Prof. Busia’s Legacy
Orangeburg, South Carolina.
15th July, 2013
Last week, members of the Danquah-Busia-Dombo tradition celebrated the centenary of the birth of Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia. The celebration should have been done by the whole nation, not just those who take their inspiration from the afore-mentioned tradition.
Even before entering politics, the diminutive Professor had left his footprints on the sands of time. He had earned the distinction of being the first African to be a Professor at Legon as well as one of the first blacks to be District Commissioners under the colonial government.
In politics, he made a difference, for better.
While all the praise-singing last week was deserved, he made some big mistakes, like most of our leaders.
He was perhaps, in the spirit of the times, too deferential to the IMF in negotiating the devaluation in 1971 that led to his overthrow. The implementation of the Aliens Compliance Order was too precipitous and insensitive to our Nigerian brethren. His policy of dialogue with South Africa was too far ahead of its time—indeed, it would take Nelson Mandela nearly two decades to reach the same conclusions that Busia had reached about dialogue with South Africa. His handling of the “Sallah case” leading to the “no-court” pronouncement could have been handled better. Today, he might be hauled in front of the Supreme Court for such a comment.
All these were blemishes but the positive side of Busia’s ledger outweighs the negative part by a lot.
Former US President Richard Nixon confessed in his memoire that when he attended Ghana’s independence celebration in March, 1957, he had been more impressed by the then opposition leader, Busia than by the new Prime Minister, Kwame Nkrumah!
When he became Prime Minister, he showed a commitment to ordinary people only matched by Nkrumah and an insight into development that even Nkrumah could not match. He decided that the key to our nation’s development was rural development, based on the premise that we needed to make living in rural areas humane and tolerable to stop migration into urban areas. Nearly four decades later, the potency of what Busia did was brought home to me powerfully in the Abura-Asebu-Kwamankese constituency. I was campaigning in a village when a chief asked me, “Doc, do you know why this village is an NPP village?” I asked him to educate me and he said, “When you were driving here, did you notice the small strip of coal-tar in the middle of the road? It is the remnants of the road built by Busia in 1970 to help get our produce to the market. Doc, we know that we probably will never see coal-tar here in our lives again. That is why we vote NPP.” By that singular act, Dr Busia made the Danquah-Busia tradition, a party of ordinary people and a mass movement. All of a sudden, we ceased to be the party of elites and elitists. Also, he introduced the National Service Scheme that helped introduce the youth to the idea of sacrifice. In addition to these, Prof. Busia, though a royal, could speak the language of commoners. Unlike many of his contemporaries and many who followed him, he knew that words did not mean anything if they were not understood by one’s audience. And Prof. Busia was RESPECTFUL. He did not insult his opponents and he did not permit others to insult them.
Also, he fought the corruption that has undermined virtually every government since independence. He was perhaps the only leader in whose overthrow corruption was not cited as a major reason.
As a leader, the Professor was tolerant, often to a fault. Once, before an event at Legon, a student went to sit in the chair reserved for the then Prime Minister and was arrested. He ordered the student to be released immediately. In a conversation in 2006, I asked late Da Rocha to reflect on Busia. He said, “Even though Busia was many years my senior, I never felt uncomfortable disagreeing with him or asking him questions. He was a confident man who always saw my questions as an opportunity to educate me. While he persuaded me to his views most of the time, occasionally, he would change in response to my arguments. He was a very special and decent man. Ironically, even as the ages of our leaders have gotten closer to my own, it has become more and more uncomfortable to disagree with them.” To back this up, many of his contemporaries spoke of vigourous debates in his cabinet, involving stalwarts like Paa Willie, Victor Owusu and Adade.
Despite all these attributes, it was his role as party leader that was truly exemplary. Once a week, whenever he was in Accra, the Professor would spend the afternoon at party headquarters receiving party members who wanted to see him, regardless of rank. He knew that a leader must make time to listen to his followers. He showed respect for the sacrifice of others. Then, those who advanced were those who had served the party and knew its offices, officers and foot-soldiers.
Finally, when he intervened in local politics, he did so for the larger interests of the party. According to reports, when J.H. Mensah was parachuted into Sunyani, Prof. Busia and other leaders pleaded with Lawyer Barimah, who would have been nominated for the seat to make way because Mr. Mensah would be needed in cabinet and Parliament to spearhead economic policy. And Barimah yielded to the larger interest of the party.
On the occasion of his centenary celebration, let our nation and the Danquah-Busia-Dombo tradition rediscover Busia.
Rediscovering rural development and a distaste for corruption will make Ghana better.
Rededicating itself to the man whose humility, eloquence, respect for the common man and commitment to our party made us a party of government will make us, once again, the governing party.
Let us move forward—together.
Arthur Kobina Kennedy