Revisiting the role of women in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana
Sep 08, 2016
Celebrated pan-Africanist Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana organized a historic conference for women in Africa and the diaspora in 1960 to celebrate their contribution to the liberation struggles, but also to create a platform for reflection on their future role in a free, socialist and united Africa. The meeting underscored the deep conviction among pan-Africanists about the revolutionary role of women, highlighting the fact that the liberation of Africa is impossible without the complete emancipation of all the women of the continent.
During July 1960 a historic gathering of African women from throughout the continent and Diaspora took place in Accra, Ghana. This West African state had been liberated from British colonialism just three years before under the leadership of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) headed by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
This Conference of the Women of Africa and African Descent (CWAAD) passed resolutions calling for many of the same objectives as previous Pan-African gatherings in Ghana and other parts of Africa. The CPP was in a better position than any other party on the continent to set the stage and provide a sterling example as it related to gender equality.
Nkrumah said to African women in his opening address to the CWAAD that: “Your role in this direction is of great importance. Not only can you carry back this message to the men of your respective countries, but, if you are convinced that unity is the right answer, you can also bring your feminine influence to bear in persuading your brothers, husbands and friends of the importance of Africa unity as the only salvation for Africa. For my part, I stand resolutely and inexorably by this conviction and will work with unrelenting determination for its attainment.
There is a great responsibility resting on the shoulders of all women of Africa and African descent. They must realize that the men alone cannot complete the gigantic task we have set ourselves. The time has come when the women of Africa and of African descent must rise up in their millions to join the Africa crusade for freedom.”
Women were in the forefront of the movement for national liberation in Ghana, then known as the Gold Coast prior to 1957. The early efforts of Nkrumah sought the full participation of women in the initial phases of organizing with the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) and the Committee on Youth Organization (CYO).
Although it was the UGCC which invited Nkrumah back to the Gold Coast his organizing efforts would place him at loggerheads with its middle-class and royalist leadership. The formation of the CYO mobilized the students and youth of the country along the lines of Pan-Africanism and immediate national liberation. By June 1949, the supporters of Nkrumah urged that he form a political organization to demand independence now. The CPP was launched on June 12, 1949 with 60,000 people in attendance and consequently from its initiation the party was a mass force playing a vanguard role in the struggle for national liberation from British imperialism.
Historical events since Nkrumah had left the Gold Coast for the U.S. in 1935 served to catapult him into national and international prominence. Nkrumah had returned to the Gold Coast from a two-year stay in England where he studied at the London School of Economics and organized the historic Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester held in October 1945. The gathering was characterized by the emergence of a mass Pan-Africanist movement led by revolutionary intellectuals, students, workers and farmers.
Prior to his stay in Britain, Nkrumah had studied for ten years in the United States from 1935-1945. He obtained undergraduate and graduate degrees from the Historical Black University of Lincoln in Pennsylvania and the University of Pennsylvania. As a student Nkrumah led the African Students Association of the U.S. and Canada, wrote for student and academic newsletters and journals, belonging to numerous left-wing and anti-imperialist groups including the Council on African Affairs (CAA), the Universal Negro Improvement Association (African Communities League), among others. His tenure also involved the study of theology and the licensing as a Presbyterian minister where he traveled extensively speaking in African American churches.
Some of the most advanced organizers and party propagandists within the CPP were women from its inception extending to the overthrow of the Nkrumah government on February 24, 1966 at the aegis of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) utilizing disgruntled elements within the Ghanaian military and police. Over the course of the period between 1948 and 1966, CPP women held positions as journalists, intelligence operatives, fundraisers and political officials.
The Conference of the Women of Africa and African Descent was convened on the initiative of the Ghana Women’s movement represented by the consolidation of the two main organizations concerned with gender issues in 1960. The CPP (Ghana) Women’s League and the National Federation of Ghana Women merged to form the National Council of Ghana Women at the urging of the Nkrumah and the party leadership.
The Women’s League was a CPP-led organization where the Federation, led by Secretary General Dr. Evelyn Amarteifio, was perceived as being more politically independent. The League was directed by CPP Propaganda Secretary Hannah Cudjoe who served as the principal organizer of the CWAAD in July 1960. Cudjoe had been recruited by Nkrumah during the early days of the UGCC work and when the British arrested the top leaders of the group in the aftermath of a national strike and rebellion in February 1948, led protests demanding their release.
On an institutional level the leadership of the CPP as early as May 1951 in the wake of the release of Kwame Nkrumah from a one-year prison term for his anti-colonialist activities and the party’s triumph in the local elections earlier that February, the mass independence party had appointed four women: Letitia Quaye, Miss Sophia Doku, Hannah Cudjoe and Ama Nkrumah, as propaganda secretaries charged with the duty of organizing women and others. During the period surrounding the convening of the All-African Women’s Conference, the Ghanaian parliament at the aegis of the CPP passed the Representation of the People (Women Members) Bill in 1960. The legislation was passed on June 16, 1960.
This act facilitated the unopposed election of ten women as Members of Parliament (MPs). These women were Susana Al-Hassan, Ayanori Bukari and Victoria Nyarko, all representing the Northern Region, Sophia Doku and Mary Koranteng, Eastern Region, and Regina Asamany, Volta Region. The others were Grace Ayensu and Christiana Wilmot, Western Region, Comfort Asamoah, Ashanti Region, and Lucy Anim, Brong Ahafo. Later in 1965, Dr. Nkrumah appointed Madam Susan Al-Hassan as the Minister of Social Welfare and Community Development, while other women were appointed as district commissioners.
Consequently, the Conference gathering attracted hundreds of women who were playing an integral part in the national liberation process in Ghana, across Africa and the world. Delegations attended the Conference from various geo-political regions of the continent. From outside of Africa there was representation from the United States where the likes of Shirley Graham Du Bois attended and delivered an important policy address.
Shirley Graham DuBois, the second wife of W.E.B. DuBois and an accomplished writer, organizer and committed socialist in her own right, was in Ghana at the time of the founding of the First Republic along with the inauguration of the NCGW and the Conference of Women of Africa and African Descent. She stated in an address before the Women’s Association of the Socialist Students Organizations in Ghana that “the advancement of Ghanaian women in recent years has been amazing and now with ten women Parliamentarians in Republican Ghana, this country had achieved what took Europe centuries to accomplish.” (Evening News, July 14, 1960)
In supporting the-then movement toward socialism in Ghana, DuBois recounted her travels to the People’s Republic of China and the achievements of women since the Revolution of 1949. She noted in her address “the women of Socialist China were advanced in all spheres of useful activity and enjoyed equal rights with men politically, economically, culturally, socially and domestically.”
Kwame Nkrumah in delivering the opening address to the Conference of the Women of Africa and African Descent on July 18, 1960 said: “I am indeed happy to be here this morning to open such a conference. Who would have thought that in this year of 1960, it would be possible to even hold a conference of all Ghanaian women, much less of women of all Africa and African descent! But today, that is a reality and an achievement which constitutes another landmark of progress in Africa’s irresistible march to emancipation and victory.”
The president and leader of the CPP went on to note that: “All of you are aware of the present trend in Africa. The whole continent is ablaze with the fire of nationalism. This great giant Africa, which was anaesthetized for so long, is now awake and has shaken itself out of the slumber that for so many years enabled exploiters and marauders to plunder its wealth. The new African has arrived on the scene. Colonialism and imperialism are on the run, fleeing from the blows of African irredentism. What is woman’s part in the great struggle for African liberation? You have to provide an answer to that question. But I can say something of the role adopted by Ghanaian womanhood in the past. The women of Ghana have played a most glorious part in our struggle for independence. They were solidly behind the Ghana revolution. Guided by the Convention People’s Party, thousands of our women flocked to the nationalist banners and, side by side with the men, fought heroically until freedom was achieved for Ghana.”
Women militants against apartheid
This trend towards national liberation and Pan-Africanism was not confined to Ghana alone. In South African under the vicious system of apartheid-colonialism women had led the anti-pass campaigns of the early 1950s. In 1954, the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) was formed bringing together progressive forces within the African, Colored, Indian and white communities in alliance with the African National Congress. Women were indicted under the treason trials that were held against the revolutionary democratic movement between the years of 1956-1960.
On August 9, 1956, 20,000 South African women marched against racism and national oppression in Pretoria setting the stage for a broadening of the mass struggle against the exploitation and repression of the apartheid system. Within the ANC as an organization there was a process of historical transformation that mirrored the development of the nationalist movement from its beginnings in the early decades of the 20th century until the post-World War II period.
Although in the Gold Coast (Ghana) during the incipient phase of the development of the CPP under Nkrumah, women were in the leadership of the party as organizers, journalists, propagandists and fundraisers, the situation was quite different in relationship to the ANC, which was formed as the South African Native National Council on January 8, 1912 in Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State.
According to the South African History website, “When the African National Congress (ANC) was formed in 1912, it did not accept women as members. In 1918, the government threatened to reintroduce pass laws for women that had been relaxed after the success of earlier resistance to passes. In the light of these events, the Bantu Women’s League (BWL) was formed in 1918, as a branch of the ANC. It became involved in passive resistance and fought against passes for Black women. During this time the Bantu Women’s League was under the leadership of Charlotte Maxeke. The ANC only accepted women as members at the Congress’s 1943 conference and in 1948 the ANC Women’s League was formed. The first official president of the League was Ida Mntwana who was appointed after a brief stint by Madie Hall-Xuma.
