In February this year, just about the same time that many African-Americans, as well as other well-meaning Americans, were feverishly preparing to mark the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Malcolm X, another commemoration of equal significance was taking place throughout the Republic of Ghana. It was the 40th anniversary of the death, in a medium-security prison, of Dr. Joseph Boakye Danquah (affectionately and privately known to his family and closest associates as Nana Kwame Kyeretwie).
Not many Americans (with the remarkable exception of Dr. John Henrik Clarke, a veritable Afrocentrist), Black or White, know much about the life and legacy of the nationally dubbed – or acclaimed – “Doyen [or Dean] of Ghanaian [actually, Gold Coast] politics.” He was so dubbed because until Dr. Danquah emerged into national spotlight during the mid-1920s, there was no formidably organized, broad-based political apparatus clamoring for the imminent overthrow of the British colonial regime. There had largely been ethnic groupings such as existed in Fanteland, mainly in the Cape Coast-Anomabu-Elmina district of the Gold Coast littoral, as well as several others in the central and northern halves of the country. It was Danquah who was to lead the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) to pose a systematic and formidable counter-force to British imperialism, from 1947 onwards.
Significantly, as Mr. Ato Brown, of Cape Coast, recently pointed out (ghanaweb.com 2/11/05), Dr. Danquah was not without his equally formidable antecedents; and in the latter regard, we hasten to mention the name of Ephraim Casely-Hayford, the man who, legend has it, summoned the younger Dr. J. B. Danquah to his death-bed and urged the latter to carry the mantle of Africa’s geopolitical emancipation. The latter would gratefully and graciously oblige. Significantly, however, where Casely-Hayford – the first continental African to publish a novel in the English language titled Ethiopia Unbound (1911) – had envisioned the total liberation of the West-African sub-region as collectively inextricable, earlier on having spearheaded the august and celebrated Congress of British West Africa, Danquah toed a path which the latter presumed to be the more pragmatic, which was the nationalist path. Such choice must have been primarily prompted by practical realities on the ground, as it were; for the four colonies which constituted the membership of the Congress of British West Africa were geopolitically inorganic. Ghana (the erstwhile Gold Coast), Nigeria, Sierra Leone and the Gambia were all surrounded and divided by some twelve French-speaking African countries whose indigenous leadership agenda was relatively more Eurocentric and conservative and patently inimical to the more Afrocentric aspirations of the so-called British West Africa. But even so, as later catastrophic events would show, among the Anglophone West African countries, there was no uniformity of national leadership, or indigenous political, agenda. And this was largely the reason why on the eve of the foundation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), when Ghanaian premier Kwame Nkrumah called upon his fellow African leaders for immediate geopolitical unification of the more than 20 newly-independent African countries in 1961, the undisputed father of modern, continental Africa’s pan-Africanist movement could only count on the support of Ahmed Sekou Toure’s Guinea and Modibo Keita’s Mali. It would eventually take a lot of political wrangling and regressive bloc formations to precipitate the establishment of the talking-shop that became known as the Organization of African Unity (OAU). Three years ago, the latter organization morphed into something called the African Union (AU), which promised to pursue a more pragmatic course of action. And needless to say, more than much remains to be seen.
In the wake of the global spirit of democratization, which actually began with the end of the so-called Cold War, most of the Arabized North African sub-region of the continent remains in the unyielding grips of military dictatorship. One glaring irony inheres in the fact that President Muamar El-Qaddafy, who ascended to his country’s leadership some 36 years ago, via a military putsch, was foremost among the signatories that supposedly elevated the otiose, talking-shop status of the OAU into that of the purportedly more potent and pragmatic apparatus of the AU.
The recent decision of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, largely instigated by Washington, to permit the salutary institutionalization of multi-party democracy, gives a little cause for celebration. But it is only a little cause because, as yet, no definitive guidelines – or road-map(s) – have been publicly promulgated by the Cairo government. Likewise, the decision by Col. Qaddafy to abandon his nuclear ambitions came as a pleasant surprise to those of us who had harbored grave concerns over the ulterior motives of this patently Islamo-Arabic, radical nationalist. For like Egypt, Libya persists in calling itself an Arab republic, despite the fact that, like most North African countries, it is neither a republic, in the classical sense of the term, nor an Arab nation. At best, Libya is an Arabized country, the same way the Ghana and Nigeria were once colonized countries. Arabized because more than nine-tenths of North Africans are indigenous Africans of Berber origins; the much revered and celebrated Saint Augustine, of the global Roman Catholic Church, was of indigenous African, Berber extraction.
