The Under-Told Story of Akosombo – The Gbedemah Factor
Perhaps Sir Robert Jackson's “Foreword” to James Moxon's Volta: Man's Greatest Lake (Praeger, 1969), is the most disingenuous of its kind to be written on the subject. While as aptly and poignantly highlighted (in the previous chapter) by David Hart, the Volta River Project agreement ratified by Minister Kwame Nkrumah and his Convention People's Party (CPP) government, has been widely recognized by critics, worldwide, as the most exploitative of its kind, or even outright slavish, to the detriment of an emergent Ghana, Sir Robert Jackson preferred to cast matters in cavalierly vapid terms. To the preceding effect, this is what the extant Senior Consultant to the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), a party to the Volta River Scheme, had to observe on this most critical question:
“For many years to come, the consumption of power by VALCO (the Volta Aluminium Company) will be the primary economic justification for the Volta Scheme. The agreement between the Volta River Authority and the company covers a period of thirty years, from 1967 onwards. What are the prospects of success, having regard to the endless and unpredictable forces which will continue to bear on the relations of African states with the outside world and to the never-ending debate on the role of public and private capital, especially in the developing countries? The first thing that can be said is that the Master Agreement, which records all the commitments and understandings between all the parties concerned with the VRP, represents the best thinking that could be brought to bear on the project, and takes into account experience with other great projects (including the Suez Canal and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company) in other parts of the world. The Government of Ghana was advised by international experts of high repute, the other governments and VALCO were represented by men of great experience, and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (the World Bank) contributed its unique experience in these matters, as well as investing substantially in the project. From my personal experience, I know that these negotiations were conducted in a spirit of reasonableness and goodwill, and that there was always the common objective of creating a Master Agreement which would be fair to all concerned. Nonetheless, if past history is a guide, that Master Agreement is bound to be attacked at some stage or another in the future; when that happens much will depend on the honesty and reasonableness of the men then responsible for the project. If by good fortune, they possess those qualities they will need to keep in mind the conditions under which the Master Agreement was developed in 1961, and they will also need to take into account any new circumstances which have developed subsequently – changes in science and technology, for example. However, whatever the future may hold, nothing can now change the fact that Ghana has developed most successfully one of its most precious natural resources, the waters of the Volta, and that from now on it will have at its disposal some of the cheapest power in the world” (Moxon 16-17).
The preceding is only to be expected, for Sir Robert Jackson makes no apologies, whatsoever, for his conviction and perspective as an invested knight of the British Empire sedulously dedicated to the Manifest Destiny of the righteousness of British and European imperialism. The latter, of course, is in stark contrast to the Watson Commission's more constructive recommendations regarding the imperative need for an independent Ghanaian government to enter into the VRP in the offing with the utmost interests of the Ghanaian people at large (See Chapter 27 of this volume).
In the previous chapter, David Hart recounted the history of the Volta River Project. In this chapter, James Moxon highlights the historical achievements of Sir Albert Kitson, the British geological genius to whom the singular credit for actualizing the Akosombo Dam and, in fact, the entire Volta River Project (VRP) is owed. On this score, Moxon recounts at length:
“Albert – later Sir Albert – Kitson had been appointed by the Colonial Office [Circa. 1913] to establish a new department with the purpose of discovering what mineral wealth, in addition to gold, lay concealed beneath the forests and mountain tops of the still little known interior of the Gold Coast. He found the first traces of bauxite a hundred miles inland within a year of his arrival, and at a time when geologists in far more accessible countries were still walking over bauxite without recognizing it. Later he found the rich industrial deposits at Akwatia, which are still being vigorously worked, and the iron ore deposits of Shieni, now conveniently close to Lake Volta. Probably no other geologist has so many exploited discoveries to his name. ¶ On April 24, 1915 he was engaged on a rapid canoe voyage down the Volta, as part of a countrywide survey. 'I noticed on entering the narrow gorge below Ajena,' he recorded, 'that it was an ideal place for a dam. At the time there was no opportunity to make measurements but, during a geological traverse made along the Volta, this place – Akonsomo [sic], 2.5 miles below Ajena – was examined hurriedly, and a measurement made of the river at about half a mile above the gorge. There it proved to be 200 yards wide, with depths, at 10 feet intervals, across the middle 140 yards, of 60 to 90 feet.' He was also able to calculate that the volume of water passing through the gorge was 1,634 cubic feet per second on one day and that on the following day the river had risen about one foot. He conjectured what a huge increase in the volume of river water there must be 'when for fully 5 months of the year it is 10 feet deeper than when measured, and during several weeks 20 feet deeper.' ¶ Indeed, writing ten years later in an official bulletin outlining the mineral and water-power resources of the Gold Coast, Kitson, using the most conservative of calculations, estimated that a 100-foot dam at 'Akonsomo' would generate 180,000 horse-power or 134,000 kilowatts, which is a little less than the output of the four generators installed at Akosombo. He envisaged the consequent lake being at least extensive enough to provide water transport down the Afram stretch for the movement of bauxite deposits, estimated at some 4 million tons, that had been located on the Kwahu plateau. These appeared to be the most accessible of many other known deposits of bauxite in the country, calculated then as amounting to more than 60 million tons, sufficient to manufacture some 12 million tons of aluminium. It was this juxtaposition of raw bauxite and potential water power that pointed to the possibility of an economic project. ¶ During his leave in 1917 and while the war in France was still on, Kitson took the opportunity of visiting bauxite mines in the South of France, as well as a hydro-electric project in Scotland, so as to understand clearly the technical problems involved in all stages of aluminium production. Armed with the necessary data he returned to the Gold Coast and prepared a detailed proposal for the use of Volta hydro-electric power to process bauxite into aluminium, and in 1924 additional proposals were added to canalize the Lower Volta and irrigate the Accra Plains. This might have emerged as one of Governor Guggisberg's greatest triumphs. But he was already committed to such memorable development projects as Takoradi Harbour, Achimota College and Korle Bu Hospital as well as a widespread motor road construction program for the movement of cocoa, and consequently the project remained in the drawer…. ¶ Kitson's proposals for harnessing the Volta were not confined to Akosombo. He pointed also to the suitability of constructing a 100- or 200-foot dam on the Black Volta at Boie (Bui), of which we shall hear more later. He saw this as the means of electrifying a future railway in the north. He also had proposals for using power from the coastal rivers, the Tano, the Pra and its tributary the Ofin, and from several plateau rivers such as the Pawmpawm and the Asuboni. Some, at least, of these early proposals are still very much alive as possible additional sources of power for the future. And his suggestions for a 440-mile national transmission line for Volta power to service Cape Coast, Sekondi, Tarkwa, Dunkwa, Sefwi, Obuasi, Kumasi and the Kwahu area are only in minor detail different from those that have now been installed” (Moxon 49-51).
