Kanyama, the Pan-Africanist
Chiume became deeply involved in not only Malawi’s independence struggle but also the struggles of other African countries. He was steadfast in his belief for African unity, and declared that “The freedom of Malawi is absolutely meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation and eventual unity of Africa under one continental government.”
While in Tanganyika, he was an active member of Tanganyika African Union (TAA), and later on, the Tanganyika African National Union (TANU). According to records found at U.S. Library of Congress, he made a decent contribution to TANU from donations he obtained from his travels abroad.
He represented his people at the 1958 Pan African Freedom Movement of East and Central Africa (PAFMECA) in Mwanza, Tanganyika. Along with Francis Khamis of Kenya, he was chosen by the organization as a mediator to the Zanzibari political crisis that pitted two independence movements against each other - the African-leaning Afro-Shiraz Party (ASP) on one hand, and the Arab-leaning Zanzibar Nationalist Party (ZNP/Hizbu) on the other. He would continue his activism within the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East, Central and Southern Africa (PAFMESCA) as well as the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
In 1958, he also attended the All Africa People’s Conference in Accra, Ghana, and was a member of the conference’s Steering Committee. This was a historic conference that brought together African freedom fighters, trade unionists, cooperative and youth leaders from all over Africa and the Diaspora, including individuals such as Jomo Kenyatta, Kenneth Kaunda, Sekou Toure, Joshua Nkomo, Tom Mboya, Oginga Odinga, Abdulrahman Babu and Kamuzu Banda. At the conference, Chiume acted as an informal translator between his close friend, the French/Kiswahili-speaking Patrice Lumumba of Congo and other English speaking delegates.
In all his travels to various African countries engaged in the struggle for independence, Chiume did not see individualized nations, separated from one another. Rather he saw one large Pan-Africa. A true Pan-Africanist, Chiume made close personal friendships as well as political and professional contacts with Africans across the continent and beyond. In the short years he was in government, he held several ministerial portfolios, including external affairs, education, and information, positions he took full advantage of in his travels to open up opportunities for Malawians and to cement relations amongst African societies.
When Ghana obtained her independence in 1957, Malawi, seven years away from her own independence, received a huge moral boost, as did many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa still under colonial rule. Malawi’s first president, the late Dr. Kamuzu Banda, was a very close friend of Ghana’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, having known each other in their activist days in Britain where Dr Banda practiced medicine. In his autobiography "Kanyama Chiume", he described the deep involvement of Dr. Nkrumah in Malawi’s own struggle for independence from colonial rule. According to Chiume, Dr. Nkrumah made available to Malawi financial assistance, ranging from ₤100 to ₤10,000 on various occasions. Nkrumah offered air tickets for Chiume to fly to Ghana in transit between Malawi and Britain, where they continued strategizing and mobilizing resources for Malawi’s independence struggle. In Ghana, Chiume was treated as a hero, given triumphant welcomes, and “carried shoulder high amidst shouts and placards to the effect that a Nyasalander murdered is a Ghanaian dead” (p. 122).
Nkrumah was unequivocal about the importance of victory in Malawi’s struggle for independence, expressing to Chiume his “vehement denunciation” of imperialism in Nyasaland. Nkrumah provided the services of a skilled Ghanaian lawyer, Mills Odoi, to come to Malawi and assist in the legal proceedings of extricating Malawi from colonialism.
Chiume saw first hand Nkrumah’s larger vision for the emancipation of all of Africa, outlining the idea of a Pan-African government to Chiume thus: “Nkrumah talked about the urgent need for an All-African government. ‘Many of our troubles, Chiume,’ he emphasized, ‘are due to the fact that we are not united. We must have a continental government to prevent the further balkanization of Africa and, as far I am concerned, when Malawi is finally free and only seven of us are ready, we should just plunge into it. Others will follow.” (p. 167).
In his days, Kanyama Chiume was probably the most traveled member of the new Malawi government. Wherever he went in his capacity as minister he never failed to advocate for Malawians and Africans, and was always seeking opportunities to bring back home to Malawians. He was able to obtain assistance in the form of scholarships and material help, from many countries, including Egypt, Algeria, India, Ghana, France, Canada and the United States, among others.
Chiume’s stay in America widened his Pan-Africanist purview, at once observing the racist society black Americans lived in, and the effects that racism had on their identity struggles. Chiume wrote: “But the majority were treated as though America was not their real home, and they were made to believe that they had no past, no heritage and no history. His African forebears were presented to him as savages who had sold him into slavery. He was discouraged from finding his identity in Africa and yet the struggle he was waging in his adopted country was basically the same struggle that his African brothers were waging. While Africa remained in bondage, I felt, so would the Afro-American remain oppressed in the USA. His real hope for the future lay in him discovering who he was. The black scholar must help rewrite Africa’s history, and the black educationalist must impart the truth about our great continent. In this renaissance the Afro-American and the African must work together” (p. 163).
- Chiume: Autobiography of Kanyama Chiume, Panaf, 1982, by Kanyama Chiume, Panaf, 1982.
- When a Pan-Africanist Library Burns, Kanyama Chiume 1929-2007, by Steve Sharra, Afrika-Aphukira blog, 2007