Has Samia come to save or bury the CPP?
Ekow Nelson, London
The overwhelming victory of Samia Nkrumah in the national executive elections at the recent Extraordinary CPP Congress was both an emphatic repudiation of the ‘old guard’ and an affirmation of the deep affection her father Osageyfo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah continues to enjoy among party members. But will this symbolic and substantive shift at the top help restore the fortunes of the CPP and make it a relevant actor in Ghana’s politics?
In my open letter after her victory in the 2008 parliamentary elections, I urged Hon. Samia Nkrumah to do all she could to avoid the charge of having used her constituency as a transit lounge to her leadership ambitions. Over time, I advised, “when you have established yourself as an accomplished member of parliament and legislator, the executive leadership of the party will pass on to you and I hope that like Sonia Ghandi you will help lead the CPP back into power as she did India’s Congress Party. I am sure you can do it but that won’t be for a few years yet.” I wish I could say I was prescient but it is now clear that the party could not wait as long as I had imagined when I wrote that piece.
Having consistently under-performed in the nearly two decades of Ghana’s fourth republic, it is understandable that many sympathizers of the CPP had become desperate and were looking to change course. Her election clearly signals a generational shift – even if she herself is not as young - and may yet lead to a root and branch restructuring of the organisation and management of the CPP and a reshaping of the membership profile.
The main task before the new party Chairman, however, is to make the CPP electable again. The most urgent, in my view, is to persuade the country that the CPP remains relevant in the twenty-first century. She will have to find a convincing answer to the question posed by the likes of the veteran journalist Mr. Gyan-Apenteng and me: “What is the CPP for” in Ghana today? And the answer to this question requires more than mission statements, ideological epithets, or glib references to the party’s achievements over 40 years ago or the seven-year development plan of 1964. The CPP needs a reason to remain a serious contender for power beyond nostalgic references and at the moment it is not clear what that is.
Independence was not Nkrumah’s idea but it became synonymous with the CPP because he made the struggle for it the raison d'être of the party and was successful at persuading majority of the people that only the CPP could deliver where those before him had failed. After independence he repositioned the CPP as the party for development and progress with much success. But what exactly is the CPP for today? Besides the obvious fact that it has existed in some shape or form since 1949, there is a distinct lack of clarity about what the CPP is for and without that clarity and a corpus of true believers it will remain marginal to the politics of the country.
The CPP needs a cause and message around which the people of the country can rally. It needs to connect with the hopes, challenges and aspirations of the people and be believed as a viable alternative. Today, no one believes the CPP to be a serious alternative to the two dominant parties. The party needs ‘believers’ more than polling station registration. But ‘believers’ must have something or someone to believe in and in the last 20 years the party has failed to articulate what that something is.
With the election of Samia Nkrumah as its National Chairman, the CPP has, some will say, played its last and strongest political card yet since 1992. However, if her leadership were to fail to pull the CPP from the margins of Ghanaian politics and transform it into a serious mainstream alternative to the NDC or NPP, the game will truly be up and the party will almost certainly continue its inexorable slide into oblivion. Think about it: if an Nkrumah cannot inspire the CPP to success who else out there can? Who else out there will be shown all that goodwill and granted the benefit of the doubt?
At this most crucial stage of its history the CPP stands either to wither or experience a great resurgence as a serious mainstream political party under the watch of the founder’s daughter. Whether by design or fate Samia Nkrumah finds herself, ominously, at the precipice of history: she can either make the CPP great again or affirm its irrelevance in 21st century Ghana. And while she and her supporters may feel justifiably euphoric for a sweet, sweet victory I am sure she also recognises the enormity of the challenge ahead. Will she be the one that saves her father’s party or has she come to preside over its final rites?
It is this dangerous mix of excitement and fear that should galvanize all those with a deep affection for the CPP to rally around the newly-elected Chairman and help her succeed. Because if she fails, the party fails; we all fail and with that the dreams and hopes of those of us who have wished for a return of the CPP will evaporate forever. The internecine war and vicious sniping from the sidelines must stop. The CPP must get behind its new Chairman, pull together and help restore the party’s fortunes.
But she can’t do it alone and so equally, it is imperative for the newly-elected Chairman to be magnanimous in victory, reach out to her opponents and be inclusive to help heal the deeps wounds in party. She cannot undertake the enormous task alone with only her coterie of supporters and admirers or even the thousand or so delegates who voted for her. She will need every faction and every wing of the party to be successful.
To customise a well-known British expression for the Ghanaian context, “the CPP is drinking in the ‘last chance’ beer bar”. With the election of the daughter of its founder, the party appears to have cast the last die and may have been thrown a lifeline too. It can either grab hold of that lifeline to restore its political fortunes or continue with its penchant for frivolous navel gazing and drown in the sea of electoral irrelevance.
Samia Nkrumah stands between failure and success but the direction of travel will be determined by whether the CPP itself is hungry enough for power, remains disciplined and can persuade the country that it has something uniquely different to offer the people of Ghana as once her father did.
© Ekow Nelson London, September 2011