( *An edited version of an article that appeared in New African October 2008)
The success which Barack Obama has achieved in the US, by winning the nomination of the Democratic Party, has already astonished the world. If he wins the presidency -- and it is very likely that he will do this, given the fierce struggle he had to endure and overcome, against a Clinton electoral machine that had won two presidential elections -- he will surely stun America and the world.
But it is important to understand that Barrack Obama did not suddenly emerge out of nowhere to attain this high position he now holds in US politics. A great deal of struggle by blacks in the USA and elsewhere had taken place, before, and in preparation for, his own, to provide him with an already-erected platform upon which to stand and shoot for the presidency.
Indeed, it is even pertinent to ask: who and what is Barack Obama? What made his very physical existence possible? How -- literally -- did he come to be where he is, a position that has propelled him to be able to struggle to win the highest office in the United States of America?
In a very literal sense (and I make no apologies for repeating this) he is the product of the Black Struggle around the world. Looking at him now, it may be difficult for the ordinary person to link him to, say, the city of Manchester, in the United Kingdom. But it was there that in 1945, a Conference was held that was to have a revolutionary impact on the future of Africa and -- specifically and significantly -- on Kenya, the land that gave birth to Barack Obama's father. This was the famous Fifth Pan-African Congress, which took place in Manchester from 15 to 21 October 1945.
A man called Jomo Kenyatta attended that Congress. Jomo was born as Kamau Wa Ngengi at Ng'enda village, Gatundu Division, Kiambu, Kenya, in 1889. He was later baptised as 'Johnstone' but later changed it to Jomo. He also changed his surname to Kenyatta, a corruption of the word Kinyatti, which signifies a beaded belt, favoured by some of Jomo's Gikuyu people. From a very early age, it was his grandfather, a practitioner of indigenous Gikuyu medicine called Kingu wa Magana, who brought him up after the death of his parents. It was from this grandfather that Jomo learnt about the culture and customs of the Gikuyu -- a knowledge which he passed on to future generations in his authoritative source-book, Facing Mount Kenya (published in 1938).
Jomo received his elementary education at a Church of Scotland Mission school in Thogoto, where he was taught carpentry in addition to normal school subjects. In 1912, he finished elementary school and became an apprentice carpenter. He was pursuing his craft peacefully, hoping to set up his own prosperous carpentry business when the 'First World War broke' out in 1914. The British, colonisers of Kenya, began to round up young able-bodied Kenyan men to conscript them by force into the British army to fight against the Germans.
Kenyatta, aged 25, was politically conscious enough to conclude that it was none of his business to fight in a war being waged by one European country against another. So he illegally escaped from Thogoto to seek refuge in a town called Narok.
He obtained work there as a clerk to an Asian trader. After the war, he served as a storekeeper for a European firm. From 1921 to 1926, Kenyatta worked in the water department of Nairobi City Council. It was at this time that he became actively involved in political activities, through his membership of the Kikuyu Central Association, whose secretary he became in 1926.
Even then, the big question in Kenya was the land issue. The Africans were being systematically driven out of their ancestral homes and their lands given to British settlers. One area even became known as "the White Highlands" and no Africans were allowed to own land there. Kenyatta, as secretary of the Kikuyu Central Association, was elected to represent the Association at a commission of enquiry set up in Nairobi by the British into the "land problems" of the Kikuyu. A Briton called Hilton Young headed the commission.
Kenyatta made a plea for natural justice before the commission, explaining that driving the Kikuyu off their ancestral lands was both unjust and unwise -- unwise because people who could otherwise be engaged in prosperous farming activities would be compelled to flock into towns like Nairobi to seek work, creating slums and being tempted to engage in criminal activities. Of course, his warnings went unheeded by the British, and today, Nairobi has some of the worst slums in the world -- all created by pushing a generation of prosperous farmers off their ancestral lands.
In 1928, Kenyatta began to publish a Kikuyu weekly newspaper, Muigwithania, in which he discussed Kikuyu culture and the difficulties facing farmers. He went as close to politics as he safely could with this newspaper, and gained much popularity through his writings. In 1929, the Kikuyu Central Association sent him to England to try and influence British opinion on the land issue in Kenya. He also took the opportunity to tour other parts of Europe, including Russia, returning to Kenya in 1930.
In 1931, he again went to England, this time, to present a written petition to the British Parliament. It was during this visit that he met the leader of the Indian freedom movement, Mahatma Gandhi. Jomo again tried to influence British opinion on the land issue by giving evidence before the Morris Carter Commission on the distribution of land not only in Kenya but in the Rhodesias and other British colonies, where white settlers were vying over land with the indigenous people.
