KWAME NKRUMAH’S CENTENARY
NKRUMAH FOR A GENERATION
BY: Kwesi Gyan — Apenteng
THREE months ago a young, aspiring filmmaker came to see me about his proposal to make a film about the life of Ghana’s founding President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. He was bubbling with enthusiasm and his ideological commitment to the cause was undisguised.
He told me that he was a Pan-Africanist to the core, and he felt that the older generation had misunderstood Nkrumah so it was up to young adherents to the faith to redefine the man to the world.
As ambition and vision go, this was of stratospheric proportions, but first things first; how much did the young man know about Nkrumah?
It soon became clear that Nkrumah stands in the danger of becoming a one- dimensional cardboard figure: Pan-Africanist, nationalist, independence leader, first president, dictator, jailer of opponents and the like. This was not only the young filmmaker’s reading of the man but mine too.
The ossification of the Nkrumah image or brand will become complete during the centenary celebrations unless a conscious effort is made to rescue him back to life. This is more urgent if a new generation is to make a sense of his immense contribution and stature as a Ghanaian and African statesman, intellectual and all- round hero.
During his lifetime, the hero worshipping of Nkrumah contributed to his isolation as a leader and a person, which in turn led to his downfall.
Despite the positive historical revision that has accompanied the revival of Nkrumah’s image over the last 20, years there is no denying the fact that February 24, 1966 was seen as liberation and relief from dictatorship by many, if not the majority of Ghanaians; the Convention Peoples Party had ceased to function as a mass party. Hero worship during his centenary will bury Nkrumah as a human being and create a plastic version based on prejudice and presumption.
On September 9, 2009, Cultural initiatives Support Programme organized a public lecture on Nkrumah, Culture and Nation Building at which both Professor Akilapa Sawyerr who chaired the function and the Speaker, Prof. George Hagan both suggested that we should use the centenary to discover Nkrumah, his times and his work.
This very sensible advice is anchored on the fact that Nkrumah could not have achieved independence, laid the foundation for a united and modern state, advocated for African unity and helped found the OAU, among other achievements on his own. So, without seeking to dilute Nkrumah’s contribution, explaining or presenting to Nkrumah a new generation must begin with rediscovering Nkrumah as a human person.
But why is it important for a new generation of Ghanaians to know about Nkrumah? This is not as silly a question as it sounds; many CPP activists are confronted by young people asking this question in one form or another. But shorn of party politics, this question needs to be answered thus: The current and subsequent generation of Ghanaians must know about Nkrumah because history matters.
Every school child in the United States knows about George Washington because he is the introduction to US history and his story brings to life the history of his time and the people who lived in it.
Furthermore, Kwame Nkrumah’s human story must serve to inspire another generation in many ways, and above all, to believe in themselves. Even more importantly, it must inspire the older generation to believe in and trust the youth because Nkrumah’s story is one of youthful optimism in the face of traditional resistance to new ideas.
Nkrumah should have become at best, a modestly successful school teacher, or perhaps a successful lawyer in the mould of many of his generation who used a similar career path to professional achievement.
But even that would have been an achievement beyond his original station in life: Nkrumah was born at Nkroful, which was not exactly Cape Coast; his was brought up by his mother and attended school in his village. Despite these humble beginnings, Nkrumah would graduate from Achimota College and take degrees from Lincoln University and University of Pennsylvania, both in the USA. Indeed, he earned two master’s degrees in years from Pennsylvania.
Another lesson from Nkrumah’s youth was his activism as a student and a young university lecturer. He was elected President of the African Students Organization of America while he was at Lincoln and also participated in theatre productions and wrote articles for the student newspaper, The Lincolnion.
Nkrumah worked with black and progressive youth groups and also preached at black Presbyterian Churches in Philadelphia and New York, while mixing with radical intellectuals such as the Trinidadian C. L. R. James and Chinese American Grace Lee Boggs.
Nkrumah was a voracious reader and read everything there was to read, including political, social and religious material from different backgrounds as well as detailed studies of economic and development trends. The lessons are that Nkrumah was able to involve himself in different communities and environments and learn from their different experiences. Nkrumah abandoned his doctoral studies for politics once he encountered George Padmore in London and got involved in time with organizing the fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester.
Nkrumah’s main political work was done mostly with the youth who had been overlooked as a political force by the United Gold Coast Convention of which he was a paid General Secretary and he used his position as the founder, and main inspiration of the movement’s Committee of the Youth Organizations, which was to become the core of the CPP. And the lesson she taught that generation of the young people is as relevant, if not more so today than at that time.
The rest of the story is well known and accessible to those who want to know, but the telling often loses the essentials of the man as a private person and how that connects to the public persona of the first President, and that is where Nkrumah becomes lost in the fog of propaganda and overhyped stereotyping.
Nkrumah the villain versus Nkrumah may make some people’s blood boil and sound good on campaign platforms but has little relevance for the new generation that will benefit from a more rounded discussion of Nkrumah and his times. For that generation, extracting the essential truth is more important than scoring political points, although I expect that this may not be a popular choice. We cannot leave the history of that exciting period or of any other period to be told without purpose and the purpose of the old the generation is to ensure that history becomes a resource for the development of the country and its people.
One of Nkrumah’s favorite sayings was: Organization determines everything, and his organizational acumen and methods were ahead of his time. He wove different strands of interests into a single-minded organization focused on independence, and it included market women and traders, farmers and young farmers, workers and their bosses, and even chiefs and queen-mothers. He mobilized from across the country and ensured that every ethnic group was represented and accorded respect within his organization.
It is instructive that even in the mass hysteria of anti-Nkrumah agitation that gripped this country after his overthrow, no one could accuse Nkrumah of tribalism, or giving inferior roles to women, young people or people from some parts of the country.
Indeed, Nkrumah’s policy was to emphasize the equality of all Ghanaians in the validity of all Ghanaian cultures at the time. The generation that came of age inherited that virtue, which was reinforced by the boarding school factor that ensured that people from all over the country stayed and studied together in schools for a number of years.
Nkrumah did not establish a perfect society; far from it, he had only started work on erasing some of the many inequities bequeathed us by that colonialism and he was aware of the difficulties that lay ahead but that difficulty is not the same as impossibility and that is why Nkrumah prescribed dedication and hard work as the basis for success. But above all, Ghana’s independence was won by many people pooling their different strengths together. Knowing and understanding the full story of that era is important because you will then appreciate the promise that is yet to be fulfilled.
DAILY GRAPHIC PAGE 5 FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2009.