“In the failure of Nkrumah lies a Ghanaian tragedy. In the failure of Africans to learn the true lessons from his downfall will lie an African tragedy.” – Kweku Folson, Ghanaian patriot and pan-Africanist.
Recently, in the wake of the publication of a heretically insolent and pathetically incoherent article titled “The Fallacies of J. B. Danquah's Heroic Legacy” by Mr. Kwame Botwe-Asamoah (Ghanaweb.com 6/4/06), a longtime acquaintance generously pointed out to me that the writer of the above-referenced article might almost certainly belong to a new breed of pseudo-historians called “Zongologists.” My acquaintance further defined a Zongologist as a “Zongo Historian,” that is, a historian whose woefully peripheral knowledge and willfully myopic and fanatical perspective qualifies him/her to write exclusively about Zongos, but whose immitigable arrogance dictates that s/he would also write about the far more temporally extensive history of the host-town, thereby, almost inevitably over-stretching his jejune (or malnourished) cranial capacity and historiographical imagination to encompass momentous events which s/he knows little or nothing about. But, perhaps, more strikingly characteristic is the fact that the Zongologist has a remarkable knack for dropping names, rumors and innuendoes and fervidly banking on the blistering ignorance of his audience, rather than documentary evidence, in order to establish his/her scholastic credibility.
Thus, it scarcely comes as any surprise that at the end of part two of his article, Mr. Botwe-Asamoah cavalierly calls on his readers (perhaps woefully mistaking them for his captive students) to contact him for a list of readings (Ghanaweb.com 6/22/06). Needless to say, one can almost be certain that a Zongologist's desperate call for his readers to contact him for “a list of readings,” is a devious attempt at cranial solicitation. In other words, Mr. Botwe-Asamoah intends to lure the most unsuspecting of his readers outside of glaring and jarring public view in order to pick their brains – for if, indeed, this Zongologist had any credible “reading list,” why does he appear too shy to provide it at the end of his article which, conventionally, is the scholarly thing to do?
In any case, the preceding is not the focus of this installment of our discourse; we shall take it up in due course, as it becomes relevant. For now, however, our focus is squarely on the place of President Nkrumah in Ghanaian nationalist historiography, and it is to this subject, therefore, that we need to turn.
Contrary to what fanatical Nkrumacrats like Neo-Pharaoh Abu Jihad and “Dr.” Kwame Botwe-Asamoah, a self-proclaimed authority on ideological Nkrumaism, would have their unsuspecting and captive, academic audiences believe, Mr. Kwame Nkrumah was no seminal midwife among the ranks of the Ghanaian (or erstwhile Gold Coast) nationalist movement; and, in fact, as Nkrumah himself was to later personally acknowledge, the future first president of independent Ghana was more often than not far removed from the primary centers (or ground zeros) of the anti-colonial, nationalist ferment. For a strikingly typical instance, it is significant to observe that on the day of the now-celebrated “Christianborg Riots,” which found the immortalized Sergeant Adjettey, among several others, fall victim to the bullets of the British colonial police, Mr. Nkrumah was at least sixty miles AWOL, in the Central Regional town of Saltpond, delivering an academic treatise pontifically titled “The Ideological Battles of Our Time.”
Needless to say, in order that our well-meaning readers might not be deviously stumped by diehard Nkrumacrats, with their characteristically un-sourced (or unreferenced) mythological innuendoes, we hereby excerpt, at length, Fitch and Oppenheimer's highly authoritative record on the preceding score: “Nevertheless, despite the increasing militancy and politicization of the African masses, the Christianborg riots were not 'organized.' None of the official nationalist organizations played a part – not even the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the organization of wealthy [successful?] lawyers and traders of which Kwame Nkrumah had become general secretary in 1947. ***At the time of the riots in Accra, Nkrumah was in Saltpond, sixty miles away, giving a speech on 'The Ideological Battles of Our Time.' He [Kwame Nkrumah, refreshingly] acknowledges that he had no influence over the African participants in the struggle, but says that he was 'certainly aware of their general dissatisfaction' and that 'it had been my intention to organize them in due course as an arm of our movement [i.e. the UGCC]. This admission by Dr. Nkrumah deserves emphasis, for it is generally assumed that nationalist agitation in the Gold Coast[,] somehow[,] began with his arrival in December 1947. It is true that the form the nationalist movement took [later on] was decisively influenced by Nkrumah, but the [palpable] existence of intense anti-British feeling and the determination of the African masses to engage in violent resistance to colonialism in no way depended on him” (Fitch and Oppenheimer, Ghana: The End of an Illusion 15).
