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Kwame Nkrumah, Barack Obama, John Mahama, IMANI(1)!

Thu, 25 Sep 2014 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

The most powerful organ in human anatomy is the brain. It is also where the mind has a notable presence and where an individual’s personality is probably manufactured and stored. Man’s limited world therefore translates to the state of his mind at any moment in time. What is more, the restricting orthodoxies of culture, traditions, or customs, for instance, are made and institutionalized by man and it is only man who can unmake and de-institutionalize them. This requires destoolment of those specific cultural practices deemed antagonistic to actualization of national development, personal growth, and homogenization of multiethnic sociality, given that a nation’s greatness and relative stability have direct relation to how a group of people puts mutual knowledge of its ethnic or racial diversity to good use, among other indices.

It is, however, equally important to point out that, those who have taken it upon themselves to criticize leadership failure and questionable national policy decisions need to do so constructively and impartially without the garrulous pen of moral smugness, taking note of the additional fact that state management is not the same as petty trading, babysitting, or sole proprietorship. Significantly, statecraft is an intellectually and emotionally exhausting, complex and sophisticated enterprise, and furthermore, its successful effectuation requires the proactive services of outstanding individuals at the head of operation in close partnership with the popular support of the masses following from behind. It also means “leadership” is more than just leading a people. Leadership in our opinion is a double-edged phenomenon where a leader simultaneously stays ahead of and follows from behind the people he leads.

Leadership is therefore a two-way affair, though not necessarily always, subject to the stipulations of social contract. This concept implies mutual prodding between leader and people in the cause of national progression. That leader in question is of the community from which he or she evolves; that leadership is not any kind of tree that grows apart from the soil of a community. It is analogous to a dead, uprooted, or living tooth and its relationship to the human gum. An uprooted tooth cannot be said to have anything in common with the relative isolation of the human gum. An ectopic tooth for one owes its existential station to the anatomic grounding of the human gum. Such a model leader, in our estimation, was the great Kwame Nkrumah, an outstanding thinker whose achievements, prescience, bravery, intelligence, mastery of statecraft, and tactical decisions shaped the political contours and well-being of the Gold Coast, Africa, and the larger world.

There is another exciting fact not worth glossing over at this crucial historical moment. Here is it: Basil Davidson, the world-famous British Africanist historian, captures the force of Nkrumah’s intellectual dynamics, his personality presence, and political rhythm in his authoritative biography “Black Star: A View of the Lives and Times of Kwame Nkrumah.” In fact, according to Harvard University’s Dr. Emmanuel Kwaku Akyyeampong, a Loeb Harvard Professor of History and a Fellow of UK-based Royal Historical Society, Davidson’s authoritative biographic account humanizes Nkrumah. This brings us to Mr. Obama’s historic speech in Ghana in which he said Africa needed to move past the epoch of “the strongman.” There is a disturbing irony implied in his well-intentioned homily when viewed in the light of contemporary political developments. Visionary, intelligent, patriotic “strongmen” like Nkrumah is what Ghana and Africa need today. This is not an understatement. It is a bold statement born of a conscious mind.

We all know about Mr. Obama’s illicit spying on Americans and foreign governments as revealed to the world by Edward Snowden (a former National Security Agency’s contractor). How does Mr. Obama explain the hypocritical disconnect between “Africa doesn’t need strongmen, it needs strong institutions” and Snowden’s shocking revelations? We all know about Mr. Obama’s administration’s support for dictators (See “U.S.–Africa Summit: Activists Remind President Obama ‘Africa Doesn’t Need Strongmen; It Needs Strong Institutions”). We all know about Mr. Obama’s endorsement of and clandestine, sometimes even overt, collaboration with brutal theocracies like Saudi Arabia and Qatar in the service of America’s hegemonic interests. The question is: Who is behind the rise of ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria), Wahhabism, and Islamic fundamentalism?

Many have pointed to Saudi Arabia, one of America’s staunchest client states, as the chief culprit! In an interview with Charlie Rose, the host of PBS’s “Charlie Rose” and co-anchor on CBS’s “This Morning,” Bill Maher had the following to say about the subtle union between ISIS and Saudi Arabia: “’The New York Times’ pointed out in an op-ed a couple of weeks ago in Saudi Arabia just since August 4th, they think it was, they have beheaded 19 people. Most for non-violent crimes…”

Maher adds: “Right, okay, so we’re upset that ISIS is beheading people which we should be upset about but Saudi Arabia does it and they’re our good friends because they have oil. Okay. But they do it too…”

Charlie Rose then asked Maher another pointed question: “But they [Saudis] are now fighting against ISIS too. They’re joining us in the fight. As is the Emirates. As is Jordan. They are all Muslim countries.”

Bill Maher: “Well, they [Saudis] are both fighting ISIS and they are for ISIS.”

Charlie Rose: “Well, it’s not the government. I mean, some of them…”

Bill Maher: “Certainly the governments.”

