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AAPC Background

Several significant markers shaped the fight against colonial rule and the struggles for independence in Africa. For many in Africa, the independence of Ghana in March 1957 was a definitive moment, but with respect to the elaboration of global Pan-African goals, the year 1958 remains a defining highpoint. April of that year witnessed the First Conference of Independent African States, organized in Accra, Ghana, and attended by representatives from independent African states, namely, Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, Sudan, and Tunisia. That was followed in December of the same year by an All-African Peoples' Conference (AAPC), organized by a preparatory committee consisting of members from the then independent states listed above, under the chairmanship of Tom Mboya, then General Secretary of the Kenya Federation of Labour. At that time, Kenya was in the midst of a protracted armed rebellion against British colonialism. There was also the armed rebellion in Algeria against French settler colonialism. In all parts of Africa the peoples were stirring against colonial rule and apartheid conditions.

The December 1958 AAPC, which was also held in Accra, was attended not only by representatives from the independent states, but also ordinary persons from 28 territories such as Angola, Benin (then Dahomey), Cameroon, Chad, the Congo (then still under colonial rule), Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Nyasaland, Rhodesia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Tanganyika, Togoland, Uganda and Zanzibar. There was a strong delegation from the Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Council (The name of this organization was changed to the Afro-Asian Peoples Solidarity Organization in 1960), based in Cairo, Egypt.

Over 300 participants drawn from political parties and trade union movements representing over 2 million Africans attended this AAPC. The conference also hosted delegations from Canada, China, Denmark, India, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States. One of the major driving forces for the conference was a desire to explore mechanisms through which the countries that have liberated themselves from colonial domination could support the anti-colonial struggle and liberation endeavours in other territories on the continent and in the Caribbean.

The specific objectives of the conference were to (i) encourage the nationalist leaders from the various territories still under colonial rule in their efforts to mobilize the masses or establish political movements for independence, and (ii) to develop and agree on an overarching strategy for executing an African revolution. The conference also tackled the thorny question of the forms of struggle for independence. On this, there were two broad tendencies within the anti-colonial movement. One, represented by George Padmore and Kwame Nkrumah, promoted ‘positive action’ (a variant of the Gandhian non-violent resistance). The other was represented by Tom Mboya of Kenya and Frantz Fanon of Algeria, who argued in favour of the armed struggles then ongoing in Kenya and Algeria, and argued that all forms of struggle against colonialism must be supported. In the final analysis, the decision of the conference was to commend non-violent methods, but also to endorse other methods if they were used because the choice was forced on the independence fighters. This led to the formulation: ‘independence by any means necessary’, a slogan later popularized in the USA by Malcolm X, who called for black liberation ‘by any means necessary’. Addressing the conference, Tom Mboya indicated that Africans would no longer tolerate any interference in the efforts of Africa to liberate itself from the burden of colonialism. Another notable position taken in the conference was that Pan-Africanism was not confined to a person because of the pigment of their skin. Anyone living in Africa, white or black, could be part of the African liberation struggle, as long as they were committed to the emancipation of Africa and anti-racist principles.

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, then Prime Minister of Ghana, noted that the priorities of the conference included:

  1. attainment of political independence,
  2. consolidation of independence,
  3. creation of unity among liberated African states, and
  4. economic and social reconstruction of Africa.

The activities of the conference revolved around plenary sessions and five main committees that discussed specific issues relating to the anti-colonial struggle and other objectives of the conference. The major issues for deliberation by the five committees included (i) imperialism and colonialism, (ii) racialism, (iii) frontiers and federations, (iv) ethnicity and traditional institutions, and (v) formation of a permanent organization. Among other things, the conference passed resolutions that condemned imperialism and called for an end to the continuous exploitation of African resources by Western countries. Consequently, the conference declared support for all freedom fighters in Africa and encouraged the independent African countries to pursue foreign policies directed primarily at expediting the liberation of territories still under colonial rule. Specifically, the first AAPC recommended, among other things, the imposition of economic sanctions, including withholding of migrant labour, against apartheid South Africa for its policies of racial discrimination, and urged all African countries to sever diplomatic ties with regimes on the continent that engaged in racial discrimination.  Furthermore, the conference called, not only for the establishment of a culture of universal adult suffrage and respect for human rights, but also for an investigation into complaints of human rights abuses in various parts of the continent, as well as appropriate steps to ensure the enjoyment of human rights by all Africans.

At the end of the conference, it was firmly decided that the idea of an All-African Peoples' Conference should be established as a permanent entity with professional staff headquartered in Accra, to serve as the incubator of the envisaged African unity, and also:

  1. promote unity and understanding with all peoples of African descent
  2. mobilize global public opinion against the abuse of human rights in Africa
  3. accelerate the liberation of Africa from imperialism and colonialism
  4. serve as a nucleus for the establishment of a United States of Africa, and
  5. organize similar conferences on an annual basis.

Thus, the First AAPC was not only historic; it remains significant in the struggle for liberation and quest for African unity, for a number of reasons.

  1. It served as the springboard for the second and third All-African People’s Conferences held in Tunis (1960) and Cairo (1961), respectively, as well as similar meetings held in later years to push forward the liberation and continental unity agenda. Whereas the Tunis conference warned against the dangers of neo-colonialism, especially in the forms of economic dependence on the former metropoles and the establishment of foreign military bases, the Cairo conference demanded an immediate end to all forms of colonialism in Africa and encouraged all the freedom fighters to intensify their efforts.
  1. As the first political gathering of ordinary people from various parts of the continent on the continent, the AAPC exposed the delegates to the commonality of the challenges facing Africa and provided an opportunity for networking in the anti-colonial struggle. For instance, in an address during the conference, one of the participants, Patrice Lumumba, later to become Prime Minister of the Congo, said

This historic conference which puts us in contact with experienced political figures from all over the world, reveals one thing in us, despite our ethnic differences, we have the same awareness, the same anguish, the same anxious desire to make this African continent a free and happy continent that has rid itself of unrest and of fear and of any sort of colonialist domination.