The tragic story of Dr. J. B. Danquah is also the story of the woeful failure of democratic governance, particularly the salutary spirit of tolerance in post-colonial Africa. For as adumbrated earlier, Dr. Danquah died as a direct result of his incarceration at Ghana’s Nsawam Medium-Security Prison, primarily because as the chief opposition leader to President Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party (CPP), and one who was inimitably eloquent, legally astute and cognitively unbested, the mercurial and visionary Ghanaian leader saw his rival as a regressive counter-force to his pan-Africanist agenda. The irony, however, lay in the fact that President Nkrumah had once been a student of Dr. Danquah’s at Achimota College, the colonial forerunner of the erstwhile University College of the Gold Coast, now called the University of Ghana at Legon, located some 13 miles north-east of the Ghanaian capital of Accra. Back then, Dr. Danquah, who had not quite long before returned from his sterling pursuit of advanced legal studies at the University of London, also served as one of the several Assistant Vice-Principals of Achimota College. Danquah’s nephew, William (Paa Willie) Ofori-Atta, would also attend Achimota College and be named the latter institution’s pioneering African, Senior Prefect, the equivalent of Student Government President in an American tertiary institution. So, in a sense, the political imprisonment of Dr. Danquah by his former student closely parallels the political incarceration of famed Marxist philosopher C. L. R. James by Trinidadian prime minister Dr. Eric Williams. Alas, unlike his West African counterpart, Professor James would emerge from political confinement to pursue an enviable and productive, scholastic enterprise. To-date, the death of Dr. Danquah, in prison, remains one of the darkest splotches on the otherwise impeccable and brilliant resume of President Nkrumah. But what further complicated matters was the fact that shortly after the Convention people’s Party (CPP) government released the mortal remains of the 69-year-old “Doyen of Ghanaian Politics,” President Nkrumah also issued an edict prohibiting any public celebration of the life of this illustrious citizen of both his people – the Akyem-Abuakwa State – and the Ghanaian people at large. In the preceding sense, Dr. Danquah could be aptly said to have been flagrantly denied the kind of burial and funeral worthy of a pioneering statesman and legal scholar of genius. The fact that the deceased also belonged to a 500-plus-year-old royal family, Ofori Panyin Fie, and, indeed, at one time the most powerful state in Ghana, could hardly be ignored. For the Akyem people, nothing could have been more insulting. But it was also quite understandable that President Nkrumah would impose a ban on the public celebration of the life and achievements of the man whose United Gold Coast Convention party offered the latter his maiden job and break into the indigenous Ghanaian political mainstream, shortly after Nkrumah’s return from the United States and Britain, a decade after the latter departed the shores of the erstwhile Gold Coast for advanced studies, a venture in which the forthcoming and well-meaning Dr. Danquah is wont to have encouraged his young, brilliant protégé. The substantive president was deathly afraid of the possible eruption of civic mayhem, and on this score, he might have been right on the money, as it were. Even so, allowing a great man of Danquah’s genius to die and be treated like a dead-chicken, as some Nkrumah critics have inveighed, was rather unfortunate, to say the least. And here, it bears stating that I am an Nkrumahist. Still, it is disconsolately painful to have to admit that my father’s maternal granduncle – Nana Adwoa Apeakoramaa’s younger brother – was allowed to die and be buried dishonorably, rends my heart and soul. Yet, as an ardent, second-generation Nkrumahist, one whose father was a district organizing secretary for Nkrumah’s CPP, and a district presiding officer of the Young Pioneers’ Movement, I am forced to seek comfort from the greater good that President Nkrumah’s remarkable achievements represented for Ghanaians and the international African world at large.
On the 40th anniversary commemoration of his death, my cousin and traditional grandfather, Osagyefo Amoatia Ofori-Panyin, Okyenhene – or Paramount King of the Three Akyem States of Ghana – called for the renaming of the premier academic flagship of the country, the University of Ghana, Legon, in memorial honor of Dr. J. B. Danquah. For just as the latter’s elder brother, Nana Sir Ofori-Atta I, was singularly instrumental in the establishment of Achimota School or College (the former Prince of Wales School), where most post-colonial Ghanaian leaders were educated, Dr. J. B. Danquah was singularly instrumental in the establishment of the University College of the Gold Coast, now known as the University of Ghana. Interestingly enough, in the early 1940s, when Dr. Danquah petitioned the British Colonial Office and government to establish a university on the august order of the universities at Cambridge and London, the British government demurred by vacuously insisting that Ghana was not yet culturally and intellectually mature enough to require such cerebral establishment. Upon further wrangling, the British Crown decided to establish the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, for the collective use of the four British West African colonies. The irony is that by 1948, when the Canadian-born substantive, British colonial governor, Gordon Guggisberg, finally relented, hundreds of Gold Coasters had already attended and graduated from most of the leading British universities; and even those who could not afford the cost of travel, lodging and tuition had attended the minor University College at Fourah Bay, Sierra Leone, which was founded in 1887 as an affiliate of Britain’s Durham University.
Dr. Danquah has also been widely acknowledged as the scholar whose wide-ranging and meticulous scholarship established the plausible affinity of modern Ghanaians with their ancient Ghanaian heritage. And, indeed, it was on the basis of Danquah’s scholarship that on the eve of her landmark declaration of sovereignty from Britain, in March 1957, Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah renamed the Gold Coast, Ghana. And so, in a real sense, recently when President John Agyekum-Kufuor declared that the putative “Doyen of Ghanaian Politics” was also “the best Prime Minister [that] Ghana never had,” he could not have been more agreeable. It is also significant to observe here that the man who spearheaded the CIA-sponsored overthrow of President Nkrumah, Col. E. K. Kotoka, today has Ghana’s only international airport named for him. On the other hand, Dr. Danquah, who was also the legal scholar and brain behind the establishment of the Ghana National House of Chiefs, today has only a minor rotary – or vehicular roundabout – named for him. The call for the University of Ghana to be renamed the J. B. Danquah University of Ghana could thus not have come at a more auspicious moment. Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is on a Sabbatical Leave from Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City, where he teaches English and Journalism. He is the author of eight volumes of poetry and a collection of essays on African politics and culture.