Commemorating the 60th Anniversary of the All African People’s Conference

A conference in Accra, Ghana, revisited the 1958 All African People’s Conference, under the banner of “The Unfinished Business of Liberation and Transformation”. The legendary convenor of that first conference, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, famously said, “The objective is African Union. We must unite now or perish.” Yaw Adjei-Gyamfi considers how far we have journeyed towards the economic independence of Africa.

Ghana became the Mecca of Pan-Africanism after independence in 1957 and many African nationalists and Pan-Africanists made pilgrimages to that country to fortify themselves for the fight against colonialism and imperialism. Indeed, the emancipation of Ghana helped pave the way for closer cooperation among African people. This was demonstrated on the eve of Ghana’s independence, when Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the prime minister and leader of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), stated: “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.”

In April 1958, inspired by the Manchester Conference of 1945, Kwame Nkrumah called the First Conference of Independent African States in Accra. This was the first Pan-African congress to take place on African soil. This conference was attended by representatives of the then independent states of Africa: Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Sudan, Liberia, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.

In his book Africa Must Unite, Nkrumah noted: “When, on 15 April 1958, I welcomed the representatives to the conference, I felt that at last Pan-Africanism had moved to the African continent, where it really belonged.” The purpose of the conference was to deliberate on issues concerning the liberation and freedom of Africa, and how the independent African states could offer support to African nations that were still under colonial rule. Later that year, from 8 to 13 December, the All African People’s Conference (AAPC) was convened by Nkrumah. Delegates from 62 African nationalist organisations attended the conference, making up the more than 300 participants who were present. The conference confronted the issue of domination and the subjugation of Africans by the colonial authorities and resolved to attain political independence and freedom by all means necessary. Tajudeen Abdul-Raheem is of the opinion that “for Africans on the continent, it remains the most important Congress ever, considering the manner in which it addressed the question of colonialism and set the independence movement in first gear.”

Revisiting the spirit and energy of the first congress

On 8 December 2018, it was exactly 60 years since Ghana hosted the first AAPC. In the spirit, energy and enthusiasm of this first congress, delegates consisting of Pan-African scholars, activists, workers’ union representatives and African brothers and sisters from the diaspora converged at the University of Ghana to commemorate the 60th anniversary of this all-important and historic conference. The Kwame Nkrumah Pan African Centre (KNAC), together with the Pan African Federalist Movement, organised the conference. The aim was to assess the position of Africa within the global capitalist system, “to reflect on the current state of Africa and inspire this generation of the African masses to take responsibility for the complete liberation and unification of Africa” and to map out a way forward towards actualising the vision of a united Africa that would tear down the old order – neo-colonialism – and usher in a new order – an economically independent and united Africa.

The first AAPC was conscious of the problems of Africa and preached African unity as having the potential to insulate Africa and safeguard her against Western imperialism and colonialism and its effects, which were inimical to Africa’s progress. Molefi Kete Asante affirms this belief, stating in his book Afrocentricity, “Only now, armed with the past, can we look into the future.”

AAPC@60, inspired by the energy of the ancestors gathered in 1958, vehemently condemned the exploitation of Africa’s resources by the foreign powers through their multinational corporations and bewailed the intractability of the suffering and impoverished state of African people, despite being a continent blessed with vast natural resources.

The dream of a United States of Africa

The dream of a United States of Africa continues to be a distant mirage with bleak prospects of becoming a continental reality, even though it holds the key to unlocking the door leading to the answers to the myriad problems confronting Africa now. The conference reiterated that political independence had no meaning if it were not complemented by economic independence – which Africans are clamouring for in these difficult times.

Political independence had no meaning if it were not complemented by economic independence.

Kwame Nkrumah often asserted that the Balkanisation of Africa into smaller states, a move initiated at the Berlin Conference in 1885, was to serve Western interests. Effectively, the unification of Africa would ensure that these artificial borders and barriers would mean nothing and that “highways for the movement of goods, services, and ideas across the continent” would be created, as Prof. Horace Campbell said in his work The Pan African Experience: From the OAU to AU.

In his speech on 25 May 1963 in Addis Ababa, Nkrumah declared:

United we must. Without necessarily sacrificing our sovereignties, big or small, we can, here and now, forge a political union based on Defence, Foreign Affairs and Diplomacy, and a Common Citizenship, an African currency, an African Monetary Zone and an African Central Bank. We must unite in order to achieve the full liberation of our continent. We need a common Defence system with an African High Command to ensure the stability and security of Africa.

Is Africa being re-colonised by China?

