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Opinions of Sunday, 28 August 2005

Columnist: Okoampa-Ahoofe, Kwame

The Enduring Legacy Of Dr. J. B. Danquah ? Part 18

Much has been made by his disciples and staunch ideological sympathizers of the fact that President Kwame Nkrumah attended and actively participated in the 1945 Manchester, England, conference of the Pan-Africanists? Movement.

Curiously enough, what is not as quite well known is the fact that in September 1948, Dr. J. B. Danquah attended and actively participated in the far more significant and landmark Conference of African Legislative Councilors in the British imperial capital of London, and in the presence of His Majesty the head of the extant British Empire. Danquah, ever the unbested pragmatic continental Africanist, eloquently recognized the preceding reality. Thus, for instance, in the preface to his seminal political pamphlet titled ?Friendship And Empire: Colonial Controversy Series No. 5?( Fabian Publications, 1949), the putative ?Doyen of Gold Coast Politics? poignantly observed: ?The first African Conference was held in London in September 1948. It was an occasion without precedent, in that it brought together for the first time members of the Legislative Councils of every African colony ? Africans, Indians, Europeans (officials as well as ?settlers?), Arabs, Chiefs in their gorgeous robes, smart young University graduates, turbaned Moslem Emirs. These representatives of the diverse races and communities of Africa sat side by side in conclave. The Conference was addressed by the most distinguished British statesmen, and the discussions ? although purely consultative ? ranged over a wide field and achieved an impressive frankness.?

The Conference of African Legislative Councilors (CALC), which was also attended by such distinguished Ghanaian delegates as Justice Henley Coussey and Nana Tsibu Darku, was also significant because, unlike the Pan-Africanists? Conference of Manchester, which was largely the brainchild and breastwork of diasporic Africans and largely an intellectual and theoretical forum, the CALC firmly prepared the ground for Anglophone Africa?s onward and steady march towards geopolitical emancipation. And as Danquah frankly cast it, the CALC ?lifted up the veil behind which British imperialism had been groping for some fifty years to find the solution for a diversity of peoples living together under the urge of a single way of life ? the British way of life?(Friendship And Empire 3).

And just what was this metaphorical ?veil?? The foremost continental African constitutional lawyer pulls no punches in exposing the invidious fact that historically, European colonial imperialism has implied unfettered socioeconomic, cultural and political freedom for Western European citizens, whereas for the rest of the brutally cannibalized non-European world this has meant a virtually infernal state of existence: In the past[,] British colonialism had meant ?exploitation? ? what Mr. Herbert Morrison [the extant Deputy British Prime Minister] described as an antique to be placed side by side with ?piracy? and ?slavery?. It was a policy of freedom for the mighty ? a policy conceived, as Mr. Creech Jones [British Secretary of State for the Colonies] said, in the conditions of laisser-faire, ?a policy which often proved itself negligent of social obligations and sometimes forgetful even of human rights??(Friendship And Empire 3).

The virtual and presumed founder of the University of Ghana also alludes to the often ignored fact that British colonial imperialism in Africa predates the official partitioning of the putatively primal continent by several generations. But even more significantly, Danquah notes that whereas the officially stated British colonial policy, since 1865, has been to gradually and altruistically transfer modern state-craft and technology to the colonies, a Manifest Destiny of sorts, the reality on the ground, in the wake of World War I, pointed to something quite execrably different: ?In 1865 the British House of Commons passed the following resolution: That ?the object of our policy should be to encourage in the natives the exercise of those qualities which may render it possible for us more and more to transfer to them the administration of all the Governments, with a view to our ultimate withdrawal from all except, probably, Sierra Leone?(3). Danquah explains the fact that in 1865 Britain considered Sierra Leone to be part and parcel of the imperial metropolitan enclave, or the British Isle itself, simply because ?Freetown was British territory, purchased from British funds [of course, for the 1787 resettlement of continental African repatriates from North America, as well as captive Africans bound for enslavement in the so-called New World but rescued by British navy recruits from the high seas].? Interestingly, adds the constitutional architect of modern Ghana, what was officially propagated by Imperial Britain as her ?civilizing mission? to Africa soon turned out to be nothing short of a systematic policy of brutal and unmitigable African exploitation; moreover, whatever appeared to the British imperialist sensibility as approximating the dignity of the proverbial African personality, was promptly earmarked for summary evisceration: ?And yet again, the dynamic of world events gave no lasting opportunity for the fulfillment of the idea of trusteeship. Under the impact of a brutal war ? a war in which both the trustee and the ward fell as quickly to the rifle bullet as did the common enemy; a war in which the economy of Europe stood to be shattered unless buttressed with the possessions of Africa; a war in which the metropolitan powers in Africa, or at least some of them, took the fullest advantage of the opportunities to unleash and give full play to their own brand of the very barbarity they had come to Africa to suppress ? under these impacts the policy of trusteeship became increasingly meaningless?(Friendship And Empire 4).