We expansively recount the foregoing in view of fanatical and embarrassingly regressive attempts by ardent followers and sympathizers of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president, in the postcolonial era, to flagrantly shortchange the country's history, by pretending as if prior to the emergence of their icon on the modern Ghanaian political landscape, very much in the vein of nineteenth-century European imperialist historiography, almost nothing existed that is worthy of recognition, by way of substantive material development in the country.
As the preceding vividly attests, at best Nkrumah could be described as a dynamic innovator, albeit hardly the most astute or even pragmatic, in the ongoing process of Ghana's development. His remarkable contribution notwithstanding, it is Dr. J. B. Danquah who occupies the unique and preeminent position of “Doyen of modern Ghanaian politics and culture.” But even Danquah, himself, would have been quick to emphasize the fact that any credit for his pioneering achievements would have to be squarely predicated upon the phenomenal achievements of his predecessors.
The preceding notwithstanding, to signally appreciate the fact of President Nkrumah having had little to do with the ultimate implementation of the Volta River Project, one needs to read the following account by James Moxon regarding the man (Duncan Rose) who was actually responsible for the pre-Nkrumah Gold Coast's government's serious consideration for the construction of the Akosombo Dam:
“By an interesting coincidence this is the same house that Duncan Rose occupied during his survey of the Volta between 1939 and 1949 which was to bring the Volta River Project one stage nearer reality. Duncan Rose – tall, handsome, weather-beaten South African pioneer – seemed to have stepped straight out of the memorable pre-war advertisement for Barney's tobacco, which had usually been carried to some lonely outpost for several hundreds of miles on the heads of bearers. ¶ A Yorkshire man by birth, Rose had emigrated to South Africa soon after graduating at Cambridge. During the 1930s he had been one of the early enthusiasts of aluminium as the metal of the century, and at one time had bauxite interests in Nyasaland. He is said to have first been fired with the idea of a hydro-electric aluminium scheme for the Gold Coast by Kitson's 1925 bulletin, which he came across in the public library in Johannesburg in November 1938. Sensing that war was imminent he could see the advantage to the Commonwealth of a sterling source of aluminium. Within four months he had paid an exploratory visit to the Gold Coast and returned to Johannesburg to report back to his financing partner, T. W. Charles. Together they interested the Anglo-Transvaal Consolidated Investment Co., a leading South African mining finance house, which agreed to sponsor a full-scale investigation of the combined bauxite and power potential of the scheme. Their next move was to form the African Aluminium Syndicate in which they were joined by Christopher St. John Bird, a partner in a Johannesburg firm of consulting engineers. By May 1939 St. John Bird was in the Gold Coast preparing a preliminary report whilst Rose himself was also back in the country negotiating concessions. ¶ During his first visit in February, Duncan Rose had already presented to the Gold Coast Government what he described as 'tentative proposals' for a hydro-electric scheme. At this stage his proposed dam was only 120 feet and the resultant lake a mere 20 miles long by 2½ miles wide with an area of 80 square miles. Even so he was quick to point out that payment of heavy compensation to the people affected by the flooding might jeopardize the whole scheme and he adds that the lake itself would be of great public value for water transport. He talked of a possible aluminium smelter at Koforidua and of using surplus electric power to electrify the Accra to Kumasi railway line. At this stage he was thinking in terms of a £ 2½-3½ million scheme” (Volta: Man's Greatest Lake 52-53).
In other words, it is our incontrovertible contention that had any Ghanaian leader other than Kwame Nkrumah been elected first prime minister or president of independent Ghana, the Akosombo Dam, as well as the Bui Dam (currently under construction by the Kufuor government of the Danquah-leaning New Patriotic Party) would have been, in all likelihood, constructed. This observation is, of course, in no way to cynically detract from Nkrumah's quite courageous and admirable decision to execute the Volta River Project, as some fanatical Nkrumaists would have their sympathizers believe, but merely and honestly to register a significant historical fact.
The original intention was to site VALCO, the aluminium-smelting plant at Ajena or as close to the dam site as possible, so as to capitalize on the easy and cheaper access to the power generated – this would later be abandoned in favor of Tema, with the bauxite largely being imported by Kaiser from its Jamaican concessions:
“At the same time they had now formulated firm views as to the site for the smelter. Gone was WAFAL's dam site smelter at Ajena, and gone (at least for the present) was the Joint Mission's smelter at Kpong. After careful calculation Halcrows decided that the smelter and alumina plant should both be at Tema. This recommendation in its turn made others on the siting of new roads and railways easier. With the rejection of the dam site aluminium factory there was no longer any advantage in carrying the raw bauxite by lake and it followed therefore that it should travel by rail” (Moxon 65).
While, indeed, the British colonial government of the Gold Coast transitional period (1951-1957) had meant for the construction of the Akosombo Dam to primarily serve the needs and development interests of postcolonial Ghana, in reality, the Volta River Project aimed to serve as a veritable supplement to the battered post-World War II British economy:
“What then was the 'scheme' presented in the white paper? Although sited in the Gold Coast and planned for the general benefit of the country, the scheme was justified to the British Parliament as first and foremost a means for Britain to escape from the dollar-based monopoly of the post-war aluminium producers from whom she had to procure more than four-fifths of her supplies. It was argued that by 1975 the world would be using four to five times as much aluminium as in 1950. With her very limited resources of hydro-electric capacity Britain had already reached an effective limit in aluminium production and, as we have seen, the Joint Mission had selected the Gold Coast as the manufacturing base with the most potential in the Commonwealth area” (Moxon 69).
For Moxon, Nkrumah's decision to punitively sanction Mr. K. A. Gbedemah in April 1961, during his famous dawn broadcast, thus forcing Ghana's Minister of Finance to flee the country for personal safety in exile, may well have doomed Ghana's chances of negotiating a sound monetary deal for the construction of the dam:
“Later Minister of Finance, Gbedemah was one of the two Ministers particularly charged with responsibility for liaison with the Preparatory Commission and subsequently with the extremely complicated international financial negotiations that ultimately made the Volta River Project possible. Mr. George Woods, later President of the World Bank, who in 1958 was invited in his then private capacity to advise the Kaiser Corporation on the complex problems of financing the Project, said that Gbedemah, more than anyone else, sold him the Volta River Project. So when Gbedemah amongst others was carpeted by Nkrumah in his now-famous dawn broadcast of April 8, 1961 (Ian Smith copied the technique) and chose to go into exile, Ghana lost the services of a very able negotiator. Gbedemah returned to Ghana as a private citizen after the February 1966 coup” (Volta: Man's Greatest Lake (Footnote 70-1).
Thus in assessing the success of the implementation of the Volta River Scheme/Project, Nkrumah's personal quirks may well have to be factored in, particularly where such idiosyncratic personality trait remarkably impacted Ghana's growth and development. On the preceding score, it would not be totally out of order to suggest the re-naming of the Volta River Project/Akosombo Dam the “Gbedemah Scheme,” for there clearly operated what might be aptly termed as the “Gbedemah Factor” vis-à-vis the history of American intervention and indispensable participation in the actualization of the Volta River Project that made an otherwise doomed project – for the British, with their colonial interests uppermost, in terms of priority alignments, had by the late 1950s lost interest in the project – gain a new lease on life. This is how James Moxon tells the Gbedemah story in his classic treatise on the subject titled Volta: Man's Greatest Lake:
“Then suddenly the scheme moved into gear again. The sequence of events which helped to bring this about possibly illustrates the philosophy that there is good in everything. In October Mr. Gbedemah, who had been attending the meeting of Commonwealth Finance Ministers in Ottawa, followed it with a short visit to the United States. Dropping in for a glass of iced orange juice at one of the Howard Johnson roadside restaurants just outside Dover, Delaware, Gbedemah was told by the waitress, who was supported by her manager, that coloured people could not be served at the counter though he would be permitted to buy something to take away. The story leaked to the press who gave it a puff of unwelcome publicity. Seeking to make amends, President Eisenhower and Vice-President Nixon invited Mr. Gbedemah to breakfast at the White House, and there the President, interested at [sic] what he heard of the Volta Project, asked for more background information about it. Dr. Nkrumah, writing a few days later to President Eisenhower, said that he and his colleagues regarded the Volta River Project as being of supreme importance to the future of Ghana and that they were determined to do all in their power to implement it. He added that his Government was completely free to negotiate with any Governments and/or other prospective commercial partners. He sent them copies of the Preparatory Commission's report to study. A friendly and constructive correspondence followed between the President and the Prime Minister in the course of which Dr. Nkrumah acknowledged that the interest shown by the U.S. Government in the project had 'given us all fresh heart'” (Moxon 88).
Furthermore, James Moxon vividly recalls: “Now the door was open for Dr. Nkrumah to accept the President's dual offer of help: an offer first to try to act as a catalyst in bringing together potentially interested companies who might finance the aluminium smelter and bauxite mines; and then, if this was successful, to consider making a substantial loan towards the power project itself. Small wonder that Prime Minister Nkrumah felt heartened. ¶ Nkrumah's first step was to see that the U.S. Government, through its International Co-operation Administration (ICA) agency in Ghana, was in full possession of all the facts concerning approaches already made to the Ghana Government. Some sixteen different organizations had at one time or another since Ghana's Independence expressed the wish to become involved in the Project. Some were still pressing very hard: Leith's Consortium, for example, which was anxious to have a further two years' option on the whole project, confident that in that time it could finance the scheme completely without drawing upon a single penny of Ghana's. Though illustrative of the new interest and confidence being shown in the Project this was scarcely the sort of proposal that would commend itself to the Ghanaian public, and its sponsors were now told that they would have to put their proposals to the U.S. Government, whose offer to coordinate the early stages of practical participation had already been accepted. ¶ The man charged with this task, Carl Flesher, describes himself as 'one of a very small number of ICA executives who believed in using private enterprise in our foreign-aid program' and this was an occasion to put his theory into action. His was the idea that the U.S. Government should help to lend Ghana the necessary money to build the dam and power station whilst private enterprise, with or without government assistance, could build, own and operate the aluminium smelter. Then, with revenue from the sale of power to the smelter, Ghana could repay the U.S. loans. There it was in a nutshell – the key, as it turned out, to the successful completion of the project” (Moxon 89).
