History of the Pan-African Congress, George Padmore (editor) 1947

Imperialism in North and West Africa

October 16th, 1945. First Session

Chairman: Dr. W. E. Burghardt Du Bois (U.S.A.).

Rapporteur: F. K. Nkrumah (Gold Coast).

Mr. George Padmore, in opening the session, said he had the great honour of ivelcoming Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, the “father” of Pan-Africanism to the Congress. In his life Dr. Du Bois epitomised the straggles, sufferings, and aspirations of the thirteen millions of our people in the United States.

Dr. Du Bois had come by plane to identify himself with our deliberations. He is a distinguished scholar, writer, and publicist; but perhaps his most distinguished characteristic is his constant awareness of the trends of human development and thought. Dr. Du Bois has a youthful, vigorous mind, younger and more alive than many a youth’s. It was with great pleasure that he called upon Dr. Du Bois to preside over this session of the Congress.

Dr. W. E. Burghardt Du Bois said he appreciated the honour that had been done him and wanted to communicate to the meeting the greetings of American Negroes and others whom he was representing.

Mr. F. K. Nkrumah (Gold Coast), on lined the political and economic trends in North and West Africa. Six years of slaughter and devastation had ended, and peoples everywhere were celebrating the end of the struggle not so much with joy as with a sense of relief. They do not and cannot feel secure as long as Imperialism assault the world. He indicted Imperialism as one of the major causes of war, and called for strong and vigorous action to eradicate it.

Mr. G. Ashie Nikoi, Chairman, West African Cocoa Farmers’ Delegation (Gold Coast). British Imperialism is responsible for all the troubles in West Africa, it has broken our homes, deprived our natural rulers of their rights, and we must give these back to them. Therefore we must destroy British Imperialism. The Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society, one of the oldest societies in British West Africa, had championed the cause of labour in West Africa since 1898. It represented the first West African delegation to come to Britain, and when the Crown seized lands in the Gold Coast the Society led the delegation here. Now the British imperialists had found a way to destroy the Society or to put it in the position of being unable to exercise any influence over the natural rulers of West Africa, especially the Gold Coast. They have set up the machinery of Provincial Councils, which is nothing short of Government Departments controlled by political officers. Our natural rulers are told what they have to discuss. I have come to ask this Congress to see that West Africa gets its political emancipation. It is our right and we must have it. Let us tell the British people and the world that we want our freedom. We do not want freedom that is partially controlled-we want nothing but freedom.

Mr. J. S. Annan, Secretary, Gold Coast Railway Civil Servants and Technical Works’ Union: I am going to sound a different note altogether. I am here as a workman. a man who wields tools, a man who knows no colour. I want you to feel that nothing we can do here is of any avail unless we are in a position to implement the resolutions that we are going to make. Then this Congress will be a power which Governments will have to reckon with. So I suggest that before this Congress breaks up on Sunday we set up administrative machinery to cope with the difficulties which lie ahead of us. My workers have given me this mandate: to inform you that they are prepared to spend their last penny in order to maintain an office in London. That is a practical issue.

The Gold Coast is one of the countries conveniently referred to as a Colony with Trusteeship. The supposed rulers have been with us for over one hundred years and the result is wretched ignorance, bad health, poverty. I agree entirely with political freedom, but before we have political freedom we must have something to live on, or we will die before we get it. To live, the working class people I represent must get together to build up a strong Trade Union. We must exert ourselves, and it is here that we call upon the help of our loyal friends.

Chief A. Soyemi Coker, Trade Union Congress of Nigeria: This Pan-African Congress is a unique opportunity for African people from every part of the world to assemble together for a common conclave. If it bespeaks anything, it bespeaks the future independence of Africa. I say this from experience. For example, there was a big strike, which involved 500,000 people and it was supported by the entire population of Nigeria. The first organisation to come to our aid, I am happy to say, was the Pan-African Federation. They gave moral and financial support far beyond our expectations. Africa needs constructive planning and action, and the points I wish to stress are these: (1) adequate living wages for the working classes; (2) co-operative societies throughout Africa to oust the big pools; (3) nationalisation of industries transport, mines, for the common people of Africa; (4) scholarship. It is by scholarship that Russia rose to be the Great Power to be reckoned with that she is today.

Mr. I. T. A. Wallace Johnson, West African Youth League (Sierra Leone Section), said that he represented the Youth League, the Moslem League in Sierra Leone, and the trade union movement in West Africa. Altogether he represented some 10,000 organised and 5,000 unorganised workers. In a conversation in London a Member of Parliament said that the British must keep the Colonies in order to protect them from the tribal wars which took place in bygone years, and which might break out again if they left West Africa. He referred to the vastness of the territories in question and compared them with the countries of Europe and the wars from which they had suffered. Africans had been living in peace until the Europeans taught them to fight.

After 155 years of administration the British Government had only educated 5 per cent of the people of Sierra Leone. Even those who were willing to pay their own expenses to come to school in England were not granted passports. In this connection he appealed to returning students to identify themselves with the working class.

Mr. J. Downes-Thomas, Committee of Citizens, Gambia: The Colonial system of Government is out of date, undemocratic and unprogressive. It gives us no voice in the management of our own affairs. In Britain if they do not want Churchill’s Party, they can vote it out, but we are not in that position. It is argued that we must have economic independence and then political independence will follow. But history shows that independence always has to be fought for.

Mr. F. O. B. Blaize, West African Students’ Union, outlined the methods by which he thought the general liberation struggle could be guided, as well as the immediate political, social and economic demands of the African people being advanced. Inside Africa he called for the perfection of the system of general strikes and boycott, and firmness in dealing with Quislings. Abroad he asked for the continued efforts of the Congress to focus public opinion upon conditions in Africa, and for the establishment of a permanent Pan-African Congress Continuation Committee in order to ensure continuity.

Mr. Blaize declared that we are not going to lend ourselves any more to this system of the domination of man by man and race by race. We are fighting towards one goal-the independence of Africa. There must be something very good in the Colonies that makes the big powers cling to them, British democracy seemed designed only for home consumption. Nigeria has been given a new Constitution, but her people cannot accept it because it is undemocratic. They demand that if the Atlantic Charter is good for certain people, it is good for all. It is sometimes said that the Colonies are a liability. If that is so you would think that Britain would like to cut down her liabilities and leave the Colonies. Britain left to herself without the resources of the Colonies would not live six months. We have seen the remarkable rise of the Soviet Union. This can be done for the Colonies, and we demand that it shall be done. Freedom is our right and we have got to fight until we get it.

Mr. Magnus Williams, The National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons: The Colonial Office has always told us by words and implication that there is a happy land; and we have always answered “far, far away.” We have come to this Congress to decide and enforce the means by which we shall make that happy land our own. The Colonial Office is an instrument of oppression and we must do our best to abolish that office. When the war came, with its clash of interests between imperialists, the Nigerian Government vested the mineral wealth in the Crown, and the Government of Britain says that every mineral in the Nigerian ground must come to them. While the people of Nigeria are contributing to the revenue of the country, the sons and daughters of the rulers reap the benefits. We must do our best to right these wrongs.

October 19th, 1945. Second Session.

Dr. Raphael Armattoe (Togoland): I would like to tell you something about the political and social state, of West Africa south of the Sahara to the Congo. This area, much larger than Western Europe, has a population of 60 millions. In studying the political development of this region, under French, British and Belgian rule, we shall find out what guides their actions and what the fate of the Congo will ultimately be.

In the territory under French rule, the administration operates the principle of educating a certain section of the people sufficiently to assimilate French culture. Emphasis here is laid on legal and social equality rather than on political theory and freedom. West Africans under French rule are trained with a view to becoming Frenchmen. The African populations in the French territories are divided into two classes – subjects and citizens. The majority are “subjects” and without rights, the “citizens” have the same rights as Frenchmen. The subjects are those born outside certain areas of West Africa, and they have the opportunity of qualifying for citizenship.

The population of the Belgian Congo is 12 millions. Belgian workers – not always the best elements from Belgium – are displacing Africans in the lower grade jobs. The only training given to Africans is of a vocational mature to fit them for working in the mines and plantations. There are only two high schools, one for the training of Catholic priests and the other for training in medicine. For the Belgian African there is no possibility except to work in the mines or tap rubber. The history of the Belgian Congo is indeed tragic.

As to British territories – Nigeria, Gold Coast, etc. – for political or economical reasons, the British do not believe in the equality of Africans with Anglo-Saxons. There are missionary enterprises and a few Government-sponsored schools, but they are not free. The educational policy is the gradual absorption of Africans into some minor positions in the Civil Service – to absorb them into the ambit of Indirect Rule. Indirect Rule is being raised to the status of a political philosophy, which it is not. Most people in Africa feel that they want self-government.

It is sometimes questioned whether French West Africans have any feeling of national consciousness, but I can say that French West Africans would be happier if they were governing themselves. They sometimes envy the British Africans their intense national feeling – oppression has bound them together. A French West African should feel that he is an African first, before he is anything else.

In West Africa the natives hold little allotments where expenses are not always very high, but the native has to support numerous dependents. The natives own the land in a communal way in West Africa and the Europeans take as much profit from it as they possibly can. They are only concerned with economic exploitation, regardless of the condition of the people – the maximum profit with the minimum effort. Unless the Africans are allowed to market their products abroad they will not be able to reap any benefit at all.

In reply to questions which were put to him, Dr. Armattoe explained that at one time all Africans born in the French Empire were citizens. It was only when the Anglo-Saxons brought their influence to bear on the French that the position changed and fewer Africans were regarded as citizens, though all can qualify through education, etc. The French West African is better educated than the British and knows more about his own country and history. He thought that all French Africans feel that it is better to be governed badly by your own people than to be governed well by anyone else. Regarding education in French Africa, he said there may be regions in the hinterlands where there are not schools, but as a general rule, schooling up to a certain standard is available- to all, and the brilliant and the rich are able to go further and become highly educated.