Rarely do countries get an opportunity to distinguish themselves over particular issues that capture public imagination at the global level, one that becomes their winning cause.
The number of countries that actually gauge the right moment to take a position and be seen to be principled is limited to a few, although the opportunities are many.
Those few that know when to seize an opportunity would often sacrifice some comfort and take positions that might not be very pleasing to powerful forces. Their guiding principle is that it is in their interest to correct a clear wrong. They in the end come out as prescient.
Anti-colonialism has been one of those causes that is attractive to promote and be seen to be in the forefront of promoting it. Initially those who do it risk a lot in terms of material comfort and even personal safety.
Thus the men who met at Manchester in 1945 to strategise on how to wipe out colonialism were risking the unknown in that the British and French empires, though weakened by World War II, were still very strong and could easily kill the agitators.
Not finding a meeting place in London because the big shots occupied most of the facilities, they had moved a little north to Manchester where the mayor was kind enough to open the meeting of anti-colonial troublemakers.
The act of the mayor of Manchester opening the meeting indicated that even within the imperial power centres there are many people who do not support the exploitation conducted in their name.
The men at Manchester included Jomo Kenyatta, who represented a banned organisation in Kenya, the Kikuyu Central Association, and Francis Kwame Nkrumah who forgot about graduate studies to engage in anti-colonialism.
They issued a statement committing themselves to eradicating colonialism even if it meant global commotion. In Kenya, the good cause was the Mau Mau War that increased Kenyatta’s reputation as a "revolutionary" in anti-colonialist circles. Other settler colonies would later emulate Kenya.
The Gold Coast also captured imagination with Nkrumah being elected while he was in jail. On the Gold Coast becoming independent Ghana in 1957, Nkrumah made liberation and unity of Africa his priority.
He, however, had problems with his neighbours, particularly Togo, because of supposed irredentist proclivities which put him in the same camp as Somalia. His calls for African unity, however, became identifying ideology for which he got credit. It was Nkrumah’s winning cause.
Suspicion for the intentions of the irredentist states was responsible for the decision, at the founding of the OAU in 1963, that while supporting decolonisation of the remaining territories, colonial boundaries should remain sacrosanct.
Thereafter, symbolic African decolonisation leadership shifted from Nkrumah, who was overthrown in 1966, to Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. In the midst of its ujamaa experiments, Tanzania persevered additional hardships of hosting and training anti-colonialists that targeted recalcitrant settler colonies in Rhodesia, Mozambique, Angola, and South Africa. Subsequently, the Portuguese were forced to leave Mozambique and Angola in 1975. Five years later, in 1980, Rhodesia became Zimbabwe.
That left South Africa and it took another 10 years before apartheid agreed to abolish itself in 1990. The liberation of Southern Africa had been Tanzania’s winning cause.
Having received the support of other African countries, South Africa seems to be in search of its own winning cause. The only remaining colony in Africa is Western Sahara whose independence from Spain in 1976 was aborted by Morocco which became the new colonial power.
In the same way that Tanzania took liberation of southern Africa as its winning cause, pressing for Sahrawi’s independence appears like a winning cause for South Africa.
Munene is a professor of history and international relations at USIU.