I Speak of Freedom

By Kwame Nkrumah


On The African Citizen

… “Africa needs a new type of citizen, a dedicated modest, honest, informed man. A man who submerges self in service to the nation and to mankind. A man who abhors greed and detests vanity. A new type of man whose humility is his strength and whose integrity is his greatness…” Nkrumah

For centuries, Europeans dominated the African continent. The white man arrogated to himself the right to rule and to be obeyed by the non-white; his mission, he claimed, was to “civilize” Africa. Under this cloak, the Europeans robbed the continent of vast riches and inflicted unimaginable suffering on the African people.

All this makes a sad story, but now we must be prepared to bury the past with its unpleasant memories and look to the future. All we ask of the former colonial powers is their goodwill and co-operation to remedy past mistakes and injustices and to grant independence to the colonies in Africa….

It is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African unity. Divided we are weak; united, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world.

Although most Africans are poor, our continent is potentially extremely rich. Our mineral resources, which are being exploited with foreign capital only to enrich foreign investors, range from gold and diamonds to uranium and petroleum. Our forests contain some of the finest woods to be grown anywhere. Our cash crops include cocoa, coffee, rubber, tobacco and cotton. As for power, which is an important factor in any economic development, Africa contains over 40% of the potential water power of the world, as compared with about 10% in Europe and 13% in North America. Yet so far, less than 1% has been developed. This is one of the reasons why we have in Africa the paradox of poverty in the midst of plenty, and scarcity in the midst of abundance.

Never before have a people had within their grasp so great an opportunity for developing a continent endowed with so much wealth. Individually, the independent states of Africa, some of them potentially rich, others poor, can do little for their people. Together, by mutual help, they can achieve much. But the economic development of the continent must be planned and pursued as a whole. A loose confederation designed only for economic co-operation would not provide the necessary unity of purpose. Only a strong political union can bring about full and effective development of our natural resources for the benefit of our people.

The political situation in Africa today is heartening and at the same time disturbing. It is heartening to see so many new flags hoisted in place of the old; it is disturbing to see so many countries of varying sizes and at different levels of development, weak and, in some cases, almost helpless. If this terrible state of fragmentation is allowed to continue it may well be disastrous for us all.

There are at present some 28 states in Africa, excluding the Union of South Africa, and those countries not yet free. No less than nine of these states have a population of less than three million. Can we seriously believe that the colonial powers meant these countries to be independent, viable states? The example of South America, which has as much wealth, if not more than North America, and yet remains weak and dependent on outside interests, is one which every African would do well to study.

Critics of African unity often refer to the wide differences in culture, language and ideas in various parts of Africa. This is true, but the essential fact remains that we are all Africans, and have a common interest in the independence of Africa. The difficulties presented by questions of language, culture and different political systems are not insuperable. If the need for political union is agreed by us all, then the will to create it is born; and where there’s a will there’s a way.

The present leaders of Africa have already shown a remarkable willingness to consult and seek advice among themselves. Africans have, indeed, begun to think continentally. They realise that they have much in common, both in their past history, in their present problems and in their future hopes. To suggest that the time is not yet ripe for considering a political union of Africa is to evade the facts and ignore realities in Africa today.

The greatest contribution that Africa can make to the peace of the world is to avoid all the dangers inherent in disunity, by creating a political union which will also by its success, stand as an example to a divided world. A Union of African states will project more effectively the African personality. It will command respect from a world that has regard only for size and influence. The scant attention paid to African opposition to the French atomic tests in the Sahara, and the ignominious spectacle of the U.N. in the Congo quibbling about constitutional niceties while the Republic was tottering into anarchy, are evidence of the callous disregard of African Independence by the Great Powers.

We have to prove that greatness is not to be measured in stockpiles of atom bombs. I believe strongly and sincerely that with the deep-rooted wisdom and dignity, the innate respect for human lives, the intense humanity that is our heritage, the African race, united under one federal government, will emerge not as just another world bloc to flaunt its wealth and strength, but as a Great Power whose greatness is indestructible because it is built not on fear, envy and suspicion, nor won at the expense of others, but founded on hope, trust, friendship and directed to the good of all mankind.

