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Reliving the spirit of Pan-Africanism

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The saying “all for one and one for all” is a familiar slogan all over the world but it doesn’t resonate that well amongst Africans. It is viewed as more of an ideal than a principle and it is fair to say that Pan-Africanism was seen from that same perspective. Pan-Africanism is the principle or advocacy for the political union of all indigenous inhabitants of Africa. It has since become a worldwide movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all indigenous and diaspora ethnic groups of African descent.

The “Black Lives Matter” movement has suddenly reawakened our zest for Pan-Africanism and the effect and impact of this reawakening has had an immediate impact. In what could easily have been a major diplomatic spat between the neighboring West African Countries of Ghana and Nigeria was swiftly brought to an end when the President of Ghana, Akufo Addo apologized to Nigeria in a personal phone call to President Muhammadu Buhari for the wrongful demolition of a building (used as residential quarters for the Nigerian High Commission staff) inside the Nigerian High Commission premises in Accra, Ghana. The Ghanaian President acted in the spirit of true African brotherhood reminiscent of the concept and ideals of Pan-Africanism which was first championed over sixty (60) years ago by the charismatic Nationalist and first President of Ghana Kwame Nkrumah.

There can be no doubt whatsoever that the demolition of the building within the Nigerian High Commission premises was in violation of diplomatic convention and a breach of Nigeria’s sovereignty. However rather than humiliate Ghana for this breach of the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, the Nigeria Foreign Affairs Minister Geoffrey Onyeama accepted part of the blame for the unfortunate incident by explaining that the officials of the Nigerian High Commission in Accra, Ghana were equally negligent in not taking necessary action to get the requisite documents of ownership for the parcel of land on which the structure was built.

Although he noted that this was not a sufficient reason for pulling down the building, he expressed satisfaction that the Ghanaian government had taken responsibility for the demolition by promising to rebuild the structure to its pre-demolition state. The Minister further noted that the Nigerian High Commission also failed to obtain legal title to the land even though it had paid for it as far back as the year 2000 and also failed to obtain the necessary approvals before erecting the building. In other words the Nigerian High Commission was equally culpable. A fair and frank admission I suppose. Nigeria’s relationship with Ghana right from the time of independence has been more frosty than cordial. The Gold Coast, which was renamed Ghana upon Independence in 1957, was in the forefront of Africa’s fight against colonialism. Kwama Nkrumah who became the first President of the new Republic of Ghana was seen and regarded as an unrepentant Marxist socialist and Pan-Africanist. He was viewed and regarded as an African icon and soon Ghana became the Mecca of freedom fighters; socialist radicals and other progressives. Ghana at the time was non-aligned in international power politics.

Nkrumah had proclaimed that he considered the independence of Ghana incomplete until colonialism was totally eradicated from Africa. Sir Tafawa Balewa, Nigeria’s Prime Minister at the time (during the period of self-government) thought it prudent to send a leading politician to Ghana as a Special Envoy to study and report to him on the various activities of President Nkrumah, particularly how he was fairing and running the newly independent country and the progressive steps being taken towards actualizing Pan-Africanism.

It was in this context that my father Chief Kolawole Balogun was appointed Commissioner and then later upon our independence High Commissioner to Ghana. Sir Tafawa Balewa considered this posting important enough to even attach to the new High Commissioner, Mr. Leslie Harriman as his deputy. Mr. Harriman was one of the so called “12 Apostles” who began Nigeria’s diplomatic missions abroad. Together, Kola Balogun and Leslie Harriman formed a formidable team. It was thought by Prime Minister Sir Tafawa Balewa at the time that given Kola Balogun’s impeccable radical Pan-African credentials (he was the first President of the revolutionary Zikist Movement; a former General Secretary of a Nationalist Party- the NCNC and a former Cabinet Minister) he more than fitted the bill to represent Nigeria in Ghana. In his report which he sent back home Kola Balogun was upbeat about the breath taking and unfolding Ghanian socio-political scene but also noted some of Nkrumah’s failings and the divergence between theory and practice.

This was particularly illustrated by the failure of Nkrumah to attend Nigeria’s independence celebration in 1960 even though Sir Tafawa Balewa was in Ghana when they gained independence in 1957. Although by and large Kola Balogun’s account of his mission to Ghana was favourable the seeds of emerging dictatorial tendencies amongst African leaders were becoming noticeable and he advised that civil liberties and due processes should be allowed to thrive if African countries were to amass the benefit of its hard fought independence. Unfortunately, Pan-Africanism turned out to be a pipe dream that was never realized. In the end both Ghana and Nigeria had stuttering starts to independence, eventually leading to several years of military rule. Today, many years later the citizens of both countries are still left wondering what might have been.

As the two largest economies in West Africa, Ghana and Nigeria’s diplomatic relationship is crucial to the region. Trade will undoubtedly play a key part in that relationship even if recent incidents serve as a reminder that diplomatic ties haven’t always been at their best.

Around 1970, the Ghanaian authorities expelled large numbers of Nigerians from their country. Nigeria reciprocated in 1983 during the tenure of President Shehu Shagari in what was dubbed “Ghana must go” when large numbers of Ghanaians were expelled from Nigeria. Despite the great disparity in size and resources between the two countries there has always been a healthy intellectual and sporting rivalry between both countries, be it in the West African Examination Council School Certificate and Higher School Certificate Examinations or in the African Cup of Nations Football Competition. Ghana and Nigeria have always considered each other as their main rivals pushing each other to the limit.

However, if both countries are to revive the spirit of Pan-Africanism which was dreamt of in the past, there is a need for them to form closer economic ties. Ghana has now discovered oil and even though oil production is fast becoming a dwindling precious commodity, Ghana will still need to look to Nigeria to help her navigate the tricky waters of Western Countries who merely seek to maximize returns for their investments and not necessarily the interest of Ghana. Last year disputes over the status of foreign traders led to the temporary closure of some Nigerian owned shops in Ghana.

Another incident was Nigeria’s decision to close its border with Benin which affected trade across the West African region. The above incidents not withstanding both countries appear to be turning over a new leaf. As at today both countries recognize the need for bilateral and multilateral ties. They are both engaged in strengthening the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the possibility of a uniform currency exchange across West Africa is now more feasible than ever before. These are all steps in the right direction for both countries and although the ideals of Pan-Africanism may well have been more theoretical than practical in the 1950s and 1960s, who is to say that both Ghana and Nigeria cannot recreate this spirit in a changing world order this millennium. If it does happen, then perhaps Kwame Nkrumah was simply a man ahead of his time.

Kola-Balogun is a Legal Practitioner, wrote from Lagos.


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