Kwame Nkrumah and the 1953 Pan-African Conference in Kumasi MARIKA SHERWOOD
Introduction In March 1953, Kwame Nkrumah called for a conference of ‘nationalist leaders in West Africa as well as leaders of other organisations against imperialism’. Nkrumah, despite imprisonments, investigations, and then political success as Leader of Government Business, did not abandon his aim to call a unity conference. Nkrumah planned the first Pan-African conference, to be held on African soil in the Gold Coast town of Kumasi on 4-7 December 1953. At the conference, plans would be laid for ‘united West African development and the coordination of nationalist movements’. The Kumasi conference would be the forerunner to a ‘Pan-African Conference in 1954 to discuss Africa as a whole’.
Nkrumah had invited many people to attend, but very few honoured the invitation. Why was this? In trying to find an answer, my curiosity about the effect of the Cold War on the Gold Coast and then Ghana was revived by the release of some British surveillance papers on Nkrumah. The now admitted involvement of the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the overthrow of Nkrumah confirms the longstanding American ‘interest’ in events in West Africa. So I began to ask more questions: how much interference was there in local politics? How difficult was it for Nkrumah to manoeuvre the future of Ghana between the Cold War antagonists, all interested in Africa’s raw materials and undoubtedly fearful of a possibly powerful union between the emerging African states?i
This led me to an analysis of the relationship between Britain and France regarding their very different policies towards their colonies: Britain was recognising it had to grant political independence, while France was ‘assimilating’ its African colonies by opening up the French parliament to colonial representation. The final question relates to the articles that George Padmore wrote for the conference, which lead to an examination of the relationship between Padmore and Nkrumah after Nkrumah’s return to Ghana.
This paper summarises Nkrumah’s interest in holding a Pan-African conference in Africa, gives details of the 1953 gathering at Kumasi, and begins the process of finding answers to the questions raised.
Nkrumah’s dreams, hopes and plans, 1942-7 While he was studying in the USA, Nkrumah had written about the need for a West African Federation to enable Africans to ‘rule and govern themselves without outside interference’.i In 1942, he sent a programmei to K.A.B. Jones-Quartey, then also a student there, to use as ‘a starting point for the developments and unifications of which I speak’.
‘It is our task’, he wrote, ‘to build, to unite and develop…’ In an undated note, while still in the USA, he wrote: ‘…I have always dreamed of a Union – the United States of West Africa under African hegemony’.i
The possibility of realising this dream probably began at the Pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945. This was organised mainly by George Padmore, with the assistance of many other activists, including Nkrumah.i Among those attending the Congress were Bankole Awoonor Renner, then also a studenti; G. Ashie Nikoi, who represented the Gold Coast Farmers’ Association, and I.T.A. Wallace Johnson, representing both the Sierra Leone Youth League and the Sierra Leone Trades Union Congress. After the Congress, these four men, with Kojo Botsioi and Bankole Akpatai formed the West African National Secretariat (WANS).i
Among the aims of WANS were:
a. To foster a spirit of national unity and solidarity within West Africa; and
b. To engineer the formation of an All-West African National Congress.i
Recruited by Nkrumah, African delegates from France attended a WANS meeting, called in conjunction with the West African Students’ Union (WASU), on the theme of ‘Unity and Independence of all West Africa’. The resolutions called for the creation of a West African National Congress, to meet in West African ‘towards the end of next year’ The ultimate aim of a ‘United Socialist States of Africa’ was stressed, and a politically independent West Africa had to be achieved.i
The Gold Coast Observer (14 February 1947) and the Ashanti Pioneer (6 June 1947) carried information on WANS. On 12 November 1947, the Pioneer printed a letter signed by the WANS Treasurer, outlining the ‘framework’ for the West African National Congress, due to be held in Lagos in October 1948. All West African ‘territories’ were asked to send representatives ‘democratically elected by member organisations’.
Nkrumah left London about this time in order to take up a post with the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) in the Gold Coast. He stated that in order to publicise the Congress he would stop in Freetown and then Liberia where he intended asking President Tubman if he would open the Lagos Congress in about a year from then.i However, the congress was never held.
