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Opinions of Monday, 9 April 2007

Columnist: Adu-Asare, Yaw

Essential Legacies of Kwame Nkrumah

In the history of societies, there comes a critical turning point when things fall apart at the center, so to speak, an individual emerges destined to lead the citizenry towards a path of deliverance, away from total catastrophe. The first President of Ghana, Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, was such a man who, at a critical political moment, emerged to rescue the people of the Gold Coast from British colonial bondage through a successful social revolution.

The social revolution in the Gold Coast led by Kwame Nkrumah started in 1949, culminating in political independence on March 6, 1957, when the new nation changed its name to Ghana. Independence for Ghana served as the lighting rod for firing up the struggle against European colonial rule throughout Africa.

This article examines the essential legacies of Kwame Nkrumah as a political actor in Gold Coast/Ghana from 1947 to 1966.

Discussion in this article shows two scenarios regarding the legacies of Kwame Nkrumah as a leading political actor in Gold Coast/Ghana: (1) That the value and quality of achievements of Kwame Nkrumah as head of government of Ghana from 1957 to Feb. 1966, pale in comparison to his contribution to the country, in the process of the struggle for independence; and (2) that there was interconnection between social and economic programs and policies executed by Kwame Nkrumah, as head of government, on one side, and his political aspirations for Gold Coast/Ghana, on the other, to which he articulated emancipation of the African continent from European colonialism.

This writer holds the view that it is not enough to point to edifices and physical structures alone as indication of the worth and quality of legacies of a national political leader such as Kwame Nkrumah. Sometimes, the intangibles that facilitate manifestation of the practicable things tend to matter more when accounting for the contributions of significant political actors to society.

Nkrumah’s presence on the Gold Coast political scene started in 1947 when he returned after university education in the United States, to serve as general secretary of a nationalist organization, United Gold Coast Convention, UGCC, which was agitating for political independence from the British colonial government.

While serving as general secretary of UGCC, Nkrumah experienced marked differences of political, ideological and even cultural attitudes and perspectives, between himself and the other executive members of the organization that forced him to vacate his post in 1949. Subsequently, urged on, and supported by members of the youth wing of the UGCC, Nkrumah founded the Convention People’s Party, CPP, a political organization that served as the vanguard in the ensuing struggle for independence for the Gold Coast. By inference and deduction from above, it is defensible to suggest that the most essential legacy of Kwame Nkrumah, as a political actor, has to be the leadership role he played in the successful execution of a very significant social revolution in the Gold Coast/Ghana. By extension, the ideas that informed and instructed the leadership qualities and abilities of Kwame Nkrumah, by themselves, constitute other sources of his essential legacies. The Gold Coast independence revolution motivated and facilitated also the birth of dismantling of European colonization of Africa, an adjunct of world imperialism

Kwame Nkrumah learnt about the plight of the African, in the context of global racial disharmony and inequality from Mr. Kwegyir Aggrey, an Assistant Headmaster of Achimota College, the premier second cycle education institution, where he was a student. Achimota College, at its inception, was staffed predominantly by Europeans, thereby making Aggrey, an African, a significant personality in the eyes of Nkrumah, the other students and society at large.

Aggrey, a Gold Coast citizen who had studied in the United States, preached the gospel of racial harmony and advocated strongly that access to formal education was the indisputable means by which Africans could emancipate themselves in a world characterized by economic and political injustices against them.

Before setting sail for the United States in 1935, Nkrumah had been paying attention to the political writings of Mr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, a Nigerian journalist based in the Gold Coast, who in 1933 was charged with seditious libel by the colonial British administration. Nnamdi Azikiwe had graduated from Howard University in Washington, DC where he experienced conditions of racial inequality in the United States. Azikiwe argued in favor of self-government for Africans. Azikiwe emerged as the first President of independent Nigeria.

From the discussion, it is defensible for one to infer that Kwame Nkrumah was sensitized in the Gold Coast about the essence of the need for freedom, liberty and equality for the African, before his experiences in the United States. However, it is clear that Nkrumah’s experiences in the United States instructed and reinforced one of his cardinal legacies, the linkage between the negative plights of all people of African descent, scattered around the globe. Hence, Nkrumah’s ardent believe in Pan-Africanism whose philosophy conjoins the struggle for economic, political, social and cultural emancipation of all people of African descent, especially at the end of the second world war in 1945.

From his experiences, Nkrumah viewed demand for self-government by the Gold Coast people as a birthright and for the British government to have seen it as a duty to grant them unconditional political independence. Hence, Nkrumah’s preaching to his followers during the formative years of the CPP in 1949 was to invoke the need for self-determination through identity with Africa and things African. He also sharpened the necessity of unity of purpose of colonized people with one destiny in the struggle for freedom from a common enemy.

