19.09.2006 Feature Article

When Dancers play Historians and Thinkers - Part 13

When Dancers play Historians and Thinkers - Part 13
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Ghanaians, on the whole, appear to be a very forgetful people; and this is largely why it has been quite easy for calculating and opportunistic politicians like Kwame Nkrumah and Jerry John Rawlings to shamelessly pretend, with virtual impunity, that they are, indeed, respectively, founding father of our nation and inventor of modern Ghanaian democracy. Needless to say, nothing could be further from the clinical truth of Ghanaian historiography. And, indeed, in his well-researched and cogently reasoned treatise titled Kwame Nkrumah: The Anatomy of an African Dictatorship (1970), T. Peter Omari puts the proverbial lie to the preceding by refreshingly delineating a comprehensive historiography of modern Ghanaian nationhood during the course of the last 170 years. In a chapter titled “Ghana’s Elite Before Independence,” Omari details the following:

“The Bond of 1844 regularized the judicial authority exercised by the British (through the President of the Council), since the British Government had assumed direct responsibility for the administration of the British ports on the Gold Coast in 1821. Until 1947 the political history of the Gold Coast had been characterized by progressive political advance through the legislative system. ***When Nkrumah returned from his twelve-year sojourn in America and Britain in 1947, the Gold Coast was [already] on its way to becoming the first independent colony in sub-Saharan Africa. Political advance had, however, been gradual. The following periods are distinguishable:

(a) 1844-73. – Period of informal protection over part of the country around the coast, and non-participation of the aboriginal inhabitants in the administration of the Colony;

(b) 1874-97. – Period, since the declaration of the Southern part [or third] of the Gold Coast as a ‘Colony,’ of trusteeship, and of a Legislative Council with the Official Majority System;

(c) 1900-24. – Period of increasing African representation on the Legislative Council;

(d) 1925-45. – Period of introduction of the franchise into the Gold Coast;

(e) 1946-57. – Period of consolidation and a new Constitution with African Elected Majority, with the inclusion of Ashanti [the second third of the Gold Coast] in the Legislature, and of Cabinet responsibility” (Anatomy 15).

Further, Omari enumerates:

“The first African to be nominated to the Legislative Council [following the establishment of the Fante Confederacy in 1871] was George Kuntu Blankson of Anomabu. He was followed by John Sarbah, also of Anomabu, father of the famous [John] Mensah Sarbah. Other Councillors who followed were Francis Chapman Grant of Cape Coast, Joseph Herbert Cheetham of Cape Coast, George Cleland of Accra, Chief John Vanderpuye of Accra, Thomas Hutton-Mills of Accra, Dr. B. W. Quartey-Papafio of Accra. John Mensah Sarbah of Anomabu, Joseph Peter Brown of Cape Coast, Nene Sir Emmanuel Mate Kole the Konor of Manya Krobo, Nana Sir Ofori-Atta I the Omanhene of Akim Abuakwa, Nana Amonu V the Omanhene of Anomabu, Fia Sri II the Awoame Fia of Anlo, Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford of Cape Coast, Henry Vanheim of Cape Coast and Nana Essandoh III the Omanhene of Nkusukum. [Indeed,] Magnus Sampson has described these men as ‘men of sobriety and practical wisdom, by whose brilliant works the Gold Coast has greatly benefited’” (Anatomy 16)

It is thus inexcusably scurrilous and outright heretical for anybody presuming to sport the august mantle of a scholar to pretend that modern Ghanaian political history began with either President Nkrumah (1951-1966) or Flt.-Lt. Jerry John Rawlings (1979; 1982-2000). But, perhaps, even more important regards the caliber of the men who sat on the Legislative Council. Of these men, Omari emphatically observes: “Education and ‘enlightenment’ were the qualifying factors for nomination to political appointment – especially to the Legislative Council” (Anatomy 17).

Interestingly, reading the ranting of some Nkrumacrats, one is given the erroneous impression that powerful and influential members of the Legislative Council like Nana Sir Ofori-Atta I, in particular, were exclusively nominated to this august body of the most astute and brilliant Gold Coast indigenes on sheer happenstance of royalty. Needless to say, as ample available evidence indicates, Nana Sir Ofori-Atta I, the real “Osagyefo,” was perhaps the best educated Ghanaian paramount king of the first-half of the twentieth century. A brief biographical note picked up on the Internet on Ofori-Atta I (a.k.a. Kwadwo Fredua Agyeman or Aaron Eugene Boakye Danquah) [1881-1943] notes his having been educated at the Basel Mission (or Presbyterian) schools at Anum, Bepong, Kyebi and Abetifi (see And here, it is also significant to observe that the preceding Ghanaian towns and villages were major centers of education throughout most of the nineteenth century and well into the twentieth century. Kyebi, for instance, has been a center of Western education dating back to at least 1839.

