The 1960s were the years of celebration, of victory for liberation moments for Africa; the days of “indépendance Cha Cha” in French-speaking Africa. One event that remains engraved in our memories is the “Freedom Fighters’ Conference” or “All African People’s Conference” (AAPC) organized by Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, in 1960. Such a meeting of bold, buoyant united combatants and strategists who champion the cause of autonomy and self-rule is in sharp contrast with the implications of the recent tour of the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken. The AAPC was an assertion of the burning desire of Africans and Blacks, in general, (since prominent Black diasporans attended the AAPC) to attain freedom by all means, including guerrilla warfare if that became necessary. Why is Blinken touring selected African countries today when some decades ago such a phenomenon could not be envisaged because Nkrumah had laid the foundation of a platform that promoted the quest for freedom and liberty and the rejection of parasitic intrusion?
Let us recall the salient features of that congress that brought together Black freedom fighters in Accra in 1960. The conference is presented as the brainchild of Nkrumah and his Trinidadian advisor, George Padmore, with whom Nkrumah had attended the Manchester pan-African Congress in 1945 when they reinforced their pan-African convictions. The 1960 conference is the corollary of the “logical” link that the Ghanaian leader posed between the independence of his country and that of all African countries in the following words. “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent”. This statement was subsequently debated at length and on several occasions. What cannot be denied is that the ideal, conviction and motivation behind that statement was then laudable and praiseworthy. It conveyed the urgency, sacrosanct and pristine features of freedom, liberty and independence.
The 8 December 1960 conference, itself, is described as follows: “Hundreds of delegates from 28 African countries and colonies attended the AAPC. At least 65 national liberation movements were represented. It was the first time many independence movements’ leaders were meeting each other, networking and drawing strength and strategy from each other. Tom Mboya, the then-28-year-old maverick trade union organizer who later became Kenya’s justice minister and is regarded as one of the East African country’s founding fathers, chaired the conference. Martiniquais philosopher Frantz Fanon, who played an active role in the Algerian war of independence from France around the same period, was there, as was Patrice Lumumba, who would later become the first prime minister of the newly independent Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)”.
The slogan of the participants was “hands off Africa” and 10 years later, almost the entire continent had declared independence, free from colonial rule, at least on the surface. That was the official position of Ghana vis à vis colonialism since much robust work was done within the country, through a strategy that was not made public. The country laid emphasis on ideological training, a treasure that the majority of university graduates from tertiary institutions today woefully lack. That education was provided at the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute in Winneba, which was a compulsory passage for all Ghanaian youngsters before they could enter university and many political leaders of today’s Ghana attended that course and a lot of praise has been showered on that institution and its programmes. Aside from that dimension, ideological “baptism” was extended to many non-Ghanaians with the aim of assuring and pursuing the anti-colonial battle. Many leaders of African freedom movements had been invited by Nkrumah into Ghana and were provided academic and adequate political and military training before they returned to their countries and took up arms. Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Sam Nujoma (the first president of Namibia) are the names mentioned in most discussions.
Of course, that defiant penchant adopted by newly-independent Ghana was not approved by Western powers who saw in it a real threat and worked to undermine it. Many kinds of sabotage were carried out after the 1960 conference and all the initiatives that followed it. Some of the Western attacks to that anti-colonial struggle were: the close monitoring of those who were present at the conference with travel restrictions being imposed on many of them, and the biggest blow was administered in 1966, when President Lyndon B. Johnson of the US backed a coup by a group of Ghanaian army officers against Nkrumah while he was away from the country. It is said today that the pan-African movement fell apart, bit by bit, but in a consistent manner and, unfortunately, Africa is now in economic chains. The independence that was obtained was followed by huge disillusionment when African leaders proved to be more harmful than the colonial masters. That led to the era of the coups d’états, followed by the IMF and its stifling Structural Adjustment Programs, (SAPs). I am referring to a full circle here since we can somehow capture Africa’s journey from the days of hope, glory, bravery and anticolonial fight to the failure of African leaders guaranteed by the machination of the neocolonial apparatus; the decline of the national economies; and the ignition and conflicts exacerbated by frustration, anger and confusion; and to the stage of postmodern colonization in which we are now living. The soft power being exercised by China, Russia and the USA is re-creating a scramble over Africa; the 1884 Berlin Conference is born again like a phoenix. The more recent indicator of that sad state of events is the tour of the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. There is no doubt that China is imposing herself as a political, military and cultural superpower. Russia’s influence is more overt in certain West African countries like Mali (Burkina Faso and Guinea are said to have contemplated hiring Russian mercenaries but they were dissuaded by the grip of France). Diplomatically, this competition over the soul and bounties of Africa is demonstrated in the tour of the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov in Africa (Egypt, Republic of Congo, Uganda and Ethiopia) from July 24 to 27, while his country is shelling Ukraine. On 25 July, President Macron of France was in Cameroon on a visit that would take him later to Benin and Guinea Bissau. The third tour in this vein is that of the USA diplomat to South Africa, DRC and Rwanda, a journey that started on August 2022. The hopes and dreams of the Freedom Fighters’ Conference or AACP were squashed and that explains why and how Africa re-entered the inferno of subjugation. From colonization, Africa achieved “independence” and then re-entered subjugation. The colonial masters and their brute force and African auxiliaries are now replaced by a more subtle strangulation that camouflages as political, economic and other kinds of alliances or cooperation. One would not be wrong in saying that Africa has gone full circle, sadly enough. But this does not mean that the anti-imperialist struggle must be abandoned, it simply means that new tactics are required. The exploiter has adopted a new modus operandi, so the valiant sons and daughters of Africa need to design new strategies to counter the canker.
Moussa Traoré is Associate Professor at the Department of English of the University of Cape Coast, Ghana.