The conference was timely in the sense that, in recent times, several concerns have been raised over the looming threat of the imminent re-colonisation of Africa by the emerging “neo-colonial power”: China. For some time now, Ghana-China relations have been a topical issue, inviting incessant scrutiny by Ghanaians regarding the true nature of China’s relations with and activities on the continent. It is interesting to consider these words of Molefi Asante: “The person who demonstrates interest and concern by writing about blacks, speaking on blacks and reporting blacks to whites has not achieved the full level of Afrocentric awareness.”

Ghana-China relations have been a topical issue, inviting incessant scrutiny by Ghanaians regarding the true nature of China’s relations with and activities on the continent.

I remember a day in the history of my country, Ghana, when the opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC) reported the New Patriotic Party (NPP) government to the International Monetary (IMF) over a US$2 billion agreement signed with the giant Chinese corporation Sino-Hydro. In spite of the contention between these two rival political parties, I realised that one thing unified them: the acknowledgement of the IMF as the masters of our economy.

What Africans are clamouring for is the economic independence of Africa, a requisite condition for the completion of the total liberation and freedom of the continent. Africa will not be caught up in a re-birth of the Cold War between Western and Eastern neo-colonialists.

Speaking at the opening of the conference, the president of Ghana, Nana Adoo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, expressed his delight to be at the conference and welcomed the delegates to the Accra. In his address, he recounted the significance of the AAPC in 1958 and lauded “the charismatic, legendary” Kwame Nkrumah for his immeasurable contribution to the emancipation and independence of the African continent.

“Be that as it may, our generation has an opportunity to rededicate ourselves and guarantee the liberties and freedoms of the African people, and eradicate mass poverty in Africa,” the president said. He highlighted the fact that the rededication process should include “the structural transformation of Africa’s raw material producing and exporting economy into industrial value-added economies, to trade products in the global marketplace. This involves policy that will draw a clear map for the political and economic integration of the continent to enable us to maximise our potential and deal with the outside world on an equal footing”.

Nkrumah premonitioned that neo-colonialism, if allowed to prevail, would relegate Africa’s position in the international capitalist system to merely that of “hewers of wood and drawers of water”. Abdulrahman Mohammed Babu, the Tanzanian Pan-Africanist and Minister under President Julius Nyerere, traced Africa’s economic delay to the continent’s involvement in the international system from a position of extreme weakness.

It is worth mentioning that the uniqueness of the 60th celebration of the AAPC was enhanced by the fact that two conferences were organised at the University of Ghana, following on the heels of each other. From 5 to 8 December 2018, the Institute of African Studies (the brainchild of Nkrumah), welcomed fellow Africans from within and outside the continent to honour its founder for his display of selflessness in the cause of African unity, Pan-Africanism and the fall of neo-colonialism in Africa, as exhibited by his organising of the AAPC in December 1958. The conference adopted the theme “Revisiting the 1958 All-African Peoples Conference: The Unfinished Business of Liberation and Transformation”.

When we observe, 60 years on, the state of Africa and the pervasiveness of the destitute conditions that many Africans live under, with neo-colonialism still ever-green on the continent, it is clear that Africa has not completely won the fight for liberation and total freedom.

What is meant by “African unity” is a close collaboration of all African peoples, both home and abroad, as Nkrumah stated in Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare, when he said: “All people of Africa descent, whether they live in North or South America, the Caribbean, or in any part of the world, are Africans and belong to the African nation.”

These conferences, along with other conferences held this year, demonstrate the renewed interest of Africans in the vision of a United Africa and the desire to witness the total liberation of the African continent. The workshops that were held provided a platform for scholars, activists, students and trade unionists, among other passionate Africans, to “interrogate the agenda of liberation and transformation” and to emphasise the need to move beyond the rhetoric of Pan-Africanism and African Unity to approaching an action-oriented discourse.

Prof E.O. Ijeoma identifies three approaches to examining the ideology of Pan-Africanism: One may oppose it, ignore it or engage in it constructively and critically. For the sake of Africa, we choose to not oppose or ignore Pan-Africanism. On page 217 of Africa Must Unite, Nkrumah stated:

We in Africa who are pressing now for unity are deeply conscious of the validity of our purpose. We need the strength of our combined numbers and resources to protect ourselves from the very positive dangers of returning colonialism in disguised forms. We need it to combat the entrenched forces dividing our continent and still holding back the millions of our brothers. We need it to secure total African liberation.

Dr Claude Ake said that the attainment of independence by African states revealed a more positive outlook and orientation of the Pan-African movement; however, the importance is now on redefining and maximising Africa’s influence in the world and cooperating to meet the challenges of the continent. Africa must endeavour to look within itself to harness its potential and resources, which can function as a sturdy foundation on which the actualisation of the transformation agenda of the continent can depend for its survival.

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