ITA Wallace Johnson’s legacy still thrives By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah (Republished 2008)
This year- 2008- marks seventy years since the West African Youth League (WAYL) contested and won the Freetown City Council elections in 1938. And it has been forty-three years since Wallace Johnson himself, founder and leader of the League, died in a mysterious car crash while attending a workers conference in Accra , Ghana .
But the West African Youth League, the first anti-colonial mass movement in West Africa that demanded the total and unconditional independence of Africa from European colonial domination, has been forgotten. With branches in Ghana , Nigeria and Sierra Leone , the League expressed a working class platform tied to an all-African state power that threatened the ability of British colonialism to continue its direct control and subjugation of what was then British West Africa .
Wallace Johnson: threat to European colonialism
Those were the years of immense disorder for international capitalism as European colonial domination of the world was been challenged by the colonized masses. Wallace Johnson became a severe threat to European colonialist influence in West Africa when he campaigned vigorously against European machinated imperialist wars around the world and the spread of nuclear weapons on the continent. He traveled across the region tirelessly organizing against colonial domination and as West Africa’s most prominent trade unionist and political organizer in the 1920s to 1940s, he typified an internationalist whose desire for a liberated, united African people endeared him to the poor and exploited workers of the world struggling against international capitalism and the colonial system responsible for the oppression and exploitation of the worlds peoples..
By 1938 when the West African Youth League contested the Freetown City Council elections, Wallace Johnson claimed a membership that was over 40, 000 in Freetown and the provinces of Sierra Leone . But following the victory of the League in the elections, the British became so afraid of Wallace Johnson’s popularity that they imprisoned him and throughout the course of the second imperialist war he was kept in jail and released only in 1944 to find out that the League itself had disintegrated as it was literally disarmed by the British colonialists following his imprisonment.
Setback for African liberation
We in the Africanist Movement believe that the imprisonment of Wallace Johnson does not only represent the disarmament of the West African Youth League but it equally served as a setback to the African liberation movement in Sierra Leone and West Africa . Wallace Johnson was not only imprisoned but the British schemed to undermine the influence and development of the West African Youth League into a revolutionary movement capable of providing leadership to the masses of our people in West Africa in their struggle to overthrow colonial domination and regain their total independence and right to self-determination as a people. It is this machinated destruction of progressive leadership that gave rise to middle class opportunists as the leaders of the so-called pro-independence movements that emerged after 1945 in Sierra Leone . These are the likes of Bankole Bright and others from the so-called Creole elites who after assuming leadership of the mockup pseudo anti-colonial movements in the colony did not only remain opposed to Wallace Johnson but also involved themselves in a struggle with the conservative political elites of the protectorate for control of the neo-colonial state that was been carved by British colonialists.
It is this unhealthy and selfish horizontally violent political struggle among these middle class groups that created the basis for the political fragmentations experienced by the people in this country. And it is as a consequence of this British neo-colonialist strategy, commencing with the defeat of Wallace Johnson, which created the divide between the colony and the protectorate and later snowballed into the north-west versus south-east alliances.
Creole middle class obscures Wallace Johnson’s work
But the greatest question that has not been answered is why has the work of Wallace Johnson and his significance to our historical and political discourses not emphasized in our many discussions?
We in the Africanist Movement believe that the concealment of the significance of Wallace Johnson and the West African Youth League to the political and historical development of our people in Sierra Leone is due to political and intellectual dishonesty of the middle class Creole political elites and intellectuals who have raised up Bankole Bright as representative of the genuine aspirations of the Creole community in Freetown as opposed to Wallace Johnson whose quest for undiluted African unity and internationalism superseded ethnic patriotism and individual gratification. So-called Creole historians, including the late Prof. Akintola Wyse, deliberately failed to do justice to this discourse partly because of their own selfish class aspirations and interests. They sacrificed Wallace Johnsonâ€™s great work in the alter in pursuit of meaningless delightful statuses. The late Prof. Akintola Wyse, as an example, enjoyed fame and spent several sleepless nights on flights and in airports to attend conferences and speaking engagements in Europe and America on the significance of reactionaries like Bankole Bright at the detriment of real heroes like Wallace Johnson. It is this Creole middle class tendency to obscure the relevance of Wallace Johnson and his great work that gave birth to the philosophy of Creole nationalism, which is today responsible for the contradictions currently bedeviling the Creole community in Freetown around the questions of nationality and identity.
Creole nationalism is a reactionary philosophy
Consequently, we in the Africanist Movement believe that Creole nationalism is not synonymous with African patriotism and in no way related to the struggle for the emancipation of the African from the yoke of colonialism. Creole nationalism is a tendency of the Creole middle class elite that is anchored on the reactionary stance of Bankole Bright. The philosophy of Creole nationalism is the product of the egoistic inclinations of the Creole intellectual elites against the true and genuine aspirations of the African working class found in Wallace Johnson.
Wallace Johnson is a trade unionist, a journalist and internationalist whose legacy triumphs beyond the warped philosophy of reactionary intellectual politicians whose struggle for personal aggrandizement, wealth, privilege and status denies them the opportunity of standing on the right side of history. It goes above the waffled, unprincipled head-over-heels approach to politics found in the thoughts and actions of power thirsty hustlers. Creole middle class opportunism has not only buried the defiant spirit and progressive leadership of Wallace Johnson but it has equally betrayed the rightful role and place of the so-called Creole community in the genuine struggle for the emancipation of the African from centuries of oppression and exploitation.
Our Struggle anchored on Wallace Johnson’s legacy
But seventy years later we have taken upon the task of forwarding the legacy of the West African Youth League by moving to build a concrete socialist party in Sierra Leone, founded on the values and ideals of Wallace Johnson, that would contend for power as part of a strategy to unite and liberate our people under an all-African socialist state. This is also part of the process of lifting up Wallace Johnson and his defiant spirit as shining and valuable example for the people in our struggle for a better future. We proudly embody the spirit of Wallace Johnson and carry on the legacy of the West African Youth League as a barometer in our struggle for state power. It is a struggle to rectify the limitations inherent in the League and to call into question the betrayal of Wallace Johnson by middle class opportunists whose view on political power did not go beyond the desire to selfishly advance their status and prestige at the expense of the welfare of the poor masses.
Raising Wallace Johnson disarms his critics
Critics have often pointed on the disintegration of the West African Youth League as evidence of Wallace Johnson’s failure and inexperience political strategy rather than the result of colonial repressive politics accelerated by the collaborative treachery of the middle class. The resurrection of the defiant spirit of Wallace Johnson and his valuable work disarms his critics of a selfish and baseless standpoint and by implication represents a threat to the existing deceitfulness of the middle class. It exposes and renders them powerless, defenseless and feeble in the face of the contest and struggle of the African working class for control over our own lives. This is an understanding collectively shared by those of us involved in the contemporary struggle for socialism in Sierra Leone and which we think should embody and constitute the most essential aspect of the political and historical discourses of our time. We remain proud that seventy years on, history still vindicates Wallace Johnson and his legacy still thrives on.Long Live ITA Wallace Johnson and forward the struggle for socialism in Sierra Leone.