Lecture by Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane at the Legon Center for International Affairs, Accra, Ghana, 11 March 2010

Programme Director


Members of the Legon Center for International Affairs and the entire community of the University of Ghana


Ladies and gentlemen

Allow me to begin by thanking the University of Ghana’s Legon Center for International affairs for inviting me to share with you my thoughts on the past, present and future of Pan-Africanism.

It is always an honour for me to set my foot on Ghana’s soil because the name and history of this country are synonymous with the heroic struggles of the African people for their right to self-determination.  

This country also bears the name of one of Africa’s old civilizations that centuries of colonial rule tried to erase from our historical memory as Africans and the world were told that our continent had neither history nor advanced culture before the arrival of European colonizers.  Generations after generations of Pan-Africanists fought and demolished this Eurocentric myth through rigorous scholarship that claimed ancient Egypt as an African civilization, and highlighted the contribution made to humanity by pre-colonial African kingdoms.

The significance of this negation of our culture and history to the colonial project was emphasized by Franz Fanon in his Wretched of the Earth when he said that “Colonial domination, because it is total and tends to over-simplify, very soon manages to disrupt in spectacular fashion the cultural life of a conquered people”.  

Amilcar Cabral noted in his 1970 lecture on “National Liberation and Culture”, that this was so because “History teaches us that, in certain circumstances, it is very easy for the foreigner to impose his domination on a people. But it also teaches us that, whatever may be the material aspects of this domination, it can be maintained only by the permanent, organized repression of the cultural life of the people concerned”.

Ghana has indeed been a symbol of our Pan-African effort to reclaim our culture and standing in the history of humanity.

It is for this reason that the whole of the African continent and the global Pan-African community has joined Ghana in the celebration of the centenary of the birth of Kwame Nkrumah.  This year is also the 110th anniversary of the first Pan-African conference that took place in London in 1900 under the leadership of Henry Sylvester-Williams.

It is therefore opportune for us today to reflect on the history of Pan-Africanism, its contemporary relevance, and the road ahead.

At the time of the first Pan-African meeting in 1900, European colonizers were still consolidating the deal they struck at the notorious Berlin Conference of 1885 where they settled their squabbles over the scramble for Africa. 

When Nkrumah was born nine years later (in 1909) the political landscape of this continent was fundamentally different from the era that his ancestors had known.  It is this colonial reality into which Nkrumah was born that determined his social consciousness and mission in life.  The defeat of colonialism and its neo-colonial offspring became Nkrumah’s cause during his life until his death thirty-eight years ago.  This is the cause that earned him the mantle of Africa’s Man of the Millennium - a legend, and an icon who was committed to the liberation of Africa, inspired by the ideals of Freedom, Equality, Independence and Social Justice.

Nkrumah’s convictions were underpinned by an ambition of self determination for Ghana but also for Africa. He envisioned an African society where all social strata have a role to play in mobilising for political independence through positive action.  For Nkrumah, Ghana was a microcosm of his vision for the entire continent, and that Ghana’s independence was meaningless unless it was linked with the total liberation of the entire African continent.

Nkrumah’s inner vigour and moral purpose enabled him to look beyond Ghana and he indeed advocated for a Continental Union Government for Africa as the only means by which each African country could survive. He counselled against neo-colonialism because the economic and political relationship between a section of the Africa’s elite and Western multi-national corporations siphons Africa’s wealth out of the continent to the detriment of Africa’s people.

The “Grand Debate on the Union Government” of the African Union Summit that your country hosted in 2007 during the 50th anniversary of your independence, is one of the many legacies that Nkrumah bequeathed to this continent.

Nkrumah worked hand-in-hand with his mentor, Edward Du Bois, whose remains lie in peace in this country.  Du Bois’ declaration at the first Pan-African conference that “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line” is still relevant in the 21st century where racial discrimination remains a factor in global power politics and the distribution of poverty as well as in the accumulation pattern of wealth in countries such as mine – South Africa.  We may be free of colonial rule today, but the agenda that inspired Pan-Africanists such as Nkrumah and Du Bois remains relevant to this day.