Ofori-Atta would also precede his much younger brother, the future Doyen of Gold Coast and Ghanaian politics, Dr. J. B. Danquah, in attendance at the Begoro Presbyterian Boys’ Middle Boarding School, whose founding in the 1880s was significantly facilitated by Nana Kwadwo Aboagye of Akyem-Asiakwa (a.k.a. Theodore Adolph Kwadwo Aboagye), this author’s maternal great-grandfather and the father of the pioneering Ghanaian missionary-teacher the Rev. T. H. Sintim, of Begoro and Asiakwa (a.k.a. Yawbe), a Danquah contemporary at Begoro Boarding School (see Fred O. Agyeman’s 150th Anniversary History of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana).

Nana Sir Ofori-Atta I would also attend Ghana’s leading higher educational institution of the time, namely, the Akropong-Akuapem Theological Seminary, known today as the Presbyterian Teachers’ Training College (PTC), whose stellar cast of graduates would later include Ghanaian Appeals Court justice, Mr. Nii Amaa Ollennu. In 1899, Sir Ofori-Atta I qualified as a certified teacher. In sum, so brilliant was the future Osagyefo Nana Sir Ofori-Atta I that he attended almost all the best Gold Coast academic institutions of his time.

It thus comes as absolutely no surprise to learn that it was King Ofori-Atta I whose singular effort in organizing the major traditional rulers of the erstwhile Gold Coast Colony led to the auspicious founding of Achimota College in 1925, the very institution which produced both Presidents Nkrumah and Rawlings. It also hardly comes as any surprise that a prominent member of “The Big Six,” or the founding fathers of postcolonial Ghana, Mr. William (Paa Willie) Ofori-Atta was the first Senior Prefect, or Student-Government President of Achimota College. Clearly, as we shall witness in due course, a remarkable dimension of President Nkrumah’s widely acknowledged hatred and envy of Dr. J. B. Danquah and, indeed, the Ofori-Atta Clan and Okyeman, in general, stems from the preceding phenomenal and sterling achievements.

Regarding, perhaps, the three most significant Ghanaian leaders of the first-half of the twentieth century, Omari poignantly writes: “The place of Casely Hayford [1874-1930], whose passing out of the strife of our politics in 1930 created a national loss of the first magnitude, will perhaps be difficult to fill for many years to come. [John] Mensah Sarbah [1864-1910] and Casely Hayford were both writers of considerable power and remarkable men of affairs, whose names reflect luster on the Gold Coast people just as the names of Blyden and Samuel Levis cast a splendor on the people of Sierra Leone. While Sarbah was a philosopher and [a] conservative who detested change for change’s sake, Hayford was an astute logician who believed in liberalism which recognizes the right of every individual to have a voice in the government of the country and which stands four square for the basic principles of Democracy. [And here, the keen reader may do well to contrast the preceding with Nkrumah’s pseudo-Marxist-Leninist ideology of corporatism which envisaged the Convention People’s Party as the sole legitimate political party and the latter’s fascist agenda of proscribing ideological opposition – see Ollennu’s “Foreword” to Omari’s Kwame Nkrumah: The Anatomy of an African Dictatorship]. In scholarship and statesmanship there is much to admire in both statesmen who have left behind a great record of political and literary achievements seldom to be found in West Africa.***When Casely Hayford died in 1930 and laid down the [mantle of] political leadership, the Provincial Councils had come into existence for four years with Nana Sir Ofori-Atta, KBE, member of the Executive Council, as their brilliant and powerful leader. Sir Ofori [Atta I] became the foremost political leader of the Gold Coast from that time until his death in 1943. He was reputed for his authoritative leadership and great foresight” (Anatomy 19-20).

And here also, we point out that the detractors of Nana Sir Ofori-Atta I have attempted, rather pathetically and invariably unsuccessfully, to blame him for a purported rift with J. E. Casely-Hayford and the so-called Gold Coast educated elite, almost as if to imply that the most distinguished and also perhaps the best educated and most enlightened major traditional Ghanaian ruler stood outside the cream of the Gold Coast elite culture. The diametrically opposite, needless to say, was more the reality. For as Professor Kwaku Nti, of the University of Ghana, points out in a footnote in a quite comprehensive essay titled “Action and Reaction: An Overview of the Ding Dong Relationship between the Colonial Government and the People of Cape Coast” (Nordic Journal of African Studies 11.1 [2002]: 1-37), the Okyenhene was arguably the most politically and scholastically astute indigenous Gold Coaster on the Legislative Council: “[During] Legislative Council Debates (February, 26). The Governor [i.e. Frederick Gordon Guggisberg], in his attempt to justify the presence of the Chiefs on the Council, further pointed out that in the composition of the Council at the time, the only African whose debates were cogent and formidable and who was most well-informed about international events and could as well draw inferences from them was a Chief. He was no doubt referring to Nana Sir Ofori-Atta, Omanhene of the Abuakwa traditional area” (“Action and Reaction” 17).

But, perhaps, it is even more significant to point out that during the first four decades of the twentieth century, Ghanaian politics was heavily dominated by the largely European-schooled mulatto and Creole elite who, by and large, with a few remarkable exceptions, exhibited insufferable arrogance and abject condescension for their less privileged and far less Westernized compatriots from the Ghanaian hinterland. The presence of an astute and intellectually formidable Ofori-Atta was, therefore, imperative and indispensable, if these Creole and mulatto elite were not to readily supplant the British colonial administrators once the latter’s term was up.

But that the Nkrumah regime, notwithstanding its vaunted record of massive construction of educational facilities, ironically, also stifled Ghanaian scholastic creativity, cannot be gainsaid. To this effect, Omari notes: “The emotional and intellectual gap between leaders and people resulted in the contempt in which the elite came to be held by the mass of the people under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah. / Azikiwe and Wallace-Johnson were convicted [in 1936] for what might today be called journalistic rabble-rousing in an article the latter had written in Azikiwe’s African Morning Post of May 15 1936, with the heading ‘Has the African a God?’: ‘The European has a God, Deceit, whose law is “ ‘Ye strong, you must weaken the weak.’” Ye “ ‘civilized’” Europeans, you must “ ‘civilize’” the “ ‘barbarous”’ Africans with machine-guns….’ This was libelous stuff in the eyes of the colonial government which sought their conviction for authorship of this article, and the Privy Council in London, which dismissed the appeal against conviction. / When first convicted for publishing this article in [by?] a lower court, Azikiwe had said: ‘The fight for liberty has just begun in Africa. Only those who are prepared to face odds with a will that knows no defeat – having Right as their armor and the Sword of Truth as their weapon – must follow the thorny road which was trodden by Socrates, Jesus of Nazareth, Paul of Tarsus, Saint Peter, Thomas More, and other immortals of history…./ As far as I am concerned, I am prepared for the inevitable, if through this oblation Africa will speed on its way towards redemption and self-determination” (Anatomy 26-27).

Here again, it appears that in hermetically presuming the inveterate enemy of the African’s right to Freedom of Speech (or Free Speech) to be the Western European white-man, Azikiwe had woefully miscalculated. For as the apocalyptic dealings of Nkrumah’s CPP and the Ghanaian press began to vividly and eerily unfold, Dr. Azikiwe must have regretted some aspect of his preceding comment, as he was naturally and logically to do in his eulogy to Dr. Danquah, in the wake of the latter’s brutal assassination by incarceration without trial in February 1965 (see Azikiwe’s “Eulogy On Dr. J. B. Danquah” in Appendix C of Omari’s Kwame Nkrumah: The Anatomy of an African Dictator 211-213).

For Peter Omari, this is exactly how matters stood, vis-à-vis the Ghanaian Press, under the Nkrumah regime: “It was eleven years before this gauntlet was taken up by Kwame Nkrumah who, of course, chose different weapons and trod a different path from that envisioned by Azikiwe in 1936. / So, during the 1930s, the masses had first begun to be made politically conscious through the press. ***With Nkrumah on the scene journalism [precipitously] declined and, particularly with the founding of the Accra Evening News, it reached its lowest ebb. Later, when the CPP government was firmly in power, the Government came almost completely to control the Press; and whatever semblance of competent reporting [which] still existed disappeared with the deportation of Bankole Timothy[a Sierra Leonean and an Nkrumah contemporary and close associate in their London days]” (Anatomy 27).

In essence, Omari cogently argues that Nkrumah, once in power, dangerously tilted the balance from the political elitism – as well as conservatism – of the leadership of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) to the equally unproductive and morally unsavory extreme of populism, initially verging on outright ochlocracy or mobocracy, or mob-rule. In reality, in order to put Ghana on an effective keel towards a prosperous future, observes Omari, Nkrumah needed to have deftly combined the equally significant efforts of the masses with those of the elite: “The United Gold Coast Convention and its leaders – especially the leaders who were essentially of this age and outlook, who invited Nkrumah to assume the General-Secretaryship of their organization – had every intention of continuing in the time-honored traditions of British parliamentarianship. But, largely through the attitude they displayed towards the ‘uneducated’ classes, the educated class of the Gold Coast alienated and continued to alienate themselves from the mass of the people, and lost the political initiative to Nkrumah and his ‘verandah boys’ when, later, politics assumed a popular bias. This led to the virtual disenfranchisement of a large educated middle class in the subsequent political maneuvers of the Convention People’s Party” (Anatomy 27-28).

In a real sense, Omari observes, Nkrumah was a leader by default, and a “genius” when one factored in the ruthless extent to which the proverbial African Show Boy was willing to go to compensate for his near-pathologically flawed personality. In essence, Nkrumah’s apparent and proven megalomania might have had a lot to do with his purported sense of acute inferiority. Again, here is how Omari casts matters: “Nkrumah was, intellectually speaking, a frustrated man at the time when he returned to Africa [Ghana, to be precise]. He had achieved nothing substantial in America. His first degree was in divinity, although he was not going to be a minister of religion; and later, when he got his Master’s degree in political science, he did not feel he had attained the measure of his ambition, and preferred to go to London to get a law degree. In this [also] he was not successful, while a doctorate degree in philosophy also [had] eluded him. Scholars who heard him at rallies in those days, and even up to the end of his rule, wondered what could be the secret of his success over the crowds, and many came back [away?] ridiculing the verbose expressions and bombastic English which he used, and the halting, shouting and screaming way in which he addressed the masses at his gatherings” (Anatomy 34-35).

In brief, considering the fact that Nkrumah was a palpable academic failure, by the standards of his peers and contemporaries, Mr. Victor Gbeho, a career diplomat and former Ghanaian ambassador to the United Nations, could not aptly be said to have been wide of the mark when recently (July 2006) the son of the composer of Ghana’s national anthem intimated in a radio interview, which was reported by, as well as other major Ghanaian media outlets, that in terms of leadership “greatness” or “genius,” Sogakope’s Flt.-Lt. Jerry John Rawlings ranked next to President Nkrumah. For both leaders appear to have assiduously worked themselves into both the national and international limelight in order to compensate for their patent academic and professional failures.

Indeed, there is an open anecdotal secret to the effect that while Mr. Rawlings was incontrovertibly one of the Ghana Air Force’s best pilots, the man could never, hard as he tried, sit for and pass any of his Air Force’s promotion examinations. And like his predecessor Mr. Kwame Nkrumah, Mr. Rawlings, who also sports an equal number of Honorary Doctorates, is often remarked upon as being “charismatic,” by which connotation, of course, critics imply that Mr. Rawlings is quite versatile at rabble-rousing.

The preceding notwithstanding, Omari appears to shoot wide off tangent when the renowned Ghanaian sociologist reports, quoting Nkrumah, that: “The United Gold Coast Convention was obviously not seriously planning to secure independence for the Colony [or the erstwhile Gold Coast] by itself[,] as its officers made no provision for organizing their movement on a nationwide basis, but merely ‘intended concerning themselves with the colony proper [or the Southern-Third of Ghana] and, to a lesser degree, with Ashanti,’ as Nkrumah (43) later wrote” (Nkrumah’s Autobiography ?).

Needless to say, like many a pontifical Nkrumah pronouncement, one cannot set store on the preceding. For starters, as Joe Appiah vividly recalls in his slim but highly informative treatise The Man J. B. Danquah (see also Okoampa-Ahoofe’s Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana), as early as 1946, or thereabouts, Dr. Danquah had petitioned the Asantehene, Nana Osei Agyeman-Prempeh II to reject a separate independence – and declaration of sovereignty – for the Asante Confederation. This petition, it is interesting and significant to note, occurred at least a year or more before Nkrumah’s 1947 return to the Gold Coast. Then again, isn’t there a rather disingenuous edge to Nkrumah’s assertion, in view of the fact that the African Show Boy was invited by the UGCC to take up the post of General-Secretary precisely because the “Movement’s” leaders intended to consolidate the UGCC as a national and nationalist political party in order to win independence for the entire Gold Coast Colony, rather than merely obtaining the same for the territorial signatories to the Bond of 1844, in which case even Okyeman, which joined the Treaty some ten years later, would not have been included?

*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 books are “Romantic Explorations” and “Abena Aninwaa: Letters to My Daughter” (, 2006).

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