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22.05.2005 Feature Article

The Enduring Legacy of Dr. J. B. Danquah - Part 11

The Enduring Legacy of Dr. J. B. Danquah - Part 11
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In the wake of what became known as the 1948 Disturbances, then-Mr. Kwame Nkrumah, Life-Chairman of the newly-formed Convention People's Party (CPP), gave the British colonial government a two-week ultimatum to come out with a definitive agenda aimed at handing back power to indigenous Ghanaians or face the jarring, radical, revolutionary music of “Positive Action.” For Danquah, however, anything short of non-violent constructive engagement reeked of the insufferably regressive and outright counter-productive. Consequently, in a letter addressed to his former political minion, the Doyen of Gold Coast and Ghanaian politics recalled the fact that the non-abrasive ideology of constitutionalism, pursued by the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), had yielded desirable results which the rash and exuberant politics of confrontation, as exhorted by the CPP, was not wont to achieve: “My dear Kwame,/I write to you as a Gold Coast citizen, loving my country as much as anyone. I write also as one who was fortunate to operate with some of our great leaders of the past – the Bannermans and Millses of Accra, the Browns of Cape Coast, and last but not least[,] the apostle of our modern nationalism – Casely Hayford”(Doyen Speaks 12).

And having promptly established his ideological authority as an elder statesman, the invested Twafohene of Akyem-Abuakwa eloquently continues: “In our struggle to induce [as opposed to compelling] the British to implement the promise of Self-Government[,] there is no gain-saying the need for a constructive dynamism which will stimulate our own initiative to make what in 1948 Herbert Morrison called 'big enough adjustments' in finding and adopting the right answers 'much quicker than has ever before been thought possible.” Furthermore, the foremost constitutional lawyer of mid-twentieth century Gold Coast notes: “Pursuit of similar policy by George Alfred Grant in 1947 led to the establishment of the [original] Convention [party]. You will recollect that when, in pursuit of the same policy, you came by invitation to join the Convention and you accepted its principles as General Secretary[,] the same constructive dynamism inspired our explicit demand for a Commission, the recall of the Governor, the calling of a Constituent Assembly for a new constitution, and the grant[ing] of interim Government while the assembly sat.” And still further, the seasoned politician exhorts his less experienced comrade-in-struggle to recognize the constructive validity of ideological constitutionalism as the most effective method of liberation struggle: “It took India 25 years to gain what we are about to gain in less than two years.”

Regarding the latter allusion, Danquah appears to have envisaged Ghana's re-assertion of sovereignty in 1951, and not 1957, and thus the Doyen's apparent alarm that the impetuous and seemingly intransigent stance of the CPP was apt to summarily derail such auspicious landmark. Nonetheless, what seemed to bewilder Danquah more than all else was the apparent paradoxical posture of then-Mr. Kwame Nkrumah, an indubitable firebrand pan-African nationalist, in deciding to breach the hitherto united front of the anti-colonial forces by founding his Convention People's Party. For Danquah, any internal political sanction exacted against the former UGCC general secretary ought to have been accepted as a sheer matter of domestic disciplinary action. And, indeed, it is in such vein that the Doyen mordantly carps his newly-minted rival for capriciously vitiating the united, anti-colonial front of the Ghanaian people: “My dear Kwame, I ask you in the name of Grant and Ghana, don't do it. Desist from your foreshadowed plan. You will recollect that you implanted the partisan spirit in our youth by breaking the national united front to form the Convention People's Party. You had not the requisite patience to wait for the national battle before forming your own separate battalion, which act has opened a gap for the enemy in our ranks”(Doyen Speaks 14).

