set forth on the path to socialism, it will fall back instead of advancing. With any other system, we will at best make only very slow progress. Our people may then become impatient. They want to see progress in action, and socialism is the only means to achieve it quickly.”
In which case, one is entitled to ask why such a Pan-African program needed to secure the participation of patently neo-colonialist African governments.
In other words, why was this program proposed to African heads of state rather than to the African people themselves, who could then have put it into practice? After all, leaders like Houphouet-Boigny had openly exposed themselves as demagogues ever since 1946 and continued to do so in 1960-61.
The question is an important one, in that it allows us to pinpoint at least some of the causes underlying the failure of Kwame Nkrumah’s political strategy, notably in Pan-African affairs, and the more general failure of revolutionary Pan-Africanism throughout the 1960s.
First, let us consider the positions adopted at the time by the various revolutionary groups when faced with this problem. Even today, some, Cameroonian opportunists find a variety of equally fallacious pretexts for carrying on as if the U.P.C. had never said anything about the O.A.U., even before it was set up.
In May 1962, a Conference of African Nationalist Organizations was held in Accra, Ghana. The U.P.C. delegation presented a declaration which the Party subsequently published as a 16-page pamphlet entitled ‘Unite Africaine ou Neo-Colonialisme’ (and dated 30 May 1962, exactly one year before the O A.U. was set up in Addis Ababa).
The pamphlet notably points out that:
“In Africa, the imperialists now intend to bring about a union between the Africa of the Casablanca Charter and reformist Africa comprising the U.A.M. and the Monrovia Group states. Their hope is that their lackeys within such a body will enable them to orient the whole union towards acceptance of subordination and neo-colonialist oppression…. Imperialism’s lackeys will enter the Union with the aim of turning it into a counter-revolutionary organization, (p. 10)”
The road to genuine African unity does not pass through a fusion of the Brazzaville, Monrovia, Lagos and Casablanca groups of states. Such a fusion would only lead to confusion from which neo-colonialism and imperialism would be the sole beneficiaries.
African leaders would find themselves being pushed into relegating the fundamental problem - the struggle against neo-colonialism- into the background.
This was the position of the U.P.C. before the birth of the O.A.U. In this period, two fundamentally divergent conceptions met in open conflict. One of these was clearly reactionary and firmly opposed to any political unification of Africa along the lines which had been put forward even before independence by the Pan-African Conferences.
The supporters of this conception stood for an ‘Africa of Nations’, but, as good demagogues, declared themselves ‘willing to co-operate’ provided their conditions were met.
In practice, they were demanding that African revolutionaries renege on any commitment to revolutionary Pan-Africanism. The 1958 British communiqué issued in Paris had suggested something very similar.
The second conception based itself on the need for revolution and for the political unification of the African continent. Only such unification would enable Africa to overcome its many pressing problems and prepare the ground for rapid economic development.
But even among the advocates of this thesis, there were those who thought unification could be achieved diplomatically through the offices of a Continental Union of Heads of Independent States; others, including our Party, believed that only the revolutionary action of the African masses could lead to a solution.
The U.P.C. argued at the time that any form of unity with the local reactionaries who had taken power in countries still dominated by the imperialists would be disastrous since these reactionaries were actually opposed to any genuine form of African unity, (political unity).
Any such fake unity would directly benefit imperialism and neo-colonialism by forcing all African governments, including the progressive ones, to give up the struggle against neo-colonialism.
Although the contrast between the two positions could not have been starker, some people managed to procrastinate right up to the real moment of choice, when they opted decisively for a reaction.
Just like Kwame Nkurumah predicted in 1965, Neo-Colonialism is indeed the last stage of Imperialism; and now the Colonial Masters are back! What next?
Written with inputs from Elenga M’buyinga
Header Image Credit: Pambazuka News