There is a joke that I regularly share with friends and family. It goes like this: “Verandah Boy ‘gets’ a Ph. D…. What do you think he studied?”
Oftentimes they would be scratching their heads trying to come up with something. And almost invariably, they would end up with such outlandish guesses as Engineering, Law or Medicine. Then I would playfully interject: “Oh, no! I don’t think the Osagyefo-Kantamanto would be pleased with that.” Then, finally, I would unleash the punch line: “Nkrumaism, of course! For Verandah Boy wants to take over from our traditional rulers and play the role of The New White-Man in Black-Face, an AFROPEAN!!!”
At this juncture, most of them would, literally, fall off their chairs with laughter; or better yet, they would hold tightly onto their sides to prevent themselves from practically exploding or splitting apart.
Interestingly, the thrust of the preceding joke is not about academic questions at all, for as T. Peter Omari eloquently attests in his book Kwame Nkrumah: The Anatomy of an African Dictatorship (1970), the African Show Boy, despite his much-touted record on the construction of educational facilities, could not in any meaningful way be clinically described as an “Education President,” the way, for instance, that one would describe Dr. Busia as a “Scholar-Prime Minister,” or even Dr. Hilla Limann as a “Liberalist-to-a-Fault.”
On the preceding score, Omari writes: “Nkrumah came to abhor intellectual competition or indeed any form of competition at all. One by one, he divested himself of companions and his government of advisers who were honest and intelligent; and simple matters became enshrouded in mystical conjecture. / His followers built him up as a God and showered him with idolatrous appellations and attributes. He became, almost overnight, an intellectual, a philosopher and a redeemer. Among the titles Nkrumah acquired or arrogated to himself were: Osagyefo (victorious in war), Kantamanto (one never guilty, one who never goes back on his word), Teacher and Author of the Revolution, Oyeadeeyie (one who puts things aright), Man of Destiny, Star of Africa, Deliverer of Ghana, Iron Boy, the Messiah, His High Dedication. He imagined himself to have grown so big that he had to be shared with the rest of Africa and indeed the world. Nkrumah sacrificed Ghana on the altar of Pan-Africanism, and for his grandiose dreams of African leadership. Millions of dollars of Ghanaian money were squandered in the cause of Nkrumah’s policy of non-alignment, and in pretentious and extravagant schemes and projects. A great man should be above petty vanities; but Nkrumah not only encouraged the blasphemies of his followers, but came to [actually] believe them himself” (Anatomy 2).
It is also quite interesting to observe that many of the most vocal latter-day Nkrumaists and Nkrumacrats are making a comfortable living in the West, largely here in the United States, rather than in Cuba or North Korea, voraciously relishing the unfettered culture of Western Democracy even while fanatically insisting on the supposedly nonesuch, or unprecedented, democratic leadership of their hero and idol, the African Show Boy. And here also, it may be edifying or instructive for us to recall the sort of “democratic culture” that prevailed under the tenure of the Nkrumah-led Convention People’s Party (CPP), particularly regarding the flagrant conduct of the 1960 Presidential Election, which has been cited ad nauseam by many an Nkrumacrat to underscore what s/he capriciously imagines to be the Show Boy’s commanding and unbested popularity.
Needless to say, the 1960 Presidential Election was about anything but democracy. Here, indeed, is how Peter Omari poignantly described it at length: “Mr. Tettegah [Chairman of the Trades Union Congress?] in 1960 could say in connection with the presidential elections: ‘We shall analyze the votes ward by ward and we shall know the places where people have refused to go and vote, and they can be sure we can take the necessary actions against those traitors of our cause.’ Were the traitors to the cause those who did not go to vote or those who voted for the Opposition candidate [Dr. Danquah]? If Tettegah did not carry out his threat, it might have been because Party functionaries had been over-zealous. In some constituencies, the number of ballots cast for Nkrumah alone was almost double the number of registered voters. Forged ballot papers were often discovered which had undoubtedly been printed by the CPP. But the police, for all their ‘efficiency,’ could never establish their origin” (Anatomy 64)
Ali Mazrui, for his part, cast matters not in such charitable terms, albeit much more clinically. Regarding the myth of Nkrumah’s popularity, for example, this is what the most prolific, continental African political scientist has to say: “Nkrumah’s margin of success was not all that great. As Dennis Austin has pointed out, the CPP in the last election before independence won only 57 percent [of the total ballots cast], and its opponents 43 percent, of the poll in the 99 contested constituencies: ‘it was also out-seated and out-voted in Ashanti and the north’ [Mazrui quotes Austin]. And even after making allowances for the five unopposed seats, Nkrumah’s popular support was not, by the standards of ‘charismatic leaders’ elsewhere, quite ‘overwhelming.’ In any case, the poll in that crucial pre-independence election was only 50 percent of the registered electorate [and thus Tettegah’s later public threat] and probably something under 30 percent of the total adult population. Nkrumah’s assumption of power before independence illustrates [just] how much narrower than sometimes imagined is the degree of popular backing with which some of the leaders emerged into independence” (“Leninist Czar” 11).
In sum, it is the authoritative contention of Dennis Austin – a longtime British professor of the University of Ghana and an avid student of colonial and postcolonial Ghanaian political culture – as well as Ali Mazrui and Peter Omari that the over-celebrated African Show Boy was never quite a popular leader, in the strictest sense of the term. Thus it comes as no surprise that Nkrumah would appropriate despotic means of entrenching himself in power. His well-known personal inadequacies, largely intellectual in nature, might have also contributed in no small measure to Nkrumah’s invention of an eponymous pseudo-philosophy called “Nkrumaism,” a desultory cocktail of Marxist Socialism and Leninism. The tragedy here inheres in the fact that Ghanaians appear to have grievously erred in electing a man who did not seem to have any creative mind of his own, short of clinching and holding indefinitely onto power for his own sake. Of his patently narcissistic pseudo-philosophical and political ideology, Omari observes:
“Nkrumah and his followers developed an ideology which confused socialism with other elements; this was Nkrumaism, and later Consciencism. Much time, energy and money were spent in promoting this ideology to the neglect of the economy. But Consciencism was no substitute for cassava, nor Nkrumaism, or democratic centralism, for a pair of cheap hard-wearing boots. / The economy of Ghana soon began to deteriorate, and unemployment to rise. He delighted in blaming these on Western capitalists, imperialists and neocolonialists; and he continued to squeeze the taxpayers for whatever he could get out of them. By the time he was overthrown, Nkrumah clearly had something to show for his years of premiership of the Gold Coast and presidency of Ghana. But if we are to go by the adage that the end crowns the work, then Nkrumah’s achievements are clearly ephemeral. He left to the Ghanaian taxpayers a [whopping] debt of £360,000,000 [Three-Hundred and Sixty Million Pound Sterling]. This is an enormous burden – about £48 per head of population in a country with, in 1966, an average annual income of £90. ‘In Britain, where the average income is 7½ [seven-and-half times] as big,’ commented The Economist of August 6, 1966, ‘this would mean a foreign debt equaling £360 a head; and we here are taunted at [for?] owing about £20 each on special assistance to the sterling. Yet Ghana’s plight is worse than even these figures suggest. Because of Dr. Nkrumah’s political hostility, and out of sheer financial prudence, the West gave him little official aid. He, in turn, was not anxious to seek any for fear of tying himself to the imperialists. But having disdained the [World] Bank, he hurled himself at the money lenders.’ But for all the effort he made, the results were poor. While investment was claiming more and more resources, the growth of the economy was slowing down” ( Anatomy 3-4).
In other words, as a toddler in 1966 when the African Show Boy was overthrown, I had a debt tag of more than $10,000 (Ten-Thousand Dollars) in today’s currency hanging over my head and around my neck, being an integral part of the much-touted “legacy,” so unctuously gloated over by ardent Nkrumacrats. With the preceding in mind, it becomes quite understandable that Ghana would find herself in our stygian socioeconomic, political and cultural morass. It also makes sense, albeit rather despondently, to observe the fact that the life-expectancy rate of the average Ghanaian hovers around the heart-rending vicinity of 55-60 years old. And also that Ghana ranks among the bottom rungs of all nations vis-à-vis the quality-of-life index. It is not just a facile matter of being a Third-World country; it is simply that we have had leaders who were largely only interested in their own individual hunger for power than the collective development of our country.
Indeed, the preceding observations may be seen to be staunchly corroborated by many an unsuspecting, idealistic and inexperienced African youth famished for heroic figures and role models upon whom to look. Recently (7/27/06), for instance, I picked up a brief theme or article titled “Kwame Nkrumah: My True Hero,” from an Internet website called “YourTrueHero.org.” What was fascinating about the article was the deft mixture of half-truths and outright lies fabricated about the life and times of the African Show Boy, which seemed to have entranced its starry-eyed author, a youth named Moro Segu. Judging from the style and quality of his essay, Master Moro Segu could not have been more than ten or twelve years old. Among a host of other things, this is what Master Segu wrote about his hero:
“After his elementary education at his place of birth he continued at Achimota College in Achimota Accra, where its now the nations capital. He passed out being successful with the highest grade.” Needless to say, as Omari points out in his book Kwame Nkrumah: The Anatomy of an African Dictatorship (1970), while Nkrumah was known to be a good student, he was never quite as outstanding as Master Moro Segu appears to have been indoctrinated to believe. Indeed, Omari is even less charitable; the author describes the African Show Boy as an “undistinguished student.” In other words, Nkrumah approximated the academic status of what, these days, might routinely be characterized as “an average student.”