This same site goes on to note: “The women became active in the Defiance Campaign of 1952 where they played a leading role. In the Eastern Cape 1067 of the 2529 defiers were women, with Florence Matomela at the forefront. The Women’s League was then asked by the Congress Alliance to assist in organizing the 1955 Congress of the People, where the Freedom Charter was to be adopted. This gave the women an opportunity to lobby for the incorporation of their demands into the charter. In 1955, the issue of passes came forth again as the government announced that it would start issuing reference books from January 1956. A demonstration was held on the 27th of October 1955 and was attended by 2 000 women. On the 9th of August 1956, the women of the league confronted Prime Minister J.G. Strydom, under the auspices of the Federation of South African Women with a petition against pass laws.” (http://www.sahistory.org.za/topic/anc-womens-league-ancwl)
In Egypt during the 1919 uprising against British imperialism, women came into the streets in the thousands. Nabila Ramdani has researched the intersection between Egyptian nationalism and feminism tracing back the role of women in literary, cultural and political circles into the late 19th century.
Ramdani emphasized in a research paper that: “During the 1919 Revolution, Huda Sha’arawi led veiled women demonstrators in the struggle against the British. Female solidarity with the Egyptian nationalists was exemplified by Sha’arawi’s close collaboration with Sa’ad Zaghlul (1859-1927), leader of the Wafd (‘delegation’) – the Egyptian nationalist movement which was formed in 1918 at the end of the First World War. It was at the forefront of the push for independence from Britain, with both men and women lending their support to the ‘party of the nation’. What women also made clear, however, was that they were equally campaigning for equality of the sexes – so engaging in a ‘dual struggle’. Egyptian women first took part in nationalist demonstrations in March 1919, but they were to become crucial to the partial removal of the British from Egypt in 1922.” (Journal of Women’s Studies, March 2013, Vol. 14, Article 5)
Women of Nigeria
Women’s participation in other nationalists and Pan-Africanist struggles were also notable in Nigeria with the rebellion of women in the southeast region of the country in 1929. The British had consolidated control of what became known as Nigeria in 1914 through a system of indirect rule which facilitated the super-exploitation of the African people.
According to blackpast.org, “The "riots" or the war, led by women in the provinces of Calabar and Owerri in southeastern Nigeria in November and December of 1929, became known as the ‘Aba Women’s Riots of 1929’ in British colonial history, or as the ‘Women’s War’ in Igbo history. Thousands of Igbo women organized a massive revolt against the policies imposed by British colonial administrators in southeastern Nigeria, touching off the most serious challenge to British rule in the history of the colony. The ‘Women’s War’ took months for the government to suppress and became a historic example of feminist and anti-colonial protest.
The roots of the riots evolved from January 1, 1914, when the first Nigerian colonial governor, Lord Lugard, instituted the system of indirect rule in Southern Nigeria. Under the plan British administrators would rule locally through ‘warrant chiefs,’ essentially Igbo individuals appointed by the governor. Traditionally Igbo chiefs had been elected.”
Hands off Africa
After the independence of several states within North Africa, with the exception of Algeria, which waged an armed struggle against French imperialism from 1954-1961, where women played a pivotal role as well, along with the breaking away of Sudan in 1956 and the Gold Coast the following year, Nkrumah and other African leaders convened the First Conference of Independent African States in Accra from April 15-22, 1958. The gathering was chaired by Nkrumah and attended mainly by foreign ministers of the-then existing independent states of the United Arab Republic (Egypt), Libya, Tunisia, Morocco, Sudan, Liberia and Ethiopia.
This conference paved the way for the All-African People’s Conference of December 1958 in Accra which attracted participation from 62 independence organizations and sovereign states. The AAPC was held under the banner of “Hands off Africa!” Several political figures in attendance would later become prominent in the struggle for national liberation, Pan-Africanism and Socialism, such as Patrice Lumumba of the Belgian Congo and Dr. Frantz Fanon of Martinique in the Caribbean.
Lumumba and Fanon would be dead by 1961. Lumumba was overthrown in the machinations of imperialist politics of 1960. By January 1961, he had been kidnapped, tortured and murdered by agents of Belgium, the U.S., Britain and other western states. Fanon died in the U.S. from leukemia after serving as an ambassador and editor for the National Liberation Front (FLN) of Algeria.
The decolonization process would prove to be violent. Nkrumah and other revolutionaries in Ghana served prison time during the late 1940s. In Algeria, the French engaged in a series of massacres from the period of World War II through the early 1960s. South Africans were gunned down at Sharpeville in March 1960. In Congo, Lumumba and his comrades, Maurice Mpolo and Joseph Okito, would be assassinated amid a counterinsurgency war that destroyed the liberated territories in the vast country that sought to make real the vision of Lumumba and other revolutionary nationalists and Pan-Africanists.
However, 1960 was later designated as the “Year of Africa” where eighteen former colonies gained some form of national independence. Ghana extended its sovereignty by moving from an independent state within the Commonwealth to a Republic on July 1, 1960. Therefore the convening of the Conference of the Women of Africa and African Descent was in line with the continental and global struggle for African emancipation.
Women’s Emancipation and the Convention People’s Party (CPP)
Within this politico-historical context the CPP in Ghana would have been the ideal sponsors for such a conference. Women were already taking on leading positions within national liberation and Pan-Africanist movements throughout the continent and the Diaspora as Ghana was considered the citadel of the independence movements sweeping Africa and the Diaspora.
