Opinions Mon, 21 Apr 2014

A well fed slave or a free hungry person; What will you choose?

When it comes to arguments concerning some prominent statesmen in Africa such as the late Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, the late ‘Madiba’ Mandela Nelson, and all those who fought for our independence and political freedom, for one reason or the other, I just don’t feel comfortable to weigh in. Simply because, I feel that they all deserve some kind of accolade for their heroic actions that gained us independence, even though sub -Saharan Africa is yet to see true independence.

However, the recent comments by one of those few Ghanaian scholars that I highly respect, Mr. Sydney Casely-Hayford about Dr. Nkrumah’s overthrow has rendered me helpless, but to voice out my views. On Friday, March 28, 2014 – a news headline on: titled Nkrumah’s overthrow was a good thing; Mr. Casely-Hayford claimed that “The Nkrumah overthrow was a good thing because we had a constitutional dictatorship”. This controversial comment has kept me scratching my head and rhetorically questioning the legitimacy of that unforgettable 1966 first coup d’état in Ghana.

The reason is that when I was growing up, I never heard anything good said about Dr. Kwame Nkrumah from some friends, and family. All I used to hear, and even now (from some few friends) is that he was a dictator. Part of this is due to the environment where I grew up which was predominantly filled with the ideologies of the opposition Danquah-Busia-Dombo Tradition in the early 1980s. I remember gaudily, some of the old folks used to call themselves “Mate meho fo” which simply means “we are reformers, and no longer belong to your party”. Most people occasionally passed some chilling comments about Nkrumah and his CPP regime. I did not really understand their frustrations at the time, nor did it make any sense to me until I was in sixth form (11-12th grade). Of, course, things have changed since then. I’m now a full blown adult and enlightened, to find things myself and possibly teach others about the man who championed our independence.

I’m saying all these to defuse the fact that my family background has nothing to do with my adult life and anything that I write about this great statesman, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. I have never been into politics in Ghana, nor have I ever been fan of any leader or political party in Ghana even though I’ve been writing extensively about her development for the past year or so.

My argument is very simple: Was Nkrumah’s overthrow a necessary evil, or it was a terrible mistake that has screwed Ghana up since then? I prefer to leave this for readers to decide for themselves because, whichever way you go depends on whether you would have preferred to be a free hungry person at that time or a well-fed slave enjoying all the necessary benefits you cherished during Nkrumah’s administration. There’s no right or wrong decision here. The fact is that it all depends on your purpose in life and who you really wanna be. Think about it in these kinds of scenarios; I hear a lot of people who claim that if they are given a million dollar to live in the western world, they will never ever live there. On the contrary, others also claim that, if you give them all the resources in Africa for free, they will never wanna live there and be part of all the mess going on right now. Who’s right and who’s wrong? ………..you are the judge!

This is how exactly I personally see our late statesman Dr. Nkrumah’s quandary. There’s no doubt about the fact that Nkrumah is seen as a hero in the outside world. If anybody has anything against him, then I think it’s only in Ghana. For the rest of the world, he was a ‘Diva’ in African unity, he was a reformer in African politics, a visionary magnate in African development, a champ in Africa’s independence, selfless in unifying the whole continent, a wonderful Dad and a leader who understood the importance of education even in those days which has never happened in Ghana since his overthrow, and above all; he was a scholar who projected the pride and image of Africa as people full of capabilities and opportunities to manage their economies and political affairs. It’s rather unfortunate that we have turned out to be incapable, incompetent and hopeless.

These are some of Nkrumah’s legacies, and I strongly believe that most Ghanaians will never ever forget. Please, don’t get me wrong, but Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah did make history in our Continent. I need no additional argument or plea to explain myself. At least, his legacies stand tall enough for me, that he championed our independence for us, period!

Again, some of us who have been fortunate enough to receive at least high school education know that had it not been the vision of this illustrious son of Africa, who built the various high schools across the length and breadth of Ghana, especially for those of us who come from the typical villages in rural Ghana, we may have had our classes under deplorable conditions or perhaps under some form of natural canopy as it’s happening in some of the basic schools right now.

