Nnamdi Azikiwe, Kwame Nkrumah and Marcus Garvey’s Vision of a Liberated Africa Meet a 21st Century Global Digital Environment

“‘The motto of Garveyism appealed to me, ‘One God, One Aim and One Destiny.’ — and I resolved to formulate my philosophy of life as far as practicable towards the evangelization of the Universal Fatherhood, Universal Brotherhood and Universal Fraternity.”  ….Nnamdi  Azikiwe

Historical Precis:

           African Music In Increasingly Immersive Global Digital Environments

Recent scholarship on the African Diaspora provides insight into the growing interest in West Africa’s musical developments including but not exclusive to Hiplife and Afrobeats in Nigeria, Ghana and other African countries. The overwhelming response to Sarkodie’s Musical, Dance, Theatric and Comedic Revue at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem argues well for increased transatlantic musical recombinations. This event also requires more serious historical examinations.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, cultural exchanges and sharing of knowledge occurs in increasingly immersive global digital environments. For those in Africa and the African Diaspora there are immense benefits to be had. We have only begun tapping into those possibilities.

Sitting in the front of the Apollo Theatre during the History in the Making Concert a few weeks ago, one is reminded of the role The Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association played in birthing the momentous concert being experienced. Had not Mr. Garvey and thousands marched through the very streets of Harlem under the banner, “Africa for the Africans At Home and Abroad”?  Had not African leaders traveled thousands of miles to participate in that historical UNIA Convention that filled Madison Square Garden in 1920, the way Kevin Hart filled the Lincoln Financial Field in September 2015? Each and every day we are witnessing history in the making. This is both an exciting and challenging time for Africa’s sons and daughters.

           Azikiwe and Nkrumah Pave Way For New Afrodiasporic Developments

It is important to know that we stand on the groundation on which many who came before us died, yet each day we are trailblazing a new pavement. Therefore, we must become conversant with the roles played by such leaders as His Excellency Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria and The Honorable Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, who played key roles in anticolonial and Pan African Movements that helped to establish the groundation for 20th and 21st century cultural movements, such as Afrobeats and Hip Life. Azikiwe and Nkrumah, both the first presidents of their independent home nations of Nigeria and Ghana, respectively, are to be revered for the level to which they prioritized the needs and merits of their people. It’s important for our generations Y and Z to be aware of how Nkrumah went onto Ghanaian radio stations, demanding that Highlife and Akan music be played alongside the frequently spun Western music. It’s no coincidence that we see in 2015 the preservation of Twi and other native Ghanaian and West African languages within the lyrics and compositions of Hip Life and other Afromusic artists. It’s also important to be aware that Azikiwe as just an undergraduate student at Howard University in Washington D.C. was already advocating for the equality of Blacks across the diaspora with wisdom way beyond his years, and fortifying the collective African consciousness in solidarity with Black America: “We Africans are too particular in our psychology. Our philosophy has baffled the most eminent scholars of the world. Despite the lurid pictures painted of Africa; despite the sardonic accusations made by missionaries and propagandists against us, we are still imbued with political consciousness identical with the ideals and philosophy of Garveyism.” …In other words, as spoken truthfully by the artist formally known as T.I, “You might have seen me in the street but nigga you don’t know me!”

                                 Garveyism Travels The Continent of Africa      

It is not commonly known how important a role Nigerians and especially those active in establishing the Lagos Branch of the UNIA played in the successful efforts of the premier twentieth century mass movement for the liberation of the continent of Africa, from Cairo to the Cape. It has been a protracted war and there have been many casualties. What African people in the diaspora did to bring about changes in the Motherland remains largely unknown.

Nnamdi Azikiwe’s first visit to the United States occurred as early as 1925, the same year Marcus Garvey was imprisoned in Atlanta, Georgia. This was a crucial phase of the New Negro Renaissance (often mistakenly referred to as the Harlem Renaissance) and birthed by Marcus Garvey and the Mass Movement for the rights of Africans wherever they were domiciled. This was a period of the New Negro Renaissance in the USA when self esteem and African consciousness-raising-time was in full effect. Organized in Kingston, Jamaica by Marcus Garvey and others as early as 1914, by the time Azikiwe came to the United States for a college education, millions of Africans were moving worldwide to fulfill those goals. This mass confraternity of African people shook colonial offices all over the world. Nothing like this had ever happened. The leadership of the U.N.I.A with President General Marcus Mosiah Garvey of St. Ann Bay, Jamaica, set off a mass movement for democratic rights and justice that is still evident in the Era of Black Lives Matter.

How did news of the UNIA and Garvey reach Africa and especially Nigeria? What is it about Garvey’s message that appealed so strongly to a young college student in his early twenties? Azikiwe first heard of Garvey while a student at Hope Waddell Training Institution: “One day a Yoruba student told some of us about a great Negro who was coming with a great army to liberate Africa.” As the child of a Nigerian Civil Servant, Zik had no idea that Africa was in need of liberation. A young Yoruba student explained to his Ibo fellow student how the conditions of the masses differed markedly from those in the civil servant and middle merchant classes. It is at this point that Zik’s perspective on class stratification in society began to take shape.