The CPP women were maintaining their role as propagandists and recruiters for the party in 1960. In a report published by the Evening News, a state-sponsored party newspaper started by Nkrumah in 1948 even prior to the formation of the CPP, in a section entitled “Party News and Notes” it says: “Madam Ardua Ankrah of Korie Wokon alias “Mrs. Nkrumah”, continues her membership drive in Accra with increasing vigor. More U.P. (United Party opposition group) adherents at Ayalolo and Amamomo have approached her for enrollment into the dynamic CPP. Yesterday a delegation of 27 members from James Town called at her home and asked for admission into the CPP. In a short address Madam Ardua said to them, ‘This is not a time for play. It is a time for hard work in the interest of Ghana. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah who released us from foreign bondage has again committed himself to the task of freeing us economically. Let us all unite as one man and follow Dr. Nkrumah even unto death.’” (Jan. 14, 1960, p. 5)
Earlier that same month on January 6, a photograph in the Evening News on page 10 under the headline “Evenews Picture Page” depicts “Madam Lydia Addo, an organizer of the Convention People’s Party, seen addressing a rally at the Bukom Square yesterday.” This photograph appears alongside four others illustrating the first overhead bridge in Accra which was nearing completion on Boundary Road near the Makola Market; the Omanhen of Sefwi, Wiawso Nana Kwadwo Aduhene, who was celebrating his annual yam festival; Minister of Finance K.A. Gbedemah, a co-founder of the CPP, who later fled into exile after the dockworkers strike of September 1961; and Bediako Poku, the Ghana ambassador to Israel who had served for two years as the General Secretary of the CPP.
A major source for the political recruitment of party cadres and the financing of its organizational work was the strategic role of the market women of Accra. C.L.R. James, the Trinidadian-born Marxist-Leninist historian and political analyst, said of the situation in Ghana during the anti-colonial and post-colonial phase that “one market woman was worth any dozen Achimota graduates,” many of who were hostile to the national liberation movement. (Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution, 1976)
In the January 2, 1960 edition of the Evening News a brief article entitled “Nkrumah Chats With Guests” reports “Varieties of Ghanaian dishes were served at a luncheon party organized by the Life Chairman of the Convention People’s Party, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, in honor of members of the Ghana Market Women Traders Association and members of the women section of the CPP at the Flagstaff House in Accra. As the party progressed, Dr. Nkrumah who is also Life Patron of the Market Women Traders Association spent several minutes chatting with his guests. Proposing a toast on behalf of the women at the party, Madam Rebecca Dedei Aryeetey, Special Women Organizer to the Life Chairman of the CPP and the Association, assured Premier Nkrumah and his Government, the support of the 50,000 market women of this country.” (Peter Plange, p. 6)
Leading up to the convening of the Women’s conference in July 1960 tense negotiations between the Federation and the League resulted in the founding of the National Council of Ghana Women (NCGW). The task related to the merger of the two women’s organizations is recounted in a political biography by Tawia Adamafio, the former Vice-Chair of the CPP who would later in August 1962 fall from grace within the party after being accused by Nkrumah of being involved in an assassination attempt against the Osagyefo in the northern town of Kulungugu near the border with Upper Volta.
Adamafio stated in his book published in 1982 entitled, By Nkrumah’s Side: The Labor and the Wounds, that he was forced into leading negotiations for the merger between the Federation and the League. He expresses fear over the role of women within the party saying they could become such a force as to neutralize the men leaders.
Nkrumah suggests to Adamafio that: “Our women must take over completely as private secretaries, stenographers and copy typists. They should branch into engineering services, pharmacy, bus and taxi driving, law and medicine and all the other fields. They should go shoulder to shoulder with our men. At the time, and as Adamafio explains, there were two large women’s groups in the country, one led by Dr. Evelyn Amarteifio and the other, the Ghana Women’s League, led by Hannah Kudjoe. Nkrumah wanted all women’s groups in one organization: ‘We must organize the women . . . as a distinct identity and keep them under our wings.’” (Jean Allman, The Disappearing of Hannah Cudjoe: Nationalism, Feminism and the Tyrannies of History)
In the Adamafio book he further describes the challenge put before him by Nkrumah leading up to the Conference of the Women of Africa and African Descent, saying: “The Party women’s solidarity was so all-inclusive when organized, that nothing could escape its steam-roller pressure. The Party women could not be bullied into submission by any party leader including Nkrumah himself on any matter…. If necessary the women did not hesitate to boo me or any other leader for that matter, and cause severe embarrassment and confusion to achieve their objective. . . . No, I cannot adequately convey to you an expression of the actual difficulty involved in organizing women, but if you could imagine their gossip, bitter quarrels and bickering and the acrimony of the lashing tongues, you would be getting nearer the truth than I could describe. I did not cherish this new task at all.”
