• Tuesday, May 28, 2024
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Self-reparation for African Power: Pan-Africanism and Black Consciousness (2)

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Onwuchekwa Jemie

The first key aspect of Pan-Africanism that needs attention is the doctrine of Continentalism.
1. Continentalism:The brand of Pan-Africanism which Nkrumah launched in 1958 with his First Confer ence of Independent African States (CIAS) was dedicated to the political unification of all the countries on the African continent, regardless of race or creed or-surprisingly-anti-black behavior. Hence, for instance, Nkrumah, quite amazingly, saw fit to invite to that ostensibly Pan-Africanist, and implicitly anti-colonial, conference the Apartheid South African government of Premier Verwoerd! In his subsequent campaign for what became the OAU and now the AU, Nkrumah relentlessly argued for what may be called Continentalism. He claimed that only by bringing all the countries in Africa under one continental government, could Africans defeat neo-colonialism economically, militarily, diplomatically, etc.
However, in fact, a close look at his arguments shows that they do not validly imply a continental African government. What he actually argues validly is that the countries created by the European conquest and partition of Africa are each too small to defeat neo-colonialism; and that they, therefore, should coalesce into something bigger. But what would be big enough? He does not give any criteria for determining that. He simply asserts, with increasing desperation as time went on and his invalid argument fell on the deaf ears of his OAU peers, that it must be a continent-sized state! He doesn’t consider the possibility that a continent-sized state could be too big or not big enough.
In fact, one of Nkrumah’s funny arguments actually suggests that what would be required to defeat neo-colonialism is a political union, not just of the African continent, but of the entire Third World – a Tri-continental state that would bring all of Africa, Asia and Latin America under one government. He said:
“Thus far, all the methods of neo-colonialism have pointed in one direction, the ancient, accepted one of all minority ruling classes throughout history – divide and rule. Quite obviously, therefore, unity is the first requisite for destroying neo-colonialism. Primary and basic is the need for an all-union government on the much-divided continent of Africa. [Emphasis added] Along with that, a strengthening of the Afro-Asian Solidarity Organisation and the spirit of Bandung is already underway. To it, we must seek the adherence on an increasingly formal basis of our Latin American brothers.” –[Nkrumah, 1973:335]
On this argument for defeating a global neo-colonialism, why should it be all countries on the African continent that should unite, and not all countries in the Third World? The argument is really for a Union Government of the entire Third World victims of neo-colonialist divide and rule, a Tri-continental Union Government for all the ex-colonial countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America! On the other hand it would apply equally to a Union Government of West Africa, or East Africa or Southern Africa, or of Africa and the Arab World. Take your pick. Like the other arguments Nkrumah put forward, it contains no specific reasons why the union should be continental in scope and nothing less. Please note that Nkrumah asserts, but doesn’t say why “an all-union government” of the African continent is a “primary and basic need”.

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Cheikh Anta Diop, another passionate advocate for African continental unification, was no better than Nkrumah at specifying why exactly the admittedly larger state required for Africa’s development must encompass the entire continent.
When an advocate consistently begs the question, suspicion is aroused that his overt arguments are mere mystifications for something held on other, undisclosed, grounds. The real reasons might be some secret fear or desire. In the case of Nkrumah and Diop, we get a peek at their hidden motive for Continentalism when Diop said, in a 1976 interview:
“If we black Africans take steps to include North African Arabs into a continental federation and the latter prefer instead to elaborate organic political ties with Arabs of Asia, this would be tantamount to a rebuff. If North African states, rather than looking to black Africa in a natural partnership, preferred a federation with Asian Arabs extending to the Persian Gulf, then we would be entirely justified to organize ourselves in an exclusively sub-Saharan federation. In such an eventuality, no one could accuse sub-Saharan Africans of being guilty of exclusivism, [emphasis added] since their appeals to the North would have been refused.” [Moore, 1986: 261]
This is a clue that the unargued and illogical conclusion, that we need an African continental state, was driven by fear of being accused of “(racial) exclusivism”. In other words, in the integrationist atmosphere of the 1950s and 1960s, Pan-Africanists feared that if they advocated a union of sub-Sahara countries, or any smaller grouping that would include only blacks, they would be accused of racial exclusivism, i.e. segregation/”black racism”. Continentalism was, therefore, something believed without good reason, but out of fear-in other words, a superstition!
With this clue from Diop, we can now attempt to diagnose the roots of Nkrumah’s passion for an illogical Continentalism.