I have not been able to ascertain why the planned congress was not held. According to information obtained by the US Embassy in London from Colonel Yeldham of the Colonial Office’s West Africa Department, ‘the Lagos meeting failed to come about because no effective groundwork was laid, in British West Africa, at least… The Colonial Office understands that Houphouëti, Nkrumah and Awoonor-Renner have decided that another attempt should be made to hold the All West African National Congress, this time at Abidjan. The date is not known… Yeldham felt the All West African National Congress group should be watched as closely as possible.’i
Labelling Nkrumah a communist
During this Cold War era, labelling someone a communist was one way of dismissing them in public and providing grounds for actions against them in private. Thus, having been labelled a communist, Nkrumah could easily also be called a ‘subversive’ and arrested and imprisoned for supposedly fomenting strikes.
In 1947, the Governor’s Deputy from the Gold Coasti reported to the Colonial Office that Nkrumah, who had just arrived, was a man of ‘extreme political views’; his political associations in the UK had been ‘mostly with communists and other extremist groups. He has attempted to enlist the support of the CPGB [Communist Party of Great Britain] via M. Rogerson for the West African National Congress to be held in 1948’. In the tenth of the fortnightly reports on ‘Communism in the Colonies,’ Nkrumah is labelled as a ‘communist protagonist’.i The report of a 1949 meeting in Accra noted that ‘Nkrumah’s command over his audience was complete… The Communist line was plugged extremely adroitly’.i The Political Intelligence Reports from the West African colonies for 1950 included a claim that Nkrumah had been a member of the CPGB; though WANS had never been ‘under communist control…Nkrumah was a much more dangerous character’.i There is much more on Nkrumah’s supposed communist allegiances in the now released MI5 files.
The attempts to label Nkrumah a communist did not abate. For example, Maurice Smith of the British Colonial Office (CO) noted in June 1953 that there was ‘a serious trend, particularly in trade union matters, towards communism’, that there were ‘one or two samples of CPP press propaganda on communist lines’, and there was also an ‘increasing use of communist techniques in fomenting strikes’.i
The theme of communist influence was taken up by the Nigerian Governor in a letter to the Secretary of State for the Colonies on 10 November 1953 regarding an article by George Padmore published in the West African Pilot: ‘Previously in his contributions Padmore, though not a Party member, has stuck fairly closely to the Party line or has at best been a fellow traveller’.i Another CO official called Padmore a ‘West Indian Trotskyite’.
Attempts to hold a Pan-African conference on African soil
As noted earlier, despite imprisonments, investigations, and then political success in 1951 as leader of the Convention People’s Party, Nkrumah did not abandon his aim to call a unity conference. A conference was planned for August 1952, according to the Daily Graphic (22 December 1951). Central, East and West African nationalist movements were invited, as were leaders from the North; Habib Bourguibai of Tunisia and Mohammed Allal al-Fassii of Morocco were expected.i Is it possible that it was cancelled because those invited could not obtain visas to enter the Gold Coast?
In March 1953 Nkrumah called for a conference to be held in August, of ‘nationalist leaders in West Africa as well as leaders of other organisations against imperialism’, to whom invitations were being sent. Plans would be laid for a ‘united West African development and the co-ordination of nationalist movements’. This would be the forerunner to a ‘Pan-African Conference in 1954 to discuss Africa as a whole’.i In June, the US Political Affairs Department Counsellor in Dakar informed the State Department in Washington that Nkrumah had invited ‘Houphouët-Boigny, Diallo and d’Arboussier’ to the conference. However, a month later the Counsellor reported that Gabriel d’Arboussier and Diallo were communists and Nkrumah had ‘forbidden their entry into the Gold Coast’. In November, while visiting the USA, Nkrumah announced an ‘African nationalist leaders’ conference, the Daily Echo reported on 7 November, and went on to say that ‘this was being carefully examined by many international circles. Great interest and concern are attached to the conference.’
