Dr. Kwame Nkrumah (A Pan African Perspective)
Dr. John Henrik Clarke was fond of saying that “Marcus Garvey was ahead of his time in the 1920s and, if he were alive today, he would still be ahead of his time!” The same can be said of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, the “Great Redeemer”. Nkrumah was ahead of his time in the 1950s & 60s and if he were alive today, he would still be ahead of his time. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was, without a doubt, the greatest Pan Africanist living in the 2nd half of the 20th Century. The strongest single influence on his thinking was the Pan African philosophy of Marcus Garvey. In fact in his autobiography, first published in 1957 on the occasion of Ghana’s independence, Nkrumah writes: “…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.”1 Nhrumah institutionalized the use of Garvey’s “Black Star” on the flag of Ghana and in naming its nation’s first commercial fleet.
Along this same line, near the end of his life, in a letter to a friend dated June 3, 1968, Nkrumah took issue with W.E.B. Dubois for not supporting Garvey, even though he had invited him to Ghana and Dubois had died in his arms on the eve of the March on Washington, August 27, 1963. To quote Dr. Nkrumah’s letter directly “There are a lot of things DuBois did which have put a brake to the revolving machine of the African Revolution.” He then went on to write, “If Dr. DuBois had supported Marcus Garvey, the course of African-American history might be different now.”2
But the spirit, passion, motivating thrust, ideological foundation and Pan African vision of Kwame Nkrumah is best summed up in two of his most famous and consequential quotations specifically: “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked-up with the total liberation of the African Continent” and “This is the decade of African independence. Forward then to independence. Independence Now! Tomorrow, the United States of Africa”.Nkrumah spoke these prophetic words on the occasion on Ghana’s independence in 1957 and at the All African Peoples Conference in the following year (1958), respectively. The latter was in keeping with the sentiments expressed in Marcus Garvey’s poem “Hail, the United States of Africa!” that was written, thirty years earlier, in 1927.3
However, it not so much what he said, it’s what he did. Black people throughout the world are indebted to Dr. Nkrumah’s Pan African leadership on four specific occasions that have secured his legacy of greatness in 20th Century African history. These four pivotal events are as follows:
1. The Fifth Pan African Congress in 1945;
2. The independence of Ghana in 1957;
3. The All-African Peoples Conference in 1958; and
4. The founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963.
Nkrumah was a prime mover of the 5th Pan African Congress that took place in Manchester, England at the conclusion of World War II, in 1945. Nkrumah organized the Conference, and did the heavy lifting, with his friend the Trinidadian Pan Africanist George Padmore who served with him as conference’s joint-secretary and Jomo Kenyatta. Unlike the four previous Congresses, that are now rightfully on the ash heap of irrelevant history, the Fifth PAC was very significant because it included many indigenous leaders from the African Continent, such as Nkrumah from the Gold Coast/Ghana; Jomo Kenyatta from Kenya; Nnambi Azikiwe and Jaja Wachuku from Nigeria; and Hastings Banda from Malawi all of whom were destined to provide “feet on the ground” leadership in the struggle for independence of their respective countries in the following decade. The theme of the meeting was “African for the Africans”, the cry that had been popularized by the Garvey Movement. Though Garvey had passed away five years earlier, in June of 1940, the Congress of 1945 was in part to pay tribute to him4 . Both Amy Ashwood and Amy Jacques Garvey were involved in planning the event. . The last living delegate to the 1945 Fifth PAC, Dudley Thompson, the prominent Jamaican barrister and close associate of Pan Africanist Kwame Nhrumah, George Padmore and Jomo Kenyatta, recently passed and joined those illustrious African ancestors on January 20, 2012. The most significant resolution to emerge from the 1945 conference’s deliberations was that “the only way to defeat colonialism was for the participants to return to their respective countries and organize the masses of people in support of the struggle for independence”
Kwame Nkrumah did just that and on March 6, 1957 Ghana became the first Black Country in Africa, in the 20th century, to achieve political independence from European colonialism. Ghana’s independence celebration was “the place in the to be” and was well attended by many African-American leaders including Dr. Ralph Bunche, A. Philip Randolph, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and, fresh from bus boycott victory in Montgomery Alabama just a few months earlier, a young 28 year old Baptist preacher going by the name of Martin Luther King, Jr. Other Black celebrities from the Western Hemisphere, included, but were not limited to, Congressman Charles Diggs from Detroit, Mrs. Louie Armstrong representing her husband who was ill but had met Nkrumah when he visited the Gold Coast colony a year earlier, John Johnson founder and publisher of Ebony/Jet, Trinidadian Pan Africanists C. L. R James & George Padmore, future Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley and college presidents Mordecai Johnson of Howard University and Horace Mann Bond from Nkrumah’s alma mata, Lincoln University, who was also the father of a teenager named Julian who was destined to become a SNCC activist and controversial Georgia state legislator in the 1960s and the president of the National Board of the NAACP in the first decade of the 21st century. On that day, Prime Minister Nkrumah put Ghana’s independence into a Pan African context in his aforementioned remarks establishing its linkage “with the total liberation of the African Continent.”
In December of the following year (1958), Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah convened the All-African Peoples Conference. This Conference for the first time brought together 62 political organizations representing all of the anti-colonial forces and freedom fighters on the African continent. African-American Congressman Charles Diggs from Detroit was also present. The charismatic 28 year old Pan Africanist Tom Mboya from Kenya was elected chairman of the conference. It was at this conference that Nkrumah proclaimed to the delegates: “…tomorrow the United States of Africa!” The All-African Peoples Conference met again in early 1961..
Two years later, in May 1963, thirty-two independent African states gathered in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the founding conference of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Nkrumah was primary advocate for this meeting, but was somewhat disappointed because his hope was that a continental government would emerge from the conference, not another organization. This becomes crystal clear in reading just a few of the words from his historic address to the gathering: “Your Excellencies, when the first Congress of the United States met, many years ago in Philadelphia, one of the delegates sounded the first call of unity by declaring that they had met in a state of merger. In other words, they were in Philadelphia not as Virginians or Pennsylvanians but simply as Americans. (Applause.) This reference to themselves as Americans was in those days a new and strange experience. But, may I dare to assert, Your Excellencies, equal on this occasion, that we meet here today not as Ghanaians, or Guineans, Egyptians, Algerians, Liberians, Congolese, or Nigerians but as Africans. (Applause.) Africans united in our resolve, to remain here until we have agreed on the basic principles of a new compact of unity amongst ourselves, which guarantees for ourselves and our future, a new arrangement for a Continental Governmentt…..Africa must Unite or perish”.
From America, Malcolm X observed the creation of the OAU with a keen eye. The next year (July 1964) Malcolm made it his business to be in Africa for the 2nd summit of the Organization of African Unity. It was at this meeting that he submitted his famous memorandum in which he advised the more than 32 African head-of states assembled that “African problems are our problems and our problems are African problems”. He also modeled his new human rights organization, the Organization of African American Unity (OAAU) after the OAU. During a 1964 stopover in Ghana, Malcolm described Nkrumah’s Ghana as “the very fountainhead of Pan Africanism” and the first branch of his OAAU outside of the United States was established with Black Expatriates in Ghana5 .
Two years before his passing, in 1999, African Elder Statesmen Julius Nyerere, who had been the founding father of Tanzania, in 1964, and a Pan African friend of Nkrumah, challenged the next generation of African leaders to “Pick-up the touch and work for unity with the firm conviction that without Unity there is no future for Africa”. Ninety-nine years ago, in 1914, Marcus Garvey co-founded the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League (UNIA-ACL) with his first wife Amy Ashford. Within six years the UNIA-ACL had grown into the largest global Pan African organization in history with a membership of more than 4 million people in 1,100 divisions in 40 countries. At a month-long International Convention of African People in August 1920, twenty-five thousand (25,000) delegates dealt with all issues, domestic, national and global, facing Black people, crafted a Black Bill of Rights, created an African Universal Flag with the colors Red, Black and Green and elected a provisional president of Africa. We can do no less.
The best way for us to “pick up the torch” and honor the legacy of Dr. Nkrumah is to use the 1914-1920 timeline set by Garvey, the one who “fired up” his Pan African enthusiasm, as a guide and deadline for comparable achievements during the same period in this century i.e., 2014-2020. In the year 2020, eighteen African states will be celebrating the 60th Anniversary of their independence. Another sixteen will have already celebrated their 50th Anniversary during the period covered by the years 2011-2019. In the month of August 2020 alone, the largest cluster of the eighteen African states reaching their 60th Anniversary that year (8 of 18) will reach this mark. This month also marks the 100th Anniversary of the popular election of Marcus Garvey as the first provisional president of Africa. “The Struggle Continues”. Our most immediate challenge is to build strong global Pan African Movement, which will galvanize African people, “at Home and Abroad”, to pool their intellectual and material resources worldwide and establish the United Pan African Nation (UPAN) as a strong political entity by 2020. This is the business of all of us. The words of wisdom and the Pan African vision of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah still stand: “All people of African descent…..are Africans….and belong to the African Nation.”
Edward H. Brown, Jr. (MK-QA)
Author: “The New Pan Africanism 2020”
Web site: www.tnpa2020-upan.net
1. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana-The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah (New York: International Publishers, 1971. First published 1957) page 45
2. Kwame Nkrumah, The Conakry Years-His Life and Letters- Complied by June Milne (London: Panaf, an imprint of Zed Press Ltd. First published 1990) page 238
3. Tony Martin (Editor), The Poetical Works of Marcus Garvey (Dover, Massachusetts: The Majority Press, 1983) pages 23-24.
4. Cheikh Anta Diop, Civilization or Barbarism- An Authentic Anthropology (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Lawrence Hill Books, 1991) xiv
5. Edward Brown, Jr., The “New“ Pan–Africanism 2020 (Denver, Colorado: Outskirts Press, Inc., 2012 page 31