In 1935, a teacher from the sprawling domains of the former Ashanti empire arrived in Harlem, seeking from America the tools to restore his land’s grandeur.
Kwame Nkrumah found himself at home in Harlem, where W.E.B. DuBois had alreadybeen on the Pan-African course for decades.
Nkrumah would find his niche at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the oldest historically-black college and university, named for the late President Abraham Lincoln. By immersing himself in black churches and the culture of African-Americans, Nkrumah found the avenues to join the Pan African movement by the time he had returned to London after the founding of the United Nations.
By then, another Pan African scholar, Ralph Bunche, was the undersecretary for trusteeships of the United Nations, firmly committed to loose the bounds of colonialism. Read more about Bunche in Our Roots Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vol. 3.
Using the example of Gandhi, Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast colony, the British enclave carved out of Ashantiland, and began to take what he had learned from the promise of American democracy to craft a new future. By 1957, he had led the new Ghana to become the first African nation to escape colonialism in the 20th century. It would take another 40 years for the work of Nkrumah, his mentor DuBois and Bunche to grow into a totally free of foreign domination African continent with the liberation of Nelson Mandela.
So, in the grand African tradition of the council of elders, what must Nkrumah, DuBois, who renounced his American citizenship to die and be buried in Ghana, and Bunche be whispering in the ear of Mandela as the son of another expatriate student to America, Barack Hussein Obama, comes to Ghana as the first African-American president of the United States of America.
All deliberative scholars, there would be a calm acknowledgment of the grace and mercy of the Creator for advancing the struggle for freedom in such a demonstrative way. They would then take a dialectical analysis of the real content of the trip. They would look back on 40 years and realize that many of the independent states became mere cash cows for foreign powers to plunder resources on a scale far beyond the colonial days. From that, they would tell Nelson to advise the new American president that substance must always override form.
They would look approvingly on Obama’s recognition of the African Union’s focus on food security by shifting the emphasis from delivering aid from Western countries to restoring the capacity of Africa’s own farmers to feed the teeming continent, building the ability of African hospitals and doctors to heal; and developing the sustainable renewable energy that will fuel the continent’s true independence.
Although the stated reason for visiting Ghana is to support its record of governance in recent elections, Obama is too much a student of history not to understand that his election, riding on the wings of Lincoln’s legacy, is part of the same strand of history that brought Bunche, DuBois and Nkrumah in the quest to free a continent.
It is a mission he now has the unique capacity to continue.
By taking the same methodical, relentless pursuit of justice, he can truly aspire to walk in their shoes.
But for now, they’ll still be watching…waiting