The British relationship with France
Britain and France had different approaches to the increasing demands for independence by their colonies. The French, according to Guy Martin, ‘after World War II realized that the loss of formal control would not necessarily be accompanied by a loss of real power and influence’.i This ‘loss’ in fact reaffirmed African colonies as an integral part of the French Republic, and all France’s African subjects were declared French citizens. Territorial Assemblies were also established, with two ‘electoral colleges’ – one for resident Europeans and one for Africans, whose franchise was very limited. And these Assemblies were only consultative and had no power.i
Given that this was the Cold War era, it was important for France and Britain to be able to cooperate on retaining as much power and control as possible. Efforts at communication and cooperation were clearly succeeding as in March 1947, the British Embassy in Paris wrote to the Foreign Office in London that it was ‘very gratifying that our relations with the French colonial field are developing satisfactorily…. Quite appreciate the reasons for not considering at the moment to exchange colonial attachés between Paris and London’.i A year later, the Colonial Office and MI5 discussed the exchange of security information with France regarding their West African colonies.i In 1949 the French government, now as fearful as the British of ‘subversive’ influences, announced that anyone wishing to enter a French colony must have a passport and a Carnet d’Etranger (foreigner’s identity card). i
Britain was also very concerned about the effect a unity conference might have on its relationship with France. It might have been this fear that led to the appointment of D.G. Pirie as vice-consul in Dakar in 1951 – he was to gather information on ‘all aspects of political constitutional, economic and other current questions in French West Africa and Liberia’. He had to get enough information to pass over to the French, or ‘he is not going to be able to obtain all the information he might get from them unless he can reciprocate’.i
Early in 1952, Pirie advised the Foreign Office (FO) that the ‘French don’t understand that HMG [the British government] is virtually powerless to stop Nkrumah…from holding such a meeting… [they] will see it as British support for anti-French nationalist movements’. S. A. Lockhart of the FO now wrote to the Colonial Office: ‘if it is decided that it would be politically inadvisable to prohibit the Congress, we very much hope that Sir Charles Arden-Clarke will be able to persuade Nkrumah to call it off’. However, as he doubted the possibility of the Governor succeeding in this attempt, Lockhart wrote to Pirie on 21 January that ‘as we have little time to decide whether we can prevent intending participants entering the country… We have been sometimes successful by delaying the issue of visas when we are not allowed to refuse them and we shall certainly pay attention of any requests by Bourguiba, El Fassi and Laghzaoui’.i It was agreed to send out a ‘circular that visas should not be granted (to the Gold Coast) to the delegates to the Congress without prior reference to London’.i
The FO informed Sir John Martin, Under-Secretary of International Relations at the CO on 27 February 1952 that the proposed ‘Congress would cause extreme embarrassment to the French… and South Africans, and indeed to all colonial powers’. Although the FO was ‘loath to embark upon’ the non-issue of visas, ‘but might find it difficult to resist… Important that…the Congress should not take place in British territory’.i
The interests of the USA
The USA had established an embassy in the Gold Coast immediately after the end of World War Two. The reports sent back by its officials are copious and cover all angles of the economy, politics, labour, transport and other aspects of life in the colony.i The US tried to influence Gold Coasters via the United States Information Service, the equivalent of the British Council. Exhibitions were held, student exchange programmes introduced, books donated to the libraries and many thousands of copies of US newspapers distributed. The practical activities of the CIA are as unknown at this point as those (other than surveillance) of Britain’s MI5.
