17 January 2013

Ghana: Kwame Nkrumah's Tattered Legacy


Immediately after the coup of February 24, 1966, it was alleged that a lot of Kwame Nkrumah's seemingly previously trusted lieutenants deserted him, stabbed him in the back by denouncing him and making uncomplimentary comments about him.

In his book; Dark Days in Ghana, he himself lamented the cowardly attitude of some members of his government soon after the coup.

Commentators of the Nkrumah regime, including the celebrated Basil Davidson, have opined that he tried to implement a socialist programme without a cadre of socialists.

He himself must have been a committed socialist, not because he wore Mao style suits, but by his ideas and actions. It was doubted that many of his ministers and even high ranking party members understood, let alone believed in, socialism.

The history books have it that a number of Ghanaians, mostly elite, came together to form the United Gold Coast Convention, UGCC, in August 1947.

The party needed a full time committed Secretary General, as most members had their own businesses and could not give the party the amount of time needed to organise it. Nkrumah was invited to fill that position.

The same history books tell us that it was not long before Nkrumah and the UGCC parted ways; they found him too radical and he found them too conservative. The UGCC elitist leadership wanted independence, like Nkrumah, but they wanted to follow processes Nkrumah was impatient with.

He wanted independence even the previous day, if that had been possible, and could not be constrained by processes. He broke away and formed the Convention People' Party, CPP, in 1949.

The party was radically different from the UGCC. It was a mass party and fanned out across the country while the UGCC remained elitist and urban based. The strength of the CPP was in organisation.

In fact, two words became Nkrumah's rallying call, in Ghana and in Africa, organise and unite.

The term Veranda Boys was first used on CPP activists who moved round the country to share the gospel of the party and win converts, sleeping wherever possible during those travels.

The strength of the CPP was in organisation and the appropriateness of its message. It rallied ex-servicemen, traders, farmers and the youth behind it. In the elections of 1951, even though most of the leadership of the party was in prison, for the party's radical stance against the colonial administration, the party still won 34 of the 38 elected positions.

In the elections of 1954, the CPP won 71 of the 104 seats. Two years later, in the independence elections, the party again won 71 of the 104 seats, obtaining 57% of the votes.

In both years, 1954 and 1956, six parties contested the elections. I will limit myself to these elections as these were not organised under the CPP and so the issue of manipulation by the CPP which was alleged in subsequent elections, does not arise.

The CPP was one of the best organised parties on the continent by the early 1960s, with very strong women's and youth wings. It was a mass party that targeted almost every type of citizen - workers, farmers, housewives, traders, the youth etc.

The CPP was banned from contesting the elections of 1969 and most leading members were also disqualified to even contest the elections.

Even though Komla Agbeli Gbedemah's National Alliance of Liberals was seen as a successor of the CPP (with Gbedemah once serving as minister under Nkrumah), the wings of the party were badly clipped by what was described as targeted legislation it would have been a miracle for it to fly.

In 1979 the remnants of people believing or professing to believe in Nkrumah's ideology assembled under the People's National Party and contested the elections and won both majority in parliament (71 out of 140 seats) and the presidential elections after a second round.

Unfortunately, that has been the end of the glorious story of the proud structure Kwame Nkrumah broke away from the UGCC to found. The name Nkrumah still rings loud in the campaigns - and even non-campaign political discussions - by those who claim they are Nkrumaist.

But the vision and organizational competence of the founder of the party are clearly lacking in the inheritors of (or pretenders to) his legacy. After the 1979 elections, different factions have laid claim to being the successor of the CPP.

One of the key words of the original CPP and its founder, unity, is lost in the vocabulary of the factions and their leaders. If you spoke to them about organization they would most likely ask if it were an English word and if it were, what it meant.

In the 1992 elections four parties claiming Nkrumaist ideology, the National Independence Party, the National Convention Party, People's Heritage Party and the People's National Convention, contested, with the National Convention Party choosing not to field a presidential candidate, but go with the NDC.

The PNC's presidential candidate won only 6.7% of the votes. The NIP won 2.9% and the PHP won 1.8%. The results only got worse over time till this year. From 2000, none of the presidential candidates of the Nkrumaist parties ever got 3% of the votes, a crying shame.

But if none of the parties got 3% in previous elections, the votes obtained by the presidential candidates of all the Nkrumaist parties in 2012 were far less than 3%. The star performer in the group, Paa Kwesi Ndoum, got only 0.59%.

Does it not speak loudly of the extent to which this once great party has sunk if you consider the fact that even the joker in the pack, Hassan Ayariga, beat the CPP's Abu Forster?

Ndoum broke away from the CPP and formed his party in the election year, but he got more than three times the percentage and absolute number of votes that the CPP's presidential candidate got.

This year has been the revelation year for the Nkrumaist parties. The PNC still managed to secure one seat in Parliament but the CPP got nothing. Even Samia lost her seat in Nkrumah's hometown.

But prior to that, the CPP had secured its seats in Parliament most often because the NPP did not contest those seats and supported the CPP instead.

Many people still claim they are Nkrumaist because they had either been close to the party or were active in the Young Pioneers or were Nkrumaist in some other ways.

They stoutly defend his policies and many of them even think after Nkrumah no other leader has done anything good for Ghana. They want the party returned to power.

But none of them has shown any of the vision and organizational ability of Nkrumah. Many people will know who the NDC and NPP regional chairpersons in their regions are. But will not know who the chairpersons for the PNC and the CPP are. Structures of these two parties are dead on the ground.

In 2008, Paa Kwesi Ndoum mounted one of the most visible presidential campaigns, as he did last year. But without a viable nationwide structure to carry on the campaign after his 'mammoth' rallies, he obtained only 1.3% of the votes.

When a party gleans only 2% of votes in an election, and then sits idle for four years and expects a miracle to take its share of the votes in the next elections to over 50%, you will question the sanity of its leaders.

Most of the voters in the elections of these years were born after Nkrumah's overthrow. Many more were too young at the time of his overthrow to have known him well. Many voters were beginning to gain consciousness of their environment and take note of politics in those years when Nkrumah was given a bad name.

The responsibility falls on those who claim they know him intimately, or know and believe in his work, to package it and sell it. His name alone cannot produce the magic it produced when he was the Show Boy.

Yet, besides sit in studios and stand on platforms and condemn others and hallow the name of Nkrumah, very little has been done by the so-called Nkrumaists to sell his ideology and his party.

Opponents of Nkrumah who vilify him are not those who have shredded his proud legacy to tatters. It is those who claim they have inherited his legacy, Nkrumaism, but who have become urban based talk-show elites, who have gnawed the base of his legacy and caused it to crumble.

That his successors cannot even organize his party only convinces voters that Nkrumah died with his party. If you cannot even organize and develop a party successfully, voters will ask what skills you are going to use in developing the bigger and even more divided entity, the country.

Those who shout Nkrumaism and are pushing for every structure in Ghana to be named after him but have done little to strengthen his party are only using his name for their own visibility; they cannot be Nkrumaist if they cannot do even 10% of the things the leaders of the past glorious CPP did.

Only they can rehabilitate the image of Nkrumah by working to bring respect back to his legacy. But it would seem as if this may never happen as most of those who claim to be Nkrumaist are bourgeois, not socialist and so cannot afford the hardships that the Veranda Boys endured to build the party.

They only use socialist jargon, or really the name of Nkrumah, not even the socialist language, to feather their bourgeois nests. Should we sing a dirge to Nkrumaism?

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