Molefi Kete Asante, September 20, 2009
Nkrumah: Worthy of Celebration
Molefi Kete Asante
Author, The History of Africa
Speech on September 20, 2009
At the Schomburg Research Center for Black Culture
It is rare in human history that one discovers a philosopher-political leader whose voice resonates with that of his people as clearly as that of Nkrumah. He is at once a consummate political activist and a master of the internal tensions of history and politics; these qualities made him an advance signal for a continuing victory sign.
There is something deep and reflective in the way that Nkrumah handled his own inadequacies and tamed the various emotions, colors, nuances, and obstacles in the ordinary African’s everyday life. His creative energy and massive range of interests were great enough to encompass the continent and the Diaspora, but also his depth in terms of philosophy, science, social development, and revolutionary anger and action was profound. I like the fact that every word, even if I disagreed with some of his words, appeared to have been thought about, pondered, and perfected by his keen Afrocentric and social sensibilities.
Nearly 50 years ago on October 9, l959, Patrice Lumumba spoke in Accra on the invitation of Kwame Nkrumah. He observed then at the Pan African Conference that he had three objectives: the independence of the Congo, the creation of the constitution of the United States of Africa, and the establishment of friendly economic relations with other countries. Unquestionably he had been influenced by the insistence of Nkrumah that Africa could not withstand the gathering forces of anti-Africanism in the political centers of the vanquished colonizers. Each nation, acting alone, would not be able to sustain its freedom. It would be shaken to its economic, political, and social core as France, England, and the United States had seen to it that Haiti, since Dessalines proclaimed independence, was shaken and abused. Nkrumah was a prophet of reality; his politics took the form of proactive work to raise the level of consciousness of the masses. But the process is long; the job is hard, and the people are often unwilling to give up the devil they know for the devil they do not know. Yet Nkrumah’s influence, as we celebrate him today, continues to grow as it has grown each year that we do not bring into existence the united Africa for which he devoted so much of his energy.
If Nkrumah had been only a student of W. E. B. Dubois and George Padmore, and acted on the basis of what he learned from them about society, economics, systems of oppression, he would have made a major mark on the earth. But he was more, he was a teacher and he was forced by time and place, by commitment and culture, to be himself a vanguard political actor. He used all of the creative wit, dancing ironies, and meaningful metaphors he could muster from his time in America and Africa, from his life as a Westernized Christian and an African Socialist, from his politics of national independence and African personality. Nkrumah gave meaning and direction to our best political and philosophical ideals and raised the level of thinking about a United Africa.
Who are we today if we are not the voices of the ancestors? If the ancestors’ voices are not heard in our speech, our song, and our poetry, does not this mean that we have cease to be who we ought to be? If we cannot call upon our own sources of cultural and spiritual power then aren’t we nothing more than poor imitations of others? And if a people cease being who they ought to be then they become nothing because without anchors, without roots, without nananom nsamanfo, we are cast aside in the stream of history. Nkrumah knew this and took his time with the masses of his people, our people, and asked us to imagine a new future, a future without oppression, a future where we would determine our own destiny and help create a mature Africa.
Is this not what we have been told by other African patriots, by Amilcar Cabral, by Agostino Neto, by Samora Machel, by Marcus Garvey, by Patrice Lumumba, and most recently by Cheikh Tidiane Gadio? Didn’t Fanon counsel that the best way to deal with violence and oppression was to maintain our own courage to confront, to challenge, and to inflict pain on the oppressor if necessary? Are we not children of the brave? Are we not the descendants of the endarkened Nkrumah whose wish for us, for Africa, was for us to be truly committed to the rise of the African personality in every way?
The reason Mugabe is loved in Africa and hated in the West is the same reason Chavez is loved by the oppressed masses and hated by the Western elites. They both see the same truth that Nkrumah saw and that made him the victim of Western intrigue. How to silence the voice of the truth-tellers becomes the obsession of the Condilezza Rice, Cheney, Bush and other reactionary types. This is why Nkrumah was assaulted, curtailed, ambushed in political policy, and eventually overthrown by the CIA. He was a myth-buster, a thorn bush in the side of those who talked about Africa in terms of disbelief.
I am convinced that what Nkrumah told us, he keeps telling us, and that is that our connectedness is a part of our centering and that we must choose ourselves in order to be chosen. Of course, we know this in the depths of our souls but we are often invaded by the loudness of an inauthentic word that wants to make us post racial, and meta-racial, but not anti-racial. Nkrumah knew that the gross and vile materialism and obscene and rough individualism that haunt Western culture helped to create negativity and fear in the oppressed. Thus, we could never see the truth of the beauty that exists all around us.
This is why I am an ardent celebrator of Nkrumah’s life and voice because in celebrating him we celebrate the best in us. This giant was real, genuine, with all of his human flaws, the essence of African intelligence and anti-fascist activism and he showed us what we must be and what we must do to remain centered and not simply shoved to the side as trash on the road of history. Our politics must be vigorously ethical and fundamentally proactive, if we are to be anyone and if our work is to be anything that can address the monstrous wrongs of society. If we cannot name our authentic path because we have lost our own way, then we are truly lost. One cannot know lost-ness and loss-ness until one has forgotten the ancestors. In the name of Nkrumah, let us re-orient ourselves, to our commitments to each other, to our drive toward a federative African union, a united Africa, and to a connection to Africans everywhere. FORWARD EVER! BACKWARD EVER!