Charlie Rose: “It’s a bit like today about Qatar. The big story in ‘The New York Times’ about Qatar…”

Bill Maher: “But I mean in Mecca where infidels, non-Muslims, are not even allowed in the holy parts of the city…They [Saudis] do behead people. Now if they were beheading people in Vatican City, which is the equivalent of Mecca, don’t you think there would be a bigger outcry about it?”

In effect American (and Western) politics is a sheer display of double standards (For interview transcript, see “Maher vs. Charlie Rose: To Claim Islam is Like Other Religions is Naïve and Plain Wrong,” Real Clear Politics (website), Sept 10, 2014). Further, Saudi Arabia, a brutal theocratic regime, is a polity Mr. Obama and his predecessors have always supported. However, there are also others who have cited the sheer number of Saudi citizens among the executors of September 11, 2001, the terrorist bombing of New York’s Twin Towers and the Pentagon, America, to underscore Saudi’s general culpability in the act. The United Arab Emirates (UAE) counts among America’s important sprinkling of client states in the so-called Middle East. “In recent weeks, the UAE has made headlines for its crackdown on Emiratis advocating for expanded civil liberties and political freedoms,” writes Bret Nelson. “The UAE recently put over 90 real or suspected Islah activists on trial for allegedly planning a coup. However, there is no evidence that Al-Islah is anything other than a civil society group calling for adherence to Islamic precepts in everyday life. Despite the breakneck pace of its modernization and economic development, the UAE remains one of the more repressive countries in a highly repressive region.”

That is not the entire story. “It is also important to note that all of the Gulf countries are key allies of the United States. The Sunni minority regime in Bahrain, which hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, has been able to violently suppress dissent without strong objections from Washington,” continues Nelson, adding: “But when U.S. envoys ignore human rights abuses in these countries, or worse yet, explain them away, as Ambassador to the UAE Michael Corbin recently did in an interview with the ‘Khaleej Times,’ the United States makes itself complicit in the repression (See Bret Nelson’s “Emirates Crush Dissent at Home, Tarnishing Image Abroad”). Moreover, both the US and the UK have sold weapons running into tens of billions of dollars to Qatar (See Avaneesh Pandey’s “Biggest Arms Sale of 2014 Signed, US TO Sell Arms Worth $11B to Qatar”; see also Simon Rogers’ “UK Arms Sales to the Middle East and North Africa: Who We Sell to, How Much is Military and How Much Just ‘Controlled’”). Most of these troubling arms deals have occurred under the oversight of Mr. Obama’s administration.

Why should a “democratic” state like America (and the UK) sell arms to repressive and autocratic regimes? The reasons always given point to protection of America’s strategic interests! Yet American (and Western) exceptionalism gives it the exclusive right to defend itself and to protect its strategic interests, however it deems fit and convenient, but not so with South America, Asia, and Africa, particularly in the case of Kwame Nkrumah who came under sustained terrorism and sabotage designed to kill him and his legion of supporters, subversive acts perpetrated by foreign sponsors through their local agents. It should be made clear that Bill Maher, Whoopi Goldberg, and Dan Rather all lost their jobs merely for exercising their rights, namely, criticizing President George W. Bush in the wake of Sept. 11. What happened to their First Amendment rights? Therefore, it is ironically sad and unfortunate to read, to hear, to see Franklin Cudjoe, Founding President and CEO of the IMANI Center for Policy and Education, make unfounded, unscientific commentaries on democracy, politics, history, and questions of liberty as though he lives on a different planet, as though he is detached from the actualities of history, sociology, and politics.

Often IMANI is not morally, intellectually, and scientifically forthcoming with many of their public pronouncements and research publications. Partisan political emotionalism seems to direct its public rhetoric. Of course every issue is political and IMANI cannot pretend its research findings are apolitical given its overt policy tendencies toward the NPP. Yet it has consistently abjured demands from some quarters to provide a disclaimer or proviso arresting public suspicions about its possible identification with the NPP. This is however to be expected from a lookalike think tank funded through external conduits with strategic interests in Ghana’s and Africa’s vast wealth, a pseudo-research outfit that sees nothing wrong with the moral shortcomings of democratic capitalism and with the humiliating biases of Western democracy. There is therefore an imperative need for individuals or institutions in Ghana (or Africa) to create alternative think tanks with the sole aim of conducting rigorous scientific research to correct the political biases of IMANI’s research activities.

Now back to Mr. Obama, American exceptionalism, democracy, human rights, and defense of a state’s strategic national interests. We all know about Mr. Obama’s drone assassinations of suspected terrorists without due process. We all know renditions still transpire under Mr. Obama’s watch (See Craig Whitlock’s “Renditions Continue Under Obama, Despite Due Process Concerns”). We all know about Mr. Obama’s moral resistance to public appeals to grant Marcus Garvey a posthumous pardon in light of mounting evidence establishing the FBI as the mastermind of Garvey’s frame-up and his subsequent deportation. We all know about the enormous pressure Mr. Obama is putting on the Cuban government to extradite Assata Shakur, an African-American civil rights activist, to face trial in the US, when many well-placed American citizens and foreign personalities point to her being framed up by the FBI, the New Jersey State police, and the CIA, a fact substantiated more or less by her previous sham trials and subsequent acquittals.

