Nkrumah in the News Again



0805 500 1974                    

It is good news for progressive Africa that Ghana has declared today a public holiday to celebrate the country’s first president, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah.

Ghana’s Interior Minister Ambrose Dery said in a statement that September 21, Nkrumah’s birthday, “is a Statutory Public Holiday.”  

The idea of the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day” is indubitably another  reaffirmation of the place of that great Pan-Africanist in history.

This act of the government of President Nana Akufo-Addo  Ghana is instructive in many respects.

The father of the president, Edward Akufo-Addo, was on the opposite side of the political divide to Nkrumah. The senior Akufo-Addo was of one  the  leading six nationalists who fought Ghana’s independence. Ghanaians call them the “Big Six.” The senior Akufo-Addo became the Chief Justice  when the military overthrew the government of Nkrumah in 1966. He later became a ceremonial president between 1970-1972.

Yet the Ghanaian nation has forged a  national consensus to recognise the towering role of Nkrumah in history while Akufo-Addo’s son is in power more than 60 years later. The verdict of history is that Nkrumah was a national figure accepted by all sections of the Ghanian nation. The disagreements between him and other politicians were ideological. The differences were not based on ethnicity, regionalism or religion.

Born in Nkroful in the western region of Ghana, Nkrumah emerged as a rallying point for the Ghanaian nation. By this act, Ghana has amply demonstrated that it is a  nation fully  conscious of its history.

President Akufo-Addo has  demonstrated  a deep sense of national purpose in honouring the memory of Nkrumah despite his conservative political background and outlook. His political tradition in Ghana is clearly  opposed to the progressive (some even say revolutionary) politics of Nkrumah. 

It is ironic that  President Jerry Rawlings, who emerged on the Ghanaian political firmament as a revolutionary somewhat avoided the Nkrumahist legacy. Rawlings was consciously a non-Nkrumahist in all his days in power. 

Perhaps the development trajectory of Nigeria could have been different in terms of national integration if  history had thrown up a figure like Nkrumah among the leaders who emerged at independence. That is a leader who could not be perceived as a champion of one section of the country. It would, for instance, be interesting to see how the debate would be conducted  at the National Assembly if a bill is proposed to make November 16 statutorily  the Nnamdi Azikiwe Memorial Day given the  indisputable leading role of Dr. Azikiwe in the nationalist struggle.  Azikiwe, the first president of Nigeria,  was born in Zungeru , Niger state, on November 16, 1904. By the way, Nkrumah himself acknowledged Azikiwe as his “mentor’ in the nationalist struggles.

But the significance of Nkrumah transcends the shores of Ghana. There is a universal acclaim of his historical stature as the foremost Pan-Africanist in the last century. In December 1999, listeners of the British Broadcasting Corporation BBC radio service in Africa voted  Nkrumah as the “Man of the Millennium.”

This Pan-African acknowledgment of Nkrumah’s role in history should not be a surprise. On the occasion of Ghana’s  independence at the midnight of March 5, 1957, Nkrumah rendered the following unforgettable  words: “We are going to see that we create our own African personality and identity. We again rededicate ourselves in the struggle to emancipate other countries in Africa; for our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.”

No less a personality than Chief Obafemi Awolowo, the first premier of the old western region  underlined the Pan-African essence of Nkrumah on another occasion.  Awolowo had the honour of  delivering the first series of the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Lectures by the University of Cape Coast in Ghana in  November 1976. The lecture was entitled “The Problems of Africa: The Need for Ideological Reappraisal.” In the lecture which has been published as a book, Awolowo  said this of Nkrumah: “Among  all African nationalists – dead or alive  -Kwame Nkrumah laboured more consistently and  more tirelessly than others for the liberation of Africa from colonial bondage and for the enhancement of the dignity of the black man in Africa and elsewhere in the world. In particular, he strove relentlessly, and staked everything, including his personal freedom, for the ultimate independence of Ghana in 1957, thus earning himself the unsurpassed glory of leading the first black African country after Liberia completely out of  foreign rule and domination.  Furthermore, he, more than anyone else, master-minded the birthing and the initial dynamics of the Organisation of African Unity” (the precursor of African Union).

There is no tendency  here to romanticise the symbolism of Nkrumah as a leader. Neither is this an exercise in literary excavation of historical figures. Nkrumah should be celebrated for the lessons that could be learnt from his remarkable life by contemporary  African leaders  grappling with challenges of development. 

It has been well established that the essential Nkrumah could be distilled from the three concentric  circles of his achievements.  The inner most concentric circle was  that of Ghana. At that level, Nkrumah proved  that governance could be executed  for the purpose of people-centred  development.  In the world of Nkrumah,  the  pursuit of the common good was the raison d’etre  of government.  He mobilised the people with his philosophy of “positive action.”

