Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s Dilemma

The Author, Dr. Kofi Dankyi Beeko, MD.

Now, and again, your acoustic apparatus would be stimulated, and if you paid attention, you would think of the founder of the nation, and you consequently would begin to wonder, how he “the founder” would feel, if by chance, he was around and heard the same message you might have heard.

Such a message would have come from a family, who genuinely must have come to express in a church-gathering “their sincere thanks” to the Almighty, for “having made it possible for their son/daughter to get Overseas.”

On one such occasion, I overheard someone in addition, whisper into another’s ear, who sat very close, “but what is the child going to do overseas?” There can be “no answer to such a tacitly put question.” One action from “The Osagyefo” towards his last years (not days), unbeknown to him, which did not boost his image, was the introduction of an act called “exit permit.”

It was “a small sheet of paper” affixed to the last page of the traveler’s passport. The last officer handling the passport would “free it” of the menace. Apparently, a Ghanaian would not be allowed to fly out of the country, if he/she was not going to study, or is being sent by a creditable institution, private or public, for a designated assignment. Nobody heard any official explanation on this nerve-wracking restriction on traveling.

It was however rumored that “Kwame (as the man was often casually called, if one was within a safe distance), did not want his honoured citizens to go out there – to London, or New York – to work as labourers.” This was what was available for consumption, close or from afar, it is difficult to have this confirmed. What everybody would like to guess, who liked the man’s ways of doing things, would say, “Osagyefo” had experienced it live how cumbersome it was, to work and study at the same time.

He wanted “quality education” because, the Africa he had in mind to come on board the world scene should be of quality – Philosophy, Natural Science, Political Science, etc. I was just having a loose conversation over some snacks with a friend recently, when I asked him, “Kwesi, how do you think Nkrumah would have reacted, if that day at the church-service he had sat nearby, and got to know what the family members would be doing in London, for which thanks were being offered.”

He said, “Kwame would have invited them for a tete-a-tete. But this is one thing his detractors accuse him of having never desired. He instructed only, it is alleged.”

He is believed to have been totalitarian. But, how could one study in a totalitarian manner, instead of in a competitive manner? There is the comparison that the Soviet Union stood neck-to-neck with the Americans when it came to Science and Technology. The Americans went to outer space, and so did the Soviets, almost simultaneously. The Americans had a series of disasters in which scores of astronauts perished. The Soviets had their share of losing, as well.

I recently sat near a gentleman in a “luxury bus” for a journey lasting almost eight hours. He was nicely dressed, and when he got on board and took the window-seat next to me, which had been assigned to him according to his ticket, he greeted me politely in English.”

Naturally, therefore, when the vehicle pulled off, and after leaving the cricks-and-cracks of the city behind, whose streets are now under construction, I tried to open up with him, in the hope of being able to discuss matters of interest. I discovered to my dismay, that he could not go much beyond the “Hello” which he threw at me as he entered the bus. He was luckily, fluent in the vernacular, in which I am myself fluent too.

If you wanted to just chat with him, while the stretch of the major road on which your bus plied for almost ninety-minutes has been under construction for well over six years, and the finishing date seems not to be in sight, you soon would discover that the handicap for both of you doesn’t make it possible to continue. You get caught up in technicalities, for which your vernacular simply doesn’t have the vocabulary for. Just how bad is this status quo for development?

In Europe, and for almost two thousand years, everything had to be written in Latin. Paracelsus began to write scientific texts in German for the first time in the 16th Century. It was a handicap for Copernicus, 15th/16th Century, for being unable to write his astronomical find in Latin. And, truly, even though Isaac Newton wrote a lot of his science in Latin, it was his era that slowly set the pace going to document science in English too.

Then in the last quarter of the 2nd Millennium AD, England learned to be a formidable sea-power, and influenced three-quarters of the world. The era of English as a world language was given birth to, and it has stayed that way. It is not for nothing that the saying was in the mouth and “text-book” of every historian, “the sun never sets on the British Empire.” Hitler went to war with the intention of changing all that. He wasn’t successful. Whilst the British colonies could no longer be kept, even after Germany had lost the war, it started yet again (World War II), and English stayed the “official language” for almost all the former colonies. So, what is wrong with English?

The true story of Adolf Hitler, as F¸hrer of the Third Reich, trying to strike out from the German language, anything that sounded “English” is so poignant. It was the word “Carburetor.” The Germans had to look for a word that looked and sounded so typically German, but meant Carburetor. After the “German scientific linguistics had tried long enough, but what they could lay hands on, was almost half-a-page, they gave up. No wonder the fuel-injection system came as a German invention.

English has borrowed from every language, something. But, it is true that most of the “borrowing” has been from Latin, and whatever they have borrowed fits in so well (e.g. imperial, from imperium). Other languages have borrowed from English. “Baby-sitter” is now a German word. In Japanese, ‘Check-out” exists as “Chekiato”, and you will find it in any good Japanese dictionary.

Japanese and Russian scientists can conceptualise computers. But, to keep the systems and programs running, they must have English. This has been a windfall for the Indians, who, after 1947, decided to “dump” the British crown,” but kept the language. It seems someone had foreseen and tipped them “they would need English.” An example of English fitting in so well with success is in “show-biz.”  The Swedish group of the seventies had tremendous success – they sang in English. Compare “Ich liebe Dich”, German, to “I love you” English. The two mean the same, but the English version seems more romantic. Having said all that, Africa, with the third largest population as a continent, (899 million souls), speaks hundreds of languages. Other than Arabic with our North/East African brethren, where Arabic once taught the world science, the handicap in learning science in any African language is something which if anybody tried, they would give up.

For some reason, even if it may seem, or sound odd, historians and anthropologists of “African source” have tried to demonstrate how we of Negroid origin have been part of that civilisation that in the Nile Basin built the pyramids, carved the Sphinx, etc. Ramesis II and Nerfertiti are touted as having been black. It is all prestige. Now, the Indians have arrived, the Chinese have, and the Koreans, Should English be the language that could take us there?

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