J.B. Danquah’s Mission Was Stillborn

Sun, 12 Jul 2015 Source: Kwarteng, Francis

The other day, in a piece on Ghanaweb, on July 2, 2015 Archbishop Palmer-Buckle protested that for so long Ghana has not had an agenda for development. Therefore, I thought it as important to look into the matter a little. What follows is a report on what I found after looking at the historical record and examining a few sources.

Leadership Should Matter

Leadership has become a rare quality among men in this day and age. Why this is so is not hard to fathom. There is no denying the fact that the challenges of a moment, an epoch, or a dispensation bring out the best in certain individuals. This is just like saying leadership is an existential outcome of dialogue between an individual’s innate resources and the imposed conditionalities of the external environment. Such is the case that confronts a colonized people, and a rare species of a leader of men among them singularly engaged in pursuit of matters of tremendous importance to them, that at the dawn of a particular age finds themselves watching history pass them by, unable to control their own resources, or write their own future.

In the Gold Coast (now Ghana) that rare leadership quality was solidly present in Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, who would emerge within the span of nine years as Africa’s greatest and most innovative, visionary leader. Dr. Nkrumah’s rare leadership quality was exemplified in his visionary focus on well planned and orchestrated set of strategies for newly independent Ghana as only a progressive agenda could achieve for all the people. Beginning early in the 1950s, those strategies were strongly sustained by the collaborative efforts of that visionary leadership and mobilization. Yet, such an instance of progressive ingredient in the political practice of visionary leadership is evidently lacking in the post-Nkrumah recipe for economic development.

Why Mission Matters to the Masses and the Leader

Perhaps the important fact is that the political practice of visionary leadership was never an exclusive property of Kwame Nkrumah. In fact, the masses made a capital out of that visionary leadership by freely sharing in it, nourishing it, protecting it, and maintaining it via executive dominance, via free elections at the polls. After all, visionary leadership is exercised through the will of popular sovereignty, in which the leader exercises discretion in endorsing and managing its goals and aspirations for full material expression in the body politic by channeling strategically through inclusive politics, shared responsibility, and development priorities. Around 1951, Nkrumah epitomized this institutional convention of creative leadership at the very moment the masses bypassed J.B. Danquah and chose Nkrumah as their leader.

As George P. Hagan notes:

“One fact that aided Nkrumah’s prospect as a great leader was that, right from his arrival in Ghana, the people of the Gold Coast began to credit him with virtues they sorely wanted to see in their leaders.”

Hagan continues:

“The prime virtue they sought at this time was the capacity to achieve results, which capacity had to be beheld with the eye of faith before its existence could be demonstrated. The circumstances surrounding Nkrumah’s return seemed to have sowed the seeds of such a faith. It was this realization that lay at the basis of the grievances that the Working Committee had against Nkrumah. They needed to take that power from him or whittle it down, and they searched him, both literally and metaphorically, to discover one good reason to sack him.”

The author of Nkrumah’s leadership biography makes the point that jealousy of Nkrumah’s charismatic leadership of the CPP and Ghana came to define the centerpiece of Nkrumah’s working relationship with the UGCC, eventually culminating in his overthrow with the aid of America, Britain, and France. In the face of a long leadership vacuum, Nkrumah came to fill the void with charisma, righteous indignation at social injustice, and technocratic pragmatism, and when he did, Danquah's UGCC and party stalwarts hated the results-oriented leadership of Nkrumah strongly enough to plot his overthrow with the help of America, Britain, and France. The unpretentious tone of Hagan also seems to imply that the perceived results-oriented leadership of Nkrumah was probably a fitting alternative to the leadership vacuum occupied by the UGCC before Nkrumah’s eventful arrival in the then-Gold Coast.

We may also glean from Hagan’s statement that a proud and discerning people, with collective wisdom, make (and unmake) true or visionary leaders. This inference is important because collective wisdom tends to offer appropriate dosage schemes of moral inoculation against the potential deficits of self-aggrandizement, selfish political individualism, and personal vanity. The latter three concepts may also betray themselves as potential antitheses of patriotism and forwardism in the absence of moral critique by progressive ideology and unitary-centeredness.

More so, ideological and unitary-centeredness in turn require extraordinary political gift of rallying a people around a common vision of strategic goals and development priorities for collective action.

Whose Mission for A National Agenda?

Truth be told, mass mobilization and proper management of ideological and unitary-centeredness tend to result in high caliber political action in the collective interest. This makes a lot of sense within an evolving body politic with a high degree of social fragmentation that may promote ethno-regionalism, ethnic nationalism, political greed, popular addiction to ethnic allegiances, uneven distribution of national wealth, and the tragedy of the commons where there is an acute absence of personal and communal responsibilities. The essence of visionary leadership therefore evolves from the strategic pragmatism of neutralizing those anti-social centrifugal forces with the consent of popular sovereignty. It requires empowering the masses through provision of quality education, upliftment of the community's conscience, and bringing all groups to partake in the development of national development objectives in spite of difficulties imagined.

What is more, the fact that Nkrumah derived his charismatic authority from the collective wisdom and experiences of the people implied that pragmatism would be at bottom of any program Nkrumah envisioned and proposed to address Ghana's long-term strategic planning and economic development needs. In this case, the strategic and tactical pursuit of development economics for all in a society became possible in the absence, or relative suppression, of centrifugal social tendencies.

Nkrumah envisaged such a progressive universe of political economy for the new Ghanaian body politic when he defined the mission of the CPP as (see the forward to the 7-Year Development Plan):

“Our aim is to establish in Ghana a strong and progressive society in which no one will have any anxiety about the basic means of life, about work, food and shelter; where poverty and illiteracy no longer exist and disease brought under control; and where our educational facilities provide all the children of Ghana with the best possible opportunities for the development of their potentialities.”

Nkrumah assiduously worked towards the realization of this pragmatic vision of which his legacy eloquently speaks to. The mission is direct, easy to understand at any level, practical, and above all measurable. Sadly, succeeding generations of post-Nkrumah Ghanaian leaders have hardly added much to this peerless legacy, and have instead basked on the successes of Kwame Nkrumah, and have consequently grossly mismanaged Ghana since 1966, the year Nkrumah was overthrown.

As Ghanaian leaders after Nkrumah have tried hard and have illogically strayed away from Nkrumah's mission for all the people regardless of who they are or where they live, the substance of Nkrumah’s pragmatic mission as captured in the above statement has been the focus of intense academic and scientific research, earning some Nobel Prizes in the categories of economics and peace. The research and theoretical contributions of Ama Mazama, Jeffrey Sachs, Mohammad Yunus, Elinor Strom, Mo Ibrahim, Cheikh Anta Diop, Nicholas Kaldor, Dambisa Moyo, Kofi Dompere, Arthur Lewis, John Maynard Keynes, Molefi Asante, Amartya Sen, and a host of others reinforce the continuing pragmatism of Nkrumah’s visionary leadership, strategic development priorities, and inclusive politics.

Particularly, Sach’s work with the United Nations (“the Millenium Project”) and on sustainable development and Strom’s academic and research work on intuitional economics and the commons, both share Nkrumah’s larger vision of social relations, economic development, and industrialization.

Nkrumah’s mission statement and its actualization are contrary to the stunted, selfish, and anemic statements and slogans we hear and see in Ghana today. Since Nkrumah, there has not been any concerted effort at building a national consensus around a common vision in terms of pushing for a national agenda the way Kwame Nkrumah did in his day. William Dowokpor captures the disappointment for us in this prophetic indictment of Ghana’s leadership failure, post-Nkrumah:

“In the 4th republic, which is 23 years old; and just enough time to develop if we had had leadership, we have had two documents purported to be long term national development plans, labeled as visions. One need not go beyond the titles and timelines of the documents to know they were mere wishful papers put together to meet the criteria for donor support.”

Archbishop Palmer-Buckle seems to concur when he said recently (2015): “We need a national agenda, that come high or low that is the measure by which any government performance should be measured and move the country forward. Unfortunately, we don’t have it. It is only political manifestos and [each] political manifesto is aimed at enhancing their own political agenda that is wrong. How many times have we not been striving for a national agenda?”

There is no doubt that Dowokpor’s and Palmer-Buckle’s candid observations are an indictment of the development dilemmas confronting Ghana (and much of Africa). Even so, the formers “wishful papers” are no more pragmatic and strategic than the cluelessness and political emotionalism of post-Nkrumah Ghanaian leadership.

When A Mission Statement is Just Dead Words on Paper

It turns out leadership in the post-Nkrumah dispensation has become an easy means to self-aggrandizement, political ethnocentrism, Orwellian partisanship, kleptomania, and political commodification where monetization of the political process is the norm rather the rule.

For instance the mission statement proudly credited to J. B. Danquah reads much like another perfect example of Dowopkor’s “wishful papers.” Reportedly, Danquah defined his mission thus:

“Our mission is to make a courageous, imaginative and constructive contribution to nation-building and development, with the purpose of enhancing the life of every individual citizen.”

Where is one supposed to start with such a vague mission? Why must one start with "courage" if one is after all a servant of all the people. Are the people (the masses) a scary bunch, or are they lazy, the way J. B. Danquah saw them?

Clearly, the mission as defined by Danquah is elitist and on a broader scale rejectionist of individual prerogatives and collective action, a political ideology antithetical to Nkrumah’s pragmatism and inclusive politics. What is “imaginative,” when Danquah wept in prison while blaming Ako Adjei for introducing Nkrumah to the leadership of the UGCC? What is “imaginative and constructive to nation-building and development,” when Danquah in 1962, just five years after independence, went to the American Embassy to inquire why stipends given to his family by the CIA had ceased while he was in detention? How are we supposed to know how Danquah would enhance "the life of every individual"? What is “the purpose of enhancing the life of every individual,” when Danquah and his colleagues terrorized the country in order to make it “ungovernable”?

But we know!

We may have to recall Danquah’s arrant rejection of the masses in an interview with the African-American writer Richard Wright, referring to them as “this thing of the masses” and dismissing their aspirations as mere “emotion.” Nkrumah, on the other hand, saw the masses as central to transformational development and growth, of the new Unitary Nation, Ghana.

A vague mission statement can go any number of directions, and as such, does not inspire the masses, least of all, tell them what is important. Such a mission statement is far from a road map to development, social progress, and prosperity. Crucially, Danquah’s elitist detachment from the masses was squarely to blame for his rejection at the polls by the people, and his eventual self-immolation at politics.

Fact is, visionary leadership is not anathema to mass and resource mobilization. This idea eluded Danquah throughout his political life. In hindsight, we may hazard that Danquah failed to avail himself of Nkrumah’s political acumen and experience. We would have wished that he had turned his adulatory introductory remarks about Nkrumah’s political prowess and organizational skills at mass rallies to his advantage. But Danquah was not the type of man to see beyond his parochial political vision which dictated to him a false sense of entitlement to the country’s premiership or presidency. After all, Danquah's education in England was funded directly by compulsory taxes on the people of Akyem Abuakwa. But, Kwame Nkrumah paid his way! This is no secret.


In closing, we will state that technically, no nation-state can develop or even survive on a vacuous and vague statement as Danquah’s mission statement. Unlike Nkrumah’s visionary projections in terms of sustainable development and common interest, Danquah’s comes nowhere near Sach’s Millennium Project Goals. Danquah’s statement to the effect that Nkrumah would not fail the people if others failed them, invariably underscored his own firm belief in the potential of Nkrumah’s visionary leadership to make things happen, to make things better for the masses.

In reality, Danquah’s firm belief in Nkrumah’s potential for leadership effectiveness recalls Hagan’s view that the masses had seen the kind of leadership they sought to relieve them from colonial peonage in the evolving political personhood of Nkrumah.

Put simply, the peoples' collective wisdom saw greatness from afar before it gave full material expression to it. And Nkrumah perfectly fit that model of visionary leadership. On top of it all, that visionary leadership was a bold expression of collective and political action, and resulted in economic and industrial success in Nkrumah's life time. There was no rhetorical emptiness, extreme political partisanship, or ideological de-centeredness.

Again, Arch-Bishop Palmer-Buckle’s nostalgic yearnings for Nkrumah’s leadership pragmatism are evidently seen in his frustration when he noted this year:

“In Bahamas, the Chair of the Speaker of Parliament was given by Kwame Nkrumah in 1962 and they still pride themselves that this is wood or furniture made from Ghana and given to their country.”

The symbolic meaning of the afore-referenced observation is not lost on us. K.B. Asante gives us a lot to admire about how Nkrumah accumulated knowledge, identified with some of the world’s best strategic political economists and development economists, and rallied the people around a common vision, all in the name of advancing Ghana (and Africa).

Nkrumah’s ideas and vision, material and nonmaterial, are both elastic and eternal, as no one will dare question the truism that Ghana has survived for all these years on Nkrumah’s Five-Year Development Plan, the foundation of Ghana’s public/infrastructural capital. One can only speculate what his Seven-Year Development Plan would have taken Ghana. Further, not even the National Development Planning Commission’s 40-Year Development Plan can escape the long reach of Nkrumah’s Five-Year Development Plan, the reference point for development discussions and questions relating to further modernization/industrialization of Ghana. As history has shown, Danquah opposed the nationalization of cocoa when the Nkrumah government proposed it (the Gold Coast Cocoa Marketing Board (Amendment) Ordinance, 1951), hoping to generate revenue from cocoa and use it to fund the Five-Year Development Plan.

Danquah lost the debate (Kwame Ninsin).

On the other hand, such a bold vision proposed by the likes of Dr. Nii Moi Thompson (and the NDPC) requires a strong visionary leader such as Nkrumah, with provisions made for maintenance technocracy, population growth, marked partisan de-emphasis, stronger internal political economy, environmental/green technology, stronger institutions (passage of the Freedom of Information Bill (FOIB), project management, and a workforce adequately trained and equipped with modern scientific and technological knowledge required for effectively managing maintenance schemes for public infrastructure. The judgment debt scandals, extreme partisanship, information asymmetry and tendering biases due to political partisanship (that is, corruption in awarding contracts), and a weak judiciary provide some of the insights into the challenges facing Dr. Thompson and the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC).

It is even a moot question if a 40-Year Development Plan, not say a 10-, 15-, 20-, or 25-Year Development Plan is required at this moment, since Ghana cannot even maintain what she currently has!

The above notwithstanding, Nkrumah’s Five-Year Development Plan provides a blueprint for the government (and the private sector) in terms of the funding (“dedicated funding stream”) of the Plan. Dr. Thompson and the NDPC need to make provisions for maintenance costs (“maintenance expenses” and related cost drivers) as well. In short, Ghanaians need to be educated about the life cycle cost of the Plan. It is clear Ghana cannot exclusively rely on revenue from cash crops, minerals, and oil for seed capital to fund this ambitious project because of the unpredictability of the market and the gaps in tendering/bidding processes. Therefore the economy must therefore be diversified.

Finally, working the incremental implementation of the Plan into the national constitution (removing all unnecessary legal fictions to allow for as well as enhance accountability, transparency, fairness, and judicial clarity in the administration of the public interest; Ghana (much of Africa) may have to consider the benefits of new institutional economics for constitutional revision/amendment) so that partisan politics and corrupt politicians do not hijack it for material gain and partisan advantage is seriously called for. All these strategic policy statements cannot be ignored in favor of the larger framework of partisan advantage and neocolonial economics.

Nkrumah’s legacy speaks to most of these policy and technocracy questions. Indeed great minds do not die; they merely live on in teachable moments of pragmatic perpetuity. It is as though the living have expired and undergone collective self-interment outside the unrivaled legacy of Nkrumah’s pragmatic vision, for he achieved more for Ghana under constant threats of terrorism, political sabotage, and subversion than can be ascribed to the combined efforts of his successors in relative peace and newly-discovered natural wealth.

For these reasons and proof, Ghana and Africa need to revisit and reclaim that era of pragmatic Africa-centered politics, ideological urgency, and visionary leadership. We should do this not only for today’s developmental challenges, but for all the African children of tomorrow. A mission statement should not be dead words on paper. A mission statement should be alive by directly addressing the collective needs of all the people in a manner they can clearly understand and identify with. It is about time all of Ghana re-adopted Kwame Nkrumah's mission statement as guide for the development of Ghana in 2015, and beyond.


1. Amponsah, John. “What Could It Take Ghana to Put Together a National Agenda?” Ghanaweb. July, 4. 2015.

2. Asante, K.B. “Nkrumah and State Enterprises” (in Kwame Arhin’s edited volume “The Life and Work of Kwame Nkrumah,” the 1993 edition).

3. Dowokpor, William. “Where Is The Ghanaian Leadership?” Ghana/todaygh.com. June 18, 2015.

4. “Ghana To Launch 40-Year Development Plan.” Ghanaweb. July 9, 2015.

5. Hagan, George P. “Nkrumah’s Leadership Style: An Assessment from a Cultural Perspective” (in Kwame Arhin’s edited volume (1993)).

6. Ninsin, Kwame. “The Kwame Nkrumah Government and the Opposition of the Nation State” (in Kwame Arhin’s edited volume (1993))

7. Mahoney, Richard. “JFK: Ordeal in Africa.”

8. “Palmer-Buckle Questions Quality of Ghana’s Political Discourse.” Ghanaweb. July 2, 2015.

9. Sherwood, Marika. “Kwame Nkrumah: The Years Abroad, 1935-1949.”

10. Wright, Richard. “Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos.”

We shall return…

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis