I

n May 2013 there were two commemorations, one in Paris, the other in Addis Ababa. In Paris on 10 May 2013 in the presence of the French President, François Hollande, the commemoration of the abolition of slavery was observed and in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia on 25 May 2013 the fiftieth anniversary of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was celebrated, which has been the African Union since 11 July 2001.•1  These commemorations are a reminder of two key moments in the history of Africa.

The first evokes the end of the slave trade and slavery in 1848, which constituted the framework for a process of dispossession and depopulation as well as the underdevelopment of Africa, as has been brilliantly shown by two Caribbean historians, Eric Williams and Walter Rodney. For centuries, the African continent lost many of its most able-bodied individuals, its societies were disrupted and its States dismantled. Consequently, it lost considerable ground in relation to Europe and America which benefited from the profits of the slave trade to create the basis of their own development. Colonial intrusion and domination then aggravated this process by putting an end to the relative freedom of the populations and by emphasising their dependence on the West.•2

The creation of the OAU in 1963 represents the pinnacle of the reverse process, i.e. the re-appropriation of their history by Africans at the same time as they affirmed their faith in a common future.

The life and work of George Padmore, a great activist in the Pan- Africanism movement, remind us of these struggles for independence and the unification of the continent which stimulated this process of release and rehabilitation.

 

PROLOGUE

The prolegomena of Pan-Africanism are to be found in the second half of the 18th century, when an enormous wave of challenges to political and social regimes developed in the Western world, following the dissemination of the Enlightenment philosophies and the promotion of the principle of human rights, associated with the prevailing romanticism, the emergence of national mythologies and the technological knowledge of the Industrial Revolution.

As an ideology and as a policy of liberation of the African Blacks from the chains of slavery, colonial exploitation and racism, Pan- Africanism is comparable to the national movements of the 19th century which sought to give concrete form to the liberal aspirations of the peoples of Latin America and Central and Eastern Europe through the dismantling of the geopolitical spaces harking back to the time of the absolute monarchies operating by divine right. Such was the purpose of Pan-Slavism, on the basis of which the Congress of Prague in 1848 aimed to bring together into a Yugoslav federation all the Slavs who were at that time scattered among a number of States. Simon Bolivar had a similar goal when he planned to bring together the territories released from Spanish rule into a big South American confederation called Colombia.•3

In the wake of these Pan-Slav and Pan-American movements, there followed Pan-Germanism, Zionism, Pan-Islamism, Pan-Arabism, Pan- Africanism, etc. This trend towards accumulating national aspirations, crystallised in huge continental groups, is particularly characteristic of the period 1890-1914, which saw the apogee of European expansion and the sharing out of the world among the great powers of the time.•4

Although Pan-Africanism forms part of a vast global trend, its origins were specifically American. In fact, it was on the American continent that the Africans wrenched from their native lands by the slave trade endured the yoke of slavery in the cotton and sugar cane plantations of North America, the Caribbean and tropical South America. Initiated in the 18th  century, criticism of this exploitative system, supported by many slave uprisings, resulted in the abolition of the slave trade in the mid-19th century, followed by the abolition of slavery itself.•5

But there was a wide gap between legal abolition and the daily reality of the lives of these Africans of the diaspora who continued to live through the hell of inequality and racial discrimination. Although they were no longer slaves, they were still not citizens: independent, democratic and liberal America was above all an America for Whites, where Blacks had no rights, in either the North or the South of this new continent, although it was a crossroads where all races encountered each other. Even in the West Indies, reduced to the rank of colonies, the situation was no better: colonial exploitation was based on the unequal system of the society that practiced slavery. For the oppressed Africans whose claims were rejected by America, there were only two solutions: to return to the country of their ancestors or to engage in revolutionary struggle to change American societies.•6

Some chose to wage the struggle in America itself to change the living conditions there while others opted to return to Africa to rediscover the land of their ancestors and to lead a life of freedom and progress beyond the control of the Whites. The choice of the latter group signified a link between the Africans of the diaspora and the Africans of the continent; it postulated the globalisation of the struggle and contained the seeds of Pan-Africanism.

Those who chose not to emigrate but to remain in America set about improving their lot or changing the living conditions of their compatriots; one of these was Booker T. Washington (1856-1945), the founder and director of the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, an educational, technical and vocational training institution whose success gave its illustrious director considerable notoriety both inside and outside the United States. In his bestseller of 1899 entitled Up from Slavery, he recounted his own experience and showed Blacks the example to follow. Another famous intellectual Dr William B. Du Bois (1868-1963), became involved in civic and social action using the press and an associated movement: his journal The Crisis and his movement, The National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), for a long time constituted global benchmarks of the struggle of African-Americans for the recognition of their human rights.

The advocates of the return to Africa left mainly from North America and the Caribbean. In this way, freed Blacks returned to West Africa to settle in the colonies for freed slaves, Sierra Leone and Liberia. There they formed new societies whose modern elites made the first contributions to a consideration of how to achieve the renaissance of the black race and of Africa. Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912), one of the most famous among their number, who lived in Liberia and in Sierra Leone and travelled a great deal in West Africa, laid the foundations of Pan-Africanism in a famous work entitled Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race.•7

By turns a teacher, journalist and diplomat, Blyden conducted a number of missions on behalf of the American Colonisation Society to the United States to promote black emigration to Liberia. Combining evangelism and a call to emigration, missionaries like Bishop Henry McNeal Turner urged many Blacks to go to Liberia. But it was above all Marcus Garvey (1887-1940) who won the most success when he became, from 1914 to the end of the 1920s, the most eloquent advocate for the cause of the Blacks and their emigration from the Americas to Africa: he had set up the Universal Negro Improvement and Conservation Association (UNIA), had engaged in a programme of the creation of technical teaching institutions and established a merchant fleet (the Black Star Line) in order to achieve the constitution of a “central nation for the black race.” This appealing programme attracted considerable support and there were many applicants for the voyage.

It is worth noting also that at the end of the 18th century groups of freed slaves from Brazil and Cuba had begun to settle in the coastal regions of the Gulf of Guinea (Gold Coast, Togo, Benin and Nigeria). This movement which became more pronounced when slavery was abolished in Brazil (1880) poured into these areas men with a variety of technical skills and who represented pockets of modernity in traditional African societies which nevertheless adopted them.

