•Former Commonwealth Secretary-General Chief Emeka Anyaoku has assessed developments in Africa since the 1958 All African Peoples Conference (AAPC) initiated by former Ghanaian leader Kwame Nkrumah, arguing that the continent still has much work to do on its planned cooperation. He spoke at a conference at the Senate House of the University of London.
I would like to begin my remarks by first commending the trio of the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICWS), the School of Advanced Study (University of London), and the Westminster United Nations Association for their decision to collaborate in organising this conference to mark the 60th anniversary of the 1958 All African People’s Conference (AAPC) that was held in Accra, Ghana.
Kwame Nkrumah’s initiative for organising the Conference was inspired by a combination of two factors: his perception of the significance of Ghana’s independence in the previous year, and a throwback to the 5th Pan African Congress held in October 1945 in Manchester in which he had participated along with the Pan Africanist thinkers at the time.
Among these were George Padmore and Marcus Garvey from the Caribbean and Jomo Kenyatta, Hastings Banda, Obafemi Awolowo and Jaja Wachuku from Africa.
Nkrumah had said that “the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with total liberation of the whole African continent”. I am glad among the participants in today’s conference is The Rt Hon Paul Boateng whose father, Kwaku Boateng, was a member of Nkrumah’s cabinet.
According to the Ghanaian writer Frederick Boakye Danquah, Nkrumah’s call for African unity, in other words his Pan Africanism, “was deeply rooted in the racial discrimination he suffered in the USA and his association with the other Pan Africanists with whom he interacted at the Manchester Pan Africanist Congress”.
Although he was conscious of the need for Africa’s and Ghana’s economic and social development, Nkrumah’s primary aim in organizing the 1958 AAPC was to mobilize support for the struggle to end colonialism and racism against Africans and peoples of African descent.
He had in this regard in his famous address to Ghana Parliament declared “seek ye first the political kingdom and all other things shall be added unto you”.
Among the positive achievements of the 1958 AAPC was the strengthening of the ideology of Pan Africanism which became the watch-word of several Pan African movements and organisations that helped continental Africans and black people all over the world in finding the voice to confront colonialism, racism, underdevelopment and imperialism.
One of the most intellectually eloquent propagators of the ideology was the late Professor Ali Mazrui. He was one of those who advocated Pan Africanism as embracing all the black people wherever in the world they may be found. This was further premised on the belief that Africans and indeed black people all over the world share a common ancestry, history and destiny.
It was in furtherance of this expanded definition of Pan Africanism that Professor Mazrui wrote about the African of the soil continental Africans and the African of the blood black people all over the world.
In his advancement of the Pan-African consciousness in his 1979 BBC Reith Lectures, Professor Mazrui did a ‘political diagnosis’ of the ‘African condition’, highlighting in those five lectures, what he considered as “Africa’s six paradoxes – the paradox of a Garden of Eden in decay; the cross of humiliation; the clash of cultures; the burden of underdevelopment; the patterns of identity; and the paradox that is the search for Pax Africana”. In all these paradoxes and ironies, Professor Mazrui made some insightful observations about the African condition in the global community.
In Africa being a Garden of Eden in decay, Professor Mazrui examined the paradox of the African continent being ‘the first habitat’ of mankind but unfortunately ‘the last to be made truly habitable’.
In Africa’s cross of humiliation, Professor Mazrui argued that Africans may have not been brutalized in a manner comparable to the Jews, the native Americans and the native Australians, but that they were ‘humiliated in history in ways that range from the slave trade to being segregated and treated as third-class citizens in parts of their own continent’.
Regarding the paradox of the clash of cultures, Professor Mazrui also argued that although ‘African societies are not the closest to the West culturally’, but that they have experienced ‘the most rapid pace of Westernisation’.
In the burden of underdevelopment, he argued that ‘Africa is not the poorest of the regions of the world in resources, but it is the least developed of the habitable continents’.
In the patterns of identity, his argument was that although ‘Africa is not the smallest of the continents, but it is probably the most fragmented … along ethnic, linguistic, religious, ideological and class lines’.
Finally, in the search for Pax Africana, which is the challenge of Pan-Africanism, Professor Mazrui observed that ‘Africa is the most central of all continents in geographical location, but politically and to some extent militarily, it may be the most marginal”.
