Nkrumah’s Show Boyism Lives On
Is it just me or it’s normal for a song to play over and over in one’s head, for no reason at all? In the past week, one particular song has been playing in my micro-sized coconut-head. If you know the tune, sing the danceable show-boy praise song. Shake your body (shoulders, legs and all your members) as you sing it repeatedly (even if you dislike the man). “Nkrumah eh, Nkrumah Show Boy. Nkrumah eh, Nkrumah Show Boy. I want to see you, Kwame Nkrumah Show Boy”.
As they say in Hollywood, “There’s no business like Show Business”!. President Kwame Nkrumah was a “Show Boy” from cradle to grave, from Mama Nyaniba’s back in a village in the middle of nowhere, to iconic stature as the most celebrated African of the last century and clearly, beyond.
I saw the man once. Well, not rally! I was a little girl, barely above the ground in height with a Young Pioneer scarf tied around my innocent littleneck, crowded by taller older children by a village roadside. We had been lined up to wave miniature Ghana flags at the Osagyefo as his convoy zoomed past. I think I saw him. Not a chance! The ‘Show Boy’ was larger than life and I, a little inconsequential village girl, could not have seen him.
But I remember I had to recite this poem at School assembly before we did the ‘march pass’, enroute to our classrooms: “Nkrumah never dies. Nkrumah is our leader. Nkrumah never dies. Nkrumah is our Messiah.” I recited it without attaching any particular meaning to the words. Now in my adult life, I think I recited those words because Nkrumah was and is truly a ‘Show Boy,’ both in life and death – yes, even in death!
Otherwise, why are we organizing the man’s 100th birthday bash 37 years after his death? After all, mourning the dead is our biggest national past-time. Celebrating a birthday is to celebrate life.
Only a “Show Boy’ will have his own ideology with an institution named after himself (the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute), dedicated to the study of – you guess right – Nkrumahism, and “ism’ like racism and sex-ism. The ‘Show Boy’ had many things named after him – an airport and university, among many others.
Given the benefit of a longer stay in power, who knows – he might have named Ghana after himself! Thinking of it now, it would have made sense. Travel the world and see – till today, even in death, when you mention Ghana, this country is immediately associated with Nkrumah. The gateway into Ghana, the airport, should as well be renamed after Nkrumah because his name is synonymous with Ghana. Kotoka who?
The ‘Show Boy’ was audacious, defiant, proud, ambitious, charismatic, visionary, eloquent and restless. With defiant restless ambition, he demanded ‘self government now’ from the British. He ignited pride and lifted up the self-esteem of the black race. He was a great public speaker, punctuating his speeches with passionate antics and high drama. He wore the Kente cloth with pride, introducing it to the world when he wore it at the United Nations.
Even in his choice of a wife, the man was a “Show Boy.’ For strategic reasons, he found his bride in Egypt, a ploy in his quest for African unity. No wonder Africa will participate in the Nkrumah birthday bash!
Only a “Show Boy” will have his personal linguist - Okyeame Okuffo, to recite praise poems to the Osagyefo before he opened his mouth (and he was not a chef!).
Clearly, the Show Boy loved to be President and be at the centre of things. He had his effigy made and erected at different locations. He crowned himself president for life and Ghana as a one party state – and that meant the Convention Peoples Party (CPP).
Many praise songs were composed and sang repeatedly to prop up his image as a messiah, the star of Ghana and a godlike figure who could make impossible things happen. There were patriotic songs too which helped to glue together the collection of disparate tribes into a nation state and to inspire national pride and push a development agenda.
He made baldness look handsome. Women loved him and loved Fathia too although she deprived a Ghanaian woman from becoming Ghana’s First Lady.
But the Show Boy’s restlessness led him to introduce several austere measures, the most notorious being the Preventive Detention Act by which individuals who appeared to be against him were imprisoned indefinitely without trial. Under Nkrumah’s rule, the fog of fear thickened and hung heavily over Ghana. Press freedom was non-existent; the media was stuck under Nkrumah’s mighty thumb.
Even as a little school girl, I felt the fear. My outspoken grandfather, Nana Ansah Israel, repeatedly warned his grandchildren to be careful what information we shared at school about his utterances. He knew that he could easily be packaged and sent off to prison on account of innocent but careless disclosures about his criticism of Osagyefo.
As Ghana toasts and roasts Nkrumah for running 100 (in death), we should remember the anguish of the many who suffered under his rule. Deep grudges have been nurtured for decades and as his name is resurrected, the Nkrumah story must be told with great sensitivity because there are people who bear Nkrumah’s deeply inflicted scars. Every coin is double sided!
Nkrumah is now of the status of a dead man walking living and thriving. It is as if Ghana still needs him to revive its development. But if the show boy should reappear today, he would not fit in; we might lynch him! And he would lock us up, again!
Even a coup d’etat could not destroy him; at least, not permanently. After the 1966 coup, his name became an abomination. Everything about him was considered evil. His statutes, like those of Sadam Hussein, were mocked, vandalized and decapitated. Lesson: when you have power, don’t greedily self–aggrandise by naming things after you self. But then, people don’t learn lesions. Three years ago, the then Rector of GIMPA, Dr. Stephen Adei, named a building on the campus after his village. Hours after his retirement, the inscription was painted over! Ouch!
Nkrumah’s overthrow was followed by several years of political autopsy to analyse what went wrong. If only we would do more political biopsies during the life of a government to identify all the ailing organs of government and find healing before we’re injured beyond healing.
One of the reasons we can’t seem to get over Nkrumah is that Ghana’s development stalled after his departure. The “Show Boy” gave us the Tema Motorway and Akosombo Dam, among many other national monuments; but he owned no personal property. We have not replicated anything close to these national landmarks since we booted Nkrumah out of office 43 years ago while he was busy running his big black mouth in Hanoi over the Vietnam War.
Still, after 52 years of Independence, several Ghanaians live a bare-bone existence in stinky abject poverty, struggling to afford one meal a day. Economic independence seems to have dodged us. That is why Nkrumah is sorely missed; by some!
The Spectator - Page: 12 Saturday, September 19, 2009