Kenyatta's presentations attracted international attention, and George Padmore, a Trinidadian political activist who had been put in charge of the Soviet Union's policy on colonial peoples, invited him to come to Moscow to study economics.
Now, this man George Padmore was a great and fearless thinker who deserves to be called the Father Of The African Freedom Movement. Born in 1902 at Arouca, in Trinidad, his real name was Malcolm Nurse, but he changed it to 'George Padmore' in the vain hope that he would thereby escape the attentions of the Western intelligence services. He worked as a journalist for a time in the West Indies before travelling to the United States, where he enrolled as a medical student at Fisk University, in Tennessee. He also studied at New York University and Howard University.
While in the US, Padmore became active in the Workers Party of the United States, as the US Communist movement called itself. His brilliance propelled him into leadership of the black student movement that forced part of the party, and this led to his becoming inducted into the Comintern, the international communist movement. In 1929, he left the United States and moved to the USSR where he became head of the Negro Bureau of the Communist International of Labour Unions and Secretary of the International Trade Union Committee of Negro Workers.
But independent thinker that Padmore was, ideological and practical policy differences soon developed between him and the Soviet Communist Party, then under the dictator, Josef Stalin, and he was forced to resign his positions in 1934, and move to London. There is an apocryphal tale, told by anti-Communists, which suggest that Padmore was chased by the KGB through the forests of Finland when he resigned. A close friend of mine, the irreverent novelist Neville Dawes, [author of The Last Enchantment] embellished this story by claiming that Padmore subsisted on leaves and the bark of trees as he ran from the KGB, and that this was why he had a husky voice! Those who know Neville Dawes can imagine the relish with which he related this story, and the full-blooded five-minute laughter, with which he ended it.
Jomo Kenyatta, protégé of Padmore, the renegade Communist, had preceded Padmore -- he left Russia in 1933. Nevertheless, his short stay in Moscow and his association with Padmore were used by the British to smear him endlessly as a "Communist", in the worst days of the Kenya freedom struggle.
In London, Padmore and Kenyatta collaborated in anti-colonial work with another Trinidadian writer, C.L.R. James and other Caribbean and African intellectuals. When Italy invaded Ethiopia (then known as Abyssynia) one of only two independent African states then in existence in the world, without provocation, in 1935, (the other was Liberia) Padmore and James organised an International African Friends of Abyssinia association (IAFA), with James as chairman and Jomo Kenyatta as secretary. An indication of how closely African and Caribbean politicians worked together in the struggle against imperialism is given by the fact that a joint honorary secretary of IAFA was Mrs Amy Garvey, wife of the leading West Indian Pan-Africanist of the time, Marcus Garvey. Among the leading members of IAFA was Dr J B Danquah of the Gold Coast (Ghana), who is often maligned by Nkrumahists in Ghana as some sort of opponent of Pan-Africanism. The objective of IAFA was to: "arouse the sympathy and support of the British public for the victims of Fascist aggression, and to assist by all means in their power in the maintenance of the territorial integrity and political independence of Abyssinia." In 1936, James, as chairman of IAFA, published a fiery pamphlet entitled Abyssinia and the Imperialists in 1936.
It appears that IAFA was later transmuted into the "International African Services Bureau" chaired by Padmore. James edited the Bureau's publication, International African Opinion, whose clarion call was for the creation of an independent movement of Africans and people of African descent, to agitate for freedom for all British colonies.
It was in his capacity as leader of the International African Service Bureau (IASB) that Padmore, assisted by James and others, organised the aforementioned 5th Pan-African Congress of Manchester in 1945. Padmore, an indefatigable worker, wrote most of the correspondence of the Congress in the kitchen of his London home. The late President of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, was later to describe the Congress as having "marked the turning point in Pan-Africanism, from a passive to an active stage".
Those who played an active role in the more important work of the Congress, and their respective responsibilities, were:
Standing Orders Committee:
George Padmore, Chairman.
B. A. Renner (Gold Coast, now Ghana) Secretary.
E. A. Aki-Emi, (Nigeria?) J. S. Annan (Gold Coast), and T. R. Makonnen.
Jomo Kenyatta, Chairman;
E. Abrahama, Chairman.
Kwame Nkrumah, Secretary.
Dr E. Kurankye-Taylor (Gold Coast) Member.
I. T. A. Wallace-Johnson, (Sierra Leone) Chairman;
Ken Hill, Secretary.