From Adamafio’s account of the period, the women within the two organizations exercised significant degrees of independence of thought and action. He says of the discussions among male members of the party and trade union movement that: “We foresaw a situation where this NCGW [National Council of Ghana Women] would grow so monolithic and powerful that the party could lose control of it. When you had its leadership bristling with dynamic women intellectuals and revolutionaries and the organization had become conscious of its strength, it could break off in rebellion, form a party by itself and sweep everything before it at the polls. The ratio of women voters to men then was about three or more to one and the position could well arise, where Ghana would be ruled by a woman President and an all-woman cabinet and the principal secretaries and Regional Commissioners were all women and men would be relegated to the back room! It would be disastrous for Ghana, for, I could see men being ridden like horses! A male tyrant could be twisted round a woman’s little finger. An Amazonian tyrant could only probably be subdued by a battery of artillery!”
Women as public speakers, community organizers and recruiters
These stories reflect the role of Hanah Cudjoe, Ardua Ankrah, Lydia Addo and other women as public speakers, community organizers and recruiters. An understanding of these factors is essential to grasping even a rudimentary view of the growth and influence of the CPP. Ghana as a result of the national development policies of Nkrumah became the most advanced country in Africa during the 1950s and 1960s in part by emphasizing primary, secondary and higher educational attainment. Over a period of a six-year transition from 1951-1957 and approximately nine years of independence with only five-and-a-half years as a republic, the CPP under Nkrumah founded three universities, hundreds of public schools and provided scholarships to Ghanaian students to study abroad as well as other Africans to matriculate inside of Ghana itself.
This level of literary and scholastic achievements was illustrated in the CPP press. Outstanding journalists and writers from Ghana and other states were published on a daily basis. One leading woman journalist and CPP operative was Mabel Ellen Dove. She was one of the most interesting figures within the upper echelons of the party since Dove had once been married to UGCC leader J.B. Danquah, who later became a staunch opponent of Nkrumah and the CPP after the split in June 1949.
Dove wrote extensively on issues involving national liberation, Pan-Africanism and anti-imperialism. On the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Positive Action campaign, a general strike called by the CPP on January 8, 1950, which was so effective that it landed Nkrumah in prison for a year, Dove published an article in the Evening News entitled “Africanism unto Calvary.”
She describes the party rally to commemorate the anniversary saying, “A sea of eager, dedicated faces, thousands upon thousands of them in the historic Arena. Men, women and children, individuals, voluntary organizations, trade unions, benevolent societies and still they come. On the tree tops they hang precariously on the branches, on the top of the ‘mammy lorries’, there is no more room in the Arena but thousands are still thronging outside waiting to hear the Leader.” (Evening News, Jan. 12, 1960, p. 3)
The article continues observing “On the wooden platform could be seen the old fighting warriors still consistent, still loyal to the Leader in the fight for the ‘redemption and liberation’ of all Africa. The Leader is calling on them once more to rededicate themselves to the economic and social reconstruction of Ghana and the coming together of the nations of Africa—Africanism the new ideology. Other peoples and races of the past had to creep, walk and run but as the Leader said for us ‘The Time is Short’. The African has to run and leap and to move with extended hand towards his brother. Pettiness, envy, selfishness, greed, vanity, vindictiveness, hatred, malice, cannot be indulged in by the African, dedicated to the service of his country and his continent, Mother Africa.”
In this same essay Dove asks “What is Africanism? Africanism is the belief by patriots in the new and emerging nations of Africa that this great continent of Africa is made by the almighty the Creator of all men for Africans and that Africans should live in this continent in dignity and pride, to work and enjoy the fruits of their labor and that the natural resources of this great continent should be exploited for the progress of the Africans and that they should walk with uplifted heads and a song in his heart in any part of Africa….. Despite all the set-backs in the way of the African he has shown again and again that brutality, auto-suggestions, exploitation, poverty, disease and illiteracy have not been able to destroy him physically and spiritually and when imperialism is destroyed Africans may produce the first super-men…. The supposed Christians of Western civilization have to throw away their cant, humbug, hypocrisy and sheer malevolent brutality in Africa or take the consequences of their inhumanity to man. Africanism is the new religion to be practiced and propagated by the patriots of the new and emerging nations of Africa even unto Calvary.”
Women are combat troops
The general atmosphere surrounding the Conference of the Women of Africa and African Descent gathering was Pan-Africanist and internationalist. Ghana’s First Lady Madam Fathia Nkrumah, who was born in the North African state of Egypt, greeted delegations from her home country as well as neighboring Tunisia. Panel discussions at the conference featured presentations by Cudjoe and Armarteifio sharing platforms with women from other regions of the continent.
Nkrumah during his speech at Baden Powell Memorial Hall stressed: “I repeat what l have many times stated before, that the independence of Ghana is meaningless, unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa. Therefore, the struggle in Ghana still continues and our women are still combatant troops. I would like to take this opportunity today to pay tribute to them.
This Conference, organized by the Ghana Women’s Movement which represents all women’s groups in the country, must ask the questions: why the women of South Africa must be in possession of passes in order to go about their ordinary business? Why apartheid overlords should shoot down defenseless women and children in their God-given land in order to maintain white supremacy? Why is Africa an extension of Europe? Why Algeria, a country on African soil, should be claimed as French? Why South Africa should flout the authority of the United Nations over South-West Africa? What part can the women of Africa and of African descent play in the struggle for African emancipation? What part can the women of African descent anywhere in the world play in the struggle for African emancipation? You must ask these questions not by word of mouth, but by action — by positive action, which is the only language understood by the detractors of African freedom.”
Less than two weeks prior to the Conference of the Women of Africa and African Descent the CPP women’s section attended a party at the presidential office in Flagstaff House. Nkrumah hosted ten representatives from each of the eight regions of Ghana. Officers of the CPP national headquarters were in attendance as well.
On a personal level Nkrumah was very close to his mother and took good care of her during his tenure in political office. Members of the National Association of Socialist Students Organizations (NASSO) paid tribute to Madam Nyaniba, the mother of Nkrumah, at a gathering in Accra. According to the January 25, 1960 edition of the Evening News on its front page, Madam Nyaniba told the students “Anything that has not the blessing of God will not succeed. The Voice of the People is the Voice of God.” Madame Nyaniba encouraged the youth to be honest and sincere in their dealings with their comrades and all their endeavors.
Women and historical Pan-Africanism
The CPP and the Ghana government were committed to the realization of a United States of Africa under socialism. The party viewed the struggle for national liberation as an initial step towards continental unity and non-capitalist development. The editorial policy of the party press was to provide unconditional political and ideological support to the national liberation movements still fighting to throw off the yoke of colonialism along with those anti-imperialist states such as Guinea-Conakry under President Ahmed Sekou Toure and Malian President Modibo Kieta. In 1960 the Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union was formed pledging to work towards political and economic integration.
Mabel Dove wrote on January 8, 1960, the tenth anniversary of the Positive Action Campaign of 1950, about the plight of Nyasaland African National Congress leader Dr. Hastings Banda who was incarcerated by the British at the time. Dove noted that Dr. Banda said when he was sentenced to prison that it fulfilled one of his ambitions “to be put in prison for my people like Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.” (Evening News, Jan. 8, p. 8)
She continued in this same report emphasizing, “Imperialism is actually desperate in Central Africa and the arrest of African leaders like Dr. Banda provide evidence of frenzy and uneasiness which have gripped the arbitrary rulers in their murderous campaign which they seek to cloak in their imaginary ‘discovery’ of a ‘Slaughter plot’.”
On the same page of this issue of the Evening News, Dove pens another article entitled “Free Jomo Kenyatta”, the Kenyan nationalist leader who was imprisoned for his efforts aimed at winning independence for this East African settler colony. Kenyatta had worked with Nkrumah at the Fifth Pan-African Congress held in Manchester, England in October 1945.
Dove said: “The trend today is the propaganda that white settlers in Africa are Africans. The white in any part of Africa is not an African and he can never be an African by any stretch of the imagination and the dishonorable action of imperialism of fostering these settlers on Africans and trying willy-nilly to place political power in their hands so that they become another South African horror on the Continent is the danger that is facing Africa and Africans today.”
This same article about Kenyatta goes on stressing: “The physical and mental vigor of the African has saved him from total extermination despite the slave trade, the deadly weapons and the inhuman atrocities against his soul and body, and now with his eyes on the goal of freedom, arrogant and unrepentant imperialism with her greedy eyes on the natural resources of Africa, is still spending sleepless nights and traveling great distances to create by hook or crook White Domination in Black Africa.”
During 1960, despite the proclamations of it being “The Year of Africa”, a serious crisis would erupt which would create divisions within the body politic of the newly emergent continental states. Patrice Lumumba, who had gained considerable support from Ghana while in attendance at the First All-African People’s Conference in Accra in December 1958, was soon arrested after returning to the Belgian Congo in January 1959.
Lumumba was tortured while in detention and the colonialists sought to exclude him from political negotiations that took place in the aftermath of a national rebellion in early 1959. His release and participation in the discussions surrounding the proposed independence of the vast mineral-rich Central African state would enhance his reputation as a Nationalist and Pan-Africanist across Africa and the world.
As the leader of the Congolese National Movement (MNC), Lumumba would garner the largest bloc of votes winning him the prime minister position at the time of independence on June 30, 1960. Nonetheless, imperialism was staunchly opposed to the program of the MNC-Lumumba and worked incessantly to undermine the liberation process.
The Congolese prime minister faced a mutiny of the para-military Force Publique in the immediate aftermath of the declaration of independence. Lumumba would appeal to other African states such as Ghana and Guinea to provide assistance in the stabilization of the country. Eventually he requested the intervention of the United Nations then under Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold.
