Today in History, exactly 57 years ago, on 25 May 1963, the first African organisation after independence, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), was formed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in which President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana played a prominent role.
Mr Nkrumah‘s speech at the founding of the OAU has since become a classic, even iconic.
Here’s the First President of Ghana, Mr Nkrumah’s speech at the inaugural ceremony of the OAU Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in 1963.
“Your Excellencies, Colleagues, Brothers and Friends,
At the first gathering of African Heads of State, to which I had the honour of playing host, there were representatives of eight independent States only. Today, five years later, we meet as the representatives of no less than thirty-two States, the guests of His
Imperial Majesty, Haile Selassie, the First, and the Government and people of Ethiopia. To His Imperial Majesty, I wish to express, on behalf of the Government and people of Ghana my deep appreciation for a most cordial welcome and generous hospitality.
The increase in our number in this short space of time is open testimony to the indomitable and irresistible surge of our peoples for independence. It is also a token of the revolutionary speed of world events in the latter half of this century. In the task which is before us of unifying our continent we must fall in with that pace or be left
behind. The task cannot be attached in the tempo of any other age than our own. To fall behind the unprecedented momentum of actions and events in our time will be to court failure and our own undoing.
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 erected.
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 controls and
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 in 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 recognize 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 around. The United States of America, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, were the political decisions of revolutionary peoples before they became mighty realities of social power and material wealth.
How, except by our united efforts, will the richest and still enslaved parts of our continent be freed from colonial occupation and become available to us for the total development of our continent? Every step in the decolonization of our continent has brought greater resistance in those areas where colonial garrisons are available to colonialism.
This is the great design of the imperialist interests that buttress colonialism and neo-colonialism, and we would be deceiving ourselves in the cruelest way were we to regard their individual actions as separate and unrelated. When Portugal violates Senegal’s border, when Verwood allocated one-seventh of South Africa’s budget to military and police, when France builds as part of her defence policy an interventionist force that can intervene, more especially in French-speaking Africa, when Welensky talks of Southern Rhodesia joining South Africa, it is all part of a carefully calculated pattern working towards a single end: the continued enslavement of our still dependent brothers and an onslaught upon the independence of our sovereign African States.
Do we have any other weapon against this design but our unity? Is not our unity essential to guard our own freedom as well as to win freedom for our oppressed brothers, the Freedom Fighters?
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 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?
In independent Africa, we are already re-experiencing the instability and frustration which existed under colonial rule. We are fast learning that political independence is not enough to rid us of the consequences of colonial rule.
The movement of the masses of the people of Africa for freedom from that kind of rule was not only a revolt against the conditions which it imposed. Our people supported us in our fight for independence because they believed that African Governments could cure the ills of the past in a way which could never be accomplished under colonial rule. If, therefore, now that we are independent we allow the same conditions to exist that existed in colonial days, all the resentment which overthrew colonialism will be mobilized against us.
The resources are there. It is for us to marshal them in the active service of our people. Unless we do this by our concerted efforts, within the framework of our combined planning, we shall not progress at the tempo demanded by today’s events and the mood of our people. The symptoms of our troubles will grow, and the troubles themselves
become chronic. It will then be too late even for Pan-African Unity to secure for us stability and tranquillity in our labours for a continent of social justice and material well-being. Unless we establish African Unity now, we who are sitting here today shall tomorrow be the victims and martyrs of neo-colonialism.
There is evidence on every side that the imperialists have not withdrawn from our affairs. There are times, as in the Congo, when their interference is manifest. But generally it is covered up under the clothing of many agencies, which meddle in our domestic affairs, to foment dissension within our borders and to create an atmosphere of tension and political instability. As long as we do not do away with the root causes of discontent, we lend aid to these neo-colonialist forces, and shall become our own executioners. We cannot ignore the teachings of history.
