The story so far: As efforts were being made to form an African Continental organisation in 1963, it appeared as if divisions on the continent would make this objective impossible to achieve. But there were some “wily old men” in power in Africa, who realised that unless Africa became united, it could be recolonised by the colonial powers. NOW READ ON:
President Tubman of Liberia had, over the years, won great respect in Africa, despite his extremely close ties to America. He now convinced his fellow members of the Monrovia Group that the pressing issues facing the world and Africa could best be addressed by ALL the nations of Africa in unison.
But even as President Nkrumah of Ghana was pressing Tubman to try to sort out the diplomatic challenges posed by the divisions in Africa, a new development occurred close to home that was disastrous for Nkrumah. On 13 January 1963, one of Nkrumah’s betes noires in Africa, the president of neighbouring Togo, Mr Sylvanus Olympio, was assassinated in a coup in Lome, and his government overthrown!
Many political observers in Africa automatically believed that Nkrumah was behind the Togo coup. This was because antagonism had existed between Nkrumah and Olympio from as far back as the early 1950s, when the Gold Coast was about to achieve its independence and become Ghana.
Part of the Gold Coast – “Trans-Volta Togoland” – had once been part of Togo in the years before 1918, when Togo was a German colony. But after the defeat of Germany in World War I, Togo was divided into two by the League of Nations and one part of Togo was given to France to administer as a separate colony (under a League of Nations “mandate”) while the other part was given to Britain to administer under the same “mandate” conditions.
But typically, the British did not accept the simple method of administering “Trans-Volta Togoland” as a separate territory (as the French had done), but instead, chose the complex and cheaper (?) method of attaching Trans-Volta to its colony next door, the Gold Coast!
The Ewe people off Togo, in particular, were deeply resentful of this division that was imposed on them, which separated many families from one another . They now lived under British and French-ruled entities, and were thus placed under unusual tremendous social and economic hardships.
Fast-forward to the 1950s. The British are busy preparing their “model colony” in West Africa, the Gold Coast, for independence. But the question of Trans-Volta Togoland has reared its head. What is to be done with that part of the Gold Coast?
The trusteeship arrangement with the United Nations that had replaced the League of Nations mandate (after WWII) made it necessary to ascertain the wishes of the people of any trust territory before a change could be effected in its status. Was the Trans-Volta section of the Gold Coast to be allowed to achieve independence with the Gold Coast? Or was it to be separated from the Gold Coast and unite, instead, with the territory which it had been part on BEFORE UN trusteeship – French Togoland?
The politicians who ruled the Gold Coast, led by Dr Kwame Nkrumah, wanted Trans-Volta to become part of Ghana. But many of the politicians in French Togoland and their allies in the Gold Coast wanted “Ablode”: that is, unification of Trans-Volta Togoland with French Togoland! That, they said, would bring together again, the ethnic groups that had been unjustly separated from their kith and kin, under the UN mandate.
The UN decided to hold a plebiscite in 1956 to allow the people of both parts of Togoland, to decide on their own future. In the plebiscite, the majority of voters in Trans-Volta Togoland decided to stay as part of Ghana.
But Olympio, in Togo, and his allies in Ghana, were enraged. They never accepted the plebiscite decision, and when Togo, in its turn, was granted independence by France in 1960, Olympio, allowed it to become a haven for Ghanaian politicians opposed to Nkrumah, many of whom had fled there for fear of being imprisoned without trial in Ghana, under Nkrumah’s obnoxious ”Preventive Detention Act”.
Nkrumah returned the favour, and Togolese opponents of Olympio were equally welcomed in Ghana.
In fact, the architects of the Togolese coup of 1963 entrusted the presidency of Togo to an Nkrumah protege, Antoine Meachi, for a brief period. But the French, upon whom the Togolese ex-soldiers who had killed Olympio ( led by Bojolle and Eyadema) were depending for money, soon got Meachi replaced with their own candidate, Nicholas Grunitzky.
Of course, the Togolese affair played into the hands of all those who suspected Nkrumah of seeking to dominate the African scene by subverting the regimes of other African states.
However, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia linked up with his fellow elder statesman in Africa, President Tubman, and they concluded that even if Nkrumah
harboured ambitions to replace some African leaders with his own henchmen, it would be much easier to control him, if he was inside the same organisational “tent” with them, than if he was left outside,to “throw stones into the tent” (or as an earthy American proverb has it, “to piss into the tent”!)
A series of meetings were then held to seek views on how to proceed. It was agreed that the foreign ministers of Africa should meet in Addis Ababa in May 1963, to prepare an agenda for an African summit conference at the same venue, immediately afterwards.
Despite the well-known disagreement over whether a continental government should be formed immediately or step-by-step, a Charter which set out the articles of a body to be known as the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) was drawn up and signed on 25 May 1963. That date has now become known as “Africa Day”.
The Charter did not meet everyone’s expectations, but was adopted as a document that would be improved by future generations. The OAU changed names and became the African Union (AU) at a conference held in July 2002 in Durban, South Africa, following a decision in September 1999 by its predecessor.
It is now left for generations of Africans yet unborn to scrutinise the AU and reshape it, until it becomes fit for purpose – that is, when it comes as close as possible to meeting the aspirations of the African people as a whole.
Above all, the AU must ensure that Africans can
come and go on their own continent, without visas; work where they like on their continent; and expect to be treated as if they were “home” – despite being far away, geographically speaking, from the territorial limits into which they were originally born.
Africans also want to be able to trade with one another without paying customs duty on the goods they export or import; to be able to buy and sell goods everywhere in Africa without needing to change currency. Those were the dreams of our fathers. And it must be the goal of all of us to ensure that the dreams become a reality. In our lifetime!
By CAMERON DUODU