Today, I had the chance to wake up as early as 3:30 am to write a story about an attempt my friends and I made in 1998 to express the opportunity cost of our mouth. Since I am currently hiding out of Maamobi to write, I decided to go to the community to visit my mother and also catch up with friends.
More so, I wanted to eat some waakye and later Tuo Zaafi. But while enjoying my waakye, and refusing to think that I had any serious business for today, I heard a group of young men divided over who actually founded Ghana. I needed no soothsayer to know that they belonged to two different camps: the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Believing that I am somehow neutral in politics and having acquired some knowledge, they came to me for judgment.
They asked, ‘Babayara, please tell us: who founded Ghana?' Knowing the entrenched position each camp had assumed, I decided to just ask them a few questions: ‘Okay, nawa, tell me, did you grandfather fight in the First or Second World War?' ‘Did you grandfather or grandmother tell you about Ghana's independence?' ‘Whose book or story have you heard about Ghana?'
With these questions, my friends decided to temper their anger with some calmness. But one of them, who still looked belligerent said to me, ‘As for you, Babayara, everything you will turn it into a philosophy. Dommi Allah, just tell us in simple terms: who founded Ghana?' I realised tempers were flaring again.
So, I decided to give them the chance to advance their argument. On my basic school WhatsApp platform, a classmate also brought the argument about who founded Ghana. One of them, knowing that I tend to have strong opinions on certain matters, decided to solicit my view. But I decided not to give an unqualified answer. I only promised him that I will respond to the question later.
In the opening pages of Kofi Awoonor's book, ‘Ghana: A Political History from Pre-European to Modern Times' he tells a story about a grandfather in a rural area, who had indulged the village practice of gathering his grandchildren around the fire to tell them stories. The stories were always about the exploit of a hunter over lions. The hunter was always the victor. The hunter never succumbed to the power of the lion. But one of the grandchildren, who had heard that the lion is the king of the forest, became fed up with the rehearsed stories, and out of frustration and curiosity, asked his grandfather, ‘Grandpa, but what are the lions themselves saying?' The grandpa was honest and responded, ‘the day the lion tells his story, the hunter will die.' Out of this story, the Ewe's historiography is that, ‘until the lions tell their story, the tale about the hunt will glorify the hunter.'
Man (in a generic sense) is a myth creator. It is through the instrumentality of myths that societies are formed and solidarity enforced. The key role of myths in forging a nation or society is such that without any convenient myth no human constitution is possible. Consequently, every society has a myth that seeks to rationalise an institution, the sovereignty of a founder or founders, the primacy of the autochthons, and the need to obey laws. These same myths provide a reason for accepting the beliefs in society. No society, whether primitive or civilised can exist without a myth. Incidentally, our scientific world also thrives on myths. Without myths, nothing is made possible!
It is the centrality of a myth that I consider it baseless to discuss the founder or founders of Ghana. Right from the word go, the idea of a constituted nation called Ghana was built upon a myth. A myth that was meant to privilege an individual or family over all others. A myth that was patented in writing. A myth that was also embodied in the carving of our national colours. A myth that informed our monuments and national emblems. A myth that has been taught from basic school to the university. This myth is the reason reasonable people are debating the founder or founders of Ghana today.
Throughout human history, political elites have manufactured myths to justify their rule. The political elites of Babylon, Medo-Persia, Greeks, and Romans all manufactured myths that defied the ruler. In the medieval era, western kings manufactured the myth of the divine right of kingship to rationalise their absolutism. In non-western societies, the Asante, the Baganda, the Kikuyu, the Luo, the Yoruba, the Ibo, the Tallensi and so on, all manufactured myths to support group living. In ensuring unity, myths are more relevant than truth. If Osei Tutu had simply said he derived his authority from the people who formed the Asante confederacy, he would have suffered a rebellion. On the other hand, when he and Komfo Anokye manufactured the myth of a Golden Stool that supposedly descended from the skies, it became a taboo to challenge the authority of Osei Tutu. In Asante history, when the idea of a supreme god was conceived, it became a taboo to say ‘Me Nyame' (lit. my God). Instead one was to say ‘Osei Nyame' (the God of Osei Tutu). It was only Osei Tutu who could mediate between his people and God. Anyone who violated this risked being killed.
In recent history, we have seen many nations constructing myths to justify their invasion of other nations. The English people formulated the myth of terra nullius (no man's land) to justify their territorial invasion of Australia. Based on this myth, the English did not only massacre the so-called aborigines, but they also erased about 50,000 years of history. The Chinese created a myth that denied the existence of Tibet. The Japanese had a myth that also denied the existence of China as an independent and sovereign state. In Ghana also, we created myths about founder and founders.
Myths have a functional role to play in society. Usually, myths are stories of unknown origin that are told to justify a particular institution or beliefs. Myths are told to be believed. They are not to be contested. Through myths, laws are enforced. Also, through myths people of varied origins are brought together under one judicial or social system. It is through the logic of myth that collective conscience (to use the expression of Emile Durkheim) is forged. Given the important role of myths in constructing a nation or forging a society, any individual who challenges a myth is considered a renegade, not fit for social life. It is for this reason that it is almost an unspeakable taboo to say anything against Kwame Nkrumah or Joseph Kyeretwie Boakye Danquah. Some Nkrumaists and Danquaists are ready to pounce mercilessly on anyone who, like the courageous grandchild, asks about the role of other Ghanaians whose sweats gave birth to our country.
In Nkrumah's multiple biographies, we have myths about Nkrumah's conception that elevates him beyond the realm of the mundane world. Nkrumah was/is hailed as a deity, a thin god who was/is not fated to taste death. While the idea that ‘Nkrumah never dies' was symbolic, there were women and men, some literate, who literally thought Nkrumah actually was immortal. Nkrumah's letter to Busia, when the latter was overthrown, supports any assertion that Nkrumah hardly saw himself as a mortal. The deification of Nkrumah, through the inversion of Bible texts that are littered in his newspaper, the ‘Evening News', is enough evidence that a convenience myth had been constructed about his invincibility and immortality.
The myth about Nkrumah was patented in books and the formation of his ideological institute at Winneba, Central Region of Ghana. Under the guise of nurturing nationalism, individuals who were trained at the institute were indoctrinated to think of Nkrumah as the sole founder of Ghana. They were to consider Nkrumah's ideologies – which were not novel to the Communist world – as coterminous to the ultimate wisdom needed to build Ghana. The Young Pioneer Movement was also subtly used to popularise the myth about Kwame Nkrumah. Later, some nationalist scholars decided to flood the academic space with propaganda and conspiracies about the almighty Kwame Nkrumah. Is it any wonder that the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, the heartbeat of epistemological creation, was once headed by Kwame Nkrumah? Under the regime of Nkrumah, public universities hardly had academic freedom.
Through the pen of nationalist writers, it became a taboo to write or speak against Nkrumah. A metanarrative was constructed to erase the place of Kwamina Ansah (whom the Portuguese called Caramansa), Nana Dokuaa, Asomanin and many others who set the pace for Ghana's independence. And since writing favours the one who writes, nationalist history in Ghana was illogically divided into two: proto-nationalism and militant nationalism. Nkrumah fell in the category of militant nationalism. The energy of nationalists who predated Kwame Nkrumah was rubbished. The works of John Mensah Sarbah, Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford, Kobina Sekyi, Simon Diedong Dombo, and many others were conveniently silenced in favour of Kwame Nkrumah and later J.B. Danquah.
The propagandists even had a revisionist view of the history of Pan-Africanism in Ghana. As part of offering cultic attention to Nkrumah and concretising the myth around him, they concluded that it was Nkrumah who shed the light of Pan-Africanism in Ghana. It took the work of S.K.B. Asante, ‘Setting straight the record of Ghana's recent political past,' to help the youth of Ghana to debunk the myth around Kwame Nkrumah. Even while this book is on the market, many Ghanaians prefer to relish in the myth about the omni-attributes of Nkrumah.