Our continent is probably the richest in the world for minerals and industrial and agricultural primary materials. From the Congo alone, Western firms exported copper, rubber, cotton, and other goods to the value of 2, 773 billion dollars in the ten years between 1945 and 1955, and from South Africa, Western gold mining companies have drawn a profit, in the four years, between 1947 to 1951, of 814 billion
Our continent certainly exceeds all the others in potential hydroelectric power, which some experts assess as 42 percent of the world’s total. What need is there for us to remain hewers for the industrialised areas of the world?
It is said, of course, that we have no capital, no industrial skill, no communications and no internal markets, and that we cannot even agree among ourselves how best to utilise our resources.
Yet all the stock exchanges in the world are preoccupied with Africa’s gold, diamonds, uranium, platinum, copper and iron ores. Our capital flows out in streams to irrigate the whole system of Western economy. Fifty-two percent of the gold in Fort Knox at this moment, where the U. S. A. stores its bullion, is believed to have originated from our shores. Africa provides more than 60 percent of the world’s gold. A great deal of the uranium for nuclear power, of copper for electronics, of titanium for supersonic projectiles, of iron and steel for heavy industries, of other minerals and raw materials for lighter industries – the basic economic might of the foreign Powers – come
from our continent.
Experts have estimated that the Congo basin alone can produce enough food crops to satisfy the requirements of nearly half the population of the whole world.
For centuries Africa has been the milk cow of the Western world. It was our continent that helped the Western world to build up its accumulated wealth.
It is true that we are now throwing off the yoke of colonialism as fast as we can, but our success in this direction is equally matched by an intense effort on the part of imperialism to continue the exploitation of our resources by creating divisions among us.
When the colonies of the American Continent sought to free themselves from imperialism in the 18th century there was no threat of neo-colonialism in the sense in which we know it today. The American States were therefore free to form and fashion the unity which was best suited to their needs and to frame a constitution to hold their unity together without any form of interference from external sources.
We, however, are having to grapple with outside interventions. How much more, then do we need to come together in the African unity that alone can save us from the clutches of neo-colonialism.
We have the resources. It was colonialism in the first place that prevented us from accumulating the effective capital; but we ourselves have failed to make full use of our power in independence to mobilise our resources for the most effective take-off into thorough going economic and social development. We have been too busy nursing our separate States to understand fully the basic need of our union, rooted in common purpose, common planning and common endeavour. A union that ignores these fundamental necessities will be but a shame.
It is only by uniting our productive capacity and the resultant production that we can amass capital. And once we start, the momentum will increase. With capital controlled by our own banks, harnessed to our own true industrial and agricultural development, we shall make our advance. We shall accumulate machinery and establish steel works, iron foundries and factories; we shall link the various States of our continent with communications; we shall astound the world with our hydroelectric power; we shall drain marshes and swamps, clear infested areas, feed the under-nourished, and rid our people of parasites and disease. It is within the possibility of science and technology to
make even the Sahara bloom into a vast field with verdant vegetation for agricultural and industrial developments. We shall harness the radio, television, giant printing presses to lift our people from the dark recesses of illiteracy.
A decade ago, these would have been visionary words, the fantasies of an idle dreamer. But this is the age in which science has transcended the limits of the material world, and technology has invaded the silences of nature. Time and space have been reduced to unimportant abstractions. Giant machines make roads, clear forests, dig dams,
layout aerodromes; monster trucks and planes distribute goods; huge laboratories manufacture drugs; complicated geological surveys are made; mighty power stations are built; colossal factories erected all at an incredible speed. The world is no longer moving through bush paths or on camels and donkeys.
We cannot afford to pace our needs, our development, our security to the gait of camels and donkeys. We cannot afford not to cut down the overgrown bush of outmoded attitudes that obstruct our path to the modern open road of the widest and earliest achievement of economic independence and the raising up of the lives of our people to the highest level.
Even for other continents lacking tile resources of Africa, this is the age that sees the end of human want. For us it is a simple matter of grasping with certainty our heritage by using the political might of unity. All we need to do is to develop with our united strength the enormous resources of our continent. A United Africa will provide a
stable field of foreign investment, which will encourage as long as it does not behave inimically to our African interests.
