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29.09.2016 Feature Article

Dr J B Danquah's Tragic Death Sticks In The Throat Of Some People Like A Dead Rat

[apologies to Nikita Khrushchev!]
Dr J B Danquah's Tragic Death Sticks In The Throat Of Some People Like A Dead Rat
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A 69-year-old man is carted off to prison.

He has never been charged with any crime. He has not been sentenced to any term of imprisonment by any law court.

He suffers from chronic asthma. He also suffers from high blood pressure. Yet, he is put in a small condemned cell that contains neither a bed nor a mattress, but a single blanket. He is officially allowed to exercise for fifteen minutes a day, but even this is sometimes denied him by some of his warders.

He lies by an uncovered bucket used for defecation.

He writes about these horrendous deprivations to the only person who can improve his prison conditions or release him from prison, the President of Ghana, Dr Kwame Nkrumah.

He reminds Dr Nkrumah that when he, Nkrumah, and the prisoner and their colleagues (who are known as “The Big Six”) were jailed in Northern Ghana without trial by the British imperialists in 1948, the British gave them bungalows with servants and gardens, and even allowed them to use typewriters to put down their thoughts.

In reminding Dr Nkrumah of this, he is subtly telling him not to be worse than the British, whom they had both condemned for their racist policies. In fact, he is — again without spelling it out — giving Dr Nkrumah a chance to define himself for history.

But his letter to Dr Nkrumah cuts no ice for at this time Nkrumah is consumed by megalomania. No-one can teach him anything. Certainly not a “wimpish” old man who had sought to obstruct Nkrumah’s path as Nkrumah pursued his own idea of greatness.

One sad day, the old man pathetically falls dead in the condemned cell of Nsawam Prison!

That man was Dr J B Danquah, whose struggle against British colonialism in the Good Coast after the Second World War was so relentless that even the British accorded him the sobriquet “doyen of Gold Coast politics”.

Since his death at Nsawam Prison on February 4, 1965, all manner of rationalisations have been made by Nkrumah apologists about why Ghanaians should not make an issue of his callous murder — for murder it was, inasmuch as keeping an old man with well-known illnesses in conditions reminiscent of a medieval dungeon was to sentence him to death n all but name.

First of all, claim the Nrumah apologists, Danquah was complicit in assassination attempts made against Dr Nkrumah. But that, it must be pointed out, is a crime against the state called TREASON, for which the punishment prescribed by law is death!

Why was Danquah not tried for treason if he was complicit in assassination attempts against the President of Ghana? After all, the Preventive Detention Act, under which Danquah was detained

without trial, existed when lesser known politicians, such as Tawia Adamafio, Ako Adjei, Cofie Crabbe, Emmanuel Otchere and others were afforded the “privilege” (if “privilege” it was!) of being tried before a Special Court. Most of them were initially acquitted, of course. Did Dr Nkrumah fear that if Danquah too was tried, he would be acquitted?

If that was so, then why do some Nkrumahists unashamedly still persist in laying charges of treason against Danquah? If a court, sitting each day for weeks, with extremely brilliant lawyers like Geoffrey Bing [Attorney-General] and Bashiru Kwaw Swanzy [Deputy Attorney-General] asking the questions, would not be able to prove, with evidence, charges of treason against Danquah, then the evidence obviously did not exist! In that case, why the continued defamation of Dr Danquah with allegations of complicity to assassinate the elected leader of Ghana?

Next, there is the allegation that Danquah was a ‘CIA agent’. Of course, no-one from outside the CIA knows exactly what it does. But in this case, the half-baked allegation came from a book written by the son of a former American Ambassador to Ghana, Mr William P. Mahoney.

The younger Mahoney claims that Dr Danquah complained to his father that payments that had been made to Danquah’s family by the American embassy whilst Danquah was put in prison without trial for the first time in 1961, had ceased, upon Danquah’s release from prison.

But as those who know even a little bit about intelligence matters would confirm, if Danquah was indeed a ‘CIA agent’, he would have complained to his ‘case officer’ rather than to the ambassador! The CIA does thingsclandestinely, and for a verygood reason! By keeping the Ambassador in the dark, the CIA provides him with what in intelligence parlance is called “plausible deniability”. This ensures that if the CIA causes any offence in a country, only the CIA station official(s) would be expelled, whilst diplomatic relations with the country, as such, remained intact.

What sensible people ought to appreciate, therefore, is that it was perfectly possible for someone in the American embassy – whether he/she belonged to the CIA or not – to make ‘charitable’ donations to anyone (whose human rights were being abused) on humanitarian grounds. It would be legitimate American policy and well within the ambit of the political department of the embassy.

Have those peddling this story considered its implication — namely — that whereas while people like Nelson Mandela were in jail, after being tried by the apartheid practitioners, their hapless families often received charitable assistance from sympathisers and charity organisations all over the world, probably including Ghana, in Ghana on the other hand (the self-styled land of the would-be ‘liberators of Africa’) it took an Americanto offer humanitarian assistance to the family of a man whose plight was probably worse than Mandela’s, in that he had never been offered an opportunity to say a word in his own defence, but had been detained without charge?

This aspect of the matter is so shameful that I don’t think those who persist in peddling the notion realise they only expose themselves to a charge of being too thick to see that they are advertising American humanitarianism — while, at the same time (without being conscious of it) they are drawing attention to the opposite: Ghanaian callousness — when they continue to bruit the falsehood about. It also condemns them to an admission that they are too stupid to appreciate the fact that Dr J B Danquah was a very renowned and learned intellectual, whose achievements impelled foreigners who knew Ghana’s history to accord him the greatest respect irrespective of what colours his local detractors panted him in.

It is also both infantile and quite laughable for people who claim to know something about world affairs to be surprised that US diplomats would wish — secretly — to ingratiate themselves with a leader of a political movement in a developing country; a member of a club in which the changing of political fortunes was the order of the day. Foreign diplomats come to our countries to try to influence us, not to pass the time of day. So, to try and win the sympathy of Dr J B Danquah by looking after his family whilst his own people treated him like a dog, would have been as natural to even the political officers of the US embassy in Accra — not necessarily the CIA officials — as breathing the Ghanaian air.

That aside, Dr J B Danquah deserves to be respected because many of our people adored him. And they are the only index of how important a person is — in the final analysis. When I was growing up and “Lawyer Danquah” (as he was called) once visited my town, Asiakwa, the women took off some of the cover- cloths they had on, and laid them on the ground for Danquah to walk on! I saw it with my own eyes. That, in our culture, is the greatest compliment anyone can pay to a living person — to say ‘I think you are fit to walk on the cloth with which I cover my body’!.

To the people, he was ‘Akuafo Kanea’ (The Lamp of the Farmers), who, they fully knew, had relentlessly fought the colonial government for years to treat fairly, the illiterate farmers whose hard work had made the Gold Coast the biggest producer of cocoa in the world but who were paid whatever the British Government and its merchant group — the “AWAM” cartel (the Association of West African Merchants) — decided to pay them for their crop.

Indeed, one of Danquah’s greatest sources of disagreement with the CPP Government, was over the cocoa price(which became one of the main planks of the combined opposition party that became known as the NLM). And the people, especially the farmers, knew this and honoured their “champion” whenever they could.

Now, in spite of his fame, Dr Danquah, was, as a person, very modest and absolutely honest. I had the privilege of interviewing him once for Drum Magazine, and in spite of the disagreements between himself and Dr Kwame

Nkrumah, he harboured enough objectivity to agree that Dr Nkrumah’s policy of asserting ‘the African Personality’ in world affairs was an excellent policy. “But we must not make a fetish of it,” he cautioned.

Again, despite being often cited as the person who ‘founded’ the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), he himself was modest enough to – publicly – acknowledge ‘Pa’ Alfred George Grant as the person who

“gave birth to [the] conception of a United Gold Coast becoming militant in the struggle of this country’s liberation, by forming a Convention of the chiefs and people for this purpose”.

Despite having acknowledged Pa Grant’s leadership in such clear terms, Danquah’s detractors often malign him as a vain man who claimed the credit for the founding of the UGCC for — himself!

It has been said that a prophet is not unknown, except in his own country, and the truth of this saying was made manifest on Dr Danquah’s death. The then President of Nigeria, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe (who had started his own anti-colonial political career in Ghana and had observed Dr Danquah in action at close quarters) broke protocol by paying an eulogistic tribute to Dr Danquah, an opposition leader in a neighbouring country.

