Nkrumah: The untold story

By Septimius Severusa

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah

Prof Akosa, the wannabe CPP presidential candidate, who was thrashed by Paa Kwesi Nduom in the 2007 CPP presidential primary, has told us recently that Kotoka’s name on our capital’s international airport is an affront to “democratic Ghana”. It should be removed.

Kotoka is, of course, the name of the colonel who led the 1966 coup that toppled Kwame Nkrumah’s government and the First Republic. Akosa’s statement implies, at least to me, that Nkrumah’s Ghana was “democratic.”

For those who lived through Nkrumah’s era, this statement is nothing short of astonishing.  It is the rewriting of history on a big scale. It should not be allowed.

By the time of his overthrow, Ghana had become a one-party state in which the colours of the one party – the Convention People’s Party (CPP) – had become the nation’s colours, replacing the national colours. The creation of the one-party state had been effected through one of the first, if not the first, of the 90% plus “referenda” that came to characterise the results of “referenda” in post-colonial Africa.


By 1966, the multiparty state and the constitution negotiated at Ghana’s independence, just nine years earlier, laid in ruins. The United Party (UP) opposition had been decimated, with its leaders and activists either languishing in prison under the Prevention Detention Act (PDA) or in exile. Indeed, the UP exiles in Lome, Abidjan and Lagos were the first political refugees of post-colonial Africa. The 69-year-old J B Danquah, Kwame Nkrumah’s great antagonist, the man whose scholarship gave our nation its name of Ghana, had died tragically in the dungeons of Nsawam Prison without the benefit of a trial. It was he who, with George Grant’s money, was responsible for the establishment of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the first nationalist organisation to agitate for our nation’s independence and freedom, from which Kwame Nkrumah, a member of the legendary Big Six of Ghanaian history, broke away to form the CPP and which gave Nkrumah the platform for his political advancement. Emmanuel Obetsebi-Lamptey, otherwise known as Liberty Lamptey, another of the Big Six, had suffered the same fate as Danquah, dying in detention without trial, chained to a hospital bed. Danquah and Obetsebi-Lamptey, the most notable victims of the PDA, were not alone. The coup of 24 February 1966 led to the release of more than 2,000 political detainees, including many long-time detainees with five or six years in prison without trial. The human rights records of the various military governments that succeeded Nkrumah’s were no worse than his. At least they had the “excuse” of being unconstitutional governments, ruling by decree. What of our constitutional Kwame Nkrumah?

Judicial independence at the time of his exit existed on paper, not in reality. In 1963, in reaction to the verdict of the Special Court, a panel of the then Supreme Court, he sacked over the radio on the dreaded 1 o’clock news Chief Justice Sir Arku Korsah, the first Ghanaian Chief Justice, for presiding over the Court that acquitted his erstwhile Ministers and Party officials – Tawiah Adamafio, Ako Adjei (a member of the Big Six, the man who made the fateful introduction of Nkrumah to the Working Committee of the UGCC), and Coffie Crabbe – on charges of treason arising from the Kulungungu bomb attempt on Nkrumah’s life.

Parliament, then fully under his thumb, proceeded by legislation to set aside the verdict of the Court and a new trial ordered. The new trial was conducted by Korsah’s successor as Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Sarkodie-Addo, with a jury made up of graduates of the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute, who predictably returned a verdict of guilty. The retried accused persons were sentenced to death, which Nkrumah, in his ‘magnanimity’, commuted to life imprisonment.

Another consequence of the verdict of this famous trial was Nkrumah’s decision to remove the constitutional restriction on the President’s power to dismiss judges so that he could do so at his pleasure. The 90% plus ‘Yes’ votes declared in the 1964 referendum achieved this for him.  He exercised the power to remove respected, well-known legal personalities from the Judiciary, including Supreme Court judge Edward Akufo-Addo, another member of the Big Six, the future Chief Justice and President of the Second Republic, who was the third member of the Court that acquitted Tawiah Adamafio and the others, to replace them with pro-CPP judges of questionable legal ability. We can see, then, that judicial independence and the rule of law were matters of little moment for the Osagyefo.  But then he was a ‘revolutionary’ for whom the rule of law was an expensive nicety that had no place in the “African Revolution”.

The referendum was preceded, in the culture of the ruling CPP, by a loud and aggressive campaign, mounted by the State and Party media with the notorious Accra Evening News in the lead, against the Judiciary. It was a reactionary institution, staffed by “bourgeois” lawyers, who were agents of “neo-colonialism” with strong affinities to the “reactionary” UP. A purge of their ranks was needed to ensure that the “people” got a judiciary that was alive to its responsibilities to promote the “African Revolution”. Vicious insults, egregious abuse, character assassinations – these were the staple fare of CPP propaganda.