As to what made the Volta River Project, predicated as it was on the massive production of aluminium, the risky venture that it ultimately became was due, in large part, to the fact that in the wake of World War II, the aluminium market, particularly in the United States, was glutted: “This decision to review the 1955 engineering reports represented the only possible solution to what had emerged as the main stumbling block to the otherwise exemplary Preparatory Commission proposals; the frightening overall cost of the Project. For at the time that Ghana was pushing her scheme for a new world source of aluminium, the American aluminium companies had a substantial surplus capacity. They had asked the President to assist them by means of a new stockpiling programme. Indeed, it was this temporarily saturated market for aluminium that had obliged Alcan to step down when they did. This put President Eisenhower in a difficult position. But equally he was sensitive to the political necessity of responding to Ghana's appeal for help. He recognized that Ghana as the first of the new African states, represented the shape of the newly emerging Africa in which the United States had an undoubted role to play. The UAR [Egypt] was still smarting from the Aswan Dam project and a second such rebuff could have grave consequences. The obvious solution lay in a very thorough re-examination, amongst other things, of that seven-year timetable for building the Dam. This was a major factor raising the overall costs. There was absolute agreement on this matter between the U.S. and Ghana officials, and the U.S. Government agreed to pay half the estimated £ 40,000 cost of the reappraisal” (Moxon 90-1).
In essence, had the feasibility studies on the construction of the Akosombo Dam been predicated on any mineral resource other than aluminium, the capital/fiscal history of the project might likely have been very different; and the primary cost involved would have been drastically reduced. Another problem that gravely contributed to the phenomenal expenditure involved in the execution of the Volta River Project, had to do with what may fairly aptly be described as unhealthy work/occupational culture of many a Third-World nation and its people. Thus, for example, the same scheme/project that could have taken approximately 3 years to complete in Canada, as well as other countries in the West, was scheduled to take at least 7 years, thus automatically guaranteeing that the projected expenditure would unnecessarily double. For a poor country like Ghana, such unsavory lassitude to the execution of a massive project like the Volta Scheme clearly militated against infrastructural development.
The role of the World Bank in the construction of the Akosombo Dam, and the Volta River Project in general, was colonialist in orientation. The Bank primarily envisaged the VRP as a classical venture in which the sole objective was to maximize profits for its Western investors, rather than also simultaneously facilitating Ghana's development. On this score, it is quite instructive to read the following observation from James Moxon:
“Secondly, there was still a gap of £ 10 million to be filled and this required careful negotiation. Kaiser had for some time insisted that the World Bank report's exclusion of the national transmission network which was designed to distribute Volta power throughout southern Ghana was a false economy and that the network should be reinstated. Ghana supported this argument for political and social, as well as for economic reasons. After further investigations the World Bank had relaxed its objections, but, whilst not opposed to the network, was anxious that the timing for it should be right. The estimated cost was about £ 10 million and this now raised the overall cost of the project to £ 70 million. Thirdly – and this only concerned Ghana indirectly but it was important – the U.S. Government had to be encouraged to meet VALCO's needs for a substantial loan in order to bring their part of the project to life” (Moxon 110).
Nkrumah's left-leaning, stentorian politics of West-baiting (his so-called anti-imperialist stance) also significantly obstructed the smooth execution of the Volta River Project: “Then a hitch did occur. The trouble had started, in effect, more than a year previously whilst Nkrumah was in New York, together with nineteen other heads of state and government and fifty foreign ministers, attending what is remembered as the biggest meeting ever of the United Nations General Assembly. He had a private meeting with Eisenhower in New York when, on the following evening at a Foreign Press Association dinner, America's Secretary of State, Christian Herter, was quoted as saying that Nkrumah had by his United Nations address, 'marked himself as very definitely leaning towards the Soviet bloc'” (Moxon 111-2).
On the practical political front, Nkrumah's fiery socialist rhetoric made him appear to envisage himself as the resident of either a geopolitical vacuum or a proverbial fish tank, rather than being a bona fide denizen of an inextricable global community economically, albeit unsavorily, dominated by the West, and which for the “missionary” purpose of steering Ghana towards the sphere of rapid industrial and technological development, necessitated a savvy and pragmatic stance of deft neutrality, at least publicly.
But that Nkrumah's pontifical and stentorian pro-socialist rhetoric pathetically paled into hypocritical insignificance when confronted with reality on the ground, as it were, is eloquently captured by the author of Volta: Man's Greatest Lake: “As a township Akosombo can basically be divided into two distinct parts. The upper part, nearest to the dam site, includes the hotel on its hill top overlooking the dam itself. In a fold in the wooded hills below the hotel is a pretty little residential area of about 700 houses for professional, administrative and overseas staff connected with the Project; for lack of any other name, it was called 'the Italian village,' which at peak occupation was almost wholly correct. ¶ The other part of Akosombo lies in the valley about half a mile away as the crow flies, but because the connecting road is obliged to go round the steeply wooded slopes in between, it is almost two miles away by road. It is this distance that divides Akosombo into its two parts. In the lower town there is the market and shopping area; Main Street, Akosombo, which has an atmosphere of improvisation like a gold-rush town, with the same amazing conglomeration of business interests – bookshop, football pools office, First Ghana Building Society premises, Frank Sinatra Barbering Shop, tailor, photo studio and Akosombo's own drinking saloon, Djaba's Bar, where they sign off at closing time, appropriately enough I have always felt, with the touching ballad 'Goodbye, Jimmy, Goodbye.' There are several residential areas for differing wage groups, ranging from pleasant two- and three-bedroom houses for foremen, junior executive and supervisory staff to the simpler single room quarters of unskilled labour. Unlike earlier days they are now comfortably shaded by groves of plantain and banana trees, many with their own gardens and allotments, and today blend pleasantly into the valley landscape” (Moxon 146-7).
On the Volta Resettlement Scheme (VRS), Moxon notes that the rather rigid, one-style-fits-all communistic housing policy ensured that the dirt poor would find their new one-bedroom landcrete houses to be a remarkable improvement on their previous lifestyle, whereas families with substantial old architectural edifices found themselves woefully shortchanged, as the difference in the value of their original homes could only be made up through its rough equivalent in cash, rather than having houses of equivalent value constructed for them:
“Though for many reasons this broad solution was not wholly satisfactory it was the best that could be achieved in the time and was successfully carried through. There were slight variations in design and conception, reflecting the ideas of different architects and planners, but basically the rule was 'one family, one room,' irrespective of the type of house that the family had lost. These had varied from thatched shelters worth a few pounds to substantial premises of £ 1,000 or more. But whilst, at the bottom of the scale, the poorest family would be fortunate enough in exchanging a worthless pile of grass and sticks for a £ 350 house, families at a higher level had to be compensated in cash for the difference in value between their old property and the new core house. Thus, no one would be worse off, and many, of course, would be considerably better off” (Moxon 162).
In recent years, some ardent supporters of Nkrumah and the CPP have not hesitated to boast about their patriarch's dubious creation of the largest artificial lake in the world, without even slightly pausing to take account of the countless victims whose lives were claimed by the creation of the Akosombo Dam. In sum, in the flagrantly materialist imagination of the Nkrumah fanatics, it appears that all that matters are architectural structures or landmarks, with little regard for the fundamental question of human development. Regarding the latter, this is what James Moxon has to say:
“Probably the worst hardships occurred during the unforeseen floods of 1963 before the lake had started to rise and before there was much housing completed: 'The true picture of untold hardships suffered by these people,' a Ghanaian welfare officer's report reads, 'cannot be vividly described here but imagining how some of them are sleeping on tree tops can throw some light on the seriousness of their present situation.' He goes on to describe how '400 people find comfort in a school of only two rooms' and adds with a touch of self-satisfaction that 'it needs a high degree of technique to control and keep the settlers quiet during this time'…. It was not the houses for those 70,000 settlers who had elected to stay in the valley that were any longer the worry. By 1965 the families had either grown used to them with all their limitations, or they had set about improving and enlarging them, and that, after all, was what had been intended. Far more serious was the fundamental problem of the farming lands. Could the resettled farmers flourish or even survive on the land set aside for them? Speaking to an international audience of specialists in March 1965 Kobla Kalitsi, the resettlement chief, in a remarkably down-to-earth address, laid bare some of his anxieties. 'Soon after evacuation into the first township had been substantially completed,' he said, 'a survey showed that the people were already leaving that town for other villages or drifting back to the water to set up fishing camps. One hopes that this drift will be seasonal and that the people will farm the lake for fish and also farm the land being supplied to them and make the settlement towns their permanent homes. It is possible that they may not, and if they don't we cannot plant it on them…. If that ever happens we would have wasted over £ 8 million of Ghana's valuable investible funds and we would also have ruined the lives of 80,000 people and shattered the country's finest opportunity to introduce into society cells of change to activate the whole rural population of Ghana. The spectre of a ghost town hangs over every settlement we have built!'” (Volta: Man's Greatest Lake 178-9).
For many Ghanaians, Nkrumah's credentials as a development czar remains inviolable; interestingly, however, James Moxon has a quite different perspective. Remarking on the Assucuari (Asutsuare) sugar factory's maiden processing of sugarcane into sugar proper, for instance, the author of Volta: Man's Greatest Lake throws a not-so-subtle hint at Nkrumah's unsavory dictatorial regime, especially how, in the opinion of the author, the overthrow of the CPP had auspiciously coincided with the beginning of sugar processing at Asutsuare, almost as if to suggest the inextricable involvement of Providence in the very details of the 1966 military putsch:
“The first campaign of harvesting and processing into sugar 1,000 acres of cane took place by coincidence on February 24, 1966, the very day when, fifty miles away in Accra, the armed forces' coup was overthrowing the Nkrumah regime. How much sweeter the sugar must have tasted. It is a happy augury for the future that amongst the useful by-products of the sugar factory will be not only pulp for making paper, fuel for the steam turbines and rich black molasses, but also rum. Originally imported in exchange for slaves, it will now by an irony of fate mature on the banks of the very river from which so many thousands were sent into slavery for it” (Moxon 187).
Over and over again, the author of Volta: Man's Greatest Lake emphasizes the incontrovertibly significant fact of both the Akosombo Dam (or Volta Scheme) and VALCO, the giant aluminium plant located at Tema, and the modern industrial township of Tema, itself, being seminally predicated upon Western business interests rather than having anything organically meaningful to do with the interest of Ghana in both conception and functional thrust. To this end, Moxon observes:
“The Volta Aluminium Company had started its life in November 1959 as a consortium of aluminium interests, brought together by Edgar Kaiser to explore the possibility of establishing a smelter in Ghana. In addition to the Kaiser Aluminium and Chemical Corporation there were also Alcan (who had a little earlier ceded to Kaiser the role of convener), Alcoa (the Aluminium Company of America), Olin Mathieson (the Rockefeller associated group) and Reynolds Metals (who had Volta connections as far back as 1949 through Duncan Rose and Wafal)” (203).
And as a critical aside (of what may be aptly termed as the “Politics of Spelling”) regarding the intrinsically Western economic appendage that the Volta River Project indisputably was, Moxon notes: “Valco, though American owned, is registered as a company in Ghana which makes it Volta Aluminium Company and not the Volta Aluminum Company as it would otherwise be” (202).