And on the foregoing score, it is imperative that we fully recall for the benefit of our well-meaning readers Professor Kweku Folson's poignant plaint – or regret – of the fact that opportunistic and fanatical Nkrumacrats and their largely cynical ideological collaborators abroad have, for quite sometime now, routinely presumed the 1947 arrival back in Ghana of the future founder and life-chairman of the Convention People's Party (CPP) as incontrovertibly marking an unprecedented watershed moment in Ghanaian history. In other words, as professor Folson aptly and perspicuously observes, the “Nkrumacratic” narrative of Ghana's political history cavalierly presumes the morbid prevalence of virtual ideological stasis on the erstwhile Gold Coast's political landscape in the long period leading up to 1947: “However, anyone who knows anything about the history of Ghana before Nkrumah's rule cannot be impressed by the [wild] exaggerations with which his achievements are held out to the outside world and the rest of Africa by his ideological admirers on the Left and also by his professional propagandists. Lofty ideals in politics and public life, including those of 'Pan-Africanism' and the need to uphold the dignity of the African, have been commonplaces in Ghana for at least a century [prior to 1947]. When a Ghanaian thinks of the proud cultures of the various ethnic groups making up Ghana today, and of such distinguished public figures as Mensah Sarbah, Attoh Ahumah, Casely Hayford, James Kwegyir Aggrey, the leaders of the Fanti Confederacy, Nana Sir Ofori-Atta I, Dr. Danquah, at al., he cannot help feeling hurt when non-Ghanaians talk and write as if Ghana was a collection of lost peoples without a history, without culture, and without a tradition of public service until Nkrumah appeared on the scene – as if Nkrumah was to Ghana what Newton was said to be to Science: 'Ghana and Ghana's people lay hid in Night/ God said 'Let Nkrumah be' and all was light'” (Folson, “An African Tragedy” 38).
Dr. J. B. Danquah, on the other hand, during the turbulent anti-colonial activities of February 28, 1948, was right on the proverbial “Ground Zero” and in the idiomatic “eye-of-the-storm.” But what is even more significant about the divergent responses of the two most prominent Ghanaian leaders rests in the fact that ever the astute and pragmatic statesman, Danquah sought the immediate removal of the unpardonably weak-kneed Creasy Government and the latter's immediate replacement with a transitional government organically constituted by the various factions of the indigenous Ghanaian citizenry. In a lengthy telegram to the British Secretary of State for Colonies the day after the massive rioting and boycotting of expatriate merchants, an unmistakable historic landmark that has been widely attributed to the brainwork of Nii (or Chief) Kwabena Bonne, King of Osu-Alata, for instance, Dr. Danquah wrote, inter alia, that: “Unless [the] Colonial Government is changed and a new Government of the people and their chiefs installed at the center immediately, the conduct of the masses now completely out of control[,] with strikes threatened in Police quarters, and rank and file Police indifferent to orders of officers, will continue and result in worse violent and irresponsible acts by the uncontrolled people. [The] Working Committee [of the] United Gold Coast Convention declare they are prepared and ready to take over interim government…. We speak in the name of residual sovereignty in chiefs and people in free partnership with the British Commonwealth for our country to be saved from inept Government indifferent to [the] sufferings of the governed. The souls of Gold Coast people slaughtered in cold blood upon Castle Road crying out loud for vindication in the cause of freedom and liberty. Firing by Police and military going on this morning. Let King and Parliament act without delay in this direst hour of Gold Coast people and their chiefs. God save the King and Floreat United Gold Coast” (Ghana: The End of an Illusion 16).
Needless to say, the preceding excerpt from his telegram to the British Colonial Office highlights several significant details about the personality and ideological temperament of the Doyen of Gold Coast and Ghanaian politics. First of all, his journalistically poetic telegram flatly and eloquently puts paid to the Nkrumacratic myth about the Doyen and his mature peers of the UGCC being regressively conservative. And here, we must also note this report from a reliable informant, regarding Nkrumah's apparently pathological penchant for disinformation – for instance, our informant details the fact that while campaigning in the Ghanaian hinterlands, Kwame Nkrumah was fond of telling his largely illiterate and unsuspecting audiences and spectators that being from a prominent and distinguished royal family, Dr. Danquah was utterly averse to Ghanaians being restored to their former, pre-colonial state of sovereignty, because, according to the African Show Boy, Danquah was comfortable with the glaring privileges of his class and family.
Interestingly enough, whereas in his telegram Danquah called for the immediate replacement of the patently inept colonial regime of Governor Gerald Creasy with an indigenous Ghanaian transitional government, “He [Nkrumah, on the other hand, who appeared to want British colonial rule to linger for awhile] asked only that a British commission be sent [to the Gold Coast] to supervise elections for a Constituent Assembly” (Fitch and Oppenheimer 16). In sum, regarding how to effectively and promptly defuse the immediate problem of sociopolitical anarchy and outright chaos, the future prime minister and executive president of an independent Ghana did not appear to have a clue, as it were. And here, it is almost pleonastic, or outright redundant, to stretch one's imagination into guessing at Nkrumah's motive for not suggesting a short-term – or an immediate – solution to the February 1948 “disturbances.” Simply put, the proverbial African Show Boy, a pseudo-Communist ideologue, thrived essentially on anomie and chaos to push his populist agenda along. And here, we define “populism” in its primal, classical connotation of someone who pathologically thrives on the reckless exploitation of the socioeconomic discontent of the masses for his own political self-interest.
The preceding observation is poignantly boosted by the fact that, as Fitch and Oppenheimer report, between 1963 and his salubrious overthrow in 1966, Nkrumah's budgetary austerity witnessed food prices skyrocket to more than 400 percent, even as the meager salaries of the average Ghanaian worker, on whose behalf and class interests the CPP claimed to have received its mandate and legitimacy, remained frozen. Nkrumah, we recall once more, was unsalaried, which simply means that he took, capriciously, whatever sums of money he personally was inclined to spending from Ghana's public purse – this is what in plain language is called “Grand Theft” (see Folson's “An African Tragedy”). In other words, even as the ordinary Ghanaian worker suffered acute privation and virtual starvation, the unsalaried President Nkrumah and the top-echelons of the CPP constabulary experienced an indescribable Utopian high. And as Fitch and Oppenheimer aptly observed, this patent “Animal Farm,” Nkrumaist political culture firmly ensured that little or no tear would be shed for the African Show Boy in the wake of the 1966 coup:
“Loyalties shifted just as abruptly – if not actually in mid-air – within the circle of government-appointed union leaders. The Secretariat of the Trade[s] Union Congress (which had resisted wage demands for the last three years while food prices increased [by] as much as 400 percent) quickly swung into line behind the police and the generals. 'In the name of the workers,' the Secretariat greeted 'with greatest satisfaction, the deliverance of the country and the end of dictatorship and economic chaos'”(Ghana: The End of an Illusion 2).
