Kyeretwie Opoku: ‘We must unite our continent’

In his opening address at the West African People For A New World conference in Ghana, Opoku discussed the necessity of building working class unity in the region

December 12, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Kyeretwie Opoku, Convener of the Socialist Movement of Ghana addresses the West African People For A New World conference. Photo: WAPO conference

Last week, members of political parties, trade unions, community-based organizations, women’s groups, and other social movements across West Africa gathered in Winneba, Ghana to participate in the West African People For A New World conference. From December 8-10 they discussed the social, economic, and political context of the region and the intensified imperialist offensive.

To kick off the event, Kyeretwie Opoku, convener of the Socialist Movement of Ghana (SMG), addressed the delegates to present an analysis of the current moment and a vision of what the conference hopes to achieve.

Below is an excerpt from his address: 

Comrades, we meet here as a tiny representation of West Africa’s progressive, pan-Africanist social movement; its organized workers, women, youth, culturists, and political activists. We meet here because we know, despite the misery and chaos of our current circumstances, that it is possible to build a prosperous, just, progressive, sustainable, and humane society—a new world free from poverty, disease, homelessness, hunger, ignorance, and war. We meet here because we not only know this but because we are committed to it. We meet here because we know that to achieve that vision, as Nkrumah taught us, we must unite our continent. We must plan and optimize our socioeconomic development, defend what is ours against hostile neo-colonial forces, and play a constructive role in global affairs. We meet here finally because we know that the strategy for pan-Africanism requires that we scale up West Africa’s participation in the anti-imperialist, pan-African project. Because we know we must step up from national and sectoral to regional and political struggles.

Comrades, however brief, any accurate history of West Africa will acknowledge that our roots go back thousands of years, to the dawn of civilization and culture and not simply to the arrival of Europeans on our lands 500 years ago. We were not “discovered” by anybody. West Africa participated independently in humanity’s rise from hunter-gatherer to farmer, from primitive communalism to slave and feudal-type societies. We built cities, states, federations, and empires. West Africa independently developed science, technology, religions, universities, and legal systems. Of course, our people were not angels or “noble savages.” Our pre-imperialist history is as bloody and oppressive as the pre-industrial history of other peoples around the world. We had class exploitation and oppression. We had forms of slavery and gender oppression. We fought wars. And we resisted these terrible institutions. We both scaled the giddy heights and plumbed the miserable depths of the human development experience—the same as contemporaries worldwide. The point is that this was an authentic independent experience. It was development.

However, comrades, the last 500 years have been a period of destruction and humiliation for West Africa. We suffered centuries of slavery and slave trading—a system that reduced Africans to commodities, brutally killed or captured, imprisoned, exported, and sold, in strange lands, as field animals. When slavery became impossible because of African resistance and significant shifts in North American capitalism, imperialism transitioned West Africa to colonialism. Europe carved up our entire continent brutally and inorganically to facilitate monopoly looting of our resources and to forestall a European war. Our transported brothers and sisters, once slaves, became oppressed second- or third-class citizens in the Americas in their new countries. We who remained in Africa were deprived of sovereignty and made second-class citizens in our own lands. Imperialists reorganized our societies in many overt and subtle ways for their profit and to limit our will and capacity to resist. But resist we did. And we were slaughtered by what we are now pleased to call our “Development Partners” in the interest of European Capital.

And then, comrades, imperialism plunged the world into two disastrous world wars. These wars restructured global capitalism again, leaving European capital too weak to repress African resistance, exclude other capitalist states, especially the US, and remain profitable. Imperialism, therefore, staged a tactical retreat to neo-colonialism, under which African exploitation and oppression continued, supervised now by treacherous imperialist-socialized local elites wielding Western-designed institutions—a sop to popular demands for liberty. We have endured and resisted neo-colonialism for almost 70 years now.

However, comrades, neo-colonialism, never more than a tactical experiment, has run its course. The combination of our continuing resistance, the deep internal crisis of the global capitalist system, and the emergence or re-emergence of powerful new global forces like China and Russia (and the other BRICS) threatens the preferential access that neo-colonialism guarantees the West. At the very least, West African elites are finding that they have new options for exploiting our people that are not controlled by the hypocrisy of the West, and seek to expand this “freedom” from Western hegemony. The question is, what lies ahead?

Comrades, imperialism’s agenda is clear. It is to resume direct colonial control of West Africa—by military force if necessary. And, comrades, military force will be required to repress social resistance and exclude the West’s competitors effectively. Our future is a difficult one. The United States and all the major European powers are already engaged militarily on our soil under a series of shameful “status of forces” and “Security Cooperation and Assistance” agreements. These agreements directly deny our sovereignty and confirm the spinelessness of our leaders. US and French military bases now encircle us in West Africa. The West cynically manipulates our internal social crises (often products of colonialism itself) and the threat of “militant Islam” (absolutely a product of neocolonialism) to terrorize our leaders into submission to further military occupations. And now ECOWAS leaders, in their alienation and panic, have announced a plan to engage militarily with ECOWAS countries that have overthrown corrupt and oppressive leaders—under the pretext of restoring bankrupt constitutional arrangements and corrupted electoral systems. While we do not support military usurpations of power, such a military response (by leaders of questionable popular legitimacy) offers no solution. ECOWAS military action does not restore our people’s control over their destinies. Instead, it will provoke a conflagration, the collapse of more of our fragile “democracies,” and hundreds of thousands of deaths. But, it will leave our strategic and precious resources intact for Imperialist exploitation—all that matters to the West.

Could this happen? It sounds like madness, I know. But, as observed, this will not be the first time imperialism has slaughtered our people to protect profit. Further, Western forces are already deployed and multiplying across West Africa. We know how easy it is for imperialism to disrupt and destroy the lives of Palestine, Syria, and other countries of the Middle East to protect the apartheid state of Israel. And we have all seen recently how ready the US and its allies in NATO are to destroy Ukrainian lives to provoke a nuclear-armed Russian Federation; or to destroy Taiwan’s semiconductor industry (and perhaps the entire island) to prevent this industry from falling again and rightfully under the control of the People’s Republic of China. Imperialism’s violence and disregard for human life know no limit.

Comrades, we must either step up our self-organization or suffer a massive sharp reversal. We cannot confront this and the many other threats we face as fragmented national and sectoral movements. We must unite and deploy politically, or face imperialist re-colonization. Comrades, even if we escape direct colonization, the West will still intend to control our sub-soil resources, finances, and trade (including our currencies). Imperialism seeks to deepen their control over our soils, water bodies, forests, seeds—and our thinking. For example, comrades, as we speak, all our countries are in terrible crisis. Our irresponsible leaders in cahoots with Western financial speculators have plunged us into a new debt debacle. All our countries are being marched to the IMF to agree to austerity measures and postponed development to ensure that the financial speculators who gambled on irresponsible lending and loss are kept whole at the expense of our innocent people’s needs and legitimate aspirations. The austerity on the cards is inevitable, leading to unrest. It does not take a prophet to anticipate strikes, riots, coups d’etat, uprisings, revolutions, and state failure. We are already seeing state chicanery and repression. Comrades, it is not enough for us to point out the greed and profligacy that has brought us so much misery. We, as anti-imperialist forces, must have a program response. We must provide leadership to our people in protecting and advancing development and ensuring that they can resist oppression by the same governments that created these crises in the first place. We must reject IMF debt collection schemes. We must begin in this meeting and in the structures we establish over the next few days to think through how we respond to these challenges and use them to build something new, wholesome, and viable. This, comrades, is our task. This is why we are here.

Comrades, this conference will not “create” anti-imperialism or pan-Africanism. Both have a long and honorable history. They are like rivers rolling inexorably to the sea with many twists and turns—and with many tributaries. What we hope to achieve here is to become, as West Africa, a stronger tributary to the overall flow and help it cut its way to the ocean. There is no time to discuss that proud tradition today. Many of you know and can present it much better than me. Perhaps, during deliberations, a bit of that will come up. Suffice it to say that hundreds of organizations in West Africa articulate an anti-imperialist and pan-African approach to resolving our region’s problems. Perhaps thousands also instinctively share our positions but do not articulate them as we do. And hundreds of millions who, confronted with the information and the choices as we understand them, would opt for a united anti-imperialist Africa. How do we put the correct information in front of these organizations and their members? How do we help them make the necessary choices and act on them?

Many of us suffered frustration, isolation, and danger following the great neo-liberal counter-revolution of the late 70s, 80s, and 90s. And many of us could only lift our heads above the parapet from the late 90s onward to see a desolate, despoiled political landscape dominated by pro-Western NGOs. But we saw that imperialism was floundering. And we heard rumors of a broader revival of mass anti-imperialist activism worldwide. We began hoping that the river had rounded another bend and again flowed toward the sea. And we worked to be ready to resume open struggle. Organizations like SMG emerged, or came out from “hiding.” Without these waiting warriors and their organizations, today would not be possible.

A critical event in the history of today’s conference was the third Pan Africanism Today conference held here, in this hotel in 2018, which some of you participated in and most of you have studied. PAT III brought together 350 activists from 62 countries to discuss anti-imperialism and what a pan-African project would look like today. It was a ground-breaking event “when the world came to Winneba,” the largest gathering of the continental mass movement in over 50 years. SMG was proud to provide local support. IPA and PAT, which helped organize, are “processes” for stimulating, facilitating, and coordinating anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist, and anti-racist mass organization. We in SMG are proud participants in both, and we hope that, following these deliberations, many more of the organizations here will engage with these platforms independently and participate in strengthening our collective work. We certainly hope that we will also engage with them collectively.

Comrades, we look forward to constructive deliberations that enhance the struggle in our sub-region against anti-democratic and imperialist forces. We are in a life-and-death struggle. We cannot fail. History is once again on our side. The river has turned a corner again and the coast is in sight. The struggle continues.

Long live the solidarity and struggle of the working people of West Africa!

Long live the solidarity and struggle of the working people of Africa!

Long live the solidarity and Struggle of the working people of the Global South!

Long live the solidarity and struggle of all the working people of the world!

Thank you.

Cde. Kyeretwie Opoku

Convener, Socialist Movement of Ghana