Garba Jahumpa (Gambia), Dr. W. E. B. Dubois, Mrs. Amy Garvey, G. Ashie-Nikoi (Gold Coast) Edwin J. Duplan (Gold Coast).
Dr. W. E. B. Dubois, Chairman;
Dr. P. Milliard Secretary.
Mrs. A. Garvey, Marko Hlubi (South Africa) A. S. Mossell, I. T. A.
Wallace-Johnson and G. Ashie-Nikoi.
The delegates -- including those already mentioned as members of the important committees of the Congress -- came from all parts of Africa, as well as the West Indies and the United States. It is amazing that in 1945, under the noses of the British colonialists, such a Congress could take place, and yet today, when all the territories of the former British empire are free countries, no such congresses ever take place! The list is worth scrutinising:
DELEGATES AND ORGANIZATIONS.
Sierra Leone --- Teachers' Union: the Rev. Harry E. Sawyer; Trade Union Congress: I. T. A. Wallace-Johnson; The People's Forum: L. Sankoh;
Nigeria --- Trades Union Congress
A. Soyemi Coker;
The National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons, Magnus Williams; F. B. JOSEPH;
Nigerian Youth Movement Obafemi Awolowo; H. O. Davies;
Calabar Improvement League:
E. B. Ndem;
Aborigines' Rights Protection Society: G. Ashie-Nikoi; Gold Coast Farmers' Association: W. J. Kwesi Mould; G. Ashie Nikoi; African Railway Employees Union: J. S. Annan; Friends of African Freedom Society: B. A. Renner, Mrs. Renner;
National Council of Gambia:
Trades Union: E. Garba-Jahumpa
Liberia: Progressive Society
The Young Baganda:
Tanganyika: S. Rahinda
Kikuyu Central Association: Jomo Kenyatta
African Union: Jomo Kenyatta
Nyasaland African Congress: Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda.
South Africa: African National Congress: Marko Hlubi
Antigua: Workers' Union:
R. G. Small;
W. R. Austin.
Barbados: Progressive League: E. de L. Yearwood;
Workers' Union: A. Moseley.
Bahamas: R. Johnson; J. McCaskie;
R. D. Watson; J. M. King;
Workers' Association: G. R. Tucker;
British Guiana: Trades Union Council D. M. Harper
African Development Association:
Dr. P. Milliard,
British Honduras: Workers' League: G. Cargill,
H. Dawson; H. T. Weir.
Grenada: Labour Party: S. J. Andrews.
Jamaica: Trades Union Council: Ken Hill; People's National Party: L. A. Thoywell-Henry.
Ex-British West Indies Regt. Assn.& Universal Negro Improvement Assn.
Miss Alma La Badie; Garvey's African Communities League:
L. A. Thoywell-Henry;
V. G. Hamilton, . Boxer.
St. Kitts: Workers' League: R. Johnson.
St. Kitts-Nevis Trades and Labour Union: McKenzie-Mavinga; J. A. Linton.
Seamen's and Waterfront Workers'
Union: J. M. King.
Trinidad and Tobago: Federated Workers' Trade Union: G. Padmore; Negro Welfare and Cultural Assn.
C. Lynch; West Indies National Party:
C. Lushington; Labour Party: E. McKenzie-Mavinga;
Oilfield Workers' Union: John Rojas;
Trade Union Congress: Rupert Gittens;
Great Britain: The Negro Association, Manchester
C. Peart; M. I. Faro; F. Niles; D. P. Milliard;
F. W. Blaine; The Negro Welfare Centre, Liverpool
J. E. Taylor; E. J. Duplan; C. D. Hyde;
E. A. Cowan. K. E. Taylor.
Coloured Workers' Association: E. P. Marke;
E. A. Aki-Emi; J. Nortey; A. E. Mosell;
United Committee of Coloured and Colonial People's Assn., Cardiff: S. J. S. Andrew,
J. Nurse; M. Hassan; B. Roderick.
African Students' Union of Edinburgh:
J. C. de Graft-Johnson (later of the University of Ghana, Legon.)
The Young African Progressive League: R. Fini; E. Brown; G. Nelson; A. Agunsanya.
League of African Peoples, Birmingham
Dr. C. J. Piliso.
West African Students' Union, London: F. R. Kankam-Boadu (later Chairman of the Ghana Cocoa Marketing Board) Joe E. Appiah (later to become an MP of the National Liberation Movement and be detained by Dr Kwame Nkrumah under the Preventive Detention Act); F. O. B. Blaize.
