It began in Manchester

Manchester has long been associated with British social change and revolutionary ideas, but few people are aware of the role the city played in the anti-imperial movement in Africa.

Manchester And The Pan-African Movement
·         An anti-colonial movement fighting for African independence in the first half of the 20th century, led by prominent intellectuals and radicals such as W.E.B. Du Bois and George Padmore
·         Manchester Council is remembering the 60th anniversary of the Pan African Conference at the Town Hall on Friday 14 October at 7pm

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The plaque commemorating the 1945 event

From 15 to 21 October 1945, the fifth Pan-African Congress was held at All Saints. A meeting of over 90 delegates from across the continent, Europe and the Caribbean, attendees included Peter Abrahams for the ANC, and a number of men who were to become political leaders in their countries, such as Hastings Banda, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Obafemi Awolowo and Kenyatta. There was also Marcus Garvey’s wife, a man who was the inspiration behind many civil rights movements, and Trinidadian radical George Padmore.

Mancunian historian Simon Katzenellenboggen says that the significance of the Congress can’t be overestimated.
“I’ve always seen it as a very important turning point, not just in Africa’s history, but in the European Empires too. It was an important step towards the end of those imperial powers in Africa, so it’s imperative for everyone, not just those of African descent, to be aware of the conference. In addition to knowing about our imperial past, we also need to face up to the consequences of what that rule meant to Africans.

“Unlike the four earlier congresses, the fifth one involved people from the African Diaspora; not just Africans, but Afro-Caribbeans and Afro-Americans”
Simon Katzenellenboggen on the reason why the Congress was important

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Dr Kwame Nkrumah

“Most people would agree that it was an extremely significant moment, because it was the first time that people were beginning to take notice of what Africans were saying. Unlike the four earlier congresses, the fifth one involved people from the African Diaspora; not just Africans, but Afro-Caribbeans and Afro-Americans.”
Katzenellenboggen is quick to point out that Manchester’s part in the Congress was also an important one.
“There were a lot of people of African descent who were resident in Manchester that got involved. The 1945 Congress, although within the larger Pan-African movement that had started at the beginning of the century, was organised by people in Manchester, and they brought in the people from all over the world.”

Paul Okijie, who has spent many years involved with the Pan-African movement and chaired Manchester’s fiftieth anniversary celebrations ten years ago, says that Manchester’s role was a significant one, but admits there may have other reasons to bring the conference here.

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George Padmore

“George Padmore was instrumental in bringing the Congress here, as his close friend, TR Makonnen, Treasurer of the Pan-African Federation, had business interests in the city. But it is not simply that. With respect to London, which had hosted previous congresses, the political consciousness in Manchester was very strong, so it was the ideal place.”

Amongst the issues addressed at the conference were ‘The Colour Problem in Britain’; ‘Imperialism in North and West Africa’; ‘Oppression in South Africa’; ‘The Problem in the Caribbean’; and ‘Women in the West Indies’. Katzenellenboggen says that while the specifics of these may have been addressed in the 60 years since, there are still many echoes of them that linger on.
“Political independence has been achieved but whether real independence, particularly economic independence, has been achieved is very much a different question. I don’t think that has yet been achieved, and I don’t think the British government’s latest moves in debt relief are going to achieve it, because they continue to impose what I see as imperial conditions on African countries that are still suffering, to some extent, the legacy of colonial rule.”

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The building that hosted the 1945 congress

While Okojie agrees that change in Africa has been slow, he says that the links that were forged in Manchester can still be seen on the continent today.
“There was a period when the Congress was forgotten, but the work that Nkrumah did, trying to create a link between the north and south of the continent, comes directly from the efforts of the 1945 meeting. It set out a blueprint for how that can be achieved.”
Whatever Africa’s future, it is definitely worth commemorating the part that Manchester played in helping the countries within it to find their own place in the world and gain their independence.