My best bet is that probably, some of us may not even have had a high school education at all, had it not been those ones that Dr. Nkrumah built for us. Why do I say so? Currently, Ghanaians clearly understand what Dumso, dumso or the rampant medical doctors and teachers’ strikes mean. Anytime there is some kind of ‘fixable issues’ being technical, bad maintenance habit, or weather related issues with the dilapidated, old fashion “common” hydroelectric power, that in Dr. Nkrumah’s own wisdom developed for Ghana over half a century ago, the result is the sad and infamous slogan ‘Dumso dumso’ which simply means rampant and erratic power interruptions.

This is pathetic, because, Ghana has had roughly 10 successive leaders with uncountable sector ministers of Energy since the overthrow of Dr. Nkrumah. If we line up all these leaders and ask them a simple question; ‘what did you accomplish as a manager in charge of Ghana’s energy’, will they have something tangible to prove in the midst of ‘Dumso dumso’ economy?

Let’s leave this and save yourself from stress for now. Sadly, some of these leaders even ruled for almost two consecutive decades, and secured numerous loans upon loans and yet couldn’t develop ‘a demm common sustainable electric energy’! And yet, they have the gut to vehemently deny corruption in absolute terms as the major reason. Hmmmm! that sounds preposterous to me, and I’m serious about that. Fellow Ghanaians, at this point, if you do agree with me that Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was a true visionary and indeed changed Ghana in the early days of the post-colonial Ghana until his overthrow, then you are “someone who would rather prefer to be a well fed slave”

Let’s see what the opponents like Mr. Sydney Casely-Hayford and others have to say about the man they see as one of the most despots and oppressors that Ghana has ever had. According to those who saw Nkrumah’s struggle for Ghana’s independence and subsequent ascension to the highest seat of the country, Dr. Nkrumah’s ambition was to establish himself as a president for life but not to liberate his own people. Why these claims? Let’s get the facts right, in order to defuse any misunderstanding why some people believe that his overthrow as a blessing in disguise for the liberation of Ghana.

First, in 1958 Nkrumah introduced legislation to restrict various freedoms in Ghana. After the Gold Miners' Strike of 1955, Nkrumah introduced the Trade Union Act, which made strikes illegal. When he suspected opponents in parliament of plotting against him, he wrote the Preventive Detention Act that made it possible for his administration to arrest and detain anyone charged with treason without due process of law in the judicial system. When the railway workers went on strike in 1961, Nkrumah ordered strike leaders and opposition politicians arrested under this Trade Union Act of 1958. Meanwhile, it’s on record that Nkrumah himself had organized strikes just a few years before, but he now opposed industrial democracy because it conflicted with rapid industrial development.

Second, in May 1963, Nkrumah fronted and organized a conference of the then 32 independent African States in Addis Ababa-Ethiopia. The Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed at this conference with the main purpose of working for the Unity, Freedom and Prosperity of the people of Africa. Soon after the conference, somewhere in 1964, he established Ghana as a One Party State with himself as Life President. This is where I find it paradoxical for a person who worked so hard to liberate his people will end up establishing himself as a president for life. Honestly, it seems bizarre, inexplicable and absurd to me, even up to date. To me, that’s why Mr. Casely-Hayford claimed that Nkrumah was a constitutional dictator.

Soon afterwards, Nkrumah attempted to rapidly industrialize Ghana's economy. He reasoned that if Ghana escaped the colonial trade system by reducing dependence on foreign capital, technology, and material goods, it could become truly independent. Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, industrialization hurt the country's cocoa sector gravely. Many economic projects he initiated were unsuccessful, or delayed in terms of benefits.

The Akosombo Dam for example was so expensive for him at the time and got frustrated about it but today, produces most of Ghana's hydroelectric power even though it’s not reliable. Unfortunately, Nkrumah's policies did not free Ghana from dependence on Western imports. As a matter of fact, by the time he was deposed in 1966, Ghana had fallen from one of the richest countries in Africa, to one of the poorest. Ghana kept on deteriorating economically and out of these frustrations, Nkrumah started imprisoning or chastising anybody who criticize him and his administration. Wow! Where were the OAU guiding principles that he advocated and spearheaded……..? I don’t know the answer, but I think there is a missing link here.

