Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972) was the leader of Ghana, the formerBritish colony of the Gold Coast and the first of the Europeancolonies in Africa to gain independence with majority rule. Untilhe was deposed by a coup d'état in 1966, he was a majorspokeman for modern Africa.
For centuries, Europeans dominated the African continent. Thewhite man arrogated to himself the right to rule and to be obeyedby the non-white; his mission, he claimed, was to "civilise"Africa. Under this cloak, the Europeans robbed the continent ofvast riches and inflicted unimaginable suffering on the Africanpeople.
All this makes a sad story, but now we must be prepared to burythe past with its unpleasant memories and look to the future.All we ask of the former colonial powers is their goodwill andco-operation to remedy past mistakes and injustices and to grantindependence to the colonies in Africa .
It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems,and that this can only be found in African unity. Divided we areweak; united, Africa could become one of the greatest forces forgood in the world.
Although most Africans are poor, our continent is potentiallyextremely rich. Our mineral resources, which are being exploitedwith foreign capital only to enrich foreign investors, range fromgold and diamonds to uranium and petroleum. Our forests containsome of the finest woods to be grown anywhere. Our cash cropsinclude cocoa, coffee, rubber, tobacco and cotton. As for power,which is an important factor in any economic development, Africacontains over 40% of the potential water power of the world, ascompared with about 10% in Europe and 13% in North America. Yetso far, less than 1% has been developed. This is one of the reasonswhy we have in Africa the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty,and scarcity in the midst of abundance.
Never before have a people had within their grasp so great anopportunity for developing a continent endowed with so much wealth.Individually, the independent states of Africa, some of them potentiallyrich, others poor, can do little for their people. Together, bymutual help, they can achieve much. But the economic developmentof the continent must be planned and pursued as a whole. A looseconfederation designed only for economic co-operation would notprovide the necessary unity of purpose. Only a strong politicalunion can bring about full and effective development of our naturalresources for the benefit of our people.
The political situation in Africa today is heartening and at thesame time disturbing. It is heartening to see so many new flagshoisted in place of the old; it is disturbing to see so many countriesof varying sizes and at different levels of development, weakand, in some cases, almost helpless. If this terrible state offragmentation is allowed to continue it may well be disastrousfor us all.
There are at present some 28 states in Africa, excluding the Unionof South Africa, and those countries not yet free. No less thannine of these states have a population of less than three million.Can we seriously believe that the colonial powers meant thesecountries to be independent, viable states? The example of SouthAmerica, which has as much wealth, if not more than North America,and yet remains weak and dependent on outside interests, is onewhich every African would do well to study.
Critics of African unity often refer to the wide differences inculture, language and ideas in various parts of Africa. This istrue, but the essential fact remains that we are all Africans,and have a common interest in the independence of Africa. Thedifficulties presented by questions of language, culture and differentpolitical systems are not insuperable. If the need for politicalunion is agreed by us all, then the will to create it is born;and where there's a will there's a way.
The present leaders of Africa have already shown a remarkablewillingness to consult and seek advice among themselves. Africanshave, indeed, begun to think continentally. They realise thatthey have much in common, both in their past history, in theirpresent problems and in their future hopes. To suggest that thetime is not yet ripe for considering a political union of Africais to evade the facts and ignore realities in Africa today.
The greatest contribution that Africa can make to the peace ofthe world is to avoid all the dangers inherent in disunity, bycreating a political union which will also by its success, standas an example to a divided world. A Union of African states willproject more effectively the African personality. It will commandrespect from a world that has regard only for size and influence.The scant attention paid to African opposition to the French atomictests in the Sahara, and the ignominious spectacle of the U.N.in the Congo quibbling about constitutional niceties while theRepublic was tottering into anarchy, are evidence of the callousdisregard of African Independence by the Great Powers.
We have to prove that greatness is not to be measured in stockpilesof atom bombs. I believe strongly and sincerely that with thedeep-rooted wisdom and dignity, the innate respect for human lives,the intense humanity that is our heritage, the African race, unitedunder one federal government, will emerge not as just anotherworld bloc to flaunt its wealth and strength, but as a Great Powerwhose greatness is indestructible because it is built not on fear,envy and suspicion, nor won at the expense of others, but foundedon hope, trust, friendship and directed to the good of all mankind.
The emergence of such a mighty stabilising force in this strife-wornworld should be regarded not as the shadowy dream of a visionary,but as a practical proposition, which the peoples of Africa can,and should, translate into reality. There is a tide in the affairsof every people when the moment strikes for political action.Such was the moment in the history of the United States of Americawhen the Founding Fathers saw beyond the petty wranglings of theseparate states and created a Union. This is our chance. We mustact now. Tomorrow may be too late and the opportunity will havepassed, and with it the hope of free Africa's survival.
From Kwame Nkrumah, I Speak of Freedom: A Statement of AfricanIdeology (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1961), pp. xi-xiv.
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(c)Paul Halsall Aug 1997