Forgotten Essences. There’s a statement attributed to the Osagyefo, which has been repeated a few times on this forum by the illustrious disciples of the goldsmith’s son, that, " A return to the pre-colonial African society is evidently not worthy of the ingenuity and efforts of our people."
I find this the most definitive statement that characterizes the nebulous philosophy of Nkrumahism, a worldview pregnant with the seed of historical denial whose objective was to birth an equally nebulous concept called the African Personality. Events have shown that it was a grievous statement and grievously had Nkrumah answered it.
The Osagyefo’s brand of Pan Africanism was forged in the burning crucible of the racial politics of the 1930 and 1940s in the United States. In this arena, the black man was one homogenous, de-ethnified mass, a product of both the slave trade and the melting pot nature of American development, and oppressed as a result of skin color. The battle lines were sharply drawn in this struggle. This strident Black Nationalism was further honed in his sojourn in the West African Secretariat in England where all the English-speaking Africans organized together against a common colonial power. Here again the battle lines were sharply drawn; the colonized and the colonizer. When the Osagyefo returned to Ghana 1948, he was an accomplished Black man and an African, but not a Ghanaian. In any case Ghana did not exist at the time. When Ghana did come into existence, she would become his womb, an empty shell devoid of any significant history, and from whose creative juices he would birth the new African Personality.
It was in the area of governance that the Osagyefo’s worldview would realize its most devastating effects. Indeed the first test of this worldview that had no use for the African past occurred during the debates between the Unitarists and the so-called Federalists led by the NLM in the mid fifties. Nkrumah in championing the Unitarist position stated that “we have a stable society, our economy is healthy, our people are fundamentally homogenous, nor are we plagued by religious and tribal divisions and problems.” His position is turgid with denial of historical proportions.
What is stable about a society, which after 500 years of slavery and internal wars, had been conquered and subdued for another century by a foreign power?
What is healthy about an economic imperative that had for centuries turned us into a supplier of slave labor, and for another century made us purveyors of agricultural and mineral raw materials to the industrialized world?
What was homogenous about a deeply divided and diverse society, even among the seemingly homogenous Akans, many of whom had lived in anything but peaceful co-existence with each other over centuries?
There were massive cleavages and potential for more in our society, which had been kept in check by the overwhelming force of the colonizing power and through the machinations of indirect rule.
Nkrumah’s rejection of federalism and choice of unitarism then was based on totally false premises about the nature of Ghanaian society and history, and the only way he could keep the shell of Ghana together was to enforce it the only way possible – to use the very methods of colonization. To crown it all, he used the very colonial administrative machinery, including some of the colonial officials like Harley, who helped in his overthrow in 1966. From 1951, when the Osagyefo was inserted into the colonial administration as Leader of Government Business, he became the de facto instrument of the Colonial governments machination to ensure that the economic imperative was not jeopardized.
As Master Of Ghana, the Osagyefo would draft his Pan African dream to this administrative framework that was intended to be dictatorial, oppressive and near omnipotent. And in the wake of this disastrous combination would arise one-partyism, patronage, nepotism and the general instability that has plagued Ghanaian politics ever since. In addition, because the Osagyefo was blazing a trail for Africa, many other African countries adopted the same colonial unitarism and have achieved similar outcomes. Even when multi parties have flourished, the tendency is towards the governing party, by virtue of its custodianship of the colonized state apparatus, gravitating towards a one party state, as seems to be the case in Ghana presently.
And all because the Osagyefo denied the past. The goldsmith’s son refused to accept there was anything to be learnt from traditional governance and the diverse nature of Ghanaian society, and opted to use the administrative framework of our oppressor, including its forces of coercion, to forge a new Ghanaian. This was our liberation!
When a new management or ownership takes over a new factory, they perform an inventory of existing stock, machinery and processes before they decide on new strategies for improving production. They do not merely come in raze everything to the ground and fill it up with new plants and processes. Not unless they only want the building shell, in which case they will bring in the demolishers to lay waste to the junk in the building.