Reading Danquah?s pamphlet, it becomes grimly and uncomfortably apparent that the virtual neglect of our subject by the history curricula of African schools and colleges has wreaked incalculable havoc on the intellectual temperament of the continent?s politicians and academics. And this may largely explain why on the threshold of the Fourth Millennium and the Twenty-First century, many African leaders are still unimaginatively poised towards blindly collaborating with leaders of the erstwhile colonial powers in furtherance of the unfettered exploitation of the former and their peoples and polities, under the glaringly specious guise of such covenants a the so-called New Economic Partnership for Africa?s Development (NEPAD). Indeed, as relatively early as 1948, Danquah was vehemently decrying the devious European colonial regime which brazenly cast its patently parasitic agenda in terms of ?partnership? with an involuntarily subjugated Africa: ?In the flush of the stresses and perplexities of the Second World War Britain declared its attachment to a new policy ? the policy of partnership. The Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1940 was passed in pursuance of that policy, to aid the distressed areas of the weaker partner./ But partnership did not last. It did not outlast the war, not to speak of its aftermath. For partnership, like patriotism, is not enough. It is inadequate. Only those can be completely partners who speak the same language, not the language of words, but the language of possessions. A ?have? and a ?have-not? are ill bed-fellows. You can obtain a perfect harmony with the black and white keys of a piano, just as you can obtain a perfect harmony with the contrasting colours of the rainbow, but if you put your money on the donkey in a race in which the lion, the elephant, the horse, and the donkey are in competition[,] you will be bound to lose it. The elephant has a massive strength. The horse has the supremacy of speed. But the donkey has only a little of both and that little is inadequate in the race of the swift and the strong?(4).

Quite insightfully and interestingly, the celebrated author of The Akan Doctrine of God is quick to point out that in a partnership with Europe, Africa is not necessarily the proverbial underdog. Rather, adumbrates the foremost Ghanaian philosopher of his generation, in any economic partnership with the European colonizer, the African is invariably bound to lose, more so because such a partnership is historically apt to be unevenly sustained by the natural and human resource-rich African. ?So the veil must be lifted. And it was lifted at the African Conference. Exploitation is antiquated. Trusteeship does not make sense. And partnership in partners with unequal possessions is a losing game for the elephant and the donkey. I should as well make it clear here, as I did at the African Conference, that in the unequal race of the donkey, the elephant and the horse, the Gold Coast is the elephant[,] not the donkey?(Friendship And Empire 5).

Ever the radical progressive, contrary to what many a standard textbook on African political philosophy retails, Danquah did not envisage the developmental modernization of Africa in terms of a linear, gradualist progression vis-?-vis Western European historiography. Rather, the Doyen of Gold Coast and Ghanaian politics envisaged the developmental rapidity of the African continent in nonesuch, or unique, terms. In other words, for Danquah, it was rather counterproductive and outright unimaginative for the emergent Third World nations to seek to reinvent the proverbial wheel of the industrial and cultural revolution. To the preceding effect, the prolific author of Liberty of the Subject observed: ?But the Colonial peoples have no time to wait. The dynamic of nationalism, and the dynamic of social advance and greater responsibility, call for a bridging of those European centuries by African days, not months or years, but days. ?There is urgent need,? said Mr. Herbert Morrison [the extant Deputy British Prime Minister], ?for some constructive dynamic amongst the colonial peoples, which will supplement the work of government and stimulate initiative for social advance and greater responsibility. Don?t always wait for government to act. Don?t complain, out of mere habit, about what the Government does or doesn?t do. Do things for yourselves. It is the essence of democratic life??(Friendship And Empire 6-7).

