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Opinions of Saturday, 14 February 2015

Columnist: Amuna, Paul

Kwame Nkrumah: Problems of Government

Paul Amuna

Culled from Africa Must Unite: Chapter Eight (Panaf Books, 1963, pp. 66-71).

Once again I have chosen to present the Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s own voice on issues pertaining to our nation at the time of independence. This time his focus is on the “Problems of Government”.

Readers must note that these are not my own views, and the chapter is not adulterated. My advice is that either you read the chapter in its entirety and make your own deductions, or simply don’t bother to read it. Comments should also reflect the contents of what Nkrumah was saying and perhaps its broader context and implications. I am not particularly bothered by those who criticise the “single source” because that is precisely the idea, to present what the writer is saying. Readers do not have to agree with the author’s arguments but I believe today’s politicians can learn from it.

Here is the Osagyefo in “Problems of Government”

“In our struggle for freedom, parliamentary democracy was as vital an aim as independence. The two were inseparable. It was not our purpose to rid the country of the colonial regime in order to substitute an African tyranny. We wanted to free our people from arbitrary rule, and to give them the freedom to choose the kind of government they felt would best serve their interests and enhance their welfare. Our struggle was fought to make our people free to practices the religion they chose, to give them the liberty to associate in whatever groups they wished, to create an atmosphere in which they could say, write and think freely, without harming their neighbour or jeopardizing the state.

We introduced the principles basic to the settled and established democracies of the world, such as the separation of powers between the executive, the legislature and the judiciary. As the repository of the people’s will, the legislature is supreme. It is sovereign and unlimited in its enactment of laws, which are binding upon the people and the government. Election to the legislature is by universal suffrage, and men and women enjoy equality of rights and duties. That all persons in the state are equal before the law in another principle well enshrined in our constitution.

The government on the other hand has the responsibility of directing the affairs of the state and initiating and executing policy. It is however, at all times answerable to the legislature and could not rule unless it commanded a majority in parliament. For all legislation it initiates becomes the law of the land only if approved by parliament, and parliament can at any time it wishes throw out the government.

All of this is the recognized machinery of parliamentary rule in the old-established democracies. In ur conditions, as an ex-colonial country, with our existing pattern of tribal loyalties and traditional customs strained by the superimposition of other loyalties and practices, it could not be regarded as extraordinary if the pattern proved too tight here and there, or too loose in other places. Members of the mature democracies will tend naturally to equate our conditions with those current in their own country, forgetting the time it took their nation to evolve to its present standard, and forgetting, too, the economic and social conditions of our people. It is natural for people to look at another country through their own telescope and quite human to judge another’s achievements or failings by their own experience.

There is a tendency to forget that Britain’s evolution into democracy was not altogether peaceful. It was a little over three hundred years ago that they chopped off the head of a king, made their middle-class revolution and installed Cromwell as their dictator. The feudal ties were not completely broken and required another revolution more than two centuries later, with its accompanying social jolts, to secure the base of that parliamentary democracy which the British people today mistakenly assume as a merit inherent in their national character. The states of America fought a bitter civil war, whose memories still condition attitudes and thinking, to impose their union. Its constitution, based upon the affirmation of the equality of all men, took several years to find full acceptance, and even today its tenets are disregarded in many parts of the country. There is still strife in America over the application of the essence of democracy to all its members.

Conditions in Ghana today are comparable with those prevailing in Britain or France or America at the time when they were struggling to establish a fee form of government, rather than those which currently obtain in those countries. It would be fairer, therefore, to ask what was the nature of the regime in those countries, then and make appropriate adjustments for the development of liberal ideas in the world since those days. The economic position of our people is no better than that of the workers in Britain at the same stage of their social and political development, perhaps a little worse in some aspects. Their social services were just as primitive, their country-wide educational standards just as low. I think no one would deny that the maintenance of a democracy by the people of Europe and America at the parallel stage would have been a massive task. Yet it is the task we faced in Ghana on our assumption of independence.

This task might have been eased a little had we been blessed with a reasonable and not violently destructive opposition. A serious, well-intentioned opposition keeps a government alive to its responsibilities, guarantees extreme care in the preparation and formulation of programmes, and underlines the need for sponsors of legislation to be able to justify their proposals.

The essence of such discussion, if it is to be of benefit, is that it must be constructive. This is the strength of the opposition in the established democracies of the world. They recognize that they, together with the government of the day, proceed from the major premise that they have a vital part to play in the building of their country and the speeding of its development. The government initiates; the opposition is constructively critical.

Unfortunately this has not been the case in Ghana. The narrowest interpretation of the term ‘opposition’ has been the guiding principle for the opposition party both inside and outside parliament. Their repeated rejection by the electorate convinced them that the possibility of gaining office by constitutional means was remote. They therefore embarked on a policy of obstructing the government, without devising a programme on which they would base an alternative one. Their politics have been narrowly regional in concept, and often violent, abusive and terroristic in action. With parliament, the castigation of the cabinet has been, to them, an end in itself rather than an instrument for securing better conditions for the people. The measure of their intent is that they seek to add to the difficulties of government and heighten the obstacles which need to be overcome so that, with a breakdown in administration, they may get a chance of grasping the reins of office.

It may be argued that some of these characteristics are present in any opposition party. This is true, but not to the same extent as in Ghana. Elsewhere they are set in the context of an alternative over-all programme of government. The Labour Party in Britain, for example, follows a political doctrine opposed to that of the Conservative Party. Ideologically they are widely removed. There are clashes over such concepts as nationalization. There remain, however, broad areas of internal and foreign affairs where there is a community of view. The opposition will make helpful suggestions but will not irresponsibly oppose. Therein lies the strength of that democracy.

The opposition in Ghana cannot boast this same sense of responsibility and maturity. So far it has been mostly destructive. We have seen the historic reasons for this in the revulsion of the United Gold Coast Convention leaders from the mass movement I had achieved as their secretary, and the subsequent formation of the Convention People’s party to embrace that mass movement as the instrument for the achievement of freedom. The UGCC leaders never forgave me and my associates for proving the rightness of our policy of ‘Self-Government Now’ in the results of the 1951 election. Thereafter their opposition amounted to a virtual denial of independence and a reluctance for the British to leave. They were prepared to sacrifice our national liberation if that would keep me and my colleagues out of government.

On colonial countries endeavouring to throw off the yoke of imperialism, the upsurge of nationalism finds expression in a major movement embracing the popular aspirations for freedom and a better way of life. Even where there is some disagreement among different local groups over the means to be employed in the attainment of freedom, the force which is brought into operation by the presiding power frequently secures their union on a broad national front. Thus the nationalist movement pursuing individual or particularist aims opposed to the nationalist objectives are doomed to frustration. It is inevitable, therefore, that on a free franchise of universal adult suffrage, the nationalist party gets elected with a majority that makes it appear to those accustomed to the more evenly balanced bipartisan politics of, for instance, Britain and America, that intimidation has been used.

I am reminded of the words of Julius Nyerere when he spoke of the overwhelming support of the nationalist movement by the people of Tanganyika: ‘The Nationalist movement which fights for and achieves independence inevitably forms the government of the new state. It would surely be ridiculous to expect that a country should voluntarily divide itself for the sake of conforming to a particular expression of democracy, and to do so during a struggle which calls for complete unity of its people. No one should jump to the conclusion that such a country is not democratic or does not intend to be democratic’ (Quoted from James Cameron: The African Revolution, Thames & Hudson 1961, P. 186).

The popularity of the party that brings freedom continues into the period of full independence and is even enhanced where improvements in economic and social conditions are obtained under its government, and its majority grows. Since this overwhelming majority in parliament carries through the government’s policy almost without exception, it gives the appearance of a one-party regime. This is the pattern which has resulted in the states emerging from colonialism, a pattern which I have termed a People’s Parliamentary Democracy and which the people of Ghana have accepted.

However, to level against us. As a result of this situation, the criticism of authoritarianism, as has been done, would seem to suggest a contradiction in the Western idea of what constitutes democracy. Democracy, if we are to accept the Aristotelian description, it the law of the state that directs ‘that our poor shall be in no greater subjection than the rich; nor that the supreme power shall be lodged with either of these, but that both shall share it. For if liberty and equality, as some persons suppose, are chiefly to be found in democracy, it must be so by every department of government being alike open to all; but as the people are a majority, and what they vote is law, it follows that such a state must be a democracy.’ This description has not been invalidated because our modern world has outgrown the city state and ‘all the people’ can no longer conveniently participate in government but delegate their right to their parliamentary representatives. The description has, indeed, been revalidated and enlarged to its widest extremity in Lincoln’s concept of ‘government of the people by the people for the people’.