When Nkrumah died in 1972, Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau were two years away from their independence.  My own country and Namibia were still under the iron grip of the apartheid regime.  Today we live in a different world but Nkrumah’s dream remains elusive.  His warnings about the dangers of neo-colonialism are a reality that is still staring us in the eyes.  We all remember his words that: “A State in the grip of neo-colonialism is not master of its own destiny. It is this factor which makes neo-colonialism such a serious threat to world peace”.

Programme Director, ladies and gentlemen

Pan-Africanism emerged as our response to our common experience of slavery and colonialism.   In conception and historical fact the Pan-African movement sought to unite African communities on either side of the Atlantic Ocean to address their shared condition as a colonized and oppressed people.  It is for this reason that among the first generation of Pan-Africanists were the likes of Sylvester-Williams, Du Bois, George Padmore and CLR James - who were all descendents of heroines and heroes who fought against the system of slavery and racial discrimination in the Americas. 

Even though with Ghana’s independence the locus of the Pan-African movement shifted from the African Diaspora to the African continent, the bond between our peoples on the continent and those abroad was never severed.  Instead, this bond and unity grew from strength to strength. 

Today, through the African Union, we are continuing to deepen this Pan-African consciousness and unity between the African people on this continent and those in the Diaspora.  My country has been given the honour of hosting the first African Diaspora Summit on this continent.  The African Union Commission has even established a Directorate dedicated to strengthening our ties with our Diaspora.  And the statute of the Economic, Cultural and Social Council (the ECCOSOC) of the AU makes provision for Diaspora representation on this continental body.

Pan-Africanism has also been about the dream of a “new” Africa, which will be prosperous and united, from Cape to Cairo.  Pixley ka Seme – the founder of the African National Congress (of South Africa) – said in his 1906 lecture at the University of Columbia that "the regeneration of Africa means that a new and unique civilization is soon to be added to the world”. 

This was an important theme for other Pan-Africanist such as the imminent Nigerian scholar-politician, Nnamdi Azikiwe, in his 1937 publication, Renascent Africa.  Cheikh Anta Diop’s pioneering work on the cultural foundation of African unity was also a precursor to our discourse today on the African Renaissance.  What has, however, changed over the years is the content of this “new” Africa and the strategies we should use to make it a reality.

The “new” Africa that we talk about today has to have a transformed state that puts people first and which is led by leaders who are determined to serve the people.  It must also be about turning around our economies, taking full advantage of advances in science and technology, to feed our people and match other developed parts of the world.  It must offer its people accessible education and healthcare, as well as other necessities for a better life.  It must protect its environment and contribute positively to reversing the challenge of climate change.  And it must be a continent which is not a passive observer but an active and equal player in global affairs. 

This “new” Africa must be united as Nkrumah dreamt, prosperous, and free of poverty, disease, as well as political instability and conflicts.  The benefits of its prosperity must be shared equitably among its people, irrespective of race, ethnicity, gender, region or religion.  Prosperity that comes with growing inequality among our people or the increase in the marginalization of women will be miles away from the “new” Africa we have in mind.

This, to me, is the agenda of the Pan-African movement today.

We have now learnt from Nkrumah’s saying that "seek ye first the political kingdom and all else will follow".  We now know that political independence on its own has limitations if it does not translate into transforming the content and orientation of the state inherited from colonialism. 

Political independence does indeed lay good basis for taking the country forward, but this has to be on the basis of a programme aimed at eradicating the legacy of colonialism.  In my country – more than fifteen years after our freedom – we are still confronted on daily basis with the mammoth task of addressing the legacy of apartheid in the distribution of wealth, ownership of land, and access to public goods – amongst others.

I believe, Programme Director, that the African Peer Review Mechanism provides us today with a comprehensive programme for transforming the African post-colonial state.  Ghana and South Africa are among members of this voluntary mechanism and have both experienced the benefits of working with other countries to improve our systems of governance for a better life for our people.

The New Partnership for Africa’s Development (the NEPAD) – through its cross-country infrastructure projects (amongst others) – promotes regional integration that our continent needs for greater unity.

