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13.03.2007 Feature Article

Ghana at 50: An appraisal of Nkrumahism

THE independence of Ghana on March 6, 1957, was a watershed in the history of Africa, being the first black country in the continent. It was a catalyst to the struggle for liberation from the colonial rule in the continent. For the African masses, one man’s role stood out in achieving the feat; he was Kwame Nkrumah. Inspired by the independence of India from Britain in 1947, he saw the possibility of defeating imperial Britain with the co-ordinated and consistent political struggle and, thus, became a quintessential anti-colonialist. His return from the US and UK to Ghana and the formation of the anti-colonialist party, Convention Peoples Party (CPP), gave a radical fillip to the independence struggle and set the stage for the exit of the British colonialists.

Unlike the current generation of African leaders who are mostly only satisfied with earning foreign exchange from the sales of natural resources just for self-enrichment, Nkrumah was genuinely committed to using the resources of Ghana for industrial development and economic growth of the country. Ghana was rich in bauxite and that could make it to manufacture aluminum even for exports if there was a reliable power supply. This, together with the need to produce electricity to set in motion the process of industrialisation, informed the Volta Dam project. The project was only half successful but nobody could reasonably doubt the positive intention behind it.

He openly asserted that capitalism was too complicated to achieve the goals of development in Africa. But, beyond the rhetoric of anti-capitalism and scientific socialism in his celebrated speeches and writings, he never truly cut link with capitalism and imperialism. His socialism was versioned on the Stalinist Soviet Union model and the utopian African socialism. This was his undoing that made it impossible to achieve lofty goals. His government relied on bureaucratically run marketing board, a colonial invention, to mobilize the required resources from the sales of cocoa, the country’s then main stay of economy, to attain the goals. This created more enabling avenue for official corruption than the provision of basic needs and infrastructure development it was originally designed to achieve.

He set up state-owned companies and public utilities apparently to provide some basic needs for the people. But, lack of democratic management and control of the companies by the working people themselves bred mismanagement and corruption that crippled the initiative. They did not only fail to largely achieve their objectives, they became a curse rather than a blessing. Since he could only use the revenue from cocoa to bail out the public companies, he had to make the poor farmers the sacrificial lambs. The government, through the market boards, reduced the price paid to farmers on cocoa in order to raise more revenue. This was at a period when there was increase in the price of cocoa in the world and farmers only expected fortunes. They were highly disappointed and demoralized to continue production of the commodity. This culminated into series of events that made Ghana to lose its place as the world's largest producer of cocoa.

The economic downturn created a social crisis that made the government of the self-styled Osagyefo (the Redeemer), once the hope of Ghana and beacon of Africa, to become unpopular. The response of the government to the various agitation of working people and farmers worsened the situation. Rather than mobilising workers and the poor to completely break with capitalism, Nkrumah became dictatorial and took some draconian measures against the widespread protest and disaffection to his government. Unfortunately, Nkrumah, that once proclaimed during the anti-colonial struggle: “If we get self-government, we will transform the Gold Coast (Ghana) into a paradise in 10 years”, almost turned the country into hell for workers and opposition. He declared strike actions by workers illegal, arrested and detained opposition without trial and declared Ghana a one-party state with him as the life president. Capitalising on the mass resentment against his government, a CIA sponsored military coup toppled Kwame Nkrumah on February 24, 1966, with a taunt from the army officers, “the myth surrounding Kwame Nkrumah has been broken”.

No doubt, Kwame Nkrumah was one of the greatest African nationalist leaders. His ouster by the military coup provided him opportunity to give more speeches and writings on Africa’s development.

Vanguard-Peluola Adewale
Vanguard-Peluola Adewale, © 2007

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