25.08.2006 Feature Article

When Dancers play Historians and Thinkers - Part 8

When Dancers play Historians and Thinkers - Part 8
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Contrary to received postcolonial, African historiography, Kwame Nkrumah was a non-democratic or “partial revolutionary,” as opposed to a “total” and “democratic” revolutionary, the version counseled by Karl Marx. On this score alone, Nkrumah and his CPP machinery were fundamentally not different from the managerial operatives of the United Gold Coast Convention whom the African Show Boy vitriolically assailed. In sum, as Fitch and Oppenheimer aptly observed, Nkrumah and his comrades of the Convention People's Party merely envisaged themselves as Xerox copies and “African substitutes” for the European colonialists, with the status quo being essentially in place. And, indeed, one gets a good sense of the preceding déjà vu agenda from Nkrumah's March 1948 speech during his tour of the erstwhile Northern Territories. And as the Ashanti Pioneer then reported, in parts, Nkrumah theatrically declared before a throng of several hundred spectators in Tamale:

“Mr. Chairman, chiefs, brothers and sisters, and friends. For me this is indeed a unique occasion. For me history is repeating itself today. The difference is that when I last came to you I was in chains.
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself. The time has come when the affairs of this country should be handed over to the chiefs and people of this country to manage or mismanage….

“This country is ours. This land is ours. It belongs to our chiefs and people. It does not belong to foreigners, but we don't say that all foreigners should pack up and go [leave?] They can stay as traders, and work with us not as masters and rulers….

“The age of politics of words is gone. This is the age of politics of action. We don't have guns. We don't have ammunition to fight anybody. We have a great spirit, a great national soul which is manifest in our unity.

“If we get s. g. [self-government] we'll transform the Gold Coast into a paradise in ten years. Why should some people in the NTs go naked? I can find no reason for it? We can improve our native looms up here in the NTs in five years under a government of the people, by the people and for the people….
“Wherefore my advice is 'Seek ye first the political kingdom, and all things will be added unto you” (Ghana: The End of an Illusion 25).

First of all, as Fitch and Oppenheimer aptly suggest, the rhetorical symbolism of Nkrumah's 1949 speech to the people of the erstwhile Northern Territories merely reflects the status quo ante, as it were. The references are to “chiefs” and “kingdoms,” rather than, say, “republics” and “democracies.” And when Nkrumah further echoes Danquah's lengthy 1948 telegram to the British Secretary of Colonies by declaring that: “The time has come when the affairs of this country should be handed over to the chiefs and people of this country to manage or mismanage,” one wonders just what had become of the Marxist rhetoric of the purportedly firebrand General Secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC). Or was he, unbeknownst to the African Show Boy, still a Danquah disciple? Or was Nkrumah simply deceiving himself and his ardent supporters and sympathizers.

Needless to say, the answers may squarely lie somewhere in-between, for it is not wholly devoid of an element or iota of truism that some of his ardent political opponents have described ideological Nkrumaism as “the highest stage of opportunism” (Fitch and Oppenheimer 19). In other words, in March 1949, needing the indispensable collaboration of the chiefs whom he so passionately detested, Nkrumah found himself having to rhetorically accommodate them. For, it need not be readily forgotten that as late as February 1948, exactly a year after the Christianborg Riots, Nkrumah had dispatched a telegram to the British Colonial Secretary demanding “that a British Commission be sent [to the Gold Coast] to supervise elections for a “Constituent Assembly.” Nowhere in his telegram, unlike Dr. Danquah, had Nkrumah called for the immediate replacement of the reportedly inept Creasy Government with an indigenous African administration headed by “the chiefs and people” of the Gold Coast (Ghana: The End of an Illusion 16).

Barely a month after his Northern Territories speech, the African Show Boy would break away from the UGCC and found his Convention People's Party (CPP). Fundamentally, nothing would radically change in terms of class or social stratification throughout Nkrumah's 15-year tenure, other than his especial animosity towards chieftaincy, particularly Akyem and Asante chieftaincy.