And needless to say, the colonial regime would tactically play one camp against the other – particularly vis-à-vis constitutional protocol – during the decade leading up to the country's re-assertion of sovereignty. The preceding abstract from Danquah is also quite instructive and fascinating, by virtue of the fact that it depicts the curiously placid temperament of a mature and deliberative statesman who is in no hurry, whatsoever, to capitalize on the highly charged atmosphere of colonial, administrative crisis. In fact, for some of his ardent critics, by 1949, Danquah appeared to have become so proprietary and outright patriarchal in his leadership style as to risk facilitating the undue protraction – or prolongation – of Ghana's independence struggle. And indeed, it is for the preceding reasons that one cannot help but vehemently disagree with David Apter's rather sly attempt at portraying Danquah as a political opportunist. Recalling the findings of the Watson Commission report, for example, the renowned American political sociologist quoted: “Dr. Danquah might be described as the doyen of Gold Coast politicians. He has founded or been connected with most political movements since his adolescence. He is a member of the Legislative Council and but for the accident of birth might have been [become?] a notable chief. He is a man of very great intelligence but suffers from a disease not unknown to politicians throughout the ages and recognized under the generic name of expediency”(Ghana In Transition 167-8: see footnotes; italic supplied). And quite strangely enough, Apter adds, obviously unaware of the glaring contradiction in terms: “The United Gold Coast Convention, whose most powerful figure was Dr. J. B. Danquah, a lawyer and London Ph.D,. suffered from its inability to symbolize [articulate?] the public demands of large segments of the population. Its leadership was composed of part-time politicians of dubious constancy” (Apter 167-8). Even so, Apter, who gushes with superlative encomiums for Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah, also reports that the Watson Commission “felt that Kwame Nkrumah was 'imbued with a Communist ideology which only political expediency had blurred”(Ghana In Transition 169; italics added). Indeed, the preceding observation is quite interesting because a few years later, Anthony Woode, a CPP ideologue, would be summarily expelled from Nkrumah's fold and confidence, after having been accused of “alleged Communist affiliations”(Apter 238). The author of Ghana In Transition also puts up a vigorous but hardly cogent defense for Nkrumah, against the Watson Commission's “political expediency” charge by retorting in a footnote: “Most observers agree that this judgment was scarcely warranted. If it was, however, then Nkrumah's growth and stature as a statesman is all the more impressive. Nkrumah, as prime minister, has shown a respect for his office which few could have anticipated”(169).

Again, the distinguished American comparative, political sociologist fails to clearly define just what Nkrumah's “Positive Action” entailed, except to glibly claim that this campaign strategy was, contrary to UGCC claims, devoid of violence: “Nkrumah designed a campaign of 'Positive Action' in which all tactics [such as?] other than open insurrection and mass violence were to be utilized against the [British colonial] regime. Opposition immediately developed from [among?] the executive board of the United Gold Coast Convention, and conservative opinion branded Positive Action as subversive and dangerous to the nationalist cause. The leadership of the United Gold Coast Convention attempted to force Nkrumah to dissolve the youth organizations. An attempt was made to remove him from the secretaryship. The attempt failed. Rather, after a secret session in Kumasi in December 1948, the new committee of youth organizations issued a manifesto: / “Youth everywhere are in action against the forces of evil, of suppression and repression, and we youth in the Gold Coast have not been found wanting. Together with the struggling youth of other lands[,] we shall not rest until we have built the Brave New World of free and independent nations bounteously enjoying the blessings of life”(Apter 171).

Needless to say, regarding the “expediency” factor, as noted by the Watson Commission, this may be glaringly and unmistakably envisaged in the brazen appropriation of the term Convention by Kwame Nkrumah, a term which, according to Danquah, was proposed by both the Doyen and his astute nephew, Mr. William (Paa Willie) Ofori-Atta, at the foundation of the United Gold Coast Convention (see Doyen Speaks). But even more significantly, Apter makes the following rather embarrassing claim: “It is a testament to Nkrumah's personal integrity that while he has used his popularity as a crucial political asset, he has taken on none of the attributes of a dictator. With responsibility[,] he has primarily been concerned with translating public needs into a governmental program”(Ghana In Transition 173). Needless to say, many Ghanaians, both conservative and radical, are wont to vehemently disagree with Apter. On the other hand, the renowned American political scientist's rather capricious perspective becomes quite understandable – not necessarily plausible – when one factors in the romantic and emotional distance of the proverbial paternalistic, Western liberal spectator-tourist.

The distinguished Princeton University professor may, however, be quite accurate in observing that Nkrumah's deftly-calculated strategy of “self-righteous martyrdom” resoundingly tolled the death-knell for Danquah's more strategically deliberate United Gold Coast Convention: “When the Convention People's Party launched the Positive Action campaign, three party journalists and officials were sent to prison for sedition. Meanwhile[,] in municipal elections[,] the Convention People's Party began to win victories. When the three imprisoned party leaders, Gamesu K. Amegbe…Kwame Afryea [Afiriyie?]…and K. A. Gbedemah…were released from jail[,] Nkrumah and others were sentenced from six months to five years. This was precisely the cap of martyrdom needed by the party. As Amegbe [extant chairman of the Cocoa Marketing Board] related in [an] interview [with David Apter], 'As soon as they put Kwame in jail[,] we toured the country with Gbedemah. We went up and down the land, into almost every village, making seven or eight speeches a day, and covering thousands of miles in a week. We brought CPP into every village. With Kwame in jail[,] Gbedemah was in command and he really organized the party./The incarceration of Nkrumah spelled the end of the United Gold Coast Convention as an effective organization. Nkrumah became a household name”(Ghana In Transition 172).

And while he generally tends to generously favor Nkrumah in his assessment of Ghanaian political historiography, and in the process invidiously characterizing Danquah as an intransigent elitist who defined “government [in Platonic terms] as the responsibility of an educational [sic] and traditional elect by representative means”(178), nonetheless, Apter seems to perfectly agree with Danquah that: “The 1950 Constitution was a truly transitional medium” (see Ghana In Transition 180). It is, however, quite interesting to recall that the transitional executive likes of Nkrumah, Gbedemah and Casely-Hayford, adamantly determined to hang onto power, curiously regarded the 1950 Constitution in no fleetingly transitional terms but, rather, as a means of perennial political fiesta. The distinguished American political sociologist also appears to obliquely agree with Danquah that the summary excision of chieftaincy from the electoral equation, logically meant that “a large segment of the population finds itself without the kind of representation hitherto afforded” by the old, established pre-colonial regime”(Ghana In Transition 182). But, perhaps, the greatest constitutional disagreement between Danquah and Nkrumah was one largely pre-determined by their divergent familial backgrounds. As a patrician monarchist and an ardent adherent to the more organic and firmly established traditional regime, the Doyen of Gold Coast politics found it almost impossible to, literally, wish away the past, as the more populist and Eurocentric Nkrumah appeared to do. And on this score, Danquah was indubitably the more politically organic and progressive. For, needless to say, Nkrumah's radical call for the total overthrow and outright liquidation of the pre-colonial institutional paradigm, threatened to throw the entire Ghanaian society into chaos. Furthermore, his Eurocentric, Marxist stance threatened Ghanaian society with cultural atrophy and outright political suicide; for in summarily attempting to proscribe the monarchical past, under the specious and patently vacuous guise of social justice, Nkrumah was practically negating his own much-touted unique “African personality,” that which made the Ghanaian uniquely Ghanaian. Consequently, the more incontrovertibly Afrocentric Dr. Danquah admonished Nkrumah in what may be deemed as the rudest of terms: “Once again, I appeal to you, in the language of Cromwell, 'from the bowels of Christ,' suffer not your impetuosity of youth to lead you astray. You have already passed from a national united front to a partisan front, and you plan now to make a breach on the harmonious front between the people and their chiefs. Don't, in the name of King Ghartey – whom you are fond of quoting: 'Be constitutional' – pursue your declared plan 'to make the chiefs run away and leave their sandals behind.' (Who is to wear the sandals?). And if you do make our chiefs run away from us, where do you think they would be running to? Is it your real policy to throw our Chiefs back into the arms of imperialism and so destroy the solid unity of Chiefs and people achieved since Casely Hayford's death?”(Doyen Speaks 14-15).

