Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s iconic leader, former prime minister and Mahatma Gandhi’s publicly anointed political heir was a source of considerable inspiration for Africa and its peoples. His well thought-out political philosophy, human appeal and well-calibrated intellectual and cultural formula for engaging with Africa and the rest of the world was a historical reality. In the turbulent days of Africa’s anti-colonial struggles, Nehru was at the forefront of the battle for the continent’s soul and future. For the most part, African nationalists who fought against colonialism, racism and poverty recognized in Nehru a bridge-builder, a staunch inspiration and a supporter. He remained, during his life-time, a great companion in the continent’s search for self-definition, identity and hope.
It is apt to draw attention to aspects of Nehru’s intellectual philosophy that impacted Africa so well. The template that would lay the foundation of India’s foreign policy was created when he delivered the inspiring speech of 22 January 1947 during a debate at the Constituent Assembly. That speech laid emphasis on friendship towards all nations irrespective of camps and blocs that were being created after World War II. This provided the fulcrum for India’s post-colonial grand strategy. It also represented something far more significant than the people of the day felt was possible.
Nehru thereafter became an active participant at the 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia and a founding member of the all-important Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) in 1961. His disciplined pursuit of a programme of non-alignment became extremely popular and progressive. It was, therefore, not surprising that after India’s independence, a majority of African nations chose to find accommodation within the NAM rather than side with any of the world superpowers. India has lived its African vision within this roadmap since then.
Nehru’s interest in the promotion of equality and elimination of racism was an important part of his intellectual make-up and deep social commitment. In the apartheid enclave of South Africa, Nehru actively participated in promoting the organisation of anti-apartheid struggles and the coalition against racism. Since 1912, he involved himself in the fund-raising campaign in South Africa initiated by Gopal Krishna Gokhale in support of Gandhi’s satyagraha. Subsequently, he helped in promoting the unity of Indians with the African majority in South Africa in their struggles against white supremacy. This received added boost in 1927 when he met with the South African delegates at the Brussels Congress against Imperialism. The South African delegation comprising Josiah T Gumede, President of the African National Congress (ANC), JA La Guma, the leader of the Communist Party, and D Coltraine of the South African Congress of Trade Unions overcame the broad social intolerance prevalent in their homeland to work together in drafting the resolution on South Africa that was adopted by the Brussels Congress.