The constitutional unifier and architect of modern Ghana minces no words in lighting into Sir Creech Jones? imperious and intransigent attempt to paper over the classical British colonial agenda. And here, we aptly recall the extant British Secretary of State for the Colonies as the archconservative bureaucrat whom the Doyen fiercely battled in the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly over the imperative need for the establishment of the University of Ghana. Sir Jones had preferred the establishment of a single University College, to be located at Ibadan, Nigeria, for the common use of the four British West African colonies. It would be only Danquah?s passionate and unreserved condemnation of this characteristically niggardly agenda of the British Colonial Office, coupled with the auspicious presence of a progressive-minded governor in the Gold Coast, Sir Maxwell Alan Burns, as well as the latter?s immediate successor, who proverbially saved the day. Sir Creech Jones, rather disingenuously, chose to cast traditional British colonial exploitation in the follow analgesic terms: ?But whatever may be the spirit and urge of the new dynamic, whether it be nationalism, or colonialism, the policy in pursuance of which the Colonial Office hopes to find a solution for the congeries of diverse peoples and races living together in peace and plenty under the urge of a single way of life ? the British way of life ? is neither exploitation, nor trusteeship, nor unequal partnership, but a simpler objective so realistic that its scale can best be cast in a minor key ? the key of friendship?(6).

To the preceding, Danquah, who accurately characterized Sir Jones as ?a star imperialist apologist,? ever the master or repartee, promptly riposted: ?Friendship ? an empire, a commonwealth, built on friendship! You will remember that immediately after the African Conference[,] the Conference of Dominion Prime Ministers was held, and an interesting outcome was to drop the word ?British? from the phrase ?the British Commonwealth of Nations.? The one conception of a British Empire having recently disappeared, the more Utopian conception of a British Commonwealth is likewise to disappear, and in its place, or in the place of both, the most commonplace concept upon which all lasting relationships are built ? friendship ? is now being fostered as a policy?(6-7).

In sum, for Danquah, true ?partnership? and ?friendship? were one that, like classical democratic praxis, privileged the functional and ideological status of the individual and the nation, among the comity of global nationalities. Consequently, for the Crown?s propagation of geopolitical friendship with any of her colonies to be deemed functionally meaningful, a kind of nationalism which recognized the coequal humanity of all nations needed to be vigorously fostered and enforced: ?To me, an African who has for some fifty years known what it feels like to be a member of a deprived race ? a race deprived of its freedom and its culture and its wealth - these words, this offer of friendship in place of subjection, this offer of mutual confidence in place of distrust and suspicion, must mean just one thing ? a change of heart in the Imperial Colonial Office. It makes nonsense also of racial nationalism but gives a justifiable impetus to political nationalism. If so great a country as Britain offers us friendship[,] we must lift up ourselves and ensure that we become worthy of it?(Friendship And Empire 8).

Indeed, what rankled Danquah more than anything else was the routine paternalistic colonial policy of summary intellectual and cultural inferiorization of the colonized, while simultaneously the colonizer unreservedly faulted the colonial subject for the abject administrative and political incompetence of the representative of the colonial regime: ?Few can imagine the stupefaction and bewilderment of colonial peoples, when, in the face of a nation-wide opposition to a particular policy or act of state of a Governor, as in the Gold Coast combined petition to the Secretary of State by chiefs and people, the Colonial Office should turn round with a cold shoulder, a very cold shoulder, and tell these colonial peoples: ?The Secretary of State does not intend to interfere with the decision of the Governor, who is the man on the spot.?/ Strange to say, if, in the course of time, the particular policy and acts of the Colonial Government petitioned against by the colonial people failed and brought distresses and further acts of deprivation to the petitioners, the one who was blamed was not the colonial Governor but the peoples of the Colonies, that they were a bad lot, incapable of cooperation etc., etc.?(Friendship And Empire 8-9).

