Since the National Democratic Congress (NDC) launched its political school, it has generated some interesting debate about the role of ‘Political Schools’ in Ghana’s emerging democratic governance efforts. This is not the first political party type school in Ghana. Kwame Nkrumah had his ideological institute in Winneba before the February 24, 1966 coup d’état.
In the 1970s, it was commonplace in Africa to have ‘ideological’ schools.
Some of the left-wing liberation parties that started ideological schools have degenerated into organised nation wreckers and plunderers of the nations wealth, Fast forward to present day Ghana, the NDC has started the ideological school race with its Institute of Social Democracy (ISD). The NPP is threatening to unleash its own Institute (of Liberal Democracy?). The Socialist Forum of Ghana is planning its own Kwame Nkrumah Institute (KNI). Some groups are trying to revive the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute. How many more?
The launch of the NDC school has no doubt generated some interesting a serious comment on the role of these schools. These are Facebook comments take (without the consent of the writers) but quite relevant to the debate.
Amidu Ibrahim-Tanko writes:
“Me, I think the idea to establish a party school is a great one. We should encourage more of such to emerge and seek actively to influence their curriculum and pedagogy.
The student movement in Ghana, and its struggles for democracy and the right to education, provided a crucible for the emergence of future leaders. Alas this is no longer the case as its focus now is on getting a slice of the patronage cake for its leaders.
Nkrumah set up the Young Pioneers Institute while Acheampong introduced the National Charter and Pledge in the training and teaching at the basic and secondary school levels. Whatever the challenges of these approaches, they at least represented a conscious attempt to influence the ‘mindsets’ of the next generation.
The West may not have party-based formal leadership institutes. They nonetheless invest in providing opportunities for practical training for new leaders. Think of America’s Boys Nation, Britain’s VSO (in its formative years), the Peace Corps and so on. The approaches may be different but a common denominator is the need to be more conscious and deliberate about how new or emerging leaders are nurtured.
Traditionally, princes and heirs to important skins and stools were sent to uncles or other leaders to understudy and be schooled. So, the long and short of this is that let a thousand leadership institutes bloom. Not all will be fit for purpose but over time I think they’ll get better.”
Chals Wontewe responds: “I agree with the need to establish leadership development institute for the youth. The factors that are forming the youth of today cannot produce leadership in them. No, they will produce leadership in some, but not the positive type of leadership. The factors that produced student leaders that went on to desire to serve were ‘nationalist’ in nature. Who will teach in the party leadership training institutes? What would they model? Would the institutes be cloning characters whose attitudes are more self-serving than nation serving? What history would they be teaching in the institutes?”
Both opinions seem to agree with the need for political parties to train cadres. The impact of the training of young people or party activists in Africa is still not clear. Firstly, there are few case studies, and secondly, secondly, I have not seen an evaluation of the impact of these efforts. Take the now defunct Winneba-based Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute (KNII). Many past students see their participation in this ideological institute as a badge of honour and rightly so. But ask them about Nkrumaism, Pan Africanism and Socialism, and you hear a lot of ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’. You get the impression that some saw the KNII as the gateway to a job in the CPP administration. Commitment to Nkrumaism and socialism was almost periphery in their calculations. That partly explains why the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) has been on the decline since 1966.
Definitely, party cadres need leadership training. They need to understand Ghana’s history, the philosophical underpinnings of their party, its ideology, and so on. However, that is likely only if the party has a clearly articulated political philosophy, be it neoliberal, social democratic or radical socialist. In Ghana, we are stuck in a neoliberalist triumphant mould, like a broken record, and that seems to dominate political discussions.
This explains why it is difficult to find a political party in Ghana which unashamedly proclaims Nlrumaism and defend Kwame Nkrumah’s socialist principles (sometimes the CPP does). The Young Pioneer Movement (also Kwame Nkrumah’s flagship Youth Leadership Institute) is quite different. Many of us with experience of our days as members of the Young Pioneers movement continue to extol its virtues, its role in building our Pan African approach to African unity and our political consciousness. We are not ashamed to proclaim our role in the Young Pioneers.
A party or ideological school must have a clearly defined role. It must have the goals of moulding the youth into exceptional national leaders. If a political party lacks vision or direction, if its leaders have corrupt, have tribalistic tendencies, are land grabbers, the training is bound to produce emerging leaders with similar attributes. Honesty is key. If the party believes in neoliberal principles of economic and social planning, it must say that without prevarication and hesitation. The best example of this is the Conservative Party or Labour party in the UK. Scandinavian social democratic parties have a similar approach.
Let the youth participants in a party school understand where they are going, and how they can contribute to nation building. They need to eschew personalised agendas, unnecessary hero worship. Honesty and ideological clarity is the key to success. Youth must be taught to think, be analytical and continuously ask questions, and be open about their anxieties. It is impossible to get these from a party leadership that has no real understanding of its own political origins or philosophy, except to grab state power.
These are lessons for emerging party and ideological schools. As Amidu Ibrahim-Tanko has said, “let a thousand leadership institutes bloom. Not all will be fit for purpose but over time I think they’ll get better.” I couldn’t agree more.