On another, quite credible, level, it appears that contrary to what ardent Nkrumacrats would have their disciples and sympathizers believe, President Nkrumah, rather curiously, actually looked sanguinely forward to his auspicious overthrow, with great relief, having literally and palpably run the hitherto robust Ghanaian economy aground with grandiose and extravagant industrial and architectural schemes. Or, perhaps, the African Show Boy's apparent paucity of “vision,” an ideological paradox in Nkrumaist circles, of course, had fatuously convinced himself of his own political invincibility. “But the totality of Dr. Nkrumah's collapse after 15 years of leadership, the speed of the coup, its relative bloodlessness, and the paucity of Nkrumah 'loyalists' or diehards, surprised very few Ghanaians. Instead, it seemed more like a case of déjà vu. Rumors of an impending coup had been circulating in the capital for months. And it had been said that if Dr. Nkrumah again left the country on the eve of another budget[ary] message, he would never return” (Fitch and Oppenheimer 3).
But, perhaps, it would be even more credible to our well-meaning readers to recall what some of the closest of Nkrumah's political minions and associates thought of the man. And on this score, we, once again, turn to Fitch and Oppenheimer: “Defections began to occur even within the [ranks of] the 74-man delegation accompanying Dr. Nkrumah on his 'peace mission' to Peking. The outstanding international figure of the regime [and a former Ghanaian Ambassador to the United Nations, as well as former President of the United Nations General Assembly], Alex Quaison-Sackey, was sent by Dr. Nkrumah from Peking to Addis Ababa to protest the seating of the new Ghanaian government's delegation at the Organization of African Unity meeting. Quaison-Sackey flew instead to Accra where he pledged his loyalty to the police/military government. On his arrival[,] he announced: 'The Army has taken power to liberate the people from oppression. The Ghanaian people will now have a free country and will not idolize a single man” (Fitch and Oppenheimer 2).
Secondly, Danquah's telegram, vis-à-vis Nkrumah's rather sterile, albeit flamboyant one, indicates the dignified stature and temperament of an astute statesman who appreciated the complex nuances of politics in a modern and increasingly global political economy. “We speak in [the] name of inherent residual sovereignty in chiefs and people in free partnership with [the] British Commonwealth for our country to be saved from [an] inept Government indifferent to [the] sufferings of the governed” (Fitch and Oppenheimer 16).
In other words, for Danquah, whereas the concrete reality of British colonization of the erstwhile Gold Coast could hardly be disputed, nonetheless, the era of Ghana's colonization was purely incidental and temporal or temporary. Thus when the Doyen speaks of “residual sovereignty in chiefs and people,” he unmistakably implies the fact that our colonization notwithstanding, the Ghanaian people never completely surrendered their fundamental right to self-determination. But the Doyen also recognized the commonsensical fact that political independence is organically, or inextricably, interrelated with global interdependence, thus his reference to an independent Ghana's “free partnership with [the] British Commonwealth.” Consequently and logically, Danquah wishes goodwill to the British monarch even as he also fervidly prays for the prosperity of the erstwhile Gold Coast – “Floreat United Gold Coast.”
Paradoxically, however, as Fitch and Oppenheimer vividly recall, Nkrumah's circulation of copies of his telegram to Communist newspapers and ideologues ensured that the African Show Boy would be scapegoated and made a martyr among the ranks of the UGCC executive (Ghana: The End of an Illusion 16-17).
Thirdly, in foregrounding the institution of chieftaincy, which the relatively underprivileged Nkrumah naturally detested more than anything else, as opposed to the Eurocentric, bourgeois class, to which Nkrumah squarely belonged, Danquah demonstrated his salutary appreciation of the indispensability of indigenous political institutions in the construction of a modern, postcolonial Ghanaian society. For the Machiavellian African Show Boy, on the other hand, all that mattered was doctrinaire Marxism curiously married with Western industrial civilization. Needless to say, the preceding implied the delicate ideological balance entailed in servicing two masters. And as already discussed above, Nkrumah was a woeful failure, by virtue of the fact that ultimately it was the economic well-being of the average Ghanaian worker that was to be sacrificed in place of capitalist acquisitiveness (Fitch and Oppenheimer 2; also, Ayi Kwei Armah's The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born).
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of twelve books, including “Dr. J. B. Danquah:Architect of Modern Ghana”(iUniverse.com, 2005). E-mail: [email protected]