When the UN troops entered Leopoldville, the Congolese capital, they objectively worked in the interests of imperialism. A contingent of Ghana troops were deployed as part of the UN force under the command of British Major General Henry Templer Alexander. The outcome of this project would be disastrous. Nkrumah perceived the performance of Alexander as defying the foreign policy objectives of the Ghana government and eventually dismissed him from his post by 1961.
Lumumba was overthrown in a military coup backed up by the UN peacekeeping forces. He later escaped from Leopoldville to join his supporters in the East of the country where they had sought to establish a genuine people’s republic. However, Lumumba was tracked and captured by the Belgian and other imperialist military forces that were still operating inside the country delivering him to the reactionary political puppet functionaries working on behalf of Moise Tshome, the secessionist of the Katanga province, and Joseph Mobutu, who at the aegis of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and other Western interests, was placed in power for the express purpose of liquidating Lumumba and his MNC party.
Since the time of the death of Lumumba and his comrades, various operatives of the CIA, the U.S. State Department, the Belgian colonial authorities and the British intelligence services (MI6) have admitted to the plot to kill Lumumba. Initial efforts were made to poison the Congolese leader, which failed. The kidnapping placed Lumumba at the mercy of his enemies and he was reportedly assassinated on January 17, 1961 in Elizabethville (now Lubumbashi) in Congo.
The assassination of Lumumba prompted outrage throughout the African continent and the world. In the U.S. at the UN world headquarters, a group of African Americans, led by women, disrupted a session chaired by American envoy Adlai Stevenson.
Lumumba’s assassination was ordered by the National Security Council of the U.S. under the administration of retired Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Several days later, the administration of President John F. Kennedy took office and continued the same policy towards Congo. (See The Congo Cables: The Cold War in Africa From Eisenhower to Kennedy, by Madeleine G. Kalb, 1982))
The Kennedy presidency presented a false image of support for African independence. This in part derived from a Cold War strategy of outmaneuvering the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and the People’s Republic of China and their foreign policies that categorically rejected colonialism and imperialism in defense of the African people’s inherent right to self-determination and national independence.
Kennedy while serving a term in the U.S. Senate from 1954-1960 established a sub-committee on African affairs. This was part of a broader effort to win over not only the emergent African states but also the African American electorate by giving the appearance that he was sympathetic to their interests in the U.S. as well.
Nkrumah came to the U.S. on March 8, 1961 for consultations with Kennedy. Nevertheless, the damage had already been done with the assassination of Lumumba and the derailing of the Congolese Revolution and its Pan-Africanist leanings.
A U.S. State Department synopsis of the meeting between the Ghana delegation and Kennedy administration officials said: “In summary, the two Presidents found themselves in agreement on three principal points on the Congo, (1) removal of Belgian military and para-military personnel, (2) neutralization of Congolese military forces and insulation of the Congo against outside influences and military supplies, and (3) freedom for the Congolese to work out their own political development. On the last point the Secretary called attention to our own history to illustrate the importance we attach to the principle that government must be based on consent of the governed. In addition to examples from our early history he cited our important role in assisting Indonesian independence and President Roosevelt’s heavy pressure on Churchill, even while we were allies in a world war, in regard to India. There should be no doubt, therefore, in any reasonable mind, that the U.S. would always be basically, and in the long run effectively, on the side of anti-colonialism and independence, whether the problem is Portugal and Angola or France and Algeria or any other.” (U.S. State Dept. archives on Africa policy from 1961-1963)
According to this same declassified report from the State Department: “President Nkrumah exhibited no desire to talk about U.S. - Ghana bilateral relations and at one point turned off the Secretary’s attempt to bring up the Volta project. President Nkrumah did, however, make the point that the U.S. should broaden its view of Africa and look at the continent as a whole, a subject which he said he had raised when he was here in 1958. The President (Kennedy) took this opportunity to explain the difficulties we face in Africa. He cited the resentment inspired in ``colonialist" circles by Governor (G.M.) Williams’ (Undersecretary for African Affairs) alleged statement on ``Africa for the Africans" in Nairobi and pointed out that despite this, Governor Williams had been given an unfriendly reception by the press in Lagos. The President (Kennedy) also expressed his surprise and puzzlement over receipt of a recent personal message from Sekou Toure accusing him of complicity in Lumumba’s murder. President Nkrumah seemed sympathetic but offered no very specific advice or comment.”
Responses to the Congo crisis would divide the newly-independent African states into two separate political camps: the Casablanca Group characterized by its anti-imperialism and Pan-Africanism and the Monrovia Group, which was perceived as more favorable to the U.S. and other colonial and neo-colonial states. Although Nkrumah sought to maintain cordial relations with the Kennedy administration, the overall domestic and foreign policy orientation of the CPP government was anti-capitalist and anti-imperialist. (See Nkrumah’s Challenge of the Congo, 1967 and Revolutionary Path, 1973)
These developments further aggravated relations between Accra and Washington. Nkrumah’s government would soon move closer to the USSR, the COMECON sector in Eastern Europe and the People’s Republic of China. Pressure would escalate against the CPP through the machinations of the CIA and the State Department.
