A LESSON FROM HISTORY
Most pundits would agree that in Ghana today, as it had in fact, always been, capturing political power through the ballot box, requires an extensive foot-work, money, media propaganda and perhaps, all sort of dirty electioneering campaign tricks to outwit one’s opponents. Being clapped in gaol might therefore, not be the brightest star for politically-infant Diasporan. At least not where one is to hustle with big wigs and almost where the whole of his own people appear to be against him or her.
But it was precisely this that the Man Kwame Nkrumah found himself on 20 January 1950, following the Positive Action of 8 January 1950 which involved a general strike of public workers and boycott of products of alien shops. In this context, it would be no exaggeration to say that Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah was one of the outstanding figures in Ghanaian leadership this century.
In his real leadership that endured from early 1950s until his untimely overthrow in 1966, he was perhaps without equal in the range and quality of his achievements as a Pan-African strategist. He always had a rare combination of keen political sense and most refined development sensibility.
In everything that the Osagyefo did he demanded the highest premium, and was as uncompromising with himself as with those with him he worked. For this reason, he was respected and admired, rather than loved, by most of his contemporary African leaders and those outside his reach. He stirred fear in some of his acquaintances, particularly those who did not radiate his degree of devotion and preoccupations.
He was a determined and live-wire man but became not all that perfect at forming lasting personal alliance. The arrest of the Big Six in 1948 and the fallout that ensued was probably responsible. Born on 21 September 1909, at Nkroful, a village near Axim in the western region of then Gold Coast, the born Francis Nwia-Kofi Ngonloma was later educated at Achimota School. In early 1935, like most of us aspire, the visionary leader realised that more decisive efforts would be needed if he was ever to get to the United States. From perhaps, a broke family, he saved every penny he could lay hands on. Yet that was not enough for the passage. So he thought of a relative who might help, a man he said had moved decades ago to Lagos, in Nigeria. To Lagos he went, rather than dipping into his dear purse for the voyage.
”I decided to stow away on a boat which was leaving Axim for Lagos. Mingling with the crew, I slipped on board and stayed down with the firemen for the whole of the voyage, sharing their food and the extreme discomfort and heat of the boiler room”, he says. But do you know that it was his first experience at sea? Yes, he says that he was brutally sick the whole time. So, when he arrived in Lagos, he looked like nothing on earth- unwashed, unshaven and with tattered clothing. In the words of the “Coconut Boy”, our living redeemer- looked as if he had worked his passage. So, it is understood why no questions were asked when he finally got off the boat at Lagos.
“It would have been unthinkable to visit anyone in such a filthy condition. There was nothing for it but to go to the market and buy a new pair of flannels and a shirt,” he explains. Hiding behind the mass of clothing on the market stall, he hurriedly changed and emerged looking a more respectable being. And it was not until Kwame arrived at his relative’s house where he spent several days that he was able to wash and shave. And even here, his host had many questions to ask about their relation and friends. However, when the time came for Francis to leave, the uncle was passionate. He gave him some funds to increase his savings, and also paid his passage back to Axim. He thanked him in high spirits; hopefully, his trip to America, was becoming a reality.
Thus some months before, Kwame had successfully applied to Lincoln University for admission. But only few close friends with whom he stayed knew of his plans. Now he strove to complete his arrangements. And because there was no American Consul in the then Gold Coast, he had to travel first to the United Kingdom to obtain a U.S. visa. Thanks to his kinsmens kindness, he now had one hundred pounds. Another relative of the Osagyefo- the Chief of Nsaeum, added fifty pounds, out of which he paid for a third-class passage from Takoradi to Liverpool. These happened just within a month of his Lagos trip. Now all is set and he waited patiently for his departure.
