By Kwame Nkrumah
In 1958, when Kwame Nkrumah wrote for Foreign Affairs as Ghana’s first prime minister, only a handful of countries on the African continent had achieved independence from their European colonial rulers. Nkrumah, a leading pan-Africanist, described a shared determination among African leaders “to see Africa free and independent,” to advance economic development, and “to pursue foreign policies based upon non-alignment.” If the West did not support African states in these endeavors, they would be “compelled to turn elsewhere,” he wrote. “This is not a warning or a threat, but a straight statement of political reality.”
African political dynamics “strongly [favored] radical changes, both internally and internationally,” the South African journalist and antiapartheid activist Colin Legum wrote in 1965. But the continent’s future was still up for grabs, and independence leaders continued to share their perspectives on Africa’s changing relationship with the world, writing with Foreign Affairs’ largely Western readership in mind. In a 1962 essay, Guinea’s Sékou Touré presented African unity as an “indispensable” tool to navigate a deeply unequal global economic system and predicted that decolonization would “modify the international structure . . . profoundly.” The same year, Nigeria’s Abubakar Tafawa Balewa highlighted the “responsibility” of independent African states “to aid their fellows to freedom” and the imperative for African countries to “be given effective voice” within international bodies—but also emphasized the need “to distinguish between ideals and reality” amid calls to further unify the continent.
Writing in 1966, the Tanzanian leader Julius Nyerere urged the West to support the decolonization process to the very end. “Colonialism must be wiped out in Africa before any post-colonial independent state can feel secure,” he wrote. “Free Africa is now waiting, with some impatience, to see whether the West really intends to stand on the side of human equality and human freedom.”