You are here: HomeWallOpinionsArticles2015 05 16Article 358216

Opinions of Saturday, 16 May 2015

Columnist: Kwarteng, Francis

Nkrumah Did Not Force His Views On African Leaders 3

George Washington: “GOVERNMENT IS NOT REASON, IT IS NOT ELOQUENCE, IT IS A FORCE. LIKE FIRE, IT IS A DANGEROUS SERVANT AND A FEARFUL MASTER; NEVER FOR A MOMENT SHOULD IT BE LEFT TO IRRESPONSIBLE ACTION.”

Aristide Zolberg makes the additional argument that "THE GHANAIANS COMPLETED THE CONSTRUCTION OF THEIR ONE PARTY IDEOLOGY LATER THAN MOST OTHER COUNTRIES" (see his book "Creating Political Order: The Party States of West Africa"). What factors explain the attribution of the originative causation of the one-party political system to Nkrumah and the fact that “Ghanaians completed the construction of their one party ideology later than most countries?” Zolberg then contends that in Ghana, unlike in other African states, the one-party ideology was invested with the powers of constitutional imprimatur, and the state with absolute power to execute its mandate through what we might call "the conduit of executive dominance." That set Nkrumah apart from his colleagues such as Houphouet-Boigny, Kenyatta, and Senghor. Again, Dr. Biney makes another interesting submission, while quoting Zolberg that though Ghana, that Ghana: "was the only country to have written the one-party state into law, 'yet most others, while preserving freedom to organize parties in their constitutions, have multiplied effective legal measures to prevent their appearance.'"

We should quickly add that Houphouet-Boigny, unlike Nkrumah, amended his country’s constitution at least once, in order to give Konan Bedie, his handpicked protégé and a fellow Akan, a comparative advantage over his political rivals and a shot at the presidency, as he knew he would one day exit his one-party presidency in the event of an unforeseen eventuality (see Tiemoko Coulibaly’s “Cult of a Dead Dictator: Ivory Coast’s Democracy Deferred”). Yet, another root cause of and major contributory factor to the establishment of Ghana’s one-party political system, which is sometimes ignored in the discourse on Ghana’s political history, is the concept of executive dominance. Fact is, the numerical preponderance of the CPP in political deliberations meant that Opposition voice became an atomized appendage to the political mainstream of parliamentary deliberations, subsumed as it were under the executive dominance of the CPP. Simply, the executive dominance of the CPP exerted itself mostly in situations where that numerical advantage led to enactments of constitutional instruments in safeguarding the national interest and popular sovereignty.

But, the CPP’s executive dominance could not have been held exclusively responsible for the critique of democratic deficit in the political economy of post-independent Ghana, since the concept of democratic deficit itself represented another potential expression of majoritarian democracy or popular sovereignty, which Nkrumah’s CPP introduced into the national politics of the Gold Coast and later Ghana for the first time. Then, there was an extra confounding factor of the executive dominance of the CPP adding to the already-entrenched frustration of Opposition voice, with some Opposition members boycotting parliamentary deliberations in some cases, while the remaining Opposition members forced themselves out of the country at the instigation of their terrorist, secessionist, and subversive consciences. They joined their dissident colleagues abroad on a mission of self-imposed exile in furtherance of their continued collective sabotage and destabilization of the new nation in conjunction with foreign intelligence. What was the government to do in the absence of a responsible, proactive Opposition? Wait for the subversive, lazy and non-patriotic Opposition to return to parliament after its self-driven political hiatus from the mainstream of parliamentary deliberations, before honoring the people’s mandate? Join the Opposition to destroy the country? Or develop the country without the input of the subversive Opposition?

On the question of the one-party political system, its typology of originative causation and consequent proliferation across postcolonial Africa, we should like to consider another related question. It may be recalled that the 1931 Constitution which Emperor Haile Selassie granted discountenanced the practice of party politics. This was a span of sixteen years before Nkrumah set foot in the Gold Coast. Then again, in 1955, Emperor Selassie endorsed the authorship of yet another Constitution which, unlike its 1931 predecessor, presented a progressive visage or front for decentralization and political modernization. It promised elective franchise but as would be expected delegated absolute power to the monarchy, with no provision for political parties or party politics. This, too, represented a span of nine years before the Ghanaian parliament constitutionalized the one-party political system. Selassie’s was absolute monarchy (see Bereket Habte Selassie’s book “Emperor Haile Selassie”). In the end Emperor Selassie reneged on his promise to implement the new Constitution.