In dogged pursuit of Danquah?s policy and spirit of democratic justice, Professor Adu-Boahen, in his 1988 lecture in memory of our subject titled The Ghanaian Sphinx, unreservedly acknowledges the rank corruption and tribalism that characterized the Acheampong regime. Boahen also endorses both the Akuffo-led palace coup that ousted Acheampong in 1978 and the bloody June 4, 1979 putsch led by Flt.-Lt. Rawlings. Interestingly, however, the renowned Ghanaian historian credits the Acheampong regime with judicial openness and fairness, even though one may aptly question the legitimacy of any military junta: ?In all cases [of treasonable offences against the NRC/SMC I] the plotters or alleged plotters were given public trial and it must be stated in favour of Acheampong that in virtually all cases, he commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment?.His was the worst reign ? one of disaster, deprivation, degeneration and stagnation if not retrogression ? that this country has ever known. But there is at least one extenuating circumstance about him which has to be mentioned. He was a very kind, sympathetic and humane person who valued human life and so hated bloodshed. This is borne out not only by the fact that he assisted so many people in so many diverse ways[,] but even more so by the fact that he never sanctioned the execution of those who plotted or attempted a coup against or opposed him. But for that, some of us including the present speaker and some of the leading rulers of the country today, would not be alive now. It is one of those ironies of history that the man who saved so many people from the gallows and firing squads died by being gunned to death by a firing squad?(Ghanaian Sphinx 22-23).

In the case of Gen. F. W. K. Akuffo, Boahen firmly believes the palace coup of July 5, 1978 to have been woefully gratuitous, for the simple reason that SMC-II appears to have merely held onto the line of rank corruption and moral decadence bequeathed by Gen. Acheampong. ?But the question is why did Akuffo and his SMC-II fail so dismally to implement the sound measures that were urged on them [by the Ghanaian people]? The answer is quite simple and could be found in the old English saying that those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. As it became obvious subsequently, Akuffo and his new SMC members were part and parcel of the whole system of kalabule, corruption, smuggling, profiteering and indiscipline that was rampant, and it was obvious that any attempt to investigate or try Acheampong and his henchmen would have exposed all of them. On the contrary, instead of cleaning up the mess left by Acheampong, Akuffo and his SMC-II spent their time not only amassing more wealth and enriching their wives and girlfriends, but above all[,] in ensuring that they returned the country to civilian rule under a Constitution which would guarantee their future safety, security and immunity and enable them to enjoy their ill-gotten accumulated wealth in retirement and peace. They were able to achieve the latter objective by having included in the new Constitution a clause which indemnified the SMC, the NLC and the NRC, i.e. all the three previous military governments, against any acts that they had committed?(Ghanaian Sphinx 24).

On the preceding score, it is also quite significant and interesting to note that Flt.-Lt. Jeremiah John Rawlings, who deftly managed to mainstream himself and his cronies into civic political legitimacy, also caused an indemnity clause to be inserted into the 1992 Fourth Republican Ghanaian Constitution, absolving the bloodiest coup-plotter in post-colonial Ghanaian history of all his crimes. But even while Boahen heartily welcomes Mr. Rawlings? June 4, 1979 putsch against another military junta, on grounds of rank and insufferable corruption and decadence, nonetheless, the renowned Ghanaian historian demurs on the question of whether June 4 meets the classical requirement of a ?revolution?: ?In other words, the June action was conceived of not as a real revolution, that of a fundamental change of the structure of society, but merely as a reform movement devoid of any ideological connotations. If it was a revolution, as indeed its leaders came to dub it, then it was a moral rather than a political revolution.? But whether the ?second coming? of Mr. Rawlings, the ?benign dictator,? and his protracted entrenchment in the praetor?s chair for some two decades boosted the moral fabric and economic development of Ghana, will be critically examined in due course.

*Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of eleven volumes of poetry and prose, including Nananom: Foremothers, all of which are available from,,, Lightning, and Barnes &

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