It is gratifying to read messages across Africa about Kwame Nkrumah’s birthday (21 September 1909).
In a period when Africa had no open thinkers to drive its development process from within its cultural values Nkrumah emerged as one, with immense passion.
Fifty-two years ago, at a time of tumbling regimes, military juntas and the need for African sages, Nkrumah’s 100th birthday is reflection for the need for grand development thinking that flow from Africa’s innate traditional values in relation to the global prosperity ideals.
But while Nkrumah and his associates’ Pan-Africanism were relevant to the African cause, it lacked original African cultural roots, thus failing to appropriate African values critically for the Pan-African project.
The Pan-Africanism project was an African Diasporan vision to raise the injustices ex-African slaves were encountering, to unite them and explore the possibility of returning back to Africa. Of prominence of the diasporan Pan-African vision was the issue of politics of skin colour and Africa’s marginalization in the international political economy.
Africa is the only region in the world where its development paradigms are dominated by foreign development values – and that makes Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanism practically irrelevant to the everyday life of Africans, even on philosophical terms.
So despite much hype about African culture in the Pan-African project, it was more or less an artistic thing than the appropriation of African values in policy-making.
Short of this, Nkrumah and his associates wandered around the world, looking for developmental paradigms, as if Africa has no history, no cultural values and no experiences in terms of progress.
It is, therefore, not surprising that one the most fatal errors Nkrumah made in his attempts to develop Ghana was to harshly marginalize the traditional rulers, one of the key frontline traditional institutions for progress.
Colonialism damaged the trust of African values and created immense psychological crises. The colonialist suppressed African values and imposed theirs.
They thought, wrongly that African values were “primitive” and that they were more civilized than Africans, and so the Africans should be “civilized.”
Y.K. Amoakoh, the former chair of United Nations Economic Community for Africa, observed that Africa is the only region in the world where foreign development paradigms dominate her development process to the detriment of its rich values.
The sense here is that Nkrumah and his associate did not think first from within African values.
Fifty-two years on, foreign development paradigms dominate Africa’s development scene despite lot of energy, time, and money spent on the Pan-African project, creating huge distortions in the continent’s progress.
The disturbing implications are that not only were the enabling aspects of African values not appropriated openly in national development planning but, there haven’t been attempts to refine the inhibitions within African values that have been stifling progress for the continent’s progress.
Despite this fatal developmental error, Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanism, in all measure, is growing, notwithstanding the hiccups here and there.
The emerging success of the African regional bodies is one example. The transition from the OAU to the present African Union is another in the sense of African unity.
These examples and many more reveal that Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanism is not illusory but working, taking on new meanings and challenges that emanate from the values and experiences of Africans.