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Tribute to George Padmore and the practice of anti-imperial politics

By Paul T. Shipale
Not that I have anything against the Senegalese President who was invited to be our guest of honour at the 47th Heroes day Commemoration and what the former Premier Nahas Angula referred to as his 'Negritude' roots of Leopold Senghor, but in a true spirit of Pan-Africanism and the role played by the African Diaspora in the liberation of Africa in general and the independence of Namibia in particular, and in light of the adoption of the African Diaspora as one of the regions of the African Union, I would have preferred that our government have invited one prominent figure from the African Diaspora to our47th Heroes day Commemoration.This is more so in light of the 54thAnniversary of the passing on of George Padmore who died at 7:30pm on Wednesday 23 September, 1959.

In a thesis by Leslie Elaine James titled George Padmore and the practice of anti-imperial politics, in a chapter subtitled 'The Beacon Light': Padmore, Nkrumah, and Gold Coast Nationalism', James elaborates thatGiven Padmore's view that British opinion had to be carefully managed if self-government was to become reality, his focus on Gold Coast independence was a calculated convergence upon a region he believed to be the most fertile ground for promoting colonial solidarity, among a people best placed to negotiate independence from their imperial ruler.

In July 1953, Padmore wrote that 'the Gold Coast is like a lighthouse in a dark continent showing the blacks the way safely into port. As long as that light shines, there is hope for African marines caught in the turbulent sea of Colonialism and Imperialism.' In this respect, the narrow interests of Nkrumah's nationalism often frustrated Padmore. 'It's time that K[wame] and his colleagues see themselves in relation to the rest of Africa and not as something isolated. They are the beacon light, and in more than their own interests they cannot afford to fall down' Padmore wrote.The gravity of the situation was both the future of all colonies still under British rule, as well as 'the entire future of Africa and the black race in America. Brazil and the West Indies have their eyes upon Ghana as the beacon light guiding an oppressed and exploited race out of the darkness of imperialism into the light of Freedom', Padmore concluded.

It is clear from the urgent and vehement tone of Padmore's articles to the Gold Coast and to friends, that his focus on the Gold Coast was, for him, a strategic necessity on the road to fulfilling his ultimate goal of ending the oppression of capitalist imperialism, meted out primarily upon his own race.At the end of January 1957, Padmore informed Wright that he had been invited to Ghana's independenceon 6 March 1957. Padmore stayed in Ghana for over two months after the ceremony, until 20 May 1957.

At some point during these two months, Nkrumah asked Padmore to move to Ghana in order to 'ensure that everything is set out right'as Advisor to the Prime Minister on African Affairs. Thus his actual role would be concerned with supporting African liberation and African unity.It is presumed that he had a great say in the famous phrase of Nkrumah that Ghana's independence was meaningless without the independence of other African countries.

Upon arrival in Accra in December 1957, Padmore hired a staff and began to set up an office that would focus on African liberation. The office was intended to harness resources and expertise on Africa that would engage in information gathering and publishing, as well as practical and ideological support to African freedom fighters. It would supplement, not duplicate, the work of the Ministry of External Affairs. Its status was separate from the government's ministries since Padmore reported directly to Nkrumah who, at the time, was not only the Prime Minister but also held the portfolios for Defence and External Affairs. Padmore's office coordinated what was referred to as the Africa Centre, which housed freedom fighters from across Africa in a building near the Accra airport.

At some point, the Africa Centre accommodated Patrice Lumumba, Tom Mboya, and Julius Nyerere. Padmore's office was also involved in a number of other initiatives to enhance the new state's reputation as a leader of Africa. He also indirectly assisted with the Kenya Defence Committee that was set up by the CPP, the Ghana TUC, and NASSO (the National Association of Socialist Students Organisation, which Padmore was closely advising). The Committee raised funds for the defence of Tom Mboya and others in jail in Kenya, and even tried to send a Ghanaian lawyer to Kenya to help with Mboya's case.

Padmore's office also worked with Michael Scott and the London- based Africa Bureau regarding United Nations debates on South West Africa (Namibia). Indeed, it was Padmore whom Scott thanked for all the work by the Ghana delegation in the UN with regard to this question. Padmore admired Scott, and a letter from the South African priest thanking him for his work would have been greatly appreciated by Padmore.

Padmore's first six months in Ghana were a stimulating and fruitful beginning to his new job. In February 1958, he joined Ako Adjei, the Minister of the Interior, on a three-week tour of countries who would be invited to the Conference of Independent African states (CIAS), to be held in Accra in April. This improved dynamic, along with the impending All-African Peoples Conference (AAPC) at the end of the year, were 'exciting.'Padmore's first year in Ghana was also consumed by the planning of two conferences that aimed to establish a broad Pan-African movement to lay the groundwork for African independence and political unity.

He played a significant role in preparations for the CIAS. Typically, it was Padmore's office that put together and distributed all documentation of both the CIAS and the AAPC. Although initially Padmore's office was not in charge of preparations for the AAPC, gradually, Padmore became the focal organizer of the conference as he was 'invited' to take over the leadership of press conferences. The AAPC, like the Manchester Congress before it, included African leaders from national political movements, trade unions, and youth organizations. It was the CPP, not the government of Ghana, who called the conference in Accra.

The similarity to the Manchester Congress in delegates, programme, and resolutions is the key evidence for Padmore's guiding influence upon this conference. Immediately before the conference, he informed a US official that he personally expected little more than 'general guidelines' and a 'sense of being together' to come out of the conference. He stated that 'though Pan- Africanism is widely believed in, we just do not know what we want specifically or how to get it.' All that was clearly known, was that 'we do not intend to be like Russia, the United States, or anyone else.

If you wear your shirt inside your trousers, we will wear ours outside just to be different.' This supposed confession was typical of Padmore - it was intended to reinforce his message to the United States that Pan- Africanism was in development rather than definitive. It re-stated that the 'ideology' intended to forge its own path that would not kowtow to Moscow, nor to Western powers. Hence the slogan of Africa not looking neither to the West nor the East but forward.

'The Question of Algeria,' as articulated most famously by Fanon on the second day of the AAPC, challenged Nkrumah's position on non-violent 'Positive Action.' Fanon's call to recognize the system of violence, racism, and forced labour that embodied French colonialism were part of the same logic Padmore articulated in the 1930s and reiterated in his discussion of Mau Mau in 1956.

Ahlman has shown that because Fanon's basic premise was similar to that of some Ghanaians (he does not mention Padmore, but the agreement is striking), Fanon's distinctive position - that nonviolence was an 'untenable option' for many African freedom fighters - created a 'discomfort' and 'uneasiness' for Nkrumah and the CPP such that, after 1960, Nkrumah's position shifted.

It is clear that Padmore remained absolutely committed to African unity. His memorialization in Africa was the ultimate prodigal return of a member of the diaspora, a descendant of Africa who in death, was resurrected into a living memory of the symbol of 'Africa' as one. It is thanks to the ideology of men like Fanon and Padmore that we acquired our first weapons with which we launched our armed liberation struggle.

Indeed, the African Diaspora played a great role in our liberation. When the Ethiopian Emperor Menelik II defeated the Italian invaders in 1896 in the midst of the European scramble for the continent, he galvanized Pan-African support everywhere. The Haitian Pan-Africanist, Benito Sylvain, journeyed from Paris to Ethiopia to offer his congratulations.African American denominations such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church sent missionaries to West Africa, South Africa and the Caribbean. Other African American and Caribbean missionaries went to Africa under the auspices of white denominations.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, a Pan-African Conference was held in Londonin 1900. The Pan-African Conference was organized by Londo''s newly formed African Association, led by law student Henry Sylvester Williams of Trinidad. In 1914, Marcus Mosiah Garvey was launching his Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) in Kingston, Jamaica. Garvey was very aware of the Pan-African forerunners who had preceded him. He had direct or indirect ties to Bishop Henry McNeal Turner, Booker T. Washington and Edward Wilmot Blyden.

The UNIA attracted African nationalists from around the world such as Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria and Kobina Sekyi of Ghana. The parents of Malcolm X were president and secretary respectively of local UNIA branches. Jomo Kenyatta said he considered himself a Garveyite in his youth. Kwame Nkrumah said that of all the books he read, Garvey's Philosophy and Opinions was the one that influenced him most.

Therefore, next time we should perhaps invite one of the prominent figures of the African Diaspora not only to our Heroes Day commemoration but also to our Independence Anniversary.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.





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