Nkrumah, as leader of the CPP, stretched the idea of unity both for the people of the Gold Coast and among all African societies, leading to the emergence of Ghana with a unitary structure of government. Some of Nkrumah’s colleagues in the struggle for Gold Coast independence preferred a government based on regionalism or federalism and that was one factor that separated him from them. Thus, emergence of newly independent Ghana with a unitary government ---bringing four different ethnic-based administrative regions (the Gold Coast Colony, Ashanti, Northern Territories and Trans-Volta Togoland) under one central authority--- remains one of the essential legacies of Nkrumah.

Nkrumah’s move towards unity did not stop at the level of government; it became a national people-to-people affair that has benefited Ghana uniquely, within the relative context of violent political upheavals and civil wars in its neighboring societies. It has become commonplace for some observers of Ghana to attribute the relative unity and absence of social violence to the peace-loving nature of its people. However, it is important to recognize the contribution of deliberate public policies executed by Nkrumah’s government that obliterated physical ethnic differentiations among the people in independent Ghana. Thus, national peace and unity of post-independence Ghana has to be another essential legacy of Kwame Nkrumah.

Nkrumah had a foresight that once independence was attained, the people of Gold Coast had to protect the freedom and liberty before losing them again. Falling back on his mentor Kwegyir Aggrey, Nkrumah was aware that in the second half of the 20th century, only an educated people could provide the best protection of freedom in independent Gold Coast and beyond. Hence, introduction of an accelerated education program was one of the first significant public policy Bills that Nkrumah managed to pass through the Gold Coast Legislature in 1951, in his capacity as Leader of Government Business.

At independence, Nkrumah’s government supported the accelerated education program of Ghana with a self-defined policy of “Fee-free Compulsory Education,” that mandated and governed provision of public education at all levels. The Ghana Education Trust engaged in providing school buildings and logistics at locations where there had been none in the past. Nkrumah’s government established several institutions to train teachers to fulfill the needs of basic education. Provision of technical education in Ghana was a priority for the government of Kwame Nkrumah.

After serving nine years as head of government (from 1957 to 1966), Nkrumah added two public universities to the only one that had existed in Ghana since 1948. In addition, Nkrumah’s government provided public “mass education” that facilitated tutoring in basic reading and writing in the evenings as a means of arresting adult illiteracy. Formal education program in society requires sound minds in sound bodies to be successful, hence the need for adequate public healthcare delivery in independent Ghana. The records indicate that Nkrumah’s government introduced a comprehensive healthcare delivery system covering most parts of Ghana during its tenure.

Nkrumah’s government also left a legacy of efficient public health program that witnessed eradication of several endemic infectious and communicable diseases that were prevalent in colonial Gold Coast.

Of course, provision of public amenities and infrastructure such as roads, railways, transportation in general, and sources of energy, among others, facilitated convenient social existence necessary for healthy living and useful outcomes of formal education. By comparison, the extent and quality of the legacy of infrastructure provided by the government of Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, have not been matched by any other, since its demise in 1966. In most instances, Nkrumah’s regime designed infrastructure with the view of facilitating eventual takeoff of industrial mass production. Therefore, preparing the groundwork for takeoff of industrial mass production in Ghana has to be one of the essential legacies of Kwame Nkrumah.

In the context of independence, freedom and liberty, policies executed by Kwame Nkrumah towards the rest of Africa remain part of his essential legacies in the interest of Ghana. For Nkrumah, the political independence for Ghana could not be safe “until the last vestiges of colonialism have been swept from Africa,” as he wrote in his autobiography. He rationalized that as a lone independent society in colonized Africa, Ghana would have faced political hazards such as would confront a lone ship in a stormy uncharted waters of the high seas. Consequently, Nkrumah saw it as a duty of the newly independent Ghana to serve as “the vanguard force to offer what assistance we can to those now engaged in the battles that we ourselves have fought and won.”

Nkrumah anticipated that emancipation of all of Africa would not only be in the interest of Ghana but serve also as a buffer for the protection of freedom and liberty for every African. Nkrumah developed a concept of African personality as a mechanism for self-determination of all people of African descent. On that strength, Nkrumah encouraged colonized African societies that would listen not to wait for Europeans to decide when they should be free. Nkrumah utilized the resources of Ghana to support and sponsor freedom fighters in colonized African societies to enable them to take matters into their own hands and wrestle independence from the European colonialists.

By 1960, that is three years after Ghana’s independence, 17 more African nations gained their political freedom. Nevertheless, in the context of world imperialism, Nkrumah understood that the new freedom and liberty won by African societies through bitter struggles were too fragile to survive on their own, hence the need for continental unity.

Thus, for Nkrumah, the political interest of Ghana, regarding protection of its hard-won independence, had to be merged with that of other independent African societies for common survival; hence his almost tireless push for African unity, with one continental government. Therefore, formation of the Organization of African Unity, OAU, the brainchild of Kwame Nkrumah, must be regarded as one of his essential legacies.

The writer, Yaw Adu-Asare, is the author of “Ghana, In Search of Illusive Positive Change: A Performance Review of the First Kufuor Administration.”

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.