Wednesday, April 25, 2007
- Guggisberg and Akoto
Ensconced on a plane, 33,000 miles above sea level on my recent travels and poring over the ‘New African’, I stumbled across a picture of the headstone on Sir Gordon Guggisberg’s resting place. This made an immediate impact on me and inspired the writing of this piece. The inscription on the tombstone read simply.
“To the everlasting memory of
Governor Sir Gordon Guggisberg
Who died in 1930 at Bexhill.
This Memorial was erected by the Paramount Chiefs and people of the Gold Coast and Ashanti”.
“The inscription rather interestingly brought to mind the significance of these words on the life and causes of another important personality in the building of our dear nation, Baafuor Osei Akoto. Wherein lies the significance, one may ask?
First, two words on the headstone are worthy of note. The gravestone was inspired by the ‘Chiefs’ of the then Gold Coast and ‘Ashanti’, representing their people who refused to forget the monumental works of Gordon Guggisberg; a governor in the service of the English crown with a Jewish lineage. A professional surveyor and soldier, Guggisberg more than any other person in the history of this nation, laid down the blueprint for the development of a modern and independent Ghana.
He set the country on a better and faster course, in both infrastructural development and localization of the Civil Service towards eventual independence than was the lot of any other African colony before 1939.
His first preoccupation was the development of roads, railways and a deep water harbour to accelerate economic development. The completion of the Takoradi Habour almost preoccupied his entire tenure as governor and he had to struggle all the way in the face of hostile criticisms and technical problems.
He went on to establish the Korle-Bu Teaching hospital, the first major modern hospital in tropical Africa, with the intention of training nurses, doctors and other health professionals. His ambition was for it to become the medical college for all of British West Africa; a plan that was used to establish the Medical School during Nkrumah’s presidency. Eighteen smaller hospitals and dispensaries were also established by the end of his term in 1927.
Education was very dear to his heart as well and this led him to establish a residential college near Achimota in 1924, later to become Achimota School. He preferred local higher education training because as he puts it, “the local education of the many, accompanied by character-training rather than the education in Europe of a few, an education that invariably lacks character-training” and resulted in the training of successful leaders. This view invariably resulted in the setting up of more schools and the training of an educated workforce to accelerate our preparation for independence.
Two items in paragraph 286 of his last annual address to the Legislative Council of the Gold Coast were of particular value in view of later developments: The assessment of the dry-season flow of the Black and White Volta Rivers and their potential for hydro-electric power and the testing of bauxite (First hints of the Akosombo Dam and Power Station on the Volta and the Tema Aluminum Smelter built under Nkrumah’s government after independence).
Because of his forward-looking attitude to the development of the Gold Coast, his adopted country, Britain, virtually disowned him. When he died in 1930, he was buried in an unmarked grave until the Chiefs and people of Ghana intervened with a memorial worthy of a great man.
It is symbolic that Nana Sir Ofori Atta I, the then Okyenhene, laid the gravestone on Gordon Guggisberg’s resting place.
Before the founding of modern Ghana, our societies were led by chiefs who were the pivots of wise counsel, and development of our people. Most of them ruled on democratic principles with a council of elders and sub-chiefs and presently continue to play an integral role to hold our modern societies together in the face of the onslaught of the negative aspects of other cultures. Baafuor Akoto was a Chief.
It is also a fact that, ‘Ashanti’ existed as a separate state outside the loose amalgamation of the peoples of the then Gold Coast, traversing some of the most vital economic zones, with the Asantehene as the traditional head. This must be understood in its context by the present-day generation who may not be aware of it.
The age-old traditional systems of the Ashantis (like some other) had been entrenched in democratic tenets and totally abhorred any dictatorial tendencies. A culture of silence was an anathema to its people who were likely to bristle or be irritated in the face of any sign of oppression.
How then was one to expect Baafuor to keep mute and bow his head when in his words as quoted in his biography aptly titled, ‘Struggle Against Dictatorship’, Nkrumah, the flag bearer of the CPP, at a rally had threatened to destool chiefs and let them run leaving their sandals behind”? The first president of this nation boldly made this proclamation as he had orchestrated the disintegration of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the party upon which he launched his political career, and silenced all forms of dissenting voices with some of his rampaging vanguard of followers.
Other politicians with divergent views had been cowed into silence and had cause to be genuinely afraid of a party that had been responsible for the political murders in this country when two policemen perished at their hands.
And Dr. Nkrumah made good on his words too; ordering the destoolment of one of our finest chiefs, Nana Ofori Atta II, and threatening other rulers with the same. Where Nkrumah failed to keep his word though, was a promise to cocoa farmers to increase their producer prices as a means of getting their support and votes.
Baafuor until then was a prosperous cocoa farmer and transporter, going about his duties at the courts of the Asantehene and did not need to get involved in the politics of the Gold Coast until he was persuaded into founding the National Liberation Movement (NLM) as a democratic alternative to the CPP by some CPP members in Kumasi.
Other politicians with divergent views had
been cowed into silence and …
To him, it was a very serious matter if these people, avid supporters of CPP, were concerned about dictatorship. Although his detractors conveniently labelled it as a separatist movement, it became the bedrock of the opposition movement in the pre-independence era and set the course for the evolution of Ghana’s democratic governance at independence. The NLM became the pivot around which other liberal-minded regional parties such as the Northern people’s Party (NPP), Togoland Ewe Congress (TCP), Ghana Congress Party (GCP) rallied and coalesced to form the United Party (UP).
Like Governor Guggisberg before him, Baafuor Akoto, the prime architect and a founding father of the United Party (UP) of Ghana, the ancestral antecedent to the ruling archives and hardly comes up for mention when the struggle for independence comes up for discussion.
He virtually founded the NLM and its activities at his own expense as he considered that if for nothing else, the federal system of governance which he championed would help check the concentration of economic activity and the ominous abuse of power at the centre.
It will grant some degree of autonomy to the districts and regions and facilitate a more rounded development agenda. What we see today is the concentration of economic activity in the capital and to a far lesser extent, Kumasi and Takoradi and others, to the detriment of other parts of the country. Akoto had the foresight to reckon that once given power, Mr. Nkrumah would move to persecute his opponents both within and outside his party. He managed to rally other fine politicians to his cause. These included Dr. Danquah, Dr. Busia, Modestus Apaloo, S.G. Antor, Tolon Na, Dombo, R.R.Amponsah and other CPP members such as Victor Owusu, and Joe Appiah who had left the party. These formed the bulwark of the UP. It is worthy of note that Mr. Busia first went to Parliament on the ticket of the NLM.
For all his vision, charisma, Pan-Africanism and remarkable achievements, the policies of the first President of this nation were flawed in several respects. His political philosophy was a pure socialist agenda with a hidden disdain and intolerance for democratic governance, a fact that his son, Sekou Nkrumah, pointedly admitted in a recent article.
He preferred “independence with danger to servitude in tranquility”, a pronouncement which is rich in nationalistic fervour but laden with a dark foreboding; a danger to all people who expressed alternative views. When others had got wind and had gone underground, Akoto was the one who stood up to ride out this ‘danger’ at the risk of his life.
Surprised at the challenge to his absolute stranglehold on the nation by the opposition that matched the CPP in equal measure on all fronts, Dr. Nkrumah, supported by a well-oiled propaganda machinery and a band of praise-singers, launched a spate of vitriolic falsehoods against them. Some of these half-truths have survived with us to this day. The truth can, however, not be wished away and will emerge, no matter how long it takes.
This is what researchers like Mary Morgan had to say about this myth of separatism. “The slogan of the NLM, mate meho, meant”, “I am separated (from any dictatorial tendencies and would rather maintain the status quo) (words in brackets are mine), an allusion to threats of cessation. It is important to note, however, that this threat was only issued in response to the growing centralizing tendencies of government”.
For Akoto and Guggisberg, the quote from
Shakespeare may hold true, after all, …
the good is oft interred with their bones”.
It is worthy of note that the fears of the NLM and other regional parties, as well as chiefs, were realized when Ghana became a one-party state. He also moved to shut the opposition press, including the “Pioneer”. Not satisfied with that, he caused the passage of the Preventive Detention Act (PDA) and Baafuor was predictably one of the first victims to be incarcerated. He occupied cell number 10 in chains at the Nsawam Prisons and for over five years was not to enjoy freedom until the death of Dr. Danquah in cell number 9.
In the process, this self-made man lost all his businesses and his dependants had to scrimmage to make a living to support themselves in school. The Asantehene was further advised by Dr. Nkrumah abolish Baafuor’s stool from the Manhyia Palace (See Graphic’s headline of Friday January 13, 1961 in their recently published Jubilee Ghana Pg. 57 and the reasons the Asantehene gave for doing this to Baafuor in the same Jubilee Ghana Pg. 110.)
Right or wrong, Akoto had the right to express his views. In a recent interview of Samia Nkrumah by the Ghana Web, this was what she had to say to a question. “He imprisoned his political opponents against the backdrop of freedom …” Samia continued, “Let me first say that I wish to apologise to any Ghanaian who was imprisoned in the name of Nkrumah. It saddens me to know that anyone suffered for their political beliefs, I am an advocate of freedom and democracy and human rights and strongly opposed to violence as a way of reacting to any problem …”. After saying a lot of things she asked, “Was he misled by certain advisors”? I think the answer is blowing in the wind.
If this nation is enjoying the freedom and liberated press that Nkrumah preached and promised but did not practice, then it is through the sacrifices and the foundations laid by men of valour and conviction such as Baafuor. When most opinion leaders went to sleep and had been rendered speechless, he was the one who stepped up to the plate and boldly condemned the oppressive tendencies of the country’s first Prime Minister.
For Akoto and Guggisberg, the quote from Shakespeare may hold true, after all ….”, The good is oft interred with their bones”.
Daily Graphic - Wednesday, April 25, 2007 Pages: 15, 16 and 33