For such investment would add by its enterprises to the development of the
national economy, employment and training of our people, and will be welcome to Africa. In dealing with a united Africa, investors will no longer have to weigh with concern the risks of negotiating with governments in one period which may not exist in the very next period.
Instead of dealing or negotiating with so many separate States at a time they will be dealing with one united government pursuing a harmonized continental policy.
What is the alternative to this? If we falter at this stage, and let time pass for neo-colonialism to consolidate its position on this continent, what will be the fate of our people who have put their trust in us? What will be the fate of our freedom fighters? What will be the fate of other African Territories that are not yet free?
Unless we can establish great industrial complexes in Africa – which we can only do in united Africa – we must have our peasantry to the mercy of foreign cash crop markets, and face the same unrest which overthrew the colonialists? What use to the farmer is education and mechanisation, what use is even capital for development; unless we can
ensure for him and a fair price and ready market? What has the peasant, worker and farmer gained from political independence, unless we can ensure for him a fair return for his labour and a higher standard of living?
Unless we can establish great industrial complexes in Africa, what have the urban worker, and all those peasants on overcrowded land gained from political independence? If they are to remain unemployed or in unskilled occupation, what will avail them the better facilities for education, technical training, energy and ambition which independence enables us to provide?
There is hardly any African State without frontier problem with its adjacent neighbours. It would be futile for me to enumerate them because they are already familiar to us all. But let me suggest to Your Excellences, that this fatal relic of colonialism will drive us to war against one another as our unplanned and uncoordinated industrial development expands, just as happened in Europe. Unless we succeed in arresting the danger through mutual understanding on fundamental issues and through African Unity, which will render existing boundaries obsolete and superfluous, we shall have fought in vain for independence. Only African Unity can heal this festering sore of boundary disputes between our various States.
Your Excellencies, the remedy for these ills is ready to our hand. It stares us in the face
at every customs barrier, it shouts to us from every African heart. By creating a true political union of all the independent States of Africa, we can tackle hopefully every emergency, every enemy and every complexity. This is not because we are a race of superman, but because we have emerged in the age of science and technology in which poverty, ignorance and disease are no longer the masters, but the retreating
foes of mankind. We have emerged in the age of socialized planning, when production and distribution are not governed by chaos, greed and self-interest, but by social needs. Together with the rest of mankind, we have awakened from Utopian dreams to pursue practical blueprints for progress and social justice.
Above all, we have emerged at a time when a continental land mass like Africa with its population approaching three hundred million are necessary to the economic capitalization and profitability of modern productive methods and techniques. Not one of us working singly and individually can successfully attain the fullest development.
Certainly, in the circumstances, it will not be possible to give adequate assistance to sister States trying, against the most difficult conditions, to improve their economic and social structures. Only a united Africa functioning under a Union Government can
forcefully mobilize the material and moral resources of our separate countries and apply them efficiently and energetically to bring a rapid change in the conditions of our people.
If we do not approach the problems in Africa with a common front and a common purpose, we shall be haggling and wrangling among ourselves until we are colonized again and become the tolls of a far greater colonialism than we suffered hitherto.
Unite we must. Without necessarily sacrificing our sovereignties, big or small, we can, here and now, forge a political union based on Defence, Foreign Affairs and Diplomacy, and a common Citizenship, an African currency, an African Monetary Zone and an African Central Bank. We must unite in order to achieve the full liberation of our continent. We need a common Defence system with an African High Command to ensure the stability and security of Africa.
We have been charged with this sacred task by our own people, and we cannot betray their trust by failing them. We will be mocking the hopes of our people if we show the slightest hesitation or delay by tackling realistically this question of African Unity.
The supply of arms or other military aid to the colonial oppressors in Africa must be regarded not only as aid in the vanquishment of the freedom fighters battling for their African independence, but as an act of aggression against the whole of Africa. How can we meet this aggression except by the full weight of our united strength?
Many of us have made non-alignment an article of faith on this continent. We have no wish, and no intention of being drawn into the Cold War. But with the present weakness and insecurity of our States in the context of world politics, the search for bases and spheres of influence brings the Cold War into Africa with its danger of nuclear warfare. Africa should be declared a nuclear-free zone and freed from cold war exigencies. But we cannot make this demand mandatory unless we support it from a position of strength to be found only in our unity.
Instead, many Independent African States are involved by military pacts with the former colonial powers. The stability and security which such devices seek to establish are illusory, for the metropolitan Powers seize the opportunity to support their
neo-colonialist controls by direct military involvement. We have seen how the neo-colonialists use their bases to entrench themselves and attack neighboring independent States. Such bases are centers of tension and potential danger spots of military conflict. They threaten the security not only of the country in which they are situated but of neighboring countries as well. How can we hope to make Africa a nuclear-free zone and independent of cold war pressure with such military involvement on our continent? Only by counter-balancing a common defence force with a common defence policy based upon our desire for an Africa untrammelled by foreign dictation or military and nuclear presence. This will require an all-embracing African High Command, especially if the military pacts with the imperialists are to be renounced. It is the only way we can break these direct links between the colonialism of the past and the neo-colonialism which disrupts us today.
We do not want nor do we visualize an African High Command in the terms of the power politics that now rule a great part of the world, but as an essential and indispensable instrument for ensuring stability and security in Africa.
We need a unified economic planning for Africa. Until the economic power of Africa is in our hands, the masses can have no real concern and no real interest for safeguarding our security, for ensuring the stability of our regimes, and for bending their strength to the fulfilment of our ends. With our united resources, energies and talents we have the means, as soon as we show the will, to transform
the economic structures of our individual States from poverty to that of wealth, from, inequality to the satisfaction of popular needs. Only on a continental basis shall we be able to plan the proper utilization of all our resources for the full development of our continent. How else will we retain our own capital for our development? How else
will we establish an internal market for our own industries? By belonging to different economic zones, how will we break down the currency and trading barriers between African States, and how will the economically stronger amongst us be able to assist the weaker and less developed States?
It is important to remember that independent financing and independent development cannot take place without an independent currency. A currency system that is backed by the resources of a foreign State is ipso facto subject to the trade and financial arrangements of that foreign country. Because we have so many customs and currency barriers as a result of being subject to the different currency systems of foreign powers,
this has served to widen the gap between us in Africa. How, for example, can related communities and families trade with, and support one another successfully, if they find themselves divided by national boundaries and currency restrictions? The only alternative open to them in these circumstances, is to use smuggled currency and enrich national and international racketeers and crooks who prey upon our
financial and economic difficulties.
No independent African State today by itself has a chance to follow an independent course of economic development, and many of us who have tried to do this have been almost ruined or have had to return to the fold of the former colonial rulers. This position will not change unless we have unified policy working at the continental level. The first step towards our cohesive economy would be a unified monetary zone, with, initially, an agreed common parity for our currencies. To facilitate this arrangement, Ghana would change to a decimal system.
When we find that the arrangement of a fixed common parity is working successfully, there would seem to be no reason for not instituting one common currency and a single bank of issue. With a common currency from one common bank of issue we should be able to stand erect on our own feet because such an arrangement would be fully backed by the combined national products of the States composing the union. After all, the purchasing power of money depends on productivity and the
productive exploitation of the natural, human and physical resources of the nation.
While we are assuring our stability by a common defence system, and our economy is being orientated beyond foreign control by a Common currency, Monetary Zone and Central Bank of Issue, we can investigate the resources of our continent. We can begin to ascertain whether in reality we are the richest, and not, as we have been taught to
believe, the poorest among the continents. We can determine whether we possess the largest potential in hydroelectric power, and whether we can harness it and other sources of energy to our own industries. We can proceed to plan our industrialization on a continental scale, and to build up a common market for nearly three hundred million people. Common Continental Planning for the Industrial and Agricultural
development of Africa is a vital necessity.