Lastly, let us note that the supporters and opponents of emigration came together over time in common activities in America and Africa which brought into contact Africans from Africa and Africans of the diaspora. This led to the confirmation at the educational and professional level of the technical and cultural Pan-Africanism of Booker T. Washington whose Tuskegee Institute accepted African students and sent several agricultural and technology advisory missions to Africa. He organised periodic exchange meetings and in 1912 hosted the International Conference on Blacks during which he emphasised the importance of technical and resource exchanges between African and American Blacks. Delegates from the principal African regions took part, including the eminent intellectual from the Gold Coast, Casely Hayford, author of Ethiopia Unbound (1911). For his part, William B. Du Bois, although he believed that he had a role to play in America among his own people, continued to engage in the issues of the African continent by means of the Congresses in which he was an assiduous participant, as well as in the problems of the black American migrants to Africa for whom he had no hesitation in declaring that, all things considered, emigration was preferable to “the humiliation of having to beg to be acknowledged and treated with justice in the United States.”•8

This makes it easy to understand the leading role played by the Africans of the diaspora, and especially the Caribbean elites, in the birth and development of Pan-Africanism. Within this black intelligentsia, which was very active from the end of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th  century, we should note the names of the African-Americans Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912), Booker Tallaferro Washington (1856-1915), William Burghardt Du Bois (1868- 1963) and a plethora of Caribbeans, including notably the Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams (1869-1911), the Jamaican Marcus Aurelius Garvey (1887-1940), the Trinidadian Cyril Lionel James (1901-1989) and above all yet another native of Trinidad, George Padmore (1902- 1959).

 

REBELLIOUS STUDENT AND A COMMUNIST ACTIVIST

Born on 28 July 1902 at Tacarigua (Trinidad), Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse was educated at primary and secondary levels on his native island. He went to the United States in 1924, with the intention of studying medicine, but gravitated towards law and the social sciences. He attended successively Fisk University (Tennessee), Columbia University, New York University (Law School) and Howard University (Washington DC). It was during his university studies in the United States that he joined the Communist Party in 1927 and adopted the name of George Padmore so that his activist work would not expose his family to repression at a time when Communists were demonised.•9

But Padmore quite quickly abandoned his university studies in favour of his Communist activism which fitted in well with his anti- racist and anti-colonialist stance. He became one of the organisers of the American Communist Party and distinguished himself particularly by his activity in mobilising black American workers as well as through his activities as a journalist and pamphleteer.

Having thus got himself noticed by the leaders of the Communist Party, he was summoned in March 1929 to take part in his personal capacity in the Party’s Sixth National Convention being held in New York. Towards the end of the same year, he was sent on a mission to the Comintern in Moscow to report on the establishment of the International Workers Union.•10

The report led to his appointment as the Head of the Negro Bureau of the Red International of Labour Unions. He settled in Moscow where he was also elected as a member of the local Soviet (similar to Western city councils). He took advantage of this to make an active contribution to the Moscow Daily News, an English-language paper published in the city.

As a leading figure in international Communism, Padmore used his energetic activism and his journalistic eloquence to fulfil his mission, i.e. the mobilisation of the Blacks of the colonies and the United States to promote the colonial revolution and the struggles against racism and racial discrimination. Having taken part in the United States in the struggle of the black workers in the framework of the American Negro Labor Congress, it was this second section of his programme which constituted his priority action between 1930 and 1933.

From Vienna, where he lived for a time after Moscow, Padmore organised in Hamburg in July 1930 the first International Black Workers Conference, in which Blacks from various parts of the world participated. The resolutions of this conference demanded the abolition of racial barriers in the Labour Unions, the development of leadership among black workers and launched the slogan: “equal pay for equal work” which would become very popular in African trade unionism after the Second World War. To ensure the practical consequences of these resolutions, he launched in Vienna the publication of “The Negro Worker,” the organ of the struggle of the International Black Workers Committee.

In 1931, he left Vienna to live in Hamburg and continued his activity of mobilising the masses and harassing employers, through the periodical press and the publication of a pamphlet entitled The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers. In this work he analysed the situation of the black soldiers and workers of the Americas and Africa. In particular Padmore highlighted the tragedy of the Congo-Océan, a railway connecting Brazzaville to Pointe-Noire, during the construction of which thousands of Africans died and of which Albert Londres said that the price of every railway sleeper was one dead man. He dwelt on the revolt of 1928 in this colony, attributing its cause to the bad treatment meted out to the workers.•11

At the end of 1931, Padmore replaced James Ford, an African- American trade union leader, at the head of the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers (ITUCNW) and of the journal The Negro Worker. Padmore intended to make the journal an organ of mass education designed to raise awareness among the population of the importance of trade unions and collective action against capitalist exploitation.

Although George Padmore’s political career experienced a meteoric rise from 1929 to 1933, the years that followed constituted a decisive turning point in his political and ideological career. In fact he lost the trust of his Soviet friends and left Moscow, not to return to the United States, but to go to Western Europe where he established the new framework for his activity.•12

It was the combination of circumstances prevailing in 1933 in Europe that caused the crisis in the relationship between George Padmore and the Soviet Union. With the arrival of Hitler and the Nazis to power in Germany, the European extreme right made its presence felt with great fanfare and provoked in Europe the unleashing of an intensification of the anti-Fascist struggle at both state and civic levels. Anti-Fascist fronts were formed everywhere and the criminal activities of Hitler and his henchmen against the Jews, Communists and Freemasons led the Soviet strategists to bring about a rapprochement with the “bourgeois democracies” of the West. Henceforth these “imperialist” powers had to be handled in such a way as to ensure the survival of the Soviet State, the vanguard of the global proletariat.

Joseph Stalin, General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and President of the Council of the People’s Commissars, ordered all the Communist Parties, members of the Third International, to form anti-Fascist fronts and alliances everywhere and to prioritise the struggle against Nazism over other struggles (class struggles and anticolonial struggles). The facts seem to have proved him right, since in the year 1933 ultra-nationalist Nazi groups completely destroyed the offices of the Negro Worker in Hamburg. Padmore himself was expelled from Germany to Great Britain by the new German government. It was then that the Comintern decided in April 1933 to suspend the activities of the ITUCNW and its press organ.

Deeply disappointed by the Comintern’s policy of compromise which sacrificed the struggle of the colonised peoples, Padmore abruptly broke his ties with the ITUCNW at the end of the summer of 1933. Charged with explaining his conduct to the International Control Commission, the disciplinary body of the Comintern, he refused to appear and was excluded from the Communist Movement on 23 February 1934. An important phase in his political journey had just come to an end.•13

 

ANTICOLONIALIST AND PAN-AFRICANIST ACTIVIST

After attempting to settle in France, where he had old friends like Garang Kouyaté who were members of the Comintern, Padmore finally ended up in London where in 1934 he found conditions conducive to genuine anticolonial and Pan-African activism.

Having resumed his activities as a journalist, he renewed contact with William B. Du Bois and his journal Crisis and met Caribbeans already settled in London, including his childhood friend Cyril Lionel James (Trinidad) and Ras Makonnen (Guyana), Africans like Jomo Kenyatta (Kenya) and the trade unionist Wallace Johnson (Sierra Leone). Among the group of friends Padmore had in London, we should note the discreet but nonetheless dominating influence of Ras Makonnen. Born George Thomas Nathaniel Griffith, this native of Guyana was a wealthy man, the owner of considerable assets in Manchester: several restaurants, cafes and other leisure establishments frequented by a clientele of workers and students as well as the future African and West Indian leaders of the post-Second World War period. He also had a bookshop, the Economist, and a publishing house, called the Pan-African Publishing Company, which published the monthly journal Pan-Africa. Consequently, it is easy to understand why Manchester hosted the Fifth Pan-African Congress in 1945.•14

In conjunction with members of the Labour Party, Padmore engaged in activity in the pacifist movement “No More War” and contributed to the weekly publication, The New Leader. He also made contact with students from the British colonies of South Asia as well with the great activists of the Indian National Congress like Krishna Menon and K. D. Kumria. The latter founded Swaraj House, a meeting place for Indian patriots also used by the Africans. It was in this Indian house that Padmore met Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, leader of the Indian National Congress and future Prime Minister.•15

Consequently, from 1934 until the Second World War, Padmore was in contact with the various intellectual and political circles of the African and Asian diasporas in London, as well as with a number of British progressive groups. He had thereby put himself at the heart of a network of writers, journalists and activists, who had committed themselves to defend in speech and in writing the cause of the liberation of the colonies, particularly that of Pan-Africanism and African independence.

These intellectuals published small periodicals intended for the colonies or articles in the mass circulation press like the New Leader of the Labour Party. They wrote open letters and published books with the support of certain publishers. This was how in 1935 Padmore and his friends created “The International African Friends of Ethiopia,” an association intended to respond to the Italian Fascist invasion in Ethiopia. In 1937, they changed it into the International African Service Bureau (IASB) which in 1938 launched a press organ, The International African Opinion, tasked with promoting Pan-Africanism. In the meantime, Padmore published How Britain Rules Africa (1936), a book which condemned British colonialism, and Africa and World Peace (1937), another book in which he exposed the misdeeds of colonialism and dismantled the myth of the civilising mission of Westerners.

On the eve of the Second World War, George Padmore was enjoying considerable notoriety, gained from the middle of the 1930s, when, almost every week, he wrote for the papers of the black peoples of the entire world, such as the Jamaican publication Public Opinion and Ashanti Pioneer from the Gold Coast, the American papers like the Chicago Defender and Crisis. To this list we can add another activity mentioned on the back cover of his book, Africa and World Peace, which describes Padmore as the representative in Europe of the Pittsburgh Courier, Gold Coast Spectator, Africa Morning Post, Panama Tribune, and Independent Belize. This is no doubt the reason why Cyril James recommended Francis Nkrumah to George Padmore, who took charge of him in 1945 from the first moment of his stay in London.

During the period 1938-1945, Padmore had not abandoned his commitment to the struggle for the liberation of the black world. He continued to engage in the information and mobilisation of intellectuals and students. Among them, two students were destined to play major roles in history, the Trinidadian Eric Williams, a student at Oxford, who became an eminent historian and head of state and Francis Nkrumah from the Gold Coast, the African who came from the United States to study law at London University and who later became Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana and the uncontested champion of Pan-Africanism in the 1960s.

During the war, Padmore continued to write and influence the members of the black intelligentsia who gravitated towards him. He constantly sent press articles to various papers. From 1938 to 1945, there were about thirty articles denouncing Fascism and colonial exploitation, the British colonial policy and Anglo-American imperialist collusion; also criticising the compromise of socialists and Labour Party supporters with the Conservatives’ colonial policy; and lastly extolling the battles of the colonised peoples of the West Indies and Africa.

A permanent presence in journalistic activity but also a permanent presence in militant activism: in 1944, the International African Service Bureau (IASB) was transformed into the Pan-African Federation, with Padmore as General Secretary. Assisted by this structure and the collaboration of Kwame Nkrumah and Ras Makonnen, in October 1945, he organised the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester. It was the first time that Padmore’s name appeared as a key figure in the annals of these Pan-African meetings which had first been held at the beginning of the 20th century.

In fact, the first Pan-African initiatives were taken by the Trinidadian Henry Sylvester Williams (1869-1911), a London barrister who in 1897 founded the African Association, a forum whose purpose was to reflect on the problems shared by the Africans and Blacks of the diaspora. In cooperation with a number of black leaders from several countries in the African diaspora, in 1900 Sylvester Williams organised in London the First Conference of the African Association which launched the first manifesto of Pan-Africanism with the motto: “the Union of all Africans.” Thirty delegates attended this meeting, including a majority of Anglophone Caribbeans, some Africans and some African-Americans including the celebrated William B. Du Bois.

Subsequently, the African Association Conference which became the Pan-African Congress met five times, in 1919, 1921, 1923, 1927 and 1945, with increasingly specific objectives and increasingly large- scale African participation. Meeting in Paris from 19 to 21 February 1919, the First Pan-African Congress, chaired by William B. Du Bois (1869-1963), was attended by fifty-seven participants from fifteen countries. Notable among the delegates was Deputy Blaise Diagne from Senegal. The Congress took advantage of the concomitant meeting of the Versailles Peace Conference to register among its demands not only the problems of freedom and equality for Blacks, but also and above all the problem of African participation in the management of affairs in the African colonies.•16

With diverse fortunes concerning the number of participants, the following congresses forcefully reaffirmed the issues of the abolition of racial discrimination and white domination in the United States and in Southern and Eastern Africa, as well as the accession to self- government of colonial Blacks, particularly in West Africa and the Caribbean. These were the major objectives of the Second Pan-African Congress (London, Paris and Brussels, 28 and 29 April 1921), of the Third Congress (London, 7 and 8 November 1923 and Lisbon, 12 December 1923) and of the Fourth Congress (New York, 21 to 24 August 1927).•17

Consequently, when Padmore took charge of organising the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester (15 to 19 October 1945), in addition to the lessons learned from the preceding meetings, he had the benefit of the depth of his own organisational experience as a mass agitator in the international communist movement and an agitator of ideas among the progressive anticolonial intelligentsia. Two of his friends who knew him well have eloquently testified to Padmore’s qualities as a political and association activist. The Trinidadian Cyril Lionel James, his childhood friend, spoke of him in the following terms: “George adopted the Communist doctrine completely and became very expert in it. People who knew him then agree he was a great militant, active, devoted and fearless.” The Ghanaian Kwame Nkrumah appeared to express the same view when he wrote: “George Padmore had many sterling qualities. He was a worthy patriot, a powerful orator, a great freedom fighter.” Emphasizing his qualities as an orator, he said: “As an orator, he was impeccable and unflustered. No degree of heckling could drive him off his point which he always held tenaciously and with consummate courage.”•18

The quasi-“revolutionary” context of the post-war period, characterised in Europe by the thrust of the popular forces that emerged from the resistance to Nazi oppression and in the colonies through the aspirations to freedom and racial equality linked to the return of the former combatants, was conducive to an ideologically more structured Pan-Africanism which was politically orientated towards action. In addition, the participation in this Congress of Kwame Nkrumah and of a set of African policy frameworks provided it with a field of implementation.

In fact, the Manchester Congress was attended by over two hundred delegates including a large proportion of Africans mainly from the British colonies and many Caribbeans; representatives of the British associations, delegates from student and youth movements including the West Africa Students Union (WASU) and the West African Youth League; activists from the American civil rights movements and the African and Asian nationalist movements. In addition to Du Bois, Padmore and Nkrumah, let us note the presence at this Congress of well-known personalities such as Amy Jacques Garvey (widow of Marcus Garvey), Jomo Kenyatta, (future President of Kenya), Hastings Banda (first President of Malawi), Obafemi Awolowo and Jaja Wachusker (prestigious leaders of Nigeria). We may also mention the Indians Surat Allee, N. Gangulee and the Sri Lankan Subasinghe.•19

In the context of the immediate post-war period, the Congress took up the resolutions of the preceding congresses, giving them a more radical ideological and political connotation: racial discrimination was denounced as a criminal offence, colonialism regarded as an obstacle to development and the liberation of Africa and its unification were declared priority goals. The radicalism of the Manchester Congress was expressed in the form of two complementary declarations which would henceforth constitute the charter of Pan-Africanism:

— The declaration addressed to the colonial powers states a number of requirements relating to the abolition of colonialism in Africa and of all the systems of domination in the world, the abolition of racial laws and discriminatory regulations, the establishment of democratic freedoms and universal suffrage, the abolition of forced labour and the establishment of wage equality and finally the establishment of a universal education and health system.

— The declaration addressed to the peoples of Africa asserts that the conquest of political independence is the prerequisite to full emancipation and calls on intellectuals and other population groups to unite to win their country’s liberation.

Compared with the earlier Congresses, the Manchester Congress established Pan-Africanism as the depository of the African continent’s political consciousness and of its peoples, the ideological reference body for actions related to the liberation and development of these peoples. In Padmore’s view, this Congress was “an historic conference” which had rejected capitalism and Communism and identified “Pan-African socialism” as the solution to Africa’s problems.•20

It was in the same spirit that shortly after the war, between 1945 and 1949, Padmore became firmly committed to the anticolonial struggle and promoted the immediate liberation of the colonised African countries. He did so by continuing to denounce British colonialism in his writing and by implementing the programme resulting from the Manchester Pan-African Congress.

A number of major publications illustrate the way he refocused his activity towards Africa. In 1946, he published How Russia Transformed her Colonial Empire. A Challenge for the Imperial Powers, in which he compared the policy of racial equality and recognition of the cultural rights of the non-Russian nationalities used by the Soviets with the policy of racial discrimination and cultural contempt practised by the British and French colonialists. We must be grateful to Padmore, who broke away from the Comintern in 1934, for having recognised the merits of the Soviet policy of regional balance in the former Tsarist empire where the peoples characterised as non-native had formerly had a status inferior to that of the Russians. The publication in 1949 of Africa: Britain’s Third Empire continued to reveal similar criticisms of the problems of British Africa and to fuel the programme of denouncing colonialism.

In 1946, in the wake of the Manchester Congress attended by a number of Asian patriots, Padmore, Du Bois and Jomo Kenyatta joined the Indian Krishna Menon in a demonstration protesting against the use of colonial troops in Indochina and Burma. This united action on the part of the Africans and the Asians, allied against colonialism, was postulated by Pan-Africanism, as can be seen from the title of the programme published in 1947 by Padmore: History of the Pan-African Congress. Colonial and Coloured Unity: a Programme of Action. In substance, the Congress resolutions demanded the independence of the colonies, universal equality in South Africa, the creation of a federation and its own government in the British West Indies, the banning of discrimination on the basis of race or colour in Great Britain and throughout the world. As the Secretary of the Pan-African Federation, Padmore thought of creating a Pan-African press agency. But in that year of 1947, his friend and ally Nkrumah returned to his country of the Gold Coast to implement the Congress programme.

 

PADMORE IN AFRICA: PAN-AFRICANISM IN ACTION

At the instigation of Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast to direct the national liberation movement. In 1947 he became first of all the Secretary General of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) of which the elderly professor Danquah was the President. Disagreeing with the political stance of this group, in 1949 he founded the Convention People’s Party (CPP) which adopted the slogan “self-government now.” He organised mass action by boycotting imported goods and engaging in civil disobedience and thereby dealt a severe blow to the colonial administration. Arrested and imprisoned in 1950 with some of his comrades, Kwame Nkrumah was released and elected to lead the independent government of the Gold Coast following the victory of the CPP in the parliamentary elections of 1951.•21

In 1953 Padmore and Nkrumah organised at Kumassi in the Gold Coast the Sixth Pan-African Conference, now known as the All African Peoples Conference (AAPC); Padmore became its Secretary General. In the same year was published The Gold Coast Revolution: The struggle of an African People from Slavery to Freedom, a book in which Padmore recounted the struggle led by Kwame Nkrumah to bring colonialism to an end. He praised the benefits of non-violence and saw this charismatic leader as the incarnation of the Pan-African dream. As a result, he advised his friend, the writer Richard Wright, to visit the Gold Coast to find out about the achievements of an independent country. Consequently, the American novelist travelled to Accra and recorded his impressions in a book entitled Black Power published in 1954, which nonetheless contained an element of bitterness, when he wrote: “They were black, I was black, they called me White.”•22

Henceforth, Padmore’s full attention was focused on the Gold Coast where Nkrumah was conducting what Padmore regarded as an exemplary and exceptional experiment. In fact, the situation evolved rapidly because the dynamic unleashed in 1951 was pulling the country along in an irreversible process: in the parliamentary elections of 1956, the CPP won three-quarters of the seats and Nkrumah immediately asked Great Britain to grant his country its independence. This demand was accepted without demur by the realistic British government. On 6 March 1957, the Gold Coast became the independent State of Ghana and one stage of the national liberation process was complete. George Padmore, invited to the independence celebrations, was chosen by Kwame Nkrumah to be appointed as African Affairs Adviser.

But in the meantime, Padmore who had seen that the independence was about to come of this pioneer country in the liberation of Africa, published Pan-Africanism or Communism in 1956, a book simultaneously doctrinal and historical, in which he recounted the battles waged by the black peoples, settled his accounts with both the imperialists and the Communists and pointed the way forward to the Africans and their brothers of the diaspora: neither capitalism or Communism, but Pan-Africanism as a framework and a humanist socialism as the content.•23 Independent Ghana, led by Kwame Nkrumah and George Padmore, committed itself to achieving the old Pan-African dream of their forerunners, Edward Wilmot Blyden (1832-1912), Henry Sylvester Williams (1868-1911) and William Edward Burghardt Du Bois (1868- 1963). First through Pan-African conferences intended to enable Africans to speak with a single voice and make themselves heard, and second through agreements and institutional unions of African States, intended to act as beacons on the path to the unification of the continent.

In April 1958, Padmore organised in Accra the Conference of the Heads of State and Government of the independent African States. In

December 1958, the Seventh All-African Peoples Conference (AAPC) was held in Accra, chaired by Tom Mboya of Kenya; it was a decisive moment in the development of the hitherto unknown young Congolese Patrice Emery Lumumba. It was attended by over three hundred delegates from twenty-eight countries in Africa. And under the mobilising banner of “Independence and Unity” it incorporated into its resolutions the broad outline of the decisions of the Fifth Pan- African Congress of Manchester.•24

As the Secretary General of the All-African Peoples’ Conference, and the éminence grise of the head of the first postcolonial sub- Saharan African independent State, living in Ghana on African soil, Padmore died before his time in September 1959 after having been part of history and seen the partial triumph of the persistent and constant struggles he waged throughout his life.•25  To Kwame Nkrumah he left the responsibility of carrying out the liberation and unification of Africa as well as the construction of Ghana as the Lead State of Pan-Africanism. Unfortunately Nkrumah had to carry out this triple task alone because both internally and externally he lacked a mentor and a collaborator of the calibre, determination, experience and scale of George Padmore.

 

PAN-AFRICANISM AFTER PADMORE

After the death of George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah continued to passionately promote the Pan-African policy on the basis of the two principal axes determined when he came to power: the union of the independent African States and the conference of the African peoples: the first axis was supposed to lead to the construction of the “United States of Africa” and the second axis to the mobilisation of the peoples to bring about the total liberation of the continent.

In addition to his personal prestige as Head of State of the first postcolonial sub-Saharan independent African country, it must be acknowledged that an ideological environment exceptionally conducive to the anticolonial struggle enabled Nkrumah to successfully conduct his Pan-African policy. In fact, the historical context was marked by a combination of a number of decisive factors: first, the global reverberations of the Bandung Conference (1955) which sounded “the wake-up call for the colonised peoples” of Africa and Asia with the independence of India in 1947, the advent of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the independence of Indonesia in

1950 and the victory of the Viet Minh at Dien Bien Phu in 1954; this was followed by the unexpected successes of the “Nasserian revolution” (1952-1956) which, in a situation of Cold War between East and West, showed up the weakness of the British and French former colonial powers; last but not least, the long Algerian war of liberation (1954-1962) which exhausted the French colonial power. The decolonisation of the African continent consequently was as swift as it was astonishing.

Already the governments of Pierre Mendès France and Edgar Faure had abolished the French protectorates in Tunisia (1955) and Morocco (1956), thereby opening the way to the liberation of the peoples of these countries. In sub-Saharan Africa, in 1958, Sékou Touré, the leader of Guinea, rejected the Franco-African Community proposed by General de Gaulle, took independence and assisted Nkrumah’s Ghana in its quest for the total liberation of Africa and the unification of the continent. The Ghana-Guinea Union, formed on 1 May 1959, was joined by Mali on 24 December 1960, after its independence, and the break-up of the fragile Mali Federation which freed the country of the progressive Modibo Keita and sounded the death knell of the Franco-African Community in 1960. With the Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union, Kwame Nkrumah thus enjoyed the support of Sékou Touré and Modibo Keita, two viscerally anti-colonialist Francophone heads of state and committed supporters of the ideals of Pan-Africanism.•26

On the one hand, the strength of the nationalist aspirations in Africa and on the other hand the political realism of the colonial powers, contributed throughout the 1960s to the dismantling of the British, Belgian and French colonial empires in West and Central Africa: from the eight independent States which had met in April 1958 in Accra (Ghana) the number rose to twenty-six States in 1960 and thirty-three in 1964. Clearly, the end of the Algerian war of independence in 1962 acted as a decisive spur to the movement for the liberation of the African continent as a whole, serving as an example to the burgeoning nationalist movements and facilitating dialogue between the new African States to promote a better African unification policy.•27

If the acceleration of the independence process was one side of the diptych composing Padmore’s Pan-African vision, the division of the independent States between the progressives of the Casablanca group and the conservatives of the Monrovia group proved an obstacle to advancing towards the goal of African unification, the second side of the diptych. But the virtues of modern diplomacy and traditional wisdom prevailed and the African States managed to transcend this division: on 25 May 1963, thirty Heads of State and Government signed in Addis Ababa the Charter creating the Organisation of African Unity (OAU).

Faithful to the spirit and ethos of Pan-Africanism, the Charter emphasises in its preamble the right to independence, the desire for union and mutual assistance between fraternal African States and the concern to preserve the sovereignty of each State. The final resolution of this constituent conference of 25 May 1963 tasked the OAU with the mission of decolonisation intended to liberate Africa from all traces of colonialism and, to this end, a Liberation Committee was to be formed and equipped with a special Fund; 25 May was declared African Liberation Day. Lastly, a special resolution was devoted to the abolition of apartheid in South Africa and of racial discrimination throughout the world including the United States of America.

Thus, having come together from North to South and from West to East, independent Africa decided to implement the principles and ideas of the pioneers of Pan-Africanism — Blyden, Du Bois, Garvey and Padmore — incorporated into this OAU basic programme.

In the event, from 1963 to 1980, the OAU provided support in many forms to the liberation movements of the countries which had not yet been freed from colonialism (the Portuguese colonies, British central Africa, the Comoros Islands and Seychelles). In 1980, with the exception of the cases of South Africa and Namibia, the situation was broadly positive.•28

The unification of the continent, the second section of Pan- Africanism, however, still remained to be achieved. The newly independent States were more concerned with consolidating their national unity and strengthening the new structures established for this purpose. Between the achievement of immediate and total African unification, of which Kwame Nkrumah was for a long time the impassioned advocate, and the consolidation of newly acquired sovereignty, a path of compromise was adopted: the concept of regional integration, understood as the establishment of mechanisms of cooperation and coordination of the States in the same geographical region, enjoyed great success. It enabled a reconciliation between the support for national sovereignty and the need for a union of African States by giving such a union the form of a process.•29

After the first decade of African independence had been devoted to the national liberation movements, the OAU got down to promoting the policy of regional integration during the 1970s, when the economic crisis which affected the African economies from the middle of the decade revealed the necessity to present a united front to withstand the situation.

This led to the birth of the economic communities of West Africa (UDEAO, CEAO then ECOWAS), Central Africa (UDEAC, the future CEMAC, Great Lakes, then ECCAS), of Southern and East Africa (SADCC and PTA), etc.•30  Following the example of the OAU, they established economic, technical and cultural co-operation mechanisms. These regional unions served as intermediaries for the action of the OAU and the UN by enabling African States from the same region or subregion to speak with one voice and present a shared point of view concerning the problems they faced and those facing the world. Surely that was the objective that Kwame Nkrumah and Padmore tasked the meeting of African Heads of State and Government with achieving when they began to bring them together following the independence of Ghana in 1957?

 

EPILOGUE

Relocated to Africa in the second half of the 20th century and linked to one of the major poles of the triangular trade which was at the root of its conception, Pan-Africanism succeeded in asserting itself as the dominant ideology of decolonisation and of continental reconstruction. It was at that time that Padmore left the stage of history, carried off no doubt by the force of his passion for the liberation and redemption of his people.

What has become of the memory of Padmore after Padmore? What have Africa and the Americas retained of him? And Europe, where he spent the bulk of his time?

He died on 23 September 1959 at University College Hospital in London (where he had been evacuated for medical reasons) and was also cremated in London; his ashes were transferred to Ghana at the request of Kwame Nkrumah and interred on 4 October 1959 at Christianborg Castle in Accra, following an imposing national funeral which his friend Cyril James describes in the following terms: “When he died in 1959, eight countries sent delegations to his funeral in London. But it was in Ghana that his ashes were interred and everyone says that in this country, famous for its political demonstrations, never had there been such a turnout as that caused by the death of Padmore. Peasants from far-flung regions who, one might think, had never even heard his name, managed to find their way to Accra to pay a final tribute to the West Indian who spent his life in their service.”•31

Kwame Nkrumah himself could not speak highly enough of his friend George Padmore, whose work was so considerable in his eyes. In a speech broadcast on the occasion of his death, he declared: “One day, the whole of Africa will surely be free and united and when the tale is told, the significance of Padmore’s work will be revealed”•32

The Ghanaian leader is now known and recognised in Africa and throughout the world as the father and champion of Pan-Africanism, to the extent of being declared in a BBC analysis as the “African of the Second Millennium.”•33 However, many men and women, particularly among the young, do not know who George Padmore was. Is it because his life was so short? Or is it because of his rank as a “minor figure” and “a behind-the-scenes adviser”? And yet he wrote and published a great deal and was an activist throughout his life.

He began through journalism when he was very young when, after leaving secondary school at the beginning of the 1920s, he was employed by the Guardian, a paper in Port-of-Spain, the capital of his country. He was already well-versed in political issues because he came from a family of educated people who had been influenced by the Pan-Africanist ideas of Henry Sylvester Williams, who organised political meetings in Trinidad in 1901. Unable to agree with the point of view of his Chief Editor, he left the newspaper and went to the United States.

During his stay in the United States from 1924 to 1929, he asserted his political commitment and abandoned his law studies to devote himself to the activities of the American Communist Party, notably the publication of its magazine The Negro Champion published in Harlem in 1928 and which later became The Liberator. A member of the Comintern from 1929, he distinguished himself once more through journalistic activity with regular contributions to the Moscow English- language press and in particular by founding in 1931 The Negro Worker, the paper of the International Black Workers Committee which he headed.

Do we need to recall here everything he wrote in the British press, the American press and the press of the African and Caribbean colonies to defend the cause of the Blacks from his residence in London? Padmore was an informed and trenchant journalist, but also a passionate and incisive lecturer as we have shown in the preceding pages. As a political journalist, he was at the same time a prolific writer who was fully cognisant of the problems of the colonised peoples, whether they were economic, social, political or cultural. His bibliography encompasses not only critiques of colonialism and racism but also the construction of new postcolonial and post-racial societies to create racial equality, cultural rehabilitation, social justice and economic progress.

Ghana paid tribute to Padmore and tried to perpetuate his memory for as long as Kwame Nkrumah remained in power: at the Du Bois Centre for Pan-African Culture in Accra, he appears in the gallery of the “great names of Pan-Africanism” alongside Du Bois, Garvey and Nkrumah as one of the illustrious pioneers of the rebirth of the African continent and of the rehabilitation of its descendants throughout the world. Let us also note that a research institute, the George Padmore Research Library, housed in his former home, keeps his name alive in the urban environment of Accra.•34

But it seems that there is nothing comparable in the rest of Africa, except in Kenya where in a residential suburb of Nairobi, there is one road bearing his name: George Padmore Road. Similarly in England, the country where he lived the longest, it was only in 1969, ten years after his death, that one of his Caribbean compatriots and a native of Trinidad, John La Rose (1927-2006) founded the George Padmore Supplementary School. The same John La Rose also brought honour to the illustrious Pan-Africanist by giving his name to an educational, scientific and cultural institution in North London in 1991, the George Padmore Institute (GPI).•35

There are a few other isolated acts of this kind. But Africa should make a global and tangible tribute to the visionary and the combatant who gave his entire life and energy to the foundations of Africa as it is today.

With the exception of the examples of Ghana and the Caribbean community of London, African recognition remains hesitant and episodic with respect to one of the intellectual creators of the Africa of the future. And yet, throughout Africa, people should remember those who have had an impact on history, like Padmore, whose life was a testament to his passionate loyalty to his roots and to his permanent fight for the rehabilitation of his people. The African Union which took over from the OAU should, through a solemn and wide- ranging initiative, “give something back” to the diasporas and revive the memory of a man who deserves, like another Frantz Fanon, to have a place in the Pantheon of our founding fathers.

 

Christophe Wondji

Notes

 

•1 The Conference of African Heads of State and Government, sitting as the supreme decision-making body, created  on 25  May 1963  at Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) the Organisation  of African  Unity (OUA). The latter  was transformed  into the African Union (AU) by the Treaty of 11 July 2000  signed by the African Heads of State attending the conference at Lomé (Togo).

•2 Williams, Eric, Capitalism and Slavery, 1944,  and Walker, Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, 1972.

•3 For these issues of general history, see the “Peuples et Civilisations” collection  (PUF), especially  volume  XV, Félix Ponteil, L’éveil des nationalités et le mouvement libéral (1815-1848), published in 1960. Regarding Simon Bolívar, see Letter from Jamaica (16 September 1815) where he explains his programme of Pan-American unification.

•4  Clearly, the period 1890-1914 was conducive to the formation of movements to bring back together scattered, divided and/or exploited peoples: Pan-Germanism, Zionism, Pan-Islamism, Pan-Arabism, Pan-Africanism. Note the astonishing chronological coincidence between the creation in 1897 of the African Association of Sylvester Williams (see below) and the holding in Basle in 1897  of the Congress convened by Theodore Herzl (1860- 1904) who created the World Zionist Organisation.

•5  Many slave uprisings accompanied the slave trade and slavery, demonstrating the iniquity and archaic nature of the slave system. Among them, two explosive revolts led to the creation of the following States: the Republic of Palmarès (in Brazil) lasted from the mid-17th   century to the mid-18th century; the Republic of Haiti (in the French colony of St Domingue) created at the end of the 18th  and beginning of the 19th  centuries, still exists. See  Philippe  Ouedraogo,  le  Pan-Africanisme:  histoire,  mythes  et  projets  politiques,  March  2010 in http://thomassankara.net/spip.php?article888.

•6 On the issue of the return of American  Blacks to Africa, see volume VII (chap. 29) of the General History of Africa  published  by UNESCO (GHA-UNESCO).

•7  Edward Wilmot  Blyden (1832-1912) was a free American  Black who had a good education  but  had considerable difficulty in finding a job because of the colour of his skin. After much research, he went to Liberia, where he was able to settle and became involved in the development of the colony which had just been created by the American Colonisation Society. He travelled a great deal in Africa, America and Europe and wrote a number of books on the past and future of Africa. His key text, Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, published in London in 1887, proposed research on ways and means to achieve African unification.

•8  See. GHA (UNESCO), vol. VII, chap.  29, p. 800.

•9  On the change of name, one of his biographers states that he took the first name of “George” in memory of his father-in-law, a sergeant major in the gendarmerie George Semper, and the name of “Padmore” in memory of one of his best friends, Eric Padmore. Cf. James R. Hooker, Black Revolutionary, 1967,  p. 6, quoted by Wikipedia, “George Padmore.”

•10 Comintern is the abbreviation in Russian for the “Third International or Communist International” created by the Bolsheviks in 1919 to coordinate the activities of the Communist Parties and workers’ movements throughout the world.

•11 The tragedy of the Congo-Océan evokes one of the most troubling aspects of the status of the African workers during the years of European colonial expansion in Africa (1920-1940). It caused many outraged reactions worldwide. The French writer André Gide alluded to it in Un voyage au Congo, Gallimard, 1927;  see also the journalist Albert Londres in Terre d’ébène, Albin Michel, 1929.

•12  Being a Communist and not an American citizen, Padmore could no longer return to the United States after his stay in the Soviet Union. Cf. Mark Salomon The Cry was Freedom: Communists and African Americans, 1917-36, Jackson, University of Mississippi Press, 1998, p. 60, quoted in the Wikipedia entry, “George Padmore.”

•13  Many nationalist activists from the colonial countries supported Communism whose antiracist and anti- colonialist theories seduced them during the decades of 1920-1950. But the often opportunistic behaviour of the Comintern dictated by the realpolitik of the Soviet State and the “national interests” of certain Communist parties of the European countries led to the disillusionment of a number of African and Asian patriots. Like Padmore, Richard Wright, Aimé Césaire and other intellectuals broke away from the Communists.

•14 On  his  contacts  with  the  militants  of  South  Asia  cf.  George Padmore,  in  http.//www.open.ac.uk/researchprojects: makingbritain: content/ george padmore.

•15 On  his  many  contacts  with  the  African  and  American  press  cf.  Grioo.com,”  George  Padmore,”http://www.grioo.com/ pinfo6396.html, and Sir Stafford Cripps, “Foreword,” Africa and World Peace, London, Martin Secker and Warburg Ltd., 1937,  p. IX quoted by Wikipedia in the entry: “George Padmore.”

•16  It is worth pointing out here that President Woodrow Wilson of the United States had come to the Peace Conference, attended by the victors of the First World War, with his famous “fourteen points” of which the item on the “right of peoples to self-determination” aroused the interest of the colonised peoples.

•17 A number of organisational problems and the desire to reach the various circles of the diaspora scattered throughout the European capitals can probably explain why the second Congress was held in three sessions in the three cities mentioned and the third Congress in two sessions and two locations. See Philippe Ouedraogo, op.cit

•18  See Cyril James, Notes on the Life of Padmore, op. cit., and Kwame Nkrumah, “Padmore the Missionary,” “The Opening of the George Padmore Memorial Library,” in Obeng, Selected Speeches of Kwame Nkrumah, Accra, Afram Publications, 1979-1997, vol. 2, pp. 124-127.

•19 The organisation of this Congress was very structured; the oldest member, Dr William B. Du Bois, the veteran of Pan-Africanism, chaired every session; the Executive Secretariat, led by Dr Peter Milliard (Guyana), included Ras Makonnen  (Treasurer), George Padmore and Kwame Nkrumah  (Secretaries), Jomo Kenyatta (Deputy Secretary)  and Peter Abrahams  (Public  Relations  Secretary).  See GHA (UNESCO), vol. VIII, chap.  25,  pp. 779- 780.

•20  GHA (UNESCO), vol. VIII, chapter  25,  op. cit.,  pp. 780-781.

•21  In the second half of the 19th   century, Great Britain had granted self-government to several of its colonies settled by Europeans which had become dominions, i.e. member States of the Commonwealth (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, etc.). The Pan-African Congresses had been demanding the implementation of this policy in the exploited colonies of tropical Africa and the West Indies since 1919.

•22  Cf. Richard Wright, Black Power, New York, Harper and Brother, 1954.

•23  Cf. George Padmore, Pan-Africanism or Communism?, London, Dennis Dobson, 1956,  French translation published by Présence Africaine, Paris, 1962.

•24  For the details  of these  meetings  see GHA (UNESCO), vol. VIII, chapters  24  and 25,  and Grioo.com, op.cit.

•25  It was during one of his missions to Liberia, probably for the Second Conference of African Heads of State of Monrovia (August 1959), that he suffered the liver attack whose irreversible progress was to end in his death on 23 September 1959; cf. “George Padmore. Facts” in http:/biography.yourdictionary.com/george padmore.

•26 These unions of States, which had neither formal structures nor functional legal and technical institutions, were of a symbolic nature. As an expression of the wishes of the Heads of State to agree and act together for African Unity, they served as ideological levers.

•27 In 1960, 14 French colonies of West and Central Africa had achieved independence; in the same year, they were joined by the two giant countries of Nigeria and Congo-Kinshasa. Between 1961 and 1964, the Africa of the Great Lakes Region also achieved independence: Burundi, Kenya, Tanganyika and Uganda.

•28  By 1980,  most of the African countries were independent, with the exception of Namibia which became independent in 1990.  In the same year, the release of Nelson Mandela began a new era in South Africa by enabling the abolition of apartheid, the last vestige of colonialism.

•29 See GHA (UNESCO), vol. VIII, chap.  24:  “Pan-Africanism and regional integration,” op. cit.

•30  UDEAO (West African  Customs  and Economic  Union, 1966), CEAO (West African Economic Community,

1973) ECOWAS (Economic  Community  of West African  States, 1975), UDEAC (Central African Customs and Economic Union, 1966), CEAC (Central African  Economic  Community,)  CEMAC (Central African Economic and Monetary  Community),  CEPGL (Economic  Community  of  the  Great  Lakes  Countries,)  ECCAS (Economic Community of Central African States, 1983), SADCC (Southern African Development  Coordination  Conference, 1980) and PTA (Preferential Trade Area for Eastern and Southern Africa States, 1984); cf. GHA (UNESCO), vol. VIII, chap. 24, op.cit.

•31  See Cyril James, Les Jacobins noirs, pp. 240-242, quoted by Elikia M’Bokolo in George Padmore, Kwame Nkrumah, Cyril James et l’idéologie de la lutte panafricaine, op. cit., p. 4.

•32 “One day, the whole of Africa will surely be free and united and when the final tale is told, the significance of George Padmore’s work will be revealed.” Speech broadcast and quoted by Carol Polsgrove, Ending British Rule in Africa: Writers in a Common Cause, London, 2009, pp. 162-163, in Wikipedia, “George Padmore,” op.cit.

•33 See Elikia M’Bokolo, op. cit., p. 2.

•34  See Elikia M’Bokolo, op.cit., pp. 3 and 5.

•35  On John La Rose and his role in the black communities of Great Britain cf. http://  enwikipedia.org/w/indexphp? title= JohnLaRose&oldid= 560896544George_Padmore

Advertisements