I am also pleased that since its establishment in 2002, the African Union has demonstrated its capacity to set norms and standards in areas of governance, and work with regional bodies such as the ECOWAS and the SADC, to address situations of conflict and political instability, including cases of unconstitutional change of government.

We have to continue to build our continental unity on strong Regional Economic Communities and self-reliant sovereign nation states.  Our forebears had foresight when they identified regional integration as a building block towards African Unity.  We have made progress since the days of the Lagos Plan of Action in the 1980s and the Abuja Treaty for the establishment of the African Economic Community.  This is the experience from which to build a strong, effective and dynamic African Union.

There is no disputing the fact, however, that our continent still faces enormous challenges. The old-age dream of our ancestors to create an economically advanced and politically free Africa is being delayed and the dream faces the possibility of being further deferred. We as Africans sometimes have ourselves to blame – because we continue to plough narrow furrows instead of pooling together our efforts. Modernity demands of us to pool our human and material resources together in order to create a cross-continental garden well equipped to walk tall in the globalized 21st century.

The writing is on the wall that if we fail to overcome the challenges confronting us, our continent will succumb to the negative forces of globalization in this century, just as our continent was exploited of its human and natural resources through the trilogy of slavery, colonialism and neo-colonialism. 

We must be agents of our own liberation like we did during the struggle against colonialism.  Our struggle against underdevelopment and many of the problems we face today require cadres with social and political consciousness that is not only Afrocentric, but also rooted among the people and their quest for a better life.  This new cadre is the African Personality that Edward Blyden and Nkrumah envisioned as a master of her destiny – free of the shackles of Afro-pessimism, defeatism, and the inferiority complex. 

Programme Director

We owe our freedom in South Africa to the Pan-African movement and its cadres who were fearless against the monster of apartheid.  You will recall what Nelson Mandela said in January 1962 while addressing the Pan-African Movement of East and Central Africa in Addis Ababa that: “In the special situation obtaining in our country South Africa, our people will never win freedom through their own efforts”.  We will forever be grateful for the support we received from our African sisters and brothers, including the Ghanaians.

Fortunately, relations between Ghana and South Africa have been on a sound footing for a very long time. We need to keep on finding creative ways of exploiting the many positive attributes that characterize our bilateral relations. Take for example the fact that both our countries enjoy peace, with Ghana earning the accolade as one of the models of peace on our continent.

The South African - Ghana Permanent Joint Commission for Cooperation (the PJCC) was launched in Pretoria in May 2007 to serve as a vehicle for advancing relations between our two countries. I have just concluded the Second Session of this PJCC with my Ghanaian counterpart, Minister Alhaji Muhammad Mumuni.

The spirit of Pan-Africanism requires of us to continue to leverage our bilateral partnership for the betterment of Africa, including promoting people-to-people relations between our two countries.

We need to ensure political stability in our countries. We need to support and participate in the AU’s economic and infrastructural programme - NEPAD, including supporting the objectives of the African Peer Review Mechanism. Ghana as a member of ECOWAS and South Africa as a member of SADC – both need to ensure that our respective Regional Economic Communities are peaceful, politically stable, support good governance, and that they are strong and cohesive. I am sure you will agree that only strong and cohesive RECs can become the dependable building blocks of a strong and cohesive African Union.

We pride ourselves by being associated with a country that participates in peacemaking and peacekeeping missions, like we do. We know that several Ghanaian Generals have led military contingents in United Nations operations, serving with exceptional bravery, skill and professionalism. This remarkable and dedicated involvement led to the opening of the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre in Ghana.

On the multilateral front, our countries share similar views on the reform of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). We know that Ghana supports the decision that required the setting up of a Human Rights Council and a Peace Building Commission. It also supports the fact that Africa must be fully represented in all the decision-making organs of the UN, not least the Security Council.

South Africa will continue to focus its foreign policy on promoting the integration of the SADC, consolidating the agenda for the renewal of the African continent, South-South cooperation, North-South dialogue, and working with other countries for a world system that is democratic and sensitive to interests of developing countries.

