A tale of two speeches
On questions of the Nation and Unity
By Lang T.K.A Nubuor
The Insight of February 6th 2013 carries a message, dated January 27, 2013, from President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela addressed to the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) that met in Santiago de Chile toward the end of January, 2013. Phrases like ‘a nation of republics’, ‘the entire Great Nation’ and ‘the
perpetuity of each of our nations’ as well as ‘Dear Heads of State and Government’ occur in the message. Such occurrences ring bells in the Pan-African ear with respect to Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s speeches and writings between the 1950s and 1970s. Respectively, these phrases raise questions about the nation and the structure as well as the strategy for its unity. We address these questions here.
Just as Dr. Nkrumah speaks of ‘the African Nation’, so does President Hugo Chávez speak of ‘the Great Nation’ of Latin America and the Caribbean. Just as Dr. Nkrumah speaks of ‘the Union of African Republics’, so does President Chávez speak of ‘a nation of republics’ of Latin America and the Caribbean. Just as Dr. Nkrumah speaks of ‘the United States of Africa’, so does President Chávez speak of ‘the perpetuity of each of our nations’. Just as Dr. Nkrumah initially addresses ‘Heads of State and Government’, so does President Chávez address ‘Heads of State and Government’ now. And, just as Dr. Nkrumah initially supports the Organization of African Unity, after a compromise, so does President Chávez support the CELAC – all clubs of Heads of State.
The singular theme of the above is the apparent acceptance of the two generational leaders to hold each State in the union as an inviolable unit. There is an assumption by the two that there are inviolable unit States or Republics within a bigger whole – the Nation. And yet on their respective continents they talk about ‘nations’ that are living in a state of ‘perpetuity’ – that is in permanence. So that what are said to be ‘republics’ and ‘states’ are actually nations within a Super Nation. This is very clear in the Latin Caribbean Americas’ concept of the ‘Great Nation’. In Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s May 23 1963 Addis Ababa speech this whole idea is captured in the phrase ‘Union of Independent African States’ in place of Great Nation.
In President Hugo Chávez’s message he does not mince words about this reality in the following words when he makes the issue of inviolability fairly clear thus: ‘The sacred purposes, the fraternal relations and the common interests that unite the republics of Latin America and the Caribbean, have in the CELAC a fundamental instrument not only to guarantee the stability of the governments that our people have given themselves, but also their sovereignty and, let us say with Jorge Luis Borges, the perpetuity of each of our nations’. That is, the stability and sovereignty of each government (State) are guaranteed. And what does the pronoun ‘our’ represent other than the ‘Heads of State and government’?
One criticism levelled against the Organization of African Unity (OAU) stems from the perception that it is a club of Heads of State to protect themselves in power. The scenario thus far painted of the Latin America Caribbean CELAC can immediately be seen in that light. There is not yet such an alteration of the structure of the State institution as would place power in the people’s own hands – a People’s Power set-up – even in their separate State entities. Similarly, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s quest for even a strong African Union to which the component States cede part of their sovereignty falls short of a revolutionary replacement of the existing State structures with a People’s State. A weak and toothless OAU is rather forced down his throat to guarantee the unviable and miserable existence of the component neo-colonies.
Hence even in 1963 Dr. Nkrumah does not advocate for the proposed African Union an instant dissolution of the neo-colonial States. He is forced to accept their retention in their present state in the manner that CELAC, by the words of President Chávez, appears to be doing now. Nevertheless, Dr. Nkrumah harbours no concept of the inviolability of an African State’s so-called sovereignty. In fact, in the Ghanaian constitution he ensures the insertion of a clause that assures the surrender of Ghana’s sovereignty for the purposes of the establishment of a Union Government of Africa. So that in the deepest recesses of his mind stands majestically the ultimate dissolution of all the neo-colonial States of Africa into not a nation of republics but a ‘People’s Republic of Africa’.
President Hugo Chávez does not hide similar intentions for Latin Caribbean Americas. Like Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, he lives with the vision of a single nation in pursuit of the two centuries old ambitions of Simon Bolivar. He is here better quoted than paraphrased: ‘Our common path has been long and difficult since we faced the Spanish Empire in the 19th century. The fight for independence, the fight that continues today, was linked, indissolubly linked, to the thoughts and actions of our liberators, to the fight for unity, for the construction of a Great Nation based on the most solid foundation.’ This may not be clear yet as he appeals to Simon Bolivar on the idea of a single nation and then calls on Jose Marti of Cuba for support.
In his effort, he quotes Bolivar in these words: ‘There should be one single nation for the Americas, given that we have had perfect unity in everything’. He then brings in Jose Marti, a Bolivarian, to explain further that ‘we intentionally say people and not peoples so as not to think there is more than one from the Rio Grande to Patagonia. It should be one because it is one. The Americas, even when it does not want to, and brothers fight, will be together in the end of a colossal spiritual nation, they will love each other then’. Thus if in the deepest recesses of Dr. Nkrumah’s mind the ultimate is the dissolution of the States into a single State of a single African Nation, so does President Chávez project such an ultimate.
Currently, however, President Chávez explains the divisions in Latin Caribbean Americas as the cause of its underdevelopment rather than its underdevelopment being the cause of its divisions. He asserts that ‘Underdevelopment is the child of division, and that is exactly why it is imperative to resolve the question of a national Americas in the coming years. Today we meet all the objective and subjective conditions to do so.’ In African terms, before the publication of Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, Dr. Nkrumah partially puts it this way: ‘No independent African state today by itself has a chance to follow an independent course of economic development, and many of us who have tried to do this have been almost ruined or have had to return to the fold of the former colonial rulers. This position will not change unless we have a unified policy working at the continental level.’
Regarding the obstacles in the path of unity in the Americas, President Chávez asserts that ‘the oligarchy closed the door to a historical project of unity …’ just as Dr. Nkrumah sees internal forces of counter revolution as the brake on the anti-imperialist unification project in Africa. Thus far the similarities between the thoughts and actions of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and President Hugo Chávez cannot escape the observer. And this extends to their common passion for their individual unity projects. In this respect, they share great optimism in the ultimate triumph over imperialism and neo-colonialism. In fact, with President Chávez, he sees the objective and subjective conditions for unity having been met. Similarly, Dr. Nkrumah leaves nobody in doubt about his belief in the ripeness of the situation in 1963 for the creation of a Union of Independent African States.
Yes, optimism is the word. If there is a mood that is crystal clear in President Chávez’s message it is his optimism for the CELAC. In Africa, Pan-African students and activists could be surprised by it in the light of the OAU’s failure and its apparent similarity to the CELAC. In fact, he will be surprised to hear this; because for him ‘Everything we do for unity will not only be justified by history, it will also become the enlightened legacy we can leave to future generations. We will also be actively honouring the memory of our liberators. In CELAC, as Bolivar wanted, we have become one nation’. (Bold prints added.)
He says additionally that ‘CELAC is the most important project of political, economic, social and cultural unity in our contemporary history. We all have the right to feel proud: the nation of republics, as the liberator Simon Bolivar called it, has begun to emerge as a beautiful and happy reality’. He then opines that ‘If we are a nation of republics, our sovereignty is that of the entire Great Nation, and we must enforce it’. He also adds the claim that ‘Today, we are an example of unity in diversity, of justice, welfare and happiness to the world’. Before this he proclaims that ‘While US and Europe … are committing collective suicide, we are weathering the storm …’ and with them cutting social and investment spending CELAC can maintain growth. For Africa, Dr. Nkrumah projects that scenario in terms of theimmediate future – seeing the situation as riddled with difficulties yet to be overcome.
President Hugo Chávez, with a vision of the Great Nation’s light burning brightly at the Summit, hugs all in attendance and cries out ‘Long live the union of ourpeoples’ who, we might say, are not yet a people, not yet a nation but certainly ‘a spiritual nation’ living in the patriotic ambitions of great thinkers and doers. A few decades ago, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah could say about Africa: ‘We have already reached the stage where we must unite or sink into that condition which has made Latin America the unwilling and distressed prey of imperialism after one-and-a-half centuries of political independence.’
Well, Africa is not united yet. It is a definite prey of imperialism, refusing to hear Dr. Nkrumah telling it that ‘African unity is, above all, a political kingdom which can only be gained by political means. The social and economic development of Africa will come only within the political kingdom, not the other way round.’
Today, as we put finishing touches to this article, President Hugo Chávez lays still awaiting his commital to Mother Earth. May he rest in perfect peace with the assurance that he has made his faithful contribution to the ongoing Bolivarian Revolution and that the thousands he brings to consciousness of the emerging Great Nation shall surely continue from where he leaves us. Yes, us.
March 6, 2013