The emergence of such a mighty stabilizing force in this strife-worn world should be regarded not as the shadowy dream of a visionary, but as a practical proposition, which the peoples of Africa can, and should, translate into reality. There is a tide in the affairs of every people when the moment strikes for political action. Such was the moment in the history of the United States of America when the Founding Fathers saw beyond the petty wranglings of the separate states and created a Union. This is our chance. We must act now. Tomorrow may be too late and the opportunity will have passed, and with it the hope of free Africa’s survival.

What we need is unity and tranquillity at home and peace abroad. Today, peace is not only indivisible but the supreme and universal need of mankind. For the first time in our history, the world is threatened with total destruction. Our dreams and hopes for a better and richer life now hang on the balance and that is why I have appealed to the great statesmen of the great powers to turn their backs upon war and the preparation of war, and to think and work for peace. Small and insignificant as we are, Ghana is prepared to make any sacrifice towards the attainment of a lasting world peace. Sometimes I wonder whether it would not be helpful if we in Ghana, and all other like minded nations, established a separate Ministry of Peace as opposed to ministries of defence and war, which could devote itself exclusively to considering ways and means by which international tension could be reduced and understanding between the people of all nations increased. This would inspire us all to dedicate our national energies and resources to the cause of universal peace and to the total happiness of mankind.

As we look back into the history of our continent, we cannot escape the fact that we have for too long been the victims of foreign domination. For too long we have had no say in the management of our own affairs or in deciding our own destinies. Now times have changed, and today we are the masters of our own fate. This fact is evidenced in our meeting together here as independent sovereign states out of our own free will to share our minds openly, to argue and discuss, to share our experiences, our aspirations, our dreams and our hopes in the interests of Mother Africa.

For the first time, I think, in the history of this great continent, leaders of all the purely African states which can play an independent role in international affairs will meet to discuss the problems of our countries and take the first steps towards working out an African contribution to international peace and goodwill. For too long, in our history, Africa has spoken through the voices of others. Now, what I have called an African Personality in international affairs will have a chance of making its proper impact and will let the world know it through the voices of Africa’s own sons.

Africa is the last remaining stronghold of colonialism. Unlike Asia, there are on the continent of Africa more dependent territories than independent sovereign nations. Therefore we, the free independent states of Africa, have a responsibility to hasten the total liberation of Africa. I believe that there are lessons from the past which will help us in discharging this sacred duty.

If I have spoken of racialism and colonialism it is not, as I have said, because I want to indulge in recrimination with any country by listing a catalogue of wrongs which have been perpetrated upon our continent in the past. My only purpose in doing so is to illustrate the different forms which colonialism and imperialism old and new can take, so that we can be on our guard in adopting measures to safe-guard our hard-won independence and national sovereignty. The imperialists of today endeavour to achieve their ends not merely by military means, but by economic penetration, cultural assimilation, ideological domination, psychological infiltration, and subversive activities event to the point of inspiring and promoting assassination and civil strife. Very often these methods are adopted in order to influence the foreign policies of small and uncommitted countries in a particular direction. Therefore, we the leaders of resurgent Africa, must be alert and vigilant.

We the delegates of this Conference, in promoting our foreign relations, must endeavour to seek the friendship of all and the enmity of none. We stand for international peace and security in conformity with the United Nations Charter. This will enable us to assert our own African personality and to develop according to our own ways of life, our own customs, traditions and cultures. In asserting our African Personality we shall be free to act in our individual and collective interests at any particular time. We shall be able to exert our influence on the side of peace and to uphold the rights of all people to decide for themselves their own forms of government as well as the right of all peoples, regardless of race, colour or creed to lead their own lives in freedom and without fear. This inalienable right was emphasised and endorsed in the five principles, recognised at the Bandung and other conferences which are now well known, namely, non-aggression, non-interference in each other’s internal affairs, equality, mutual benefit and peaceful co-existence. I am confident that we, the representatives of free independent states of Africa here assembled, will reaffirm our support for these principles.