Ladies and gentlemen

Three days ago was the International Women’s Day whose centenary we celebrated last year.  As we are meeting here in Accra today, the international community is in session in New York to review the implementation of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

On 18 December 2009 we celebrated the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which in its preambular section, poignantly captured the essence of our struggle against discrimination by recalling that the “discrimination against women violates the principles of equality of rights and respect for human dignity” and that it is “an obstacle to the participation of women, on equal terms with men”.

One measure of our progress in moving closer to our dream of a “new” Africa is the extent to which our women enjoy all the freedoms they deserve; and are everywhere beyond the confines of the kitchen.

Programme Director

Pan-Africanism today must take into account the likely impact of future global trends on Africa.  Our failure to factor this dimension in the content of our vision for the future may result in Africa being run over by developments we did not anticipate.  Europe is changing in the aftermath of the entry into force of the Lisbon Treaty to strengthen its collective might and elevate its level of engagement with the world.  This development has long-term implications for the future of the nation-state in that part of our world calls on us not to look back in our collective endeavour to achieve our goal of a united Africa.

The emergence of some countries of Asia as a force in global affairs should continue to inspire us to believe that our current problems are surmountable.   Some of these countries in Asia were once under colonial occupation like us.  They were also once as underdeveloped as many of our countries are today.   Our people must always be our source of strength because their needs are a beacon that must guide and lead us in our work for a better Africa.  They are the ones who stood against the colonizer – their struggle inspired Nkrumah like many of us today.

We can also learn from Latin America how the agenda of the state can be reconfigured away from the doctrine of the Washington Consensus that destroyed many of our economies under the false promise of a better future.  We can assert our right over our natural resources and place the state at the center for the development of our countries.

We are on the right course, hence the international magazine, the Newsweek (of 1 March 2010), could run a lead article entitled “Africa: The New India: How an Economic Explosion is Transforming the Continent”!

The FIFA World Cup to be held in South Africa in the next three months will also help profile Africa as a positive story.  We are grateful for the support we continue to receive from our African sisters and brothers who have owned this sporting event as theirs.  Your compatriot, Abedi Pele, has been one of our staunch supporters since the days when we were bidding for hosting this event.  He is the embodiment of Pan-Africanism and a true ambassador of your country and the entire African continent.

In conclusion, Programme Director, I am sure that you will agree with me that we all have a great responsibility of fulfilling the dream of our forbearers like Kwame Nkrumah.

As Du Bois said, “we need to work and think together otherwise the collective future of the Black man [and woman] in the modern world is not safe”.

Ladies and gentlemen, we can work and think together better when we are organized into organizations that make positive contribution to society.  One of such organizations is the African National Congress (of South Africa) whose centenary we will be celebrating in the next two years.  When we celebrate the hundred years of the ANC, we will also take stock of its contribution to the struggle for a better life in our country.  The ANC had a home in this country, and its leaders were received with open arms by your people and leadership, including Nkrumah.  As President Jacob Zuma said at the last Summit of the African Union, Africans must claim the ANC and the freedom it won for the people of South Africa, as theirs.

I am sure you will agree with what Oliver Tambo said at the 70th anniversary of the ANC in 1972 about our struggle and the internationalist character of Pan-Africanism, that:

(I quote)

We believe that the struggle has not been of single, separate countries but of the whole of Africa. The achievements of the forces of progress in different parts of the world are interlocked. We in Africa are part and parcel of this worldwide struggle. Africa did not struggle in a vacuum. We owe our victories to forces in all parts of the world, which fought along the same paths.

(Close quote)

Pan-Africanism is as relevant today as it was 110 years ago. Its strength is in our working together with courage, determination and unity. As in the struggle for political emancipation, self determination and freedom - it is by harnessing our collective strength that we shall maximize our efforts.

To our youth who constitute the bulk of the population on this continent, I am reminded of what Patrice Lumumba said in his address to the Congolese youth in August 1960, that:

Today I am addressing the youth, the young men and women of the Republic of the Congo. In speaking to them, I am addressing these words to future generations because the future of our beloved country belongs to them. We are fighting our enemies in order to prepare a better and happier life for our youth. If we had been egoists, if we had thought only about ourselves we would not have made the innumerable sacrifices we are making.

I thank you!

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