Busia Speaks of “African Democracy” – Part 6 (Final)

Sat, 31 Mar 2012 Source: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr. Ph.D.

For those Nkrumacrats who have insisted on the credibility of the January 1964 referendum which saw the conversion of Ghana into a one-party totalitarian and neo-fascist state, with an executive President Kwame Nkrumah unconstitutionally knighted as the country’s leader-for-life, this is what Busia, Ghana’s main opposition leader in exile, had to report back then: “This was one of the issues subsequently presented to the people to vote upon in a referendum in January 1964. The published official figures claimed that 93.69 percent of the registered voters had gone to the polls and that 92.81 percent voted in favor of the proposal to set up a one-party State. Foreign journalists who were in Ghana to observe the elections told a different story. Among them were two correspondents from The Guardian who were invited as observers. They reported that behind the published figures lay a mixture of intimidation and ballot-rigging which ranged from the farcical to the brutal. They reported that voters were warned that anyone who voted ‘No’ would be found out and punished. This could be done because each voter’s ballot paper had a serial number which appeared against his name in the electoral register. During the actual voting, in some of the polling booths, the slots of the ‘No’ boxes were sealed, some late voters were given extra ballot papers to put in the ‘Yes’ boxes; in other polling booths, voters had to drop their ballot papers into the ‘Yes’ boxes while Polling Officers looked on. The observers found that ‘it was apparent from this blend of falsification and coercion that the party had told its key officials from district to district to find their own way to the agreed end.’ In a broadcast to the nation on February 5th, 1964, after the referendum, President Nkrumah said ominously that they had reached a stage that ‘demands that everyone within our society must either accept the spirit and aims of our revolution or expose themselves as the deceivers and betrayers of the people.’ One of the proposals that had been submitted to the people at the referendum was that the President should be empowered to dismiss judges of the Superior Courts ‘for reasons which appear to him sufficient.’ In March 1964[,] the President dismissed three judges from the Supreme Court, and one from the High Court”(126-127).

That Dr. Danquah had been denied the fundamental human right of a trial upon his second and fatal detention – to speak rather euphemistically about his blatant assassination – by President Nkrumah’s CPP government, was very much in keeping with the 1964 referendum whose make-believe execution empowered the African Show Boy to deal with the verdicts handed down by members of the judiciary at whim. In sum, it is our measured contention here that even if Dr. Danquah had been fairly tried and acquitted of any charges that may have been preferred against him, President Nkrumah could still have summarily quashed such verdict and guaranteed, as he ultimately did, the prison assassination of his arch-nemesis. But that Nkrumah’s brightest moment in Ghana’s political firmaments also marked the tragic decision of the country’s electorate to make the Show Boy its first postcolonial premier, was best captured by the glowing tribute which Nigeria’s President Nnamdi Azikiwe paid his fellow warrior in the struggle against British colonial domination: “I am sorry that Dr. Danquah died in a detention camp. I am of the considered opinion that if independence means the substitution of indigenous tyranny for alien rule, then those struggled for the independence of former colonial territories have not only desecrated the cause of human freedom but have betrayed their people. I wish Dr. Danquah had been tried publicly, told what offense he was alleged to have committed, given a fair opportunity to defend himself, and then either [been] discharged or punished, depending upon the fact [of] whether or not his innocence had been established or his guilt proved beyond any reasonable shadow of doubt”(Africa in Search of Democracy 128).

And for those media operatives who gloat with the effervescent pride of having religiously collaborated with the Nkrumah government to facilitate the purportedly enviable development of Ghana, including a “former” relative who recently denounced this writer in the national press, Busia has the following to report: “A part of this process has been government and party control of the press as well as broadcasting. There is no independent paper in Ghana, and both press and radio only tell the people what the government wants them to know. There is also censorship of news sent abroad by foreign correspondents. A further curtailment of freedom has been foreshadowed. In November 1964[,] the government set up a Committee of nine persons to ‘work out a system to ensure the removal of all publications which do not reflect the ideology of the party or are antagonistic to its ideas.’ Free access to information and knowledge appear to be in danger”(133).

