I preface my initial comments with the fascinating observation that, for the entirety of her life as an independent country, Ghana has contended with the cream of her thought leaders in a permanent division as to Nkrumah’s merits. To many of his admirers, he could do no wrong, he was a saint, saviour and messiah rolled into one; to many of his detractors, Nkrumah was the worst thing to have happened to Ghana and all her ills, past and present are attributable to him.
It is not difficult to conclude that with so much energy dissipated by both sides on the late leader, there has been little room for constructive engagement with the real facts of our recent history and the causes of our hitherto disappointing performance as a budding nation. The hope and promise encapsulated in the nascent Ghana, as a beacon of light that helped bring the rest of sub-Saharan Africa out of the long darkness of slavery and colonial exploitation has been squandered, at the altar of internecine bickering and petty self-seeking.
I hasten to add here that apart from sharing the same nationality, race and common humanity with him, I have no special credentials for wanting to pronounce on this remarkable man. It is probably sufficient to say that entirely on the back of some of the appalling efforts that have been made by previous writers on the man, I have concluded that I am as entitled to write about Kwame Nkrumah as anybody else out there; who knows, it may even be that something of what I say here might help one objective person make some sense of the plethora of information available on the man. If I achieve just that, I would be happy to walk away in the knowledge that I had succeeded in shedding a little light where all too often, there has been an excess of heat. So here goes.
Quite apart from reading some of Nkrumah’s own writings to help gain some insight into the man and his mind, it has been a revelation to explore some of the literature out there on Nkrumah. Much of it was skewed too far one way or the other, reflecting the enduring polarisation that characterises any discussion on the man. Far more useful to me were those tomes that exhibited real objectivity and some academic rigour.
Of these, I would recommend the following: (1) Ghana 1957-1966, Ben Amonoo, Allen & Unwin pub, 1981 (this book was a revision and enhancement of the author’s doctoral thesis presented to the University of Exeter in 1973), (2) Kwame Nkrumah, The Political Kingdom in the Third World, David Rooney, IB Tauris pub. 1988, (for his book, the author, a specialist on Ghana from Cambridge University, unearthed unpublished material in Ghana, Britain & the U.S., where he had accessed the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) papers; and (3) By Nkrumah’s Side, The Labour and the Wounds, Tawiah Adamafio, Rex Collings, London pub, 1982.
By design, I have chosen to write on an aspect of Nkrumah that seems to me, pivotal to any real understanding of his failures and achievements as the Gold Coast’s and Ghana’s first indigenous leader. This was his relationship with J B Danquah, who led the opposition to Nkrumah’s leadership up to and after independence, until his incarceration and death in prison.
The competing narratives on Kwame Nkrumah have run something approximating to the following; from the Danquah/Busia camp, an assertion that the former was a usurper who snatched power from those more suited and entitled to it, hogged the same and thereafter became a tyrant who had to be removed by any means, fair or foul. The version from the Nkrumahist camp runs that, having been bested in fair political contest, the Danquah/Busiah camp refused to accept the democratic decision of the people, fought tooth and nail from the pre-independence era, until they finally succeeded with external assistance in substituting their will for that of the people.
The history books abound with enough information for a credible academic treatise to be written on the subject; I do not intend to undertake that exercise myself and I doubt that any competent scholar will be looking to me to provide them with the sources for such an enterprise here. What I propose to do is set out my own interpretation of the salient points concerning the issue, based on my analysis of the data that I deemed credible. Hopefully, this will trigger a reasoned conversation, devoid of histrionics or hyperbole to our mutual edification.
Any attempt to disparage the contribution made by J B Danquah to Ghana’s independence movement would be counter-productive, the simple reason being, an abundance of objective evidence that his exertions to that effort were substantial both in scope and depth. The problem only arises when his acolytes insist that his efforts were exceptional, because they were not. Now, it may be that, if Danquah had had the opportunity to lead the country as he clearly wanted to, he might have led us into prosperity, peace and harmony. We will never know this however, because he failed to jump the first hurdle for any true democrat, in pursuit of legitimate political power – that of persuading his people that he had a vision of a future that reflected their aspirations.
Both in the general elections of 1954 and 1956, his vision of the future for Ghana and her people were thoroughly rejected at the ballot box, the people exercising their preference for the vision proffered by Nkrumah instead. In any credible analysis of the Nkrumah/Danquah question this should be the starting point for any reckoning of right or wrong on either side. This failure by the Danquah/Busia camp, to obtain the mandate to govern was even more remarkable because, both elections were held under the auspices of the British colonial government, who had a clear preference for the United Party (UP), as its leadership comprised many with “royal” pretensions, merchants, “intellectuals” and petit bourgeoisie, most of whom had bought into the British system of government by patronage, legalised coercion and subterfuge.