Moreover, there are many well-informed researchers, political pundits, human rights activists, scholars, historians, and political scientists who suspect Mr. Obama of employing that pretext, the extradition request, to appease his conservative White critics. Finally, Prof. Cornel West and radio/television personality Tavis Smiley have written about some of the abject failures of Mr. Obama’s presidency (See their book “The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto”). Other American public intellectuals have also written about the failures of Mr. Obama’s presidency (See Chris Hedges’ essay “The Obama Presidency: Why Cornel West Went Ballistic”; see also Aaron Blake’s “A Majority of Americans Say Obama’s Presidency is a ‘Failure’”). Mr. Obama’s foreign policy decisions and internal politics exonerate Kwame Nkrumah. How? We strongly believe Mr. Obama has finally come to realize it is always easy and cheap to pontificate from the outside, but crucial challenges posed by the internal and external dynamics of politics sporadically require draconian proaction, sometimes exertion of military might and operational suspension of legal instruments in the interest of national security prioritization and of preserving human lives. Of course wisdom, intelligence, prescience, experience, and reliability of practical solutions are born of individuals’ tactical and strategic approaches to challenges.

Nkrumah probably understood these security matters better than Mr. Obama and as a result Nkrumah’s government worked hard to make sure appropriate laws were put in place to protect the new nation from disintegrating, to facilitate developmental projects around the country, and to safeguard the well-being of private citizens as well as public officials against the subversive tendencies and terroristic acts of internal and external enemies. Mr. Obama has read Nkrumah, Mandela, Garvey, Malcolm X, etc., and been greatly influenced by them, for he knows the mounting national security challenges Nkrumah faced which are somewhat similar to his. It is all too common to see African-American activist-scholars and politicians change or tone down their rhetoric to court the franchise of America’s majority, White Americans, and to make them feel at home in his liberal corner.

Thus, Mr. Obama’s reproach of Nkrumah and other African “strongmen” may have resulted from a desire to massage the West’s historical conscience on the subjects of slavery and neocolonialism and from a genuine desire to see the fruits of democratization replace the spectral descendants of colonial autocracy. Nkrumah did not introduce one-party democracy into Ghana; colonial one-party autocracy preceded him. Colonial legacy, Western material greed, terrorism, attempts on his life, constitutional guarantees, and blatant refusal of the opposition to work with him and his government produced the so-called one-party democracy. Moreover, the survival instinct is not something one puts out so easily since it operates under the spell of biology or nature. Hopefully Mr. Obama understands this too. What is more, Mr. Obama’s failures are not uniquely and distantly different from Nkrumah’s from our point of view. Nkrumah always worked within the confines of the law, not always so with Mr. Obama or his immediate predecessor.

These assessments do not detract from the abuses to which the Preventive Detection Act (PDA) was subjected. Interesting is the fact that the National Liberation Council (NLC) substituted the PDA for another, the Protective Custody Decree (PCD), then under it imprisoned 1850 as opposed to 1377 under the PDA. Yet the NLC ruled Ghana for three years. Or less. This constitutes a major sentimental irony of Ghana’s political history. This part of Ghana’s political history is customarily bowdlerized from official narratives especially so by Nkrumah’s ideological enemies and their descendants. Is Mr. Obama cognizant of this useful piece of Ghana’s political history? Probably not. Our close reading of Mr. Obama’s corpus of literary works and his historic speech in Ghana do affirm our position. Why is Nkrumah made a criminal, the National Liberation Council (NLC) saint? Where is the political hagiography of the NLC coming from? Yet Nkrumah did exactly what Mr. Obama is doing now on behalf of America and the West! Why is Nkrumah retrospectively wrong, Mr. Obama right?

Circumspection is the way forward for those who have decided to make careers out of intellectualism. Nkrumah should not be faulted for taking to a law of the land, the PDA, to redress national security problems, among which terrorism, targeted assassinations of political opponents (CPP), and national disintegration, represented the salient variables. There are obvious differences between Mr. Obama’s and Nkrumah’s personalities and backgrounds. First, Mr. Obama is a lawyer and a professor of law, Nkrumah was not. Second, the times and circumstances are different. Third, Mr. Obama is lucky to have had the rich experiences (and the West) of an elderly nation behind his proactive decisions, unlike Nkrumah. Lastly, Mr. Obama has not also faced the kind of direct threats to his person as consistently as confronted Nkrumah, his family, and persons close to him.

Accordingly, those we wish to make comparative appraisal of Nkrumah’s legacy in the company of others such as Mr. Obama must do well to show a great deal of intellectual, political, moral, and historical circumspection, working hard to sidestep the specter of emotionalism.

We shall return

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis