Tug of War

A year ago, young Tom Mboya from Kenya was the toast of Accra, enjoying the benevolent patronage of that would-be leader of emerging Africa, Ghana's Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah himself. The principal difference between the two men is that Nkrumah is the unchallenged boss of an independent nation of 5,000,000, almost all of them black, while Mboya, in the multiracial British colony of Kenya, is merely the leading African politician in a government where the whites run things. When Nkrumah held his All-Africa Peoples Conference, he propelled Labor Leader Mboya into the chairmanship, and the stage seemed set for a lasting alliance of Mboya's rising influence in East Africa with Nkrumah's power on the West Coast. 


This was not to be; last week Nkrumah's obedient press in Ghana was lambasting Mboya as being a "stooge of imperialism" and "under the thumb of the Americans." The reason: Mboya had dared to challenge Nkrumah in the race for leadership of the budding trade-union movement in Africa. 


Neutralist Nkrumah, with Partner Sékou Touré in neighboring Guinea, would like to build an "independent" union movement in Africa and cut labor ties with the free world's International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, but many suspect this merely conceals an inclination to affiliate with a Communist-backed rival, the World Federation of Trade Unions. Mboya's union headquarters in Nairobi was built with $35,000 contributed by U.S. unions, and Mboya himself is a staunch supporter of I.C.F.T.U. as well as chairman of its union organization in East, Central and Southern Africa. 


Last May, Mboya called a conference in Lagos, Nigeria, almost next door to Nkrumah, to form the first All-Africa I.C.F.T.U. labor organization. Ghana stalled for months before replying, finally sent word that the idea of a conference was all right, but that it should be held in Accra, "capital of the All-Africa movement." Mboya declined to change the site, tartly pointing out that Nigeria, with a population of 35 million, is the largest African country. Ghana decided to call a trade-union conference of its own at the same time as Mboya's. 


In Lagos, Mboya's meeting drew union leaders from 29 countries. Nkrumah's affair was a flop, with officially accredited delegates only from Guinea, Morocco and the United Arab Republic. "I have no quarrel with Nkrumah," Mboya insisted last week, but it was no secret that he strongly dislikes the way Nkrumah runs his unions, i.e., as a government department and as instruments of government power. Apparently, most other African labor officials feel the same way. Delegates representing Nigeria, the Belgian Congo, the French territories and many other parts of Africa voted overwhelmingly at Lagos to form an All-Africa union under Mboya's leadership, totally ignoring a rival group formed by Nkrumah's rump session in Accra.