From 1957-1975 the political landscape of Africa transformed as national liberation movements gradually facilitated the nations’ independence from colonial rule. The contribution of individuals who would become prominent African leaders in bolstering support for post-war anti-colonialist movements has been recognised; however, to fully understand their ideological influence, it is important to explore the lives of these individuals in their pre-war, colonial context. This context is not a purely national one as these individuals were part of a complex pattern of movement across the diaspora. Therefore, this project will explore the impact of the experience of migration on the national liberation leaders of mid-twentieth century Africa. It will argue that the common experience of travelling in a colonial context had a significant impact on the conception of African identity that these figures formed.  This allowed for a network to emerge in which African political thinkers could exchange ideas and experiences, thus contributing to a transnational ideology. Finally, this project will show the ways in which these migrant political figures renegotiated the ideology inspired by this experience in order to suit the needs of their particular nation and achieve the goal of independence.

This project will use a comparative approach to assess the experience of migration upon African liberation leaders. In particular it will examine the lives of Kwame Nkrumah and Jomo Kenyatta, the first presidents of Ghana and Kenya respectively. These figures are important in comparison as they do not share a background, yet they move along a similar trajectory, undertaking significant study abroad. In 1935 Nkrumah began a period of ten years in the United States, studying sociology and anthropology, with a specific interest in socialist philosophy. He also became heavily involved in the Pan-African movement. He moved to London in 1945 where he continued his Pan-African activities, significantly organising the 1945 Pan-African Congress in Manchester, before returning to Ghana. Kenyatta began his studies in the Soviet Union, exposing him to the socialist ideology that fascinated Nkrumah. He then moved to London in 1934 in which he also became an active member of the Pan-African movement. The existence of an intellectual network can be seen through these two individuals as Kenyatta was also an organiser of the 1945 Pan-African Congress, demonstrating the points of connection that occurred outside of Africa.

Focusing on political figures will give access to a number of sources as the figures studied were renowned intellectuals. This will allow me to trace the threads of ideology through their bodies of work in order to see how ideas developed over time and over space. It also allows us to see links between various political leaders based on a comparison of the countries they were published in. A particularly useful source will be Jomo Kenyatta’s Facing Mount Kenya as it provides a contrast to broad political scope provided by Nkrumah, as an anthropological study of the Kikuyu people, to whom Kenyatta belonged. Its significance to this project is in the fact that it was written in 1938. This means that it can provide a potential insight into Kenyatta’s conception of his own Kenyan identity during his period abroad, which can be used to draw conclusions on how the migration experience may have affected him.  Complimenting these sources is a wide ranging historiography. The traditional view of this period, argued by R.F. Holland, is that the economic prosperity of Africa between 1939-1945, meant that a contrast emerged between a continent that had been dependent on Europe and one that could thrive independently. This demonstrates the weakening colonial relationship that allowed the ideologies of independence leaders to take root.  However, Frederick Cooper acknowledges that this tradition ignores the trajectories between colonising Europe and colonised Africa. These trajectories created a space in which concepts such as socialism could be engaged with and contested. Therefore, this study will follow on from Cooper’s work in attempting to situate African nationalism in the context of how these movements were shaped by an Africa-Europe political and cultural exchange. It will also move beyond the colonial framework to examine the American node of this transnational network as African-American scholars were at the forefront of the Pan-African movement.

In changing the historical perspective of national liberation leaders in order to view them as migrants, it is possible to remove them from the constraints of their national history. This reveals a complex process of negotiation between national identity and broader trends in international politics as the ideologies of these figures were formed through transfers that stemmed from transnational experience. This transnational perspective then allows us to enlarge the scale of the study as it enables us to see cross-cultural exchanges that link the growth of nationalism in different African countries through tracking the people who shaped it.

Project Proposal: Individual Migration and African National Liberation
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