I was only ten years old when Nkrumah was overthrown. I knew a bit about him as I joined the Ghana Young Pioneers Movement only a few months before his overthrow. I also knew about him because in every community he was the one most spoken of as the opposition was literally disbanded and most of its members were virtually unknown. So I knew his name and could recognise his pictures. Up to the time of his overthrow I was in a rural community in Navrongo and did not have access to TV and did not ever see him on TV. The only time I saw him ‘live’ was on film the Information Services Department showed through their mobile cinema vans.
My intimate knowledge of the man came later in secondary school when I was able to find some of his works – Africa Must Unite, I speak of Freedom, Dark Days in Ghana and Consciencism which I must admit I struggled to understand. As a student of Political Science in the university I had more information on the man and his ideology and his works from my lecturers and historians such as Dennis Austin and Basil Davidson.
I have lots of admiration for his leadership, his vision and the transformation he had in mind for Ghana and Africa. My relationship with him is formed from what I distilled through the views of other people – writers, lecturers and public speakers. I do not think he was perfect and would acknowledge some sins of his. But i find more to his positive side than his negative side.
There are very few people today who have an opinion of him from personal knowledge of his time. For anyone learning about him and therefore forming a second hand view of him, the main source of information is history. In history, however, there are two views of Nkrumah. He is presented as the visionary, the selfless leader who thought and dreamt Ghana and Africa – and even beyond, to the black race in general – who foresaw what was good for Africa many centuries before his peers did, the freedom fighter who gave refuge and support to freedom fighters from sister countries and global peacemaker. The expansion of education, health facilities, road infrastructure, the development of the ports and Tema as a model industrial city, power from the Akosombo dam and many more are cited to his credit There are also stories that do not paint him in bright colours. He is portrayed as intolerant of dissent and divergent opinion. He is portrayed as an insecure person hence his treatment of opposition members and even members of his own party such as Komla Agbeli Gbedemah so ‘cruelly.’
The other side refers to his abuse of the use of the Preventive Detention Act to silence opposition. He is accused of wasting a huge amount of foreign reserves he inherited from the British on grandiose and economically unbeneficial projects – such as the silos sitting idle in Tema. He is accused of draining national resources through unproductive ventures such as the Workers’ Brigade and factories for which Ghana had no advantage and, sometimes, not even the raw materials.
Who exactly is Nkrumah and what does Nkrumaism actually mean? There are a few people who know what Nkrumah’s vision for Ghana was and what the ideology Nkrumaism means. And they love it and will defend and promote it. But beyond these few people, majority of Ghanaians cannot tell who exactly Nkrumah was, either from history or from personal knowledge of his time. If anyone should go round and ask people of all ages who Nkrumah was they will get answers that will be more interesting than some of the answers given in some of the fun videos on social media. It will be worse if the question is what Nkrumaism is.
Unfortunately there are still people who expect to win elections in Ghana brandishing Nkrumaism as the magic wand that will solve the country’s problems. Maybe it will. But people will have to vote for it first. Which means it must sell first. Unfortunately again, it is not being sold. With the result that the so-called Nkrumaist parties have not fared well in election after election in the 4th Republic.
So from 5.3% in 2000 the fortunes of the parties that claim Nkrumah’s heritage have dwindled to less than 2%. None of them has a member in Parliament. I know that some members of the NDC claim it is an Nkrumaist party. Given the now hazy meaning of Nkrumaism as explained above, it is difficult to deny such claims. After all some members of the party were products of Kwame Nkrumah’s Ideological Institute. However, besides institute a Founder’s Day holiday on his birthday, the NDC has done little else to justify this claim.
Ghanaians want change and will vote for a party other than NDC and NPP, not necessarily a party selling Nkrumah’s ideology. So the conditions are ripe for an Nkrumaist party government. Many Ghanaians want to have a broader choice than NPP/NDC. But they will vote for a party that shows potential. A voter will not waste their vote on a party that is not convincing to a good size of the electorate. A voter will not vote for a good presidential candidate, no matter how bright his/her ideas, if there is no evidence the person has a team that can raise and run a political party. How can they run a whole country then?
Genuine Nkrumaists should go beyond getting angry with politicians who reduce the greatness of Nkrumah. Nkrumah is a fading memory as the younger generation have only limited knowledge of the man. The writings on him paint him in mixed colours. And the generations coming up behind the current generation will have an even more diminished knowledge of him. General Acheampong, Jerry Rawlings, John Agyekum Kuffour, Atta Mills and more recent leaders are pushing out his memory. Akuffo Addo used the achievements of the John Kuffour era to his advantage in his campaigns.
This generation of Ghanaians is taking the Akosombo dam for granted and is more concerned about current needs – quality education, employment, social media and access to the latest phone brand etc. To get an Nkrumaist party back into government will require that those who know Nkrumaism and how relevant it is to the issues of today, package it to suit today’s electorate, work very hard between elections and sell it, put behind them their personal interests and mobilise resources to support one great party to storm the next elections and convince people to vote for it. Why haven’t the parties learnt from their failure in past elections? Why are they not doing things different but expect to win? Why do Nkrumaists imagine that his name and his past achievements are enough to make people vote for unconvincing claimants of his legacy? The evidence, from the outcome of the elections in the 4th Republic, is that Nkrumah’s name and legacy are not enough to win elections. What are those who want to see his ideals in practice doing to achieve this? Rhetoric, insulting his critics, reminiscence of his achievements and intentions will not win an election. Nigerians say jokingly that their country has slept for so long that it is no more a sleeping giant, but a giant in coma. One can say same of Nkrumaism. Dreams that Nkrumaism will rule again in Ghana again must be very dim now.
Chals Wontowe is a development practitioner and one of Ghana’s emerging writers of fiction.