Not surprisingly, today, when frantic attempts are being made to rehabilitate Nkrumah’s name, the NDC hierarchy and media are waging the same kind of dangerous propaganda against the Judiciary — and for the same reason. The NDC wants a pliant judiciary to do its dirty work. They say the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. Undermining judicial independence would lead, ultimately, to the undermining of our individual liberties. This is the slippery road to tyranny. We have seen it before. We cannot afford to repeat the tragedy of the past. Let all who believe in a free, democratic Ghana, where the rule of law works, stand up and ensure that we uphold the independence of the Judiciary.

There is a better example for the NDC to follow. The next successful Nkrumaist leader (i.e. after Nkrumah himself), Hilla Limann of the PNP, President of the Third Republic, was quick to distance himself from Nkrumah’s example when, in 1980, he received an unfavourable judicial decision in the famous case of Tuffuor v Attorney-General. His efforts to remove Mr. Justice Apaloo as Chief Justice failed in the Supreme Court in that case, a verdict he promptly accepted. No challenge to the Judiciary, no harangue against “reactionary judges”. Unlike Nkrumah, Limann set a good example, an example supportive of the rule of law and judicial independence. It was the unanimous decision by the Supreme Court in that case that has reinforced the principle of judicial independence in our country, notably, to the frustration of the Kwabena Adjeis of contemporary Ghanaian politics.

The all-conquering Osagyefo, who, according to legend, was adored in perpetuity by the Ghanaian and African masses, was unable for the last ten years of his rule to organise a general election to test the popularity of his party. The 1956 Parliament, elected at the instigation of the British Colonial Secretary, Alex Lennox-Boyd, had a strong CPP majority. It was this Parliament that ushered us into freedom and received in 1957 the Scroll of Independence from the hands of the representative of the British monarch to signal the beginning of our modern nationhood. In 1960, this Parliament constituted itself into a Constituent Assembly to promulgate the 1960 First Republican Constitution which gave Nkrumah unlimited power, including the power to make laws. This was the Constitution into which Kwame Nkrumah’s name was written. After promulgating the Constitution, the Constituent Assembly extended the life of the Parliament, i.e. itself, by another term of five years.

By the expiry of its extended term in 1965, the nation had become a one-party state by virtue of the 1964 referendum. It was then felt that elections in these changed circumstances were no longer necessary. Kwame Nkrumah proceeded to sit as Chairman of the Central Committee of the One Party to share parliamentary seats among his followers. There were many anomalies in this tragic exercise, which would otherwise have been laughable but for its seriousness, which, for example, led to a CPP stalwart, Kwesi Ghapson, an Nzema, being given Danquah’s old seat in Kyebi without a single vote being cast in his favour. This was Nkrumaist democracy at its best.

