Godfrey Mwakikagile, "Relations Between Africans and African Americans: Misconceptions, Myths and Realities" (Grand Rapids,
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Book: Relations Between Africans and African Americans: Misconceptions, Myths and Realities
Announcing a new title:
Godfrey Mwakikagile, "Relations Between Africans and African Americans: Misconceptions,
Myths and Realities" (Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA: National Academic Press, 2004), softcover edition, 302 pages, $16.95.http://www.lulu.com/godfrey
This work looks at relations between Africans and African Americans from the perspective of an African, and
of shared perceptions on both sides of the Atlantic. Incorporated into the analysis are stories of individuals who have interacted,
work and lived with members of both groups in Africa and in the United States, including the author himself. Stereotypes and
misunderstandings of each other constitute an integral part of this study, explained from both perspectives, African and African-American.
The author, a former journalist in Tanzania and now an academic author whose books are found in public and
university libraries arund the world, has lived in the United States, mostly in the black community, for more than 30 years.
He articulates his position from the vantage point of someone who has lived on both sides of the Atlantic, focusing on a subject
that has generated a lot of interest among Africans and African Americans through the years. And it continues to be one of
great misunderstanding between the two sides, in spite of increased contacts and communication between Africa and Black America,
and between individual Africans and African Americans in the United States and in Africa.
Enduring Ties Between Africa and the Diaspora
My Life with African Americans
The Image of Africa in America
The Attitude of Africans Towards African Americans
The Attitude of African
Americans Towards Africans
Misconceptions About Each Other
African Americans in Tanzania: Black Panther Leader
Pete O'Neal and Others
Back to the Motherland: Fihankra
An African-American Settlement in Ghana
and Other Diasporans
What Africans and African Americans
Think About Their Relations: Voices From Within
Order the book directly from: http://lulu.com/godfrey
It is not available anywhere else.
AFRICANS on both sides of the Atlantic, that
is Africans in Africa and African Americans who as a people of African descent are also Africans, equally inspired this study.
So did African immigrants and students in the United States. I went to school in the United States myself and have lived and
interacted with African Americans for more than 30 years.
Although African Americans are also Africans in the genealogical
sense, I have used the term Africans in the book exclusively to mean those born in the motherland for identification purposes
to distinguish them from African Americans in my study of relations between the two.
The idea for this book has been in
my mind for quite some time, although I cannot say for sure exactly when I first thought about writing it. It probably goes
back to the eighties, when I was in my thirties, although my interest in the subject goes back further than that, at least
to the early seventies when I was a student in Detroit, Michigan, and wrote an article in a student newspaper about relations
between Africans and African Americans. I wrote the article in 1973 and it was published in Open Door, a student newspaper
of Wayne County Community College which I briefly attended before transferring to Wayne State University in the same city
where I graduated in 1975. Part of my article was reproduced in The Michigan Chronicle, a black weekly newspaper published
in Detroit, and the state's largest black newspaper and one of the most influential black papers in the country for years.
I remember the editor of the school newspaper asked me to write an article on the subject. One factor that played a role
in his decision to ask me to write the article was my background. He knew that I once was a news reporter in Tanzania. He
was a black student from Detroit, a city with a long history of black activism, also known as the birthplace of black nationalist
organizations such as the Nation of Islam founded in the early thirties; the Shrine of Black Madonna (Black Christian Nationalism),
in 1967 by Reverend Albert Cleage; the Republic of New Afrika in 1968; and the Pan-African Congress-USA, founded in 1970,
and which sponsored me as a student. It is also a city to which Malcolm X had strong ties, personal anf family. Many people
who knew about him or followed his political career also remember him by his nickname, "Detroit Red."
When I wrote the
article in the student newspaper, Open Door, I was free to address the subject the way I wanted to. But the focus of my article
was undoubtedly influenced and dictated by my interest in attempting to answer one perennial question Africans from Africa
are often asked by black people in the United States: "Is it true that they don't want us over there?" Or something along
those lines. And later on, towards the end of 2004 when I started writing this book, I stumbled upon an article by a Nigerian
student at the University of North Carolina in the student newspaper addressing the same subject, although from a perspective
different from mine in this inquiry.
There were, however, no fundamental differences, if any, between what he said in
his article and what I say in this book in terms of the nature of relations between Africans and African Americans, and on
why there are some misunderstandings between the two groups. The difference may have been on the focus. And I am sure others
have tackled the same subject from different angles and perspectives, agreeing and disagreeing on a number of issues critical
to an understanding of what is at the heart of some of this misunderstanding between Africans and African Americans, and what
binds us together.
Therefore, in a very direct way, it is African Americans who have had a profound impact on my decision
to write this book probably more than Africans from the motherland have. And I am grateful to them for being the source of
It is African Americans, at least from my experience and I am sure of many others, who have shown great
interest in the relations between the two groups probably more than Africans have. It is they who ask questions about Africa,
whether or not it is true that they are not welcome over there. And it is they who see all of us, black people in Africa and
in the United States, as one people, although there are also many among them who don't want to have anything to do with Africa
because they are ashamed of their African heritage rooted in a "backward, primitive" continent.
But even they, the hostile
ones, helped to inspire this study, focusing my attention on some of the myths propagated in the United States and elsewhere
about Africa, the so-called Dark Continent. Many of our white conquerors believe that because we have a dark skin, our continent
is also dark, living in darkness, and we also have a dark mind. And some of our people are ashamed of their African roots,
and of themselves, because of this. It is a myth that has inspired me to write this book as much as positive attributes of
Therefore, in acknowledging the interest of African Americans in Africa as an inspiration in my pursuit of
this study, I must also admit that our detractors have been an equally powerful motivation in my decision to undertake the
project even if such motivation has sometimes been out of anger because of the way many people look at us as the most backward,
and most primitive human beings, in the world.
Fellow Africans born and raised in Africa like I was, also inspired me
in a very special way to write this book. I am a part of them as much as they are a part of me in terms of common experience
as a people born and raised in Africa. Therefore we share common perspectives on a number of issues. They are also the focus
of this study as much as African Americans are. Many of them are also genuinely interested in the subject and in the well-being
of our brethren, African Americans. And probably just as many are equally interested in the improvement of relations between
the two, a subject that continues to be of paramount importance to both groups, especially to those individuals who sincerely
believe that we all have one destiny as children of Africa.
THIS work looks at relations between
Africans and African Americans from the perspective of an African, and of shared perceptions on both sides of the Atlantic.
Incorporated into the analysis are stories of individuals who have interacted, worked and lived with members of both groups
in Africa and in the United States, including myself. Stereotypes and misunderstandings of each other constitute an integral
part of this study, explained from both perspectives, African and African-American.
