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“We must unite now or perish” – President Kwame Nkrumah

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“We must unite now or perish” – President Kwame Nkrumah

Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah’s speech at the founding of the OAU has since become a classic, even iconic. In front of 31 other African heads of state who met in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on 24 May 1963, Nkrumah appealed, cajoled, and did everything in perhaps his greatest speech ever to convince his colleagues to go the whole hog and create a strong continental union. Sadly, they decided otherwise. Below is an extract from that speech.

I am happy to be here in Addis Ababa on this most historic occasion. I bring with me the hopes and fraternal greetings of the government and people of Ghana. Our objective is African union now. There is no time to waste. We must unite now or perish. I am confident that by our concerted effort and determination, we shall lay here the foundations for a continental Union of African States.

A whole continent has imposed a mandate upon us to lay the foundation of our union at this conference. It is our responsibility to execute this mandate by creating here and now, the formula upon which the requisite superstructure may be created. On this continent, it has not taken us long to discover that the struggle against colonialism does not end with the attainment of national independence. Independence is only the prelude to a new and more involved struggle for the right to conduct our own economic and social affairs; to construct our society according to our aspirations, unhampered by crushing and humiliating neo-colonialist control and interference. From the start we have been threatened with frustration, where rapid change is imperative, and with instability, where sustained effort and ordered rule are indispensable. No sporadic act nor pious resolution can resolve our present problems. Nothing will be of avail, except the united act of a united Africa.

We have already reached the stage where we must unite or sink into that condition which has made Latin America the unwilling and distressed prey of imperialism after one-and-a-half centuries of political independence. As a continent, we have emerged into independence in a different age, with imperialism grown stronger, more ruthless and experienced, and more dangerous in its international associations. Our economic advancement demands the end of colonialist and neo-colonialist domination of Africa.

But just as we understood that the shaping of our national destinies required of each of us our political independence and bent all our strength to this attainment, so we must recognise that our economic independence resides in our African union and requires the same concentration upon the political achievement. The unity of our continent, no less than our separate independence, will be delayed, if indeed we do not lose it, by hobnobbing with colonialism. African unity is, above all, a political kingdom which can only be gained by political means. The social and economic development of Africa will come only within the political kingdom, not the other way round. Is it not unity alone that can weld us into an effective force, capable of creating our own progress and making our valuable contribution to world peace? Which independent African state, which of you here, will claim that its financial structure and banking institutions are fully harnessed to its national development?

Which will claim that its material resources and human energies are available for its own national aspirations? Which will disclaim a substantial measure of disappointment and disillusionment in its agricultural and urban development?

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Written by New African Magazine

For over 45 years New African provides unparalleled insights and analysis on African politics and economics, via an African perspective, always. With in-depth monthly reports, New African brings Africa closer to the world and is ideal for those looking to gain a better understanding of the most important issues affecting Africa.

  • A very historic opportunity that slid by and changed the spiral of African progress downwards.
    It was clear at the time that irrespective of whether their people wanted so or not, some of the leaderships of the African chunks of lands that had been moulded as states or countries were not ready to add their pieces of lands (and the resources thereof) to make the greater whole as was being advocated by Nkrumah and others.
    Those people were not needed at that historic meeting because they were anti-unity and known collaborators of the former colonialists.
    Some present African governments are also anti-African unity, known puppets/collaborators of the west/former colonists. We should not rely on them when deciding continental matters. We should make this known to them.
    The success of the quest for African unity lies with the African (and African descent) masses. The leaderships of the masses (not the governments) must seize the opportunity and rally the masses behind them to push forward the agenda and realize it.

  • Joatham Devine

    This is a utopian fantasy at best the power and autonomy of African States could never be achieved within the limited scope of economic resources and political solidarity!!!!!! The European powers exist solely because they can project force of arms globally without fear of any serious resistance from the victims of its imperialism!!!!!!! Until the African states amass the military power to confront or overcome this fact their union would be laughable in the face of ruthless force being the ultimate contractual negotiator of independence!!!!!! When the war machine is sent to collect the booty who will stand to prevent this in real time!!!!!!! All the resources in the world without the industry of war machines superior to those who threaten your freedom is a waste of human energy on this planet in the context of out time!!!!!!!!!

    • Kwamena

      No doubt, you are of the same sort as the imperialists and would consider this fantasy. If everyone reasoned linearly like you do ancient Egypt would still be supreme today. But what do we see? The Chinese who were so lowly decades ago, subject even to tiny Japan, seem to be on your backs and you cannot shake them off.

      • Ceaser Chembezi

        Indeed. If there is a people who need to walk up straight on this planet are African. We can and we will revive the glory of our ancestor.

    • Ceaser Chembezi

      This is not an utopia. What we need is the political will. We did not have a great standing military force during the era of fighting for independence. If we decide on what we want, there will not be a western country to come here and make war with us.
      We have failed because we have not chosen to decide on this. If anything we have acted in solitude. This was the case with Burkina Faso with Thomas Sankara.

      Where were other African states when Libya was attacked? We all stood aside. The challenge that we have to tackle is to release ourselves of who things
      1. Mental Slavery/ colonization
      2. Economic slavery

      These chains are the ones killing us.

