It’s no longer about brute strength: Samia Nkrumah

The Ghanaian politician discusses pan-Africanism, combating climate change and how the women of the world must unite for a new politics of morality and social justice

October 04, 2019 03:11 pm | Updated 03:53 pm IST

Illustration: R. Rajesh

Illustration: R. Rajesh

Samia Nkrumah, daughter of Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, is among the most popular African women leaders today. Her father was the first to propose the idea of pan-Africanism and the concept of African unity in the modern age and Samia has been on a steadfast political journey following in his footsteps. Samia was the first woman ever to head a major political party in Ghana and she is also the president and founder of the Kwame Nkrumah Pan-African Centre (KNAC). Samia, who has been described as the ‘new Mandela’, was in New Delhi recently to attend the 14th Conference of Parties of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Excerpts from an interview:

Why is the idea of pan-Africanism important today?

Kwame Nkrumah remains an authority on pan-Africanism over the past 50 years. He described pan-Africanism as an objective: “the total liberation and unification of Africa”. To me, this means political, economic, social and all other kinds of freedom. We gained liberation in the last century but are not yet in control of our economies and our resources. And until that happens, we can’t beat poverty and raise the living standards of the average African. The only way to reach that objective is to unite our states politically and economically.

Nkrumah advises that we pursue, first, continental economic planning and integration, including common currency and market, etc. Second, a common defence strategy, including one African military command. Third, a common foreign policy.

How can pan-African unity help combat the negative impacts of climate change and extreme weather?

In the 60s, we spoke about the Sahara desert uniting rather than dividing Africa. We envisioned greening the Sahara and making it bloom with verdant vegetation. The vision for a united Africa included embarking on huge projects such as dams and industrial complexes for greater production and development. Today, such monumental projects must include renewable energy and biodegradable production among other environment-friendly or green industrialisation projects.

Nkrumah also spoke about the construction of the Inga Dam in the Congo (DRC), stressing that no single African state can embark on that project alone. So unity can help us develop faster and more effectively. We are struggling as individual states to deliver very basic needs, including clean drinking water, sanitation, electricity, quality education, housing, basic health and so forth, to our people.

What is the role of people’s movements, especially in the African context, in the struggle against climate change?

The face of climate change is poverty and loss of dignity and that manifests in many ways, including in desperate actions like marrying off young women. When people are poor, they get desperate and do things that they otherwise wouldn’t. The most effective way to tackle climate change is to translate what we need done into policy and legislation. In this age of democracy, it is the law that guides us and the rule of law is paramount.

If not translated to policy and enacted by governments, the struggles against poverty or injustice will be longer. One positive side-effect of a longer struggle is that more people get involved. As someone at the New Delhi UNCCD [United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification] mentioned, people want more organic food, want to make an effort to lead cleaner, healthier lives, so that is encouraging. It is this kind of popular determination that can move mountains.

How much development has there been towards a pan-African sense of unity? Do you think this ideal is being lived today in Africa or at least in parts of Africa? There have been recent incidents of violence in South Africa.

Black on black violence has surfaced from time to time. The anger is misplaced. It should be channelled into changing the system. The conflict is among the poor and economically insecure. It is the economic system we are pursuing that is at fault. Our policies are not people-centred and neither are they pro-poor.

Because we need to borrow from financial institutions, we have succumbed to the neo-liberal model that is not working for developing countries in Africa or elsewhere. A change in our relationship with lenders and in how we relate to the global economic system is needed and that can only come with greater clout and the might of unity.

As a woman leader, what are some of the major challenges you face?

First, there are fewer women at the decision-making level and that makes it harder for many of us to break the glass ceiling. It’s not a woman’s world yet. Second, the heavy monetisation of politics makes it harder for women to survive. It’s more tricky for us to raise funds; less of us have access to big money. Third, the ruthlessness in the political terrain where you’re attacked on a personal level as well as a political one inhibits many women from entering or persevering. You take a lot of personal insults, which requires great strength and maturity to handle or ignore.

Do you think issues such as desertification and land degradation are priorities that need to be addressed by the global community?

Absolutely! I agree with those who believe climate change is an existential threat. It is a common enemy of all humanity.

This struggle must be prioritised given that our population is increasing and not decreasing. This generation must step up the struggle to reclaim our land and love our land. Without productive land and food security, we possess very little dignity but that is precisely the case in many parts of the world.

We still lack integrated policies on a national level, regionally and globally. There is still no integrated plan for the future use of natural resources internationally. I believe a new relationship with our land and our environment will yield better results and reverse climate change. We need to take full advantage of renewable energy, biofuels, and biodegradable products.

In my opinion, the agricultural revolution must be in harmony with nature and not fight against it. Agroecology, permaculture, and organic farming are the future. These are not new ideas. They have been the basis of traditional African farming and breeding. We must go back to all this once again and blend them with science and technology that is not destructive and oppressive.

What advice do you have for emerging woman leaders in India?

Perseverance is the key word. Kwame Nkrumah said that you can measure the degree of a country’s revolutionary awareness by the political maturity of its women. I take that to mean that before any positive upheaval can take place, women must understand the condition of society and be ready to lead.

Thank god, it’s no longer about brute strength. We need a revolution in our minds before it can happen in practice. We, the women of the world, need to lead in anew politics. The politics of morality and social justice and a more humane world. Women of the world must unite around these issues.

The writer is an independent journalist based in Bengaluru. He tweets @sibi123.

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