28.08.2006 Feature Article

When Dancers play Historians and Thinkers - Part 9

When Dancers play Historians and Thinkers - Part 9
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Much negative capital has been made by many a fanatical Nkrumacrat of Ali Mazrui's famous mini-essay titled “Nkrumah: The Leninist Czar” (Transition 26 [1966]: 8-17), which was published in the wake of the landmark overthrow of the Convention People's Party (CPP). And until I began to assert my own ideological and cognitive independence vis-à-vis that protean and largely platitudinous pseudo-theory of “Nkrumaism,” I tended to naively share the same callow opinion of the Nkrumacrats, particularly regarding the following concluding paragraph of Professor Mazrui's essay: “Gradually Nkrumah's commitment to Pan-Africanism, and to international participation at large, became almost the only attractive aspect of his political career. By leading the country to independence, Nkrumah was a great Gold Coaster. By working hard to keep Pan-Africanism warm as a political ideal, Nkrumah was a great African. But by the tragedy of his domestic excesses after independence, Nkrumah fell [far] short of becoming a great Ghanaian” (Transition 17).

Initially, in my “salad days,” as Shakespeare would have Egyptian monarch Cleopatra say, I shared the rather facile and vacuous logic of the Nkrumacrats that one could not simultaneously be considered a great African and “a bad” or nondescript Ghanaian. This is the kind of critical and constructive perspective that the apparently pathologically “unifocal” Nkrumacrats cannot abide. For them it is either all or nothing, a zero-sum game, in effect, when it comes to intelligently assessing the ideological and political stature of the proverbial African Show Boy.

In plain and simple terms, what the distinguished Kenyan political scientist means by paradoxically characterizing Nkrumah as a great African but a poor – or lackluster – Ghanaian is the fact that contrary to what his self-proclaimed legatees and servile disciples would have the rest of the world believe, Nkrumah was more of a rhetorical “genius” – if only by the latter is squarely meant a charismatic demagogue – than a pragmatist, even though as Professor Mazrui meticulously expatiates in his article, Nkrumah heroically but woefully attempted to approximate what might charitably – and ineluctably and facetiously – be termed as a “Leninist Czar” and ended up making of himself what might also, equally aptly be termed as a “Leninist Ersatz.”

Needless to say, we intend to examine the far-reaching and multi-varied implications of the latter. But that Nkrumah continues to be regarded as a great African even while simultaneously being regarded as “a bad” or nondescript Ghanaian leader stems largely, and perhaps also squarely, from the fact that the African Show Boy was immutably anti-democratic and dead-set against the salutary propagation and nurturance or development of fundamental human rights. His significance, therefore, becomes almost purely an act of faith engendered by default, or the flagrant breach of continental African sovereignty by the Western colonial powers. In other words, as long as Africa was being dominated and occupied by the Aryan West, Nkrumah the vehement anti-colonialist was the ideal candidate for the leadership of the anti-colonial movement. But once the “journey to independence” had been successfully negotiated, the unifocal anti-colonial leader was virtually a politically spent shell, as it were.

And here, it goes without saying that Dr. Danquah critically recognized this tragic fact shortly before the African Show Boy assumed the historic reins of governance as Ghana's first post-independence premier. The masses of the Ghanaian electorate, on the other hand, as was to be naturally and logically expected, did not recognize this glaring fact of historical reality. And it is, indeed, the latter sorry state of affairs that makes Nkrumah's election into the helm of Ghana's political destiny a “double-tragedy.”

In the main, Professor Mazrui portrays Nkrumah as a “populist” who deftly manipulated a largely illiterate Ghanaian electorate in order to suavely achieve his proverbial “political kingdom” and once he had arrived, quickly discard the critical input of the masses – the “verandah boys” and girls – even while pontifically pretending to be in the same proverbial boat with them. To this effect, Mazrui observes: “Yet, briefly, it was after Ghana's independence that Nkrumah's concept of organization [i.e. the practical and organic involvement of the masses] became more clearly Leninist. The 'masses' were eulogized by CPP ideologues right up to the end, but the party became increasingly elitist de facto. It got beyond even that, as authority became personified in Nkrumah himself. And in the end, the CPP betrayed the very principle of organization on the basis of which it had once prevailed over its opponents” ( Transition 11).

But even more significantly, Mazrui notes that the epic political failure of the Convention People's Party inheres in Nkrumah's summary decision to run the hitherto quite formidable Ghanaian opposition underground. What resulted, observes the Albert Schweitzer Professor of the Humanities at the State University of New York, was the rather unwise and myopic removal of healthy competition, a force that stood to constructively challenge the ruling CPP into becoming a more efficient and responsive ideological machinery: “The irony of the matter is that the CPP's relative organizational superiority might itself have been due to its opponents. For Lenin a single party in Russia was an organizational necessity in its own right [ being that the Bolshevik revolution was purely a matter of internal realignment of forces, rather than an anti-colonial putsch]. But for Nkrumah the long-term efficiency of his party could perhaps only have been sustained if he had permitted the [democratic] stimulus of competition to endure. In June 1955, at the height of the opposition challenge, Nkrumah could still be saying to a CPP rally: “I have always expressed both in public and in private that we need a strong and well-organized Opposition Party in the country and the Assembly…. We must not forget that democracy means the rule of the majority, though it should be tempered by sweet reasonableness in the interests of the minority” (Transition 11).

Further, Mazrui notes at length: “But not long after independence the policy of harassing, and later persecuting, the regime's opponents was vigorously followed. And ideologues in Ghana turned their talents to the rationalization of a one-party state. What was overlooked was the danger to the organizational health of the ruling party that too great a sense of security might bring [with the opposition summarily proscribed by a unilateral edict].”

Recently, in the wake of massive resignations from the revived rump CPP in Fourth Republican Ghana one, evidently, greenhorn Nkrumacrat made the following rather plaintive comment in a crystal fit of frustration: “The ideas and philosophy of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah can never be defeated. His party, the CPP[,] is greater than any one individual. There might be disagreements and differences in the CPP, as is the case in any mass movement or organization, but the ideology that holds the party together is based on Dr. Nkrumah's philosophy” ( 7/12/06). But what was even more pathetic was when the apparently, utterly downcast writer also added the following remark: “The Convention People's Party is a broad church with varying ideologies and principles and this was recognized by Dr. Nkrumah himself during his last days in exile.”

But that the article, written by a Peter Jeffrey, was dogmatically titled “There Is No Substitute For Nkrumah's CPP,” was quite interesting. To be certain, the title of the article readily let on far more information to the critical reader than the content itself. And the latter is not saying much, for this is quite characteristic of the fanatical Nkrumacrats who, having been brought up on such dogmatic slogans as “Nkrumah Never Dies,” appear to have an unusually hard time sustaining critical and constructive argumentation. In essence, these Nkrumacrats woefully fail to appreciate the rather fundamental fact that 1957 is, ideologically speaking, a quantum leap from 2006 and, of course, vice versa.

But that Nkrumah's CPP “is greater than any one individual,” as Mr. Peter Jeffrey would have his readers appreciate, woefully lacks historiographical sustainability. And here again, it bears reprising this observation from Professor Mazrui's essay titled “Nkrumah: The Leninist Czar”: “Yet, briefly, it was after Ghana's independence that Nkrumah's concept of organization became more clearly Leninist [or elitist and exclusivist]. The 'masses' were eulogized by CPP party ideologues right up to the end, but the party became increasingly elitist de facto. It got beyond even that, as authority became personified in Nkrumah himself. And in the end, the CPP betrayed the very principle of organization on the basis of which it had once prevailed over its opponents” (Transition 11).
Indeed, Mr. Jeffrey appears to appreciate a little bit of Professor Mazrui's preceding observation, and thus the former's rather apologetic remark that: “The Convention People's Party is a broad church with varying ideologies and principles and this [, indeed,] was recognized by Dr. Nkrumah himself during his last days in exile.”

In essence, Mr. Jeffrey seems to squarely agree with those of us who emphatically and intransigently maintain that any attempt at reviving the old CPP is bound to suffer a still-birth, or at best the effete existential status of a zombie. For it reeks of patent insolence and outright obscenity for anybody to liken the CPP executioners' machinery to a Christian church. Indeed, the African Show Boy might have been an authentic “Christian and a Marxist,” but we have no qualms in recognizing the Convention People's Party as a “brazen personality cult” with pathologically fascist proclivities.
But that the very premier who summarily proscribed ideological dissent while entrenched and ensconced in the august seat of governance would come to accepting some semblance of the salutary need for a democratic market of ideas, only after his auspicious ouster, beggars common sense. On the other hand, it eloquently and squarely corroborates Professor Mazrui's observation that President Nkrumah was a vintage opportunist who found it all too expedient to ride on the backs and shoulders of a largely unsuspecting and illiterate Ghanaian electorate and, once comfortably ensconced in the seat of governance, threw the proverbial caution to the wind.

In the end, Professor Mazrui's essay “Nkrumah: The Leninist Czar” may be aptly seen to look too kindly on its discursive subject. In summing up his thesis, this is what the leading continental African political scientist had to say: “But while Nkrumah strove to be Africa's Lenin, he also sought to become Ghana's Czar. Nor is Nkrumah's Czarism necessarily 'the worse side' of his personality and behaviour. On the contrary, his Czarism could – in moderation – have mitigated some of the harshness of his Leninism. It is even arguable that a Leninist Czar was what a country like Ghana needed for a while. Nkrumah's tragedy was a tragedy of excess, rather than of contradiction. He tried to be too much of a revolutionary monarch” (Transition 9).

Perhaps, Professor Mazrui ought to be politely reminded that Ghana being the home of arguably the most advanced monarchical system on the African continent had the least need of a Czar, particularly a monarchical parody of feudal Russia. Neither did Ghanaians had any imperative need for a Lenin; we already had our Danquah, a far better ideologically anchored scholar-statesman with the kind of informed knowledge and appreciation for indigenous African culture which the African Show Boy, our Leninist-Ersatz, could barely fathom.

And for the Nkrumacratic likes of Peter Jeffrey, perhaps it may be apt to “take a listen to” ace Ghanaian musician Nana P. S. K. Ampadu I's Highlife classic “Ebi Te Yiye” (“Some Are Better Seated Than Others), in order to get a more realistic and historical sense of how it felt to live in Nkrumah's Ghana.

*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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