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Let the Nkrumah Statue Stand and Let Other Statues Flank and Accompany It 

                                                                Ghelawdewos Araia Phd.

February 18, 2012

When the new African Union Conference Center (AUCC), built and financed by the Government of China, was inaugurated on January 28, 2012, I watched it live on the Ethiopian Television (ETV). I had company that day - family members who also watched it with me, and while we were watching one amongst us said, �whose statue is that?� We were unable to decipher it at first glance, because the resolution of the broadcast was not clear enough. But I said, �I guess it is Nkrumah�s statue,� and to my delight my intuition sensed it right because in just moments we found ought � via the ETV report � that it was indeed Nkrumah�s statue. In reaction, thus, I said, �I am elated that the Africans honored Kwame Nkrumah.�

Soon after, the Nkrumah statue stirred controversy among Ethiopians in Ethiopia and in the Diaspora. Some scribbled �Haile Selassie, not Nkrumah is the founder of the pan-African movement� (which is incorrect); others suggested, let Haile Selassie�s statue stand along with that of Nkrumah (which is fair); still others seem to favor the knocking down of the Nkrumah statue if that of Haile Selassie is not erected in front of the AUCC building, which I believe is an extremist position and does not even consider options for negotiation and compromise.

In any event, notwithstanding the inaccuracy with respect to the pan-African movement and the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU, renamed African Union �AU � in 1999), controversies in whatever form presented, and insofar they are substantive, are healthy and must be encouraged. In the latter spirit, thus, I like to join the chorus but only with a fervid intention of presenting a scholarly-cum-historical synopsis of pan-Africanism, a powerful movement that incidentally paved the way for the founding of the OAU. 

In 1999, I wrote an article entitled �The Historical and Ideological Foundations of Pan-Africanism� and it was published in African Link magazine; subsequently I presented the same topic for an annual conference of �Reemergence of Pan-Africanism in the 21st Century: Implications for Empowerments of Black Educators and Students in the African Diaspora� held at the Central Connecticut State University, where I teach graduate courses. Readers interested in a detailed and full account of the Pan-African movement can make reference by linking to www.africanidea.org/pan-Africanism.html

In the above-mentioned article, I have chronologically and thematically highlighted the roots of the pan-African movement as well as the prominent leaders who played a major role in the making of the Movement and later the founding of the OAU. It is true that the Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia deserves credit in the establishment of the pan-African organization and the Charter that 31 African leaders signed in Addis Ababa on May 1963. However, as will be demonstrated below, many other leaders including Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Sekou Toure of Guinea, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania have played a crucial role not only in forging unity but also in struggling for independence, but above everybody else Nkrumah stands out because he was a protagonist in the pan-African movement before even these leaders came into the picture of establishing an all-Africa organization. Nkrumah, in turn, was a student of prominent leaders of pan-Africanism such as George Padmore, C.L.R. James from Trinidad and Marcus Garvey from Jamaica.

In fact, the idea and movement of pan-Africanism was not ushered in Africa; it was born in the Caribbean and the father of the Movement and who also coined the concept of Pan-Africanism was the Trinidadian barrister Henry Sylvester Williams, and he was the first to organize a pan-African conference in London on July 23-25, 1900. Although Williams initiated the first pan-African gathering, he was not alone; the African Association in London that included West Indians, West Africans, South Africans, and some White sympathizers in fact assisted him.

By the time these Diaspora Africans and other leaders from the Continent gathered in London, the Emperor Haile Selassie was eight years old. He was a young boy and he would not know of what was going on in Africa, let alone of pan-African ideology. Even when the Movement matured in the 1930s and 1940s, he was not part of it, although, as indicated above, he would make important contributions after the first pan-African conference in Accra, Ghana called upon by Nkrumah in 1958.

