Tuesday, August 14, 2007
DR. KWAME NKRUMAH - The rising Phoenix
By: ANIS HAFFAR
The America Historian, Arthur Schlesinger Jr. (who died early 2007, at age 89, with 27 books under his belt) was renowned for sounding the dangers facing a nation without “a vital centre” or “a governing consensus”.
He was noted to have said also that presidential reputations move in cycles, rising and falling as we look back with fresh eyes.
In Ghana, were there a restored reputation, it must surely be that of the nation’s founder. President from 1957 till toppled in 1966, and marooned in Guinea till his death in 1972, Dr. Nkrumah was scorned and scoffed after his overthrow. A cartoon in an old newspaper, for instance, showed Nkrumah welcoming a friendly African head of state, with one arm warmly hugging the visitor and the other hand diabolically nudging a knife.
Today, providence has bounced him back to the fore like a mythical resurrection from the ashes. He seemed to fulfill his own messianic prophesy-Nkrumah never dies. The recent “Ghana@50” anniversary promotions were awash with historical auditory, especially Nkrumah’s tear-filled speech on the eve of Ghana’s independence in 1957: “At long last, the battle has ended. Ghana your beloved country is free forever”.
Lyrically high tunes such as “Nkrumah Star of Ghana” and “Ghana show boy” re-emerged, stirring the airwaves. New reggae songs carried sound bytes of Nkrumah’s speeches, some cautioning how tribalism impeded nation-building.
The visual promotions included iconic images and TV footage of the nimble Nkrumah with his young, attractive Egyptian wife, Fathia, strutting the dancing floor of former Ambassador Hotel (Accra) celebrating, with international well-wishers, the birth of a proud new African nation.
On the internet, ‘You Tube’ posted an impressive pictorial gallery of Nkrumah rising from scratch, gradually but determinedly. The odyssey ended when he arrived decisively at the top. The Tubes musically backdrop of Lord Kitchener’s calypso tune “Ghana, Ghana is the name” reflected sombre memories of hope, audacity, and vision.
The anniversary fanfare proper (climaxed on March 6, 2007 at the Independence Square) spotted a bevy of responsive African heads of State and entourages wooed explicitly by the essence of a great leader whose far-reaching vision and tenacity spawned their own elated positions. All, including loftier Nigeria’s Chief Olusegu Obassanjo, merged at Accra to praise Nkrumah, and not to bury him.
Prior to the main event, politically wizened public relations dealers were not found wanting in slick opportunism. Through radio, TV, print, calendars, and vehicular media- Ghana’s political turf was soaked with advertised images including those of a brave coterie of new and old aspirants angling to rub shoulders with the founder. It seemed the closer they got to him in the line-up, the more prestigious their own niches in history.
Nkrumah’s glitches that, hitherto, stymied opposition seemed to matter less. The posturing made one wonder where the veiled wind blew from. The staged camaraderie must have raised curious eyebrows, and disoriented both historians and discerning adults that lived through the volatile era. Wherever there are ironies, there are reasons why ironies have settled in those particular spots.
The main irony in the veneer was that by the 1960’s, political rivals smothered under Nkrumah’s watch. Various assassinations attempts on the man bred insecurity and paranoia in him. As a result, suspected enemies were bundled together, and carted off. The Prevention Detention Act (1958) transformed the Nsawam Prison into what was labelled as “a Golgotha” for those who disagreed with him. Those tragic actions, from suspicions about both local and external accomplices, were the convulsive struggles of a man of actionable dreams at death-grips with his survival. After the 1966 coup, about 1,200 political prisoners were released from detention.
Other ironies hinged on the allegations of corruption of “the men around him” symbolized by the scandal of a famed “golden bed” bought by one of his immediate “henchmen”. The socialist state lost the idealistic steam to the politicians’ graft.
A further recollection spinned around the Young Pioneer Movement. Nkrumah’s ideal of grooming the youth into revolutionary leaders deteriorated into young informants telling on their own mothers and fathers.
In all, the bumps served as preludes to national hysteria and phobia, and festered into travesties that left in their wake open wounds. The troubled nation imploded: Its centre could not hold. Those dreary memories of Ghana’s past were hard to celebrate. Goodness knows, they needed not repeat themselves.
But Nkrumah looks so much better in the other rear-view mirror. No one could possibly have fought for independence from the triple axis of tribal, continental, and imperial dimensions and not attracted serious detractors and deadly enemies. His imperfections seemed to flow from contagion of the times; his virtues were his own. In lieu of a Pandora’s Box, the very thought of Nkrumah today opens a panoramic view of selflessness, courage, and an unwavering sense of mission that continues to define Ghana, and inspire Africa and the Diaspora in the 21ST CENTURY.
His university education and experience in America (in the 1930’s) exposed him to hard-core white racism, slavery on the plantations and the strange fruits of lynching of Negroes. Returning home to Gold Coast, he saw another heart of darkness in the poverty and misery of the African masses-amid a weird potpourri of colonialism, fiefdoms, and a local elite. His attitude thereafter radiated a “Who born dog”? disdain for all local and external causes of the African masses’ subjugation.
With freedom for all Africa’s masses throbbing daily inside his skin, he set selfless precedents in thoughts and deeds that continue to keep him head and shoulders higher. If there were something special about Nkrumah worthy of emulation, that was the one. The selfish mindsets that pre-occupied many African Leaders were themselves the deterrents to the continent’s progress.
Nkrumah’s genius was the ability to compel critical events and steer beyond parochial interests and claim the larger African sky. He might very well be the last African leader with that daring, caring streak to reach that high. His heartfelt distrust of tribalism and petty sovereignties signaled to African everywhere that old, decrepit, unquestioned loyalties were themselves reactionary, and could be safely dislodged and abandoned for a more untied and respected Africa.
Hear Nkrumah: “Our constitution should make a positive demonstration of Ghana’s willingness to surrender her individual sovereignty of Africa… We the people of Ghana (by) our actions (help) to further the development of a Union of African States”. He saw those prospects in his mind’s eye, and sought to enlighten the rest of African. “Our example must inspire and strengthen those who are still under foreign domination”, he said.
Seething with commitment, he showcased Ghana as the beacon for the larger Africa. He nursed from scratch the Black Stars Shipping Line, Ghana Airways, Volta River Authority, Ghana Industrial Holding Corporation, Atomic Energy Commission, Ghana Housing Corporation, Workers Brigade, Youth Employment Service, United Ghana Farmers Council, Ghana Education Trust, Encyclopaedia Africana, Ghana News Agency, and hosts of other meaningful enterprises and posts far too numerous to cite. All these, he relayed with his blessings into the hands of his fellow countrymen as pioneering challenges.
Each day, he summoned the nation’s courage to rise to the occasions through the motivation of “work and happiness’ which was broadcast by Radio Ghana under the banner “Ghana muntie, Ghana muntie… Osagyefo se oma mo akye ooo!” He believed in the people. Managers whose tempo he knew to be some what shaky, he inspired: “You hold the destiny of our country in your hands. The eyes and ears of the world are upon you, oppressed brothers throughout this vast continent of Africa and the New World are looking to you with desperate hope”.
Here was a good man in a hurry to industrialize Ghana and escape from mono crop cocoa economy. Perhaps, caring too much, he did too much too soon. Little did he anticipate the tendency for both management and employees to perceive state enterprises as “aban edwuma”: A syndrome where the caretakers themselves exploited the system, or did the least while expecting undue benefits. The pitiful result was that many of the bold initiatives were to drop, subsequently, like dominoes.
Nkrumah’s local adversaries and imperial antagonists jumped for joy’ drooling over the failures. But, be not deceived! They were not Nkrumah’s losses; they were national failures, with negative implications for the continent.
Hear Chinua Achebe (the African novelist, and sage): “In the stories we tell, it is intended to help us solve the problem of this failure that has overtaken the early sense of joys and happiness when African became independent, received their independence”.
In the anxiety to prove wrong the very theses of Nkrumah that” the affairs can manage his own affairs” the Western press was beside itself in holier-than-thou glories, and ever ready to drown the babies in the bath waters. The Accra-Tema Motorway was described as an exuberant “superhighway which went nowhere”. The Akosombo hydroelectric scheme of the Volta River Authority, too, was (in their view) a fruitless “hundreds of millions (wasted) on the giant Volta Dam”.
Now, we know better. The gripping lights-on-lights-off saga is a grim reminder of the darkness that could have enveloped Ghana for years had Nkrumah not seen the light decades ago.
A further cheap shot by the Western press evolved around the national delicacies, the ‘akrantie’ and ‘kusie’ of the rodent family. Savoured from time immemorial in “fufu’ soups, the consumption of these threats was blamed on Nkrumah for causing a hideous poverty that got people to now eat “roasted rats”.
The continued survival and success of Ghana Commercial Bank, for example, was a God-sent model. Its inception by Nkrumah afforded Ghanaian bankers the mains to escape from a lifelong clerical subservience in British banks, and excel as bona fide African managers of import. Again, the numerous schools scattered across the nation’s landscape are bold reminders of vision at its best. After independence (1957), there was, more or less, not a single structural layer of importance which did not have Nkrumah’s imprint and blessings.
Ghana has to “sift from the ruins of the past” (to use Virgina Woolf’s phrase) to understand the present, and grasp the future. The path is clear through the visionary precedents set by one man: His struggle for independence; his formidable organizational skills; his die hard resistance to colonialism; his empathy for the masses’ well being; his empathic concerns for both mass and adult education, and universal higher technological education; his forward effort to industrialize the nation; and his warnings about neo-colonialism.
Daily Graphic - Tuesday, August 14, 2007 Page: 9.