The preceding notwithstanding, what appears to have insufferably rankled Danquah was Nkrumah's virtually vacuous presumption of Ghanaian cultural and political inanition. The Doyen perceived the latter ideological stance to be an unpardonable outrage: “We all admire India and Turkey and even Russia for their achievement of national liberation. But you must know that had Russia adopted the India[n] method of Satyagraha[,] Russia would have [utterly] failed. India would[,] likewise[,] have failed if instead of Gandhi's method of non-violence[,] Indians had practiced Leninism, or had applied the belligerent methods of Ataturk of Turkey! [Indeed,] a nation's struggle, like a nation's philosophy, must be built out of its native material. The irrepressible self of the Gold Coast man is hardly amenable to a philosophy of self-negation or self-abasement. Our Gold Coast material is, because of our [unique] historical development, heavily encumbered with our cultural traditions imbedded in the dignity of democratic chieftaincy. As was said elsewhere by me, every true Gold Coast man considers himself nothing less than a patrician, a member of a royal house, an Odehye”(Doyen Speaks 15-16).

Danquah might, however, have been a little mistaken in his characterization of Nkrumah's “Positive Action” campaign of January 1950: “Uproot the foreign plant of positive action from your heart….” Even so, Nkrumah and his henchmen of the 1951 transitional government acquitted themselves rather shabbily when the pioneering Leader of Government Business sharply characterized the Doyen's urgent move for a comprehensive review of the so-called Coussey Constitution, and thus ensure the temporal expedition of the time-table for the re-assertion of Ghana's sovereignty as one that was “criminally motivated”(Doyen Speaks 18). Indeed, what is interesting about the preceding is that while the Coussey Constitution had been accorded a trial period of five years, nevertheless, as Danquah perspicuously recalled, the Burns Constitution of 1946, which had been slated to operate for at least 15 years, lasted barely two years, as the political exigencies rendered it virtually obsolete and outright effete. Then again for Danquah, the major problem with Nkrumah's declaration of “Positive Action” had far less to do with the mere declaration of political intent than the far more grievous fact that it whipped up undue public excitement in the form of protean mob action, thus inevitably precipitating needless bloodshed. And for those who disagreed with his well-calibrated assessment, Danquah had the following observation to make: “As the Governor pointed out in his Statement read to us [the transitional Assembly] by the Leader of Government Business [i.e. Prime Minister Nkrumah], and as Mr. Saloway, then Colonial Secretary, pointed out in January 1950 in this Chamber, the policy of positive action was repeatedly described as 'non-violent.' But we happen to know that when applied in January 1950, it resulted in violence. Once you release the powers and forces behind the North-East [Trade] Winds, you are bound to have a storm, and once you have a storm, you are bound to see the consequences in stormy weather, with stormy and violent consequences. Even Gandhi's Ahimsa could not be carried out without the loss of millions of lives in India”(Doyen Speaks 22-23).

Of course, needless to say, while the carnage wreaked in the wake of Nkrumah's “Positive Action” campaign appears to have, literally, spooked the likes of Danquah's UGCC and the British colonial regime it, nevertheless, secured for the primary mastermind the coveted and prestigious berth of seminal Ghanaian premiership. But whether Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah was to be envisaged as the proverbially long-awaited Messiah of Ghanaian and African liberation appears moot. At least Danquah did not appear to think so: “Probably it was in the plan of Providence that the General Secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention, [the latter of which party was] responsible for that plan, should be placed at the head of that interim Government to prepare the way, like John the Baptist, for the coming of the Great Messiah”(Doyen Speaks 25). *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 two volumes of political and cultural essays, including SOUNDS OF SIRENS: Essays in African Politics & Culture (2004) and THE NEW SCAPEGOATS: Colored-On-Black Racism (2005), both of which are available from,, and Barnes & Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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