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31.12.2007 Feature Article

Kwame Nkrumah: Personal Ambition and the Exploitation of Christianity

Kwame Nkrumah: Personal Ambition and the Exploitation of Christianity

The late Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, was a symbol of hope and optimism for many across the continent of Africa in the 1950s, a decade in which black consciousness ― both in the West and Africa ― was becoming crystallized, a natural response to the approximately two hundred years of white oppression and stranglehold on the rights of black people to self-determination and political freedom. I must caution the reader that not everything in this article venerates the man Ghanaians came to know as their “savior,” for in his quest for absolute power, Kwame Nkrumah exploited certain Christian morals for self-aggrandizement. Camouflaging his true intent by combining the tenets of Christianity with a ruthless suppression of political rivals, this Marxist-Leninist demagogue gradually catapulted himself into a demigod, transforming Ghana into a one-party state, and silencing opposing voices via a number of ridiculous ordinances and acts. Paradoxically, Nkrumah's bloated ego and throttlehold on power would eventually lead to his overthrow and ultimate demise.

My work in this article is based partly on the Gramscian Theory, a salient theory of governance propounded by Anthony Gramsci, an Italian sociologist. Rejecting Karl Marx's theory of “economic determinism” (Simms 2003), Gramsci postulated that, in order for commoners to overcome subjugation brought on by capitalist structures, “the masses had to be educated to appreciate the exploitative nature of their subalternation before they could overthrow capitalism and establish a Gramscian 'workers democracy'” (Kiros 1985, as cited by Simms 2003). In effect, Gramsci believed that in each society, the forces of hegemony and counter-hegemony were constantly battling each other, with the direction of society determined by the more dominant of the two ideologies. Gramsci defined hegemony as leadership by the ruling class based on culture. And Gramsci defined counter-hegemony as a revolutionary, psychocultural ideology set in motion by intellectuals from among the proletariat, in an effort to destabilize the leadership of the ruling class (elitism) and replace it with democratic socialism (Boggs 1968, as cited by Simms 2003).

My enunciation of the afore-referenced ideologies is necessary to provide a platform for my polemic, without which my scholarly analyses will be incomplete. A detailed examination of Gramscian Theory reveals a methodical application of counter-hegemonic ideals by Nkrumah in his fight against England's domination of the Gold Coast. With England's rush to conquer foreign lands ― the ultimate goal was obviously the exploitation of the vast array of many colonies' natural resources ― the Gold Coast became an English protectorate in 1874. The British had declared that their control of colonies was appropriate because “it is the genius of [their] race to colonize, to trade, and to govern” (Lugard 1971). And with this influx of colonists came a menagerie of evangelists with one salient goal: the proselytizing of natives who were considered pagans. Over time, a subset of this legion of British aristocrats, public servants and preachers began to espouse British imperialism and hegemony, slowly “Westernizing” the minds of the Gold Coast natives.

In line with the preceding argument, school curricula were also designed to promote British dominance, which ultimately accelerated the natives' willingness to accept the colonists' “superiority.” Fortunately for Nkrumah, the same institutions that produced the hegemonic ideologies of the English elite, would simultaneously serve as the avenues that the former would employ to promote his counter-hegemonic gospel. After Nkrumah was appointed the General Secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention, he saw an opportunity to solicit the support and cooperation of his fellow intellectuals to embark on strikes: Nkrumah began what came to be known as “Positive Action” ― a plethora of boycotts and labor unrests, which ultimately compelled the British to “approve a new constitution in 1956 and to grant the colony independence [in 1957]” (Simms 2003).

Sadly, Kwame Nkrumah would exploit Christian teachings and, in the process, engage in what Christians will unequivocally refer to as blasphemies, in his attempt to consolidate his power base and force everyone ― friend and foe alike ― to kowtow to his Marxist-Leninist ideological leanings. Perverting Christian virtues by casting Jesus Christ as a nonconformist ― this stance was vehemently opposed by European Christians at the time ― Nkrumah and his ideologues would go on to convince their fellow citizens to pattern their civil disobedience after Christ's “examples.” Unfortunately, the largely uneducated population was unable to decipher this blasphemy in order to reject it.

While all Ghanaians unambiguously identify with the moral justification of the clamor for the political independence of the Gold Coast, it is the deception perpetrated via the false application of Christian teachings by Nkrumah that many consider to be extremely self-serving and morally unacceptable. Between 1948 and 1966, the Evening News, the government's flagship newspaper, carried out some of the most influential propaganda, elevating Nkrumah's stature unabashedly and comparing him to Jesus Christ. For the millions of Ghanaians (actually 63% of the population) who serve Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior today, this revelation about the maligning of Scripture to further one man's ideological pursuits will be discomfiting and downright untenable.

In a further effort to entrench himself as the nation's life president, Nkrumah empowered the Evening News to preach Nkrumaism while, at the same time, he passed the Newspaper Licensing Act of 1963 proscribing all privately owned newspapers, in order to rigorously curb all forms of criticism leveled against him. Employing four Marxist-Leninist tenets ― state ownership of economic infrastructure; the promotion of a one-party system; a so-called social parity based on egalitarianism; and the extension of his political views to the entire African continent (Simms 2003) ― Nkrumah forcefully burrowed his way into the nation's socio-cultural fabric, hoping to gain full acceptance in the process. For those who still believe in Marxist-Leninist ideology, the collapse of the Soviet Union demonstrates that this form of governance does not work: human beings have a free will and are apt to decide their own choices in life, which is why the imposition of rules and laws that prohibit the ownership of private property does not propel people to be resourceful, since individual productivity is not rewarded.