                            Garvey Arrives in America For The First Time

Marcus Garvey came to the United States at the invitation of Booker T. Washington, President of Tuskegee University in Alabama. Unfortunately, by the time Garvey was able to raise travel capital, President Washington had passed. This was a blow to Garvey’s efforts to raise funds to build a needed Tuskegee type training school in Jamaica. Following a yearlong tour of over 35 states and receiving encouragement and support wherever he appeared, Marcus Garvey decided to establish the international headquarters of the UNIA in Harlem. It is from this location that the organization gained international attention, was incorporated in New York and announced plans to assist in the liberation of his brothers and sisters in Africa.

According to one of the early historians on Garvey and the UNIA in Africa, Professor G.O Olusanya, “Garvey’s movement caught the imagination of Africans. This was because the socio-political-psychological climate in Africa favored it. By 1920 the whole of the African continent, except Liberia and Ethiopia, had been parceled out among European colonial powers and Africans had been brought to the reality of colonization with its racial intolerance, economic exploitation, and social injustice. They were therefore receptive to any movement which sought to emancipate them from European subjugation. It is therefore not surprising that a branch of the UNIA was organized in Nigeria in 1920. The credit for this goes to Rev. S. M. Abiodun and Rev. W. B. Euba. …The Garvey Movement also reached Africa indirectly through Europe. Pan-Melanism flourished among West Indian and African exiles in Britain and France, and there were several divisions of the UNIA in Britain in the early twenties, though not in France. ‘Ambassadors Richard Tobbitt (from Bermuda) and Jean Adam (from Haiti), were appointed to these countries and, in the case of Paris, links established with the Pan-Melanist groups. The first of these was Kojo Tovalou Houénou’s LUDRN [Ligue Universelle pour la Defense de la Race Noire], which had a short lived newspaper, Les Continents, and which also exchanged material with the Negro World. The fact that the UNIA’s official news organ, Negro World, included text in English, French and Spanish was critical in the spread of the organization’s message to those in French, English and Spanish colonial situations.

Olusanya vividly describes the reaction of the British Colonial Government to the very independent act by Nigerians in establishing a branch of the UNIA: “When the news of the formation of the Lagos Branch of the UNIA reached London, the Colonial Office took the matter seriously. This was due to a number of reasons. Firstly, Garvey, the founder of the parent body had already attracted the attention of the British Government to himself in 1920, when during the Negro Convention in New York, he declared the support of his organization for the Irish Revolutionary leader, De Valera, and for the Irish Movement for Independence. Secondly, Garvey’s pronouncement that the movement was ‘Africa for the Africans’ and that the movement would, if necessary, employ force to drive out the white man from Africa did not, of course, endear him and his movement to the colonial powers, not because they feared that he was capable of carrying out his boast but because his movement might gain ground and provide some difficult moments for them in their colonial territories. This, of course, made the British government hostile. The hostility and fear were clearly demonstrated by the reaction of the British government to Garvey’s demand for a passport to visit West Africa on a speaking tour so as to correct misrepresentations of the aims of his organization. HIs application was rejected by the Colonial Office on the ground that his visit would lead to unrest in the territory.”

                    Caribbean Leader Founds First Major Nigerian Political Party

What also caused concern to the conveyors of British imperialism in Nigeria, is the fact that among the founders of the UNIA in the flourishing city of Lagos were prominent Jamaican and Nigerian business and civic leaders of wealth and status. Among the most prominent Caribbean leaders in West Africa was Shackleford who was President of the Lagos Branch, who later became a founder and vice president of the Nigerian National Democratic Party, the first major Nigerian political party. Can you imagine what it meant to those in power to see a follower of the Honorable Marcus Garvey, born in Jamaica, as was Garvey, become so integral to Nigerian society in both business and civil affairs?

According to a recent scholar: “Amos Shackleford arrived in Lagos on 12 December 1913. He was twenty-six years old and filled with high hopes for a bright future in Nigeria. Shackleford came from an humble background. He was born in Buff Bay, Jamaica on 1 January 1887, the son of a saddle-maker. After attending elementary school and some private schooling, Shackleford joined the Jamaica railway in 1903, at the age of sixteen.” Building upon his ascendancy to railway station manager in Jamaica, he embarked upon an international career in Nigeria, where he gained an enviable reputation in Abeokuta and other Nigerian cities as the leading bakery owner. Later he formed Inland Transport and Supply Company. This Jamaican entrepreneur became one of the leading advocates for the UNIA, an astute political organizer and successful businessman.

 Establishing the Lagos Branch of the UNIA was a landmark event in both Nigerian 20th century history and in the history of the largest mass movement of Black people. Needless to say it came under the watchful eye of the colonial powers. Nevertheless, Marcus Garvey and the UNIA played a crucial role in the anti-colonial movement in Nigeria and throughout the continent of Africa, and Presidents Azikiwe and Nkrumah sought to ensure its success.

                                    © James G. Spady and Akinyemi Bajulaiye 2015