As a former journalist in Tanzania,
I have drawn upon my experience as a news reporter to write this book, with fairness and a passion for truth even if some
of the things I say may offend some people. But my interest is not please anyone. I am interested in only one thing: to tell
the truth as I know it. And having lived in the United States, mostly in the black community, for more than 30 years, I have
first-hand knowledge of African Americans I have used to complement my analysis.
I also articulate my position from the
vantage point of someone who has lived on both sides of the Atlantic, focusing on a subject that has generated a lot of interest
among Africans and African Americans through the years. And it continues to be one of great misunderstanding between the two
sides, in spite of increased contacts and communication between Africa and Black America, and between individual Africans
and African Americans in the United States and in Africa.
Although some people such as Professor Harold Cruse of the University
of Michigan in contemporary times, and others such as Professor E. Franklin Frazier of Howard University in the past, contend
that after more than 300 years of physical separation since the slave trade, virtually all cultural ties between Africa and
black America have been severed, I believe that there are still some elements in African-American culture which can be traced
back to Africa. You find that in music, foods, and life styles; and may be even in linguistic patterns of African Americans
as Professor Geneva Smitherman at Michigan State University and others argue. Therefore, it was more than just hairbraids
that survived the middle passage across the Atlantic.
Other people have made the same arguments in the past. One of them
was Kwame Nkrumah when he was a student in the United States. He once debated Professor Frazier at Howard University on this
subject, contending that there were still vestiges of African culture among African Americans, proving that slavery and centuries
of physical separation had not erased all cultural ties to Africa. Nkrumah won the debate, partly because of his oratical
skills which served him well years later when he became a leader of the African independence movement and president of Ghana,
but mainly because of his factual presentation. However, Frazier maintained his position and the two agreed to disagree.
Africans and African Americans may also disagree with me and others who contend that some elements of African culture survived
slavery. And probably just as many will agree with this position. But whatever the case, it is one of the subjects I address
in this book but in a much wider context with an emphasis on the ties that have existed between Africa and black America for
A number of other subjects are also covered in this book. The image of Africa among Americans of all races,
the attitude of Africans and African Americans towards each other, misunderstandings, myths and realities which characterize
their relationship, and the role African Americans played in the liberation struggle in Africa are some of these subjects.
And their role in this struggle cannot be underestimated, especially by some Africans who may be inclined to minimize
the contribution of their brethren in the United States. Because of their strategic position within the United States as American
citizens, African Americans kept the struggle in the spotlight with marches, demonstrations and contributions, with the support
of other Americans and remained a constant reminder to the American government and racist forces supporting the apartheid
regime in South Africa and other white racist governments that nothing was going to stop them from supporting the independence
struggle in Africa until the white minority regimes were swept out of power. Black people in the United States also pushed
economic sanctions against the apartheid regime and exposed the hypocritical nature of the American leaders who supported
white minority regimes in Africa while professing democracy at home and abroad.
There is no question that African Americans
played a bigger role in supporting the liberation struggle in Africa than Africans did in supporting the civil rights movement.
But it was also for understandable reasons. African countries were still under colonial rule or had just won independence
and could not have supported the civil rights struggle in the United States, through international forums, as much as they
would have liked to.
Other subjects covered in this book include the treatment of African Americans by Africans in Africa,
especially those who have returned to the motherland after centuries of separation, seeing Africa for the first time. Have
they been well-received? Do they have any regrets? Do they wish they had never gone back to Africa? These are some of the
questions I try to answer, citing disgruntled and satisified African Americans who have lived in Africa as the primary source
Some of them lived in my home country, Tanzania. There were those who stayed, and there were those who
left. Some of those who stayed include a well-known Black Panther leader, Pete O'Neal, who has lived in Tanzania since the
early seventies and whose life became the subject of documentary film shown in the United States, Tanzania and other countries.
His life in Tanzania and as a former Black Panther leader is one of the subjects I also address in this book.
I have also
addressed the treatment of African Americans by the white majority in the United States, and how Africans see the United States
especially in terms of her relations with Africa and as a predominantly white nation in whose bosom are millions of people
of African descent who ended up where they are by "accident." It was this "accident" of history that has also been a subject
of utmost importance in trying to understand what the United States is all about, as nation that portrayed itself to the whole
world as the embodiment of the ideals of liberty and equality while at the same time upholding the institution of slavery.
Even today, the subject of slavery inflames passions across the racial divide. And the demand for reparations by African
Americans, which I also discuss in the book, has only fueled intense debate on the legacy and relevance of slavery in contemporary
Coincidentally, it is a subject on which many Africans and African Americans agree on, even if they disagree
on other things, because people in Africa are also demanding reparations from the European powers who played the biggest role
in the enslavement of Africans. They also also colonized us, which is another case for reparations. As Ed Vaughn, one of the
leaders of the Detroit-based Pan-African Congress-USA who later served as assistant to Detroit Mayor Coleman Young and as
a state representative in the Michigan state legislature, said about reparations: they have paid everybody else except us.
And as Wole Soyinka, the Nigerian writer, also put it, others have been paid reparations. So why not African Americans? He
also supports the claim for reparations by African countries but has made it clear that if we are going to demand that from
Europeans, we should also claim reparations from the Arabs who also enslaved us.
But that is a subject that is beyond
the scope of this work in terms of comprehensive analysis. I have restricted myself to the case for reparations by African
Americans in the American context. And even here I may not have done justice to the subject, although I have tried my best
to do so.
I have concluded my study on an optimistic note in the quest for greater cooperation and understanding between
our two peoples who have always been one in spite of centuries of physical separation resulting from slavery whose devastating
impact is still felt across Africa and Black America. It is also encouraging to note that in acknowledgement of our common
ties, the African diaspora which includes Black America is represented in the African Union (AU) as an integral part of Africa
and the African world.
Enduring Ties Between Africa and the Diaspora
AFRICA has always
been in the consciousness of black Americans as their ancestral homeland even if some of them have not positively identified
with it. And there are those who still don't. But even when they became Americans after they ended up in the United States
in chains, they never ceased to be African whether some of them like it or not.
Even those who have a negative attitude
towards Africa know where they came from. They know Africa is their motherland. They also know they were taken away in chains
to a country that claims to have been founded on the twin ideals of liberty and equality while denying Africans freedom on
its soil. Instead, it kept them in chains as slaves for centuries, a factor that helps to keep alive memories of Africa among
millions of black Americans, and sustain a longing for their motherland.
Black people in the United States have ties to
Africa that can never be broken even if those ties are just historical and psychological because of the physical separation
from the motherland. But they have bonds that are even deeper than that. They are biological ties. All blacks in the United
States, including those who are racially mixed and have some European and other blood, have blood ties to Africa. In fact,
every black person in the United States has relatives in Africa. All of them were not enslaved and shipped to America, or
die during slave raids or perish in the Atlantic, jettisoned overboard. Most of the relatives remained in the motherland.
Even people with very little African blood have relatives in Africa. This can go on and on, of course, in terms of biological
and genealogical roots. But it is a fact that, however little it may be, you could not have been born without that blood.
You cannot flush it out of your veins or change your genes. If there is some African blood in you, even just one drop, you
have ties to Africa, and have relatives in Africa still living today as you read this book. In fact, it is estimated that
between 70 million and 100 million whites in the United States have some African blood. And I wouldn't be surprised if it's
more than that. This does not mean that they are Africans, like African Americans are, any more than black people who have
some European blood are European. But it means that denying this biological fact does not change your roots, or at least a
part of what you are. You were born that way, and you will die that way, with all your genes intact.
But besides the genetic
link to Africa, and the cultural and historical ties that have maintained the identity of black Americans as an African people,
the oppression and discrimination they have suffered in the United States through the centuries at the hands of the white
majority has also been a powerful motive in their strong identification with Africa. However, it is also important to remember
that even after blacks won the civil rights struggle, at least in the courts and in the legislative chambers, a very large
number of them have always identified with Africa and have shown great interest in their African heritage.
it is not only during hard times that black Americans have shown great interest in Africa, and a longing for their motherland
from which they were forcibly removed. They have also shown great interest in the continent and in things African even when
they are prosperous. And that includes a large number of middle- and upper-class blacks who have strongly identified with
Africa and African causes as an African people themselves. But even those who identify themselves as Americans only, also
have shown great interest in Africa. We should, however, not forget that there is also a significant number of blacks of all
classes who don't want to identify with Africa even if they don't say so publicly but instead profess their love for Africa
and pride in their African roots. Privately, they resent that or feel ashamed.
Yet, from the slave songs on the plantantions
and the establishment of the African Methodist Church (AME) and other African-oriented institutions and organizations by blacks
throughout their history in the United States, to the founding of Liberia, there is strong evidence that interest in Africa
among blacks Americans has always been there, even if it has not been one of enduring obsession of the nationalist kind in
Sometimes, there have been conflicting responses to African events from the black American community, showing
that not only as a people blacks in the United States are not a monolithic whole but also that there are those who are not
concerned about Africa as might be expected. For example, during the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935, some leading black
Americans said Ethiopians should not expect help from blacks in the United States because black people in America had never
been given any help by Africans during their struggle against racial oppression; and that they had their own problems to contend
with. Africans should therefore do the same over there: help themselves.
However, this attitude cannot be said to have
been typical of the majority of black Americans during that time, or of even a large number of them, although there was no
way to accurately or even approximately gauge such sentiment. Still, the mere fact that there were some influential blacks,
as well as others, who felt this way shows that relations between Africa and black America have had some serious problems
through the years. It is also worth remembering that it was during the same time that a number of black American pilots and
soldiers volunteered to go to Ethiopia to help the Ethiopians fight Mussolini and his forces, even when it was felt that Ethiopians
in general did not want to identify themselves with black Africa, as black people, as Professor Martin Kilson stated in one
of his articles in the sixties.
Others made the same observation which has some credibility even today, as it does in
the case of Somalis, as well, who also in general don't want to identify themselves with black Africans and think they are
better than other Africans, clearly shown by the brutal mistreatment of members of Bantu tribes from Tanzania and Mozambique
who were taken to Somalia by the Arabs as slaves more than 300 years ago. Their descendants are still mistreated in Somalia
Some of them, for example, members of the Zigua tribe from Tanga region in northeastern Tanzania, returned to their
ancestral homeland in the late 1990s with the help of the Tanzanian government and were given some land and some help to settle
in Tanzania permanently. They told of the persecution they suffered in Somalia at the hands of the Somalis who considered
them to be inferior and fit only for slave labor. And more than ten thousand other Bantus from Somalia were allowed to emigrate
to the United States with the help of the American government and the United Nations in the late nineties and beyond, fleeing
And during the civil war when American troops were sent to Somalia in the early nineties to help capture
one of the warlords and restore order, black American soldiers complained about insults by Somalis when they tried to identify
with them. They made fun of their "Negro" features - kinky hair, thick lips, black skin, and wide noses - and made it clear
that they had nothing to do with them.
However, one cannot generalize and argue that all Somalis and Ethiopians feel that
they are better than other Africans and don't even consider themselves to be black. There are those who do and those who don't.
But even from my own experience, I have noticed that quite a few of them don't want to mingle with other Africans the way
members of different African tribes do, identifying themselves as one people: black Africans. I have roots of northeast African
origin myself, on my mother's side, and a number of my family members and relatives are easily identified by those features,
including my mother. And I know Ethiopians and Somalis who don't have a problem identifying themselves with other Africans.
But there is a problem with some of them.
And it is a problem other Africans have noticed, including some Nigerians and
Liberians as well as Kenyans I knew when I was a student in the United States, as Professor Martin Kilson did back in the
sixties when he wrote an article about black America and the newly independent states of Africa and how blacks in the United
States identified with them. That is how Ethiopia and the Italian invasion of Ethiopia came into the picture. Ethiopia was
seen as symbol of African dignity, being the oldest independent country in Africa that was never colonized until it was briefly
occupied by Mussolini.
Ethiopia's long history of independence, unprecedented anywhere else in Africa, was one of the
main factors in the decision by African leaders in 1963 when they chose Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, to be the headquarters
of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now of the African Union (AU). The choice also was in deference to Emperor Haile
Selassie, the Lion of Judah, King of Kings, and descendant of King Solomon, although some dispute his lineage as Solomon's
But whatever the case, a number of black Americans paid attention to all that, especially the humiliation
of Ethiopia and Emperor Haile Selassie by the Italian invaders. Some of them were deeply offended by the invasion, prompting
them to volunteer as soldiers and pilots to go to Ethiopia and fight the Italians, not only as brothers in the struggle for
justice which they themselves were waging in the United States, but mainly as fellow Africans or members of the same black
"race." Unfortunately, their feelings were probably not reciprocated, to the extent that they should have been, by the Ethiopians
who were expected to fully embrace black Americans as their kith-and-kin, although there were those who appreciated the help.
And in terms of race, Ethiopians are not "Negro" like black Americans are. They also have their own physical features of Semitic
origin just like the Somalis do.
Those are some of the examples, Ethiopia and Somalia, that help to demonstrate the complex
nature of the relations between Africans and African Americans, and between Africans themselves, but which also should be
viewed in their proper context instead of making sweeping generalizations that don't have validity in all cases.
the problem is the way some black Americans have treated Africans in Africa through the years. There were a number of American
blacks who went to Africa as missionaries in the ninenteeth century, and others even in the twentieth century after the continent
had already been "saturated" with missionaries from Europe. While their migration to Africa demonstrated an enduring interest
in the continent among them and other black Americans, there was also a paternalistic attitude towards the "natives" in Africa
as a "primitive," "backward" people who needed to be "civilized."