The other achievements of the AAPC were quite remarkable. In fact, George M. Fredrickson, the American historian renowned for his books on racism in his book, Black Liberation:
A Comparative History of Black Ideologies in the United States and South Africa, recalled how at that time, the emergence of Kwame Nkrumah, both as the newly independent Ghana’s President and as the convener of the AAPC, roused not only the Africans on the continent but also the entire black people in Diaspora – with the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa not only cabling a congratulatory message to the then newly emerged Ghanaian President, but also sending representatives to the 1958 AAPC.
George Fredrickson also wrote that with the independence of Ghana and the convening of the AAPC by Nkrumah, ‘black Americans found a new sense of pride along with strong expectations that the regal image of Nkrumah would replace the negative stereotypes of blacks that were the stock-in-trade of white supremacists’.
Being a radical formulation, the AAPC was co-sponsored by other radical and progressive African leaders like Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Ben Bella of Algeria, Seke Toure of Guinea, and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania.
It was a different perspective to the conventional Pan Africanism that was represented by the March 1958 Conference of Heads of the then only 9 independent African States. Unlike the earlier March 1958 Conference, the AAPC which was held in December of the same year was not restricted to the then independent African States.
Rather, it was conceived to include social groups or non-governmental organizations like anti-colonial political parties, organizations like the labour unions, and ethnic communities.
The central argument of the conveners of the AAPC was that because there were only 9 independent African States that attended the earlier March 1958 conference of the then newly independent African States, the majority of African peoples and social groups had been excluded, including the continent’s Diaspora.
The AAPC, therefore, rooted for a more representative Pan African movement – a Pan Africanism that would give voice to the majority of the voiceless Africans and peoples of African descent.
Thus, the AAPC had representations from the African Diaspora in North America, South America and Europe. It was radical to the extent that its major demand was the repudiation of the post-Berlin conference African States – the demand that Africa should be returned to the peoples and groups that colonialism had balkanized and occupied. The AAPC maintained that the colonially created states were artificial and divisive of the African peoples.
The AAPC also demanded the strengthening of the already independent African states. It equally outspokenly repudiated the incidence of neo-colonialism on the African continent. It was, in fact, clearly more outspoken than the earlier relatively conservative Conference of independent African States, which had been more constrained by caution and diplomatic etiquette.
Although the more radical approach to Pan Africanism was hailed, as the organizers of this 60th anniversary have equally recognized, ‘as a watershed movement in the history of Africa’s liberation from colonial rule and white supremacy’, the impact of the 1958 AAPC on today’s Africa cannot be assessed in isolation of the larger and more conservative notion of Pan Africanism now shared by all the independent African States.
The Organisation for African Unity (OAU) which was established in May 1963 in Addis Ababa was a product of the amalgamation of two blocs of independent African States—the more radical five-member Casablanca bloc of Ghana, Egypt, Guinea (Conakry), Algeria and Tanzania which had been inspired by the AAPC, and the larger more conservative Monrovia bloc of 22 States that included Nigeria, Ethiopia and Liberia.
So, it was in the amalgamation of the radical and conservative Pan Africanism of the independent African States that the significance of the 1958 AAPC became evident, especially in quickening the arrival of independence for African States as well as the mobilization of Africa’s public opinion in repudiation of neo-colonialism, and the engineering of support for the struggle against the racist regimes in Southern Africa.
One of the early decisions of the OAU was the establishment of the liberation committee that spearheaded the campaign against colonialism in Africa and apartheid in South Africa.
Besides, the OAU through its many declarations encouraged and lent moral support to the civil rights movements, especially in the United States of America and in the parts of the world where black people were confronting white supremacists.
The OAU which transmuted into African Union (AU) in 2002 has had to deal with several conflicts between and within States on the African continent. From the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in Central Africa, to Angola, Sudan and Chad, amongst other countries, these conflicts have forced the AU to undertake deployment of troops to contain them and to keep the peace.
In this, the AU’s efforts are being supported by the United Nations with the result that today there are no less than seven of the UN’s peace-keeping missions in Africa which is exactly half of the number of 14 peace-keeping missions currently deployed globally by the UN.
In assessing the impact of the 1958 AAPC Conference on Africa, it must be admitted that a major objective of the conference which was the attainment of the unity and integration of African States is yet to be achieved.