But we are not yet done. Master Segu continues: “Dr. Kwame Nkrumah from there [i.e. Achimota] proceeded to United States of America (USA) to attend University and obtained his Doctorate degree. He later went to the United Kingdom to enter the law school but was called back home by a political party known as the United Gold Coast Convention to the then Gold Coast to be a Secretary for the political party….” Indeed, it is rather pathetic that his teacher could not candidly point out the fact that President Nkrumah never obtained a doctorate. But particularly the more instructive fact that one did not need a doctorate to aspire to prominent national leadership; and that it is sheer diligence and a well-timed sense of urgency and singleness of purpose that matter. And, indeed, Master Moro Segu’s teacher would have done his pupil a whole lot better by adding that hard work and an enviable sense of purpose could eventually earn the subject an honorary doctorate, just as they did for President Nkrumah.
The preceding notwithstanding, the clincher comes when Master Segu enthusiastically writes: “Dr. Kwame Nkrumah fought for the Independence of the Gold Coast which was won in 1957…. After he gained Independence, our colonial masters gave the country a great sum of money in which Dr. Kwame Nkrumah used about two thirds of the money to help other Nations also gain their Independence, and the remaining one third he used it wisely to at least cater for some important facilities the country needs.” Quite fascinating indeed, isn’t it? Now compare the preceding to this comment from Ali Mazrui’s famous essay “Nkrumah: The Leninist Czar”: “Gradually Nkrumah’s commitment to Pan-Africanism, and to international participation at large, became almost the only attractive aspect of his political career” (17).
Finally, regarding the “What went wrong?” – or the unalloyed truth – about the 1960 Presidential Election, which Nkrumah claimed to have won by the outright risible margin of 90 percentage points, Omari painfully recalls: “Nkrumah and the CPP were making maximum use of all state and private communication media – the radio, Information Services Department facilities, public rallies and Party publicity vans. In the 1960 presidential elections, Dr. Danquah, the Opposition candidate, was denied even the use of his own United Party vans; and many of the public rallies that were scheduled by his Party had to be canceled because permits were either not issued or were revoked, or because CPP thugs broke the rallies up. Sometimes it seemed as if the police were in the CPP camp, for they stood by when lives and rights were in danger or were forced to assist in frustrating Opposition attempts at lawful political activities. In the presidential election, Radio Ghana ignored the Opposition’s program and refused Dr. Danquah permission to broadcast. Sometimes the Opposition made a crude effort to imitate CPP thuggery and would organize their own Action Groupers to oppose the CPP’s Action Troopers. But even this was done half-heartedly and incompetently, thereby giving the Government further cause for intolerance” (Anatomy 64).
Indeed, preventing Dr. Danquah from effectively campaigning against him was only one aspect of Nkrumah’s pathological intolerance for the civilized practice of free speech. On the larger front, the CPP and its God-complex afflicted pontiff sought to summarily muffle dissent and, literally, decapitate creative thinking. And as we have already observed in the preceding series of our discourse, the CPP with its ideology of “Nkrumaism” was patently neocolonialist; the Party and its indistinguishable government appeared to have vacuously called for the immediate evisceration of Western political and cultural values while simultaneously and servilely opting for the assumption of Marxist-Leninist political and economic culture.
In other words, Nkrumah was merely exchanging Western colonialism for Eastern imperialism. And the latter was unmistakably neocolonialist for it merely substituted a Black, albeit an indigenous, face where there had been a White one. In the face of all the preceding, Omari writes, the Ghanaian press, with a few insignificant exceptions, was totally complicit, all in the dubious name of “Development Journalism”: “Throughout all this [i.e. the CPP’s institutionalized culture of abject corruption and outright decadence], the press could only concur. It is impossible to build a decent society, much less an honest political body [or body politic?], without a competent and free press. Nkrumah realized this early when he brought the press under his personal direction, and such damage was done to its independence and integrity that, even after Nkrumah, it would take much ingenuity and effort to regain what has been lost” (Anatomy 6).
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. His forthcoming publications are “Romantic Explorations” and “Happy Birthday, Abena Aninwaa: Letters to My Daughter” (iUniverse.com, 2006. He is also the author of “Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana” (iUniverse.com, 2005).