April 27 marked the fortieth anniversary of the passing of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the founder of modern-day Ghana and a leading theoretician of the post-World War II national liberation movement for unity and socialism. Nkrumah’s legacy is still very much a part of the ongoing efforts of the peoples of Africa and the world who seek genuine freedom from colonialism, neo-colonialism and imperialism.
Born in the western region of the Gold Coast (later renamed Ghana in 1957) on September 21, 1909, Nkrumah grew up under the colonial system established by the British. The people of the Gold Coast had fought western domination from the period of the Atlantic Slave Trade through the early 20th century when Queen Ya Asantewaa of the Ashanti people led an armed resistance campaign to halt British encroachment into their territories.
After being educated through primary and secondary school as well as teacher training college in the Gold Coast, Nkrumah left Africa to attend the Historically Black College of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. It was his experience at Lincoln and the University of Pennsylvania between 1935-1945 that helped to shape his outlook on African nationalism and anti-imperialism.
While in the United States during the Great Depression and World War II, Nkrumah was influenced by some of the leading figures and organizations of the nationalist and left movements. These groups included the African Students Association, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) founded by Marcus Garvey, the Council on African Affairs headed then by W.E.B. DuBois and Dr. William Alpheus Hunton, and C.L.R. James of the Trotskyist movement, among others.
Nkrumah spoke in various African American churches and interacted with the masses of people who he perceived as still being connected with their ancestral cultures. While in the U.S., he was forced to work for a living and earn his tuition from menial employment and part-time teaching.
In 1945, Nkrumah traveled to England where he immediately began working towards the organization of the Fifth Pan-African Congress alongside George Padmore, a former member of the Communist International. The Congress was held in the city of Manchester that October and proved to be the most successful gathering of the Pan-African movement since the 1920s.
A Declaration to the Colonial Peoples of the World was drafted by Nkrumah, Padmore and DuBois and approved by the more than 200 delegates. The document read in part that “The Fifth Pan-African Congress calls on intellectuals and professional classes of the Colonies to awaken to their responsibilities.” (Africa Must Unite, Nkrumah, 1963, p. 134))
The Declaration continues noting that “The long, long, night is over. By fighting for trade union rights, the right to form co-operatives, freedom of the press, assembly, demonstration and strike, freedom to print and read the literature which is necessary for the education of the masses, you will be using the only means by which your liberties will be won and maintained. Today there is only one road to effective action-the organization of the masses.”
The Struggle for Genuine Independence, Unity and Socialism
By late 1947 Nkrumah had returned to the Gold Coast at the invitation of the moderate United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) which had retained him as an organizer. He, along with other comrades, would build the Committee on Youth Organization (CYO) as the militant and worker-oriented wing of the movement.
However, by June 1949, the CYO was frustrated with the slow pace of the UGCC and the youth and workers demanded that Nkrumah form a new organization that became known as the Convention People’s Party (CPP). The CPP was a mass organization from its inception and was rooted among the workers, women and youth.
In 1950, the CPP organized a general strike demanding independence now. As a result Nkrumah was thrown into prison where he would languish for over a year.
Nonetheless, the CPP continued to organize and through a British-controlled reform election in 1951, won the overwhelming support of the masses. Nkrumah was immediately released from prison and put in charge of a transitional government that led the country to full independence on March 6, 1957.
Nkrumah believed that the independence of Ghana would be meaningless if it was not connected with the total liberation and unity of Africa. In December 1958, he along with George Padmore, then his chief advisor on African affairs, would organize the All-African People’s Conference (AAPC) in the Ghana capital of Accra.
The meeting attracted 62 nationalist organizations from throughout Africa and the Diaspora. Figures such as Patrice Lumumba, Shirley Graham DuBois and Frantz Fanon were in attendance.
By 1960 Ghana would become a republic and later embarked upon a socialist orientation aimed the genuine liberation of the country. An alliance was formed with other progressive states in Guinea, Mali, Congo and Algeria (which gained independence in 1962).
Women in Ghana were guaranteed seats within the national assembly and provided scholarships for primary, secondary and higher education. The National Council of Ghana Women was an important base within the CPP government and hosted the first All-African Women’s Conference in 1960.
In 1962 a program calling for the construction of a socialist economy was adopted by the party and government. Closer ties were built with the Soviet Union, China and Cuba and the country became a base of operations for national liberation and resistance movements from throughout Africa and the world.
Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism
Despite these achievements, Ghana and the other progressive African states were targeted for liquidation by the imperialists. The independence of Congo was hijacked by the former colonial power of Belgium and the U.S. in 1960-61.
The progressive African states worked to avoid political isolation from more moderate governments which were allied with the U.S., Britain and France. As the class struggle intensified inside various African societies, the imperialists sponsored military and police coups in order to stifle and reverse the movement towards revolutionary pan-Africanism and socialism.
Nkrumah at the time of the formation of the continental Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963 wrote that “The greatest danger at present facing Africa is neo-colonialism and its major instrument, balkanization..As the nationalist struggle deepens in the colonial territories and independence appears on the horizon, the imperialist powers, fishing in the muddy waters of communalism, tribalism and sectional interests, endeavor to create fissions in the national front, in order to achieve fragmentation.” (Africa Must Unite, p. 173)
The CPP government would fall victim to this process on February 24, 1966 when Nkrumah was out of the country on a mission to Hanoi aimed at ending the U.S. war against Vietnam. Reactionary elements within the military and the police overthrew the Ghana state with the assistance of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the State Department.
Nkrumah re-located in Guinea and continued to write and organize for the next phase of the African Revolution. By 1971 Nkrumah became ill and traveled to Romania to seek medical treatment where he died on April 27, 1972.
Africa Today: Economic Crisis and Militarism
The lessons of the early phase of the African revolutionary struggle are relevant to the developments of the last decade. Nkrumah had identified U.S. imperialism as the main enemy of the African Revolution in his book entitled Neo-Colonialism: The Last State of Imperialism published in 1965.
Judging from events in Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Egypt and other countries, his assessments from nearly five decades ago have stood the test of time. Today the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) is involved in various military operations on the continent including the overthrow of the government of Libya and the ongoing efforts to destabilize and contain the people of Somalia.
With the continuing dependence of African states on the capitalist economic relations fostered by imperialism, the continent remained extremely underdeveloped even though it is abundant in oil and other natural resources. In order for Africa to break the chains of poverty and stagnation a revolution against class domination and imperialism must be waged with vigor.
As Nkrumah stressed in his book “Class Struggle in Africa” published in 1970, that “The total liberation and unification of Africa under an All-African socialist government must be the primary objective of all Black revolutionaries throughout the world. It is an objective which, when achieved, will bring about the fulfillment of the aspirations of African and people of African descent everywhere.”
This quote continues by illustrating that, “It will at the same time advance the triumph of the international socialist revolution, and the onward progress towards world communism, under which, every society is ordered on the principle of-from each according to his (and her) ability, to each according to his (and her) needs. (p. 88)
By Abayomi Azikiwe
(The writer is the Editor of Pan-African News Wire and the article is distribited by the Pan African Research and Documentation Project)
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