To the dismay of Meles Zenawi, lo and behold, Nkrumah recites poetry in praise of Ethiopia’s wisdom and role in Africa

19 Feb

[The Editor: I am personally grateful to Ato Tweodros Abebe for going through his collection and making such jewel of information available to readers at this hour of our country’s need. His article would add to the light of truth, at a time when, in his unabashed quest to carve a place without a competitor for himself in history, the country’s prime minister has found it fit to nullify even the historic achievements of the emperor Africa and the international community unabashedly acknowledge pertaining the monarch’s role in the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) on 25 May 1963!].

By Tewodros Abebe

The publication that I pulled from the bookshelf is almost fifty years old. On its pristine, glossy cover is a color group photograph of African heads of states and governments who founded the Organization of African Unity (OAU), known today as the African Union (AU). The leaders are shown gathered on the steps of Africa Hall in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia during their historic summit in May of 1963. At the very center of the photo, standing between presidents Ahidjo Ahmadou of Cameroon and Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, is Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie, who was given the honor to serve as the first chairman of OAU.

As a little boy, I used to leaf through the publication’s pages joyfully, particularly savoring the numerous wonderful photographs in it. This time, though, I picked it up with a heavy heart. I kept looking through its pages, nonetheless, with the same level of curiosity that I first had many, many years ago. The publication contains all the speeches of the founding African leaders, the full text of OAU’s Charter, including the resolutions adopted at the conference, and several historic photographs. It even includes a copy of the Charter’s page on which the founding leaders put their handwritten signatures.

What compelled me to revisit the publication is the news surrounding the recent inauguration of the new AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. The $200 million building, reportedly a “gift” from China, is indeed an imposing structure. But, as many Africans would feel, there is a problem with this “gift”. Why would AU’s headquarters be financed by a non-African country? Shouldn’t the concept, design, finance, construction, and management of the offices of the continent’s flagship organization be entirely African? Given China’s vast economic and financial interests in Africa, was it wise to even entertain the notion of such a “gift”? Besides, China is a nation. Africa, on the other hand, is a continent of fifty- four independent nations. For any reasonable African, the mismatch is mind-boggling and embarrassing. China’s vigorous business involvement in Africa, moreover, creates a clear conflict of interest when it comes to such a “gift”. I wonder what today’s African leaders will feel when they gather in that building to discuss the continent’s challenges and its future. Indifference, I suppose.

Another issue related to the new AU facility is the presence of a statue for Kwame Nkrumah and the lack thereof for Emperor Haile Selassie. A highly-regarded African leader and a devoted advocate of Pan-Africanism, Mr. Nkrumah, the first president of Ghana, certainly deserves the recognition. However, Mr. Nkrumah himself, I presume, would have disapproved of the omission of Emperor Haile Selassie from receiving such recognition.

Meles berating the emperor in parliament on 13 February 2012 in an attempt to deny him a place in history

The Emperor, a true African and world leader in every sense of the word, played a key role in the creation of OAU and its successor, the AU. A statue is the least the current African leaders could have added to the facility as a tribute to what the Emperor achieved for the stature of Africa in the global system. Furthermore, as the first host country and the permanent seat of the organization, Ethiopia should have been recognized by the presence of a statue of her respected leader, Emperor Haile Selassie, often referred to as The Father of Africa.

Among the speeches in the 1963 publication is one by Sekou Toure, the noted president of Guinea. Mr. Toure began his speech with the following words:

    Ethiopia is a great people, an African people that has fought bravely for the independence of Africa, for the preservation of freedom and . . . the right of our peoples to guide their destiny with no foreign control or interference and to manage their own affairs in full sovereignty. Because this African Conference is being held in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, Ethiopians have become still more closely linked with African history . . . .

Highlighting the need for unity, the first paragraph of Emperor Haile Selassie’s opening speech at the four day conference reads as follows:

    We welcome to Ethiopia, in our name and in the name of the Ethiopian Government and people, the Heads of States and Governments of independent African nations who are today assembled in solemn conclave in Ethiopia’s capital city. The Conference, without parallel in history, is an impressive testimonial to the devotion of which we all partake in the cause of our mother continent and that of her sons and daughters. This is indeed a momentous and historic day for Africa and for all Africans.

At the time of OAU’s establishment, many African states were still under the control of their colonial rulers. The Emperor was mindful of the role that the independent African nations must play to make the whole of Africa a free continent. He, therefore, emphasized the need to advance African identity and unity. The Emperor concluded his extensive and thoughtful speech with the following words:

    We approach the days ahead with the prayer that we who have assembled here may be granted wisdom, the judgment and the inspiration which will enable us to maintain our faith with the peoples and the nations which have entrusted their fate to our hands.

Emperor Haile Selassie also gave one of the closing speeches at the conference. Presidents Milton Obote, then Prime Minister of Uganda, and Mr. Nkrumah were the other speakers at the closing session. Mr. Obote expressed his gratitude to the Emperor and said the following about him and Ethiopia:

    At a time like this and for the problems that are facing us, I cannot imagine a better host to lead us to the great success we have met within this conference. Also, on behalf of my colleagues, I pay tribute to Your Majesty’s Government for the efficient way in which this conference was organized and conducted. Very often reasons are advanced in parts of Africa, not yet independent, that the African is inefficient; I think all of us leave Ethiopia fully convinced that we have seen efficiency at its highest degree.

Mr. Nkrumah also reflected a similar sentiment, thanking the government and people of Ethiopia, and ending his remarks by reciting a short poem, according to him, “just composed by a Ghanaian poet” as a tribute to Ethiopia. Here are a few lines from the poem which is titled Ethiopia Shall Rise:

Ethiopia, Africa’s bright gem,
Set high among the verdant hills . . .
Ethiopia the wise
Shall rise
And remould with us the full figure
Of Africa’s hopes
And destiny.

As AU’s new headquarters symbolizes, real unity and independence for Africa may not have been achieved at the moment. But, as the poet wrote, Ethiopia — and Africa—shall ultimately rise.

Relate reading:

Reminiscences of history on Ethiopia’s role in the founding of the OAU

Ethiopia: Atse Haile Selassie and Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah

Why Did the African Union Snub Haile Selassie?

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