So many blessings must flow from our unity; so many disasters must follow on our continued disunity, that our failure to unite today will not be attributed by posterity only to faulty reasoning and lack of courage, but to our capitulation before the forces of imperialism.
The hour of history which has brought us to this assembly is a revolutionary hour. It is the hour of decision. For the first time, the economic imperialism which menaces us is itself challenged by the irresistible will of our people. The masses of the people of Africa are crying for unity. The people of Africa call for a breaking down of boundaries that keep them apart. They demand an end to the border disputes between sister African States – disputes that arise out of the artificial barriers that divided us. It was colonialism’s purpose that left us with our border irredentism that rejected our ethnic and cultural fusion.
Our people call for unity so that they may not lose their patrimony in the perpetual service of neo-colonialism. In their fervent push for unity, they understand that only its realization will give full meaning to their freedom and our African independence.
It is this popular determination that must move us on to a Union of Independent African States. In delay lies danger to our well-being, to tour very existence as free States. It has been suggested that our approach of unity should be gradual, that it should go piece-meal. This point of view conceives of Africa as a static entity with “frozen” problems which can be eliminated one by one and when all have
been cleared then we can come together and say: “Now all is well. Let us unite”. This view takes no account of the impact of external pressures. Nor does it take cognizance of the danger that delay can deepen our isolations and exclusiveness; that it can enlarge our differences and set us drifting further and further apart into the net
of neo-colonialism, so that our union will become nothing but a fading hope, and the great design of Africa’s full redemption will be lost, perhaps, forever.
The view is also expressed that our difficulties could be resolved simply by a greater collaboration through cooperative association in our inter-territorial relationships. This way of looking at our problems denies a proper conception of their inter-relationship and mutuality. It denies faith in a future for African advancement, in
African independence. It betrays a sense of solution only in continued reliance upon external sources through bilateral agreements for economic and other forms of aid.
The fact is that although we have been cooperating and associating with one another in various fields of common endeavour even before colonial times, this has not given us the continental identity and the political and economic force which would help us to deal effectively with the complicated problems confronting us in Africa today. As far
as foreign aid is concerned, a United Africa would be in a more favourable position to attract assistance from foreign sources.
There is the far more compelling advantage which this arrangement offers, in that aid will come from anywhere to Africa because our bargaining power would become infinitely greater. We shall no longer be dependent upon aid from restricted sources. We shall have the world to choose from.
What are we looking for in Africa? Are we looking for Charters, conceived in the light of the United Nations example? A type of United Nations organisation whose decisions are framed on the basis of resolutions that in our experience have sometimes been ignored by member States? Where groupings are formed and pressures develop in
accordance with the interest of the group concerned? Or is it intended that Africa should be turned into a lose organization of States on the model of the organization of the American States, in which the weaker States within it can be at the mercy of the stronger or more powerful ones politically or economically or at the mercy of some powerful outside nations or group of nations? Is this the kind of association
we want for ourselves in the United Africa we all speak of with such
feeling and emotion?
Your Excellences, permit me to ask: is this the kind of framework we desire for our United Africa? And arrangement which in future could permit Ghana or Nigeria or the Sudan, or Liberia, or Egypt or Ethiopia for example, to use pressure, which either superior economic or political influence gives, to dictate the flow and the direction of
trade from, say, Burundi or Togo or Nyasaland to Mozambique? We all want a United Africa, united not only in our concept of what unity can connote, but united in our common desire to move forward together and dealing with all the problems that can best be solved only on a continental basis.