It is also interesting to observe that Nkrumah summarily surrendered the future of the Ghanaian economy to the very European and non-African expatriates whose perennial domination he had sworn to liquidate: “This country is ours. This land is ours. It belongs to our chiefs and people. It does not belong to foreigners, but we don't say all foreigners should pack up and go [leave?] They can stay as traders, and work with us not as masters and rulers” (Fitch and Oppenheimer 25).

Of course, other than the ardent Nkrumacrats, none of his indigenous African compatriots would be deceived by Nkrumah's neocolonialist political agenda. For he would import a left-wing British parliamentarian, Mr. Geoffrey Bing, to become both Nkrumah's constitutional and political adviser as well as Attorney-General for most of the tenure of the CPP dictatorship (see Kweku Folson, “An African Tragedy” 35). Nkrumah would also surround himself, almost entirely, with a Soviet military detail or presidential guard – a radical Afrocentrist about the sovereign business of Africanization, indeed! And on the foregoing score, we wholeheartedly concur with Professor Kweku Folson, when the late Ghanaian political scientist makes the following observation:

“It is important to emphasize this point if Ghanaians and Africans[,] generally, are to draw the right conclusions from Nkrumah's tragic failure. One very important reason why Nkrumah failed in Ghana, and was alienated not only from the 'intellectuals' or the 'elite' but, in the last years of his regime, from 'the masses' as well, was that he relied too much [heavily?] on foreign political advisers, mostly left-wing dissidents at odds with their own societies. Those people never understood Ghana. Mr. Bing [for instance] pretends to great authority [on] Ghana, but his interpretation of various aspects of Ghanaian society is frequently faulty and his factual mistakes are legion” (“An African Tragedy” 37).
While for the most part Fitch and Oppenheimer are dead-on accurate regarding their analyses of CPP's tactical approach to colonial succession, sometimes the critics tend to be a bit naïve in their analytical thrust, as, for instance, when the authors of Ghana: The End of an Illusion explain the reason why Nkrumah decided to “borrow” the word “convention” for his breakaway faction of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC): “The new party was careful not to make itself appear to have broken completely with the past. It even kept the word 'Convention' in the party title to emphasize its political lineage” (26).

In reality, by “borrowing” the word “Convention” from the UGCC, Nkrumah and his henchmen and women hoped to manipulate a largely unsuspecting Ghanaian public consciousness. For instance, it is widely known that Nkrumah vigorously campaigned throughout Ghanaian cities and countryside telling potential and prospective members of the electorate that the Convention People's Party (CPP) was, in fact, the same as the original United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), and that the latter party which, according to Nkrumah, was now defunct, had morphed into the CPP, which Nkrumah expediently sloganeered as “Convention.” And it goes without saying that because Nkrumah tactically chose to transpose or reverse the ordering of “Convention,” as opposed to its original positioning in the UGCC, it was fairly easy to hoodwink the largely illiterate and semi-literate electorate. Then again, the African Show Boy also had the advantage of his former position as General-Secretary of the UGCC, which had definitely ensured that he would easily become the most mobile and readily recognized of the UGCC executive membership. In sum, our immutable, or firm, contention here is that Nkrumah's decision to nominally appropriate the word “Convention” for his breakaway party was purely an opportunistic act. Consequently, those who define “Nkrumaism” as the highest stage of opportunism could not be wide of the mark (Fitch and Oppenheimer 19). For as further detailing and objective interpretation of the activities of the Convention People's Party would show, Kwame Nkrumah was a quintessential opportunist.

Furthermore, nothing makes Nkrumah's brazen opportunism quite as glaring as the very six-point manifesto of the Convention People's Party. For instance, whereas ardent Nkrumaists and Nkrumacrats have defined the ideological strategy of the CPP as being radical, the very first statement of the party's manifesto could not be said to be more deviously conventional, even outright conservative: “(1) To fight relentlessly by all constitutional means for the achievement of full 'self-government NOW' for the chiefs and people of the Gold Coast” (Fitch and Oppenheimer 27). In sum, the CPP was no ANC, SWAPO, PAIGC, FRELIMO, ZAPU-PF or KANU. Which brings readers, once more, to Professor Folson's assertion that Britain's granting of sovereignty to Ghana in 1957 had far more to do with Ghana's own long and noble political history than the sheer emergence, in 1947, of Mr. Kwame Nkrumah on the Ghanaian political landscape (see “An African Tragedy”).

