The 1956 Tripartite Aggression against Egypt during the Suez Crisis had a tremendous impact on Africa, writes Gamal Nkrumah
The last fling of the imperialist dice ended in catastrophe for the imperial powers of the day. Setting aside the question of whether the 1956 Suez Crisis, known in Egypt as the Tripartite Aggression against this strategically located country in the north-eastern corner of the African continent, was indeed a cataclysm for the fading British Empire, it was an inspiring development for many in Africa at the time.
Some hopes from the past were dashed, but most Africans were deeply impressed at Egypt’s daring resistance of the imperialist powers.
In July 1952, a group of army officers, known as the Free Officers, led by Gamal Abdel-Nasser overthrew king Farouk of Egypt in a coup d’état. Farouk was forced into exile, and Nasser was soon declared chairman of the new Revolutionary Command Council.
This scenario, of a descent into military rule, was then replayed all over the African continent. But the initial triumphal moment, a momentous feat, was the reason my father Kwame Nkrumah and Nasser originally became comrades in arms.
History documents how much responsibility for his anti-colonial stance Nasser wished his fellow African and Arab leaders to share. The colonial powers of Britain and France were hobbled when they tried to invade Egypt in the Suez Crisis, and having seen Nasser take on and win against Britain and France anti-colonialist nationalists throughout Africa set out to liberate their own countries with greater determination than ever in the struggle for independence.
Nasser indicated that all Africans and Arabs should follow Egypt’s example. The sun was sinking over the defunct British Empire, and national liberation movements everywhere saw decolonisation as a hallowed and righteous cause. The decolonisation of Africa was both imminent and inescapable.
In July 1956, the last British soldiers pulled out of the Suez Canal Zone in Egypt, and during the ensuing Tripartite Aggression the then US president, Dwight Eisenhower, objected to the decision of the then British prime minister Anthony Eden to lead Britain into war against Egypt along with France and Israel.
Eden resigned soon after the British defeat and Harold Macmillan became British prime minister. Macmillan would soon be known as the decoloniser of the British Empire. His “Winds of Change” speech delivered in February 1960 in Cape Town in South Africa charted a new future for the continent.
Britain’s role as one of the world’s great powers was lost forever because of the Suez Crisis. The Mau Mau uprising in Kenya then ensued, and the Algerian War of Independence against France, backed by Nasser, intensified.
Prime minister Patrice Lumumba of what is now the Democratic Republic of Congo was also inspired by Nasser and his triumph in Suez. This originally postal clerk and travelling salesman was arrested for inciting an anti-colonial riot in Stanleyville, now Kisangani in eastern Congo, and later emerged as one of Nasser’s closest associates in Africa.
Lumumba attended the All-African People’s Party in the Ghanaian capital Accra in December 1958. At this international conference, hosted by president Kwame Nkrumah, my father, by then a close friend and associate of Nasser, the ties between Nasser, Nkrumah and Lumumba were cemented.
Lumumba was prime minister of the newly independent Congo state for 81 days, from 23 June to 14 September 1960. He was killed by a firing squad led by Belgian mercenary Julien Gat in Elisabethville, now renamed Lumumbashi. Nasser arranged for his widow Pauline and their children Patrice Junior, Julienne and Roland, as well as Francois, a son from a previous marriage, to move into exile in Egypt.
Egypt refused entry to Congolese president Moise Tshombe, who ended up in Algeria where he was placed under house arrest. The Algerian move was supported by Nasser, and Tshombe died in 1969 in Algiers.
Egypt under Nasser’s rule was tremendously influential in anti-colonial and post-colonial Africa precisely because of the reverence with which African revolutionary leaders held Nasser himself. This began with the Suez War, the first time that an African nation, Egypt, had militarily defeated the European colonial powers of Britain and France.
In Lisbon, the Portuguese capital, Agostinho Neto of Angola made friends with Amílcar Cabral of Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde and Marcelino dos Santos of Mozambique. Together they coined the term the “re-Africanisation of the mind.”
Even though Lusophone, or Portuguese-speaking, Africa was not as directly associated with Nasser when compared to leaders such as Nkrumah, Lumumba and the late president Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea-Conakry, it nevertheless drew much inspiration from Nasser and the Suez Crisis.
A slew of new nations, formerly British and French colonies, protectorates and dependencies, subsequently became free.