African leaders have been proclaiming this as the African century—despite Lampedusa, Mali, “Boko haram”, the eternal war in DR Congo, the Egyptian unrest, unemployment amongst our youth from Cape to Cairo, hunger on our continent and AU leaders obsessed with sovereignty and the ICC instead of justice.
This has set me thinking. Was there a moment when an African leader set forth a truly authentic vision for our continent? My answer is “Yes”.
That speech was not Nkrumah’s “MOTION OF DESTINY” in 1956. It was not Mandela’s four-hour defense of the ANC delivered at the Rivonia trial before Justice de Wet in 1964. It was Nkrumah’s speech in Addis Ababa on 24th May 1963, titled, “THE PEOPLE OF AFRICA ARE CRYING FOR UNITY”.
Before discussing the speech, let me state some things for the record, as a Ghanaian.
First, I know Nkrumah was one of the founders, NOT THE FOUNDER OF GHANA.
Second, I believe one-party state was unjustified.
Third, I think the Preventive Detention Act was unconstitutional and that Danquah and others should not have died in prison.
Fourth, I think Nkrumah should not have built statues of himself and I am opposed to all self-adulation.
Fifth, I do not think that a United States of Africa was feasible then or even now. However, I believe that Nkrumah laid out a credible vision for Africa.
This visionary speech was delivered at the meeting of African leaders that led to the formation of the O.A.U.
On independence, he said, “Independence is only the prelude to a new and more involved struggle for the right to conduct our own economic and social affairs; to construct our society according to our aspirations, unhampered by the crushing and humiliating neocolonial controls and interference.” How true.
On our resources, he declared confidently, “The resources are there. It is for us to marshal them in the active service of our people. Unless we do this by our concerted efforts, within the framework of our combined planning, we shall not progress at the tempo demanded by today’s events and the mood of our people. The symptoms of our troubles will grow, and the troubles themselves become chronic.” These were prophetic words. Continuing on our resources, Nkrumah said, “Our continent certainly exceeds all the others in potential hydro-electric power, which some experts assess as 42% of the world’s total. What need is there for us to remain hewers of wood and drawers of water for the industrialized areas of the world? It is said; of course that we have no capital, no industrial skill, no communications and no internal markets, and that we cannot even agree amongst ourselves how best to utilize our resources for our own social needs. Yet all the stock exchanges in the world are pre-occupied with Africa’s gold, diamonds, uranium, platinum, copper and iron ore. OUR CAPITAL FLOWS OUT IN STREAMS TO IRRIGATE THE WHOLE SYSTEM OF WESTERN ECONOMY”.
Why are we this poor half a century after this speech? Why do so many on our continent live without electricity while as Ghanaians would put it, we have “dum-so dum-so”?
On food, Nkrumah said, “Experts have estimated that the Congo basin alone can produce enough food crops to satisfy nearly half the population of the whole world, and here we sit talking about gradualism, talking about step by step. ARE YOU AFRAID TO TACKLE THE BULL BY THE HORN?”
Then in one succinct paragraph, he laid out the blue-print for the future; “WE SHALL ACCUMULATE MACHINERY AND ESTABLISH STEEL WORKS, IRON FOUNDARIES AND FACTORIES; WE SHALL LINK THE VARIOUS STATES WITH COMMUNICATIONS BY LAND, SEA AND AIR. WE SHALL CABLE FROM ONE PLACE TO ANOTHER, PHONE ONE PLACE TO THE OTHER AND ASTOUND THE WORLD WITH OUR HYDRO-ELECTRIC POWER, WE SHALL DRAIN THE MARSHES AND SWAMPS, CLEAR INFESTED AREAS, FEED THE UNDERNOURISHED AND RID OUR PEOPLE OF PARASITES AND DISEASE.” (CAPS MINE)
Despite this clear blue-print, we have done little. Indeed, our leaders have proceeded to mortgage our future to the very people Nkrumah et al struggled to free us from.
Next, he warned of the dangers of disunity, “So many blessings flow from our unity; so many disasters must flow from our disunity.” Since he uttered those words, millions have perished in wars— in Congo, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia and many others. And millions more will perish in the years ahead.
Then he closed on unity, “We meet here today not as Ghanaians, Guineans, Egyptians…….but as Africans.” Alas it was not to be.
In 2002, nearly four decades after Nkrumah’s prediction that the Congo basin could feed half of the world, Africa imported 22 billion USD worth of food and received 1.7 billion USD in food aid, according to Tony Blair’s AFRICA COMMISSION. When Nkrumah spoke to Africa that day, the average income in sub-Saharan Africa was twice that of Asia. By the turn of the century, the income in Sub-Saharan African was less than half that of South-East Asia.
It is clear that no African leader before him grasped Africa’s predicament the way Nkrumah did and no leader since then has articulated such a compelling vision.
What is the way forward?
First, we should make that speech required reading and teaching in every Second-cycle institution and University in Africa AND BY EVERY AFRICAN LEADER. It is a shame that more Africans know about Martin Luther King’s “I HAVE a DREAM” OR Churchill’s “BLOOD, SWEAT AND TEARS” or Shakespeare’s Macbeth than Nkrumah’s, “THE PEOPLE OF AFRICA ARE CRYING FOR UNITY”.
Second, our leaders MUST CHAMPION our interest rather than be the mineral and ransom collectors of foreign countries and institutions. They should stop sounding like IMF employees and sound more like Africans, determined to lift our continent. It would seem, from the AU’s reaction to the ICC that the only crumbs we will reject from the table of the advanced world are justice and accountability.
Third, we should stop our mindless adherence to the bankrupt ideologies of others and address our problems with urgent pragmatism. If the US government can bail out Wall Street and China’s government can support significant private investments around the world while buying US bonds, this is the post-ideological age and we must embrace it.
As Nkrumah put it, “We face neither east nor west, we face forwards.” Too often, we seem to be facing backwards.
Let us build Africa—together.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy