By Kwadwo Afari .
Fifty-three years ago this month, precisely on 24 February 1966, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of this country, was overthrown in Ghana’s first military coup d’état while on his way to Hanoi, Vietnam. In spite of the propaganda that the American Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) inspired and funded the coup, the momentous event brought many ordinary Ghanaians onto the streets to celebrate his fall.
It is not an anniversary that some would want to celebrate.
For Nkrumah’s supporters all over the world, nothing about the 1966 coup is worth commemorating. In fact, everything about it, however, is worth remembering in order to learn important lessons as we struggle to build a multi-party democracy in this country. The carnage wrought by the ideology that ascended to power after independence in 1957, may forever stand as the harbinger of all the evil in our politics presently.
His supporters deny the justification for the coup. The coup leaders and their supporters, however, insist the coup was very necessary and came at the right time, because of the maladministration of the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) regime – extravagant use of the country’s funds on prestige projects; the high incidence of bribery, corruption, nepotism, injustice, suppression and detention of political opponents and general disregard for the constitution. The aim simply was to restore democracy and re-launch the noble ideals of a truly republican country – rule of law, property rights and multi-party democracy – to the people of this country.
Well, it never did, fully. Our politicians, since Nkrumah, have operated with reckless disregard for individual freedom and the limited government that protects and sustains it.
The remnants of his supporters proudly recall the turbulent days of the 1950s, when, so the story goes, Nkrumah came to the shores of this country and single-handedly started the historic struggle that rescued the Gold Coast, now Ghana, from the colonialists. To them, Nkrumah was the excellent leader who defeated, not only the colonialists, but also the ‘internal feudal forces’ who did oppose him for what he stood for.
Only that story is more than a small myth.
The myth continues today, in spite of the evidence. It persists, however, because, if he is assessed against all the regimes that have come after him, it can be seen that none of them has succeeded in solving our economic problems.
Nkrumah taught his Young Pioneers to believe he would never die. ‘Nkrumah never dies,’ they were taught. The late Sekou Toure, his friend and former president of Guinea, echoed this. How true this has become! At least, he taught them two things: he taught us to like democratic socialism. Democratic socialism is about the state having democratic control of every single facet of the individual’s life. He made us believe in the power of government to solve all our problems; secondly, he made us to hate the free market and the power of individuals to solve their own problems, with every fibre of their being. Unfortunately, the core of his state-led economic development with its dependence on foreign aid, higher taxes, and state sponsored socialist welfare, mostly remains as a standard to which our current leaders emulate.
Much of the intellectual legacy of Nkrumah is an anti-intellectual legacy. He taught the youth to sneer at the free market, at inconvenient facts or contrary interpretations, and thus to sneer at the intellectual process itself. Our debate and comments then, sadly, and now, reflects the dichotomy of political engagement in this country—a dichotomy that ripped and still ripping Ghana and our young democracy apart. Indeed, most people are losing faith in our democracy, which is crumbling amid increasing polarisation and demonisation of contrary ideas.
Fifty-three years on, our politicians have seen intrusion and vigilantisms and raised the bar. Presently, vigilante groups stride the political landscape with impunity, beating, maiming and killing friends and foes alike. Big government central planning still has placed majority of citizens under absolute dependency on the state: for an education, a job, and a place to live. All opportunities for economic and social advancement, and selected benefits and privileges are in most cases, bestowed on those loyal and obedient to the State. Our society in reality has become an intricate hierarchical labyrinth of status, position, and degrees of power depending upon the individual’s place within the vast bureaucratic network of government planning.
In 1966, politics in Ghana had become a zero sum game. High-level corruption was rampant and the whole economy was in shambles. Nkrumah preached equality and tolerance while celebrating the hatred of rich men. Currently, we preach intolerance of critics. Nkrumah and his cronies awarded themselves the title of “champions of the poor” while they appropriated their physical properties. Currently, our politicians claim to fight for the masses, while they appropriate government funds with impunity. Nkrumah and his CPP decried tribalism while supporting partisan hegemony. Currently, they claim multi-party democracy, while supporting partisan discrimination.
Ghanaians need to learn about the reasons why most of our policies fail. Nkrumah taught us wrongly. We are not poor because of the political party ruling. We are poor because we have denied freedom and opportunity to more people to pursue their own happiness. Everything about the Convention Peoples Party and the vision of liberation was a lie; everything they advocated for was cover for those lies. In addition, everything they pushed for was the antithesis of our traditional way and our liberties. The story to develop Ghana was a false front for the urge to rule.” And “rule,” not govern, was what he and his CPP did.
Looking over the political and economic landscape of what Nkrumah’s ideas wrought, especially the last fifty-three years, one might think that his name and his legacy would be held in some contempt and disgust as all the dictators of the world. However, instead, at a time when 20.6 per cent of our people are not expected to survive into the fifties; 40.80 per cent have no access to health care; 31. 4per cent live below the poverty line and 78.4 live on less than $2 per day, we see his ideas enduring, including in the altered form of crony “identity politics.”
Meanwhile, the acrimony, insults, mutual suspicion and divisiveness among the competing interests which started during the independence struggle, continues today unabated. Indeed, these strands still compete and interact to define our country and politics while the main purpose of politics remain, to many, to grasp power for personal enrichment. The groups, now more than ever, are closing the ranks in loyalty to their side, and anyone who stays in the middle is shunned. Our leaders have tried, and continue to convince us that the villain in our story is each other and our culture. In this condition, we hide from our true nature.
That is not our story. That is not who we are.
Our ancestors lived independent lives outside the control of their chiefs. Every individual worked for his or her money. They thrived in an environment where consensus building was the norm. Calls for total victory — in which one side continuously rules and the other group is irrelevant or eliminated— in the past and in the present, damage the expectation of true democracy and continued peaceful exchange of power. Nkrumah succeeded to impose his will and vision on this country, so did Jerry John Rawlings and all those who have tried to capture our individual will and tried to push all of us to adopt a siege-and victim mentality.
Nkrumah and his later day disciples tend to underestimate the importance of private ownership. As a nation, we still experience a steady growth of the state in our individual lives. Our leaders continue to weaken mediating institutions, making the state and president an ever more powerful influence in our private lives. We forget to our detriment how hard it is for a country to develop without the benefits of competition in a free market economy. Ironically, critics of Nkrumah’s regime and reign and the socialist tradition are no strangers to calumnies and occasional slanders; their arguments are met with sneers, rather than careful and critical engagement.
Would J.B. Dankwah and all those who vehemently opposed one-man rule and the tyranny ofa dictatorial presidency from the beginning say, ‘we told you so?’ Is declining virtue, the grasp of unbridle power, hand-outs and economic regulations the cause of Ghana’s declining freedom? Some of us believe that we have met the enemy, and the enemy is us?
In the long run limited government and freedom works. We need to figure that out.