Pluralism and diversity in the media by 1966 were things of the distant past. Not only had the PDA done its ruthless best to suppress all dissent, the Ghanaian media, which, during the period of the independence struggle in the 1950s, was as vibrant as it is today, had settled into the dull monotony of heaping greater and greater praise on his Messianic Dedication, one of the many appellations that the extraordinary cult of personality surrounding Kwame Nkrumah threw up. As his failure to manage the Ghanaian economy became more and glaring, the more strident and expressive were the paeans of praise. Fortunately for us, none of his successors has had the craving for adulation, praise and self-glorification that drove Nkrumah. Like many of the great tyrants of history, he found nothing wrong in putting up effigies, monuments and statues to his own glory. Like the fate that befell many of them, it was no surprise that, when his opponents replaced him in power, those effigies, monuments and statues were pulled down. Ancient Roman history is replete with such examples. This is why it is always better for posterity to make the judgment on monuments and statues. They are invariably more permanent and avoid the hubris of power. Self-glorification tends to leave a sour taste in the mouth of observers.
A turning point in the history of Nkrumah’s controversial rule was his celebrated trip in 1961 to the Communist states of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. Already highly sympathetic to all things Soviet – he tells us in his autobiography, titled with his usual modesty ‘Ghana’, that he was [sic] “a Hegelian-Marxist, non-Denominational Christian” – the visit impressed him highly with the efficiency of the Soviet model: state enterprises, state farms, central planning, the command economy, rule by the “vanguard party” – this was the wave of the future, the irresistible force of history. Ghana, the first colonial nation in sub-Saharan Africa to escape the clutches of imperialism, was required to be in the forefront of history.
So with considerable vigour, a systematic effort was made to transform the Ghanaian economy into a replica of the Soviet model. Between 1961 and 1966, the economic landscape became littered with a multiplicity of state enterprises and state farms. We even had our own equivalent of the ‘Gossplan’ – the Seven Year Development Plan that was stillborn at birth. The state enterprises and farms of the Nkrumah era proved to be no more efficient in Ghana than they were in their country of origin. Far from being the wave of the future, they have become synonymous with economic failure and have been repudiated almost everywhere they have been tried. Even in China, where the vanguard party continues to hang on to power, the rulers have seen the wisdom in reviving private property rights and letting the market take an increasingly central role in the allocation of resources. The Chinese boom of the last two decades is the direct result. Deng Xiaoping – he of the  “it doesn’t matter if a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice”– not Mao Tse-Tung, is the architect of this dramatic development, which has led China towards a market economy and the second largest economy in the world today.  Indeed, we have the recent words of the great Fidel himself, the icon of latter-day Leninists, that the experiment represented by the Cuban Socialist Revolution, which commemorated its jubilee in 2008, has been a failure. His brother, Raul, now in charge of Cuba in the manner of political succession in the “Workers’ States”, has began to dismantle the economic apparatus of the revolution even before his great brother dies and disappears from this earth.
It is ridiculous for latter-day Nkrumaists to continue to scream that Nkrumah’s era was a sort of Augustan golden age when the dominant ideas of that era have been so discredited and rejected by history. ‘Bourgeois’ democracy has, indeed, triumphed across the world, and ‘proletarian’ democracy has proven to be a hoax and a cover for squalid rule by self-serving oligarchies. We need look no further than North Korea. Can one be at the same time a lover and promoter of Ghanaian democracy and also an admirer of North Korea’s political system?
An interesting footnote to Nkrumah’s tour of Eastern Europe was the railway workers’ strike that took place in his absence in 1961.  The demand of the strikers, supported by the TUC, was for better conditions of employment and not “compulsory savings”, which they argued was an unwarranted form of taxation. In a speech at Flagstaff House (the seat of Government), Tawiah Adamafio, then at the height of his power as Minister of Presidential Affairs before his fall, described the striking workers as “despicable rats”. The leaders of the strike, including the distinguished trade unionists and nationalists, Pobee Biney and Vidal Quist, who played such important roles in the nationalist struggles of the 1950s (indeed it was their support that gave teeth to Nkrumah’s declaration of Positive Action which led him on to his glory), were detained under the PDA, and were joined in prison by the leaders of the United Party Opposition. Danquah, William Ofori-Atta (another member of the Big Six), Victor Owusu, Joe Appiah, Kofi Amponsah Dadzie, Kwame Kesse Adu, Oheneba Kow Richardson and Osei Badoo, amongst others, had their first taste of preventive detention, following R R Amponsah, Modesto Apaloo, Baffour Osei Akoto, Attoh Okine, Attoh Quarshie, K Y Attoh, and Henry Thompson, amongst others, who had already been in detention for some two years. The exchanges in prison between the veteran conservative statesman, Danquah, and the veteran trade union leader, Pobee Biney, both of whom had devoted their lives to the movement for Ghanaian freedom, deserves the pen of a Ghanaian Shakespeare. Perhaps, one day, we will hear of and see such a pen.
Apart from the quack referendum of 1964, the only other popular consultation after independence in the Nkrumah era was the 1960 presidential election. If ever there was a rigged deck, that was it. With no access to the state monopoly media, with deliberate obstruction by the security agencies, with his colleagues either in jail under the PDA or in exile, the most prominent, Busia, the leader of the Parliamentary Opposition, having fled in 1959, with many incidents of systematic intimidation of his supporters and agents and with the ever-present menace of the PDA, Danquah decided, nevertheless, to contest the election in order to affirm the principle of choice. He consulted his colleagues in jail and for the same reason they encouraged him to run. The Ghanaian people should never lose sight of the principle of choice, no matter how flawed. He was under no illusions as to his chances.
Nkrumah’s tight grip on the country by 1960, largely as a result of the increasingly widespread application of the PDA, which was to engulf Danquah himself the following year after the railway workers’ strike, meant that the result of the contest was a foregone conclusion. Nonetheless, Danquah’s tenacity and sheer doggedness enlivened the election and brought about an impressive showing for him in Accra, which forced the regime to “stagger” the declaration of results in other parts of the country in order to guarantee a “correct” outcome. But, he had made his point – Nkrumah was not the sole candidate for the Presidency. The principle of choice had been affirmed. Even if symbolic, a marker had been put down for the future.
One of the saddest aspects of Nkrumah’s poor governance practices in Ghana was their replication in a majority of the newly independent nation states of post-colonial Africa. Because of his justifiable prestige as the first black African leader, it was relatively easy for the new leaders to subscribe to the specious, spurious arguments he had articulated in Ghana to justify authoritarian, personal rule. New nations required “emergency measures of a totalitarian kind” to secure their independence; “African communalism” meant that “African socialism” provided the natural ideological context for Africa’s “development”; multi-party democracy was alien to African culture and only heightened ethnic, tribal sentiments and allegiances, posing a risk to the integrity of the new states; “bourgeois rights”, i.e., civil liberties – freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of conscience, the right to personal freedom, etc, — were expensive luxuries that new nations struggling to win the war against poverty could not afford.
Such nations required a single-minded focus on their “development” under the direction of an all-knowing, all-powerful “heroic” figure, who was beyond criticism and accountability. These were some of the misguided outpourings of the Nkrumaist media in newly independent Ghana. The upshot was the plethora of one-party authoritarian states with life presidents that proliferated across Africa in the first three decades of the independence era. As we now know, chronic instability, economic backwardness and persistent impoverishment of the African people were the direct consequences of the applications of these false concepts in Africa’s early development.
The democratic revolutions that have swept across Africa in the last two decades, inspired by the failure of authoritarian rule in Africa and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, have enabled us to jettison most of these ideas. As democratic governance gains greater and greater roots in the African polity, political stability and economic performance have both been considerably enhanced.  Our own country is a case in point. For the first time since independence, we have witnessed in the Fourth Republic a strong commitment to democratic rule by all sides of the Ghanaian body politic, right, centre, left, a commitment which has given us the longest period of stability in our national life. We have been able, during the period, to supervise two peaceful transfers of power between opposing political parties which have not shaken the foundations of the state. Again, the period of democratic rule has seen a marked improvement in the management of the national economy, with perceptible increases in average per capita incomes and rising living standards.  There is a great deal still to do, both in consolidating democratic rule and in organising the take-off of the Ghanaian economy. There can be little doubt, however, that a good, healthier foundation is being laid for the nation’s progress in the Fourth Republic (heresy of heresies – is it possible that, in the end, history will be kinder to Rawlings —? founder of the Fourth Republic -than to Nkrumah — founder of the ill-fated First Republic?)
Be that as it may, it is simply amazing that, despite all the evidence, there are still so-called “progressive intellectuals” who continue to hanker after the old authoritarian culture that Nkrumah personified. But then some of them openly admire North Korea’s political system. So, it may not be that surprising after all.
In 1948, when asked by the Scottish solicitor, Aitken Watson, chair of the Commission set up by Atlee’s Labour Colonial Government to enquire into the circumstances of the 28th February Ex-Servicemen’s March that led to the killings of Sgt Adjetey, Cpl Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey by the infamous British policeman, Imray, which sparked the historic riots of that and subsequent days, what the UGCC meant by “independence within the shortest possible time”, Danquah replied that their programme was a ten-year one. They believed that with the necessary preparations and relevant engagements independence could be achieved within 10 years. He was, as in so many other things, unerringly prophetic. 4th August 1947, when the UGCC was established, and 6th March 1957, when the nation gained its freedom, was a period of 10 years. Curiously, for all the dramatic proclamation of ‘Self Government Now!” with which Nkrumah launched the break-away Convention People’s Party in June 1949, the slogan did not in the end accelerate by one whit our attainment of independence. It transpired that finally there was little difference in the effect of the differing slogans, except the boost that the catchier slogan of “SG Now!” gave to Nkrumah’s personal political fortune. Apropos, the Watson Commission recommended in its report that Ghana’s freedom should be possible within 10 years, accepting, as it were, the submission made by Danquah.
It may be worth pointing out that one of Nkrumah’s European advisors during his time in the United Kingdom, Fenner Brockway (the Baron Brockway), an anti-colonial activist and Labour politician, who died in 1988, recalled that “Nkrumah was very disinclined to go” back to the Gold Coast on the invitation of the UGCC. “Both George [Padmore] and I urged him to go and change the organisation since it was the only organisation in Ghana. I don’t think I had much influence, but George Padmore certainly did.” According to the autobiography of Nkrumah’s close pal and neighbour at Primrose Hill Gardens, Hampstead, London, Joe Appiah, the only other route for returning home being considered at that time by Nkrumah was the possibility of obtaining the editorship of the Ashanti Pioneer, “as a stepping stone to greater heights”. Nkrumah had also discussed a plan for restaurants and bookshops with his cousin back home, Ackah Watson.
Another of the myths that should be exploded is that Danquah and the Opposition opposed the move for independence. In the 1953 Legislative Assembly, Kwame Nkrumah, in introducing a new Constitution, moved what was described as the “Motion of Destiny”. This motion called for the Assembly to authorise the CPP administration to: “Request the British Government to introduce legislation leading to Ghana’s Independence Act as soon as the necessary constitutional and administrative arrangements are made”. On that historical date, Danquah, Leader of the Opposition, moved an amendment to Nkrumah’s motion, calling instead for a “Declaration of Independence”. Danquah said:”Given the demand of the people for independence, the Legislative Assembly on its own should declare the country’s independence on 6th March 1954 and the British Government should be requested to extend recognition to the new state. Independence is a God-given right and not a gift of the British Parliament.”Nkrumah rejected the amendment on the ground that the country would, by accepting the amendment, “forfeit our British goodwill.” The result was that Independence was achieved three years later in 1957 instead of 6th March 1954 as proposed by Danquah, which would have been 110 years after the Bond of March 6, 1844. The only notable concession to Danquah’s amendment was the Independence Day, 6th March.
Yet, it is said today by men of presidential status that the UGCC Opposition at the time opposed the “Motion of Destiny.” On Monday, 29th January 2007, the then NDC Presidential Candidate, Prof. John Atta-Mills, endorsed this falsehood when, with no regard for the chronology of those historical events and the facts of those events, he stated:”It is ironic that the NPP, being an offshoot of the Busia-Danquah [sic] tradition that opposed the ‘Motion of Destiny’ proposed by Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah in 1956 [sic] and which paved the way for independence, are today the political leaders of Ghana”. To be continued

If there is a date that merits the unequivocal acceptance of all Ghanaians as a seminal date in our national history other than 6th March, it should be 4th August. It was on that date in 1897 when John Mensah Sarbah, the first Ghanaian lawyer, Joseph Casely-Hayford, the renowned author, lawyer and Pan-Africanist, and others met in Cape Coast to establish the Aborigines Rights Protection Society (ARPS). This is the body that waged a brilliant, successful campaign to keep control of our lands in the hands of their traditional custodians, the chiefs, defeating the Colonial Crown Lands Bill of 1897that sought to sequestrate our lands to the British Sovereign in the same way as occurred in East and Southern Africa. Together with the mosquito, the ARPS spared us the fate that continues to bedevil the lives of our brethren in East and Southern Africa, where minority colonial settler communities control to the exclusion of the majority indigenous peoples the most arable lands.
Again, it was on that same fateful day, exactly 50 years later, in 1947, that Ghanaian patriots met in Saltpond to found the UGCC and launch the movement for national freedom and independence. The CPP, which eventually led the nation to freedom, came out of the UGCC – indeed, Kwame Nkrumah was careful to maintain the link with the Convention by appropriating the word “Convention” to the name of the new party. It should be possible then for all to find their common ancestry in the events of 4th August. That would be a more consensual date to characterise as “Founders’ Day”. The unilateral attempt to force Nkrumah’s birthday as “Founder’s Day” will not, for the foreseeable future, garner national consensus. The resolution of such an issue requires national consensus. 4th August is better for that purpose than 21st September. The latter can be more appropriately celebrated as “Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day”, in remembrance of the contribution made to our nation’s progress by our first leader and first President. We need a process of give and take to settle such matters in the interest of national cohesion and harmony. We should not allow such an issue to be a football for the legislative majority of the day, for what has been done by one Parliament can be undone by another. We need a consensus on the issue.
We should dispense with the celebration of July 1 as a holiday. The First Republic is no more. If any Republic is to be celebrated, it should be the current one which appears to be enduring. Fortunately, 7th January, when the Fourth Republic was inaugurated, is every four years already celebrated as a holiday as the day on which the President of the Republic takes the Oath of Office at the beginning of his or her term.
Nkrumah’s supporters have in the last decade seized with glee and relish on the information that came out of the book, “JFK: Ordeal in Africa”, written by Richard Mahoney, son of the late William Mahoney, US Ambassador to Ghana (1962-65), to the effect that Danquah’s family allegedly received stipends from the CIA when Danquah was in his first period of preventive detention. Since the author was at the material time barely 10 years old, we must assume that the information came to him much later from his father, for declassified CIA records of the period do not contain any such reference. The reliability of the information can certainly be interrogated, even though it is being used to damnify Danquah as a traitor.
It was no secret that Danquah’s preference in the titanic twentieth century struggle of the Cold War was for the Western democracies, whose democratic systems of government and open societies appealed very much to his freedom-loving spirit. He was horrified by the violent, crude, anti-democratic methods of governance in the closed societies of the Soviet-style states. Kwame Nkrumah’s sympathy and affinity for the Soviet system, right from his student days, was equally well known and documented. Indeed, most political figures of the day, especially in the so-called Third World, were required to make such choices. We are told, for instance, that Soviet security personnel became responsible for Nkrumah’s security in the last days of his presidency. Is it true that the battle of Flagstaff House on 24th February 1966 involved Soviet security personnel fighting in defence of the Nkrumah government? Was the dreaded KGB, the ruthless instrument of Soviet policy, which helped maintain rigid order in the Soviet Empire of Eastern Europe, part of Ghana’s security arrangements? Was Ghana secretly in Nkrumah’s time a part of the Soviet bloc? If so, what does this say about Nkrumah’s patriotism? For me, I am content to say that in those now distant days such choices were the order of the day. The KGB was for many people, especially those who valued the democratic way of life and individual freedom, a greater danger to life and liberty than the CIA ever was. And in any event, the CIA won the day. Danquah has, thus, the merit of at least having been on the same side as the victorious forces in the Cold War. The KGB, like the rest of the Soviet system, has deservedly disappeared into history, whilst the CIA soldiers on.(Is it possible that one day KGB records will be declassified like those of the CIA so that we will know what happened on that side? Or will, as usual, different standards apply?)
Try as they might, Danquah’s detractors cannot run away from one crucial point. Even though he never occupied any executive position in independent Ghana, the party and tradition that he fathered, which Dombo and Busia helped build, remains a formidable force in the Ghanaian polity. In the political wilderness for some thirty years after the military overthrow of the Progress Party government, led, as Prime Minister, by his great ally, Kofi Abrefa Busia, consistently vilified, abused and mocked (“book-long people”, “they are out of touch with the masses”), the tradition, regrouped under the NPP, won the 2000 election, its candidate for the Presidency, J A Kufuor, winning the second round with an impressive 57% of the vote. He again won a second term in 2004, this time in the first round, with 52% of the vote. In the process, the NPP won a clear majority in Parliament. Going for a third consecutive term in office in 2008, the party’s candidate for the Presidency, Nana Akufo-Addo, led in the first round of the presidential election and obtained almost 50% of the popular vote, losing the election in the second round by the narrowest margin in our electoral history – 40,586 votes, i.e. 0.45% in a poll of 9,094,364 valid votes cast. In that election, Kwame Nkrumah’s CPP and its candidate got 1.34% of the vote. So much for Nkrumah being a “huge factor” in Ghana’s contemporary politics. Danquah’s set of ideas, however, continues clearly to be extremely relevant to the resolution of our nation’s problems.
It should not be taken that the writer of this article sees nothing good in the political career of Kwame Nkrumah. Like many of the great figures of history, Nkrumah’s career straddled several different phases. For this writer, the Nkrumah of the late forties and fifties was undoubtedly a political figure of the first rank. Charismatic, dynamic, with exceptional organisational abilities, Nkrumah, when he supplanted Danquah as the leader of the nationalist movement, led the movement with great panache and flair in a situation of multiparty competition. He also brought to Ghanaian nationalism the Pan-African dimension with which his name will always be associated. His period as the leader of Government in the 1950s saw a radical expansion of our social and physical infrastructure, with special emphasis on the critical impulse he gave to mass education. He was in that period the authentic voice of the African awakening. It was for these and for the fact that he was our first leader that he should be commemorated by a “Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day”. It is the tyrant of the 1960s that is a distasteful figure for this writer. The writer is and was not alone in this. At the time of the exit of the great avowed Pan-Africanist, all of Ghana’s borders – western, northern, eastern, i.e. Ivory Coast, Upper Volta and Togo, respectively – were closed to Ghanaians. Only the southern ‘border’ on the sea was open. Even there, a Ghanaian needed an exit permit to reach it.
There have been certain consistent features of our post-1966 constitutional order which tell us that, indeed, the Nkrumah era cannot have been the golden age that Nkrumah fanatics would have us believe. Firstly, all the Constitutions of the Second, Third and the current Fourth Republic have been unanimous on one basic matter. The emphasis on personal rule that characterised the First Republican Constitution and governance in the First Republic has been overridden by a commitment to a system of limited government, in which the separation of powers has been expressly and carefully defined to prevent the kind of concentration of power in one person’s hands which we experienced to our cost in the First Republic. Secondly, each of the Constitutions has sought by specific provisions to reinforce the general commitment to limited government. Thus, each of the Constitutions has forcefully prohibited the exercise of power by Parliament to pass law establishing a one-party state. Again, preventive detention legislation has been expressly outlawed by each of the Constitutions. Again, each of the Constitutions has conferred express power on the Supreme Court to strike down legislation that is unconstitutional or which infringes the letter or spirit of the Constitution. This was one of the issues in the celebrated case of Re Akoto, when the Supreme Court rejected Danquah’s submission as to the unconstitutionality of the PDA. Fundamental human rights have been expressly defined and protected by each of the Constitutions, with the Judiciary being given the responsibility to enforce fundamental rights. In a rebuke to what happened when Parliament in 1964 nullified the decision of the first Tawiah Adamafio trial, Parliament has been expressly prohibited from altering decisions of the Courts and, by the same token, retroactive legislation is prohibited by the Constitution. Instead of the President having the power to sack judges at will, which Nkrumah exercised in 1964 to purge the Judiciary of judges that he found “politically incorrect”, complex provisions have been put in each of the Constitutions to govern the process for the removal of judges of the Superior Court of Judicature in order to bolster the independence of the Judiciary. Again, unlike the situation in 1958 that made it possible for Nkrumah single-handedly to advance £10 million of Ghana’s money to the aid of Guinea in a spirit of Pan-African solidarity, constitutional development in our country has since insisted that only with the approval of Parliament can such acts be undertaken. Carpet crossing, one of the means which facilitated CPP domination, has now been prohibited. A Member of Parliament who wants to cross carpet is required to resign and seek the mandate of his constituents to do so. Finally, in order not to repeat the horror of a life presidency, term limits have been placed on holders of the nation’s highest office, the Presidency. If things were so wonderful in Nkrumah’s time, why have so many events of his era been so expressly stigmatised since his overthrow?
The coup of 1966 has, understandably, received a great deal of bashing by Nkrumah lovers, the biggest bone of contention being the alleged involvement of the CIA in the event. It would have been very strange, when the Cold War was at its height (?fiercest) in the 1960s, with Ghana very much in the forefront of African politics, if the intelligence agencies of the Great Powers had not concerned themselves with the affairs of Ghana. They were all concerned, the Soviet KGB equally with the American CIA and the rest. The issue that is of greater interest is this: with a Life President of a One Party State, whose rule was backed by a preventive detention law that was in constant usage, and where elections had become nonexistent, how could lawful, peaceful change have been effected in the Ghana of 1966? Regrettable as the intervention of soldiers in our politics became, especially because of subsequent events, the question still cannot be avoided.
The extraordinary, overwhelming popular response to the 1966 coup tells us all we need to know about the positive reaction of the Ghanaian people to it. No other coup – be it 1972, 1979 or 1981 – has received the widespread, spontaneous and enthusiastic embrace of the Ghanaian people quite like that of the first one of 1966. This is not meant to be a polemical point, just a bare statement of fact. The Ghanaian people instinctively recognised that there was no other way, hence, their enthusiasm.