Nkrumah: the roots of his continentalist superstition:
As I pointed out above, Nkrumah’s argument contains no specific reasons why his proposed Union Government must be continental in scope. This lack of Africa-specificity was typical of his anti-colonial advocacy. For example, his pamphlet “Towards Colonial Freedom”, which was written in 1942 and published in 1947, closed with the exhortation: “PEOPLES OF THE COLONIES, UNITE; The working men of all countries are behind you.” [Nkrumah, 1973:41] In the same vein, the “Declaration to the Colonial Peoples of the World”, a resolution which he wrote, and which was adopted at the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester, also ended, not with the exhortation “Africans/Blacks of the World-Unite!” which would have been appropriate, but with “COLONIAL AND SUBJECT PEOPLES OF THE WORLD – UNITE”. [Nkrumah, 1973:44]
This exhortation seems more appropriate in a resolution addressed to the colonial and subject people’s conference that took place in London the week before the Manchester 5th PAC! Perhaps Nkrumah was confused about the audience he was addressing.
Nkrumah himself seems to have been vaguely aware that his anti-colonial theses were usually not for Africa specifically; for, in commenting, after Ghana’s independence, on “Towards Colonial Freedom” Nkrumah himself said, “Although I have concentrated on colonial Africa, the thesis of the pamphlet applies to colonial areas everywhere.” [Nkrumah, 1973:16 fn]
Why, we may wonder, was he shy of focusing on the specific Ghanaian/Black African situation for its own sake rather than merely using the African situation as a convenience in arguing for the global anti-colonial cause?
In this eccentric procedure, Nkrumah was unlike Biko whose focus was consistently on black South Africa, his immediate and natural constituency; and also quite unlike Cabral for whom the reality in Guinea was always the focus and who, though no less a Third World internationalist than Nkrumah, insisted that “our own reality is at the centre of a complex reality, but it is the former that most concerns us.” [Cabral, 1980:47] Was Nkrumah perhaps a racial integrationist who was emotionally uncomfortable about being too much identified with his natural, Black African constituency? And, if so, why?
In the document known as THE CIRCLE, which he drew up soon after the Manchester 5th PAC, Nkrumah advocated creating and maintaining a “Union of African Socialist Republics.” [Nkrumah, 1973:48] These exhortations from the 1940s suggest that at that time Nkrumah was, at heart, a global anti-colonialist rather than a Pan-Africanist specifically; in fact, that he was a socialist internationalist, probably a Trotskyite, who found himself at some point obliged to focus on promoting socialism, first in one country, Ghana, and thereafter advocating it for one continent, Africa, pending any opportunity that would release him from the “parochialism” of one country or continent, and let him finally become an unconstrained global socialist internationalist.
Was Nkrumah, then, basically a universalistic socialist missionary who, as the saying goes, “happened to be black” and who went home to Ghana/Africa to convert his people to socialism? Or was he primarily an African liberationist for whom socialism was a useful ideological tool? This should be investigated as the finding could throw unexpected light on his primary identification, constituency and preoccupations, as well as on aspects of his behavior that have had adverse consequences for Africans.
His socialist internationalism aside, there is still to be considered the added factor of Nkrumah’s commitment to “non-racialism”. That was evident in his CPP constitution (1949). Though Ghana is monoracial, his CPP constitution lists among its aims “abolishing imperialism, colonialism, racialism, tribalism and all forms of national and racial oppression and economic inequality among nations, races and peoples . . .” [Nkrumah, 1973:59]
Could Nkrumah’s “non-racialism”-probably imbibed from the 1930s American socialist milieu with its slogan “Black and white unite and fight!”-have reinforced his devotion to a global, multi-racial anti-colonialism, and helped blind him to any union in Africa that, by excluding Arabs, would be open to the accusation of racial exclusivism? Any black anti-colonialist intimidated by the scarecrow of “racial exclusivism/black racism” into evading the political reality of black skin in a white supremacist world, would not consider, let alone be enthusiastic about, a blacks-only sub-Sahara union, even if that would be enough to defeat neo-colonialism in Africa!
If this diagnosis is correct, we owe Nkrumah’s advocacy of the continentalist superstition to a combination of the socialist internationalism and the non-racialism he had imbibed from his liberal and socialist mentors in the imperialist world.