Kwame Nkrumah, the Big Six, and the fight for Ghana’s independence
By Charles Quist-Adade, Ph.D.
Ghana’s 50th independence anniversary has come at the confluence of several monumental events, including the 200th anniversary of the official abolition of slavery, International Women’s Day, which was marked on March 8, and International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which was celebrated two days ago.
All these events are connected by one theme: the unquenchable desire of people everywhere for liberty. Today, we stand on the parapet of the mid-century of Ghana’s nationhood looking at the past 50 years and trying to envision the next half century.
In the life of a nation, 50 years is but a short time. However, in the lives of citizens 50 years is a long time indeed. For both the nation and its citizens, it is a time filled with realized and unrealized aspirations, fulfilled hopes and dashed dreams.
It’s, I am convinced, such thoughts of mixed feelings, mixed feelings of promise and premonition that filled the heart of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, the pioneer prime minister of Ghana on Independence Day, March 6, 1957 at the Old Polo ground in Accra. Flanked by his comrades and facing hundreds of thousands of his compatriots, tears streamed down his cheeks as he declared the immortal words: “At long last the battle has ended, and Ghana, your beloved country is free for ever!”
The illustrious African Martinique psychiatrist, revolutionary and pan-Africanist extraordinaire, Franz Fanon once said: “Every generation, out of obscurity, must discover its mission and either fulfill it or betray it.” The Big Six, and before them, Caseley Hayford, Ato Ahoma, the Kings and leaders of the Gold Coast, Osei Tutu, Agyeman Prempeh I and Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa to name a few, discovered their mission and fulfilled it.
Their mission was the throwing off the colonial yoke of subjugation, exploitation, dehumanization, and humiliation of Africans by European colonialists and slavers. Dr. Nkrumah captured the essence of this mission in the following two noble sayings: “We prefer independence with danger to servitude in tranquility;” and “It is better to govern and misgovern ourselves than to be governed by someone else.” (Kwame Nkrumah, 1980, p.75)
These sayings by Dr. Nkrumah are testimonies to the fact that there’s nothing greater and more precious than liberty. Indeed, there is no price for liberty! Although Ghana at midlife may be suffering mid-life crisis; although the price of freedom may seem so costly to some, I dare say we are better off as a free people to manage or mismanage our affairs than to be ruled by someone else.
In 1957, Ghana became a trailblazer for African liberation. In a recent article in the New African magazine editor Baffour Ankomah (2007, p.32) observed that from faraway Virginia, USA, at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), eyes were trailing what was happening in Ghana. Barely nine months into independence, the CIA issued a report on Ghana in December 1957, which was distributed within the American government and intelligence community. The report was right in its prediction. “The fortunes of Ghana–the first Tropical African country to gain independence will have a huge impact on the evolution of Africa and Western interests there.” (Ibid) It didn’t take long for that prediction to come true. Within 10 years of Ghana’s independence, 31 other African countries had gained their own independence. And Nkrumah’s Ghana (which, in his own words: “we have got to make our little country an example for the rest of Africa”) had had a huge role in liberating Africa.
He set up training camps in Ghana for African freedom fighters, and through financial, political and other support, Nkrumah’s Ghana kept the African liberation torch burning very brightly. True to his electoral promises, Nkrumah went to work putting the economic and social fundamentals in place.
Nkrumah firmly believed that political independence was meaningless without economic independence. Notes Baffour Ankomah, “thus, by the time he was overthrown in the CIA-inspired coup of 24 February 1966, Ghana had 68 sprawling state-owned factories producing every need of the population–from shoes, to textiles, to furniture, to lorry tires, to canned fruits, vegetables and beef; to glass, to radio and TV; to books, to steel, to educated manpower, virtually everything!”(p.32)
“Nkrumah wanted to industrialize Ghana within a generation, and everything was on course until the Americans and their British cousins (according to their own declassified documents), used some disgruntled and self-serving Ghanaian soldiers, and staged that terrible coup on 24 February 1966 that truncated Ghana’s progress. It was a major setback, not only for Ghana but the whole of Africa!” (Ibid)
To quote my good old friend Baffour Ankomah again, “If Nkrumah had been allowed to complete his industrialization plan, Ghana would today have been another Malaysia on the west coast of Africa, and the modern doomsayers who now mock at Ghana by showing us the bright lights in Kuala Lumpur, would not dare show their warped tongues!”(Ibid).