Not unnaturally the US felt it had to discuss Nkrumah and this conference with the British government. Its official met with R.H. Saloway, the Gold Coast Minister of Defence and External Affairs on 20 May 1953. The US official was told that 20 people had been invited, including d’Arboussier, Diallo, Wallace-Johnson, Bankole Bright, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and J.B. Danquah. Saloway had advised Nkrumah ‘his attention should be on constitutional changes’, not Pan-Africanism. Saloway stated that the Colonial Office was ‘quite concerned…sent Secret letter to the Governor… keep the French fully informed’. In November the Minister passed on more information: 11 delegates had been invited from Nigeria, 6 from Sierra Leone, 2 from Gambia, 2 from Liberia and 8 Gold Coasters. ‘The French Consul General thinks no invitations’ had been sent to the French colonies. The conference was ‘of no special significance… [B]ut possible [that] the Colonial Office attaches more importance as indicative of a trend or as raising possible apprehensions on the part of certain colonial powers.’i
However, the US Ambassador in Paris decided to discuss the conference with Jean Jurgenson, the Chief of the Africa Section of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Jurgenson thought that the ‘Conference seemed to have been of little significance… However, [he] was not disposed to deprecate the significance of growing African nationalism… subsequent conferences could be expected to assume increasing importance from the point of view of developing solidarity among West African nationalists’.i
West African Federation Conference/West African National Congressi, Kumasi, 1953
Once the announcement for the conference was made, there was support from a number of West African newspapers. For example, Azikiwe’s West African Pilot noted on 5 December that ‘this is the first step towards the creation of a United States of West Africa some years after all the territories should have won their independence. Far-reaching decisions are expected to emerge from the conference’. On December 1, the Ashanti Sentinel printed a long article; ‘West Africa in a New Era’. The author, Dr. Yaw Agyeman-Dickson, claimed that there was a ‘quickening of all West African nationalists towards some form of federation… It must be recognised that none of the countries of West Africa can ever solve her economic problems in isolation… [O]ne wonders if federation is not the only key to unlock the doors of our industrial problems’. The following two days the Sentinel published more support by S. B. Asare. In his ‘Towards United West Africa’, Asare was very supportive of the conference and thanked Dr Nkrumah ‘through whose foresight and machinations the unity of West Africa is becoming a reality… the conference will go down in history as a landmark in our political struggle for the emancipation of our land, our country…’.
Aims of the conference
The conference was finally held in Kumasi on 4-7 December 1953. The Organising Committee stated that its ‘political objective’ was the ‘establishment of a strong and truly federal state, capable of protecting itself from outside invasion and able to preserve internal security’. The federation should be a parliamentary democracy which respects the traditions of various communities comprising West Africa. Such a state should give hope and create an atmosphere of goodwill among peoples of African descent all over the world… In external relations, such a Federation ‘should cultivate the friendship of states interested in the destiny of Africa.’i
The Ashanti Sentinel reported that the agenda would include ‘fundamental problems of education, politics and economics in West Africa… The conference will seek means of co-ordinating the efforts of the countries for united front to solve these intrinsic problems.’ The formation of ‘a United West Africa’, was how the Gold Coast Independent reported the main item on the agenda. A resolution would be proposed for ‘immediate steps to be taken to rally round international opinion to compel Mr Malan to repeal all racial laws in South Africa’. One aim of the conference was to appoint committees to deal with different issues and a General Council to ‘coordinate the activities of African nationalists in their struggle for complete independence’.i
Various lists of invitees were published: The Gold Coast Independent reported on 13 November that Nkrumah had ‘sent out invitations to nationalist leaders in all parts of Africa’; the Ashanti Sentinel (24 November) was a little more specific by stating that ‘delegates from all over West Africa, both French and British territories’ had been invited. It gave I. M. Jahumpa and J. C. Paye as those invited from Gambia; M. A. S. Margai, A. Thompson, E. Taylor-Cummings, I.T.A. Wallace-Johnson and Bankole Bright from Sierra Leone; Adewale Thompson, T.O.S. Benson, Nnamdi Azikiwe, H.O. Davies, Mallan Aminu, Obafemi Owolowo (sic), Madam F. Ransom Kuti (sic), M.A. Imoudu and the Sarduana (sic) of Sokoto from Nigeria. Sylvanus Olympio is listed among the 11 Gold Coast representatives as at that time the future of Togo was unresolved. Delegates were also expected from the Trade Union Councils of the British colonies.
The Azikiwe’s West African Pilot reported on 30 November that ‘French West African leaders’ had been invited. Interestingly, most of the papers listing invitees excluded Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, the President-General of the Federation of Nigerian Women’s Societies. It was not until she announced that she had accepted the invitation that the papers bothered to mention a woman invitee!i The West African Pilot (5 December 1953, p.1; 9 December 1953, p.1) added P.S. McEwen, the President-General of the NCNC Youth Association, to the list of Nigerian attendees.
The Ashanti Sentinel reported on 27 November ‘a stream of cablegrams and letters to the Prime Minister from all over West Africa and also some international figures in Europe and the USA, expressing willingness to be present’.
US officials in Accra, who were in close touch with Saloway, the Gold Coast’s Minister for External Affairs, reported that Nkrumah had invited 11 from Nigeria, 2 from Liberia; 6 from Sierra Leone, Sylvanus Olympio from Togo and three from the opposition in the Gold Coast, Danquah, ‘Olienu’ (sic) and Kofi Busia. In a discussion in May 1953, Saloway ‘pointed out that should Nkrumah insist on having the conference, the British would take steps to prevent it’.i
In one of the many letters intercepted and copied by MI5, there is a draft of the conference agenda and a list of ‘proposed invitees’, which differs considerably from the list published in November:
Gambia: I.M. Jahumpa, Henry M. Jones, Rev. J.C. Faye;
Sierra Leone: Bankole Bright, Margai, Wallace-Johnson, Siaka Stevens, Columbus Thompson;
Nigeria: Awolowo, Azikiwe, Iyo Ita, Ikoro, Ade Wale Thompson, Malam Aminu, Ilorin Kibe, Bode Tomas;
Senegal: Gabriel L’Ossier (sic)
Ivory Coast: M. Apithy, M. Houphouet;
French Togo: Slyvanus Olympio;
French Guinea: Abdulai Dialo;
Liberia: two unnamed;
Gold Coast: Danquah, Kojo Botsio, Casely Hayford, Gbedemah, Nii Amaa Ollennu, K.A. Busia, J.H. Allassani42
It is not quite clear who actually attended the conference. Recorded representatives from Nigeria were: Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti, Nnamdi Azikiwe (NCNC) H.O. Davies and his wife (Action Group), all well-known political figures, and Mallam Aminu Kano (Northern People’s Congress); also, according to the Sentinel (7/12/1953 p.1), Kole Balogun (chair of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons) and Adewale Thompson, Secretary of the CPP in Nigeria. Also reported were Mr. Conton, a Sierra Leonean living in the Gold Coast, and Lloyd Wishnant, the Liberian consul in Accra. The Sentinel also reported that delegates from Gambia and Sierra Leone could not come as they did not want to miss attending sessions of the Legislative Assemblies of which they were members.
Is Saloway’s statement above a clue to understanding why attendance was so sparse? Could Britain have prevented others from attending by not issuing passports or visas or by putting invitees on the prohibited immigrant list? Did France not issue passports to its African ‘citizens’?
Thus the conference (some called it a congress) was clearly a very unrepresentative meeting, both in terms of countries (colonies) and political activists.i Did this make it easier to arrive at agreements for the future? The agreements included the following:
The necessity of forming a permanent West African National Congress;
The Congress would work to advance the political, economic and social emancipation of all West Africa, of all Africa and of people of African descent;
It would lay the foundations for a federation of West Africa which would embrace all sections of Africans and people of African descent;
It would also lay the foundations for Pan-Africanism;
The headquarters would be in the Gold Coast;
Membership would be by political parties and organisations.
Nkrumah asserted that the conference was a ‘step towards the liberation of the whole of Africa’. The Congress should meet in 1954 to delineate ways to achieve federation.i
The conference statement argued that a Federation would be capable of:
‘protecting itself from outside invasion and preserve internal security. [It would be] along the lines of a parliamentary democracy, respecting the traditions of various communities and should aim at creating an atmosphere of goodwill among peoples of African descent over the world. The Federation should also cultivate the friendship of States interested in the destiny of Africa and identify itself with the Commonwealth of Nations’.i
Interestingly, despite the poor attendance, the international Reuters news agency thought the conference of sufficient importance to issue a news release. This was printed in The Times in London on 8 December: ‘the federal state should be a parliamentary democracy indentifying itself with the British Commonwealth’, the resolutions stated, according to Reuters.i It added that the ‘conference was described by Dr Kwame Nkrumah as “a step in preparing for the liberation of Africa”’.
The ‘lighter side’ in Kumasi
There are no papers regarding the conference in either the National Archives in Kumasi or in the archives of the Asantehene at Manhyia. Not only is this somewhat curious, but it also meant that I could not discover any clues as to why Nkrumah had decided to hold this international conference in Kumasi. Had he wanted to impress the Asantehene, with whom he had not always seen ‘eye-to-eye?
The Ashanti Sentinel (24 December 1953, p.1) noted that a local committee had been set up in Kumasi to help Kofi Baako, Secretary of the National Organising Committee, with arranging functions. ‘A concert, Dance and other functions will form part of the entertainments, which will conclude with a football match.’ The delegates were to be welcomed at a cocktail party by Nkrumah, the African Morning Post reported on 24 November, and would be introduced to the public at a meeting at the Prempeh Memorial Hall.
What we can gather from the newspapers is that the Asantehene invited Congress attendees to a sherry party on December 6. He had been invited to ‘kick-off’ the football match planned for the conclusion of the conference. (African Morning Post, 4 December 1953, p.1; 3 December 1953, p.1)
After the conference
In Kumasi, Mrs. Ransome-Kuti addressed a special meeting of about 800 women arranged by the CPP. ‘Little drops of water make a mighty ocean’, she told the women, encouraging them to take action on issues important to them and to form organisations.
Azikiwe, H.O. Davies and Kole Balogun addressed a meeting in Accra organised in order to ‘introduce some of the leaders of the Congress’. In an article headed ‘Zik storms Palladium’, the Sentinel reported that ‘about 45,000 people’ listened to ‘Zik’s explosive speech’ in which he ‘emphasised the fight against imperialism’.i At another meeting, Mrs. Ransome-Kuti proposed that a conference of West African women should be held either in Nigeria or the Gold Coast.i
At the international level, the Sentinel reported that Harry Nkumbuga (sic), president of the North Rhodesia African Congress had been inspired by Nkrumah’s plans for a unity conference to call for a Central Africa Conference of Uganda, Kenya, Tanganyika, Zanzibar, Nyasaland and North and South Rhodesia. After the conference had met, he planned for ‘negotiations to be started with the West African national leaders to set up a regional headquarters of the Pan-African Congress in North Rhodesia in order to coordinate unity movements in Central and East Africa with West Africa’. But the conference did not take place as the ‘participants did not arrive’. ‘Mr Nkumbula accused the Government of Northern Rhodesia of trying to undermine the congress. He said he believed that the nine delegates who had accepted invitations…had deliberately been kept out of the territory.’ That Mr Benjamin Burombo, of the African National Voice organisation, had been declared a ‘prohibited immigrant’ had been reported in the newspapers.i
George Padmore’s suggestions to the conference
According to Philippe Decraenei, until Padmore ‘arrived’ on the scene, the plans for a conference were ‘lethargic’. However, he writes that contact was maintained with Azikiwe, and with Léopold Senghor and Sourou Apithy, who had attended the WANS conference in London twelve years previously.51 What Decraene did not appear to know was the ongoing and constant correspondence between Padmore and Nkrumah.i They discussed issues facing Nkrumah, including, for example, the framing of a new constitution in 1954.
Regarding Nkrumah’s ‘cherished ideal of a Pan-African socialist union’ and plans to call a conference, Loftus Brown of MI5 informed the Colonial Office that W.E.B. DuBois, who ‘supported the conference’ had ‘recommended George Padmore…for assistance and advice’.i Did DuBois not know of the ongoing relationship between the two men? Was Padmore’s message distributed to those attending the conference? And perhaps to those attending the open meeting at the Prempeh Memorial Hall? After all, and very strangely, the Sentinel articles are in issues dated after the conference!
Padmore began his articles by stating that he could not return to the Gold Coast to attend the meeting. He asked those attending ‘to share their experiences, study the techniques of organisation, propaganda and party discipline… and review the shortcomings and mistakes of their respective movements’. He then listed what he believed were the ‘fundamental factors which constitute the essential elements for the successful realisation of [their] objectives’. Padmore compared the ‘disintegration of the tribal structure of social order under the impact of external economic and social forces’ to the movement in Europe from tribalism to feudalism and then to capitalism. While this had taken centuries, Africans had to achieve a much faster transition. Tribal loyalties were being replaced by ‘more embracing loyalties, which must be canalised if they are to serve usefully the emergent national aspirations’.
Political parties must move beyond tribal loyalties and reflect the social, political and economic hopes of the common people, cutting across sentiments of race, tribe, colour and creed… National integration can only be realised through nation-wide parties embracing all citizens… In their endeavours to create modern national states out of heterogeneous tribal communities, African leaders must always keep in view the objectives of a Federated West Africa, the precursor of a United States of Africa… [Africa must not] repeat the pitiful and exacting demands upon those who assume political leadership. [These include] ‘resistance to material temptations [and to the] wiles [of the British. They must not become] divorced from the mass of the people. … Leaders are the servants of their people, not their masters… Any departure from this relationship between the leaders and the people opens the door to dictatorship…. African political leaders must seek to create a new social order… a more egalitarian and humanistic and just society.
He then went on to warn that ‘there is today the great danger of a ready acceptance of the material values of Europe and America’, and used Mahatma Gandhi’s beliefs and policies to demonstrate that ostentation was not a necessary prerequisite to power. ‘The leaders of the West African political parties must strive to close the social gap between the leaders and the people, between the “haves” and “have-nots”. Only in this way can bribery and corruption be purged from the body politic.’
Padmore’s message ended with his hopes that the lessons learned at the conference would ‘benefit …the common advance towards self-determination and the ultimate realisation of West African Federation’.i
However, as Nkrumah had to deal with the challenges of internal politics prior to independence, no such meeting was until after freedom from colonial rule was achieved in 1957. Nkrumah’s appointed Padmore his Advisor on African Affairs, and Padmore co-ordinated the Conference of Independent African States and the All-African Peoples’ Conference in 1958.
British surveillance – and interference?
Nkrumah was under surveillance by the British Secret Service MI5 from 1946 onwards. That MI5 naturally worked closely with the Colonial Office is indicated by the 1947 correspondence regarding the possibility of a unity conference, the feelings of the French regarding this and the support WANS was receiving from the Communist Party of Great Britain.
It was decided as early as 1948 that there should be ‘closer liaison between civil intelligence officers and military commanders’. Kellar of MI5 toured the West African colonies that year, and the CO felt this would ‘likely result in permanent posting of MI5 representative there’.i
The Central Africa Department of the Dominions Office (DO) was also concerned about the possibilities of a Pan-African congress. ‘We cannot prevent such a conference but considering whether anything can be done what would make it less likely that such a meeting would eventuate or whether an antidote can be provided’, wondered one DO official. The DO should propagate ‘a policy of partnership… the potential leaders…will surely be less likely to conceive themselves as engaged in a racial struggle if they feel they belong to the white civilisation’.i
However, policy is not necessarily action. In the same DO file we catch a glimpse of what actions the colonial governments could take to prevent conferences taking place. There is a report from Northern Rhodesia regarding the postponement of a unity conference planned for Ndola, also for December 1953 (as mentioned above): ‘no orders were issued to keep delegates out of the country. Those who had been refused entry…had been sent back because of their inability to comply with the normal immigration regulations’.i
Is it possible that some international manipulation lay behind the accusations by F.B. Asare in his article ‘Towards United West Africa’ regarding the Kumasi conference?
‘Bandits of the pan-imperialist agents and capitalist hirelings through their press are doing their worst to sabotage the plans of the Convention People’s Party under whose auspices this august conference is being convened. Through distorted campaigns of lies and slander they are giving a wrong picture to the issue.’i
Nkrumah’s enthusiasm for African unity resulted in his holding a conference in 1953 to further this aim. That very few of those whom he had probably invited, including representatives from the French colonies, actually attended, might well have been due to manipulations by the respective colonial governments.
That Nkrumah might perhaps have realised this, and that he might have needed Padmore by his side to arrange a successful event is perhaps indicated by his not calling the next conference until after the Gold Coast had become independent Ghana.
Much more research is needed to attempt to uncover the manipulations by the various powers on both sides of the Cold War as Africans marched towards and attained independence, and then attempted to unite.