Kwame Nkrumah–The Confession And Plea Of Julius Nyerere 1

Wed, 9 Sep 2015 Source: Kwarteng, Francis


“Kwame Nkrumah was your leader, but he was our leader too, for he was an African leader…He was a visionary leader. He thought big, but he thought big for Ghana and its people and for Africa and its people. He had a great dream for Africa and its people. He had the well-being of our people at heart. He was no looter. He did not have a Swiss bank account. He died poor. Shakespeare wrote that the evil men do lives after them, but the good is often interred with their bones…”


The late Julius Nyerere delivered the following riveting speech (1997) in Accra, Ghana, on the special occasion of Ghana’s independence anniversary celebration. The speech itself is culled from the website of the New African Magazine (see “source” at the end of the speech for further information).

Please read on:

“In May 1963, 32 independent African states met in Addis Ababa, founded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), and established the Liberation Committee of the new organisation, charging it with the duty of coordinating the liberation struggle in those parts of Africa still under colonial rule. The following year, 1964, the OAU met in Cairo [Egypt]. The Cairo Summit is remembered mainly for the declaration of the heads of state of independent Africa to respect the borders inherited from colonialism. The principle of non-interference in internal affairs of member states of the OAU had been enshrined in the [OAU] Charter itself. Respect for the borders inherited from colonialism came from the Cairo Declaration of 1964.

In 1965, the OAU met in Accra [Ghana]. That summit is not as well remembered as the founding summit in 1963 or the Cairo Summit of 1964. The fact that Nkrumah did not last long as head of state of Ghana after that summit may have contributed to the comparative obscurity of that important summit. But I want to suggest that the reason why we do not talk much about [the 1965] summit is probably psychological: it was a failure. That failure still haunts us today.

The founding fathers of the OAU had set themselves two major objectives: the total liberation of our continent from colonialism and settler minorities, and the unity of Africa. The first objective was expressed through the immediate establishment of the Liberation Committee by the founding summit [of 1963]. The second objective was expressed in the name of the organisation – the Organisation of African Unity. Critics could say that the [OAU] Charter itself, with its great emphasis on the sovereign independence of each member state, combined with the Cairo Declaration on the sanctity of the inherited borders, make it look like the “Organisation of African Disunity.”

But that would be carrying criticism too far and ignoring the objective reasons which led to the principles of non-interference in the Cairo Declaration. What the founding fathers – certainly a hardcore of them – had in mind was a genuine desire to move Africa towards greater unity. We loathed the balkanisation of the continent into small unviable states, most of which had borders which did not make ethnic or geographical sense.

The Cairo Declaration was promoted by a profound realisation of the absurdity of those borders. It was quite clear that some adventurers would try to change those borders by force of arms. Indeed, it was already happening. Ethiopia and Somalia were at war over inherited borders.

Nkrumah was opposed to balkanisation as much as he was opposed to colonialism in Africa. To him and to a number of us, the two – balkanisation and colonialism – were twins. Genuine liberation of Africa had to attack both twins. A struggle against colonialism must go hand in hand with a struggle against the balkanisation of Africa. Kwame Nkrumah was the great crusader of African unity. He wanted the Accra Summit of 1965 to establish a union government for the whole of independent Africa. But we failed. The one minor reason is that Kwame, like all great believers, underestimated the degree of suspicion and animosity which his crusading passion had created among a substantial number of his fellow heads of state.

The major reason was linked to the first: already too many of us had a vested interest in keeping Africa divided.


Prior to the independence of Tanganyika, I had been advocating that East African countries should federate and then achieve independence as a single political unit. I had said publicly that I was willing to delay Tanganyika’s independence in order to enable all the three mainland countries to achieve their independence together as a single federated state. I made the suggestion because of my fear – proved correct by later events – that it would be very difficult to unite our countries if we let them achieve independence separately.

Once you multiply national anthems, national flags and national passports, seats of the United Nations, and individuals entitled to a 21-gun salute, not to speak of a host of ministers, prime ministers and envoys, you would have a whole army of powerful people with vested interests in keeping Africa balkanised. That was what Nkrumah encountered in 1965. After the failure to establish the union government at the Accra Summit, I heard one head of state express with relief that he was happy to be returning home to his country still head of state. To this day, I cannot tell whether he was serious or joking.

But he may well have been serious, because Kwame Nkrumah was very serious and the fear of a number of us of losing our precious status was quite palpable. But I never believed that the 1965 Accra Summit would have established a union government for Africa. When I say that we failed, that is not what I mean; for that clearly was an unrealistic objective for a single summit.

What I mean is that we did not even discuss a mechanism for pursuing the objective of a politically united Africa. We had a Liberation Committee already. We should have at least had a Unity Committee or undertaken to establish one. We did not.

And after Kwame Nkrumah was removed from the African scene, nobody took up the challenge again.”


New African Magazine. “Nyerere: “Without unity, there is no future for Africa.” http://newafricanmagazine.com/nyerere-without-unity-there-is-no-future-for-africa/. May 3, 2013.

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis