Rejoinder: CPP replies Archbishop Akwasi Sarpong
On the 13th of June 2012, Emeritus Archbishop Peter Akwasi Sarpong delivered a very powerful, courageous, impartial and honest speech at an event organized by the Centre for Freedom and Accuracy. But as usual, some political figures and groups have managed to find fault with this faultless discourse.
In a statement signed by one Nii Armah Akomfrah, and published on myjoyonline.com and ghanaweb.com on 19th and 20th June 2012 respectively, the CPP commended the Archbishop for highlighting the strengths/achievements of Nkrumah, but ridiculously reprimanded him for mentioning some of the well-documented flaws of their founder. What a world! So are the CPPs serious denying the assertion that Nkrumah became a tyrant and embarked on certain unacceptable undertakings?
I have always maintained that Dr Kwame Nkrumah is the greatest leader the African continent has ever had. This however does not erase the fact that he allowed the unrestrained love for power to turn him into a dictator. It will thus be foolhardy of any group or individual to attack other groups or individuals who in their effort to encourage truth, integrity and democratic development in Ghana, highlight the pros and cons of iconic leaders like Osagyefuo.
As a media person, I deem it appropriate to present a brief account of the relationship that existed between the CPP government and the media, to accentuate Emeritus Archbishop Peter Akwasi Sarpong's indubitable assertion that Nkrumah, like many African leaders, needlessly transformed himself into a tyrant, which unfortunately led to his downfall.
I have always stated that one of the vital elements that distinguish humans from animals particularly mammals, apart from the former's ability to think and reason, is their right to live their lives as free beings. These in other words, are the key elements that make humans superior to any other form of creature existing on the surface of the earth. Without freedom, the whole notion of responsibility becomes an illusion.
At independence, freedom of expression including press freedom was assured. The following words of Dr Nkrumah are noteworthy: 'The imposition of any form of press censorship was an idea most repugnant to me, since it ran counter to everything I had always believed in, everything for which I had struggled in my life. Freedom of expression had been one of the essential rights for which I had fought. I had to go to prison for daring to say things the colonial administration had not liked.'
Disappointingly however, the free speech message proclaimed by Nkrumah was never put into practice. According to Ainslie, Barton, Faringer and a host of other media and political analysts, immediately after independence, Nkrumah transformed himself into a despot by imposing a one-party system on the country. Opposition parties were banned and some of their leaders detained. He then founded the Guinea Press group to publish a more determined and ambitious newspaper, the Ghana Evening News to serve as a mouthpiece of the government.
Under the CPP government, a bill known as the Preventive Detention Act that permitted the government to imprison anyone for up to seven years without public charge or trial was passed in 1959. Disturbingly, the Preventive Detention Act did not only make it permissible for a Ghanaian citizen to be tried and punished for alleged offences even if committed abroad, but also made it retroactive to the date of independence. Offenders were jailed for between a couple of months and fifteen years. During the first year after its adoption, about seventy people were believed to have been jailed under the act, and within two years, over 500 people had fallen victim to the act.
Linked to the Preventive Detention Act was the so-called False Reports Bill which made it an offence to make statements, verbally or in writing, which were likely to tarnish the reputation of Nkrumah and his government. The renowned Sierra Leonean media man, Emmanuel Bankole Timothy, the then editor of the Daily Graphic, was deported in 1957 after posing the almighty and satirical question: "WHAT'S NEXT, KWAME?"; a statement inspired by the new coins that carried Nkrumah's image.
To further weaken the strength of the media, a censorship bill was passed in August 1960 authorizing the president to impose press censorship and to restrict the import of publications. Among those who fell victim to the many suppressing bills passed, were two British journalists who were deported after writing about strikes among the railway and port workers in 1961.
The newspaper that felt the real impact of those nasty bills was the Ashanti Pioneer, probably the fiercest opposition paper the nation has ever had. It echoed the opinions and sentiments of members of the Ashanti based opposition group, the National Liberation Movement.
In 1961 the CPP government even made it imperative for the editor of the Pioneer to always submit its contents to the Minister of Information before publication. This order, in Faringer's testimony, was breached as one would expect, and as a result, the Ashanti Pioneer in 1962 was banned and two of its editors put under preventive detention, accused of subversive activities including an assassination plot that killed at least 15 people and left over 250 injured. Censorship was imposed on all press reports leaving the country following the unsuccessful plot to eliminate Nkrumah.
In June 1963, the government introduced licensing of newspapers rule; this meant that a license could be revoked or suspended by the minister of information for a certain period of time and responsible journalists could be chastised for failing to comply with licensing conditions. The Graphic for fear of facing the wrath of Nkrumah made no attempt to openly criticize his government; it was eventually bought by the Nkrumah's government.
As some analysts observe, by the time Nkrumah was overthrown in 1966, party control of the mass media had been consolidated with Nkrumah becoming the first African leader to bring major news organisations under his personal control. It is documented that by 1964, the Ghanaian press had been turned into a 'monolithic mass media system'. Ainslie laments that pictures of Nkrumah were substituted for news – explaining that many Ghanaian newspapers were compellingly publishing as many as six pictures of the president in a single issue. This earned Nkrumah a reputation as an enemy of democratic liberties.
Nkrumah however continued to lie to the world that freedom of speech was guaranteed in Ghana. In a June 1965 interview, for instance, he insisted that there was press freedom. He tried to justify his claim by mentioning that there were several papers, each with its editor, and that these editors were 'among the freest and fiercest in the profession of journalism …. Once a week, they meet with all agencies of the State and Party …. They freely discuss home and external affairs. After this, each editor is free to choose both the subject and the presentation of his editorial'.
It is pretty obvious that the freedom of Ghanaians was considerable curtailed, and the press became almost paralyzed and powerless during the CPP regime; hence serving as the mouth piece of the government and disseminators of its propaganda and ideologies was the only way the media could survive. Most of them came to be controlled either directly by the party or by separate body acting under government supervision.
If this kind of rule is not dictatorship, then what else could be described as tyrannical rule?
The CPP should realize that it is only by identifying and acknowledging the mistakes of the past, that we can better the present, and effectively plan towards the future. Let us put a stop to that nonsense of assigning political parties to concerned people, who endeavour to address certain socio-political issues, on the basis of their names, tribes and/or the subject discussed.
Audio version of Archbishop Peter Sarpong's speech is available on: http://politics.myjoyonline.com/pages/news/201206/88313.php
Emmanuel Sarpong Owusu-Ansah (Black Power) is an Investigative Journalist, a researcher and the author of Fourth Phase of Enslavement (2011) and In My End is My Beginning (2012). He may be contacted via email ([email protected]).