At the level of the second concentric circle, Nkrumah was an avowed Pan-Africanist. He promoted black consciousness  and Ghana under his leadership supported liberation struggles in African countries  towards national independence. He wrote books about the problems in the Congo and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) among others. 

And at the outermost concentric circle, Nkrumah fought for the dignity of the  black man everywhere. Nkrumah’s Ghana was declared home to all black people on the continent, the Americas and elsewhere. Progressive  Nigerians found refuge in Ghana when they had to  flee Nigeria during the political crisis of the First Republic in Nigeria.  Mrs. Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti  had to go to Ghana under Nkrumah to obtain travel documents  for a political trip to China. The government of Nigeria  put obstacles on her way. In fact, Mazi Sam Ikoku was the director of the Ideological Institute  in Winneba where he taught cadres socialism and Pan-Africanism.

Indeed, the  story of Africa could have been  different today if Nkrumah’s vision for Africa had been realised. Unfortunately aberrant  soldiers inspired and supported by imperialism truncated the Nkrumah mission with the tragic coup of 1966. The Ghanaian president was on  a state visit to North Vietnam and China.

Ironically, Nkrumah himself  was conscious of the fact that imperialism was not comfortable with the progressive advance he was making in the realm of governance. This was evident in his many books especially Neo-Colonialism; The Highest State of Imperialism, which was published at the eve of the coup. 

Nkrumah’s enemies accused him of undemocratic acts only to inaugurate a long period of military rule in Ghana which was followed by  a succession of military regimes until Rawlings restored civil rule 30 years ago.

For the purpose of today’s reflection, the  fact  that the  Nkrumahist vision still remains relevant to Africa could be illustrated at least  in two areas.

First, Nkrumah’s Ghana was a model of  a developmental state. The government of Nkrumah was a government “thinking big.” The government was expansive in its ambition of a development having  the people as the object and object of the process. The government invested massively in the social sector especially health and education. Public education was adequately funded to ensure quality. Today quality public education has become an exorbitant commodity available only to the rich in Ghana, Nigeria and other African countries in a complete negation of Nkrumah’s vision. The construction of the Akosombo Dam was a landmark water project that won applause globally. More than 60 years after,  African politicians now spend time and money to “commission” boreholes and culverts.

To be sure, Nkrumah’s preferred path to development had a central role for the state. He knew that after the  ruins of World War II, western powers did nor leave the well-being of their people to market forces. Instead the welfare state was built in Europe. The British National Health Service (NHS) is a product of the era of the supremacy of the welfare state. Healthcare delivery was not a  profit-making game. 

 So for Ghana, a country emerging from colonial exploitation and  was  “underdeveloped” (as Walter Rodney would put it),  Nkrumah knew  that the state definitely had a role to play in sectors such as  education, health, social housing , electricity, water supply, physical infrastructure etc.

Nkrumah saw development as  a process that should be planned for the purpose of people’s welfare. In  today’s Africa, absence of  of planning in economic management has been elevated to the level of  a virtue in policy-making  by experts in many African countries.

The second aspect of Nkrumah’s vision that still remains relevant is Pan-Africanism.  Nkrumah dreamt of an all-African government  as he put in his highly polemical work  Africa Must Unite. Today there is an upsurge of separatist forces on the continent. Politics has been reduced to ethnic arithmetic on the African continent with all the bitter consequences. 

The matter is even more complicated in a place like  South Africa, a country that was once a beneficiary of continental solidarity in its quest for freedom.  Black South Africans routinely unleash violence on other Africans especially Nigerians. The generation involved in this  xenophobic upsurge surely has no memory of the enormous sacrifices other African made to extend solidarity to black South Africans. These other African countries had their own developmental problems at that period. Former president Thabo Mbeki of South Africa was more conscious of this recent history and the nexus between South Africa and the rest of Africa. He advocated “African renaissance.”  In contrast, some officials of the government of President Cyril Ramaphosa even rationalised the attacks  on fellow African by South African blacks. Those  South Africans probably have never heard about the Pan-Africanist vision of Nkrumah.

It’s distressing to imagine  the degree of the   retrogression in African politics 50 years after Nkrumah! 

The  progressive members of the Nkrumah generation saw the whole of Africa as their constituency. It was not for nothing that Dr. Azikiwe was called Zik of Africa and not Zik of Onitsha. However, ethnicity has become what the Africanist Basil Davidson called the “the black man’s burden,”

In the light of the foregoing, the government of President Akufo-Addo has done Ghana and Africa  a lot of  good by keeping the memory of Osafyefo Nkrumah alive as  the proponent of “positive force.”

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