The heyday of African socialism as the animating force behind African political developments has passed. Yet, like other political doctrines of great revolutionary movements, its name and principles continue to be invoked by political and social leaders today. As recently as 2005, the Rev. Johnson J. Chinyong’ole of the University of KwaZulu-Natal argued that the principles of African socialism should guide the Anglican Church’s efforts in reducing poverty in Tanzania. As part of the zeitgeist of early postcolonial Africa, the traditions and principles of African socialism have had a profound impact on how Africans have seen and shaped their world. An understanding of the central tenets of African socialism helps to explain the unique ways in which Africans have responded to and appropriated features of Marxism, socialism, and capitalism, as well as to illuminate distinctly African traditions of communalism, philosopher-kings, aestheticism, and perfectionism in politics.
The first sub-Saharan colony to obtain independence in 1957, Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana offered shelter and aid to liberation movements from all over the continent. Between 1957 and 1966, hundreds of political activists, refugees, and leaders were hosted in the country. The Ghanaian government offered them financial and political assistance and also provided military training for those involved in armed struggles. As one of the key figures of pan-Africanism, Kwame Nkrumah (1909–1972) actively campaigned for African unity while supporting the independence struggles of African liberation movements. A crucial goal for Nkrumah’s government was to influence African nationalist parties ideologically in order to create a coalition of pan-Africanist movements through which to give birth to the United States of Africa. This political work served to spread Nkrumaism, the ideology crafted by Nkrumah with the aid of the Trinidadian pan-Africanist George Padmore (1903–1959), from Ghana to the rest of the continent. Nkrumah considered the assistance to Southern African liberation movements crucial, especially when, after 1960, the front of African liberation shifted increasingly toward the south. Activists and political refugees from Angola, Mozambique, Nyasaland (Malawi), Northern Rhodesia (Zambia), Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Swaziland (eSwatini), Basutoland (Lesotho), Bechuanaland (Botswana), South West Africa (Namibia), and South Africa visited and resided in Ghana between 1957 and 1966, using Accra as one of their headquarters for their independence struggles. There, many liberation movements could intermingle, create synergies, exchange ideas, and absorb the knowledge that Ghana could offer. The impact of Nkrumah’s influence was often profound and, even if no liberation movement defined itself as Nkrumaist, many adopted and adapted solutions taken from Nkrumah’s Ghana.