Nigeria to Mali: 15 speeches of independence that made history

By Jeune Afrique
Posted on Friday, 11 September 2020 13:53

DRC's Patrice Lumumba in 1960 (DALMAS/SIPA)

In 1960, African leaders – the likes of Lumumba, Houphouët, Keïta, Senghor, Mba and Ahidjo – stepped up to the podium one after another to proclaim the independence of their nations. Whether solemn or radical, these speeches went down in history.

Lyrical or factual, peaceful or radical, consensual or combative: each African leader who took to the podium the day their countries declared independence did so in their own way. Looking back on the words of some of them, it becomes apparent that they were already setting the tone of what was to come in the weeks and even the years following independence.

Below is a selection of noteworthy excerpts from these speeches delivered in 1960.

Cameroon: Ahmadou Ahidjo, 1 January 1960

“Cameroonians! Cameroon is free and independent! Independence, like freedom, is an asset that is conquered and re-conquered every day. And no one is too many to defend it, strengthen it, preserve it with all his strength and soul. We all know that there is no dignity for those who expect everything from orders. We know that this independence which we have just obtained would only be a delusion if we could not ensure it in everyday reality. We are determined to give it an existence that is not only façade. We will be judged by our acts. The world expects us to prove to it that we are responsible and able to govern ourselves. We will give it to them because we all want it.”

Togo: Sylvanus Olympio, 27 April 1960

“The idea of African unity has come a long way over the years […], but it seems that, regarding this problematic issue of our day, too much of an emphasis has been placed on political unity, to the detriment of economic unity. […] For my part, I am convinced that it is through economic cooperation that we will be able to make a significant contribution from this point forward to the well-being of West Africa’s inhabitants which directly affects us.”

Madagascar: Philibert Tsiranana, 26 June 1960

“Our free and independent state, aware of its responsibilities and also conscious of its vitality and potential, has today given its free and informed consent to join the ranks of other free states in the Community, for better or for worse, and in the interest of the progress of civilisation.”

DRC: Patrice Emery Lumumba, 30 June 1960

“No Congolese will ever forget that the Congo’s independence was won in struggle, a persevering and inspired struggle carried on from day to day, a struggle, in which we were undaunted by privation or suffering and stinted neither strength nor blood. It was filled with tears, fire and blood. We are deeply proud of our struggle, because it was just and noble and indispensable in putting an end to the humiliating bondage forced upon us.”

READ MORE DRC today: 60 years of independence and uncertainty

Benin: Hubert Maga, 1 August 1960

“For us, today is a day of jubilation, a day which consecrates the union of all the children of this country in favour of peace and fraternity, a day which will mark Africa’s new step forward towards a better future.”

Niger: Hamani Diori, 3 August 1960

“I want to take the time to say how much the leaders of the four Entente States [Côte d’Ivoire, Dahomey, Upper Volta and Niger] have worked together towards a common trajectory to reach a shared goal, which has now been achieved. […] We were lucky to find in our president, Félix Houphouët-Boigny, this nobility of character, this rural common sense, this clever good-naturedness, in a word, all of the attributes that make the Father of the Entente the genuine architect of our assured and peaceful ascension.”

Upper Volta (Burkina Faso): Maurice Yaméogo, 5 August 1960

“I express my gratitude to all the architects of our national independence, to France, to General de Gaulle who deserves a special place in history for his courage and outstanding lucidity, to all the nations that assist us, to the clergy who send us their finest men and women, to the French teachers who have patiently trained our country’s leaders, to our traditional chiefs who have protected the integrity of our State against intruders, to former warriors and soldiers who remained honourable to the end, to all members of parliament, to political activists at all levels, to the brave fighters who died to give us freedom. In the name of government, I give this token of my profound gratitude.”

Côte d’Ivoire: Félix Houphouët-Boigny, 7 August 1960

“Here comes for you, oh my country, my beloved country, the hour you have waited for so long, when your destiny belongs entirely to you. People of my country, let your joy burst forth – you deserve that joy. You have suffered, more than any other, patiently, for a long time. But your suffering was not in vain. You have struggled, but not uselessly, as today you know your victory. The need for dignity that you carried within yourself has at last been met.”

Chad: François Tombalbaye, 11 August 1960

“In a few minutes’ time, our people will have won the right to do as they please, the right to choose their own path, the right to be included amongst the community of nations, equal in dignity to the greatest of them.”

Central African Republic: David Dacko, 13 August 1960

“The French Republic has just recognised the independence and international sovereignty of the Central African Republic. And for this, on behalf of my country, I would like to thank the French government. France has once again proven in the eyes of the world that its mission is to protect freedom.”

Republic of the Congo: Fulbert Youlou, 15 August 1960

“Today, we have come of age. We are like a young man who has become an adult; who has obtained the freedom to conduct himself single-handedly, as he sees fit and desires; who has been given a bit of money by his parents to help him get a start in life and for which it us up to him to use wisely, to make it grow or to squander it.”

Gabon: Léon Mba, 16 August 1960

“My thoughts turn towards France, our friend, with deep gratitude. To General de Gaulle, the champion of the black man and of the Franco-African Community, I say thank you from the depths of our soul, in a spirit of truest brotherhood. And I see that Mr André Malraux is here by our side – the celebrated champion of courage, culture and human dignity, the portent of the ‘royal path’ our country is embarking upon.”

Senegal: Léopold Sédar Senghor, 6 September 1960

“My dear old Senegal […], how can one love Africa without loving you, how can one defend and demonstrate Africa without defending and demonstrating you first. Because Africa is not an idea, it is a knot of realities: it is first a basalt face which, at its westernmost edge, opens up to every sea, to every wind of the world.”

Mali: Modibo Keïta, 22 September 1960

“The word ‘Mali’ will continue to ring out like a gong on the conscience of all those who worked to break up the Mali Federation or who revelled in the prospect. We continue to fight for the idea of the Federation, which, in spite of everything, remains a potent seed of African unity. We lost a round, but we will win the game, inshallah. The moneyed interests and the retrograde and imperialist forces will not be able to stop us.”

Nigeria: Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, 1 October 1960

It is with justifiable pride that we claim the achievement of our Independence to be unparalleled in the annals of history. Each step of our constitutional advance has been purposefully and peacefully planned with full and open consultation, not only between representatives of all the various interests in Nigeria but in harmonious cooperation with the administering power which has today relinquished its authority.”

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