“My joy was overshadowed, however, by the thought of having to break the news to my mother. I knew how much I meant to her and how deeply she would grieve over my going,” he mulls over. So, he went home and stayed with the old lady for a few days. But it was not until the night before he was due to depart that he exercised that jaw to crack the nut. “She was obviously shaken but showed no sign of sorrow and we sat up talking the whole night. I can’t recall all that we discussed during those hours, but I recall very clearly my mother listing carefully all that I should do and all that I should avoid whilst I was away.
Aberewa Nyaniba also told Kwame of his claim to two stools or chieftaincies in our country. One at Nssaeum in Wassaw Fiase and the other at Dadieso in Aowin. And yes, Agyaba Kwame scribes all that he had been told. The following morning he packed presumably, his few “rags” into the canoe that was to navigate him across the Ankobra river- the first stage of his journey to Takoradi. As he looked up-river where the swirling muddy waters disappeared among a mass of jungle growth, Francis Nkrumah saw the women and children of the village standing knee-deep in the water unconcernedly bathing or washing clothes.
And at this peaceful picture of African rural life, the rising leader felt his first pang of homesickness. He took a deep breath, forced himself to smile and came back up the bank to say a final goodbye to his mother. He saw that she was in moan and with tears in his one eyes, he told Eno if she would rather he stayed behind, she had only to say so. She stood and looked at him for a few minutes, “It can’t be helped, may God and your ancestors guide you,” she said. So with very heavy hearts, they waved goodbye, little knowing that it would be twelve good years before they saw each other again.
As an obedient homeboy travelling to an unknown country, Kwame wielded the notes that the old lady had given him under his waist and never lost focus until one day he lost them in a New York subway. In the US, he got enrolled at Lincoln University where he received his Bachelors of Arts. Ambitious Kwame was still not satisfied so he pursued his Masters in Education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and a MA in Philosophy from the same institution in 1943. Besides this academic taste, Osagyefo never forgot his roots.
We must be reminded that while lecturing at Lincoln, he was voted president of the African Students Organization of America and Canada. He crash-landed in London in 1945 with the aim of studying at the London School of Economics. But with his encounter with George Padmore, a like-minded Trinidadian of African descent, they realised that they have a historic duty to strive towards equal opportunity- a chance that we comfortably enjoy freely today?
In short, the Fifth Pan-African Congress held in Manchester worked for the decolonisation of Africa of which Ghana, and for that matter the Osagyefo, is unrivalled reverend as trigger. Here in the UK, he became Vice-President of West African Students Union. No wonder, when he left behind the stress and ease and returned home in 1947 to join the UGCC, he was not found wanting in mass mobilisation. The declaration of ‘Positive Action’ that brought the British Colonial Administration on its knees is just one of those.
In connection with the Constituent Assembly Act and Plebiscite Act of 27 February 1960, which was to determine whether or not our people would accept the draft of the Republican Constitution, a huge 1,008,740 Ghanaians voted yes whilst only 131,425 said nay. In the referendum that was conducted simultaneously to choose the President of the prospective republic, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the CPP candidate, came out victorious rolling 1.016,076 votes whilst his opponent, Dr J. B. Danquah, the opposition United Party candidate, secured 124,623 votes (Adigwe, F., 1975, p.121).
How did this happen? Leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention had been released after the 1948 riot and had went back to politics for self-rule, “with the shortest possible time” tactics. A package which the Pan-African strategist- Osagyefo found it too cheap in terms of content and quality towards Independence as against his “self government now” doctrine and which was to relieve him of his post as Secretary of the UGCC? And further severing relations when the Committee on Youth Organization of the party was transformed into a new party- the Convention Peoples Party? Yes, at the helm of affairs, the expelled secretary- Osagyefo, won a landslide victory of the 1951 election whilst in prison to become the leader of Government Business and later Prime Minister in 1952 under the orders of Governor Arden-Clark.
Thanks in part to Komla Gbedemah, who according to our history, kept the flag of the CPP hoisted. Thereby, making it possible for the Osagyefo being appointed the first Prime Minister of the Gold Coast and undoubtedly, the first Prime Minister in Africa? For once a Diasporan to be able to take up such a position within such a short span of time amid all odds and struggles, the writer finds himself wondering about the names of the independence strugglers and who the people were.
