African News

Nkrumah, African Unity and Development

31 January 2007 at 02:51 | 837 views

Kofi Akosah-Sarpong, in Ottawa, Canada responds to Gamal Nkrumah’s depiction of the illusory picture of Pan-Africanism today by arguing that by failing to appropriate African values and experiences critically in the Pan-African project Kwame Nkrumah’s rallying cry of the Pan-African project, committed a fatal developmental error which had had terrible consequences on Ghana’s and Africa’s progress.


Gamal Nkrumah(photo) is the son of the first President of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. Based in Cairo, Egypt, he is a journalist working for Al-Ahram Weekly, and having traveled extensively in Africa, he sees Africa from a good classical point, more especially coming from two parentages - his famous father, from Ghana, and his mother, Fatiah, from Egypt. Added to this is the fact that he has drunk deep his father’s Pan-African philosophy project. This background has not only given Gamal a superb substance and the platform to question the state of the Pan-African project today but concluded, wrongly, that his father’s Pan-African vision has become an illusion in an article carried by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) BBC Focus On Africa magazine.

First, a brief background. The argument that the Pan-African project has become an dream-pipe, which is not true because it is an on-going process, taking on all kinds of challenges and successes, is that his father and his associates in their era (that’s the later part of the 1950s and early part of the 1960s onwards) failed to ground their Pan-African project genuinely, deeply and practically in Africa’s rich cultural values and experiences in terms of unearthing African values and their meanings in national development to the average African. When last year people in Ghana’s Northern Region told policy-makers to consult them and their values when making policies, they were in effect saying there are no history in Ghana of policy-makers consulting the very people the policies are to affect, a terminal error dating back to Nkrumah’s era. This, from the inception of Ghana nation-state, created a huge problem of trust, a critical element in the development process. And this also means the Ghana nation-state started on a wrong footing, creating all kinds of unnecessary problems for Ghana till today.

The reason is not far-fetched. The Pan-Africanism project, which pre-dates Krumah, was more or less an African diasporan vision to not only raise the injustices mainly ex-African slaves in the diaspora were facing but unite them, and explore the possibility of returning them back to Africa. Of prominence of the diasporan Pan-African vision was the issue of politics of skin colour and Africa’s marginalization in the international political economy. As a student in the United States and Britain, Nkrumah experienced such racism and returned to then Gold Coast with such baggage. The issue here is that initially Pan-Africanism was more or less a diasporan African project, lacking a deep sense of the continental Africa environment and other developmental nuances, a huge ingredient for progress. The Pan-African project didn’t flow first from within continental Africa, and this may explain why it initially lacked the deep African values and experiences paradigms needed for developmental goals.

So despite much hype about African culture in the Pan-African project, it was more or less an artistic thing than the appropriation of African values in the continent’s progress in terms of national policy-making. In the process, Nkrumah and his group wondered around the world, like headless chicken, looking for developmental paradigms, from ex-Soviet Union-oriented socialism to Europe-leaning capitalism or something in-between, as if Africa has no history, no values and no experiences in terms of progress, a reinforcement of the Europeans thought that Africa has no history and are Africans are primitive. Added to this is the fact that Nkrumah and his associates overwhelmingly carried on fully with the ex-colonialists’ development paradigms without any attempts to openly hybridize the enabling aspects of African values and the ex-colonialists’ legacies in the continent’s progress.

It is, therefore, not surprising that one the most fatal errors Nkrumah made in his attempts to develop Ghana was to harshly marginalize the traditional rulers, one of the key frontline traditional institutions for progress. The traditional rulers, as Dr. George Ayittey, of the American University in Washington D.C, would tell you, are hugely untapped human resources materials in Ghana’s national development. This reflects one of Nkrumah’s weak grasp of Ghana/Africa development processes. Some of these initially errors of not fully and openly appropriating African values in the continent’s development process up till now have made most national development policies weak, unrealistic, and foreign to the very environment they are to deal with.

The key word here is “openly.” The reason is Africa experienced colonialism for years and this saw the suppression and hiding of African values in the continent’s development process. This process damaged the trust of African values as a policy thresher. The colonialist suppressed African values and imposed theirs. They thought, wrongly, as today’s international development literature would correctly tell you, that African values were “primitive” and that they were more civilized than Africans, and so the Africans should be “civilized.” The French, for instance, minted the “assimilation” project to “civilize” the African. It failed. Then they created the “association” one, which aimed to mix African native culture with that of the French.

In the process, both enabling aspects of African values and the inhibiting parts was suppressed for so long that even the earlier elites who came to power, as their behaviour revealed, thought Africa have no values worth appropriating in national development. Senegal’s former President, Leopold Sedar Senghor (October 9, 1906 - December 20, 2001), part of the Nkrumah’s era group, thought Africans are better at expressing their emotions than thinking. No doubt, some prominent Africans such as Dr. Y.K. Amoakoh, the former chief of the Addis Ababa, Ethiopia-based United Nations Economic Community for Africa (ECA), has observed that Africa is the only region in the world where foreign development paradigms dominate her development process.

The sense here is that Nkrumah and his associate did not think within African values first and any other second such as the ex-colonialists’ in their zeal to develop Africa. The Japanese, like other ex-colonies, faced similar challenges and were able to think fast and circumvented any attempt to either fully carry on with American foreign development paradigms or let the foreign paradigms forced into their development throat, as America’s post-war occupying Governor of Japan, General Douglas MacArthur, attempted to do. Like the Japanese, Nkrumah and his associates, using their Pan-African project, should have first envision Pan-Africanism, as development project, from local, indigenous values and experiences, and then mix it, as the Japanese did, with foreign or their colonial legacies or experiences. It is not surprising that Dr. Amoakoh observes that Africa is the only region in the world where foreign development paradigms dominate her development process.

Foreign development paradigms dominate Africa’s development scene today despite lot of energy, time, and money spent on the Pan-African project, creating huge distortions in the continent’s progress, simply because Nkrumah and his associates, as key post-independent elites, and by extension, directors of progress, failed miserably to go the Japanese way, or even the very European ex-colonialists way, by letting African values largely drive the continent’s progress. The disturbing implications are that not only was the enabling aspects of African values and experiences not appropriated openly in national development but, as Ghana’s Minister of Health, Courage Quashigah, would tell you, they were no attempts to refine the inhibitions within African values that have been stifling progress for the continent’s progress.

Despite this fatal developmental error, Pan-Africanism, in all measure, is growing, notwithstanding hiccups here and there. The emerging success of the Economic Community of West African States, noticeably in helping restore order in Sierra Leone, Guinea Bissau, and Liberia, after years of brutal civil wars, is a beautiful example. The transition from the Organization of African Unity (OAU) to the present African Union (AU) is another in the sense of African unity. These examples and many more reveal that Pan-Africanism is not illusory but working, taking on new meanings and challenges that emanate from the values and experiences of Africans.