When Kwame Nkrumah became the Prime Minister of Ghana in 1952 till when Ghana achieved full independence from the British Government in 1957 and onwards, his utmost wish was for Ghana to become a model state for the Black world. Another of his aims was to see Africa become one united body with one big voice that could stand up with shoulders raised high in the world.
After going to study in the United States, the young Nkrumah had come across writings of such great Black intellectuals like Marcus Garvey, WEB Du Bois, George Padmore and many others. These Pan-Africanists, Mr Garvey in particular, had in their writings called for a United States of Africa to be formed in the Motherland to bring together all people of Black African descent. Garvey had in a poem Hail! United States of Africa, seen a vision of a free Africa. In his words; Hail United States of Africa-free!/ Country of the brave black man’s liberty;/ State of greater nationhood thou hast won,/ A new life for the race is just begun. This vision was what Nkrumah pursued with all his heart when he got into government.
It was a tantalising prospect for Nkrumah to see Africa unite amidst all the tribulations facing her peoples. The whole of the African continent was under colonial rule except Ethiopia at the period when Ghana became free. It needed a visionary to see further than the chains and whips that held Africa bound. And Nkrumah saw that vision along with Garvey and so many others.
Being the head of Africa’s first postcolonial state, history thrust it upon Nkrumah to lead not just Ghana but Africa as well. An ambitious fellow to booth, Nkrumah grabbed with both hands the opportunity to make history albeit with good intentions. He proceeded in finding solutions to the numerous problems encountered by a country of so many divergent entities, tribes, cultures, ideologies and desires. The new Ghana like many other African states was an artificial union created by the vested interests of the British. It is to Nkrumah’s credit that he was able to find a common ground for the peaceful co-existence of all the different nationalities in the new Ghana unlike Nigeria, Rwanda, Sudan, Burundi, Congo, Somalia etc who have gone through harrowing periods of blood shed due to many years of deep seated hatred among ethnicities, some dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries!
The great Nkrumah saw the needs of an emerging nation and he went to work. He wanted to build an African country that would be as modern as the nations of Europe and America and also is able to stand up to them in strength. After already embracing a form of Socialism that he called African Socialism, he moved towards the Soviet bloc for empowerment. His choices caused the West to dislike him at a time when the Cold War raged. He found in the West a formidable opponent.
Among other things, his economic policies were beginning to bite hard on farmers, mostly cocoa producers, back home. He implemented higher taxation in order to fund his numerous seemingly ambitious programmes one of which is the Volta Dam project that today still benefits Ghana and her neighbours. He created a model town in Tema, one of the first truly planned port cities in Africa. His African project continued as well and in 1963, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) came into being. It was the culmination of a long held dream even though it fell short of his objectives due to sabotage backed by the West. Some African leaders had been propped up to counter Nkrumah’s growing influence on the continent.
Nkrumah became a cult figure, that often-dangerous phenomena of ruler-hero. His status as father of the nation could not be challenged. He got some legislations passed which outlawed industrial actions, the Trade Union Act; and another that necessitated the arrest of anyone without trial for upwards of 10 years, the Preventive detention Act, which was essentially to clip the wings of the opposition. In 1964, he turned Ghana into a One party state and declared himself “President for Life”. His decisions caused uproar in the country and among the armed forces. Two years later, in February of 1966, (like Yakubu Gowon 1976; Shinawatra 2006) Kwame Nkrumah was deposed while he was on a state visit to China. It was a huge relief to a nation that had become over-burdened with his troubles. Sekou Toure granted him Guinean citizenship. It was in Conakry that he lived the rest of his life.
Nkrumah, no doubt was a great leader and an icon in the political history of Africa. He saw further than anyone had ever seen. Some of his achievements still stand for all to see today and the Ghanaian people are still enjoying them. He came in the mould of a prophet before his time. In his greatness, he showed some weaknesses. Like all great Shakespearean heroes, his character was flawed. And what ingredient makes better tragedy than the fall of a noble man. He can be forgiven in this wise. His flaws only show that whatever he became, he was still human after all but his heart was all sold out on making his nation great and his continent free.
In his message to the Ghanaian nation on Independence Day on March 6, 1957, he proclaimed in a loud voice ” Ghana your country is now free and free forever”. He sowed the seeds of greatness in Ghana that is today being reaped by John Kufuor. His vision of a United States of Africa as is being implemented by the African Union is now in the hands of his countryman as Chair of the body. What Nkrumah wanted to do as president is now being done brilliantly by those to whom he was a mentor. Note that John Kufuor was just a starry-eyed 19-year-old when Nkrumah delivered that speech.
His lofty dream of Ghana as a role model to the whole of Africa is fast becoming reality. One only needs to walk on the streets of Accra to experience the harmony there. It certainly is a long way from what it was in the 1980’s when its citizens embarked on a massive exodus due to very harsh economic conditions. The new Ghana is an example of a working, highly functional African state. It is an example of what can be achieved by a little more accountability on the part of the leadership. Ghana does not produce crude oil but there are no queues in her pump stations. A recent report in Business Day has it that Ghana is the leading outsourcing player in West Africa, bigger than even Nigeria. Success is a journey and not a destination, it can be safely said that Ghana is now moving steady on that path. It then begs the question; what are we not getting right as a nation?
While travelling recently in a bus in Accra, this writer encountered a young schoolgirl who happened to observe that he is a foreigner. She had in a conversation with me asked if I was enjoying her country. I had answered in the affirmative. She had then gone on to tell me how things were working fine but that the people had become “too free” and could do anything and even “accuse government anyhow”. This she felt was not good. I had calmly informed her that there could never be too much freedom. Her only worry should be that “too much freedom” doesn’t lead to lack of accountability.
It is very common to hear some Ghanaians criticise their government on so many issues. I say that is a sign of freedom. It is also a sign that the heart of man can never be pleased. Even the Israelites complained in the Wilderness while God was their keeper.
It has been said by many people that the problem of
Africa is a problem of leadership. But one also needs emphasise that the ordinary man and woman on the streets and in the office have a great part to play in the good functioning of African countries. The citizens owe it to themselves to elect credible and worthy leaders into sensitive positions. This cannot be achieved by folding of the arms. We should all go out on Election Days to exercise our right to vote. One day we shall get it right. God bless our Africa.