When I think of the independence of Africa, the attainment of freedom for one nation after the other throughout the entire continent, I am always reminded that for many of our founding fathers—particularly Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah—the process of empowerment began in the pages of a book. It was the liberation of their minds that ultimately led these men to fight for the liberation of their homelands.
We have etched these men into memory, their words and their actions, the look and the very essence of them: Kenyatta, from his characteristic salt-and-pepper beard to his legendary beaded belt; and, Nkrumah, with his distinctive Kente cloth draped over his left shoulder and his array of stiffly starched Chairman Mao-style suits with the Mandarin collars.
We can visualise them in their most iconic moments. We know, for instance, the Kwame Nkrumah of March 6, 1957, the day that Ghana took its first official step into freedom. We know, too, the Jomo Kenyatta of December 12, 1963, the day that Kenya took its first official step into freedom on a journey that would result, one year later, in it becoming a full-fledged republic.
These are the men they became; but it is incumbent upon us, for posterity as well as for the continuation of our own growth and progress, to also remember the men they once were. Was it merely coincidental that Francis Nwia-Kofi Ngonloma and Kamau wa Ngengi both found themselves in London in late 1935? Two men who would soon shape the future of the African continent, both gaining a new perspective of the world while on foreign soil; yet, each was unaware of the other’s presence.
Francis was on his way to America to study at the University of Pennsylvania. While there, earning his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees, he encountered the works of intellectuals and revolutionaries, literature that challenged him to see the commonalities of the system of oppression under which so many black people lived, and the liberation for which they all struggled.
Meanwhile, Kamau was already engaged in studies at the London School of Economics, where the books he read and the people he met guided him into a critical examination of his ethnic group, the Gikuyu. It was a natural extension of the newspaper articles he’d been publishing in a broader assertion of an African voice.
The two men would eventually meet in London in 1945. By then, Kamau wa Ngengi had long changed his name to Jomo Kenyatta and authored the anthropological text, Facing Mount Kenya. That same year, Francis Nwia-Kofi Ngonloma would also shed his given name for one that better defined him—Kwame Nkrumah.
The two did more than make each other’s acquaintance, though; they shared a mentor, the Pan-Africanist writer George Padmore, and through that connection, Kenyatta and Nkrumah worked together to help organise the Sixth Pan-African Congress in Manchester. Shortly after, both men returned to their native countries to share the knowledge they had attained, and apply the political organisational skills they’d acquired while abroad. They were both labelled as “agitators” and they were both imprisoned for a period of time. Unsurprisingly, they both remained steadfast in their struggle for the freedom of their people.
When the paths of Jomo Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah crossed, it also indelibly intertwined the destinies of the two nations they would soon be leading into independence. It created much more than a lifelong brotherhood between two great men; it also created a lifelong sisterhood between Kenya and Ghana.
Certainly Kwame Nkrumah was thinking of, among others, his old Pan-Africanist comrade Jomo Kenyatta and the people of the colony of Kenya when he declared that, “Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa.”
It is, also, quite likely that the words written by Jomo Kenyatta in Pan African Magazine six years later, upon Kenya’s independence, were informed by his observations of the challenges and obstacles faced by Ghana as a fledgling nation. He wrote: “We are like birds which have escaped from a cage. Our wings have cramped. For a while we must struggle to fly and regain our birthright for the free air. We shall make our mistakes, but these will be only like the temporary flutterings of the escaped bird. Soon our wings will be strong and we shall soar to greater and greater heights. This freedom has not come easily. Nor must we expect the fruits of freedom to come easily.”
Those words were prescient, and 50 years later we are realising what both men knew: that the struggle to become free is always followed by the struggle to remain free; that the guarantee of our individual liberties as nations can only come through the guarantee of our collective liberties as one continent. In short, it is only in unity, only through harambee, that Africa will survive.
Kenya and Ghana transitioning
Fifty years later, though both men have moved into the ancestral realm, as Mzee Jomo Kenyatta and Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, the sisterhood between their nations lives on. Both Kenya and Ghana are transitioning into middle-income economies; both nations have tested the strength of their democracies with free and fair elections, as well as the proper engagement of legal challenges to those electoral results.
Moreover, because both founding fathers believed in the power of education and invested heavily in it, in terms of human resource capacity, Ghana and Kenya are among the leaders on the African continent. Both countries have produced some of the world’s most powerful, dynamic, and innovative writers, sports figures, entertainers, thought leaders and politicians.
Who could imagine a world without Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Binyavanga Wainaina, Kip Keino, Catherine Ndereba, Lupita Nyong’o, Edi Gathegi, Professor Ali Mzrui, Wangari Maatthai, and, of course, Barack Obama, son of a Kenyan, who would go on to become the first African-American president of the United States?
If such liberation of the mind and spirit are the fruits of a hard-won independence, then the world will be watching in wonder and awe over the course of the next 50 years as Kenya stretches itself to its fullest wingspan and soars to even greater and greater heights.
Source: Daily Nation
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