This led to namings- Dr Joseph Boakye Danquah, Obetsebi-Lamptey, Akufo-Addo, Ako-Adjei, William Ofori and Kwame Nkrumah, the group which was later to be crowned as the BIG SIX. Out of curiosity, the author decided to look their autobiographies up for this piece to be written. And the dust settled on one Francis Ngonloma Nwia-Kofi, later the Osagyefo.
Reading the story of the Big Six and the injustices of the then Apartheid system and the inhumane treatment, prejudice and contempt with which Black people were subjected, whether overtly or slyly, and learning how Sergeant Adjetey and Corporal Attipoe were fired at the Christiansburg Road, but still we find it extremely hard to change attitudes, gives some of us nightmare and sometimes, subdue us to tears and despair. Notwithstanding all these, we are inspired and humbled, in puzzling how one man, from a meek home, could make such a huge change in breaking down walls.
In his book, “I Write What I Like”, Steve Biko, confronts us with a big challenges and perhaps, answers why Nana Boakye Dankwa- architect of Ghana, who actively sought for constitutional reforms in the early 1940s and became a member of the Legislative Council in 1946 and was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1951, failed to be re-elected in 1954 and 1956. His presidential bid in 1960 against Nkrumah was even suicidal- he secured a bare 10% of the vote.
The recent death of Rosa Parks, whose courageous refusal to give up her seat on a bus to obroni in 1955 as required by law in the US, could also be another explanation to J. B. and the United Party that Ghana was not ready to defer freedom to the prospects of tentative future? Yes, a Russian lecturer says true revolutionaries are mostly born in the West rather than in the East.
But considering that two good “heads” are better than one, what if the “Big Six” had tolerated each other in peace? Conceivably, would or homeland Ghana not have been greater than what is it today? British Philosopher Adam Ferguson argues that, mere acquaintance and habitude, nourish affection, and the experience of society brings every passion of the human mind upon its side… its calamities and force of motion can only have place in the company of our fellow creatures… send we mankind to desert alone, we are like plant drawn from its roots, our form indeed may remain, but every faculty drops and withers, the human personage and character cease to exist? Landmarks that perhaps our current and future leadership, might thread with caution.
These observations are now, we suppose, of purely historical interest. But it is a far cry from saying that they do not concern us. Until his death in April 1972, tireless Nkrumah though a political refugee in Guinea, was a vice-president in that once our federated state. A gesture and appreciation offered by President Ahmed Sekou Toure. And Osagyefos burring flames for African personality never went off. But we doubt whether he was able to confer his compelling development plans on Guineans. Could this strengthen what philosopher Adam Ferguson has reminded us? To help explain further, we have only one homeland- Ghana. And most of us, no matter who we are, send us outside home; are we not almost hewers of wood and drawers of water?
The ill-fated overthrow of Dr Kwame and his six years in exile and subsequent death in Bucharest, Romania, remind us not only of our unfilled aspirations as we celebrate our political independence but also caution us of the dangers of political intolerance? In what appears to be similar to that of Rawlings and the AFRC members, Osagyefo’s political life witnessed severed relationship with people he originally knew, not even Nii Ako-Adjei or Nani Komla Gbedemah survived this- a lesson from history that politicians, including ourselves might learn from as we celebrate our independence?
Presumably yes. But in a conference organised by Explo Nani-Kofi, a Pan-African Coordinator, in honouring those who worked with President Nkrumah, at the Unity Centre, London, on 2 October 2004, Samia Yaba Nkrumah, daughter of the Osagyefo said that no matter the shortcomings of the Osagyefo, we feel proud that our dear father has left us with a legacy that is not made of state coffers. True, if anything, Ghanaians invoke him as a lone son who sought to achieve much for the black race?
First Published at Ghanaweb.com on 6 March 2006