“But Nkrumah was overthrown, and we are now left with nostalgia and what might have been. After the coup, the IMF rubbed salt into our injuries by sending a delegation to Accra to tell the military junta to discontinue Nkrumah’s industrialization program. And they did! And, as a reward, some of them got airports named after them!”(Ibid)
Forty-one years after the dastardly coup, almost every Ghanaian (except those still suffering from acute blindness and amnesia) now realize the enormity of our loss as a nation. It has taken the country more than years of blood and tears to barely hold our heads above water through four turbulent decades to arrive at the current political and economic stability achieved, since 1992, under four terms of constitutional rule-first under president Rawlings’ NDC (1992-2000) and then President John Kufuor’s NPP (2000 to date).
Ghana has learnt its lessons the hard way, and it is right and proper that President Kufuor’s current government is stressing national reconciliation and the lowering of political tensions in the country.
Here is Baffour again. “The President must be applauded for this. For example, it was nice to hear President Kufuor (coming from the NLM-United Party Busia-Danquah political tradition that boycotted the 1957 independence ceremonies and thereafter fought bitter political battles with Nkrumah and his Convention People’s Party for control of the soul of Ghana), describe Nkrumah in his acceptance speech as African Union chairman in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, in January this year, as “that visionary and African freedom fighter”. (p.32)
Baffour advises that that is how politics should be conducted in Ghana after the golden jubilee celebrations–praise when praise is due and critics when criticism is due. The country, he adds, should not continue on the disastrous road of pull-him/her-down politics that has ensured that instead of being a Malaysia in our 50th year of independence, Ghana is still rationing electricity because the dam that Nkrumah built has a low water level.
As we mark Ghana’s 50th independence anniversary, it is important to be reminded by the wisdom entailed in the mythical Sankofa bird of the Akan people of central Ghana; the bird that looks back as it moves forward: we cannot move successfully into the future without looking back into the past. We must learn from our past mistakes and never allow the destructive “mate me ho” (secessionist) and the ill-conceived one-party politics of the past to return. People who do not learn from their past mistakes are doomed to repeat them.
Let me conclude by saying that it is only befitting and proper that we doff our hats to those great sons and daughters of our beloved country who fought and died for the freedom and dignity of Ghanaians, Africans and indeed all peoples of African descent everywhere. Let’s pay homage to the big six- Kwame Nkrumah, Obetsebi Lamptey, Ako Adjei, Akuffo Addo, Paa Willie, J.B. Danquah. We thank them for forming the two political parties–the United Gold Coast Convention and the Convention People’s Party, which mobilized our people to fight against British colonialism. Let’s pay tribute to Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe, Private Nii Odartey Lamptey and Nii Kwabena Bonnie who shed their blood in 1948 fighting against the oppressor’s rule. It is their heroic feats on that fateful day that ignited flames of struggle that led to our country’s eventual liberation from more than a century of foreign domination.
Let’s honour the memories all the kings and chiefs, and indeed the multitude of unsung heroes and heroines among the Ghanaian masses, who in various ways, big and small, facilitated our country’s independence. These valiant compatriots of ours died so we may live. They sweated, toiled and shed their blood so we may reap the fruits of liberty, even if that liberty is still tainted and bitter. Let the story of their courage and sacrifice inspire and embolden us to discover and fulfill the mission of our generation–the economic and true political liberation of Ghana and Africa.
Happy 50th anniversary, mother Ghana!!!!
Ankomah, Baffour. (2007). “Ghana Celebrates, Africa Rejoices.” New African, March, Issue 460.
Nkrumah, Kwame. (1980). Axioms of Kwame Nkrumah. London: Panaf Books.
Charles Quist-Adade, Ph.D.
Kwantlen University College, Surrey, BC.