Footprints in Africa

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The vast infrastructure of intellectual works, socialist ideals and educational patterns he created found happy soil on the African continent. His writings were quite popular with Indians and Africans alike. This was confirmed years later by Nelson Mandela in the letter from prison when he received the Nehru Award for International Understanding. Mandela had praised the sagacity of the man who had several years earlier viewed the countries of Africa and Asia as constituting the building blocks of his country’s ‘ethical modernity.’ From the start, Nehru’s basic commitment to human values and democratic ethos had become an abiding faith. In September 1946, when he became the head of the interim administration in India, Nehru used the world stage represented by the United Nations General Assembly and the Asian Relations Conference to draw attention to the evils of racial discrimination everywhere in the world and to apartheid in South Africa in particular. He also made tremendous efforts in forging a broad coalition against racism through his call for more cooperation between Indian activists and African nationalists. His support for a more cohesive struggle laid the basis for the joint activism that became the feature of anti-colonial struggles in South Africa from the 1940s. His advocacy in support of human freedom resounded at the Asian relations conference where he affirmed: “We of Asia have a special responsibility to the people of Africa. We must help them to their rightful place in the human family. The freedom that we envision is not to be confined to this nation or that particular people, but must be spread out over the whole human race.” By 1952, India under Nehru was able to respond more frontally to requests from the leaders of the nationalist movements in Africa. His support of Moses Kotane and Mouvli Cachala as observers to the Asian-African conference in Bandung as observers in 1955 proved remarkable. Not only did he take them along to the conference but also introduced them to the leaders there. In 1960 he provided Oliver Tambo and Dr Yusuf Dadoo of the ANC with Indian travel documents and transport from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania to London after their escape from the apartheid enclave. In 1960, after the Sharpeville massacre, Nehru, during his speech in the Lok Sabha on 28 March, drew attention to the tribulations of Africans on their own soil.

Nehru has continued to live on in the hearts of Africa and its people. This became quite obvious at the recently concluded India – Africa Forum Summit in New Delhi on 29 October, 2015. It was a memorable day for the iconic figure, who had placed African-Indian relationship on a firm footing. During the summit, at least seven of the visiting African leaders remembered Nehru’s contributions to the building of strong solidarity and historical ties binding the Indian and African people together. The leaders of Zimbabwe, Egypt, Morocco, Ghana, Mali, Mauritius, Sao Tome and Principe spoke the hearts and minds of a grateful people to a man who was a life-changing visionary and inspirational leader. African leaders of the past had learnt valuable lessons through his extraordinary vision and style. Those of the present and future should not be less lacking in the knowledge and understanding of the life and times of the man who established a gesture of friendship that propelled the African continent in taking its rightful and honoured place in the world.