The Age of Independence

Excerpt from Learn Our History | Vol. 11

Historian P. Olisanwuche Esedebe defined the early history of Pan-Africanism as:

“A political and cultural phenomenon which regards Africa, Africans and African descendants abroad as a unit, and aims at the regeneration and unification of Africa and the promotion of a feeling of solidarity among the people of the African world.”

Although Pan-Africanism as a movement was energetically pursued in the 1920s, as seen by the activities of the National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA) and student societies such as the West African Student Union (WASU), it lost its attraction in the 1930s and 1940s, ironically the heyday of colonialism in Africa.

It was revived in the 1940s to some extent thanks to the activities of pioneers like Kwame Nkrumah, George Padmore and Alioune Diop. As early as 1942, Nkrumah insisted that all African colonies:

“Must first unite and become a national entity, absolutely free from the encumbrances of foreign rule, before they can assume the aspect of international cooperation on a grand scale.”

However, it was not until 1957, a date signified by the gaining of independence by Ghana under the dynamic leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, that the Pan-African movement regained considerable momentum, and there is no doubt that the pace-setter of this period was Nkrumah. The aim during this period was not only to achieve political, cultural and economic integration but to do so at regional, continental and international levels.

Nkrumah mobilised African leaders of both liberation movements and independent states for Pan-Africanist causes. His first move in that direction was the formation of the Ghana-Guinea Union in 1958 and the Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union as the first step toward the Union of African States.

Nkrumah advocated the ‘high politics’ of continental political unity while expressing reservations about regionalism. He cautioned against regional federations for fear that regional loyalties could “enable the imperialist and neo-colonialists to fish in such troubled waters.”

In April 1958, Nkrumah organised the First Conference of Independent African States, held in Accra, the capital of his newly independent state of Ghana, which was attended by Ghana, Ethiopia, Liberia, Sudan, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.

The conference's agenda and resolutions centred on the relations between the independent African states; for example, there was a call for the removal of customs and other restrictions on trade with a view of enhancing economic exchanges and the consequent establishment of a common African market.

The conference also established the major themes of post-independence Pan-Africanism, namely the primacy of political independence, assistance to ongoing liberation movements, the relations between independent Africa and the rest of the world and plans for cultural exchanges and mutual assistance schemes.