International African Service Bureau:
T. R. Makonnen; Mrs. Amy Ashwood Garvey.
G. Padmore; P. Abrahams; F [rancis] [Kwame] Nkrumah.
African Progressive Assn. London:
K[oi]. O. Larbi.( later to become a well-known Ghanaian barrister).
Assn. of African Descent, Dublin: Jaja Wachuku (later to become Nigerian Foreign Minister).
I have deliberately listed the names of the delegates to the 5th Pan-African Congress here because few of us know the full contribution that some of our then uknown countrymen made to our countries' freedom. Speaking for myself, I had not hitherto thought of some of my dead countrymen listed here -- such as Mr Koi Larbi ( the lawyer) Mr Ashie-Nikoi (a prominent businessman), Mr J S Annan, Dr J W. De Graft-Johnson, Mr Kankam-Boadu or Mr Edward Duplan, or the one-time Nigerian Foreign Minister, Mr Jaja Wachuku or the prominent Sierra Leone lawyer, Dr Awoonor-Renner, to say nothing of the famous Sierra Leone journalist, Mr I. T. Wallace-Johnson -- in connection with Pan-Africanism, until I began to do the research for this article. Nor did I know that the famous Togolese intellectual, Dr R E G Amattoe, addressed the Congress, but he did, though I can't find his name among the delegates.
We have, historically, allowed the Nkrumahs and Kenyattas to eclipse all these people, but they too had their hearts in the right place. Please join me in paying tribute to them all.
All the delegates educated one another in detail about the effect of colonial oppression in each of their countries, and it is no wonder that they left the Congress determined to do all in their power to bring an end to colonial oppression and regain freedom for their peoples. The struggle of the people of North America was not ignored, either. Dr W E B Dubois, one of the most famous leaders of the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured Peoples (NAACP), editor of the influential magazine, Crisis, and author of The Souls Of Black Folk, was in fact elected -- at the suggestion of George Padmore -- as permanent chairman of the Congress. Under his guidance, they produced resolutions which formed part of the arsenal of weapons with which they went back to their countries to drive the imperialists out.
Jomo Kenyatta made a speech to the Congress which was to presage the struggle he would wage in Kenya when he returned home from Britain in 1946. The British accused him of being the leader of the popular revolt which they mockingly called the "Mau Mau" rebellion and jailed him. But his example had ben seen by the young men of Kenya -- including Barack Obama's father -- who strove to educate themselves well, either in Kenya, or abroad. Barrack's father managed to go to the United States, or Honolulu precisely, where he met Barrack's mother and married her. The rest, as they say, is history.
This is what Jomo Kenyatta told the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester: My people [he said] are grouped or divided into three sections: an agricultural group; a pastoral group which lives by rearing cattle, sheep and goats; and a group of hunters. [Before the British came] each group had its own territories, which it considered its own property, and on which it could move as it pleased…. Many of these people lived happily and contented.
What is the picture today? [Kenyatta asked]. It is quite a different one. "Many of us talk about home, but have no home, because in order to have a home you must have land on which you can stand your house or hut and say, 'this is my home.' Throughout the whole of East Africa
-- a population of nearly 14 million -- no African can claim that rig ht!"
Kenyatta went on: "In Kenya we have the methods which have been transplanted from South Africa. Here there are 4,000,000 blacks, 45,000 Indians, 13,000 Arabs, and 2,000 European. In 1914, 300,000 warriors were conscripted to go to German East Africa, of whom 60,00 did not return. They were told they were going to fight the German barbarians. And at [the same] time, we found two most important ordinances being passed. One … made all lands formerly occupied by Africans crown land. Africans found their land taken away from them, and were turned into tenants of their own land.
"The other was the Native Registration Ordinance of 1919, which made it obligatory for all natives in Kenya over the age of 16 to have their fingerprints taken. Therefore, when we finished the 'war for freedom' we found that we had to go and have our fingerprints taken as though we were common criminals. This Ordinance requires each African to carry his registration certificate on his person, so it is worn around the neck in a little box and must be produced on demand by the police or employer. Failure to produce means prison up to two months or a fine of £7 10s…"
"One thing we must do, and that is to get political independence [Kenyatta concluded.] If we achieve that, we shall he free to achieve other things we want. Independence must be our aim."
The British were listening. The speech and Kenyatta's activities upon his return to Kenya were to earn him seven years imprisonment. But eventually, he achieved independence for Kenya in 1963 and became its first President.
Barrack Obama's struggle is an uphill one, for sure. But he comes from a pedigree that didn't fear prison, calumny, or threats of death/ So he shouldn't fear any of the many difficulties that the "Redneck" section of American society will place in his way. Harambee, Barrack! Yes, you can!"