As far as the Osagyefo was concerned " A return to the pre-colonial African society is evidently not worthy of the ingenuity and efforts of our people." He brought in the demolishers to clear the living roots of our prior existence and superimposed a Ghanaian national consciousness that subsumed all ethnic consciousness. And this new Ghanaian would be trained in the boarding secondary schools that were generally situated far away from the town limits, their students alienated and insulated from normal, everyday national life, and needing permission slips from underpaid housemasters to go into the real world of the dilapidated towns.
It was a grievous fault and grievously had Kwame answered it.
Not surprisingly, the challenges to the rule of the Osagyefo came in tribal hues. The Tokyo Joe Rebellion, the Ga Shifimo Kpeee, the ‘matemeho’, quasi-federalist movement of the NLM and the Anlo Youth Association, were all serious manifestations of the suppression of ethnicity. Nkrumah responded with the “Avoidance of discrimination Act” banning political parties based on regions, ethnicity, or religion. And when ethnic tensions arose during the regime, he invented tribal balance as a balm to pacify tribal leaders through the great wheel of State patronage.
Similar suppression of ethnicity in the quest for an elusive national unity and consciousness has resulted in catastrophic disintegration of many African countries. In Liberia where an American Black elite was superimposed on the native populations; the rebellion of Samuel Doe against the oligarchy unleashed a destructive sequence that still plagues the country today. In Sierra Leone where a privileged returnee minority and intelligentsia lorded it over the native people, civil strife led by ethnic based warlords brought about the total disintegration of the country. Only recently in the Ivory Coast where the centripetal influence of one man, the late Mr. Hougphet Boigny, had kept at bay the serious cleavages of a polarized society, the cords of the specious stability are breaking asunder. Currently, the ethnic tensions and clashes, the rendering of party politics along ethnic lines, and the alleged collusion of government officials in ethnic violence are the first rumbles in the simmering cauldron called Ghana.
But despite this repudiation of the African past, the Osagyefo was not averse to invoking the past when it suited his whims especially if it would embellish an aspect of the new African Personality he was obsessed with. In 1960, when he consolidated his dictatorship by combining the position of Head of State and Head of Government, he justified the action to Ghanaians in a broadcast saying he had given ‘much thought to the historical forms of government in Ghana in the past and have always had in mind the need for a constitution that befits our traditions’. He went on to applaud this dictatorial ploy saying ‘Ghana gives to the world a unique and outstanding precedent in the drawing up of a modern constitution, based on the actual democratic demands of party politics with the background of African circumstances.
Had Nkrumah understood the march of history, and not withstanding the insincerity of Dr. Busia and the other quasi-federalists, he would have realized that Ghanaian society and history possessed the classic preconditions for a federalist dispensation. Almost all the pre-colonial polities in the geographical space existed as confederal states operating on basic egalitarian and democratic principles. In addition, the states had a long history of co-existence, had undergone a similar colonization and possessed a desire for modernization and progress. Further many of the states like the Asante, Ewe had kept their essential ethno-nationalist consciousness.
What was needed was a leadership that had the ingenuity to wield these together into a national consciousness that, at the same time celebrated, maintained and promoted our diverse ethno-national essences. And the examples of the modern Federations of the US, Switzerland, Germany, Australia and India, were available to offer guidance in the modern practice of a pluralistic democracy that will untangle the strangle hold of colonial unitarism.
Alas, it was not to be, and the Osagyefo was no Lee Kuan Yew. The legacy of Osagyefo, the Fount of Honor, has become this atrophied unitary state, which is on the one hand presided over by a parasitic State Elite that supervises the neo-colony; and on the other hand by a moribund traditionalism that provides the necessary production relations and conditions that underpin the economic base of the neo-colony.
And the unfinished business of history still awaits them that will boldly go where the Osagyefo never dared to venture.
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