Short of physically putting Danquah into power, the British did everything they could to assist Danquah and his cohorts in their quest to succeed them. This included arresting and locking up members of the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) leadership, including Nkrumah himself, in the process.
Notwithstanding the covert assistance given to the Danquah/Busia camp at both elections, they singularly failed to persuade the people of Ghana to vote them into power. Indeed, in the final election before independence, the verdict was so overwhelming, that out of 37 seats in competition, the CPP won all but 2 of them!
To add insult to injury, Danquah himself failed to win the seat he contested! What is instructive about Danquah and his conduct at the time is that, on each rejection by the people he claimed he wished to serve, his reaction was neither noble nor democratic. Refusing to accept the will of the people, he went to the ‘mattresses’ with his allies, just like common mafia hoodlums, orchestrating the destruction of property, the killing and maiming of innocent citizens and generally disrupting the conduct of government business.
It has always seemed a bit rich when Danquah’s supporters seek to make out that their man was a law-abiding advocate of democratic principles, even as all the objective evidence suggests that his reputedly formidable intellect notwithstanding, he was merely a power-hungry megalomaniac, with an overblown sense of entitlement and a distinct inability to deploy what cerebral skills he possessed, to achieving a better understanding of the people’s aspirations. A misconceived sense of infallibility meant that, in spite of the clear rejection of his message by the very people he sought to lead, he was prepared to use any and all non-democratic means to frustrate the will of the people; these included terror, separatism, tribalism and any other bit of subterfuge that came to his undoubtedly fecund mind.
It was most revealing to discover in my reading, that when he realised he could not lead the country as it was constituted, Danquah and his lot, had been prepared to fight not only for federalism in that tiny country but, when even that eluded them, he was prepared to have the country dismembered so that he could lead a new off-shoot nation from the debris, comprising the “Akyim Abuakwa kingdom!” Indeed, when it appeared to him at a point that independence would be achieved with Nkrumah at the helm and not him, he saw nothing wrong with arranging delegations to the very colonizers who had appropriated our country and its people for their own ends, to plead that we were not yet ready for independence.
There is much in our history that is shameful, but I can think of few more shameful, than an educated Black man, appearing in the hallways of power in the citadels of the white man, arguing that they should continue to retain the forced ownership of our country, its people and resources because unlike all other men, we were not yet ready to look after our own destiny!
So this was the man at the head of the opposition to the government that Nkrumah led from 1954, when he became Head of Government Business until the dawn of independence. On the one hand, Nkrumah, hedged about by the constraints of laws, much of which had been legislated by an exploitative foreign invader, on the other, Danquah, a thoroughly ruthless operator, unencumbered by any concept of respect for the rule of law, any law.
The question then is how, with such damning evidence against him, a myth has taken hold that Danquah was the democrat, law abiding nationalist, who was hounded to his death by the tyrannical, anti-democratic, power-hungry Nkrumah? This is where one has to acknowledge the creative genius of the Danquah/Busia “conspiracy”, as I refer to it. Taking a leaf from the play book of the Washington/London axis, they constructed a new, sanitised narrative, entirely false of course, but kept hammering it home so often, that inevitably, it took hold in the consciousness of at least, some of the people. Once this had been achieved, it was time to enlist the help of their external benefactors in Washington and London, who brought to bear their formidable array of weapons of intrigue. These included to start with, engineering a subtle external credit drought, manipulation of cocoa prices and other obstructive devises geared towards wearing down Nkrumah’s regime in its desire to achieve the objectives for which it had obtained the people’s mandate.
That Nkrumah was able to achieve anything at all in his relatively short tenure in office, is a tribute to the man’s tenacity and refusal to bow to malevolent pressure from within and without. The deck was quite simply, stacked against his project from the start, with any hope of success of his policies sandwiched between the crushing counterforces of a disloyal, seditious and violent political opposition, allied to a hostile parallel government comprising the senior civil service at home, underpinned by a virulent external campaign waged mainly from London and Washington. In the case of the civil service, the systematic sabotage to implementation of government policy is more lucidly detailed in Benjamin Amonoo’s erudite book cited above and I urge the reader to invest in a copy for their own enlightenment.
Further testament to Nkrumah’s democratic credentials is set out in a book also cited above, by the socialist lawyer, Tawiah Adamafio, famously imprisoned by Nkrumah during the frenzied period of assassination and treason attempts. Adamafio paints a picture of an incredibly fastidious democrat, who was at all times, concerned about working within the law and where the law needed changing, doing so in accordance with the existing rules. His frustration with Nkrumah for not going far enough in changing the system is palpable. The irony of Adamafio’s incarceration by his own side and subsequent release by the Danquah/Busia-sponsored junta only makes it more remarkable that, writing nearly two decades after the event, he was prepared to concede Nkrumah’s basic decency and adherence to lawful democratic precepts.
