Kwame Nkrumah led Ghana into independence in 1957, but he was not satisfied with this. At Ghana’s independence celebration Nkrumah expressed his belief that Ghana’s independence was meaningless unless it was linked to the total liberation of Africa. Nkrumah presented his vision for a unified Africa in his book Africa Must Unite. His vision was a continental government which he called “The United States of Africa.” Achieving this vision proved to be an incredibly difficult task for a number of reasons. One example that illustrates this was Nkrumah’s relationship with President Sylvanus Olympio of Togo.
T. Ras Makonnen, a Guyanese born Pan-Africanist who worked in Nkrumah’s government, admitted in his memoir, Pan-Africanism From Within, that they underestimated how difficult unifying Ghana and Togo would be. Makonnen explained that they “simply looked at the traditional links amongst the people at the borders, and felt there would be no problem.” This seemed like a logical conclusion given that it was not uncommon to find relatives on both sides of the border. The borders were also very easy to cross, so there was constant contact between people on both sides of the border. Part of the problem, as Makonnen explained, was that “the French, Germans and British had taught Africans to feel distinct…” In other words, the colonial education had entrenched the divisions that colonialism created. Makonnen concluded that “after independence, the French did not have to exert themselves to keep Togo and Ghana from getting together. The work had been done already. The elite had become more French than the Frenchmen themselves…” The elites in Ghana were trained to become Europeans as well. Kofi Busia, who became the prime minister of Ghana in 1969, admitted: “I felt increasingly that the education I received taught me more and more about Europe and less and less about my own society.”
There were also disagreements between Nkrumah and Olympio over how unity between the two countries would be achieved. Nkrumah wanted to integrate Togo into Ghana, but Olympio preferred that Togo remained independent. Olympio expressed concerns that by being integrated into Ghana the Togolese people risked being dominated by Ghana. He did not want to escape French domination only to potentially be dominated by Ghana. Olympio also had aspirations to unify the Ewe people, which was a challenge given that the Ewe population was largely split between Ghana and Togo. He wanted to achieve this by abolishing the customs barrier between the two countries and to make movement between the two countries easier. Olympio believed that the end of British and French rule made collaboration between Ghana and Togo easier, but he did not necessary believe that one country should be integrated into the other as Nkrumah believed.
Togoland was a German colony that was partitioned between the British and French after the Germans were defeated in World War I. The British portion of Togoland was merged with the Gold Coast, which later became Ghana. Nkrumah wanted for the remaining portion of the former German Togoland to be merged into Ghana as well, but Olympio argued that nothing short of war could make Togo join with Ghana. Togo and Ghana never came to war, but the colonial borders have certainly led to conflicts in other parts of Africa.
Nkrumah’s eagerness to achieve a unified Africa led him to clash with political leaders who favored a more gradual approach to unity. Julius Nyerere of Tanzania believed that Nkrumah’s plan for the immediate creation of a continental government was unrealistic. He argued that African unification should be a gradual process that was to be achieved through regional blocs. The approach that Olympio and Nyerere took to African unity was perhaps more practical, but Nkrumah was driven by his belief that if Africa did not unite as quickly as possible the newly independent African nations threatened to be conquered once again by colonial forces. Nkrumah warned: “We need the strength of our combined numbers and resources to protect ourselves from the very positive dangers of returning colonialism in disguised forms.”
The relationship between the two countries became increasingly strained and the situation reached a point in which Ghana was openly welcoming Olympio’s political opponents, while critics of Nkrumah’s regime were being welcomed in Togo. In 1963, Olympio was assassinated and Nkrumah’s government was toppled three years later. Prior to the coup there were also assassination attempts that were made against Nkrumah.
Nkrumah warned that the greatest danger facing Africa was neo-colonialism and he believed that the balkanization of Africa was an aspect of that neo-colonialism. He also pointed out that neo-colonialism “creates client states, independent in name but in point of fact pawns of the very colonial power which is supposed to have given them independence.” This is precisely what was to happen in Ghana and Togo, where he and Olympio were toppled in Western supported coups. It is difficult to say if the coups in Ghana and Togo could have been avoided had Nkrumah and Olympio been able to cooperate with each other more closely than they did, but the strained the relationship between both leaders certainly did not help matters.
The example of Ghana and Togo is indicative of some of the challenges that Africa has had to confront in regards to continental unification. There was the issue of colonial education which indoctrinated Africans to become like Europeans in their thinking. This had the effect of alienating Africans from each other. There was also the issue of the borders that the Europeans created. The Organization of African Unity took the position that the colonial borders should be maintained, despite the fact that the borders did not match the ethnic makeup of Africa. The border situation between Togo and Ghana caused tensions, but in other parts of Africa border disputes have resulted in war. As T. Ras Makonnen admitted, many of the Pan-Africanists of his generation believed that African unity was as easy as removing colonial rule, but they were to find that the colonial way of thinking and the borders that the Europeans left behind were both obstacles to that unity and they still remain obstacles to African unity to this day.
Dwayne is the author of several books on the history and experiences of African people, both on the continent and in the diaspora. His books are available through Amazon. You can also follow Dwayne on Facebook.