When the first Congress of the United States met many years ago at Philadelphia, one of the delegates sounded the first chore of unity by declaring that they had met in a “state of nature” in other words, they were not at Philadelphia as Virginians, or Pennsylvanians, but simply as Americans. This reference to themselves as Americans was in those days a new and strange experience. May I dare to assert equally
on this occasion, Your Excellences that we meet here today not as Ghanaians, Guineans, Egyptians, Algerians, Moroccans, Malians, Liberians, Congolese or Nigerians but as Africans. Africans united in our resolve to remain here until we have agreed on the basic principles of a new compact of unity among ourselves which guarantees for us and future a new arrangement of continental government.
If we succeed in establishing a new set of principles as the basis of a new Charter or Statute for the establishment of a Continental Unity of Africa and the creation of social and political progress for our people then, in my view, this Conference should mark the end of our various groupings and regional blocs. But if we fail and let this grand and historic opportunity slip by then we should give way to greater dissension and division among us for which the people of Africa will never forgive us. And the popular and progressive forces and movements within Africa will condemn us. I am sure therefore that we should not fail them.
I have spoken at some length, Your Excellences, because it is necessary for us all to explain not only to one another present here but also to our people who have entrusted to us the fate and destiny of Africa. We must therefore not leave this place until we have set up effective machinery for achieving African Unity. To this end, I now
propose for your consideration the following:
As a first step, Your Excellences, a Declaration of Principles uniting and binding us together and to which we must all faithful and loyally adhere, and laying the foundations of unity should be set down. And there should also be a formal declaration that all the Independent African States here and now agree to the establishment of a Union of African States.
As a second and urgent step for the realization of the unification of Africa, an All-Africa Committee of Foreign Ministers be set up now, and that before we rise from this Conference a day should be fixed for them to meet. This Committee should establish on behalf of the Heads of our Governments, a permanent body of officials and experts to work out machinery for the Union Government of Africa. This body of officials and experts should be made up of two of the brains from each Independent African State. The various Charters of the existing groupings and other relevant documents could also be submitted to the officials and experts.
A presidium consisting of the Head of the Governments of the Independent African States should be called upon to meet and adopt a Constitution and others recommendations that will launch the Union Government of Africa.
We must also decide on allocation where this body of officials and experts will work as the new Headquarters or Capital of our Union Government. Some central place in Africa might be the fairest suggestion either at Bangui in the Central African Republic or Leopoldville in Congo. My colleagues may have other proposals. The
Committee of Foreign Ministers, officials and experts should be
empowered to establish:
- A Commission to frame a Constitution for a Union Government of African States;
2. A Commission to work out a continent-wide plan for a unified or
common economic and industrial programme for Africa; this plan should
include proposals for setting up:
• A Common Market for Africa
• An African currency
• African Monetary Zone
• African Central Bank, and
• Continental Communications System;
3. A Commission to draw up details for a Common Foreign Policy and Diplomacy;
4. A Commission to produce plans for a Common System of Defence;
5. A Commission to make proposals for Common African Citizenship.
These Commissions will report to the Committee of Foreign Ministers who should, in turn, submit within six months of this Conference their recommendations to the Presidium. The Presidium meeting in Conference at the Union Headquarters will consider and approve the recommendations of the Committee of Foreign Ministers.
In order to provide funds immediately for the work of the permanent officials and experts of the Headquarters of the Union, I suggest that a special Committed be set up now to work a budget for this. Your Excellences, with these steps, I submit, we shall be irrevocably committed to the road which will bring us to a Union Government of
Africa. Only a united Africa with central political direction can successfully give effective material and moral support to our Freedom Fighters in Southern Rhodesia, Angola, Mozambique, South-West Africa, Bechuanaland, Swaziland, Basutoland, Portuguese Guinea, etc., and of course South Africa.”
Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, was a passionate believer in African unity, and a living link with the historic Pan-African movement which had promoted solidarity among people of African descent everywhere against colonialism and racism.
Kwame Nkrumah Speech categorically linked Ghana’s independence to the continent’s own, recognizing that “the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the continent.” Nkrumah, therefore, established a series of conferences hosted in Accra between 1958 and 1960 with the aims of assisting countries still under colonial rule, fostering cultural and economic ties between countries and considering the issue of world peace.