Proposed Founders Day is based on historical fiction

Dr Kwame Nkrumah Dr. Kwame Nkrumah

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 Source: Ekow Nelson

Last week the President sought to put the obsessive debate raging over the placement of the apostrophe in ‘Founders Day’ to rest. And he did so, like his immediate two predecessors, by authorising 21st September as a public holiday in honour of Ghana’s first Prime Minister and President while at the same time indicating his intention to seek legislation to declare August 4th Founders Day to commemorate the founding of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) in 1947.

Ghana already has a Founders Day called 6th March 1957 when the country came into being, so one wonders why we need another one. Far from settling the issue, this latter move runs the risk of reinforcing the perception that the President and his henchmen are pre-occupied with revising Ghana’s history to bolster the reputation of Dr JB Danquah.

Macaulay revisited

In his contribution to the debate on Ghana’s Founders, the eminent, emeritus Professor of History, Robert Addo-Fening, likened the current efforts to rewrite our history to the 19th century “Whig Interpretation of [English] history” pioneered by Thomas Macaulay whose adherents according to him, “study the past for the sake of the present, not in an effort to understand the past for the sake of the past”.

Although it is my sense that the professor’s barbs were directed at supporters of the late President’s Atta Mills’ Founder’s Day, set against the efforts of the current government, it rather looks like our President is the modern-day Macaulay, who like his alter ego, believes that in the struggles that marked our history, “there had always been a side that was right; that it was ‘this right side’ alone that had served the cause of progress”. Like Macaulay, who credits the Whigs with English democracy, for our President, Dr Danquah and his collaborators who met in Saltpond on 4th August 1947 are those to whom the country owes its democratic foundations. It is they, the victors of the 2016 elections, who now seek to exploit their majority in parliament to rewrite history in their favour.

But as the good professor averred “history is not a figment of the imagination. It is not about what we thought happened; nor is it about what we wished had happened. It is about what really happened and its objective interpretation based on empirical evidence available to us in the form of documents, eye witness accounts or other forms of analyzable survivals from the past.”

Founders were at the Old Polo Grounds

So, let’s examine the evidence for the President’s decision to institutionalise August 4th as Founders Day. First, Ghana became a constitutive and declaratory sovereign state on 6th March 1957. And its founders surely, must therefore be those who superintended its creation: the beautifully robed Archie Casley-Hayford, Komla Gbedemah, Nathaniel A. Welbeck, Kwame Nkrumah, Kojo Botsio and Krobo Edusei who stood on the dais at the Polo Grounds, alongside ex-servicemen and the ordinary mass of people to witness the transfer of power from the ancien régime, with the symbolic lowering of the British Union Jack and the hoisting of Ghana’s new flag high into the skies, as we finally cast off the yoke of colonialism after 500 years of slavery, plunder and illegal occupation.

While much of the rest of world was euphoric, and joined in the celebrations on the most exciting day in the country’s history, the UGCC members now being touted as founders boycotted the birth of our new, sovereign state. How then, could they claim the mantle of Founders?

Self-government was conceived before UGCC

The argument by proponents of the 4th August holiday that the founding of the UGCC marked the ‘conception’ of the idea of self-government has no historical basis in fact. Indeed, when then Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies, the noble Lord John Hope, introduced the second-reading of the Ghana Independence Bill in the UK House of Commons in January 1957 he said: “[t]he first step towards self-government [in the Gold Coast] may be said to have been taken in 1925 [when] a new Constitution was made which reconstituted the Legislative Council so as to include elected members”. On this basis the 8th of April 1925 when the Guggisberg constitution was promulgated could more legitimately be declared Founders Day.

The first soundings of self-government for the Gold Coast, however, came as far back as 1866 when King John Aggrey of Cape Coast challenged the authority of the Governor. He was quickly deported to Sierra Leone by the colonial authorities and later dethroned. His was followed by the Sierra Leonean Dr. Africanus Beale Horton who in 1868 advocated self-government for the Gold Coast consisting of two independent nations: The Kingdom of Fantee, from the Sweet River near Elmina to the borders of Winneba and The Republic of Accra, stretching from Winneba to the Volta River (including West and East Akyem), and extending north to the southern borders of the Ashanti Empire.

It is clear from the fragments of historical evidence available that 4th August 1947 was not seminal in the agitation for self-government. To which the next response is, but the efforts of King Aggrey, Africanus Horton,The Fante Confederation and Aborigines Rights Protection Society were limited in scope to the colony. While it is true that UGCC’s demands for self-government theoretically extended beyond the colony to include Ashanti, prior to Nkrumah’s arrival its own campaigning efforts were limited largely to the coastal areas.

Even so, their writ did not extend to the Northern Territories (NT) area which was still a Protectorate. It was only after the 1951 elections that the NT were fully integrated and became part of a CPP-led Legislative Assembly. That still excluded British-administered Togoland which only secured representation after the 1956 UN Plebiscite and the national elections that followed.

In other words, the first time when all parts of modern day Ghana came together constitutively as an integrated whole was in the 1957 Parliament which makes moving the founding to 1947 a historical fiction at best and an absurdity at worst.

The founding of a new, sovereign state

The outgrowth of the anti-colonial struggle was a new sovereign-state, with its own constitution that for the first time bound together its various ethnicities and nations from Apollonia in the West to Ho and Hohoe in the East, across Ashanti in the centre to Mamprusi in the North under a new, internationally-recognised citizenship with an independent sovereign currency. And the architect of this is indisputably Kwame Nkrumah who bequeathed to us a unitary sovereign-state with its own flag, anthem and coat of arms; the right to elect our leaders and decide how we govern ourselves, sign-up to bi/multi-lateral treaties and international conventions with other sovereign nations and for the first time, the power even to declare war on behalf of all the ethnicities huddled in that geographical space.

If the opposition had their way there would be no unitary state and given their position on the UN plebiscite, TransVolta may now be part of Togoland and Ashanti an independent state. But for Kwame Nkrumah, today’s sovereign nation-state, Ghana, as we know it, would not exist. Nkrumah's place as Founder is incontestable.

Revisionism and the dangers of the plural

To argue, as the President does that those who were implacably opposed to the sovereign state that emerged on 6th March 1957 are its founders is simply unconscionable. It is a historical fabrication; an intellectual fraudulence that must not be allowed to stand.

How is it possible for the UGCC Founders or the so-called Big Six to be the nation’s founders when they are unrepresentative of the effort or the diversity of contributions that made self-government possible. It is a travesty of history to confer founder-status to Obetsebi Lamptey while leaving out Kobina Sekyi; Dr JB Danquah but no J E Caseley-Hayford; Edward Akufo-Addo without John Mensah Sarbah; or William Ofori-Atta in preference to Sir Nana Ofori Atta I. That cannot be right.

There is no Gonja, Ashanti or Ewe among the UGCC Founders or the Big Six. Yet Nana Agyemang Prempeh II’s role in acquiescing to the incorporation of the Confederacy into the Gold Coast was pivotal to the eventual creation of the sovereign state that emerged in 1957 but he is not a Founder in the President’s proposition.

Once you plump for the plural in Founders, they need to be exhaustive and diverse or you risk interminable rows and dangerous divisiveness over whose contribution is worthy of inclusion and whether the pantheon of Founders is sufficiently representative.

A debate frozen in aspic

Finally, all of this freezes the founding of nations - which is not a one-shot affair - in time, but a continuous process with upheavals and cataclysms that alter a nation’s character, culture and structure over generations. Ghana today is as much a product of former President Rawlings, for good or ill, as it is Kwame Nkrumah’s, so why is he left out?

Furthermore, the founding of a nation is not only the job of politicians. The roles of Theodosia Okoh who designed the Flag, Philip Gbeho who composed our anthem, and Amon Kotei who created the Coat of Arms that is the seal of government and which President pins on his lapel daily, are just as important. Above all, the masses of ordinary workers and ex-servicemen who altered the tide of opinion and enabled the creation of a new, sovereign-state along the lines Kwame Nkrumah set out, are founders too.

Building our own Walhalla

These people helped mould a national identity and history and if we want future generations to learn about our national heroes instead of revising the past to selectively prop-up our personal heroes, we should dispense with the proposed holiday to commemorate the founding of the UGCC – because we already have such a day on March 6th - and build a proper monument to ALL our past and present 'founders'.

Something along the lines of the Bavarian Walhalla in Regensburg that memorialises Great German achievers from Alfred the Great and King Ludwig, Martin Luther and Johannes Gutenberg, Charlemagne and Bismarck, Gauss and Copernicus, Beethoven and Wagner to Goethe, Schiller and Einstein and Sophie Scholl who defined the essence of Germany and what it means to be German. That is how we honour our national heroes and be inclusive - not partisan!


September 2017

"I arise each morning torn between a desire to save the world and a desire to savour the world. This makes it hard to plan the day" - E.B. White

Columnist: Ekow Nelson
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