So, they went to Africa not only to propagate the gospel
among these "heathens"; they returned to the motherland to "civilize" them, whatever the term entails in terms of Western
civilization in the African context. There may have been some black American missionaries who saw African "natives" as their
equal, especially as members of the same black race. But a higher percentage of them obviously saw Africans as inferior to
them, in terms of education and civilization, along the same lines Albert Schweitzer did; that great humanitarian and missionary
doctor who, while working in Gabon in French Equatorial Africa, bluntly proclaimed to whole world: "The Negro is a child,
and with children nothing can be done without authority. We must, therefore, so arrange the circumstances of daily life that
my natural authority can find expression. With regard to the Negroes, then, I have coined the formula: 'I am your brother,
it is true, but your elder brother.'"
Then came the founding of Liberia around the same time some black American missionaries
were thinking about spreading the gospel in Africa. And their kinship with Africans was a critical factor in their decision
to embark on this mission. Even some American whites who wanted to spread the gospel in Africa felt that black American missionaries
were better equipped to do that than they were.
Although the black American missionaries knew that as Christians they
were supposed to spread Christianity to all peoples regardless of race, they felt they had a special obligation to do so first
in Africa for a number of reasons. They believed that they would be more welcome than their white counterparts because of
their biological ties to their ancestral homeland as blacks themselves. They also, together with whites, believed that they
were better equipped, phyically, to survive in tropical Africa than white missionaries would because of their genetic adapation
to this environment; that is why American blacks die from sickle cell anemia. They can no longer fight malaria in their new
environment in a totally different climate in North America. What was a weapon, in their system, in the African tropical climate
to fight malaria has now beeen turned against them.
Racism also was a critical factor. Very often, whites directed their
attention to other parts of the world to spread the gospel, ignoring Africa. And when they did go to Africa and other parts,
such as the Caribbean, inhabited by blacks, their racist attitude and practices alienated many would-be converts and even
those who had already been converted. That was also the case with white missionaries from Europe. For example, in Nyasaland,
now Malawi, Scottish missionaries did not even allow blacks to wear shoes, and they refused to share the same quarters with
black missionary workers. And it happened in other parts of Africa, including my country Tanzania even in contemporary times.
I remember Professor Henry Louis Gates, chairman of the African American studies department at Harvard University, explaining
what he experienced when he worked in Tanzania as a young student. He said in one of his books, Great Zimbabwe to Kilimatinde
published in 1996, that when he was a student at Yale University, he went to Tanzania and stayed there for one year from 1970
to 1971, the entire academic year, working at a hospital in Kilimatinde in the central region. He lived in an ujamaa village
and was trained to deliver general anesthesia at an Anglican Missionary Hospital. He said the hospital was run by white Australian
missionaries, and their racism towards black patients and other Africans working there was clearly evident.
This is one
of the main reasons why many Africans did not trust white missionaries working on the continent. We also remember very well
that missionaries helped pave the way for the colonization of Africa. As Jomo Kenyatta said, "When the white man came, he
said 'Shut your eyes, let us pray.' When we opened our eyes it was too late. Our land was gone!" Chinua Achebe, in his classic
work Things Fall Apart, articulates the same sentiment when, towards the end of his book, Obierika, in a conversation with
Okonkwo, laments: "The white man is very clever. He came quietly and peacebly with his religion and...put a knife on the things
that held us together and we have fallen apart."
This kind of sentiment was obviously still strong among many Africans
in the ninenteeth century when American missionaries, especially of the Baptist church, were making plans to spread Christianity
in Africa. The slave trade was still fresh in the minds of Africans, having ended only recently, and it would have been hard
for many of them to trust the people, whites, who not too long ago had been busy shipping their kith-and-kin across the Atlantic
into slavery in America. The only people who could have been well-received, also as brothers and sisters returning home after
being freed as slaves, were black American missionaries.
Black Baptists were among the first Christians to launch missionary
campaigns in Africa and elsewhere. For example, David George and other American blacks went to Sierra Leone in 1792 and established
the first Baptist church on the continent. They also settled there permanently. In 1815, Lott Carey and Hilary Teague together
with a white deacon, William Crane, of Richmond, Virginia, formed the Richmond African Baptist Foreign Missionary Society
to spread Christianity in Africa. In 1821, Carey and his wife went to Sierra Leone and established a mission among members
of the Mandingo tribe. He was killed in 1828 in a battle with some of the indigenous people in Liberia and is acclaimed as
the first American missionary to Africa.
Together with the Southern Baptist Convention and the American Colonization Society,
the Richmond African Baptist Foreign Missionary Society, founded by Lott Carey who was the pastor of the African Baptist Church
in Richmond, sent missionary workers to West Africa from 1845 and continued its activities on the continent in the following
years. Liberia was one of the main targets. Even before then, Lott Carey and Hilary Teague were, in the early 1820s, among
the first missionaries to work in an area that later became the Republic of Liberia. They settled there permanently, spreading
the gospel among the indigenous tribes in the region.
After the Civil War, other black Christian groups also sent missionaries
to Africa. They included the Virginia Baptists who continued to send missionaries overseas well into the twentieth century;
the Baptist Foreign Mission Convention organized in 1880; the National Baptist Convention established in 1895; the Lott Carey
Baptist Convention launched in 1897, and other Baptist and non-Baptist missionary groups.
Other black missionaries who
spread the gospel in Africa included Robert Hill who was sent to liberia by the Southern Baptist Convention; Alexander Crummell
who settled in Liberia and encouraged other African Americans to move to Africa; John Bryant Small who established a mission
station in the Gold Coast, what is Ghana today; William Colley who was sent to Nigeria; William Henry Shepherd who went to
Congo; Mary Tearing, and Joseph Phipps, also to Congo. And other black American missionaries went to other parts of Africa
including South Africa.
Especially since the mid- and late 1800s, black American missionaries continued, together with
other Christians including Presbyterians, to spread the gospel well into the twentieth century and beyond, especially in West
Africa, the ancestral homeland of the majority of black Americans, although not all; a significant number of them came from
East Africa, especially what from is Mozambique and Tanzania today, mainly after the slave trade was officially abolished
and the slave traders turned their attention to East Africa because of the anti-slavery patrols on the West African coast.
For example, I remember reading an article in The New York Times in 1998 which contained excerpts of old slave records showing
that some of the slaves who arrived and were sold in Louisiana were members of the Yao tribe who had been captured in what
is southern Tanzania today.
One of the West African regions which attracted the larget number of black missionaries from
the United States was, of course, Liberia. Founded by freed black American slaves in 1822, at the behest of the American Colonization
Society some of whose members wanted all blacks kicked out of the United States and sent back to Africa or to some other place
including Venezuela, Liberia became a haven of peace for these former slaves, away from the persecution and lynchings in the
United States. Yet, for the "natives" it became, in a very tragic way, living hell.
Black Americans who settled in the
area expropriated land owned by the "natives," launched wars against them to forcibly acquire more land, and established a
country in which the indigenous people were denied equal rights and virtually became slaves in their own native land; ironically,
at the hands of former slaves and fellow blacks. As late as the 1930s, native Liberians were also being sold as slaves to
work in Panama, ostensibly sent there on labor contracts negotiated on their behalf by the Liberian government dominated by
descendants of the freed American slaves who came to be known as Americo-Liberians.
Even within Liberia itself, members
of the local tribes were treated as second-class citizens and had no political rights comparable to those enjoyed by Americo-Liberians.
House servants and others working for Americo-Liberian families were treated as virtual slaves. Native Liberian leaders such
as Didwho Tweh tried to fight for their rights as equal citizens, to no avail. Their plea for help from the League of Nations
in the 1930s fell on deaf ears. It was not until 1980 when members of the indigenous tribes in the army launched a military
coup against the government that domination by Americo-Liberians came to an end. It had been a long time since the country
was founded in 1822 and became a republic in 1847, but with the total exclusion of the indigenous people from power.
plight of the native Liberians, at the hands of the settler community known as Americo-Liberians, was unique in one way: They
were the only blacks on the continent who were colonized by fellow blacks. And the people who colonized them were fellow citizens
who, ironically, proclaimed to the whole world when they first arrived there to found the colony: "The love of liberty brought
us here." To which the indigenous people could have responded: "We have known nothing but misery and oppression since you
came here." And it was a sentiment that was expressed in various ways by members of the native tribes some of whom attended
school in the United States during the same time I did.
When I was a student in Detroit, Michigan, in the early and mid-seventies,
I remember some of them confronting their fellow countrymen, Americo-Liberians who were also students, with ominous warnings
such as this: "You Americo-Liberians are going to pay for this one day." Their prediction was fulfilled in one of the bloodiest
military coups in African post-colonial history when 17 members of the Liberian army led by a 28-year sergeant, Samuel Doe,
a member of the Krahn tribe, stormed the Executive Mansion, the president's official residence, in April 1980 and killed President
William Tolbert. They also disemboweled him, and his body was displayed in public.
He was the last Americo-Liberian president
in the dynasty of the Whig Party that had ruled Liberia for 150 years. Like his predecessor, William Tubman, his family members
had emigrated from South Carolina and became some of the most prominent members in the Americo-Liberian settler community
which dominated politics and the economy. And like Tubman, Tolbert was also born in Liberia.
But although the mistreatment
of the indigenous tribes by Americo-Liberians had some negative impact on relations between Africans and African-Americans,
it was only in a limited way. The wrath was directed against the oppressive Americo-Liberian settler community, and not against
African Americans in the United States, although Americo-Liberians were descended from freed American slaves.
of this wrath and anger came from members of the indigenous tribes within Liberia itself, and not from other African countries,
although there were people in other African countries who sympathized with them. There was not much response from the people
in other African countries to the plight of the members of the native tribes in Liberia at the hands of Americo-Liberians
partly because many of them did not know what was going on in that country, and partly because they had their own problems
to contend with in their own countries.
But even if many of them had known what was going on in Liberia, they may not
have responded as forcefully as they did against racial oppression in South Africa under apartheid because they would not
have seen Americo-Liberians as outsiders, like whites in South Africa. They were fellow blacks, and racial solidarity was
paramount in the struggle against the apartheid regime and other white minority regimes on the continent. The Americo-Liberian
dynasty in Liberia certainly did not fit in that category as a foreign institution created by and belonging to whites. It
was black. Apartheid was white. The difference was clear as day and night. And it was obvious who the real enemy was.
should also be remembered that Liberia was only one of two independent countries in black Africa. The other one was Ethiopia.
And both, in international forums, spoke on behalf of the rest of the African countries that were still under colonial and
white minority rule. And when Ethiopia was invaded by Mussolini, Liberia was the only independent African country during that
time that spoke out against the invasion.
Therefore, in spite of the oppressive rule imposed by the Americo-Liberian community
on the indigenous people of Liberia, the Americo-Liberian rulers still had some credibility among other Africans as champions
of African rights and independence in the international arena, especially at a time when African colonial subjects across
the continent had no spokesmen to speak for them in international forums. Only Liberia and Ethiopia did.
And while Liberia
has served as a bridge between Africa and black America, it has also facilitated dialogue in a wider context internationally.
As the oldest republic in black Africa, it was seen as a beacon of hope for the rest of the continent south of the Sahara
during the struggle for independence and inspired those still under colonial rule to fight for their freedom. Liberia also
was a source of inspiration to African Americans in their struggle for racial equality which gained momentum in the fifties
and sixties. Together with Liberia were other black African countries which were among the first to win independence: Ghana
in 1957, Guinea in 1958, and many others in 1960 which came to be known as Africa's Year and was declared as such by the United
Nations because of what happened that year. It was the year in which the largest number of African countries, 17 of them,
won independence. And the feat was not duplicated in any of the following years; by 1968, most African countries had won independence.
Coincidentally, it was also during this period that the civil rights movement in the United States gained full momentum.
By 1964 when the Civil Rights Bill was passed, more than 30 black African countries had won independence in less than 10 years,
beginning with Ghana in 1957. Thus, where some American blacks had been ashamed of Africa, there was now pride, by the same
people, of their African heritage. They, and many other blacks, looked to Africa for vindication. If blacks in Africa could
prove their worth and rise to towering heights to be equal to the best among the best in governance and other achievements
including education, black people in the United States could do no less. That was the rationale.
Even before independence,
Africans in Africa had profound influence on black America in terms of inspiration in the struggle for racial equality. The
civil rights movement, which simply came to be known as the Movement, started to gain momentum in the 1950s, especially after
Dr. Martin Luther King was thrust into the inernational spotlight by the Montgomery bus boycott in Alabama in December 1955
when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the city bus to a white man. She came to be known as the "Mother of the Civil
Rights Movement," although she had been preceded by Claudette Colvin, a 15-year old black girl, who refused to give up her
seat on the city bus to a white man many months earlier in March the same year. But black civil rights leaders in Montgomery
decided not to use her as a test case and rallying point because she was very dark, a liability even among blacks in those
days, unlike Rosa Parks who was light-complexioned. Claudette was also pregnant and not married, while Rosa Parks was married.
And she was already active in the struggle for racial equality as a member of the NAACP and did some work for the organization.
The bus boycott would probably have taken place, anyway, even if nothing had taken place in Africa in terms of struggle
for racial equality. But a precedent had been set earlier, in South Africa, when black people and a few whites and Indians
as well as Coloureds launched the Defiance Campaign in 1952 led by the African National Congress (ANC), which was multiracial
but predominantly black.
They employed non-violent tactics to protest against racial injustice, the same tactics Dr. Martin
Luther King and others used in their struggle for racial equality during the civil rights movement. There is no question that
the spirit of this campaign in South Africa inspired black in the United States during the Montgomery bus boycott and in their
struggle for justice. Defiance against injustice was one of the main characteristics of both campaigns. As Rosa Parks said
in an interview with Scholastic years later when she was asked, "What made you decide on December 1, 1955, not to get up from
"That particular day that I decided was not the first time I had trouble with that particular driver.
He evicted me before, because I would not go around to the back door after I was already onto the bus.
The evening that
I boarded the bus, and noticed that he was the same driver, I decided to get on anyway. I did not sit at the very front of
the bus; I took a seat with a man who was next to the window - the first seat that was allowed for 'colored' people to sit
in. We were not disturbed until we reached the third stop after I boarded the bus.
At this point, a few white people boarded
the bus, and one white man was left standing. When the driver noticed him standing, he spoke to us (the man and two women
across the aisle) and told us to let the man have the seat. The other three all stood up. But the driver saw me still sitting
there. He said would I stand up, and I said, 'No, I will not.' Then he said, 'I'll have you arrested.' And I told him he could
do that. So he didn't move the bus any farther. Several black people left the bus.
Two policemen got on the bus in a couple
of minutes. The driver told the police that I would not stand up. The policeman walked down and asked me why I didn't stand
up, and I said I didn't think I should stand up. 'Why do you push us around?' I asked him. And he said, 'I don't know. But
the law is the law and you are under arrest.' As soon as he said that, I stood up, and the rest of us left the bus together.
One of them picked up my purse, the other picked up my shopping bag. And we left the bus together. It was the first time
I'd had that particular thing happen. I was determined that I let it be known that I did not want to be treated in this manner.
The policemen had their squad car waiting, they gave me my purse and bag, and they opened the back door of the police car
for me to enter."
It was defiance against injustice at its best. And as the campaigns for freedom and equality went
on around the same time in Africa and in the United States, they also reinforced each other and strengthened ties that had
always existed between blacks on both sides of the Atlantic.
Apart from the non-violent struggle for freedom that went
on in Africa against the colonial authorities and which encouraged the civil rights struggle among blacks in the United States,
was the more militant campaign waged by Mau Mau in Kenya. Coincidentally, the launching of the Defiance Campaign in South
Africa in 1952 coincided with the arrest of Jomo Kenyatta who was accused of leading Mau Mau. He was arrested in the same
year, 1952, together 182 other African leaders. In 1953, he was sentenced to seven years in prison, with hard labor, and was
sent to the barren region of northwestern Kenya to serve his sentence. He was released in 1961.
His release in 1961 was
another important milestone in the struggle for freedom and justice for black people on both sides of the Atlantic. It took
place only about three years before passage of the Civil Rights Bill in the United States in 1964, and there is no doubt that
Kenyatta's release from prison further inspired blacks in America in their struggle for racial justice. If blacks in Kenya
could win, there was also some hope that blacks in the United States would win one day. As the civil rights movement anthem
went: "Oh, deep in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday."
The militancy of Mau Mau in Kenya, involving armed
struggle by the Kikuyu against the British, also inspired pride among many blacks in the United States including those who
may not have used violence themselves to win freedom. But they saw in the Kikuyu the same burning desire to be free they saw
among themselves in the United States. Black militants even endorsed Mau Mau tactics. And the father of the black militant
movement in the United States, Malcolm X, spoke proudly of Mau Mau, as much as he did about the liberation war in Algeria
which drove the French out after seven years of bitter conflict in which about one million Algerians were killed. And as he
said about the Mau Mau in one of his speeches: "It was Mau Mau that brought independence to Kenya."
Malcolm X also worked
diligently to forge new and strengthen existing ties between Africa and black America. In 1964, he went to Africa and visited
a number of countries where he met with different leaders. He also addressed the OAU summit of the African heads of state
and government in Cairo, Egypt, in July 1964 where he almost died when his food was poisoned in a hotel. He was followed by
CIA agents throughout his African trip and the American intelligence agency may have been behind the attempt on his life.
His speech to the Organization of African Unity (OAU) conference of African leaders was a plea for help. He believed African
countries would be able to help African Americans in their struggle for racial equality in the United States by bringing up
the case before the United Nations. And a number of African countries agreed to do so. Among the leaders he talked to about
the plight of African Americans were Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Presidents Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Julius Nyerere
of Tanzania, Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. And he was well-received wherever he went in Africa. Tanzania
was one of the countries he visited, and he mentions this trip in one of speeches.
When I was working on the second edition
of my book, Nyerere and Africa: End of an Era, in 2004, I was in regular contact with Andrew Nyerere, President Nyerere's
eldest son who was my high schoolmate in Tanzania, and who said he remembered when Malcolm X visited them at their house in
Dar es Salaam in July 1964. As he said in a letter to me: "When he came to Msasani (on the outskirts of Dar es Salaam where
President Nyerere and his family lived in a simple house instead of living in the official residence, the State House), he
gave Mwalimu the record of 'Message to the Grassroots,' a speech by Malcolm X."
President Nyerere, popularly known as
Mwalimu which means teacher in Kiswahili since he was once a teacher, understood the plight of African Americans even before
he talked to Malcolm X and was one of the African leaders, together with others such as Nkrumah, who strongly identified with
the struggle for racial equality in the United States. And he believed there was an imperative need to strengthen ties between
the nations of Africa and black America which black American sociologist E. Franklin Frazier defined as a nation, even if
a captive one. In his book, Black Bourgeoisie published in 1957, Professor Frazier argued that black people in the United
States constituted "a nation within a nation." And it is a thesis that has some credibility. Their isolation, because of segregation,
helped to solidify this identity. And they looked to Africa for inspiration and spiritual sustenance in their struggle for
racial equality in a country that was supposed to be the citadel of democracy.
Therefore, the success of the independence
struggles in different African countries in the fifties and sixties served as a great source of inspiration to African Americans
during the civil rights movement as much as the civil rights struggle in the United States was a source of great encouragement
to many Africans still groaning under white minority rule, especially in South Africa. The situation of black people under
apartheid was similar to that of black Americans. And both were being oppressed by a power that was an integral of their country.
It was a colonial power within, not a foreign power like in the rest of the African countries ruled by the British, the French
and the Portuguese. They were fighting for freedom from fellow citizens who were going nowhere, unlike the British, the French
and the Portuguse who left their African colonies and returned to Europe after the colonies won independence. Black Americans
were also "colonized" within.
It is also critical to remember that even during the darkest hour in the history of our
continent when we were under colonial rule and did not even have political parties fighting for independence, Africans in
the diaspora played a major role in championing the cause of African freedom going as back as the early 1900s. Sylvester Williams
from Trinidad, and W.E.B. DuBois from the United States, were the most prominent, followed later by George Padmore and CLR
James also from Trinidad. They were joined by Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Nnamdi Azikiwe and other African leaders in the
1940s, carrying on a tradition that went back to the early years of the twentienth century when the first Pan-African Congress
was held in London in 1900.
The second Pan-African Congress was held in Paris in 1919. It coincided with the Paris Peace
Conference by the Allied Powers ending World War I and demanded the right to self-determination in the African colonies. It
was also in the same year that there were widespread protests against the exclusion of racial equality from the Covenant of
the League of Nations, and delegates from the Pan-African Congress presented resolutions to the League of Nations demanding
freedom and independence for Africans. A few years earlier, the African National Congress (ANC) was founded in January 1912
in Bloemfontein, South Africa, and more than 80 years later won the struggle against apartheid.
Dr. DuBois played a critical
role in organizing these conferences. It was he, together with Blaise Diagne, a Senegalese and highest-ranking African in
French politics and deputy to the French parliament, who organized the Pan-African Congress in Paris in 1919. It was attended
by at least 57 delegates representing 15 countries and colonies, including Liberia, Haiti, the British West Indies, West African
British and French colonies, and the United States. At least 19 delegates came from Africa.
The 1919 conference is often
referred to as the First Pan-African Congress. But it was actually patterned after the Pan-African Conference, which was really
the first Pan-African Congress, convened by Henry Sylvester Williams in London in 1919. DuBois also attended this conference
as a delegate. The London conference petitioned the Allied Nations to take specific steps to end oppressive political and
economic conditions in predominantly black colonies in Africa and the West Indies.
The Second (or third) Pan-African Congress
was held in 1921 in the three main colonial centers - London, Paris, and Brussels - and was attended by 113 delegates. Again,
Africans in the diaspora, with DuBois being the most prominent among them, played a major role in organizing this conference.
The NAACP was also represented at the conference and provided financial support. The Third Pan-African Congress was held in
1923 in London, and in Lisbon, Portugal, pursuing the same goals as those pursued at the previous conferences. The main goal
was independence for black countries in Africa and in the Caribbean.
The Fourth Pan-African Congress was held in Harlem,
New York, in 1927 and was funded by an organization of black women, the Circle of Peace and Foreign Relations, long interested
in improving the lives of black people in Africa and in the diaspora, including attainment of independence for the African
colonies. The conference was chaired by Dr. WEB DuBois and attended by 208 delegates. And about 5000 people participated in
the conference. Several sessions were also held in black churches in Harlem. African countries represented included Sierra
Leone, the Gold Coast (later renamed Ghana), Nigeria, and Liberia. There were also representatives from the United States
and the West Indies.
Dr. DuBois tried to make arrangements for the Fifth Pan-African Congress to be held on African soil,
in Tunis, Tunisia. He chose Tunis because it was accessible by shipping lines and was somewhat centrally located to enable
many delegates from Africa and Europe to attend the conference. But the French government feared that such a conference held
on African soil would lead to unrest in the colonies on the continent, and denied the organizers permission to hold the conference
in the French colony of Tunisia.
The French told DuBois and other organizers that they could hold the conference in Paris,
but the Depression, which came in 1929, the same year the conference was planned, precluded any possibility that the conference
would be held anytime soon. Financial problems were one of the main reasons why other conferences could not be held sooner.
There were also ideological divisions among the organizers. There were those who supported the ideology of Marcus Garvey which
was strictly racial and excluded anybody who was not black or considered black enough including racially mixed people such
as Dr. DuBois himself. And there were those who supported Dr. DuBois and his colleagues whose philosophy was inclusive.
was not until 16 years later, in 1945, that the Fifth Pan-African Congress was held. It was held in Manchester, England, and
was attended by Dr. DuBois, George Padmore, CLR James, Kwame Nkrumah, Jomo Kenyatta, Nnamdi Azikiwe, Ras Makonnen, and others.
Nkrumah and Kenyatta served as secretaries and played a critical role in organizing the conference.
It was also in the
same year that Nkrumah left the United States for Britain after attending school in America for 10 years. When he was still
a student in the United States, he met CLR James. CLR James said Nkrumah used to talk a lot and "he talked a lot of nonsense
in those days," as he said in an article he wrote. But he said he was very much impressed by him because of his determination
to achieve his goals. Other people who met Nkrumah were also very much impressed by his personality. He was charismatic. He
was dynamic. I remember Professor Ali Mazrui, a Kenyan, saying when he first met Nkrumah, he was impressed by his charisma
CLR James went on to say that when Nkrumah was getting ready to go to Britain to study at the London School
of Economics, he wrote George Padmore introducing Nkrumah to him. Padmore lived in London. CLR James said he told Padmore
to help Nkrumah, and went on to say: "He's not very bright. But he's determined to throw the white man out of Africa."
also read Karl Marx when he was student in the United States. CLR James, who was a Marxist, didn't think that Nkrumah understood
Marxism well. But he gave him credit saying that he studied further, and when he gave a speech at the fifth Pan-African Congress
in Manchester, "it was an absolute masterpiece."
Nkrumah never looked back. He returned to the Gold Coast in 1947 and,
ten years later, led his country to independence, earning it distinction as the first black African country to emerge from
colonial rule. When the Gold Coast won independence as Ghana on March 6, 1957, representatives from the African diaspora were
invited to Accra, Ghana's capital, to celebrate. Nkrumah also invited people of African descent to go to Ghana and other parts
of Africa to help build the continent.
The people invited by Nkrumah to celebrate Ghana's attainment of independence included
Dr. Martin Luther King, Ralph Bunche, A. Philip Randolph, Adam Clayton Powell, Andrew Young, Ralph Abernathy, Richard Wright.
There were also common citizens from the diaspora, such as Lucille Davis, an African American who was working in Los Angeles
when the Gold Coast won independence and became Ghana. She wrote Nkrumah directly asking him to intervene on her behalf when
the British embassy in Washington tried to stop her from going to Ghana to attend the independence celebrations. As Mary Ellen
Ray who has lived in Ghana for almost 20 years stated in her article, "Ghana: 'Home' For African Americans":
Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, sent out a call to skilled and talented African Americans to come to Ghana to help with
the building of a new independent African nation. Many came; some left and some stayed. Today, it's estimated there are between
1,500 and 2,000 residing permanently in the country. This count isn't entirely accurate because many settled outside the larger
towns and cities preferring to stay in villages and/or not registering with the U.S. Embassy.
African Americans residing
in Ghana represent almost every state in the U.S., even Hawaii. A large number came as the wives of Ghanaians they met in
the States. And each year more retirees arrive. Though inflation has hit Ghana and the "bargain" prices are not as much of
a bargain anymore, water and electricity and telephone services continue to 'come and go' without notice, and cultural differences
can get sticky at times, many of us African Americans 'hang in thar'.