In the past, the economic pattern of our countries was linked with the metropolitan powers of Europe and we have been accustomed to look to them for the maintenance of our markets and sources of supply. As independent states, it is in our mutual interest to explore trade possibilities between our respective countries while at the same time enlarging our trade with the rest of the world. In this connection we should exchange trade missions among ourselves. While doing all we can by our own efforts to develop our economies, and so strengthen our political independence, we should at the same time welcome economic assistance offered through the organisations of the United Nations, such as the proposed Regional Economic Commission for Africa. We shall also welcome other forms of economic aid from outside the United Nations, provided it does not compromise our independence.

Addressing ourselves to the cultural aspects of our relationships, we must also examine ways and means to broaden and strengthen our association with one another through such means as the exchange of students and the visits of cultural, scientific and technical missions, both governmental and non-governmental, and the establishment of libraries specialising in various aspects of African history and culture which may become centres of research. There are no limits to ways in which we on this African continent can enrich our knowledge of our past civilisations and cultural heritage through our co-operative efforts and the pooling of our scientific and technical resources.

The goals which we have set before us require a world of order and security in which we can live and work in tranquillity towards their realisation. This is why we have a vested interest in world peace. Our foreign policies must therefore be such as to contribute towards the realisation of that fundamental objective. As free and independent nations we must also endeavour to follow the policy of positive non-alignment so as to enable us at any time to adopt measures which will best suit our national interests and promote the cause of peace. It is only by avoiding entanglement in the quarrels of the great powers that we shall be able to assert our African personality on the side of peace in conformity with the Charter of the United Nations.

At the present time the great powers are spending astronomical sums of money on piling up stocks of the most destructive weapons that have ever been contrived; weapons which, if employed, will wipe out mankind and leave this earth barren and desolate. If these great powers can be persuaded to divert a small fraction of this precious capital, which they are now using for destructive ends, to finance the economic and social programmes of the under-developed countries of the world, it will not only raise the standard of living in these countries, but will also contribute greatly to the general cause of humanity and the attainment of world peace.

Like hundreds of millions of people all over the world we appeal to all the powers concerned to cease the testing of nuclear weapons. Radioactive winds know no international frontiers and it is these tests – in a period of so called peace – which can do no more than anything else to threaten our very existence. But what do we hear? At the very moment when a Summit Conference is being contemplated it is reputed that plans are being made to use the Sahara as a testing ground for nuclear weapons. We vehemently condemn this proposal and protests against the use of our continent for such purposes. We appeal to the United Nations to call a halt to this threat to our safety.

We must leave no stone unturned in our endeavours to lessen tensions in Africa no less than elsewhere, as every success which we are able to achieve in resolving issues like frontier disputes, tribal quarrels and racial and religious antagonisms, will be a step forward in the bringing about of world peace. To the extent that we are able by our own exertion and example, to maintain peace and friendship within our own states and on our continent, will we be in a position to exert moral pressures elsewhere and help to quench the flames of war which could destroy us all.

Today we are one. If in the past the Sahara divided us, now it unites us. And an injury to one is an injury to all of us. From this Conference must go out a new message: “Hands off Africa! Africa must be free!”

When I talk of freedom and independence for Africa, I mean that the vast African majority should be accepted as forming the basis of government in Africa. This does not imply that non-Africans should not live in Africa and play their full part in developing the continent, or that minority rights should be disregarded. As new African states emerge we look for a development of multi-racial understanding.

It cannot be denied that the process for the total liberation of Africa has begun in earnest, and that there is a strong case for very close association between the independent African states and those that will emerge as independent in future. I hope to see in Africa, not a large number of small and weak countries subject to all the dangers of Balkanisation, but rather the evolution of some sort of African Union. Such a union need not prejudice the local autonomy of individual territories, but it would provide a mechanism which would allow Africa as a whole to co-ordinate its defence, its main lines of economic and foreign policies, and its economic development.

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