The colours of the national flag were also carefully chosen to sustain the myth about the so-called founder of Ghana. The red colour, in particular, is highly problematic. Incidentally, it is the fulcrum of the myth about Kwame Nkrumah. When I was in basic school, I was told that the red represented the blood of those who died for the sake of the country. Question: who consciously died for Ghana? Who consciously fought to liberate Ghana from the heavy yoke of colonialism? How do we compare Maji Maji and Mau Mau in East Africa to the struggle against colonialism in Ghana? As a non-settler colony, who were the Ghanaians who lifted arms to fight colonial rule? We should be told in specific terms the persons who shed their blood purposely for Ghana. Lest you fall into the trap of mentioning the three ex-servicemen. Please, you need to know that that is also part of their myth to support Nkrumah's constructed heroism. From history, we know that the three ex-servicemen were consciously and decidedly NOT fighting for Ghana's independence. Their protest was for their interest and was in no way similar to the native warriors in Kenya, Zimbabwe, or South Africa. None shed his blood purposely for Ghana's independence!
The Danquah-Busia-Dombo tradition has not been entirely virulent in constructing any myth about J.B. Danquah. They have largely tried to use the power of the pen to also rewrite the history of Ghana to favour their political mentor. Just like how nations construct national maps, Danquah is placed at the center of Ghana's history. By claiming that he gave the name Ghana to us, it is enough for these liberalists to see Ghana from the prism of the wit and sometimes exaggerated intelligence of Danquah. The idea of shifting dates and reconstructing labels in recent Ghana is part of the attempt to magnify Danquah.
As I have said, history favours those who write. All the ‘illiterates' who did not write and yet contributed significantly to Ghana's journey towards political independence have been (deliberately) forgotten. How many of us know that fisherman or market woman who refused to surrender to trade their wares as part of their protests against colonialism? How many of us know about the woman or man who visited the so-called Big Six while they were in prison? Of course, the name ‘Big Six' is big enough to swallow all other contributors to building Ghana. How many of us know my grandfather or your grandfather and grandmother who inspired the struggle against colonialism? How many of us know about the ex-servicemen at Kawokudi (Maamobi), whose ceaseless chanted ‘Yayi wa wa a a, yayi wa wa aaa, Bature ya yi wa wa a a, akore shi; ya yi wa wa' (lit. He has become a fool; he has become a fool; the white man has become a fool; let us sake him for he has become a fool'). How many of us know these ex-servicemen?
The reason you do not know them is not that their contribution is minuscule in comparison to Kwame Nkrumah, who only returned to Ghana in 1947. The reason is that history favours those who write. These ex-servicemen, some of whom were our grandparents, did not write to boast or blow their own trumpet. And those who cared to write decided to have a metanarrative of adulating one individual and a few individuals and their families. How many of us even know about the Muslim Association Party or the Gold Coast Muslim Association and the role they played in Ghana's quest for independence? I have met some diehard CPP and NPP academics, and their selectivity in narrating Ghana's history is rather stunning and ridiculous.
Today, we are debating founders or founder of Ghana because those who cared to write constructed a particular myth to rationalise what they wanted all of us to believe. They consciously erased the names and contributions of all the key parties in the struggles against the edifice of colonialism. If this is not epistemic injustice and sacrilege to those who played one role or the other to bring Ghana to where we are today, then I don't know how you will call it. At best, it is baseless to debate ‘founder' or ‘founders' of Ghana. What we know is that Ghana was founded by all those who were aspiring to build a nation. This included those who strategically thought the European should be pushed out in a piecemeal format and those who were radical in pushing out the European. The idea of proto-nationalism and militant nationalism should be revised since it does epistemic injustice to the collective history of Ghana.
Charles Prempeh ([email protected]), African University College of Communications, Accra