Several have been here for fifty years. Dr. Robert
Lee, a classmate of Kwame Nkrumah at Lincoln University, and his wife, Dr. Sara Lee (now deceased) were among Ghana's pioneering
dentists. Sara Lee started the nation's first school dental clinic. After five decades of dental practice, Dr. Lee retired
When Lucille Davis heard about the upcoming independence of Ghana in 1957 she was working in Los Angeles, an
Upper State New Yorker, and decided she wanted to attend this historic event. The British Consulate discouraged her from making
the trip. Undeterred, she went home, sat down and wrote a letter directly to Kwame Nkrumah, the president-to-be, explaining
her desire and her plight. Within two weeks the British Consulate called Mrs. Davis saying Kwame Nkrumah was inviting her
to the independence celebration as an honored guest. She now owns and operates the Beachcomber Guest House facing the Guinea
Sea in Teshie Nunga, a suburb of Accra."
Dr. DuBois was one of the African Americans who moved to Ghana and renounced
his American citizenship. In 1961, Nkrumah invited Dr. DuBois to spend his last days in Ghana. DuBois was then in conflict
with the American authorties in the United States for his opposition to America's Cold War and imperial policies. He became
a citizen of Ghana and died on August 27, 1963, in Accra, the day before the March on Washington when Dr. Martin Luther King
gave his famous "I Have A Dream" speech on August 28. He was 95 and died shortly after becoming a Ghanaian citizen.
involvement of Dr. DuBois and others in the African independence struggle, and the participation in Pan-African conferences
by Africans from Africa together with those from the United States, the Caribbean and Europe, demonstrates the indissoluble
bonds that have always existed between Africa and the diaspora. Black people in the Americas and elsewhere have always known
that the well-being of Africa is inextricably linked with their destiny because whatever affects one, affects the other. No
black person is free until all blacks are free.
And until Africa is free and united, there is no hope for the black race.
If there is dignity in numbers, there is also humiliation in numbers. If more than 600 million black people in Africa - more
than 200 million Africans in Africa are not black - cannot do anything to uplift the black race, 35 million blacks in the
United States, or others elsewhere in the diaspora, cannot do it alone. Therefore the destiny of the black race lies with
Africa. That is where the numbers and the resources are. And the bonds that have always existed between Africa and the diaspora
should be strengthened to help Africans, at home and abroad, achieve their goals to be among the best among men.
the Sixth Pan-African Congress was held in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, in 1974, under the stewardship of President Julius Nyerere
almost 35 years after the Fifth Pan-African Congress was held in Manchester in England in 1945, it was the first of its kind
to be held on African soil. It was held in Nkrumah Hall at the University of Dar es Salaam. The hall was named after Nkrumah
in memory of his dedication and achievements as a Pan-Africanist and Pan-African leader, one of the greatest leaders Africa
has ever produced. In a survey of Africans in 2000, as reported by the BBC, the majority of the people voted for Nkrumah as
the most influential African leader.
And in a Pan-African context, he probably had the strongest links to black America
among all African leaders. And the years he spent as a student in the United States helped to strengthen those ties. But it
was the depth of his Pan-African commitment, his ability to fully embrace the people in the diaspora as fellow Africans, as
well as his colorful style as a leader, which was the biggest attraction to him among African Americans.
When he was a
student, he was also attracted to Marcus Garvey and said in his autobiography that it was the teachings of Garvey which had
the biggest influence on him. As he stated: "Of all the literature that I studied, the book that did more than any other to
fire my enthusiasm was Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey. Garvey, with his philosophy of 'Africa for Africans' and
his 'Back to Africa' movement, did much to inspire the Negroes of America in the 1920's."
Garvey founded the Universal
Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1914 at the age of 28. After he moved to Harlem in 1916, New
York became the new headquarters of the movement. It was the largest black movement in American history, attracting millions
of followers and admirers with its mission to uplift the black race.
Marcus Garvey wanted to united blacks worldwide and
build a strong empire in Africa. Thus, the UNIA also became a back-to-Africa movement. As Garvey stated when he developed
his vision for the Universal Negro Improvement Association: "Where is the black man's government? Where is his King and his
kingdom? Where is his President, his ambassador, his country, his men of big affairs? I could not find them, and then I declared,
'I will help to make them.'" And the place where he was going to achieve his goal was Africa.
Garvey's vision undoubtedly
had a profound impact on Nkrumah when he was a student in the United States and after he became president of Ghana as he sought
to unite Africa. He became the most forceful exponent of immediate continental unification with his slogan, "Africa Must Unite."
It was also the title of his book published to coincide with the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in Addis
Ababa, Ethiopia, in May 1963.
Nyerere had the same kind of Pan-African commitment like Nkrumah. He embraced the African
disapora as much as Nkrumah did but did not have a flamboyant style like Nkrumah's. His style was simple, deceptively simple.
Underneath lay a deep commitment to Pan-African causes transcending continental boundaries, without parallel among his contemporaries
since Nkrumah whose political career was abruptly cut short by a military coup engineered by the CIA in February 1966.
while Nkrumah, together with Jomo Kenyatta, played a key role in organizing the Fifth Pan-African Congress which was attended
by a number of future African leaders including future presidents such as Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda, and Nkrumah
and Kenyatta themselves; Nyerere presided over the Sixth Pan-African Congress during a period when the liberation struggle
in southern Africa was most intense. It was also during this critical phase that African Americans launched a sustained campaign
to influence American policy towards Africa, especially southern Africa. Leaders such Reverend Leo Sullivan who drew up the
Sullivan principles with which American companies doing business in apartheid South Africa were required to comply to advance
the cause of racial justice in that country; black members of the United States Congress who formed the Congressional Black
Caucus (CBC); and groups such as TransAfrica led by Randall Robinson, played a critical role in this campaign and in helping
to advance the cause of liberation in southern Africa. It was Pan-African unity at its best.
In Africa, Nyerere was, among
all African leaders since Nkrumah, the most relentless supporter of the African liberation movements and their most articulate
exponent in international forums. And he believed, until his last days, that the destiny of Africans in Africa was inextricably
linked with the destiny of black people in the diaspora whom he considered to be Africans like Nkrumah and other African leaders
did. As he said in one of his last interviews with the New Internationalist in December 1998 almost one year before he died
in October 1999:
"After independence, the wider African community became clear to me. I was concerned about education;
the work of Booker T. Washington resonated with me. There were skills we needed and black people outside Africa had them.
I gave our US ambassador the specific job of recruiting skilled Africans from the US Diaspora. A few came, like you (the interviewer,
Ikaweba Bunting). Some stayed; others left.
We should try to revive it (Pan-Africanism). We should look to our brothers
and sisters in the West. We should build a broader Pan-Africansim. There is still room - and the need."