For despite the gallant efforts in the transformation of the AU, the establishment of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the active support for the sub-regional organisations like the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS), the East African Economic Community (EAC), the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), the African continent still has a long way to go in its integration efforts.
Africa’s potential for integration in ways comparable to Europe is still seriously hampered by some of those paradoxes enunciated by Professor Ali Mazrui which I have mentioned above.
This is in addition to the low level of economic development that is in many ways exacerbated by the constraints on Africa by the negative forces of globalization and the fact that the economies of many African countries are still commodity centered.
There is also the inhibitive influence of Africa’s colonial legacies as well as the continued manipulations by interests external to the continent. These factors and forces continue to aid Africa’s divisions and inability to integrate. But more perniciously, conflicts and political instability are still rife in many African countries, with the guns still booming in the Great Lakes Region, in Libya, in South Sudan, and in Somalia.
There is in addition, a democracy deficit in many African countries, with a serious hiccup still being experienced in countries like The Gambia where the former President Yahaya Jammeh was practically forced out of power by the ECOWAS leaders when he refused to leave office after losing an election, and the DR Congo where the election that is scheduled to hold this month (December 2018) is still beclouded by endless controversies, and Cote d’Ivoire, the Central African Republic, Mali and Cameroon, where democratic practice is under very serious strains.
I returned only a few days ago from Zimbabwe after serving on a seven-member Commission appointed by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to enquire into the violence that followed the country’s recent national elections.
My colleagues and I on the Commission were impressed by the current efforts of President Mnangagwa to reform the institutions and practices that had retarded democracy and economic development in Zimbabwe during the latter years of President Robert Mugabe’s 37 years in office.
Let me now turn to the Commonwealth and Africa.
There are 19 African countries that are members of the Commonwealth namely, Botswana, Cameroun, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Swaziland, The Gambia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania, and Zambia.
From the outset, the Commonwealth countries engagement with the non-Commonwealth countries in Africa was unfortunately hampered by the legacy of colonialism. The carving up of Africa into their different areas of influence and colonies by the European powers at the Berlin conference of 1884/85 without any regard for the peoples’ long existing ethnic groupings, left African countries with a legacy of different official languages, different administrative structures and different development institutions.
For example, in the early years of the two countries’ independence, a telephone call from Lagos, Nigeria’s then capital to Cotonou the capital of The Benin Republic, a distance of 130 miles had to go through London and Paris a distance of over 7000 miles.
This also applied to air travel across from the West Africa to the East Africa regions. The traveler would, perforce, have to go through Europe in order to get a connecting flight back to his or her African destination.
I believe that the AU’s efforts at promoting integration and unity on the continent are being effectively assisted by the activities of Africa’s sub-regional organizations such as ECOWAS, SADC and others, and by collaboration between the Commonwealth with its 19 African Anglophone members and La Francophonie with its 29 African Francophone members.
Hence, while in office as Commonwealth Secretary-General, I took the initiative of inviting the then Secretary-General of La Francophonie, Boutros-Boutros Ghali, to pay official visit to Marlborough House.
And he in turn invited me to visit the Headquarters of La Francophonie in Paris. Our two organizations subsequently co-sponsored two seminars on the theme of managing democracy in pluralistic states respectively at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris in January 1999 and in Yaounde, Cameroun, in January 2000.
On its own, the Commonwealth has been contributing to its African members’ quest for stable democracy, good governance and development.
For example, as Commonwealth Secretary-Genral, I was involved in discussions with the Heads of State that led to the transition from one-party to multi-party government in Zambia, Malawi, Kenya and Seychelles; and from military to civilian government in Ghana and Nigeria.
Since 1980, the Commonwealth has observed more than 130 elections in 36 of its member countries including in its African members as part of its efforts to strengthen democracy.
Another example of the Commonwealth’s contribution to the pursuit of democracy in Africa was the very productive two-part special seminar that I organized in Botswana in 1998 to discuss the challenges facing the practice of democracy in Africa.
The first part involved all ruling and opposition party leaders in these countries meeting with me and my colleagues from the Commonwealth Secretariat. The second part involved only the Heads of State and myself with the then speaker of the South African Parliament, Dr Frene Ginwala, as the rapporteur.