The question is: Where was Nkrumah in 1931, when Ethiopia’s newly-endorsed Constitution primarily invested Selassie with the powers of the one-party-style constitutional monarchy and secondarily, with the nobility absorbing limited political power under the said Constitution along the chain of devolution, and the former’s insistence that the dynastic heirship be restricted to his descendants over objections from other princely candidates for the throne? The simple fact is that there was no room in both the 1931 and 1951 Constitutions for elective monarchy. And so now, given Emperor Selassie’s towering presence, personal and intellectual influence in the advent of postcolonial African politics, could it be possible that his one-party-style constitutional monarchy may have exerted its own sphere of influence on the character of Africa’s postcolonial leadership? The assumptive reasoning here is one that acknowledges the pre- and postcolonial pride which Africans of all ideological persuasions held for Ethiopia in resisting colonization and driving colonizers.

Not even Italy’s deployment of chemical weapons (tear-gas grenades, mustard-gas air bombs) against Ethiopians could break their resolve to resist the scourge of colonization and to maintain their national pride.

On that account most postcolonial African leaders appropriated the Ethiopian example as their inspirational model for decolonization. Therein lies the potential for the devolution of political and historical influence. But a historical anomaly regarding the question of the comparative methodology of originative causation remains unresolved. The fact still remains that, in hindsight, Nkrumah was in no position to have influenced Emperor Selassie in 1931 as far as the adoption and originative causation of the one-party political system is concerned. Neither could Nkrumah have been successful with Emperor Selassie in 1955, because Emperor Selassie was his own man, an independent thinker, and a powerful monarch in his own right, because the circumstances of Ghana's and Ethiopia's histories, geopolitics, political economies, diplomatic histories, and international relations remained vastly different in many significant ways.

How, then, could Nkrumah have laid the foundation of the one-party political system at the feet of Emperor Selassie as far back as 1931?

As the empirical facts of history stand, the possibility of the former influencing the latter is merely a question of the verifiable instance of infinitesimal if non-existent plausibility. Therefore, it is our submission that the allocation of political and historical influence could most likely have seen the light of practical eventuation only in the converse direction, arguably from Selassie to Nkrumah, if in fact we could give credence to that presupposition on the question of the unidirectional nature of contactual influence.

And so, however one looks at the facts of historical and contemporary actualities, there is a degree of tenability to the preceding theory of originative causation because the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia impacted Nkrumah in ways only commensurable with his quest to end colonialism in Africa any price. And to accomplish that goal while using the Ethiopian example as one of his competing templates, Nkrumah may have taken an intellectual interest in Ethiopian history from that day forward since his days of intimate acquaintance with the Ethiopian invasion (see also “Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah”).

Nkrumah was the kind of rare leader who read extensively in order to gain deep insight into the political economy of imperialism and diplomatic history, as well of international and race relations.

Then also Dr. John Henrik Clarke, late African-American historian, critic, activist, and writer, also left written records on Nkrumah being a member or supporter, or both, of the Blyden Society, the Ethiopian Studies Union, and the Ethiopian World Federation whilst a student in the United States (see Clarke’s essay “The Afro-American Image of Africa,” Black World (Negro Digest), Vol. XXX111, No. 4, February 1974). Though Nkrumah did not mention or elaborated on his association with these organizations in his writings, Dr. Clarke provided sufficient evidence on his meeting Nkrumah at meetings and discussion forums organized by those institutions (see Clare Corbould’s book “Becoming African Americans: Black Public Life in Harlem, 1919-1939”). Both Nkrumah and Dr. Clarke were associated with the Harlem History Club. The latter then went on to mentor great men and women such as Malcolm X, playing a signal role in the formation of Malcolm X’s Organization of Afro-American Unity, an institution modeled on the Organization of African Unity. What is probably not widely known was that Nkrumah offered Dr. Clarke a journalism job with one of the national newspapers, “The Evening News,” and that the latter taught briefly at the University of Ghana.

Dr. Clarke would later admit to friends that his journalistic stint with the Ghanaian newspaper enhanced his literary proficiency and piqued his intellectual interest in African history. Finally, Dr. Clarke mentored Nkrumah in his student days in the United States.

And so what these written records, Dr. Clarke’s specifically, mean for us at this moment is that Nkrumah’s intellectual engagement with all the three afore-mentioned organizations, particularly the latter two, the Ethiopian Studies Union and the Ethiopian World Federation, may have directly or indirectly brought him into contact with the complexity of the Ethiopian history, including, but not limited to, such topics as traditional governance and nation-building in Ethiopian society, from the feudal period right down to the stage prior to the postcolonial dispensation, beyond the assorted range of topics he covered in his large body of written works on such subject matters as constitutional monarchy and the roots of the unitary state as practiced in the ancient empires and kingdoms of African societies.

At any rate, the originating typology of the one-party political system eventually takes on a serious theoretical character of contentious discourse.

This unresolved conundrum surrounding the philosophical genesis of the one-party political system should, accordingly, assume a focus of resolution in the discourse on postcolonial African politics. Certainly the laid “egg” and the mother “chicken” cannot simultaneously give birth to each other. In other words, one and not the other may have given birth to the other at the dawn of the history of “sentient” animacy. Here, too, as in the comparison between the political legacies of Nkrumah and Houphouet-Boigny, in terms of the number of executions under their presidencies, the facts of history again indicate that the aggregate number of executions under Emperor Selassie’s rule far overshadow Nkrumah’s. One such episode of execution that took place under Emperor Selassie’s rule involved some of the trusted members of his Imperial Guard, who had plotted his overthrow in 1960 whilst he was on a state visit to Brazil, with the coup plotters making Amha Selassie, the Emperor’s son, the new emperor. One school of thought believes Emperor Selassie’s son was behind his father’s unsuccessful ouster.

Another school of thought argues that the leaders of the coup, Mengistu Neway and Germame Neway, two brothers believed to have received military training from the Americans, were unhappy with Emperor Selassie’s slow pace at modernizing Ethiopia and dealing with the country’s many economic problems. In the process the Neway Brothers and other leaders of the abortive coup machine-gunned a number of high-profile figures around Emperor Selassie. A third school of thought, however, blames the West for instigating Emperor Selassie’s overthrow because of the influence he was exerting on the Pan-African Movement as well as on the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU). If this theory is right, what can one make of America’s and Western support for the absolute monarchy of the Saudi royal family?

Yet a fourth school of thought represented by Pulitzer-winning biographer of W.E.B. Du Bois and renowned historian, Dr. David Levering Lewis, argues on the basis of declassified records that the CIA persuaded Emperor Selassie to agree to have the OAU headquartered in Ethiopia, as he negotiated with Nkrumah, in exchange for his [Emperor Selassie’s] endorsement of the organization. The secret motive behind the CIA’s approach was to reduce Nkrumah’s international influence (see Dr. Lewis’ book “W.E.B. Du Bois: The Fight for Equality and the American Century 1919-1963”). Dr. Lewis lived and taught African history at the University of Ghana in 1963.

And whatever the merits and demerits of the theories, hypotheses, and arguments advanced by the various schools of thought, the fact still remains that Emperor Selassie’s monarchical rule was absolute and that Ethiopia’s history, experiences and brushes with imperialism and colonization provided a much-needed template for postcolonial African politics, just as Nkrumah’s progressive ideas impacted postcolonial African politics and the decolonization efforts.

Emperor Selassie, an astute politician and multilateralist, has had his Machiavellian usurpation of the Ethiopian monarchy and rise to political power critiqued and questioned by many a scholar and historian. Still, on the strength of the comparative assessment of his political legacy and Nkrumah’s, the only execution that took place under the latter’s presidency was the lawful one involving Sgt. Ametewe. The latter’s execution came on the heels of his shooting death of Salifu Dagarti, Nkrumah’s bodyguard, in an abortive assassination attempt on Nkrumah. This point is one of enormous political significance to postcolonial African history, at least from the standpoint of comparative history and historiography. But the comparative valuation of our political subjects is far from complete.

Also, in terms of the political strengths of the comparative legacies of the one-party ideology and its geopolitical spread across postcolonial Africa, political writer Aristide R. Zolberg seems to be of the persuasion that Ghana, under the ideology, may have fared better and, more important, been less authoritarian than her sister-states that practiced the ideology.

Once again this makes practical sense when one considers the fact that only one execution took place under Nkrumah’s presidency (Dr. Biney’s source are the memoirs of M.H. Basner, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London). Under Houphouet-Boigny’s presidency, however, thirteen young members of the Ressemblement Democratique Africain (RDA) were executed (Dr. Biney’s source is M.J. Ahipeaud's 2003 doctoral dissertation "Elite Ideologies and the Politics of Media: A Critical History of Ivorian Elite Ideologies and Their Press from the Brazzaville Conference to the December 24th 1999 Coup," University of London). Thus, Nkrumah’s government fared better, in terms of institutional adherence to and the application of law, than Houphouet-Boigny’s on the basis of comparative statistics and openness. Elsewhere Dr. Biney finally writes in part:

“IT IS DIFFICULT TO COMPARE THE DEPORTATION RECORDS OF A NUMBER OF WEST AFRICAN COUNTRIES BECAUSE MANY DID NOT PUBLISH THEM. HOWEVER, ‘MUCH MORE IS KNOWN ABOUT GHANA IN THIS BECAUSE IN SPITE OF ALL, GHANA HAS RETAINED A GREATER SENSE OF THE RULE OF LAW,’ ARGUES ZOLBERG. DURING THE 1960s, BOTH HOUPHOUET-BOIGNY’S AND NKRUMAH’S GOVERNMENT ARRESTED LARGE NUMBERS OF POLITICAL DISSIDENTS. SUCH ARRESTS WERE NOT MADE PUBLIC IN THE IVORY COAST.”

She concludes: “‘IF COERCION CAN BE EVALUATED IN TERMS OF THE TOTAL NUMBER OF DEATH SENTENCES IMPOSED BY A GOVERNMENT ON ITS OPPONENTS, THE IVORY COAST IS PROBABLY THE HARSHEST COUNTRY IN AFRICA,’ WRITES ZOLBERG” (our emphasis; see Aristide R. Zolberg’s book “Creating Political Order: The Party-States of West Africa”).

A caveat is in order: Even in the American and Nigerian federations, states exert their rights over questions of jurisdiction, where the exercise of criminality involving a contested suspect citizen, indictment and extradition, for instance, are the primary bones of contention between states’ completing claims. What is more, Pan-Africanism does not condone criminality, subversion, sabotage, and so on. To wit, adherence to Pan-Africanist preferences connotes arrant denial of the comparative advantage of operational latitude, where adherence does not necessarily translate into a flimsy alibi for political invigilance on the part of any leadership. No progressive nation-state consciously allows subversive elements to hijack or destabilize its geopolitical existence, especially when it is a neonatal geopolitical actuality. It is in this context that the deportation statistics which the aforementioned authors referred to should be interpreted.

It is important stressing that the circumstances surrounding the deportations under Nkrumah’s presidency are markedly dissimilar from what actually transpired under the Aliens Compliance Order (ACO) in the case of the Busia presidency. This is relevant to the exegetical reconstruction of postcolonial African politics.

Emphatically, the deportations that took place under Nkrumah’s presidency do not in any way bridge the qualitative and quantitative contrasts between the legacies of Nkrumah and Houphouet-Boigny, as Dr. Biney and Zolberg clearly articulate in their scholarly publications. In the main, the major causes for the First and Second Ivorian Wars, exclusionary politics, and the marginalization of and xenophobic attacks against Northern Ivorians and non-native Africans have been traced to the divisive politics of Houphouet-Boigny. This has come to be known as “Ivorité,” a sociocultural and political philosophy describing situations where Southern Ivorians exert their ethnic and cultural superiority over the largely Muslim North. Tiemoko Coulibaly captures these sentiments in the essay “Cult of a Dead Dictator: Ivory Coast Deferred.” He notes: “YET HOUPHOEUT-BOIGNY’S LEGACY IS A MAJOR TRAGEDY FOR IVORY COAST. THE TRIUMPHANT RESURGENCE OF HOUPHOUET-BOIGNY WORSHIP, ACCOMPANIED BY THE RISE OF IVORIAN POWER, SIGNALS THE FAILURE OF A SYSTEM THAT ALWAYS RELIED ON TRIBALISM, XENOPHOBIA, CORRUPTION AND PREVARICATION.”

Stephen Smith, another observer of African politics, also writes in the essay “Remembering Felix Houphouet-Boigny, Father of the Ivory Coast’s (In)dependence”: “HOWEVER, THOUGH HE MADE HISTORY, HE DID NOT MATE IT INTO HISTORY, AT LEAST NOT AS GLORIOUSLY AS NKRUMAH, NYERERE, SEKOU TOURE, OR PATRICE LUMUMBA. HOUPHOUET-BOIGNY IS GENERALLY OVERLOOKED, OR ELSE DISMISSED AS A ‘LACKEY OF THE FRENCH.’” These unambiguous rhetorical recapitulations of Nkrumah’s and Houphouet-Boigny’s make for serious critique and indictment of the latter’s political character. However, this is not to say Nkrumah was infallible. Rather it is to buttress another unspoken fact, which is that Ghanaian students, politicians, scholars, and ordinary citizens agitated for Nkrumah’s return to Ghana as a statesman, a request which the National Liberation Council (NLC) rejected, albeit it offered the NLC an opportunity to put Nkrumah on public trial for his alleged crimes.

The truth is that the NLC had nothing to prosecute Nkrumah on. There is an article (“Remembering John Kofi Tettegah: Orator and Organizer of People,” Ghanaweb, December 24, 2009) by one Yaw Asare Adu-Otu, in which he presents a poignant anecdotal account of Prof. Kofi Awoonor, a friend of General Akwasi Afrifa, and others pleading with the latter to allow Nkrumah’s “return to Ghana to live, but not as president.” According to Adu-Out, “AFRIFA WARMED TO THE IDEA UNTIL THE DAY K.A. BUSIA WALKED INTO HIS OFFICE FROM SELF-IMPOSED EXILE. EYEWITNESS ACCOUNT INDICATED THAT AFRIFA WELCOMED BUSIA BY YELLING, ‘THIS IS MY MASTER.”

Unfortunately, we have not been able to confirm this anecdotal reportage independently. But if this story even has a checkered character of veracity or moments of historicity, it beggars description of the kind of screwed psychology whose political investment underwrote the 1966 coup, and why Afrifa’s chairmanship of the NLC could not have taken on the offer to bring in Nkrumah and then put him on public trial as advanced through our earlier proposal.

Yet the absence of independent confirmation of Adu-Out’s anecdotal claims does not imply arrant negation of the facts as set out in his poignant piece. We should add that Nkrumah, indeed, may have wished to return to Ghana but not through violence. For one thing, he vetoed Stokely Carmichael’s (Kwame Toure) intention to organize an army to overthrow the NLC. For another, there is also some evidence pointing to the fact that he vetoed different offers of military assistance from certain African governments and African freedom fighters to overthrow the NLC and pave the way for the restoration of his government. Nkrumah was not one desperate for political power as Dr. Peter Omari and other Confederate enemies of Nkrumah have claimed over the years.

At last, Dr. Biney states emphatically further that other African states developed their unique frames of the one-party political system in a way that matched what she otherwise calls the "former 'model colony.'" That means the colonial model of exclusionary governance provided a parallel template for the political practice of the one-party ideology in a number of African nation-states. The point of it all is that it is a complex mix of factors, experiences, and challenges that made up the integrated personality of each of Africa's immediate postcolonial political leaders, or of the integrated character of a leader's political individuation in post-independent Africa in all its particularistic characteristics. Further, given that the nature of politics is fundamentally the same everywhere, it is to be expected that the African political milieu is not markedly different in that regard. This also speaks to the political character of African politicians, not overlooking the fact that the modern African nation-state and its allied institutions are the natural bequests and extensions of their Western counterparts!

But that is not to say we have exhausted every vista of idea regarding the universal profile of the one-party political system! The absolute monarchies of the Vatican City State, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Brunei, Oman, Qatar, Andorra (France) enjoy unlimited Western support. We also know the considerable political powers which the hereditary monarchy of Liechtenstein, for instance, wields over the Liechtenstein state. Regrettably, this is not the kind of comparative empirical methodology some of Africa's leading scholars are interested in engaging their intellects in, as a serious reflection and critique of the empirical valuation of the facts of history and historiography.

This is also why Nkrumah's dyarchic partnership (1951-1954) with the British Colonial Government should not be excluded from the discourse. Even so, during this period, Nkrumah's internal government held on to his American and British democratic precepts and his respect for human rights, until terrorism, agitations for ethnocentric regionalism and secessionism, indiscriminate killings of innocent citizens, assassination attempt(s) on his life, and so forth, induced a new proactive sense of national security on the part of his government. Public consciousness and popular sovereignty demanded protection from the national government of the CPP. It is not by chance that Nkrumah’s diplomatic handling of the nation’s crisis situations would earn him the 1954 World Veterans Federation's World Peace Prize! Taking all the preceding dress of facts into consideration, there is no doubt in our minds that comparative history, law, ethics, and politics is the way forward in the quest for a conducive emphasis on the practice of empirical methodology and, as it were, to provide sufficient if convincing ripostes to the daring paradoxes of Africa's immediate postcolonial politics, and their unraveling.

For instance, the comparative backgrounds to the long, turbulent checkered history of European democratization is ignored, and Europe's relatively recent "democratic" successes, are, instead, juxtaposed against a sustained evaluative indictment of Africa's brief postcolonial experiment with all the different forms of Western “democracy,” without so much as a regard for the contextual circumstances and complexities of Africa's history, culture, indigenous democratic institutions, and lastly, of the complicated legacies of colonialism, slavery, and imperialism. It is hardly a well-known fact, particularly among critics of postcolonial African politics, that, the United States ran a virtual one-party system for at least a decade, through the so-called Federalist Party, even as the elitist and aristocratic leadership of the Federalist Party decried and looked down upon universal suffrage, open elections, and democracy.

George Washington’s epigrammatic description of “government” could not have been right!

We shall return…