There are always apologists for tyranny, usually persons with no experience of detention without trial or any of the harsh realities of dictatorship. This gives them the “moral” authority to pontificate on historical necessity. Those who are today glibly parroting that the PDA was [sic] “necessary ‘anti-terrorist’ legislation” should bear in mind two things. One, the Act preceded the first bomb incident by some three years. May be the apologists would want to call it a “prophetic” legislation by the “Messiah”. The disturbances in Ashanti had been brought largely to an end with the 1956 general elections, which had returned a decisive CPP majority to Parliament. With more sensitive statesmanship, genuine national unity could have easily been forged in the very first years of independence, instead of the artificial unity imposed subsequently by the PDA.
This may be the proper occasion to recollect a fact which has been lost in the face of loud CPP myth-making. The one event that sparked the violence and disturbances in Ashanti in the 1954-56 period was the stabbing and murder in a charged political atmosphere of  Emmanuel Yaw Baffoe, Propaganda Secretary of the National Liberation Movement (NLM), on October 9, 1954, by Twumasi-Ankrah, CPP Ashanti Regional Propaganda Secretary. But, Baffoe, a prison graduate of the Positive Action strikes, after 1951, became the CPP Ashanti Regional Propaganda Secretary and, in addition, was appointed a member of the Cocoa Marketing Board and Director of the Cocoa Purchasing Company. His active membership of the CPP, however, ended in 1954 when, with Nkrumah directly appointing candidates for the election, the party refused to endorse Baffoe’s candidacy, forcing him to ran as an independent candidate for the Wenchi East seat. This led to his expulsion from the CPP.
The following extracts from the authoritative book, ‘The Quills of the Porcupine: Asante Nationalism in an Emergent Ghana’, by Jean Marie Allman, gives a graphic account of the circumstances surrounding this tragedy: “… [T]he NLM leadership was prepared to view Baffoe’s murder as a direct assault on the Movement, as an indisputable case of political assassination. As a former member of the CMB and as director of the CPC, Baffoe had direct access to potentially incriminating information concerning the CPP’s relationship to the purchasing company. Many believed he was murdered for what he knew. Indeed, only three days before his murder, Baffoe gave a ninety-minute speech in Nkawie which detailed his charges of rampant corruption within the two cocoa bodies. As a colonial government “Security Appreciation” reported, “Baffoe knew, and has listed, the Ashantis who have given and received money from the CPC – commonly regarded as gong money – and many suppose that he was killed by direct orders of the Prime Minister.” Moreover, the fact that Twumasi-Ankrah had recently been in Accra led many to suspect that Baffoe’s murder was planned and directed from CPP headquarters. Among those who shared this concern were members of the colonial government’s Local Intelligence Committee. In a secret and confidential letter to the Colonial Office, Deputy Governor Hadow reported that local intelligence had obtained evidence that Twumasi-Ankrah and Yaw Asamoah visited Accra the first week of October and met privately with Nkrumah… at CPP headquarters the day before the murder. In short, suspicions were aroused in every corner, and the NLM had its first political martyr.”Thus, far from the NLM being the first to import violence into Ghanaian politics, the first act of political violence was directed, fatally, against an NLM official by a CPP official. Violence, as we know, begets violence.
Secondly, the men who overthrew Nkrumah used the indiscriminate application of the Act expressly as their casus belli. Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa, Kotoka’s brilliant brigade major, who was responsible for the actual planning of the coup, on leaving Kumasi on the eve of that fateful day, told close colleagues that he was going to Accra to release his fellow townsman, R. R. Amponsah, from jail. Amponsah, like Afrifa a native of Asante Mampong, had by 1966 spent 8 years in prison without trial.
It would seem that far from being an instrument for protecting the integrity of the new Ghanaian state, the PDA became the cause of its instability.
I have no doubt in my mind that history will ultimately judge Kotoka, Afrifa and the others who spearheaded the removal of Nkrumah as Ghanaian patriots. Much as their action opened the floodgates of further military interventions, which most of us today condemn, it cannot be disputed that it was that action which opened up the political space again, and brought notions of democratic development back to the centre of our national deliberations. The constitution made in their time, the Second Republican Constitution, has had a great deal of influence on our subsequent constitutional development. It can be said with some justification that it is they who, together (paradoxically) with Rawlings, have set us on the road to where we are now, the building of a democratic Ghana.
In an unpleasant reminder of the intolerant days of the First Republic, we are witnessing again today threats against those who dare to criticise Kwame Nkrumah. We have moved on from those days. Political leaders are today not beyond vigorous criticisms. The same should apply to the leaders of old.
It is a matter of some amusement that those who today are some of the most vociferous champions of Nkrumah’s reputation were young persons who could not have experienced the events of the time. Kwesi Pratt and Prof Akosa are both children of CPP parents. Pratt, guardian of the flame, was barely old enough to be a young pioneer at the time of Nkrumah’s overthrow to appreciate the situation then. In the same way, Prof Akosa, who was not even four years old at the time of Ghana’s independence, could not have too many conscious memories of Nkrumah’s rule, other than those handed down to him from his father, the fearsome DC Akosa, whose autocratic, arbitrary rule of the Sekyere area in Eastern Ashanti, as a District Commissioner, was a notorious byword in the CPP era.
However they came by these memories, they are entitled to them and to their views of Kwame Nkrumah. By the same token, they should recognise that others are equally entitled to their views of him, as well as of J B Danquah. It is the height of arrogance for anybody to assume that he or she has a monopoly on patriotism. Acknowledging this would enhance the quality and tone of our public discourse. It would breed more mutual respect between the opposing camps, which would be in the public interest. It appears, despite the passage of time, that the passions generated by the events of the First Republic will not abate. Hopefully, in the freer atmosphere of the Fourth Republic, the heated exchanges will end up by giving us a more constructive appreciation of the past for the benefit of our nation’s progress.

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