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Opinions of Monday, 19 October 2009

Columnist: Tengey, Samuel

Reconsidering Nkrumah: towards a new critical perspective on Nkrumahism

(Samuel Tengey, PhD)
It is incredible the unprecedented degree of popularity that Nkrumah received, even from his political arch-opponents during his recent centenary celebrations, hailed throughout the entire African sub-region. Incredible, because while revered at least on the African continent as one of the greatest Africans that ever lived and one of the few African academic politicians, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, until recently remains, paradoxically one of the least known, least appreciated and least celebrated in our country. Indeed, in the minds of most Ghanaians in particular, Nkrumahs’ surviving, enduring legacy remains only in the area of his political career. Here he is presented as an autocratic political leader, overambitious with his presidency of his envisioned United States of Africa, on which he expended much of Ghana’s public funds. That fragmented, rather distorted view, to the average Ghanaian [particularly the youth] is what Nkrumah largely stands for.
In my view, there seems to be a substantial misrepresentation of his personality and character, a misconstruing of his ideologies, ideals, ideas and objectives, and non-hermeneutic interpretation of his political persuasions, which informed his political action. I suggest this misinformation is in a large part due to lack of authentic information about him. I am persuaded that, like me until half a decade ago, not many people have taken the pains to read Nkrumah-his life history, academic contributions in the form of books, lectures and articles, and his general contribution to the development of the African personality. Thus it is a shame that much of the conception people carry about Nkrumah remains largely what they listen to from others’ (essentially non-African, and Africans from the other side of the political divide) assessment of his life and work.
But perhaps the foregoing introduction is a rather simplistic understatement of the seriousness of the situation. Admittedly, not only do people get misinformed, making unfair assessment of Nkrumah’s political behaviour; many seem uninformed about his contribution to areas and subjects outside of politics. In other words, much of our knowledge about Nkrumah seems very much restricted to his political life; we are only aware of a ‘so-called failed’ politician Nkrumah-not the philosophical, academic, theoretical, economic, developmental Nkrumah. I propose that for a fair, unbiased assessment and evaluation, Nkrumah needs to be recast, differentiated into various, disparate selves, and each self assessed dispassionately. Indeed, each separate Nkrumah-the academic, theoretical, economic and developmental-has to be re-erected separately, and assessed dispassionately on the basis of its own merit, and in the context within which each was birthed and animated. Only then can we appreciate his true contribution to humanity, more so to the development of the African personality, which he envisioned and his contribution to the plight of the oppressed class not only in Ghana and Africa, but also in the marginalised, voiceless developing world. It is by doing so that the phrase, ‘Nkrumah is a complex personality’, and I will add, ‘Nkrumah is a sophisticated personality, possessing near encyclopaedic knowledge’ be given a true meaning. I used to carry an even more truncated, distorted view about Nkrumah. Yet since I made an excruciating effort to research his ideas, persuasions and the values he truly stood for, I have been overwhelmingly flabbergasted, absolutely inundated with the diverseness and nuances of his other works, quite differentiated from politics.
But coming back to history, one would have thought that-the uprising of the ‘reactionary forces’ (Nkrumah, 1969) and the sophisticated architecture they designed to execute the overthrow of Nkrumah’s CPP in 1966, the unfolding of the events that ensued, reinforced by strong Western support, and the succession of coup de tat that these gave rise to-Nkrumah’s name and ideas would have rotten for life. Indeed for close to three decades after his demise-his darling CPP reduced to at worst a caricature, and at best a struggling-to-survive minority party-little had been heard about him again. Perhaps what reinforced his marginalisation and decay from the memories of many a Ghanaian, were the circumstances surrounding his death and burial. That he died in Asia, his dead body was prohibited to be flown to and buried in Ghana, his mortal remains finding a [un]resting place in a far-away African country would have been sufficient reasons to suggest how little importance he was accorded in his own country. But somehow, through a diplomatic arrangement, his mortal remains-which I personally think, Nkrumah would have wished, remained perpetually in Guinea-were exhumed and flown to his humble village, Nkroful for reburial. In the 1990s his remains were exhumed and transported to Accra for reburial in a new Mausoleum, built purposely in his honour (Thanks to those bold Heads of States-true sons of Africa and faithful Pan-Africans)!
Clearly, those two bold events undoubtedly produced moments of sober reflection for Ghanaians. Such reflection arguably provided a greater impetus for what would seem like a budding respect for the betrayed, forsaken, abandoned, slain giant whose final six years were spent co-presidenting with the then Guinean president while in exile. Surely, for many like me, remembrance of him activates feelings of goose pimples and nostalgia, especially the older generation, who now have a basis for an objective comparison of his performance. Increasingly, many are now discovering and concluding for ourselves whether Nkrumah was a selfish, ambitious, power-drunk devil, and an impossible United States of Africa dreamer, or a humble, selfless, yet tough-minded, pragmatic leader who knew exactly what Africa needed at that time, and in years to come, and how to achieve both!
But even so it is still difficult to pinpoint precisely what it is that has given rise to the current burgeoning popularity and importance that Nkrumah’s name and character has begun and continues to radiate. It is unclear exactly when the so-called dictator suddenly began to metamorphose into a darling, ubiquitous, invincible, revered leader in the minds of a growing number of people and countries, including a State Senate in the USA, which recently honoured him during the recent celebration of the centenary of his birth. It remains equally a mystery how this whole process of recasting a so-called valiant into a cherished hero got underway. One can argue that his books-many of them looking forward and forecasting the possible outcomes for Africa, which are likely to ensue if certain lines of action are taken-have played a tremendous role in vindicating him, with the coming to pass of many of the things he predicted. To date, Nkrumah remains one of the very few African political leaders who have written widely on political and academic subjects. Nkrumah stands tall as one, who has grounded his practice in theory (of course he had stated, ‘practice without thought is blind’), which he articulates in many of his books. The unfolding of the many recent events-including the political and institutional strengthening of Europe through the European Union, and the nuanced and ramified implications of this for the large number of fragmented, balkanised, divided African countries-are beginning to serve as a yardstick for determining whether the ideas expressed in Nkrumah’s writings are outmoded or still remain validly useful for confronting our present political, economic, cultural and social challenges. Sadly, these ideas do not seem to have received the deserved attention from our political leaders, academics and intellectuals.
Against the backdrop of the foregoing, much critical analysis is required to harness all these ideas in the context of these recent developments into an intelligent, coherent body of thoughts that can serve to reinforce the many contributions of this son of Africa, which have resonated with the recent celebration of his centenary. Moreover, particularly for Africans, as far as I am aware, there seems to be a dearth of a coherent body of thoughts (an analytical framework, grounded in African philosophical and axiological system) that guides and undergirds our decisions about our association and relationship with the rest of the world. I am talking about a philosophy and ideology that should form the basis of our foreign policy, which would move beyond the political leadership level to the individual level, creating in individuals the discipline that places the national good or the national objective before any other consideration. I have said critical analysis because I do not intend to immortalise, idolise or deify Nkrumah as infallible. Taking such a stand would fail to admit of his failures as a human being.
On the contrary, I expect to put underway, a process of debate, to which all people, irrespective of their ethnicity, race, and political, philosophical and axiological persuasions can contribute objectively. Such an academic exercise is essential because it would, when approached critically and in a systemic fashion, also bring on board the ideas of many other Ghanaians and Africans who have severally contributed to the development of our countries and continent, but who, owing to the polarisation introduced by Western party politics, are cast as Nkrumah’s enemies. This, intelligent divide-and-rule syndrome has not helped our progress as a people. For instance, there are (I know die-hard Nkrumahists may disagree with me over this) people such Dr Abrefa Busia and Dr Jospeh Boakye Danquah (who have both passed), who worked hard to assist our push towards independence, and whose ideas on politics, economics and development can contribute in no small way to Ghana’s and Africa’s present developmental agenda.
A Nkrumahist review in effect, would have, central to its agenda, uniting and unifying Africans and harnessing their collective intellectual contributions into a formidable force that would champion the development of our continent, and silence the dominant voices, giving voice to the voiceless. These are the ideals Nkrumah stood for; ideals Nkrumahism- an extension of Pan-Africanism stills stands for; ideals the twenty-first century African should uphold, promote and defend. There is a constellation of issues and subjects which Nkrumah’s writings, speeches and even behaviour and selection of artefacts did and continue to address. Sadly, for the sake of party politics these rich, often isolated ideas have been prevented from being publicised. For instance, there is an appreciable misconception of Nkrumahism as a theory, which in many respects has little to do with Nkrumah’s personality. Osagyefo wrote widely on various subjects, for instance in his Consciencism (Nkrumah, 1964; 1969) he examined the close nexus between society, ideology, philosophy and development. After a critical evaluation of Western philosophical traditions, and how these formed the basis of slavery and colonialism, Nkrumah then proposed a philosophy and ideology for decolonising Africa, supporting this with a scientific methodology and mathematical formula. Additionally, he propounded a theory on underdevelopment (Grundy, 1963), his writing covering wide-ranging issues on which Africa’s underdevelopment essentially hinges. In his writings and speeches, Nkrumah demonstrated a clear understanding of Africa’s resource endowments as well as the type of political, economic and social engineering that would not only sustain Africa among the nations of the world, but also project it as a formidable economic and political bloc that can simply not be ignored when major world decisions are being taken.
In conclusion, I like to state that Nkrumah’s ideas and Nkrumahism are subjects no true African can ignore, even if they disagree with some of the fundamental arguments that animate them. If we give Nkrumah the benefit of the doubts, and assume he had very good nationalistic, patriotic, selfless intensions, then our interest would be in exploring those intentions. Besides the good, desirable strategies he used, he might, as I related at the beginning of this article, have employed other means to achieve these [intentions] that might stand in tension with the very ideals he purported to be promoting. What are these, and how can we explain them? To what extent can these be sustained in the context of the current globalised environment where Africa attempts to harmonise the global with the local but also risks a continuing marginalisation? Which of his ideas would still make good inputs into to our current developmental agenda? All I have done here is simply scratch the surface of just a portion of what I believe is the full iceberg. But having now scratched the tip, I believe I am opening up an entire space for a lot more objective intellectual and academic dissection of what lies behind the surface of that whole iceberg; an activity that will spawn greater and deeper levels of objective engagement. As I hope to send in more contribution on other details, I sincerely employ all to respond by sending in their contributions as the development of the review unfolds.
Grundy, K.W. (1963) Nkrumah’s Theory of Underdevelopment: an analysis of themes (book review), World Politics, p.454.
Kwame Nkrumah, Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for De-Colonization with Particular Reference to the African Revolution (London: Heinemann, 1964/New York: Monthly Review Press, 1969)
Samuel Tengey (alias Sam) holds PhD from Open University Business School, UK. He is Human Resource Development and Outsourcing Consultant, consulting with private corporate organisations, and non-profit, including church and government organisations. Currently, besides lecturing on MBA programmes in Central University College and University of Cape Coast, Sam is Director of School of Business and Ag Executive Vice President of African University College of Communications, Accra, Ghana.
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