Visions of independence, then and now

Subhead test
From Africa Renewal: 
page 31
Kwame Nkrumah speaking before the United Nations in 1961Kwame Nkrumah speaking before the United Nations in 1961.
Photograph: UN Photo / Yutaka Nagata

The early years

'Dawn of a new era'

Kwame Nkrumah, first president of Ghana, 23 September 1960, at the UN General Assembly in New York.

One cardinal fact of our time is the momentous impact of Africa's awakening upon the modern world. The flowing tide of African nationalism sweeps everything before it and constitutes a challenge to the colonial powers to make a just restitution for the years of injustice and crime committed against our continent….

For years, Africa has been the foot-stool of colonialism and imperialism, exploitation and degradation. From the north to the south, from the east to the west, her sons languished in the chains of slavery and humiliation, and Africa's exploiters and self-appointed controllers of her destiny strode across our land with incredible inhumanity without mercy, without shame, and without honour. Those days are gone and gone forever, and now I, an African, stand before this august Assembly of the United Nations and speak with a voice of peace and freedom, proclaiming to the world the dawn of a new era….

I look upon the United Nations as the only organization that holds out any hope for the future of mankind…. The United Nations must therefore face up to its responsibilities, and ask those who would bury their heads like the proverbial ostrich in their imperialist sands, to pull their heads out and look at the blazing African sun now travelling across the sky of Africa's redemption. The United Nations must call upon all nations that have colonies in Africa to grant complete independence to the territories still under their control…. This is a new day in Africa and as I speak now, thirteen new African nations have taken their seats this year in this august Assembly as independent sovereign states…. There are now twenty-two of us in this Assembly and there are yet more to come.

'Hard work from every citizen'

Jomo Kenyatta, first president of Kenya, 27 May 1963, after he won elections and months before independence.

On this momentous day, which set Kenya on the final stage before independence, I ask the cooperation of every man and woman in this land to help build a new nation.

We aim to create a fair society, where no citizen need suffer in sickness because he cannot pay for treatment. We believe that no child should go without education merely because his family is poor. It will be the government intention to do away with the terrible poverty of so many of our people.

We do not expect to do all this from foreign charity. We are not going to compromise our independence by begging for assistance. The government will make it clear that our progress, our hope, our ambitions will only be fulfilled if we have hard work from every citizen.

Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta, addressing a mass rally in 1965Kenyan President Jomo Kenyatta, addressing a mass rally in 1965.
Photograph: Bill Fairbairn

'Honoured and humbled'

Edward Frederick Mutesa II, first president of Uganda, 9 October 1962 independence address.

I feel both honoured and humbled … because I have lived till this day when the British have relinquished power into our hands, after being under their protection for a period of 68 years [as a "protectorate" of Britain].

Now that we are independent, I appeal to you all to work with all your might in whatever you shall do, so as to bring glory to both our kingdoms and the state of Uganda. Let us not allow our differences in nations, religion and colour to be a divisive factor among our people.

'Reorient the entire colonial heritage'

Ahmed Sékou Touré, first president of Guinea, 26 August 1958

We prefer poverty in freedom to opulence in slavery….

We do not confuse the joys of independence with separation from France, to which we intend to remain tied and with which we want to collaborate in building up our common riches….

Beyond a simple feeling of revolt, we are resolute and conscious participants in the political evolution of black Africa, a basic condition to reorient the entire colonial heritage towards and for the African peoples.

'We want to remain French'

Philibert Tsiranana, first president of Madagascar, speaking before the French National Assembly, 29 May 1958.

We think it is better to have a well-prepared independence, since the anticipated political independence will lead us to the worst dependence possible, economic dependence. We will continue to have confidence in France and count on the French genius to find, when the time comes, a formula similar to that of the British Commonwealth. We Malagasies would never want to separate from France. We are of the French culture, and we want to remain French.

'Your suffering has not been in vain'

Félix Houphouët-Boigny, first president of Côte d'Ivoire, 7 August 1960 independence address.

People of my country, let your joy burst forth. There is no other people that deserves its joy more. More than the others, you have long suffered in patience. But your suffering has not been in vain. You have struggled, but not uselessly, since today you know victory. The need for dignity that you carry within yourselves has finally been satisfied. You are free and with pride join the great family of nations.

'Independence was conquered through struggle'

Patrice Lumumba, prime minister of the Congo, 30 June 1960, independence address.

Even though this independence for the Congo is being proclaimed today in agreement with Belgium, a country with which we deal as equals, no Congolese worthy of that name can ever forget that independence was conquered through struggle, a daily struggle, a fierce and idealist struggle, a struggle in which we spared neither our energy, nor our hardship, nor our suffering, nor our blood….

Because of what we have gone through during 80 years of a colonial regime, our wounds are still too fresh and painful for us to chase them from our memories. We have known hard labour for which we were paid salaries that could not properly feed us, nor dress or house us decently, nor raise our dear children. We have been mocked, insulted and struck morning, noon and night because we are [black]….

The Republic of the Congo has been proclaimed and our dear country is now in the hands of its own children. Together, my brothers and sisters, we will begin a new struggle, a magnificent struggle that will lead our country to peace, prosperity and greatness. We will together establish social justice and ensure that everyone receives just pay for their labour.

We will show the world what the black man can do when he works in freedom, and we will make the Congo a radiant centre for all of Africa. We will be attentive so that the soil of our homeland really benefits its children. We will review all the old laws and make new ones that are just and noble. We will end the suppression of free thinking and ensure that all citizens can freely enjoy the fundamental freedoms outlined in the [Universal] Declaration of Human Rights….

Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba (left) at the United Nations in July 1960Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba (left) at the United Nations in July 1960, with his delegate to the UN, Thomas Kanza.
Photograph: UN Photo / MB

The view from today

'Deep down, there is an Africa of hope'

Kä Mana, Congolese philosopher, in an opinion article on the DRC's 50th anniversary in the 14 May 2010 edition of the Kinshasa daily Le Potentiel.

Neither in the economic realm, nor in the political realm, nor the social realm, nor even in the realm of true cultural liberation is there anything of real significance visible 50 years after independence….

Once that is said, it must be immediately added that only a superficial reading of the African situation would lead us to believe that Africa is lost. Deep down, there is an Africa of hope that has been built over the last five decades….

Africa is being reborn and revived at the grassroots, despite the surface signs that would make it seem that the continent is dying…. The real balance sheet of independence is neither failure nor success, but success in the failure and failure in the success.

'If Africans want democracy, they must pay the price'

Achille Mbembe, Cameroonian scholar, in an article on Africa's 50th anniversary published in April in Le Messager and other publications.

As long as the logic of extraction and predation that characterizes the political economy of primary commodities in Africa has not been broken, and with it the existing modes of exploitation of Africa's sub-soil, we will not go far….

What needs to happen is a kind of continental "New Deal" collectively negotiated among the different Africa governments and international powers, a "New Deal" favouring democracy and economic progress that would complete and finally close for everyone that chapter of decolonization.

If Africans want democracy, they must pay the price. No one else will pay it for them. Nor can they get it on credit. They will nevertheless need the support of the new networks of international solidarity, a grand moral coalition beyond states, a coalition of all those who believe that without Africa, our world will certainly be poorer in spirit and humanity.

'Rapid progress is possible'

Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary-General, 19 May 2010, at the closing of the "Africa 21" conference on Africa's 50th anniversary, in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

The change we have seen in our lifetimes has been enormous. I remember well how I witnessed Ghana's independence as a 19-year-old student beaming with hope. Fifty years later, many of the hopes I harboured that day in Accra have been realized….

The last decade, in particular, has been one of remarkable progress. Unnecessary and cruel wars have come to an end. Increases in trade, domestic and foreign investments have fuelled impressive economic growth rates. New partners are being found, democracy and human rights have taken root, governance has improved, civil society has been empowered, an agricultural revolution is beginning to take hold and opportunities have been extended to ever larger segments of the population….

The challenges before us are great…. But the many success stories of the last 50 years have proven that rapid progress is possible — even in the most difficult circumstances….

Asha-Rose Migiro, UN deputy secretary-generalAsha-Rose Migiro, UN deputy secretary-general: "We cannot turn a blind eye to corruption, nepotism or tyranny."
Photograph: UN Photo / Eskinder Debebe

'We must honestly assess the realities'

Asha-Rose Migiro, UN deputy secretary-general, 18 May 2010, at the opening of the "Africa 21" conference on Africa's 50th anniversary, in Yaoundé, Cameroon.

As we celebrate Africa's achievements, opportunities and potential, we must also honestly address the realities and challenges that confront the continent. We cannot turn a blind eye to corruption, nepotism or tyranny. We cannot allow the will of the people to be thwarted by electoral fraud, unconstitutional changes of government or manipulations of the law to keep vested interests in power. Peace and sustainable development need to be built on the firm bedrock of good governance.

The good news, friends, is that much is already being done — through NEPAD, through the AU's peer review mechanism, through policy reforms and through mobilizing domestic resources.

The bad news is that much remains to be done and time is not on our side. The needs of hundreds of millions of young, vibrant Africans cry out for immediate attention.

'The struggle for independence is economic'

Abdoulaye Wade, president of Senegal, 4 April 2010, Independence Day address.

In comparing our country to some of those in Asia that were at the same level as we at independence in 1960, we notice that they have gone much faster than we have. We must reflect on this to understand why. The struggle for liberation is therefore not finished. It presents itself today in economic terms and will be won on the development front….

With the 50th anniversary of our independence, we have concluded a symbolic stage in the history of our country, in order to now turn to a new task that will take us to the 100th anniversary. And our own pace will determine the rhythm of Senegal's march towards that 100-year mark….

Together, we must clearly understand that prolonged economic dependence will ultimately erode our political independence.

'Young Africans can change the world'

Ali Bongo, president of Gabon, 18 May 2010, at the opening of the "Africa 21" conference on Africa's 50th anniversary, in Yaoundé, Cameroon

What visions of Africa do young Africans have? How do they see development initiatives? How can they be integrated into the new development challenges?...

We are entrusted with the aspirations of our citizens, and responsible for political stability and social cohesion. It is our duty to not leave them on the side of the road, at risk of falling into reprehensible behaviours….

The hard and true reality is that Africa has not invested enough in its human capital to benefit from the capital represented by its youthful population. In absolute terms, Africa has not invested enough simultaneously in ICT, health, education, transport, telecommunications, affordable housing, water, sanitation, etc. The responsibility for that is multiple and shared. It rests with administrations that have conceived and implemented uncoordinated policies and programmes, without any impact on the realities and specific needs of this youth. It is also because of them that qualified young professionals prefer to take their talents abroad rather than serve their homeland, making our countries nurseries of talent for the Western countries….

More than in the past, the progress desired by our African youths — that is, our leaders of the future — must be at the heart of our African government programmes….

For my part, I am convinced that young Africans can change the world, and must change the world…. The youth of Africa have such great needs that their advice and suggestions should be taken into account by public officials.

Part of a large crowd in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, this 30 June, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the country's independence.Part of a large crowd in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, this 30 June, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the country's independence.
Photograph: UN Photo / Evan Schneider

'The work begun by our elders has not ended'

Joseph Kabila, president of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 30 June 2010, Independence Day address.

The 50th is not an ordinary anniversary. It is a singular moment for evaluation, with an eye towards a new departure.

Where are we today, 50 years after 30 June 1960? It is undeniable that we have experienced some remarkable victories. Notably:

  • The preservation of national unity and territorial integrity,
  • The reestablishment of peace within the country, and with our neighbours,
  • National reconciliation,
  • The installation of multiparty democracy and trade union pluralism,
  • The liberalization of the media and the economy,
  • A consensual transition that allowed free, transparent and democratic elections,
  • A democracy that is certainly young, but nevertheless real and vibrant.

It is equally undeniable that we have known regrettable failures, especially in the areas of development, social progress and human rights. As a nation and a people, we are, while to varying degrees, collectively responsible for this relative shortfall in performance….

My dear compatriots, freedom, democracy and development are continual quests. The work begun by our elders has not ended. We thus have many challenges to take up.