Even as I observe with horror, the travesty that passes for “multi” party politics as manifest in the U.S. over the last few years, the straitjacket of a one-party state is one I would not wish even on my worst enemy. The ferment and competition in ideas is the stuff of human progress and any system that restricts that process, in effect, curtails human progress. No prize is worth that diminution in freedom of thought and if I make any criticism of Nkrumah, it is that he ever resorted to that desperate measure.
However, I entirely appreciate the desperation under which he operated at the time; at home, he had no partners in democracy, as the opposition from the onset was disloyal to the country itself (CIA papers now available include a note written by Danquah to his CIA handler, enquiring about delay in a payment to his wife, during his incarceration and we now know how much Lieutenant General Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka (1926–1967) and Brigadier Akwasi Amankwaa Afrifa (1936 –1979) received from the Americans to stage the coup that ultimately put Kofi Abrefa Busia (1913 –1978) in power; the civil service, exposed the myth of impartiality by running a parallel government dedicated to frustrating the elected government’s policies which, they were professionally and legally obliged to implement; to enhance this toxic brew further, abroad, Nkrumah faced the implacable, active enmity of the Brits and the Americans. It might have been possible to endure British hostility and survive, for after all, its power and influence had long been on the wane, but even now, what country on earth has what it takes to survive active hostility from the U.S. and still prosper?
It is instructive to note that, Nkrumah was really only in full control of the levers of political power for merely 6 years of his time in office, before he was undemocratically removed from office. Prior to that, he had operated under the constraints imposed by the British government from 1954 -1957 and from 1957- 1960, the pre-republican constitution. The advances in development that the country achieved during those 6 years were breath-taking in their own right, considering the British had been in charge for over 100 years and, save for a few roads and an anaemic railway, built specifically to help them extract the gold and other resources that were of interest to them, left the territory essentially in stone-age condition, with a measly “endowment” of some £300m, to build a whole new country; when it is considered that it was all achieved in the teeth of the internal treachery briefly described above and constant threats from powerful external forces, it is almost a miracle in human terms.
Since Nkrumah’s departure, the Danquah/Busia camp have had power for 14 years, in 3 of which they had absolute power under the junta – it would be interesting to put side by side, Nkrumah’s achievements in his 6 years, and their achievements over the 14 but that would be for another discussion. On this occasion, my contention is that as between Danquah and Nkrumah, the facts unequivocally indicate the latter was the democrat and the former was anything but.
I’d also recommend that if you never read any other of Nkrumah’s books, do yourself a favour and read “Neo-Colonialism, The Last Stage of Imperialism.” Even today, stripped of some of the Marxist jargon that was popular with liberation practitioners of the day, the book is an amazing analysis of exploitative capitalism, how it works, its various tentacles, from financial institutions to the extractive conglomerates and how it protects itself from legitimate censure. What is even more impressive is that, Nkrumah wrote this book while in the thick of literally fighting for his very life, at the same time as struggling, against formidable odds to realise the vision he had sold to his people to rid them of the scourge of centuries of humiliation, tens of decades of servitude and colonial exploitation. In his last years in office end, no man was more hounded than Nkrumah, yet he maintained his dignity right to the very end.
It is a source of considerable personal pride that, in spite of a herculean effort over the years, mounted by the U.S. and Britain in their propaganda, and by the Danquah/Busia establishment including costly probe after probe, not one penny of asset has been found stashed anywhere that would support any claim that Nkrumah was personally corrupt. Contrast that with the documented accounts of corruption from Danquah/Busia to the present incarnation of that tradition and Nkrumah’s reputation begins to look even healthier even as the years move on.
My final comment at this stage of what I hope will be a lively discussion is that, Nkrumah was an exceptional individual, uniquely qualified to serve the purpose, which he chose for himself, of facilitating the emancipation of his people. He possessed the intellectual heft to understand the true situation of the Black man, leading him to conclude that the independence of Ghana would be meaningless, unless it was aligned with that of the rest of Africa. All that has occurred since he uttered those sentiments indicate the enduring veracity within those words. They are as true today as they were when he said them. That is why the world over, his reputation continues to grow amongst Africans, people of African descent and the fair minded. History will vindicate him with recognition of his true worth. In respect of his key historical antagonists, there is no indication of any growing interest in the life and achievements of either Danquah or Busia; given the dearth of any meaningful achievements other than the personal in that regard, perhaps that is understandable.