Dr Azikiwe knew very well that his action would cause serious annoyance to Dr Kwame Nkrumah and even probably lead to Nkrumah breaking off diplomatic relations with Nigeria on the grounds that Nigeria was interfering in the internal affairs of Ghana.. But Dr Azikiwe did not shrink from what he saw as his duty of paying a generous public tribute to Dr Danquah on Nigerian federal radio. (By the way this was in spite of the fact that Dr Azikiwe had made advances to Dr Danquah’s then wife, Mrs Mabel [Dove] Danquah, whilst Dr Danquah was spending a rather long period in London, serving on a delegation!)

In his tribute, Dr Azikiwe said:

“By the death of Joseph Boakye Danquah, the world has lost a valued ally in the crusade for human freedom, and Africa has lost a great champion of fundamental human rights. It is not universally appreciated that Dr Danquah was probably the first West African to obtain the doctorate in philosophy from a British University, when his dissertation….was accepted for the Ph.D. degree by the University of London in 1927-28.

“As a journalist, Dr Danquah was a proprietor and an editor of what is assumed to be the first daily newspaper in Ghana, which he christened The Times

of West Africa…. Under the pen-name of ‘Zadig,’ he maintained a column which he used to expose cant and criticise the hypocritical practices of his day. The Times of West Africa …. constantly reminded the colonial government that the Bond of 1844 did not transform the people of Ghana into chattels, but reserved to them, their freedom, until the time when they would be able to regain it.

“When the Gold Coast government introduced the Sedition Ordinance of

1934, Dr Danquah was the secretary of the delegation, under the leadership of his brother, the late Nana Sir Ofori-Atta, which was sent by the Gold Coast people to the Colonial Secretary [to protest against the law]. Two years later, Mr Isaac T. A. Wallace Johnson of Sierra Leone and I [Dr Azikiwe] were to make history by being the first persons against whom this law was first tested…..

(Dr Azikiwe had published an article by Wallace-Johnson entitled “Has The African a God?”]

In the latter part of 1947, when the NCNC [Azikiwe’s own National Congress

of Nigeria and the Cameroons] delegation was returning from London, Dr Danquah joined ‘Pa’ [Alfred George] Grant and Mr R. S. Blay and other Ghanaian patriots to give us a grand reception in Sekondi. Dr Danquah then informed me of what they had heard about a young Ghanaian who was then editing The New African in London, under the auspices of the WestAfrican National Secretariat…..That was when I [Nnamdi Azikiwe] assured them that this budding leader … could be of invaluable help in the struggle of Ghana for a place under the sun.

“That personality happened to be D. Kwame Nkrumah, first President of the Republic of Ghana.

'It is an irony of history that a great pioneer of Ghanaian scholarship should die in a detention camp barely eight years after his country had become free from foreign domination. During my brief stay in Ghana (1934-37), Dr Danquah and I did not often see eye to eye politically, but we were sensible and mature enough to respect each other's right to state his opinion as he sees fit…..

'As one who fought side by side with Dr Danquah in order to liquidate colonialism in Africa, I personally regret the circumstances surrounding his death….. I fought against the colonial regime because… it denied us fundamental human rights. Consequently, my idea of independence is a state of political existence where every person shall enjoy human rights under the rule of law .

'I am sorry that Dr Danquah died in a detention camp. I wish that he had been tried publicly, told what offence he was alleged to have committed, given a fair opportunity to defend himself, and then either [been] discharged or punished, depending upon the fact, whether or not his innocence had been established or his guilt proved beyond any reasonable shadow of doubt.

' I am of the considered opinion that if independence means the substitution of alien rule for indigenous tyranny, then those who struggled for the independence of former colonial territories have not only desecrated the cause of human freedom, but they have betrayed their people.

'To Mrs Elizabeth Danquah and the members of the mourning families, I send my condolences and those of Nigerian fighters for human freedom….. Dr Joseph Boakye Danquah has paid the price of leadership. May his soul rest in peace.' ( ).

' Desecrated the cause of human freedom' and 'betrayed their people' were very strong words to use by one African head of state against another. It was an unprecedented rebuke. Those who don't understand why Dr Azikiwe did it should therefore pause and ask themselves why a man of such an impeccable anti-colonial pedigree should speak like that about things with which he was very well acquainted indeed?

By Cameron Duodu

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2016

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist. Column Page: CameronDuodu

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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