Pan-Africanism: How The African Union Betrayed Kwame Nkrumah


Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, pursued a strategy of state-directed economic growth which involved countries deriving their wealth without foreign aid

African Union flag. Image from public domain

The late first President of Ghana and one of the founding fathers of the African Union

When the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was founded in 1963, Kwame Nkrumah said it aimed to “lay the foundations for a continental Union of African States”. Critics argue that 57 years later, the organization has betrayed Nkrumah and become a tool of Neo-colonialism.

Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah’s speech at the founding of the OAU on 24 May 1963 has been classified by many historians as one of the greatest speeches ever made. Standing before 31 African leaders in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, on 24 May 1963, Nkrumah pleaded with his colleagues to work towards creating a united Africa.

Many social observers claim that this speech and the events that followed highlights the treachery of the other African leaders – some of whom were agents of erstwhile colonial masters. Nkrumah will not only be deposed and overthrown as president of Ghana in 1966 by the National Liberation Council which under the supervision of international financial institutions, but would also live in exile in Conakry, Guinea until 1971 before his death in a Romanian hospital on 27 April 1972 at the age of 62.

The sad tale of Africa’s greatest statesman and independence hero gives credit to the theories that Nkrumah was betrayed by the majority of the other serving African heads of states. Critics from a different School of Thought, however, argue that it was difficult to come to the aid of Nkrumah considering his ideologies and how he handled opposition.

While we can continue to debate the role of the OAU on Nkrumah’s case, it is hard to credit the organization on how it has handled issues on Pan-Africanism and African unity – the founding ethos of the organization. It is on this rationale that many critics agree that the OAU (now African Union) has betrayed Kwame Nkrumah on Pan-Africanism and African Unity.

The African Union (AU) is a continental union consisting of 55 member states in Africa; it was established under the mandate of the OAU and assumed responsibility of its parent organization. 

This article highlights ten actions (or inactions) by the African Union which critics say highlights the betrayal on Nkrumah’s idea of Pan-Africanism and credits the assertion that the organization has become a tool of Neo-colonialism.

Changing Organization of African Unity (OAU) to the African Union (AU)

Many critics continue to question the decision to change the OAU to AU. The AU came into being when two-thirds of the members of the former Organization of African Unity (OAU) signed the Constitutive Act in July 2001. The AU was formally launched in Durban South Africa in July 2002, replacing the OAU. Many social observers say the change was a way of wiping out the legacy of Kwame Nkruma and taking away the most important mandate from its name – AFRICAN UNITY. The Organization of African Unity was founded by Kwame Nkrumah and Haile Selassie.

Inaction in Democratic Republic Congo: Despite being the second-largest country in Africa and widely considered to be the richest country in the world regarding natural resources – its untapped deposits of raw minerals are estimated to be worth more than the U.S. $24 trillion, the Democratic Republic of Congo remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Despite gaining independence in 1960, the country continues to be exploited by Belgium and other superpowers due to its large mineral deposits. Critics believe that the African Union needs to come to the aid of DR Congo, with the entire continent putting its weight behind the country to take over control of its resources. Sadly, the African Union is doing nothing in this regard, and the country like many others like it in the continent remains poor and exploited despite its potentials.

Absence of a Mandate in Re-writing and Documenting African History

African history and culture are dying fast as more and more people tend to adopt western lifestyles and ideologies. One should have thought that the African Union would have a mandate that seeks to preserve the culture of peoples across the continent and document African history. Students still depend on foreign accounts on African history when we have millions of people on the continent who witnessed this history first hand. Many critics argue that the West has adulterated African history to suit their intent, and sadly so.

Claim on Western Sahara by Morocco

Western Sahara is a disputed territory on the northwest coast and in the Maghreb region of North and West Africa, partially controlled by the self-proclaimed Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic and partially occupied by neighboring Morocco. Its surface area amounts to 266,000 square kilometers. It’s been more than 40 years since Morocco claimed sovereignty over Western Sahara, setting off a conflict that seems no closer to resolution. The African Union betrays its founding ethos by keeping silent on the matter rather than providing a solution, especially critics continue to accuse Morocco of exercising undue privilege over little Western Sahara and ‘colonizing’ the nation against its will.

Dependence on World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF)

The founding fathers of the OAU never wanted Africa’s continued dependence on its colonial masters for survival. One of the reasons for independence in the first place was for African to become independent and survive without having to eat off the feet of Europe and America. Today, the African Union is involved in borrowing from the World Bank and the IMF more than ever before. The debt status of African shows that no African nation is truly independent.

China’s involvement in Africa: One thing that Kwame Nkrumah continuously told Africa to prepare itself for was Neo-Colonialism. He never stopped warning the continent to prepare itself for a different form of colonialism – indirect colonialism, which Nkrumah said is a more deadly form of colonialism. There is no doubt that the activities of China in many parts of the continent are evidence that Kwame Nkrumah was not just a barking dog who wanted to rule Africa for life, he was right. Today, neocolonialism is alive and well in Africa, and sadly so. More disheartening is the fact that the African Union since its establishment in 2002 has favored the advancement of China across Africa especially through the yearly China-Africa summit.

Ousting Dictators

When it comes to holding on to the seat of power, African leaders are perhaps the most skilled and experienced; even some of the most qualified and educated leaders have abused their credentials by continuing to hold on to power. It should be the duty of the African Union to make sure leaders respect the constitution and laws, especially when it comes to amending the constitution regarding power tenure. Many African leaders never want to leave the office and it is disheartening that in modern times such as this, individuals and families can continue to hold on to power despite the revolt from citizens. Sadly, many of these leaders hold the reigns of affairs in the African Union.

Inaction towards African Unity: It is a thing of shame that despite almost six decades since the founding of the OAU, the continent has not succeeded in achieving African unity. In Nkrumah’s speech in 1963, he told African leaders without mincing words that “Africa must unite or perish”. It appears African leaders have chosen the latter. After 57 years, Africans are still battling with free-market policies, one currency adaptation, regional integration, etc. Africa remains one of the most disjointed continents in the world which battles with ethnic and border conflicts to date. If Nkrumah’s recipe of effort and determination is adopted, there is no denying that African unity would have reached a higher point.

The Fall of State-Directed Economic Growth Strategy

Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, pursued a strategy of state-directed economic growth which involved countries deriving their wealth without foreign aid. To achieve this, Nkrumah required African leaders to produce and manufacture with their raw materials and trade amongst each other. Thomas Sankara of Burkina Faso once attended an African leaders meeting where he told the world that no thread in his outfit or that worn by any of the members in his team came from Europe. Today, the case is different. African nations are dependent on foreign revenue or aid to function, and the African Union seems unconcerned; the majority of the mandates by the African Union center on new ways to attract aid and assistance from abroad.

Relief and Distress Response

Kwame Nkrumah envisaged an Africa that would be its brother’s keeper. He wanted bigger nations to cater for the smaller and poorer nations with lesser resources. It is on record that during the Cocoa boom, which saw Ghana as one of the richest countries in the continent, Nkrumah assisted in many African nations. Critics have accused that African Union of not having a Fund which every member nation contributes to for the sole purpose of assisting poorer nations; they claim that rather than approach the World Bank or IMF for aid or loans, African Nations should approach the African Union instead, and the organization should be capable of accommodating the needs of African countries.

What are your thoughts? Please share any additional points or concerns in the comment session.

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