For those Nkrumah fanatics who have furiously questioned my objective characterization of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) as a neo-fascist ideological machinery, the foregoing quote ought to definitively put paid to any such doubt. Such cynics may also do themselves a lot of good by reading up on the history and ideology of Mussolini’s Italy.

And on the quite practicable possibility of democratic governance within the morally daunting milieu of the preponderance of one-party states of the Independent Africa of the 1960s, Busia offers the following counsel: “Every democratic community must have effective checks on its rulers. Democracy rejects the view that the leader, and the group around him who lead the single-party always infallibly seek the interests of the people, or embody the will of all. The leader and the group and all who constitute the party are fallible men and women, on whom there must be effective checks in the exercise of the powers they wield. This implies the right of the people to oppose, and their right to choose and to change their rulers and leaders. The political institutions must provide democratic outlets for the exercise of these rights. ¶ There appear to be two crucial questions for Africa: the way in which to institutionalize opposition, and how to make it possible to change a single-party government that has failed to satisfy the people. Some single-party devices are in effect self-perpetuating organs for the leaders”(Africa in Search of Democracy 140-141).

Ultimately, for Busia, however: “It is right that Africa should seek her own institutions, and not pattern her institutions on those of Britain or France or America or Russia or any other country. But the single-party system is not an original or unique African institution. It exists in other parts of the world where its history and achievements can be studied. It is open to question whether it is the best way to ensure the democratic values of freedom, justice, human rights, and the Rule of Law which African States avow. Judged by these accepted standards and values, the records are not reassuring. Even the best examples of the one-party regimes smother some essential democratic rights, and the freedom of associations like trade unions, farmers,’ youth, traders,’ and other associations; others are flagrant dictatorships which afford no democratic avenues for change, and, as the records abundantly testify, offer only the alternative of military coups”(Africa in Search of Democracy 143).

Busia also notes that the European Cold-War atmosphere that ominously tempered much of international political culture in the post-World War II era, created an unhealthy attitude of suspicion among both the key actors of the Cold War and the largely marginalized aid-recipient countries of the Third World, and may well have markedly retarded the growth and progress of the emergent nations: “But the whole question of aid has been complicated by the Cold war. As we have noted, the Soviet Union warns African countries against receiving aid from the Western countries, because it could be imperialism, or ‘neo-colonialism’ via grants and loans to control African countries, and destroy their newly won independence. America, on the other hand, warns against Communism being introduced by the Soviet Union via aid and cultural agreements to smother the freedom of Africa. China now warns against accepting aid from the soviet Union[,] because the Russians are ‘white,’ and are allies of the American ‘imperialists’ to exploit Africans. Russia warns against China as an apostle of revolution, and America warns against subversion by both. Events in Africa have justified some of these warnings; others have been found to be baseless; but together, they have created an atmosphere of suspicion and mistrust, so that aid, whether in terms of grants or loans, or technical assistance, or selfless humanitarianism, has become suspect and is making only a small contribution towards the sense of world community for which it is promoted”(152).

Again, to those who would have Ghana’s President Nkrumah perceived as the foremost proponent of pan-Africanism, this is what the author of Africa in Search of Democracy has to report: “At a meeting held in February 1965 in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauretania, attended by the heads of all the French-speaking African States, with the exception of Guinea and Mali, it was decided to create the Organization Commune Africaine at Malagache (OCAM) with its headquarters and secretariat at Yaounde in Cameroon. The communiqué announcing the formation of the organization showed that the fourteen States that formed it had political as well as economic objectives. There were significant references to ‘non-interference in the domestic affairs’ of other States. This, it was stated, as a ‘sine qua non’ of peace and development in Africa. It attacked the subversion organized by certain States, ‘notably Ghana,’ who welcomed agents of subversion and organized training camps in their territories. These statements in the Communiqué showed some of the dangers that threatened African Unity. Earlier, President Senghor had written that ¶ ‘the actual deeds of some independent African governments contradict their pan-African declarations. As soon as independence is acquired, most African States, still afflicted by European viruses, begin to secrete a conquering imperialism. They argue over their present borders, claim portions of neighboring territories, maintain in their countries at considerable expense, emigrants and shadow governments or, in other countries, subsidize fifth columns in their service. I do not see how one can possibly create the United States of Africa if one starts by disuniting the States of the Continent, if one does not begin by respecting their integrity and their frontiers.’¶ President Nkrumah whom the Nouakchott communiqué attacked is the campaigner for the immediate political union of all African States. The other leaders regard this as impracticable, though their membership in the Organization of African Unity attests to their common support for Union as an ultimate objective. When at the OAU meeting held in Cairo in July 1964, President Nkrumah spoke about Pan-Africanism, and put his case for immediate political union as the only way for Africa, President Nyerere said in his speech replying: ¶ ‘At one time I used to think that we all genuinely wanted a Continental Government of Africa; that the major difference between [among?] us was how to bring it about. I am afraid I am beginning to doubt this earlier assessment of mine. I am becoming increasingly convinced that we are divided between those who genuinely want a Continental Government and will patiently work for its realization, removing obstacles, one by one; and those who simply use the phrase ‘Union Government’ for the purpose of propaganda….¶ We do not believe there is a choice between achieving African Unity step by step and achieving it in one act. The one act choice is not available except in some curious imagination.’ ¶ President Nkrumah[,] again[,] urged immediate African Union at the OAU Conference held in Accra in October 1965. Again, he did not win support. The consensus was that the time was not ripe for a Continental Union Government, but the Conference avoided a decision and asked the matter to be brought up at the next meeting in Addis Ababa. Some heads of State of OCAM, including all heads of State of the Entente, boycotted the Accra meeting, in protest against alleged subversion directed against their States from Ghana”(Africa in Search of Democracy 157-159).

In essence, for Nkrumah, the immediate unification of the newly independent African states into a single geopolitical entity had far more to do with the personal imperialist ambitions of the “Osagyefo” than the deliberate, organic unification of the continent for rapid socioeconomic, cultural and political advancement.

Finally, as ought to be expected, Busia tackles the perennially cynical argument, almost invariably advanced by African nationalist intellectuals of the Nkrumaist and Mugabeite bent, about the supposedly functional relativity of democratic political culture, with the following parting shot: “All peoples can achieve and practice democracy, if they have enough faith and conviction in its values. It is not for the European only; it has a moral language which is universal. Those who have the courage, and enough respect for the African to point out the shortcomings of contemporary political experiments, as measured against the accepted and avowed standards, perform a valuable service for democracy as well as for Africa; those who fall over backwards, whether out of desire to please, or fear to give offense, or contempt for the African, to defend the shortcomings and represent them as the best that can be achieved are being pernicious both to the freedom and welfare of African societies and to international relations and world peace. ¶ The ideals of democracy set challenging goals to each generation, and the response of each generation can be seen in the institutions it passes on to succeeding generations. To argue that no country is fully democratic, as some have done in order to excuse oppressive practices, is to misunderstand the nature of a political society that evinces faith in democracy; such a society is the theater of man’s constant striving for better social justice, and for a wider and wider scope for the development of individual and social life in dignity and freedom. Democracy is the expression of faith in man’s capacity for the progressive extension of freedom and justice in society. ¶ We may appropriately end with an old Chinese story: ¶ ‘In passing by the side of Mount Thai, Confucius came [up-]on a woman who was weeping bitterly by a grave. The Master pressed forward and drove quickly to her; then he sent Tze-lu to question her. ‘Your wailing,’ said he, ‘is that of one who has suffered sorrow [up-]on sorrow.’ She replied, ‘That is so. Once my husband’s father was killed by a tiger. My husband was also killed, and now my son has died the same way.’ The Master said, ‘Why do you not leave the place?’ The answer was, ‘There is no oppressive government here.’ The Master then said, ‘Remember this, my children: oppressive government is more terrible than tigers.’ ¶ ‘Freedom!’ was the battle-cry against colonialism in Africa; the next stage is to free the Continent from oppressive government. It is a task which belongs to the present generation, and to our successors”(Africa in Search of Democracy 171-72).

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is Director of The Sintim-Aboagye Center for Politics and Culture and author of “Selected Political Writings” (Lulu.com, 2008). E-mail: okoampaahoofe@optimum.net.


Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame