(1949) Nnamdi Azikiwe Speaks before the British Peace Conference in London

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Nigerian independence leader Nnamdi Azikiwe appeared before the Plenary Session of the British Peace Congress held in London on  October 23, 1949.  He used that occasion to educate his audience about Nigeria and Africa. He also used the opportunity to remind the peace advocates that trying to prevent war between the western powers and the Soviet bloc should be only half of their agenda.  If they wanted to create a permanently peaceful world, he argued, they should also support the independence struggles then being waged in Africa.  The text of his speech appears below.

Take a look at the map of Africa. You will notice that its contour presents a shape which reminds one of a ham-bone. To some people this ham-bone has been designed by destiny for the carving knife of European imperialism; to others, it is a question mark which asks whether Europe will act up to its ethical professions of peace and harmony. Yet the paradox of Africa is that its wealth and resources are among the root causes of wars. Since the Berlin Conference, the continent of Africa has been partitioned and dominated by armies of occupation in the guise of political trustees and guardians, represented by the following European countries: Britain, France, Belgium, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and also the Union of South Africa.

When the Allied Powers sounded the tocsin for World War I, Africa played a leading role not only as supplier of men, materials and money, but as a theatre of war in which German colonialism in the Cameroons, in East Africa, and in South-West Africa was destroyed. Again, when the Allied Nations beat the tom-tom for World War II, the African continent was used by military strategists in order to destroy the Fascist aims of Germany, Italy and Vichy France. It is very significant that in the last two world wars, African peoples were inveigled into participating in the destruction of their fellow human beings on the ground that Kaiserism and Hitlerism must be destroyed in order that the world should be made safe for democracy—a political theory which seems to be an exclusive property of the good peoples of Europe and America, whose rulers appear to find war a profitable mission and enterprise.

Now the peoples of Africa are being told that it is necessary, in the interest of peace and the preservation of Christianity, that they should be ready to fight the Soviet Union, which the war buglers allege is aiming at world domination. Since the end of World War II, Field Marshal Lord Montgomery has been visiting several countries in Africa, including my country, Nigeria, which harbours uranium-233. Military roads are being constructed under the guise of economic development. American technicians are flooding Africa, and feverish preparations are being made for World War III. Certain factors have necessitated the stand which my organization, the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons, has taken in respect of the next war. In Nigeria and the Cameroons we face the inescapable reality that the blood of our sons has been shed in two world wars in vain. We remember that when during World War II the speaker requested Mr. Winston Churchill to confirm that the provisions of the Atlantic Charter applied to Nigeria, as was asserted by his Deputy, Mr. C. R. Attlee, the War Premier’s reply, couched in diplomatic language and delivered with a soothing manner, contradicted President Roosevelt’s interpretation to the effect that the Atlantic Charter applied to the whole world.

Today, in Nigeria, thousands of ex-servicemen are unemployed; they are disillusioned and frustrated, while some of them have been maimed for life, because they had been bamboozled into participating in a war which was not of their making. In spite of their war efforts, the people of Nigeria and the Cameroons have been denied political freedom, economic security, and social emancipation. Our national identity has been stifled to serve the selfish purposes of alien rule. We are denied elementary human rights. We are sentenced to political servitude, and we are committed to economic serfdom. Only those who accept slavery as their destiny would continue to live under such humiliating conditions without asserting their right to life and the pursuit of freedom, and joining forces with progressive movements for peace.

If I may be allowed to be frank, I most say that it is not enough for us to congregate here and adopt manifestoes for peace. We must search our hearts and be prepared to accept some home-truths. Someone has rightly said that ‘Peace is indivisible.’ One half of the world cannot enjoy peace while the other half lives in the throes of war. You may succeed in averting war between the two great blocs, but yours will be a hollow victory so long as any part of the world remains a colonial territory. It is clear that imperialism is a perennial source of war.