From August 1962 to early 1964, a series of assassination attempts against Nkrumah and mass killings of Ghanaians were blamed on outside interests. The attack on Nkrumah at Kulungugu in the North of the country near the border with Upper Volta set off a massive purge within the CPP.
Leading figures in what was considered the left-wing of the party were accused of being behind the plot. Adamafio and others were put on trial and later acquitted by the Ghana courts. Nkrumah objected to the not-guilty verdicts and dismissed the judges, setting up another proceeding that found many of the accused culpable, landing them in prison.
In early January 1964, yet another assassination attempt against Nkrumah by a guard at Flagstaff House increased the atmosphere of siege against the CPP government. A national referendum on making Ghana a one-party state was held solidifying the Revolution as being on a firm socialist path with the central foreign policy objective being the realization of a United States of Africa.
Nkrumah had welcomed several hundred African Americans to Ghana where many played important roles within his government. In October 1961, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois and Shirley Graham Du Bois would relocate in Ghana eventually taking up citizenship in the country.
Dr. Du Bois was appointed as the Director of the Encyclopedia Africana Project which was designed to develop a comprehensive history and political economy of the African people. Shirley Graham Du Bois was assigned to develop a national television network based in Ghana, the first of its kind envisioned on the African continent. Both of the Du Bois’ were well-known leftists and Pan-Africanists. The Du Bois’ were both members of the Communist Party of the U.S. and had traveled extensively throughout the USSR, China and other Socialist states.
During the Cold War hysteria of the late 1940s and 1950s inside the U.S., Dr. Du Bois in 1951, was indicted by the federal government for allegedly being an agent of a foreign belief system simply because he was an advocate of peace with the Socialist camp. The American government’s case collapsed under the absurdity of the charges. However, the couple had their passports seized and were not allowed to travel outside the U.S. during the period of 1950-1958.
A host of other activists were targeted as well including Paul Robeson and Dr. William Alphaeus Hunton, Jr., who with Dr. Du Bois and Robeson headed the Council on African Affairs (CAA). Nkrumah had participated in CAA activities during the mid-1940s when he was a student in the U.S.
When their passports were re-issued in 1958, the Du Bois’ embarked upon a world tour of the Socialist countries and other states in Europe. Graham Du Bois visited Ghana in December 1958 for the All-African People’s Conference where she delivered an address written by Dr. Du Bois, who was not able to attend at that time.
This speech was entitled “The Future of All-Africa Lies in Socialism.” It said in part, in regard to which direction the continent would move as it relates to social development, asking: “Which way shall Africa go? First, I would emphasize the fact that today Africa has no choice between private Capitalism and Socialism. The whole world, including Capitalist countries, is moving towards Socialism, inevitably, inexorably. You can choose between blocs of military alliances, you can choose between groups of political unions, you cannot choose between Socialism and private Capitalism, because private ownership of capital is doomed.”
The Du Bois’ continued saying to the 62 national liberation movements assembled in Accra: “But what is Socialism? It is disciplined economy and political organization in which the first duty of a citizen is to serve the state; and the state is not a selected aristocracy, or a group of self-seeking oligarchs who have seized wealth and power. No! The mass of workers with hand and brain are the ones whose collective destiny is the chief object of all effort. Here then, my brothers, you face your great decision: Will you for temporary advantage—for automobiles, refrigerators and Paris gowns—spend your income in paying interest on borrowed funds, or will you sacrifice present comfort and the chance to shine before your neighbors in order to educate your children, develop such industry as best serves the great mass of people and makes your country strong in ability, self-support and self-defense? Such union of effort for strength calls for sacrifice and self-denial, while the capital offered you at high price by the colonial powers like France, Britain, Holland, Belgium and the United States, will prolong fatal colonial imperialism, from which you have suffered slavery, serfdom and colonialism.”
Of course there were other African Americans and Caribbean Africans who played a role in the Ghana Revolution and Pan-Africanism. People such as Vicki Garvin, a longtime Communist and activist was in Ghana at the time. Maya Angelou, the writer and dancer taught school in Ghana and worked in defense of the Nkrumah project. Alice Windom, another African American woman was in Ghana participating in national development efforts.
All of these women worked with Julian Mayfield, the novelist and journalist, who after fleeing the U.S. in 1961 amid the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) hunt for Monroe, North Carolina organizer and former local NAACP leaders Robert F. Williams and Mabel Williams, relocated in Ghana becoming a publicity secretary for the parliament and editor of African Review, a journal of Pan-Africanist thought.
Julian Mayfield along with Windom, Angelou and Garvin would host the two visits of Malcolm X to Ghana during 1964. Malcolm X mentioned in his final speech in Detroit that the first chapter of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) was formed in Ghana. This was initiated after he left the Nation of Islam in 1964 being patterned in part on the Organization of African Unity (OAU), founded in May 1963 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with 32 member-states.
[The second and final part of this article appears next week. Editors]
* Abayomi Azikiwe is Editor, Pan African News Wire.