The first wave of partnership in Africa was in the 1960s. But it was not for long. Coups, disease, hunger and wars became part of life. Now there is hope and Africa is moving forward to realise meaningful independence.
March 6, 1957, was a defining day in Africa’s history. Gold Coast, Ghana from this date, attained independence from Britain. The country’s founding President Kwame Nkrumah, speaking without a prepared speech or notes, was an inspiration to all Africa.
"The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of Africa," he declared. It was a speech from the heart. And Nkrumah meant it, because a year later, he called African liberation leaders to Ghana to strategise the continent’s independence struggle.
The fruits were soon to be seen. Twenty African countries were independent by 1960. Dr Hastings Kamuzu Banda was in Ghana and admired Nkrumah’s success. It was from Ghana that Banda flew to Malawi to lead the struggle for independence.
Why did Orton Chirwa and others invite Banda when there were other Malawians outside the country? The answer is simple. Banda—and other educated Africans—was motivated by Nkrumah and supported the struggle in Malawi.
Namibia’s founding President Sam Nujoma describes Nkrumah as a "progressive president, an accomplished academic, an incisive thinker, analyst and writer, and a legendary pan-African revolutionary." Indeed he was, at least seen with an understanding mind and smelled by scholarly nostrils.
Nkrumah knew the importance of industrialisation. In nine years, he established 68 state-owned factories. He listed some of them in his 1963 book, Africa Must Unite: a distillery, a coconut oil factory, a brewery, a milk-processing plant and a lorry and bicycle plant. There were agreements for a large, modern oil refinery, an iron and steel works, a flour mill, sugar, textile and cement factories.
The New African editor Baffour Ankomah says Nkrumah forgot factories for shoes, glass, meat, gold, fruit and tomato, chocolate and a radio and television assembly plant. This, says Ankomah, was in addition to building a huge hydroelectric plant at Akasombo—that major source of electricity studied in Malawi’s primary school geography, a motorway from Accra to Tema and free educational and medical services "that made Ghana a showcase for Africa."
Further, Ghana had a continental radio station broadcasting beyond Africa. The radio, say analysts, helped the African liberation struggle.
"For unless we attain economic freedom, our struggle for independence would have been in vain, and our plans for social and cultural advancement frustrated," says Nkrumah in his book.
But this progress did not last. Nkrumah was overthrown on February 24, 1966, while in Peking (now Beijing) on his way to Vietnam with plans to end the American war.
"It is difficult to imagine the greatly improved condition of the African people today if Nkrumah had continued in power in Ghana to lead the pan-African movement," says June Milne, Nkrumah’s research and editorial assistant.
"One of the most shocking incidents in Africa was the overthrow, in February 1966, of that great man. I don’t think we will ever recover from those events," writes Zambia’s founding President Kenneth Kaunda in the New African of February, 2006.
Nkrumah wanted and fought for a united Africa, one that could progress together. He thought a united Africa should have a one-word-name: Africa. "There is no time to waste. We must unite now or perish," said Nkrumah at the historic OAU meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1963.
"Kwame Nkrumah was [Ghana’s] leader, but he was our leader too, for he was an African leader," said Tanzania’s founding President Julius Nyerere in Accra in 1997 when Ghana celebrated 40 years of independence.
Scholars—and all critical minds—can only reflect at history with wonder. Major-General Henry Templer Alexander, the last British Chief of Defence Staff in Ghana dismissed by Nkrumah, had no kind words for the architect of one Africa. Nkrumah "is not a brave man...nowadays he keeps himself very much confined," says Alexander in his book Africa Tightrope.
Colonel Afrifa, who was part of the coup, says in The Ghana Coup, Nkrumah could have been a great man.
"He started well...and became...the symbol of emergent Africa. Somewhere down the line, however, he became ambitious... and ruthlessly used powers invested in him by his own constitution. He developed a strange love for absolute power," says Afrifa.
What went wrong in Ghana between 1957 and 1966? "It is likely that historians will be asking that question for many years to come," says The New Africans, a Reuters guide to the history of Africa’s founding leaders.
Indeed it’s a question that needs an answer because the link between Nkrumah’s end and the rise of dictatorships in Africa is becoming clear. Why did, for example, leaders like Banda and Kaunda, who were close to Nkrumah, turn to one-party politics? Nkrumah established a one party state and controlled his Convention People’s Party (CPP) and all the organs of state; dismissed security chiefs and judges at will.
Was Nkrumah just that bad to enjoy absolute power? Perhaps the challenges and the world of his presidency can help explain. He faced at least seven assassination attempts. But one was most apparent. On August 1, 1962, a grenade was thrown at a village of Kulungugu, in Northern Ghana, where he stopped on his way from meeting President Maurice Yameogo of Upper Volta.
Four people died, 56 injured, most of them seriously. Nkrumah escaped without any injuries but saw everything that happened. It was a dehumanising experience. He later wrote of how a cheering crowd turned into "a screaming mass of people, blood stained, limping [and] disfigured".
The incident was followed by others. But the Kulungugu attack disturbed him. He lost confidence in Ghana Police and organised a private army with Russian help on January 2, 1964. On this date, a constable named Ametewee chased Nkrumah, fired five shots at him, missed, but killed the chief presidential guard, Salifu Dagarti.
It was another disturbing and dehumanising incident but not the first, not the last. He had endured a lot which his friends—Kamuzu, Kaunda, Nyerere and others—heard. This is perhaps the reason Nkrumah turned into a dictator. He was pushed into a corner and had no choice but to protect his life and the interests of his people.
Some African leaders like Kamuzu, perhaps, became dictators, dealing with every opposition immediately, for fear of being the next Nkrumah, Africa’s model. Or they were afraid of being Nkrumaised.
The military coup that ended Nkrumah’s rule was organised by the CIA with support from London and carried out by local collaborators in Ghana, according to information released in recent years by the West. It is easy to blame the US and Britain. But the major culprits were Africans who collaborated with the West.
Since then Africa has mainly been a sad story. Portugal handed over power to Africans in Angola and Mozambique but civil wars followed immediately. Malawi was host to over a million Mozambican refugees in the 1980s until mid 1990s.
Some remained and have become Malawians just like that confirming perhaps one of Nkrumah’s dream that Africans must be one, have one passport and move freely in their continent which was to become a country.
There was war in Liberia, Burundi, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Burundi, and trouble in Zaire. South Africa was struggling with apartheid. There was no peace in Ethiopia. People are still fighting in Somalia, Sudan, Ivory Coast and Uganda and many other counties. It has largely been a hopeless Africa, perhaps traced from Nkrumah’s troubles and fall.
But all that is changing now. Of course, Nkrumah’s fall was a setback because all African leaders were affected. And Kaunda was not exaggerating the effects when he suggested that Africa would not recover from the coup and its effects.
Yet there is light. Slowly Africa is moving and into the right direction. The wars in Mozambique, Angola, Liberia, Rwanda and Sierra Leone are over.
Mozambique and Angola are prospering. Liberia has a highly educated President, Ellen-Johnston Sirleaf, who is a symbol of a bright future for the war-torn country. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has made significant changes to bring lasting peace and economic boom to his country.
He was at the White House three years ago, talking to President George Bush, sharing a vision while their ministers were signing treaties to boost trade. Rwanda, with 50 percent women representation in Parliament and high positions, remains the world’s best example on women representation in decision making positions.
There are serious peace efforts in DR Congo, Ivory Coast, Sudan and attempts at normalising Somalia. Nigeria, a country of coups and assassinations, has been at peace with a civilian president for close to a decade. That is an achievement and a pointer to a brighter future.
Africa shares its fears and hopes. Most countries have held elections yet that is not democracy. The main challenge facing emerging democracies is rushed elections assumed to bring liberty and, therefore, liberal democracy. The good news is that now there is willingness, even pressure from within, for liberation and that starts with liberalising the economy which leads to political liberalisation because liberalised economy leads to modernisation.
Dictatorships were brought down in the 1990s. The IMF, World Bank and donors were able to do this in Africa and elsewhere bringing hope that soon vanished because there was no meaningful replacement and countries were plundered in a way that is very difficult to reconstruct.
Still there is a real chance for Africa to move forward. British Chancellor of the Exchequer writing in The Guardian in January, 2006, challenged Africa, saying it is the continent’s time to move forward.
"A century ago," he said, "people talked of ‘what we could do to Africa’. Last century, it was ‘what can we do for Africa’. Now, in 2006, we must ask what the developing world, empowered, can do for itself."
Nkrumah, born September 21 in 1909, had a vision for Africa, for a big country to be called Africa, one that could take advantage of its natural resources—land, forests, fresh water and hard working people—to develop. Sadly he died on April 27, 1972, in exile in Guinea, without seeing that vision. Instead, Ghana and Africa had become a land of coups, wars, hunger and disease.
In Nkrumah’s words, these problems, coming after independence, forced Africa to make one step backward. Now, he said in a visionary statement in 1966, "we shall take two forward".
It is happening now. Africa is moving forward and it’s good news, sweet news. The sweeter news is that Malawi, with President Bingu wa Mutharika, is moving along with eyes fixed into Africa’s bright future. It is time to join Mutharika in serious, visionary thoughts about Malawi, a country in which we live, not for ourselves, but for our children and their children—from whom we have borrowed Malawi, a piece of land which we are expected to return better than we found it.