The Convention People's Party (CPP), on whose platform Nkrumah envisioned his odds of a life presidency (no one can deny that this plan by Nkrumah was unmistakably dictatorial and fiendish), “utilized Christian symbols, terms, imagery, and honorific titles to popularize and [legalize] Nkrumaism, portraying Nkrumah as the nation's Messiah and itself as the Party of God” (Simms 2003). Most young Ghanaians today are unaware of the fact that Nkrumah's presumptuous proclivity to perpetual rule forced him to engage in some outrageous human rights abuses. According to Yakubu Saaka (1994), “Under the Preventive Detention Act, some of the regime's opponents were locked up indefinitely for political crimes that could not be substantiated. For some Ghanaians, the regime and Nkrumah himself will forever stand indicted for allowing his chief rival, J. B. Danquah, to die in prison. Nkrumah harassed his opponents, bullied the civil service, subordinated the courts to the needs of his party, and even dismissed the chief justice.”

Believing that the religious and the secular could be juxtaposed, the CPP “used the mass media to deify Nkrumah, employing biblical imagery to identify him with Christ, the Judeo-Christian Messiah, Who, according to the Party, preached a message of political liberation. [Buttressing this sacrilegious view, the Evening News, on February 4, 1960, declared], '[T]he whole phenomena [sic] of Nkrumah's emergence is second to none in the history of the world's Messiahs from Buddha and Mohammed to Christ'” (Simms 2003). But, once again, what would the approximately 63% of Ghanaians who today identify themselves as Christians think of this type of pontification?

As if these rapacious, preposterous and conceited comments were not insulting enough to the deity of Christ, the Evening News, between March and April 1960, further posited that Nkrumah's “revelation” on the political scene was synonymous with Christ's Transfiguration on the Mount (see Mark 9: 2-10 for an account of Christ's Transfiguration). This newspaper also declared that “Some people call [Nkrumah] the Second Christ. Others call him Son of God the Messiah, the Organizer, the Redeemer of Men, the Positive Actionist.” Nkrumah's sycophants, in their rush to carry out their master's bidding, encouraged a one-man leadership dogma that, in the process, subjugated the ideas of other brilliant men and women in the country, in regards to nation-building. Hopefully, modern-day Ghanaians would have enough mental ammunition to expose anyone who would attempt to stultify their collective conscience, or brainwash them, via some false ideology, someone who may pretend to be a repository of all wisdom about nation-building, someone whose unilateral idea of governance is supposedly an elixir to Ghana's economic and social emancipation.

I wish to remind the reader that, indeed, Kwame Nkrumah built institutions of higher learning for Ghanaians; gave them the Akosombo Dam; constructed the Volta Aluminum Company, amidst an array of industries; and also built the Accra-Tema Motorway. Yes, Kwame Nkrumah was a visionary, who seemingly tied the liberation of Ghana to that of the rest of the continent of Africa. But on the flipside was a man, unbeknownst to many, who would have quivered at Ghana's experiment with multiparty democracy today; scoffed at President Kufuor for not locking up opponents who pose(d) a threat to his leadership, real or imagined; and smiled at Kim Jong Il for maintaining an iron-clad system of governance in North Korea! Yes, Nkrumah believed in the emancipation of his people from colonial rule, a justifiable act in every respect, but he was correspondingly intolerant and despotic in his views. He also delivered his message by twisting and perverting the Holy Scriptures in order to first propel himself to the zenith of political power, and then worry later about the nation's needs.

Were Nkrumah's ambitions geared primarily toward the political liberation of the nation, he would not have imprisoned his political opponents, and he certainly would not have tried to become life president! There are two things that separate Nelson Mandela ― another great leader in his own right ― from Kwame Nkrumah: Mandela made a concerted effort to preach racial harmony soon after he became president (his efforts perhaps averted disaster for many white South Africans); and he voluntarily relinquished power after serving only one term in office, the latter a move that portrayed the man as a true liberator without any self-serving desires! While Nkrumah did not face issues about race, he was unable to overlook differences with his opponents. To those die-hard Nkrumaists who still believe their mentor never engaged in any misdeeds, this article holds the facts for you, but I am not in any way attempting to obliterate Nkrumah's memory, for in the annals of the nation, Nkrumah remains, arguably, Ghana's greatest leader ever. But Nkrumah's virtues were intertwined with his vices, and we ought to be courageous enough to discuss the good as well as the bad, for, in so doing, we become purveyors of pragmatism, honesty and impartiality. Long live our dear nation Ghana!

The writer, Daniel K. Pryce, in addition to two undergraduate degrees, holds a master's degree in public administration from George Mason University, U.S.A. He is a member of the national honor society for public affairs and administration in the U.S.A. He can be reached at [email protected]

Daniel K. Pryce
Daniel K. Pryce, © 2007

This author has authored 105 publications on Modern Ghana. Author column: DanielKPryce

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