How the African Diaspora Influenced Africa’s Decolonization

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President Kwame Nkrumah along with WEB Dubois and Shirley Graham Dubois in Ghana

In a previous article I wrote about the role that Africa played in helping to influence the civil rights movement in the United States. For this article I will summarize some of ways that Africans from the diaspora influenced Africa’s decolonization movement. The point that I wish to get across to readers is that the struggles of African people have been interconnected. We have supported and influenced each other’s struggles against oppression.

I will begin with Booker T. Washington’s program at Tuskegee, which was very influential in Africa. Washington himself noted that some graduates from Tuskegee “went to Africa for the purpose of giving the natives in a certain territory of West Africa training in methods of raising American cotton.” Washington was referring to a group of Tuskegee graduates who sent to Togo (at the time a German colony). Among those graduates who went to Togo was John W. Robinson, who established a successful cotton school for African farmers.

Washington himself was not much of a nationalist. In fact, Washington praised the German colonial administration in Togo. In the United States, Washington was criticized by W.E.B. Du Bois, Ida Wells-Barnett, and others for his apparent accommodation of segregation. Washington’s position on colonialism in Africa was also one of accommodation. Despite this, Washington’s influence on nationalist leaders and organizations in Africa is difficult to overlook.

Joseph Casely Hayford wrote to Washington, explaining: “I have recently had the pleasure of reading your autobiography, and it occurred to me that if leading thinkers and workers of the African race had the opportunity of exchanging thoughts across the Atlantic, the present century would be likely to see the solution of the race problem.” Hayford was a lawyer from the Gold Coast whose work help to lay the foundation for the Gold Coast’s independence struggle.

Washington’s ideas also influenced the formation of the African National Congress in South Africa. Pixley ka Isaka Seme and John Langalibalele Dube were among the original founders of the ANC. Both men were greatly influenced by Washington and Dube in particular was nicknamed the “Booker T. Washington of South Africa.” Anton Lembede, who served as the first president of the ANC Youth League, referenced some of Washington’s ideas in his writings, which can be read in Freedom In Our Lifetime.

Lembede and others in the ANC were also influenced by Marcus Garvey. In fact, the red, black, and green flag of the Universal Negro Improvement Association served as an inspiration for the gold, black and yellow flag of the ANC. This design was proposed by T.D. Mweli Skota, who was an admirer of Marcus Garvey.

Apart from South Africa, the UNIA also had chapters in the Gold Coast, Nigeria, Dahomey, Sierra Leone, and other African nations. Among those in Africa who supported the UNIA was Hayford, whom was knighted by Garvey in 1927. Kwame Nkrumah explained that: “I think that of all the literature I studied, the book that did more than any other to fire my enthusiasm was the philosophy of Marcus Garvey published by his wife.” Other African independence leaders who were influenced by Garvey include Jomo Kenyatta and Hastings Banda.

Unlike Washington, Garvey was a nationalist who believed that Africans in the diaspora should fight to liberate Africa from colonial domination. Garvey’s ideas not only resonated with the diaspora, but Garvey gained support from people throughout Africa. Garvey’s influence on Africa’s independence leaders can be seen from some of the African flags which utilize the red, black, and green flag of the UNIA.

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The Black Star at the center of Ghana’s flag is a tribute to Marcus Garvey’s Black Star Line

Garvey’s ideological rival W.E.B. Du Bois is worth nothing as well. Du Bois organized a series of Pan-African Congresses, which included a demand for self-governance for Africa. Du Bois explained: “Let the British Nation, the first modern champion of Negro freedom, hasten to…give, as soon as practicable, the rights of responsible government to the Black Colonies of Africa and the West Indies.” These Congresses were attended by Africans from around the world.

Of the Pan-African Congresses that Du Bois was involved in, the Fifth Pan-African Congress in 1945 was the most significant. That congress was co-chaired by Nkrumah and George Padmore, a Pan-Africanist from Trinidad. Nkrumah return to the Gold Coast to led it into independence from the British. Banding and Kenyatta also attended the congress and they too would lead their countries to independence as well. Padmore would go on to serve as an advisor for Nkrumah after Ghana obtained its independence. Du Bois also moved to Ghana, where he spent the final years of his life.

The Haitian scholar and politician Jean Price-Mars was also very well-respected in Africa. President Leopold Senghor of Senegal and President Sékou Touré of Guinea praised Price-Mars as “the incomparable Master.” Nkrumah also paid tribute to Price-Mars and other scholars from the diaspora, stating, “ let us not forget the important contributions of others in the New World, for example, the sons of Africa in Haiti such as Anténor Firmin and Dr Jean Price-Mars, and others in the United States such as Alexander Crummell, Carter G. Woodson, and our own Dr DuBois.” Price-Mars’ ideas contributed greatly to the development of the Négritude ideology which Senghor espoused.

In 1915, John Chilembwe led a revolt in Nyasaland (present day Malawi). Chilembwe was educated in the United States, where he was exposed to the racism that African Americans experienced. Rev. Charles S. Morris, who was an eyewitness to the Wilmington insurrection of 1898, accompanied Chilembwe back to Africa. Several African Americans also traveled to Nyasaland to assist Chilembwe with building his church. The colonial government later blamed African American literature for helping to inspire Chilembwe’s revolt.

The story of Chad’s independence is especially interesting given that it was an African from the diaspora who formed Chad’s first political party. Gabriel Lisette was born in Panama and was posted to serve in Chad in 1946. Lisette founded the Chadian Progressive Party (PPT), which was the political party which would eventually lead Chad to independence.

As is often the case with many of these articles that I have written, this is a topic that is too complicated to properly address through a short Medium article, particularly in regard to the extensive support that Africans in the diaspora offered for the liberation struggles in southern Africa, so this is a very brief and incomplete account of some examples of the ways in which Africans from the diaspora have contributed to the anti-colonial struggles in Africa. It is also another example of the fact that the struggles of African people have always been interconnected.

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 and Twitter.

Dwayne Wong (Omowale) is a Guyanese born Pan-Africanist, author, and law student.

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