The impression that my Party and I drew from much of the criticism levelled against us was that we should have divided up the mandate given us by the people and handed over part of it to the opposition. If the will of the people is democratically expressed in an overwhelming majority for the governing party, and thereby creates a weakening of the accepted two-party pattern, as, for instance, in Ghana, we, the government, are obliged to respect the will of the people so expressed. We have no right to divide our mandate in defiance of the popular will.

The opposition, deprived of popular support, looked around for a means to undermine our authority. They found it in separatism. They demanded the virtual secession of Ashanti, the Northern Region, and what was formerly British Togoland, from the sphere of central Ghanaian authority. It was not their first attempt to cut off the nose and ears of the Motherland in order to spite the fac of the C.P.P. in 1956, when there was a plebiscite in British Togoland to determine whether it was to continue as a British Trust territory or to join with the Gold Coast and soon become part of independent Ghana, the opposition party proclaimed its support for Togoland’s continuance as a British trust territory. The people of Togoland proved to be more freedom-minded than our opposition and the plebiscite result was union with us. When we gained full independence, British Togoland became a part of Ghana.

There followed after the plebiscite the general election of 1956, to which I had reluctantly agreed in order not to prejudice the early grant of independence. This election brought the C.P.P. back for the third time with an overwhelming majority. The opposition had not done as well as they maintained they would do in Ashanti and the Northern Territories, even though these were their major strongholds, where they had the backing of the Asantehene and other leading chiefs. The C.P.P. gained more than a third of the seats in Ashanti and almost half in the Northern Territories. In the rest of the country we had a landslide. We had proved indisputably that we were the only party qualified to speak in a national sense. The British Government could not deny this proof, and independence followed.”

My comments
These are Nkrumah’s own account of what to him, his party and the nation were prevailing circumstances and the struggles between the CPP and the Opposition. He also seems to suggest that the UGCC hierarchy “never forgave” him for crating a mass movement for independence “as their general secretary” when their agenda for independence was completely different.

I continue to argue that a lot of what we are seeing, hearing and following in Ghana today is a reflection of the same political divisions of the time and although there are many who are genuinely fighting their ‘political corner’, there are nonetheless the present day representatives of the original protagonists who are still acting as if they are still in ‘the trenches’ of the pre- and immediate post-independence period.

It is interesting that between the NPP (Danquah-Busiah-Dombo) and the NDC (?Nkrumaist) the ‘wresting’ continues as if these were a mirror image of the parties of the 1950s. The CPP which was the original party the UGCC/UP was competing with is now essentially a ‘third or fourth party’ and the focus of vitriolic and abuse is between these two major parties.

Nkrumah makes some interesting points about the will of the people entrusted to the party that they deem to have been fighting for their freedom (or in their interests). It seems to me this is as true today as it was then – e.g. Mandela’s African National Congress (ANC) which won overwhelmingly when universal adult suffrage was introduced for the very first time in South Africa. They have remained in power after at least four national elections with massive majorities. Nkrumah’s argument is that you cannot equate this to coercion or ‘manipulation’ of votes, but a true reflection of the will of the people (however well founded).

There is a sense that the Ghanaian opposition at the time of independence may have completely ‘misread’ the national mood, desire for independence and what the people believed was ‘freedom to run their own affairs’ however ill-prepared Danquah and his friends might have thought at the time. If it is also true that they sought to encourage secession and / or prevent e.g. British Togoland from joining our union, which they failed to do, perhaps we can begin to understand some of the difficulties of today’s opposition to gain much ground in canvassing parliamentary votes in the Volta region.

In the last general election, the NDC won in eight of our 10 regions, and even in the Eastern and Asante Regions where they lost, the individual votes garnered by the presidential candidate for the NDC were substantial and in the Parliamentary votes, some of the losses were quite narrow in places.

My own view is that it is time we did away with the ‘personality cult’ which has characterized our political antagonism over the decades. It is time to focus on the issues and to put our nation first in all political discourse and campaigns. If we continue the name-calling, blame-game and Danquah-Nkrumah rivalries, we only reinforce an old division which is not healthy for our democracy let alone our national development. Politics should be about issues and it is never too late to start.