The 19th century was the age of colonialism in Africa. It was a bewildering moment in the historical transition of the African world. The colonization of Africa, Scott Keltie wrote in his 1893 book, The Partition of Africa, was “one of the most remarkable episodes in the history of the world.” It led to a gargantuan shift in the cultural and economic balance of the world. It began quite simply; innocently even, masked as missions of exploration, when the key European powers, Great Britain, France, Portugal, Germany of the second Reich, Spain and a newly united Italy, and of course, that Belgian parvenu, King Leopold II, sent out their spies in the mask of missionaries, anthropologists and explorers, to take the full measure of the mysterious continent.

The foremost of them all, Dr. Livingstone had sent out a call to Europe to open up Africa to the three principles – Commerce, Christianity and Civilization – the so-called “triple alliance of Mammon, God and Social Progress.” I would here, take the liberty of quoting extensively from Thomas Parkenham’s important book, The Scramble for Africa, to illustrate the situation of Africa in the period: “Each responded to Livingstone’s call in his own fashion. But they all conceived of the crusade in terms of romantic nationalism. There were journalist-explorers like Henry Stanley, sailor-explorers like Pierre de Brazza, soldier-explorers like Frederick Lugard, pedagogue-explorers like Carl Peters, gold-and-diamond tycoons like Cecil Rhodes. Most of them were outsiders of one kind or another but no less ardent nationalists for that.

To imperialism – a kind of ‘race patriotism’ – they brought the missionary zeal. Not only would they save Africa from itself. Africa would be the saving of their own countries.” There is a strange, eerie feeling today in the first decade of the 21st century that we are back in Africa to the 19th century. Africa is once more the stomping ground of missionaries from the two most dangerous fundamentalist religions – Islam and Christianity, explorers, spies, soldiers, mercenaries, and racketeers coming in the same old disguises – NGOs, missionaries, investors, privateers, and all kinds of left-handed charities purportedly to save Africa from itself. Today, a new scramble for Africa is afoot with the new flash points in North Africa and Central Africa.

Sub-Saharan Africa is once one the stomping ground of all kinds of mischief. The tea leaves say that the new scramble and conquest of Africa will be longer, more deadly, and costlier in human and environmental terms. Yet it feels not too long ago, when Africans rallied to free themselves from the clutches of colonialism and alien rule. Postcolonial Africa has been buffeted by all manners of subversion – internal and external – and rendered almost prostate and outside of history by the political, economic and social upheavals that trailed the nationalist, independent movements of the 20th century. There is no doubt that Africans themselves must take clear responsibility for what they’ve made of the nations they inherited from European colonialism, but it is equally critical to constantly interrogate where the rain began to beat us. If the 19th century was the age of colonization, the 20th century was the age of African liberation from European colonialism.

By the interwar years, Nnamdi Azikiwe had blazed the trail with his fierce opposition to alien rule, and with the book, Renascent Africa, which in the words of one of the greatest icons of that movement, Dr. Julius Nyerere of Tanzania opened their eyes to a broader conception of Africa. “Until my generation read Renascent Africa” Nyerere said once at the Zik lectures at Lincoln University, “we did not know that Africa was possible.” Among that generation of young men who heard and hearkened to Azikiwe’s clarion for African freedom was Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela (1918-2013), then a young South African lawyer. From 1948 to 1952, Mandela was active in organizing the ANC in Johannesburg, and was one of the founding members of its youth wing. In a sense, Mandela took the torch from another great legend of the struggle, the inimitable Albert Luthuli, who himself was awarded the Nobel peace prize in 1961, and who was President-General of the ANC until July 1967, when he was killed as he was taking a walk by a train. Many still believe he was assassinated by the apartheid regime.

Mandela came to prominence on the wings of Luthuli and in his role in organizing the famous 1952 defiance campaign against the apartheid regime, and the treason and sedition trials from 1956 to 1961. In that space of the struggle, Mandela and the ANC operated on the principle of non-violence. But by 1960/61, many of the countries in Africa had achieved political independence. In South Africa and Rhodesia which had the invidious form of settler colonialism that led to apartheid and minority rule, it became clear that the fight would not be simply won on a “platter of gold.” Mandela changed tactics and was one of those alongside Walter Sisulu, who formed Umkhotho Sizwe (Burning Spear), the military wing of the anti-colonial, anti-apartheid movement in 1961 which organized a sabotage campaign against the apartheid regime. Mandela was declared wanted. For Six months between 1961 and 1962, Nelson Mandela was in Lagos attached to the NCNC Training School at Yaba and living with Mbazulike Amechi.

It was while in Nigeria that the decision was made to politicize the trial, and widen its symbolic meaning in the struggle to free South Africa and Rhodesia, the two hot-button foreign policy issues of the day for Africa. Mandela thus returned to South Africa to face his charges – a different form of defiance – and was jailed. Mandela’s imprisonment, and the political capital made of it changed the trajectory of the struggle in important ways. He remained defiant; committed, unbowed in the toil and suffering of prison in Roben Island. He became in the dignity he gave to suffering on behalf of the cause of freedom, the most important symbol of the anti-apartheid struggle. It was therefore to him, at the death of Luthuli, that the rest of the world looked for the solution to the problem. In 1990, he was freed after 27 years amidst the escalating violence in South Africa.

On regaining freedom, his first request was to meet with Dr. Azikiwe, and a meeting was thus arranged, and he visited Nigeria in 1991, and conferred with Zik at Onuiyi Haven before embarking on his American journeys. Thus Mandela completed the full cycle of the African liberation movement in the 20th century Mandela’s greatest contribution; his stature was in adhering to the three greatest principles on which he agreed at Onuiyi: a compromise of reconciliation and inclusion rather than retribution - the very same Zikist principle that ended the Nigerian civil war: No victor no vanquished; a compromise of accommodation and peace, a unity in diversity; an open, humane, and enlightened leadership in which  Mandela embodied the will of a new nation. There are those today who say he made too much compromise. But history will vindicate Mandela.

Dr. Nwakanma writes the “Orbit” column in the Sunday Vanguard.


The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters


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