Likewise, the original agenda of the CPP, in terms of the party's geopolitical purview, was more of pan-West Africanism – a vintage Casely-Hayford mintage – than pan-Africanism in a continental or even a global sense. Needless to say, this observation is vividly underscored by the sixth of the CPP's six-point manifesto: “(6) To assist and facilitate in any way possible the realization of a united and self-governing West Africa” (Ghana: The End of an Illusion 28).

And so the logical question becomes: How did Nkrumah's geopolitical as well as his ideological purview move from Gold Coast (or Ghanaian) nationalism to West Africanism and, curiously, onward to pan-Africanism? We shall reserve the answer for a later installment in this series.

But that Nkrumah was hardly the firebrand Marxist revolutionary that many of his fanatical disciples have made him out to be, is eloquently debunked by Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, the extant colonial governor of the erstwhile Gold Coast. Alluding to Nkrumah's much-touted campaign of “positive action,” this is what Arden-Clarke had to say: “The party leaders had been officially informed and were well aware that they had a perfectly constitutional way of achieving power and gaining their objective if their candidates at the forthcoming election were returned. I have good reason to believe that some at least of the party leaders would have preferred not to resort to 'positive action' but to await the results of the general election, the outcome of which they were fairly confident. ***But they found themselves enmeshed in the coils of their own propaganda. The tail wagged the dog” (Fitch and Oppenheimer 29).

But even more significantly, we learn, to our utterly wistful amusement, that, indeed, it was the leaders of the TUC (the Trades Union Congress) that called the so-called positive action strike, not the executive members of the CPP, including Mr. Kwame Nkrumah, of course (Fitch and Oppenheimer 29-30). In reality, Nkrumah showed himself to be deeply agitated, not exactly the sanguine and poised personality that his disciples make him out to be these days: “The strike came off [rather] badly. Leadership was [sorely] lacking and there was little sense of working-class solidarity. The party newspaper [the Evening News?] was closed down, scabs were successfully introduced, and 'the extensive use of a new force of mobile police limited unrest in the main towns to sporadic outbursts of violence.' During the strike, Nkrumah appeared to one British correspondent as 'the most worried man in the Gold Coast.' Mr. Nkrumah, he wrote, 'has been sincere in not wanting violence or a showdown. ***He seems not to have realized that his followers take quite literally everything he says.' The [London] Times also portrayed Nkrumah as the unwilling victim of popular forces gone out of control: 'Against the better interests of his party and the Gold Coast, Mr. Nkrumah allowed himself to be drawn into the launching of a civil disobedience campaign accompanied by a general strike” (Ghana: The End of an Illusion 30).

To be certain, as we shall also see in later installments of this series, the engine of statesmanlike resolution behind the CPP was, ironically, not Mr. Nkrumah but Dr. Danquah. Here again, Fitch and Oppenheimer report: “Nkrumah, however, tried to postpone the conflict. Numerous meetings took place between Nkrumah, Arden-Clarke, and [Reginald] Saloway [the Colonial Secretary]. The Evening News, the CPP newspaper, twice announced that positive action would be postponed. And once Nkrumah called it off altogether. Saloway's version is this: 'Nkrumah publicly called off positive action and tried hard to get the Trades Union Congress to call off the general strike, but the TUC no longer had any control over the wild men. [Moreover] Dr. Danquah taunted Nkrumah with having sold himself to the Colonial Secretary and thus infuriated the rank and file of the CPP who forced Nkrumah to retract” (Fitch and Oppenheimer 29). A firebrand revolutionary indeed!

*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” (, 2005).

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