Then, in 1965, in his frustration of Ghana’s decline, Nkrumah then dropped the bombshell and published one of his most popular books “Neocolonialism”. In this book he showed how foreign companies and governments were enriching themselves at the expense of the African people (I wanna recommend that you read that book, please). This controversial book drew harsh protest from the US government and consequently withdrew its economic aid of about $35m previously earmarked for Ghana in 1965. This made Nkrumah very angry and accused his opponents as those behind it.

According to an article published by “Modern Ghana” in 2009, Nkrumah told the unions in Ghana that their days as advocates for the safety and just compensation of miners were over, and that their new job was to work with management to mobilize human resources. Nkrumah's administration contended that wages must give way to patriotic duty because, the good of the nation superseded the good of individual workers, seriously, Dr. Nkrumah? I just don’t get this particular Nkrumah’s business theory, for real!

His discreditable “The Preventative Detention Act” also led to widespread estrangement with Nkrumah's administration. He used this law to imprison more than 1,000 of his political and social opponents. Despondently, some of his close associates also used this phony law to arrest innocent people to acquire their political offices and business assets. Advisers close to Nkrumah became reluctant to question policies for fear that they might be seen as opponents. For example, when the clinics ran out of pharmaceuticals, no one notified him. Some people believed that he no longer cared. Ghana’s Police administration came to resent their role in the society. In the midst of these chaos, Nkrumah disappeared from public view for a while out of a justifiable fear of assassination.

Then came the final straw that broke the poor camel’s back! As a result of the various assassination attempts on him, he became more resolute to protect himself and his administration. So in 1964, he proposed a constitutional amendment making his Convention People’s Party (CPP) the only legal party and himself president for life of both nation and party. You may not believe this, but this amendment passed with over 99% of the vote; an implausibly high total that in my opinion, could have only been obtained through fraud. In any event, Ghana had effectively been a one-party state since becoming a republic, but the amendment transformed Nkrumah's presidency into ‘a de facto’ legal dictatorship. Unfortunately for him, on February 24, 1966, while Nkrumah was on a state visit to Hanoi- Vietnam and China, his government was overthrown in a military coup, which was alleged to be backed by the CIA.

At this point, if you agree with all these criticisms and in line with what I’ve discussed, then you are someone who would prefer to be a free hungry man than to live under such a repressive rule.

Where Do I Stand?

Well, I was born just about the time of Nkrumah’s death, so I did not tangibly witness all these events that I’ve talked about. However, I must admit that I’m one of those Ghanaians who have benefited greatly from Nkrumah’s vision on education in particular. I was recently in Ghana and happened to passed by my former high school where I graduated about two decades ago. I’m sorry to say that I was shocked by the level of deterioration of the physical structures of this very high school which was once a pride of the entire district. This means that after the overthrow of Dr. Nkrumah over 48 years ago, Ghana has never had any visionary leader who cares so much about education as he did. I’m a big fan of education, because education has made me who I am today. I’m so grateful that I benefitted from this illustrious son of Africa whose developmental projects is clearly unmatched to any leader that Ghana has since raised.

Additionally, Osagyefo, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah authored over 20 books and publications. He was and still is a lead authority on the political theory and practical Pan-Africanism. He selflessly dedicated his life to show how future sons and daughters of Africa should prepare themselves as well as strive to unify Africa and harness its wealth for the benefit of all descendants of the continent.

On the contrary, some of his tyrannical policies, as well as his selfish purpose driven ambition to make himself president of Ghana for life, his heartless and wrongful detention and torture of his political opponents, are completely in conflict with his mission of African liberation. Honestly, I do ask myself all the time especially anytime that I’m reading about Dr. Nkrumah that was he really ruthless and hard-nosed as his opponents claim? If it were so, then it was a grievous fault indeed. In other words, I would rather prefer to be a free hungry person living in a ‘shantytown’ or slum than to benefit from such a despotic rule. What else can I say? I’ll leave this for my readers to judge, because it seems so illogical and irrational to some of us, and we may never understand why Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah did all that he did. You are the Judge! Thank you.
Columnist: Peter Osei-Adjei