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Opinions of Monday, 27 September 2010

Columnist: Thompson, Nii-Moi

What Gabby Did Not Say (About Nkrumah) In America

Here is a response to Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko's recent diatribe against
Nkrumah in America.

A recent lecture purportedly given by the executive director of the Accra-based
Danquah Institute, Gabby Asare Otchere-Darko, to “students and professors” at
“Pennsylvania University” in the United States, and given wide publicity by the
Ghanaian media and in cyberspace on the basis of a write-up by the institute, is
remarkable not so much for what he said as what he didn’t say. (If you are
wondering why I used so many quotation marks, it is because I couldn’t find
“Pennsylvania University” on the internet).

Ethics and good conscience require that Gabby should have started his lecture
with a full disclosure along the following lines: “Students and professors of
Pennsylvania University, the institute that I head back in my country Ghana (not
to be confused with Guyana in South America) is named after a great grand-uncle
of mine, J. B. Danquah, who was also a political adversary, nay opponent, of
Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first prime minister-stroke-president. What you are
about to hear therefore is a gutted and bastardized version of Ghanaian
history. Take it or leave it.”
Such brutal honesty would have endeared Gabby to his audience and maybe – just
maybe – preserved his reputation and that of his “policy institute”.
He then could have proceeded as follows, kind of:
Ladies and gentlemen, in this lecture about how Ghana and Africa came to be
emblems of 20th century decay, I will make many claims, some of them false, but
I will make them nonetheless. I will claim, for instance, that Nkrumah won the
referendum for one-party state in 1964 by 99.91%. That’s a lie. I know it. As
the executive director of a policy institute, I must. And I guess some of you
do, too. But I can’t help it. All my life, that’s what I’ve been told, and as
Hitler’s propaganda chief, Goebbels, once said, a lie repeated enough times
eventually takes on a life of its own and becomes revealed truth. And since I am
here to vilify Nkrumah, not to sanctify him, who better to inspire me than

In any case, 99.9% is a cute number that can be useful in many situations. If I
were to ask how many of you had, before today, heard of J. B. Danquah, chances
are 99.9% of you would say you hadn’t. But were I to ask a similar question
about Nkrumah, I’m sure 99.9% of you would say you had.

Such is the beauty of 99.9%: It can be used to educate or obfuscate, depending
on the motives of the user. You are free to speculate on my motives if you
want, but frankly I don’t give a damn (pardon my feeble attempt at

The correct figure for the referendum, if I may be truthful for a fleeting
moment, is 86.8%. You see, in 1964, there were 3,000,000 registered voters, out
of which 2,603,223 voted “yes” amidst intimidation and calls by the opposition
for its supporters to boycott the referendum, which explains why there were
“nil” votes in some opposition strongholds.
But even the 86.8% might be too high for some of you, especially Americans, who
gave us the catchphrase “too close to call” in 2000 and then stood helplessly by
as your supreme court brazenly robbed Al to pay George.

But in the case of Nkrumah, you have to understand that his Convention People’s
Party (CPP) was no ordinary political party; it was a mass movement with a track
record of clobbering the opposition at the polls even when the British were in
charge and had an abiding dislike for Nkrumah and the CPP.

In the 1950 municipal elections, for example, the CPP won landslide victories in
Accra, Cape Coast, and Kumasi, heartland of the opposition. But, as we say in
Ghana, that was only the “comedies”. In the 1951 legislative assembly
elections, the CPP again made mince meat of my people, winning 34 out of 38
seats and leaving the party of my ancestors, the United Gold Coast Convention
(UGCC), in the dust with only two seats. We swore back then that Nkrumah would
pay for such humiliation, in life and in death, through fair or foul means; it’s
a political blood feud we are determined to carry into eternity and I’m grateful
that you have given me the platform today to do just that. I thank you in the
name of my forebears.

But the story gets even more humiliating, you see. From behind bars, where the
British had sent him before the elections for publishing seditious material
against the colonial government of the Great Queen of England (may God the
Merciful bless her and grant her eternal life), Nkrumah won a stunning 98.5% of
the vote for the Accra Central seat (22,780 out of 23,122). And he wasn’t even
from Accra! Nor did he campaign. The bloke sat on his backside in prison and
with the sheer power of his reputation pulled an electoral stunner. To not hate
such a person is to not be human. And I’m human (at least I think I am), so I’m
here to hate Nkrumah with every fiber in my body. I thank you for giving me the
platform to do that.
I must say, though, that Uncle J.B. also won his seat, if only barely – as did
my other uncle, William Ofori-Atta: The former got 95 out of 180 votes
(52.8%), while the latter managed an 87-83 win, or 51.2%. A third opposition
member, K.A. Busia (thus the name Danquah-Busia Tradition, which my party in
Ghana uses as a proxy for ideology), lost out completely but managed to worm his
way into the assembly through one of the seats reserved for the Ashanti
Confederacy Council.
In the wake of that crushing defeat, the UGCC, drawing upon all its intellectual
and financial capital, embarked on a kind of restructuring, including change of
name to Ghana Congress Party (which soon morphed into the National Liberation
Movement (NLM), which later became part of the United Party).
In the agony of defeat and confusion of reorganization, the British, against the
selfless opposition of my ancestors, released Nkrumah, then only 42 years old,
and made him leader of government business and later prime minister of the first
African-led government of the Gold Coast. I don’t know what the British were
drinking or smoking back then but to put a whole country in the hands of
rabble-rouser of lowly birth like Nkrumah was, in my view, the height of folly.

In his book, Dark Days in Ghana, Nkrumah, boastful as usual, suggests that in
five years he did more for the Gold Coast than the British did in over a hundred
years. He claims, for example, that he spent £117.6 million mostly on
infrastructure development, compared to the £75 million that the British
half-heartedly planned to spend over 10 years. I have no proof to the
contrary, but as a policy I don’t believe anything Nkrumah says. I insist that
you do same.
Then came 1954, when the British, bowing to opposition pressure, organized
another election to give my ancestors a chance to redeem themselves at the
polls. However, fate was not on their side and both of my uncles lost their
seats. The good news is that Busia won his. Our detractors say he did so by
only 11 votes, but who cares? A win is a win is a win. Period.

It wasn’t my intention to share details of the results of that election with
you, but in the interest of academic fairness, I will. And so here we go – by
the number of seat won per party: CPP: 71; Northern People’s Party: 12;
Togoland Congress: 2; Ghana Congress Party: 1; Muslim Association Party: 1;
Anlo Youth Association: 1; and Independents: 16.
When Nkrumah tried to cash in the results of the elections for independence, we
were quick to put up another stumbling block: A demand for another election in
1956. He opposed it but we insisted and eventually convinced the British to
organize the election. We had done our homework (or so we thought) and were
sure that this time around we would trounce that rascal and his verandah boys.
But once again, we fell short and the CPP won an impressive two-thirds of the
vote. The fact that Uncle J.B. lost yet again is irrelevant to this lecture,
and so I won’t mention it. Nkrumah must remain our focus.
After the 1956 electoral massacre, my people abandoned the idea of independence
altogether and instead began agitating for the country to be carved up into tiny
unsustainable federal fiefdoms – just to spite and frustrate Nkrumah. The CPP
again resisted and again we persisted until they eventually settled for
“regional assemblies” to placate us. That’s how Ghana eventually won its
independence in 1957 – March 6th, to be precise.

At this point, you are probably wondering how an opposition party headed by
blue-bloods of the highest academic and financial pedigree would implode so
dramatically at every election to the point of legislative irrelevance.

I will let Joe Appiah, a most implacable foe of Nkrumah’s, tell you in his own
words: The CPP, Uncle Joe once told a journalist in the 1980s, “were prepared
to sleep on verandahs with the boys, popularly called Verandah Boys because most
of them were sleeping on verandahs at the time. And when they went down to the
villages, they went down with them together…sang their songs…drank palm wine at
the street bars, street corners, with them and generally threw their lot with
them at all times and at all places. Now, this Danquah and others were not
prepared to do. Nor indeed would they have been proved honest if they had
attempted to do it because it just didn’t suit them, it wasn’t in their
character, it wasn’t in their make-up, and they could not pretend to be with
them in those directions without exposing their own hypocrisy.”

I’d rather not comment on Uncle Joe’s treasonous assessment of my uncle and his
hard-working colleagues. I just thought you should know that we had our fair
share of traitors in the opposition.
Some Marxists in my country have cast our holy crusades against Nkrumah as some
sort of a class war between plebeians and patricians. Whatever it was, my
people decided that if we could not govern Ghana, we would make Ghana
ungovernable. Back home, we call that “Konongo kaya”. Here you call it “dog in
a manger”. Well, we were rabid dogs in a manger!

We adopted several strategies to attain our aim. First, my people spread rumors
that Nkrumah was in fact a Liberian, not qualified to be in the Gold Coast much
less govern anybody. When that didn’t fly, we turned to violence. But our
bomb throwers were a lousy bunch who couldn’t even piss straight, much less kill
Nkrumah. Instead, they were killing and maiming little school children around
him. Of course, I blame Nkrumah for such tragedies; he had no business
allowing little children around him. He should have been alone at all times.
In the 1960 presidential elections, Uncle J. B. made one more desperate attempt
at electoral redemption but, as in the two previous attempts, he fell woefully
short of his objective, gathering only 10% of the vote. But, again, I am here
to demonize Nkrumah not to point up the shortcomings of my relatives, so let’s
stay on course, shall we.
Finally, the CIA – your CIA – heard our cries and came to our aid. On February
24, 1966, with their financial and intelligence assistance, we managed to
overthrow Nkrumah while he was away from the country. The National Liberation
Council (NLC) (does that name sound familiar?) finally liberated the people of
Ghana from the suffocating tentacles of the dictator Nkrumah.