  • Edmond Marcel

    everyone knows the problems of Africa and the african people everywhere there are, everyone knows what needs to be done. But how do you get someone who is sleeping, who is brainwashed, who is under drug, who thinks that there is no solution, who says ‘if you can’t defeat them joins them even if they are rapping your mum how do you get them to stand up, not to march the streets, not to shout but silently get together to think together design a plan and work and educate the children to carry on, how do you do that! bcause this thing can’t be done in one life time. The caucass hasn’t done anything wrong, he is fighting to survive, if you know his history, where and how he started, you will understand his behaviour.China didn’t shout, complain, China accepted the humiliation, the suffering and silently and together started to work hard, very hard and today, oh yes today…..Look at all those murdered, malcom, n’kruma….Lumumba, they all made the same mistake of trying to solve a problem, you don’t have a problem to solve bcause its limited, you have a destiny to design, but here is not exactly the place to go any further…

    • Kwamena

      That’s true. But on a continent as diverse linguistically and separated by distance as Africa, how do you champion a cause without “shouting”? “Shouting” was not the undoing of our independence. The undoing is a more pertinent issue you mention – mentally-challenged and brain-washed “leaders” like Houphet Boigny and Senghor who preferred to loiter about Paris in wonderment at the “european” than to roll-up their sleeves and work for their own people.

      Of course, Nkrumah could have been politically wiser instead of directly confronting the west, simply because the west had too much power. Nkrumah’s loss was the greatest loss to Africa in the past 100 years. With leaders like him, Sankara, Mugabe, Lumumba, DuBois, and Malcolm X, we as Africans would have found our true identity in this world and be able to assert ourselves as Africans. How far from the goal of independence we have fallen – Spineless parasites on our own continent, off our on resources.

      • Sort Cobra

        Respect and brotherhood is the first step to take inorder to take the path of African fraternity and uniting their powers.
        That is lacking badly now. Look at what Ethiopia is dowing to Somalia and the somalis!!! destroying the country massacring its people!!! will that unite Africa???

  • Kwamena

    Obviously, the majority of president’s then, as today, had not overcome their petty tribal prejudices, even as we see today all over Black Africa, and could not interpret the new global context

    into which the newly independent countries had been thrust. It was no longer Ibo against Yoruba or Hausa in the West, or Oromo against Amhara in the East; This gathering as if impervious to the

    consciousness movements in both the Francophone and Anglophone Americas, and even to the immediately passing experience of physical colonialism; these narrow-minded and less than insightful

    “leaders”, the majority of whom were carefully groomed by the colonial governments, were incapable of perciving any theat from the european countries or being true representatives of their people.

    Regardless that only in aggresive unity lay the future of the young continent, that is why it did not engender much support from the like of Houphet Boigny.

    The embarrassing lack of insight into the painful history of colonialism by those who put forth themselves as our leaders, which colonialism was still fresh in the minds of the masses of the

    continent, the lack of foresight and the wisdom of the polity chosen by this gathering is very stork today.

    Todays much touted African union is an affront to the ordinary people of Africa and is only a gathering of egocentric pretenders who, only through the general global social ignorance of the African

    electorate, come to power: the AU is without any practical vision and, unfortunately, also a gradualist approach, because after over 10 years of its formation it is doubtable that it is much

    different from the previous organization.

    Where do we see the “renaissance” frequently bandied about when the AU was being formed? Do we see a common African strategy for all the major production centers on the continent from textiles, to

    agriculture for our basic necessities (which we now import from all over the world rather than produce from the vast resources at our disposal), to industrial raw materials which we ship to the EU,

    US, BRIC, and Japan for a pittance, to precious earth minerals we ship all over the world? Are these areas of production not still controlled by foreign interests? Even worse, they are now in the

    hands of Chinese and Indian corporations, as well, who were as colonized as we were about 80 years ago.

    The evidence of the inefficacy of the AU is clear:

    1. there is more division amongst African countries now than at independence, and an even stronger hegemony by Europe and America on our economic affairs than at independence.

    2. The AU stood by idly watching whiles Laurent Gbagbo was arrested by the French, has idly stood by while china and india present a new neo-colonialist threat and has indeed welcomed such foreign

    intiatives as “dvelopment asistance.” It seems we never learn that africa is never seen i practice as a partner in economics by any country but a region to be exploited to support foreign political

    and economic agendas.

    3. Individual African countries cherish their ties to European countries more than their ties to the constituents of the AU, cherish their budgetary support from “development partners” in Europe

    and US and Japan more than they are willing to use their own internal resources to work independently of these powers, and persistently disrepect the political rights of their contitunts whiles the

    African Union stands by trumpting a democratic agenda as the foundation for a future African renaissance.

    Regardless of the above it is time we black africans recognized that the continent as a whole can never be united into one multi-racial polity as is vainly imagined today by the AU. We share no

    common political or social or economic bond with the Arab north of the continent. It is shallow thinking and foolish to imagine that we can forge such a union when the Arabs show more importance to

    the Arab league than they do to Africa. The situation of the former Sudan is a stark illustration that Afro-Arab relationships are only imagined by those who are very idealistic. The Arabs in

    Africa were also instruments of Colonialism and slavery which, if these were the same reasons for rejection of European domination, then it is right to reject any such unions with Arabs. we can

    have no unity with any whose hands are as bloodied as the European colonizer and slaver. Let us be brutally frank that the current AU is misconceived, lacks any useful direction, and cannot achieve

    any meaningful objective unless there is a radical shift in dogma and pratice to coopt all black africans on the continent and in the diaspora into the AU because, foremost, the inspiration and

    intellectual force behind Black Pride and our independence movements did not come from the continent but in the Americas! Amongst the likes of Marcus Garvey and WEB DuBois. These have a heritage in our continent us much as we do. Political power, economic power can only begin when we begin to be conscious of our identity in this world, and realize that we need to be one in purpose and planning with our brothers across the Atlantic and all over the world.

  • paul darko

    It’s not too late, we still have the opportunity to unite. Nkrumah wasn’t just a freedom fighter but a unifier and a prophet as well

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