It also appears that while, indeed, Nkrumah astutely appreciated the need for Ghana's rapid industrial development and general economic uplift, nevertheless, the Ghanaian premier's Marxian political idealism appeared to be glaringly incompatible with his avid desire for Western-style capitalist economic culture. To this end, Moxon recalls:
“Then, as has so often happened during the fluctuating history of the Project, a delicate situation arose which seemed to test the determination even of Edgar Kaiser. In November 1963 President Kennedy had been assassinated. Six weeks later an attempt was made on President Nkrumah's life. Five shots were fired at him outside his office, killing his aide-de-camp, but none of them harming him. A period of intense security shake-up followed when the top twelve police officials were dismissed and the whole security structure reviewed. Even before Kennedy's death an uneasy feeling had been created in Ghana that, quite distinct from the USA which most Ghanaians instinctively liked and respected, there was another less tangible USA whose aim, if it could be clearly seen at all, seemed to be to use its power secretly and underground in order to steer the politics of smaller nations in the 'right' direction. Ironically perhaps, credence had been given to this line of thought by a 50-cent paperback book written by a young journalist, Andrew Tully, simply titled CIA – The Inside Story – a bulk distribution of which had been made by Nkrumah's own office. ¶ As the feeling intensified a series of rumours started linking Nkrumah's name with the death by pistol shot of one of the military guards at Christiansborg Castle where Nkrumah was then living. The swift assumption was that they had been deliberately spread by Americans in order to discredit the President, the state and the nation. On February 4th a noisy but non-violent organized demonstration of about 1,000 people converged on the United States Embassy armed with such slogans as 'Stop your filthy rumours,' and the time-honoured 'Yankees go home.' An attempt was made to haul down 'Old Glory' from its flag-pole – but was prevented by a particularly resolute Afro-American embassy official. ¶ Anti-American feeling – at a certain level closely associated with the party press – had never been more widely ventilated in Ghana and some of the newspapers made it their daily theme. The U.S. Government made an official protest through the Ghanaian Embassy in Washington, making it clear that they believed the demonstrators were Government-inspired. The Ghanaian Government replied that it disassociated itself entirely from the demonstrations and deeply regretted the incidents. ¶ Edgar Kaiser, with barely three years to go for completion of a £ 46 million smelter which had not even been started, was now faced with a delicate and difficult situation. On the one hand, the decision had already been taken committing Valco to buy over a 30-year period £ 70 million worth of Volta current, and without a smelter the current would have been valueless. On the other hand, he felt considerable concern regarding Valco's ability to perform its contracts in Ghana if the present relationship between the two countries continued. ¶ True, however, to his dedicated approach to the Project Edgar Kaiser flew into Ghana later in the month. His meetings with Nkrumah were warm and personal as always and he tried to believe that the President at least could see the matter in its proper perspective. But my own understanding at the time was that Nkrumah was, in spite of all his protestations, so personally involved in the campaign that it was impossible for him to have discussed the matter frankly” (Moxon 207).
It is also rather curiously flabbergasting that for a leader widely credited with visionary foresight, nonetheless, Nkrumah appears to have been temperamentally and unhealthily dominated by what may be aptly termed as pubescent impatience. Consequently, Moxon wistfully observes: “Apart from politics there were two further complications that were worrying Kaiser. First of all Nkrumah was urging Valco to bring forward their production date for aluminium by at least a year. Secondly he was still pressing for the immediate production of alumina from Ghanaian bauxite. Concerning the first, the decision to start production early in 1967 was based on two factors – the need for an absolutely fault-free and continuous supply of electric power, and the estimated growth of the world aluminium market, which forecasts had indicated would only be favorable by that date. Furthermore, the very magnitude of the construction work involved precluded an earlier start. Kaiser felt strongly too about the proposed alumina plant – a vast additional investment – and went so far as to say, 'Under conditions which exist in Ghana today, I would not finance 10 cents and I simply do not know when conditions will allow the financing of an alumina plant.' ¶ Before he left, Kaiser felt that somehow he must lay the ghost that American is no more than a vast structure of Big Business in which the individual is an anonymous cog, and that he must also convince Nkrumah that smelters are not built in a day and that alumina plants are themselves major undertakings. So he invited a party of influential politicians, industrialists, pressmen and economists from Ghana to visit the United States and to see for themselves not only the vastness of industrial ventures of this kind but also, by way of contrast, the extent to which American industry is made up of thousands of small industries giving free rein to individual enterprise, local skills and personal ambitions” (Volta: Man's Greatest Lake 207).
Edgar Kaiser, the key financial player of the Volta Scheme, himself, appears not to have thought very highly of both the leadership savvy and business sense of the Ghanaian leaders who also doubled as his counterparts on the scheme: “It seems improbable that the visit in itself could have gone very far towards softening anxiety about the activities of the CIA, but it did generate some necessary goodwill and a greater degree of understanding at a personal level. Writing to me soon after the visit Edgar Kaiser described it as having been 'constructive and worthwhile,' whilst, as a solution to the broader problem, he offered as the formula 'constructive leadership and education, with a patient dedication.' ¶ Whilst these developments were taking place, the political crisis was deepening. President Johnson had his own internal political problems to deal with, and therefore dispatched that wise and experienced diplomat Averell Harriman, to inform Nkrumah of the facts of international political life. It so happened – and not by chance – that Harriman and Sir Robert Jackson arrived in Accra from different parts of the world within twenty-four hours of each other. Fortunately for Ghana, they were old friends and were able to decide together how Nkrumah might best be informed of the explosive dangers that now lay in his path; probably at no other time was the Volta Project in greater danger of falling apart. Five separate meetings were held with Nkrumah. Jackson had the first, and afterwards admitted that in his long association with the President, he had never known a harder and more exhausting exchange. Mr. Harriman followed, and in the succeeding days Nkrumah realized that his most cherished scheme was in danger of disintegrating. For an adequate period, at least, the Government of Ghana adopted a more responsible attitude in its relations with the United States, and this, the gravest of all crises associated with the Project, was averted” (Moxon 207-8).
Perhaps the most horrifying exhibition of intellectual levity on the part of Ghana's premier occurred during the sod-cutting ceremony to mark the beginning of Valco's official construction. This event also obliquely highlighted the nonesuch genius of Dr. J. B. Danquah on the Ghanaian political landscape. Unable to attend this landmark ceremony, Henry Kaiser and his son, Edgar, autographed a photograph of themselves as a souvenir which they dispatched to the exuberant and flamboyant Ghanaian leader. The photograph was accompanied by the following lines from the great nineteenth-century American philosopher and Harvard University don Ralph Waldo Emerson:
What makes a nation's pillars high?...
Not Gold, but only men can make
A people great and strong.
Men who for truth and honor's sake
Stand fast and suffer long…
They build a nation's pillars deep
And lift them to the sky…
Nkrumah's rather vapid response to this photographic toast was embarrassingly evocative of a morbidly self-indulgent, albeit a deeply conflicted, disciple of the consumerist aspect of Western capitalist culture:
These words so profound
From an old American visionary
To a young African Revolutionary.
Such thoughts, so deep,
From him to me.
Needless to say, those poignant Emersonian words would not have appeared as profoundly as Mr. Nkrumah presumed, had the accidental Ghanaian premier heeded the immortal words of the Doyen of Gold Coast and Ghanaian politics, themselves deeply etched in the age-old Akan collective memory, seeking to both philosophically appraise and affirm the indispensable worth of humanity in the material affairs of the world: “Me fre sika a onnye me so….” In reality, the tersely autographed and inscribed photographic gift may well have been the Kaisers' not-so-subtle way of both exposing the levity of their contractual partner as well as sternly to caution this evidently runaway train of the irreparable harm and wreckage that lay ahead of his glaring supersonic voyage to nowhere.
On the lighter side, Moxon has some good words for the putative and globally celebrated Ghanaian national spirit of affability and geniality, one that is rarely experienced elsewhere on the primeval continent: “Ghanaians are perhaps the most welcoming and friendly people in the world. Hotels, clubs, night-spots and other common meeting grounds are a constant delight to nationals and visitors alike as centres of unselfconscious pleasure where everyone shares Ghana's passion for music, dance and laughter. The Italians to whom song and laughter come naturally, felt immediately at home with their Ghanaian counterparts and were soon on the sort of friendly terms that spring naturally from a feeling of mutual respect and the comparable experience of men away from their own homes. This was a new and heartening atmosphere for those who had come recently from Kariba [Dam Project] where such relationships had just not been possible against the vastly different social background” (Volta: Man's Greatest Lake 215-6).
Much capital has been made out of the construction of the Akosombo Dam whose conception and seminal initiative far preceded both the birth and political emergence, and accession, of Mr. Kwame Nkrumah. Oftentimes fanatical supplicants and subscribers to the Nkrumaist myth neglect to highlight the gross and embarrassing incongruity of their hero's desperate solicitation of American ingenuity and capital investment for the construction of the Akosombo Dam and the latter's proverbial accolade of “Man's Greatest Lake,” even while also vehemently, shamelessly and sophomorically railing against “odious” American imperialism. As Moxon quite matter-of-factly reports, the far more mature Americans, desiring the collective good of Ghanaians, in principle, at least, had consented to the central engagement of their entrepreneurs in actualizing the project, even while politely and diplomatically, albeit symbolically and poignantly, scaling back their participation in the celebration of the completion of the project. To the foregoing end, Moxon writes:
“It was beginning to get dark when President Nkrumah rose to speak. The dais was the focus of attention as the powerful arc-lamps of the film cameramen bathed it in concentrated light. Having welcomed the Papal Nuncio and all the other guests President Nkrumah had a particular word for one invited guest who had been able to attend: Mrs. Jacqueline Kennedy. It is very likely that, for personal reasons, she would have chosen to accept the invitation extended to her to unveil a plaque commemorating the part played by her late husband and by President Eisenhower in the Volta River Project. At the same time there were inarguable political reasons why it would have embarrassed the U.S. Government gravely if she had done so, and she had been obliged to decline the invitation. ¶ Understandably the next to be mentioned were the two Kaisers – father and son. 'Edgar,' Nkrumah had said, 'provided the spark that brought the Project to life when the prospects for its continuation were at their lowest ebb.' And the part played by Chad Calhoun, as the Kaiser-Nkrumah go-between, could also not pass without special mention. Then recalling the early days of U.S. participation before the momentum had caught on, Nkrumah told a favorite story of Eisenhower who, not quite sure on the spur of the moment why no actual decisions had been reached, muttered to an aide, 'Then why don't you get on with the damned thing?' And so it had come about that 'the damned thing' was triggered into life. ¶ The Times rightly described the day as 'very much an American-Ghanaian occasion.' As if to explain this strange love-hate relationship Nkrumah said, 'We live in a world of contradictions [which] somehow keep the world going.' Only a few months previously he had published a book under the title Neo-Colonialism in which he had set out to show that the West's interest in Africa was excessively one-sided and rapacious. 'Hands off Africa' was his warning. The U.S. Government was so incensed by some of the references that it lodged a formal protest through diplomatic channels but later agreed to let the matter drop after a soothing personal letter from Nkrumah to President Johnson. But the concentrated strength of the accusations clearly still rankled and it was generally believed that they, more than anything else, accounted for Mrs. Kennedy's absence. ¶ Nkrumah explained that 'a small but very dynamic state' like Ghana 'must attain control of our own economic and political destinies' if higher living standards are to be obtained and 'the legacies and hazards of a colonial past and the encroachments of neo-colonialism' banished. At the same time he conceded that in a world such as this 'we certainly need great friends' and went on to acknowledge that the United States – 'the leading capitalist power in the world' – is 'like Britain in the hey day of its imperialist power…and rightly so, adopting a conception of dual mandate in its relations with the developing world.' He had said that 'this dual mandate, if properly applied, could enable the United States to increase its own prosperity and at the same time assist in increasing the prosperity of the developing countries.'¶ Edgar Kaiser, President Eisenhower and President Kennedy, he said, recognized in the Volta River Project a scheme with new dimensions of growth and development which they felt could benefit both Ghana and the United States and, within this concept of mutual respect and common advantage, lies the 'living proof that nations and people can co-operate and co-exist peacefully with mutual advantage to themselves despite differences of economic and political opinions” (Volta: Man's Greatest Lake 231-3).