  1. The conference and its follow-up played an instrumental role generating the needed momentum for independence, as is evidenced by the fact that soon thereafter, particularly in 1960, most African countries were liberated from colonial rule. Particularly noteworthy was the fact that several of the participants, including Patrice Lumumba, left the Accra conference directly to spearhead the struggle and lead their countries to independence.

Following the conferences, Kwame Nkrumah and the forces committed to unity worked hard for the establishment of a permanent organization to support liberation and work for continental unification. This led to the formation of the Organization of African Unity in May 1963.  In 2002, the OAU was transformed into the African Union, with a specific timetable for the full unification of Africa, with a common currency from one common bank of issue, a continental communication system, a common foreign policy and diplomacy, as well as a common defence system featuring the African High Command. It must be remembered that Kwame Nkrumah had advocated for this strategy at the formation of the OAU in May 1963, and later in his book, Africa Must Unite.

Contemporary Global Africa

One glaring reality is the fact that there is such limited popular knowledge of the struggle and sacrifices made for independence. For example, many younger Africans would not be aware of the kind of solidarity among the forces fighting for independence that ensured that massive sacrifices were made in order to win political independence. The massive victory of the Angolan and Cuban forces at Cuito Cuanavale thirty years ago has been erased from the narratives about the decolonization process.  Imperial narratives and disinformation have created the impression, and many in the younger generations believe, that the coming of independence within the continent and the end of apartheid in South Africa were the outcomes of Western beneficence. Thus, the issues that need to be put in context and placed before a new generation of Africans include the current questions of imperial plunder, #Black Lives, the quality of the lives of black working peoples worldwide, education for liberation, the super exploitation of women in Global Africa, the future of the youth, peace, environmental repair within Africa and the questions of reparative justice. It is also important that the Global African family is reminded that there are over 28 colonies in the Pan-African world. The outstanding issues of colonial rule in the Western Sahara, Martinique, Cayenne, Guadeloupe, Puerto Rico and many other colonial holdouts remind us of the adage that no African country will really be free until all of Africa is free.

It is also urgent that the progressive Pan-African community make special efforts to provide political and material support for our brothers and sisters in Latin America, who are suffering from extreme racist violence.

On another front, neo-liberal interventions in all parts of the Pan-African world have oriented the direction of state policies towards the enrichment of a few instead of organizing society for the public good. Structural adjustment, agrarian stagnation, de-industrialisation and the growth of the informal service sectors have failed to address a growing crisis of unemployment and precarious work. Market based social protection policies have failed to contribute to the creation of healthy educated, productive and peaceful societies, but have instead resulted in growing structural inequalities, disaffection and conflicts arising from the struggle over resources.

Imperial domination and military interventions tended to shift from the optimism of the early postcolonial period, to Afro pessimism of the 1970s and 1980s. At the end of apartheid, following the defeat of the South African army at Cuito Cuanavale, and the formation of the African Union, there has been a rejuvenation of the ideals of Pan-African Unity. In 2013, at the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of the OAU, there was an amplification of the goals of Unity, with the elaboration of Agenda 2063, along with the designation of the Global African family overseas as the sixth region of Africa. This rejuvenation of Pan-African ideas has come at a time when there is recognition of the potential of the demographic dividend of the youthful population of Africa if only there were appropriate social investments to harness their energy and talent. In Kenya the triple effect of M-Pesa, the mobile money transfer service; the development of Ushahidi, the leading free online crisis-mapping platform; and iHub, one of the most talked-about innovation lounges on the continent point to the potentialities of African youth.

Innovative youths have already charted new directions to the point where Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook noted that the Future was in Africa. This demographic asset, combined with the assets of mineral and genetic resources, augur well if the ideas of transformation and reconstruction were to take root in Africa.

Along with this hopeful outlook are challenges of the militarization of politics, youth unemployment, forced migration resulting from a lack of economic opportunities, perennial electoral tensions in some countries, as well as years of political instability and destabilization in several countries. The NATO intervention in Libya and foreign military forays into Africa point to the fact that African policy makers and activists have to take seriously the warnings of the first AAPC on imperialism and neo-colonialism.

The attractiveness of the resources of Africa have ensured that there are new suitors beyond the former imperial states, Britain, France, Belgium and the USA. The emergence of new global forces, such as Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC), as well as South Korea and Turkey, scrambling for Africa’s resources, challenge Africans to develop collective approaches to external forces.  The nascent regime of agreements, such the Economic Partnership Agreements (EPA) being signed between African countries and the European Union, and Defence Cooperation Agreements also being signed between some African countries and the United States, France and Britain, raise new questions about the future of Africa and its preparedness to deal with current manifestations of neo-colonialism and imperialism. The spread of such agreements also raises questions not only about the extent to which Africa takes the legacy of the freedom fighters seriously, but also the possible complicity of African leaders in decisions and actions that obviously undermine the immediate and future prospect of building a united and integrated Africa.

As we commemorate the All-African Peoples' Conference sixty years on, it is apt to restate the call of the first conference:

“Peoples of Africa, Unite! You have nothing to lose but your chains! You have a continent to regain! You have freedom and human dignity to attain!

And to the colonialists we say:

Hands off Africa! Africa Must be Free!