One of the first acts of the NLC was to scrap Nkrumah’s obnoxious Preventive
Detention Act (PDA) (under which Uncle J.B. was jailed as part of a broader
crackdown on what Nkrumah called opposition subversives) and replace it with the
Preventive Custody Decree (PCD), which we implemented with military efficiency.
In a matter of months, we had imprisoned more Ghanaians without trial than
Nkrumah did under the eight-year run of the PDA. We figured that to liberate,
we had to incarcerate. And incarcerate we did! It’s a tribute to the
efficiency of our propaganda machine that today almost nobody remembers the PCD
but everybody, especially our lazy and gullible journalists, knows about the
PDA. They bring it up any time Nkrumah is mentioned. God bless Goebbels.

Where we took pity on saboteurs, real or imagined, we simply put them in cages
and paraded them through the streets of Accra to remind the public who was in
charge and what can befall them if they dared say anything unkind about the new
and improved Ghana. When Nkrumah’s agents tried to liberate Ghanaians from our
“liberators”, we lined them up at the beach and blew their brains out.
Sometimes you need elimination in order to preserve liberation. We introduced
the virus of firing squad into Ghanaian politics, so don’t believe J.J. Rawlings
when lays claim to that. He’s a liar – like Nkrumah.
But there was one last Nkrumah problem that we had to deal with before we felt a
full sense of accomplishment, which was to destroy his efficient organizational
machine, which remained in the hearts and minds of Ghanaians, and pave the way
for the federalist Busia to lead a unified and unitary Ghana – the very thing he
had spent his adult life opposing. We devised a clever scheme, which was to ban
anything Nkrumah – his name, his picture, his books, his party, and then seize
the party’s properties across the country. We gave the terms “democracy,
freedom of speech, and freedom of expression” a new meaning to suit our agenda.
Predictably, Busia “won” the 1969 elections. What we couldn’t achieve through
honest means, we finally did through subterfuge.

We had hoped that with Nkrumah gone, we would be able to give Ghanaians the
paradise that he had so cruelly denied them. Our detractors say we failed and
they use all sorts of dubious methods to prove their case. In 1962, for
example, they say, Ghana’s per capita income was 64.0% higher than South
Korea’s. By 1966, when we struck, that had gone up to about 80.0%. In 1967
the figure fell to 64.3%, roughly what it was five years earlier. By 1969, when
Busia become prime minister, Ghana’s per capita income had actually fallen
below that of South Korea’s, where it has remained ever since with the gap
between the two growing ever wider.

As of 2008, Ghana’s per capita income was a measly 3.1% of South Korea’s. Or,
stated differently, South Korea’s per capita income was 3,113.4% (three thousand
one-hundred and thirteen point four percent) higher than Ghana’s. Hard to
believe but painfully true.
And whom do we blame for this messy state of affairs? Nkrumah, of course. If
he had not impoverished Ghanaians, we would not have overthrown him, and if we
had not overthrown him, Ghana’s economy would not have gone to the dogs the way
it has since 1966. Indeed, in all likelihood, Ghana today would have been way
ahead of South Korea. But such is life: You take risks and when you mess up,
you blame your “enemies”. It’s convenient.

So no matter how you slice or dice it, we blame Nkrumah for Ghana’s woes, and I
hail my ancestors as heroes. No intellectual worth his salt would reach any
other conclusion.

Time will not allow me to extend my thesis to the African continent, as I had
promised to, but rest-assured that on the eve of the next so-called founder’s
day, I will be back here to the great Pennsylvania University (or whatever you
call yourselves) and continue the political blood feud that my ancestors started
decades ago. As in life, so shall it be in death: We will never let Nkrumah
have his peace of mind.

In the name of the Great J.B. Danquah – even if only two people, including
myself, had heard of him before today’s lecture – I wish you all God’s speed and
a safe trip back to your dorms and homes. (Yes, I believe in God, which is why I
never tell lies or contradict myself. Ever!) But watch out for so-called
Nkrumahists, those fanatical followers of a dead man, who would come telling you
that they have a better history of Ghana than I do. Like their icon, they too
are liars. Ignore them.
Thank you for your attention and understanding.
Credit: Nii Moi Thompson (