Henry Sylvester Williams, to his credit, founded a paper, The Pan-African, in 1901 and other papers in Africa like the Lagos Standard and the Gold Coast Chronicle followed the footsteps of Williams� initiative and carried pan-African news and views on their respective issues. Meanwhile, a Nigerian student at Edinburgh University, Bandele Omoyini, wrote a book entitled Defense of the Ethiopian Movement in 1908. In a similar vein, Casely Hayford of the Gold Coast (now Ghana) authored Ethiopia Unbound. Later, in the 1930s Marcus Garvey would supplement and galvanize the legacy of the early harbingers in the pan-African struggle via his organization, the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) that he founded in 1916. Garvey�s UNIA national anthem included �Ethiopia, land of our fathers.�

In 1919, the Pan-African Congress that convened in Paris declared a resolution in regards to the African people under the yoke of colonialism and demanded that �a) the Allied and Associated Powers establish a code of law for the international protection of the natives of Africa, similar to the proposed international code of labour; b) the League of Nations establish a permanent Bureau charged with a special duty of overseeing the application of these laws to the political, social, and economic welfare of the natives.�1

Most importantly, the Pan-African Congress in Paris emphasized the right of African people in the decision making process of the colonial governments: �The natives of Africa must have the right to participate in the Government as fast as their development permits, in conformity with the principle that the Government exists for the natives, and not the natives for the Government.�2      

All of the pan-African leaders were inspired by Ethiopia because they were all aware that Ethiopia triumphed over the Italian invading forces at Adwa in 1896 and managed to preserve its independence. When Italy, for the second time attempted to take over Ethiopia in the 1930s and in fact occupied the country between 1936 and 1941, Marcus Garvey and George Padmore were at the forefront against the Italian aggression. In West Africa, major newspapers like The Sierra Leone Weekly, the Nigerian Daily Times, Vox Populi of Gold Coast, The Gold Coast Spectator, and the West African Pilot all expressed the fury of the African people against Italian attack on Ethiopia. Jomo Kenyatta, who served as honorary chair of the International African Friends of Abyssinia, wrote �Hands off Abyssinia� in Labour Monthly of 1935.   

Nine years after Mussolini invaded Ethiopia, the Pan-African group met in Manchester and this time prominent leaders like W.E.B Du Bois from the United States joined the movement and the conference resulted in forming the Pan-African Federation in 1944. The Federation created a special secretariat and included the following famous pan-Africanists: Dr. Peter Millard of British Guiana as chairman, R. T. Mekonnen (formerly Peter Griffith) as treasurer; George Padmore and Kwame Nkrumah as joint secretaries; Peter Abrahams of South Africa, publicity secretary; and Jomo Kenyatta as assistant secretary.

The first congress of the Federation attracted 200 delegates from all over the world, and for the first time it bridged pan-Africanism and the liberation struggle in Africa. It was also for the first time a majority of continental Africans attended the Congress. The Manchester Congress was a radical departure from pan-African ideals to a concerted action for the total liberation of African colonies. Out of this Congress also evolved the West African National Congress in august 1946 with Kwame Nkrumah as its outspoken leader.3       

The Manchester Congress was called upon 25 years after the Paris Congress and its declaration, quite obviously, would be markedly different from the latter. In 1945, the Congress, thus, declared both to the colonial powers and colonial people, and in no uncertain terms stated, �We are determined to be free. We want education. We want the right to earn a decent living, the right to express our thought and emotions, to adopt and create forms of beauty. We demand for Black Africa autonomy and independence, so far and no further than it is possible in this One World for groups and peoples to rule themselves subject to inevitable world unity and federation.� �We affirm the right of all colonial peoples to control their own destiny. All colonies must be free from foreign imperialist control, whether political or economic. The people of the colonies must have the right to elect their own Governments, without restriction from foreign powers. We say to the peoples of the colonies that they must fight for these ends by all means at their disposal. �We also call upon the intellectuals and professional classes of the colonies to waken to their responsibilities. By fighting for trade union rights, the right to form cooperatives, freedom of the Press, assembly, demonstration and strike, freedom to print and read the literature which is necessary for the education of the masses, you will be using the only means by which your liberties will be won and maintained. Today, there is only one road to effective action � the organization of the masses. And in that organization the educated colonial must join. Colonial and subject peoples of the world, Unite.�4  

Twelve years after the Manchester Declaration and eleven years after Nkrumah founded a regional federation of the Congress, on March 1957 Ghana became independent and the first pan-African Conference of independent states (then only eight of them) was held in Accra, Ghana from April 15 to 22, 1958 under the leadership of Nkrumah. Accra was embellished with flyers, billboards, and placards that read �Africa Must Unite!� In the conference several other prominent leaders in the struggle for African independence like Patrice Lumumba were also present.

This first conference agreed to launch pan-Africanism in Africa; to promote economic cooperation; to appreciate one another�s culture. Above all, the conference participants agreed on the total independence of the continent and declared war on apartheid. They have also agreed to meet every two years, and decided the second conference to be held at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1960. African states expected to attend the Addis Ababa conference were Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, Tunisia, Madagascar, Congo Kinshasa (as it was known then), Mali, Nigeria, and Somalia. But, while Morocco and Congo stayed away due to internal crisis, Mali, Togo, and Madagascar decided not to participate due to pressure from France and their own indifference to pan-Africanism.

Quite clearly, Africans were not united as the Accra conference anticipated and on the contrary dissension and division among Africans was apparent following the 1960 Addis Ababa conference. By April 1961, thus, three African groups were formed, namely the Casablanca Group (CG), the Brazzaville Group (BG), and the Monrovia Group (MG). The CG, known as the radicals constituted Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Algeria (represented by the Provisional Government), Libya, and Egypt; the BG, considered as conservative and pro-French, comprised of Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, Central African Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast, Madagascar, and Senegal; the MG, labeled as the �moderate group� in fact consisted most of the Brazzaville bloc and countries like Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Togo, and Dahomey (now Benin). The MG, however, was influenced by what I would call the neutral bloc that could also include countries like Ethiopia. Eventually, in the political literature of the times, the contending blocs were the CG and the MG and the BG was virtually omitted and dropped.

On May 8, 1961, the pan-African conference met in Monrovia to resolve their differences and the proposal was put forth by Leopold Sedar Senghor (the Dakar recommendation) of Senegal: Form a six-state sponsoring committee, Liberia and Nigeria from the neutral group; Cameroon and Brazzaville from the BG bloc; and Guinea and Mali from CG. But not all African states attended the conference. Morocco stayed away, because, this time, it resented Mauritania�s presence with which it had territorial dispute; Ghana, Guinea, and Mali wanted to postpone the meeting on the grounds of �ill preparation� by the conference; and for unknown reason, Sudan and Egypt declined to attend.      

Despite the grim scenario that bewitched the post-colonial states of Africa in their endeavor to find a common ground for African unity, however, eighteen African countries fully participated in the forthcoming Lagos conference of January 1962. In this conference, the Dakar recommendation and the proposal presented by Ethiopia, Liberia, and Nigeria were accepted, and after a long and arduous deliberations, the African states agreed to set up an inter-African and Malagasy organization with an assembly of heads of states and governments, a council of ministers, a general secretariat and commissions. This resolution, named The Lagos Charter, was a milestone in the annals of African history, and the CG and MG reconciled their differences, and it is at this particular juncture that Ethiopia in general and Emperor Haile Selassie in particular played a crucial and pivotal role in ironing out the differences that prevailed among African leaders while at the same time, laying the cornerstone for African unity.

At the Lagos Conference, Emperor Haile Selassie made the following memorable speech:

�We are told that Africa has been split into competing groups and that this is inhibiting cooperation among the African states and severely retarding African progress. One hears of the Casablanca group and the Monrovia group, of the Conakry and Dakar declarations, and we are warned that the views and policies of these so-called groups are so antithetical as to make it impossible for them to work together as partners in an enterprise to which all are mutually devoted. But do such hard-and-fast groupings really exist? And if certain nations sharing similar views have taken measures to coordinate their policies, does this mean that, as between these nations and others, there is no possibility of free and mutual cooperation? �Ethiopia considers herself a member of one group only � the African group. When we Africans have been misled into pigeonholing one another, into attributing rigid and inflexible views to states which were present at the conference but to another, then we shall, without reason or justification, have limited our freedom of action and rendered immeasurably more difficult the task of joining our efforts, in harmony and brotherhood, in the common cause of Africa�No wide and unbridgeable gulf exists as between the various groupings which have been created�We urge that this conference use this as its starting point, that we emphasize and lay stress of similarity and agreement rather than upon whatever disagreements and differences may exist among us.�5      

By the end of 1962 and early 1963, thus, preparations were underway for the formation of the pan-African union. By the end of December 1962, there were 32 independent African states and on March 1963 Ethiopia invited African heads of states and governments to convene in Addis Ababa on May 1963. This was not however a simple invitation; it was rather a mobilization effort on the part of Ethiopia to make sure that all 32 leaders converge in the Ethiopian capital, which soon was going to be the African capital. The mobilization task was assigned to the then abler foreign minister Ketema Yifru and he was to travel to all African countries and meet with the heads of states, just to convince them to come to Addis Ababa. But Ketema Yifru was not just an envoy that would have talks with the African leaders at the behest of the Emperor; in fact, it was him who advised the Emperor early on to cement relations with African leaders (Ethiopia to have an Africa-oriented policy) and especially to strengthen ties with leaders like Sekou Toure.

The sojourn of Ketema Yifru was successful; he returned to Ethiopia with an olive branch, because all African leaders, without exception, and now out of the deluge of differences, confirmed their coming to Addis Ababa. Thus, foreign ministers began meeting on May 15, 1963 and when they ended their meeting, they appointed a sub-committee composed of Algeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Madagascar, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Tunisia to draft a charter. Beyond this, however, the foreign ministers meeting did not achieve much, but it certainly paved a way for the summit conference of the 32 independent African states. This would be a historic conference because, as pointed out above, the Casablanca and Monrovia groups ironed out their differences and sat together.

In his opening address, Emperor Haile Selassie reiterated the urgency of the formation of African unity and said, �This conference cannot close without adopting a single African charter. We cannot leave here without having created a single African organization�If we fail in this, we will have shirked our responsibility to Africa and to the peoples we lead. If we succeed, then, and only then, we will have justified our presence here.�6       

Other important leaders like Sekou Toure suggested for the implementation of the Lagos Charter and hence the unity of Africa; Senghor entertained a slightly different idea and he was in favor of gradual unification; and Nkrumah vehemently opposed �gradual unification� and he proposed an All-Africa Committee of Foreign Ministers to work on the total unity of the continent. Despite these minor differences, the Addis Ababa summit was successful because all African leaders signed the Charter (with the exception of Togo, whose leader, Sylvanus Olympio, was assassinated before the Addis summit took place) and the Organization of African Unity was born.

The next significant conference of the OAU took place at Cairo, Egypt on July 19, 1964 and in this meeting of the African heads of states, Nkrumah was the dominant political figure. He delivered a historic speech, �The Need for a Union Government for Africa,� in which he underscored again the total unity of Africa. �In the year that has passed since we met at Addis Ababa and established the Organization of African Unity, I have had no reason to change my mind about the concrete proposals which I made to you then, or about the reasons I gave for my conviction that only a Union Government can guarantee our survival. On the contrary, every hour since then, both in the world at large and on our own continent, has brought events to prove that our problems as individual states are insoluble except in the context of African Unity, that our security as individual states is indivisible from the security of the whole continent, that the freedom of our compatriots still in foreign chains and under colonial rule awaits the redeeming might of the African Continental Government.�7       

Some commentators wrongly accused Nkrumah for his ambitions to transfer the OAU headquarters from Addis Ababa to Accra. On the contrary, this is what Nkrumah said in the Cairo Summit: �it has been suggested from this rostrum, and it is on our agenda also, that we should decide at this Conference as to the location of the Permanent Headquarters of the Organization of African Unity and appoint a permanent Secretary-General. If, as I hope, we agree in principle, at this conference to move on to the establishment of a union Government of Africa, we shall require quite a different set of criteria for selecting the Headquarters of the organization and the permanent officials. We should also be careful to avoid being drawn into discussions at this stage which could lead to a clash of interests as to which country should have the Headquarters or provide a Secretary-General. This could harm the very unity which we are trying now to establish. I feel very strongly that the status quo should remain�I would like to express on behalf of Ghana our sincere thanks to His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I and to the Ethiopian Government for maintaining the Provisional Secretariat up to now. I feel, however, that before we rise we should make appropriate contributions from our various States for the upkeep of this our Organization. The burden should not be Ethiopia�s alone. I would like to state in this connection that Ghana is not interested in either the Headquarters or the Secretary-Generalship of the Organization.�8     

Another important African leader who was very much committed for the unity of Africa was Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. I have read some remarks made by flyer-type superficial newspapers in regards to the United States of Africa concept and giving credit to Muamar Gadaffi but this is entirely false. The United States of Africa terminology was actually coined by Julius Nyerere. In 1999, I critiqued the false claim in an article I wrote on Juilus Kambarage Nyerere, and her is what I stated then: �Like Kwame Nkrumah and Sedar Senghor, �African unity� was the prime agenda in Nyerere�s political portfolio. While Senghor emphasized Negritude (African pride) and Pan-Africanism mainly in the cultural realm, Nkrumah underscored the primacy of political unity of the Continent, hence �Africa Must Unite� motto. Nyerere advanced the idea of �United States of Africa� without major departure from the former two. Incidentally the recent call by Muamar Gadaffi for a �United States of Africa� comes 36 years after Nyerere inaugurated it as its harbinger.

Many of the great African leaders of the late 1950s and early 1960s, the founding fathers of African Unity, and the many unsung heroes who also equally contributed for the liberation of the continent and the unity of its peoples deserve a huge acclaim and credit. They all must find a space on the hall of fame in the newly built Africa Conference Center. It is appropriate to honor Kwame Nkrumah by erecting his statue in front of the AUCC; it would be equally appropriate to honor the other African leaders like Haile Selassie, Sekou Toure, Gamal Abdel Nasser, and Nyerere, but it would still stir controversy if we only salute few of them and forget the others and betray the history of the OAU itself. We must render justice to all the founding fathers by either erecting a mural behind the Nkrumah statue, or let the Nkrumah statue stand and let other statues flank and accompany it.



  1. Pan African Congress Resolution, Paris, 1919, in Molefi Kete Asante and Abu S. Abarry (editors), African Intellectual Heritage, Temple University Press, 1996, p.517
  2. Ibid
  3. Ghelawdewos Araia, The historical and Ideological Foundations of Pan-Africanism, www.africanidea.org/pan-africanism.html see also African Link, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1997
  4. Asante and Abarry, op cit, p. 520-21
  5. Addis Ababa Summit 1963, Publication and Foreign Language Press Department
  6. Adenkule Ajala, Pan-Africanism: Evolution, Progress, and Prospects, Andre Deutsch, 1974, p. 10
  7. Kwame Nkrumah, The Need for Union Government for Africa, Cairo Summit Conference, July 19, 1964, in Asante and Abarry, p. 559
  8. Kwame Nkrumah, Ibid, p. 567
  9. Ghelawdewos Araia, �Tribute to Mualimu Julius Kambarage Nyerere,� African Link, Fourth Quarter, Vol. 8, No. 4, 1999