The Heads of Government discussed with me and the rapporteur the essential ingredients of democracy and the obstacles they experienced in pursuing them in their countries. It was a very useful exercise and I recall the particular contributions of Presidents Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Ketumile Masire of Botswana.
It is, I believe, important that the Commonwealth should continue to lend itself as a platform for the promotion of peace, human rights, socio-economic development and general wellbeing of the peoples of its African members.
That is why I was interested to learn that in March 2015, the Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General, Deodat Maharaj, visited the then Chairperson of the African Union, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, to explore ways of deepening the partnership between the two organizations for the benefit of their member countries.
I understood that they discussed partnership in many areas including the advancement of the AU’s Agenda 2063, trade relations, conflict resolution, gender issues, democratic consolidation, and human rights concerns amongst others.
What Commonwealth Africa needs most today from the Commonwealth is assistance to steady its feet in the march toward unity, sustainable peace, socio-economic development, human rights and the attainment of stable democracy and the rule of law.
After the decade of democratic renaissance in the 1990s in many Commonwealth African countries, some of them are now relapsing into conditions of instability with authoritarian regimes that are seeking to amend their countries’ constitutions in order to allow for rule beyond the constitutionally permitted terms.
For instance, a Commonwealth country has seen its President throwing the opposition leader in jail immediately after the country’s 2016 election for what The Economist described in its September 15th – 21st edition as “the crime of not yielding to the presidential motorcade”.
The same President has also reportedly “packed the constitutional court with his hand-picked judges and threatened chaos if they do not allow him to run for an unconstitutional third term in 2021”.
I have commented on the impact of AAPC “then”; I would now want to comment on its impact “now”.
But first, I must say with regard to the theme of this conference, “hands off Africa”, that of course we now live in a globalizing world in which countries have to deal with one another in order to promote their interests and national development.
However, because African countries are still relatively vulnerable to unequal treatment and manipulation by external forces, African governments have good reason to be cautious and circumspect in their dealings with other countries and other continental institutions.
For example, the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which is currently being vigorously offered to African Governments by the European Union, has been judged by several African and non-African economic experts not to be in the long term interest of the industrial development of African countries and as such, should be rejected.
As to the hopes inspired in 1958 by the AAPC, the score card in 2018 is, in my view, clearly mixed. Some of its aspirations have been achieved, but others remain works in progress.
Among the realized aspirations of the AAPC, is the decolonization of Africa including the elimination of the curse of racist minority regimes in the Southern part of the continent.
So also is the fostering a spirit of solidarity among the peoples in Africa and of African descent outside the continent. An evidence of this was the enthusiastic participation of representatives from virtually all countries inhabited by peoples of African descent in the Festivals of Black Art and Culture (FESTAC) organized in Dakar (Senegal) in 1966 and in Lagos (Nigeria) in 1977.
Another achievement of the AAPC can be said to be the abrogation of institutionalized racism, aka apartheid, in South Africa and the passing of laws against racial discrimination in virtually all countries, including perhaps most famously, the civil rights Act passed in the United States of America in July 1964.
However, it must be admitted that the phenomenon of racial discrimination against black people which, I believe to be among the abiding legacies of the trans-atlantic slave trade, is still consciously and unconsciously practiced in many essentially white societies.
It is an unspoken truth that in virtually all intellect-demanding activities in racially mixed environment, except perhaps in the sports arena, the black person often enjoys no benefit of doubt and always has to prove that he/she can perform as well as his/her non-black colleagues.
Thus, the particular aspiration of securing for black people everywhere the full respect and equality that was eloquently articulated at the 1958 conference by Nkrumah, Padmore, Nyerere and others is still, to an appreciable degree, a work in progress.
Similarly, the realization of full unity and integration of African States which was the essence of Pan Africanism advocated at the AAPC, is also still work in progress. And this is notwithstanding the efforts being made in this respect by the AU through its several initiatives such as NEPAD, AfCFTA (African Continental Free Trade Agreement) as well as the efforts of its 8 sub-regional organizations.
In conclusion Ladies and Gentlemen, the 1958 AAPC was a landmark in the drive for arousing the consciousness of the African peoples and countries of the need to mobilize for their independence struggle, and for the acceptance by the rest of humankind of the equality and dignity of, in Ali Mazrui’s words, Africans of the soil and Africans of the blood.
I thank you for your attention.
London, December 6, 2018.