That our firebrand African Show Boy had to literally eat his hitherto unabashedly stentorian anti-American and blindly pro-Soviet rants in his speech marking the completion of the Akosombo Dam is rather pathetic but hardly surprising, as time and time again, Nkrumah would demonstrate his acute psychical self-conflict clumsily muffed by a lame rhetoric of jejune expediency.
Ever the Marxist materialist, Nkrumah's reaction to a gas explosion that killed over 10 Ghanaian and Italian contractors at Akosombo on February 15, 1966 was only to be expected. This is how James Moxon reported the same: “For when Frank Dobson, in Accra, went to report the explosion to his chairman, the first thing that Nkrumah asked was, 'Is the dam damaged?' and then 'Was it [an act of] sabotage?' Within two or three hours he had a three-man investigation team from his personal security service on the site at Akosombo making their own detailed enquiry. A more devastating aspect of Nkrumah's reaction to the accident was his apparent lack of concern for the casualties and their families after whom he never enquired. Indeed, his feelings must have communicated themselves to the Authority itself, which did not pass on to him a draft message of condolence that had been prepared for his signature. Edgar Kaiser sent him a very warmhearted message of sympathy from California, and so did Dr. Lodigiani from Milan – but neither of them was made public. ¶ The casualties, in fact, had been very heavy by any standards and, more particularly, by standards at Akosombo. There had been eighteen people in the tunnel when the explosion occurred and by mid-afternoon ten of these had died, five of them instantly. Two had died on arrival at Akosombo Hospital, and three others who had been transferred by ambulance to hospital in Accra had either died en route or on arrival. In each case the skin had been burnt completely away by the heat of the blast and the shock to the system had been too great to survive. ¶ Of the eight others five had not been burnt too seriously and recovered after treatment. Bertona too was well enough to fly home within a month. Bigoni however died at Akosombo Hospital a week later on the same day as the twelfth victim – a young carpenter named Joseph Afum whose contract had only recently been extended on account of his good work. And so they died together” (Moxon 240-1).
The disturbingly significant lesson that we learn from the preceding report regards Dr. Danquah's allegedly persistent complaint that so obsessed did Mr. Nkrumah appear to be with architectural landmarks and other material structures in his fervid bid to catalyzing Ghana's industrial development that the indispensability of the proverbial human factor that is the inviolable and invaluable worth of Ghanaian and African human resource appeared to be of marginal significance, at best. Here again, James Moxon reveals for levelheaded readers and researchers the shockingly narcissistic temperament of Ghana's first postcolonial ruler. At this juncture, the keen observer is apt to wonder: “Was this the same pontifical orator who hardly missed any opportunity in touting his self-righteous mantra of the 'African Personality'?” Makes one wonder, indeed!
To be certain, some of his staunchest disciples have lamely attempted to attribute this morbidly flawed personality trait to the Kulungugu assassination attempt on Nkrumah's life. For our part, however, the ultimate verdict must be reserved for posterity.
At any rate, contrary to what many a fanatical Nkrumaist and his/her supporters and sympathizers would have their fellow Ghanaians and the rest of the world believe, Ghana's chronic problem with hydro-electric power supply has its origins in a largely nonchalant and extroverted Convention People's Party government. Indeed, Moxon could not have put it any more politely, even if also embarrassingly humorously: “But in spite of the plentiful current from Akosombo constant power cuts in the capital suggested that all was not well. Ironically, the first of these black-outs had occurred half-way through the gala banquet held in Accra to celebrate the inauguration of the dam. By the flickering light of Edgar Kaiser's cigarette lighter it was possible to see Nkrumah's security men hemming him in, and only the swift wise-crack from Edgar Kaiser relieved the inevitable tension. 'Where's Dobson?' – (the VRA's chief executive) he called out, peering into the darkness. ¶ What had happened was a case of new wine surging into ancient bottles; the distribution system in Accra and elsewhere was overdue for replacement, but the country's weakening economy, even before Nkrumah's departure, had made it impossible to implement a new scheme, fully planned though it was. ¶ One source of aid, however, still appeared to be available: the British Government's £ 5 million share in the capital cost of the Project itself. Partly because of the considerable economies made during tendering and construction and partly because of the relatively few supply contracts that had gone to Britain the greater part of this £ 5 million was unspent. But then a frustrated and very needy Ghanaian Government found itself faced with the British reply that, without a vast amount of parliamentary and administrative reconsideration, it was not feasible to switch a loan negotiated to help build a dam and power plant into one to renovate the power distribution system in the country's principal cities. Even The Times added its avuncular advice: ¶ 'Possibly the balance of the British £ 5 million could be released to improve the electricity supply to industrial areas, although so far Britain has declined, perhaps pettishly, to extend the uses to which the British contribution could be put. ¶ Whatever Britain's reasons for shilly-shallying, the fact remains that British industry lost a valuable and continuing order for electrical equipment which she, as well as anyone, was in a position to supply. Indeed, for this reason the order had been reserved for Britain. ¶ Now, however, it went to Germany, who made sufficient funds available for German equipment to be bought without delay and the needs of the capital city satisfied; further loans negotiated with the World Bank will have enabled the remainder of the city lights to be constant by 1970. ¶ By far the most significant outcome of Nkrumah's departure from the scene was the immediate interest now shown in Ghana's abundant and inexpensive power by her French-speaking neighbors” (Volta: Man's Greatest Lake 245-6).
*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is a Governing Board Member of the Accra-based Danquah Institute (DI), the pro-democracy think tank, and the author of 21 books. His latest and 16th volume of poetry, “Intimations of Love” (Atumpan Publications/Lulu.com) was published last week. E-mail: [email protected]
Development / Accra / Ghana / Africa / Modernghana.com
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