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Dakota Jenkins

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Mr. Chairman, Madam Vice-­‐chancellor, Nananom,Your Excellencies, Distinguished Faculty and Students of the University, Invited Guest, Press, Ladies and Gentlemen:

I should like to begin by thanking the University Council for inviting me to deliver this  year’s  lectures  in  the university’s  highly  regarded  KWAME  NKRUMAH  MEMORIAL LECTURE SERIES. I am profoundly grateful and humbled by the honor and  pleasure  of  joining  the  ranks  of  the  esteemed  personalities  who  have  delivered these lectures since they were launched in 1976. I am especially grateful also  for  a  personal  reason;  it  was  the  invitation  to  give  these  lectures  that precipitated thoughts  that  had been lingering in my mind for  years  and provided the  stimulus  for  me  to,  as  it  were,  say  my  piece  on  many  issues  of  national development.  Oscar  Wilde says  it  all  for  me when he says,  in The Importance of being  Ernest:

''On  an  occasion  like  this  it  becomes  more  that  a  moral  duty to speak one’s mind. It becomes a pleasure.''

I believe that this year’s lectures have a special significance for a number of reasons, two of them especially important in my view. First, they coincide with Nkrumah’s centenary and its celebration, and, second, they come at a time of the discovery and exploitation of an important new national resource – oil and gas, with all that this portends for the nation’s political economy and associated strategic issues of development policy, much like those that Nkrumah had to address in the immediate post‐independence years.

It is a daunting task to write about a famous person about whom, so much has been written; it is difficult to find anything new or worthwhile to say. So let me say, to paraphrase Groucho Marx that if you have heard any of the ensuing analysis before, please don’t stop me, for I myself would like to hear it again!

I have chosen to speak on the Relevance of Kwame Nkrumah’s Legacy in Ghana’s (and Africa’s), Contemporary Political Economy. But I implore you not to hold me too steadfastly to what reasonable people might regard as the more or less normal parameters that the topic might suggest. It is simply a convenient pretext intended to give me an entry point for saying what has been brewing in my mind about the significance of Nkrumah’s legacy in Ghana’s and, to some extent, Africa’s political economy. I will begin by tracing the evolution and content of the legacy: what is it that we are calling the Nkrumah legacy and how did it evolve? But before I do, let me make one prefatory remark.  

Social scientists have over the ages hotly debated the role of individuals in history. It is not adebate I wish to join on this occasion. But let me just note that although the ghost of what E. H. Car, the famous Cambridge historian, calls “the bad King John theory of history” the view that it is individuals who make history still lurks about in many guises, I am not one of its adherents History is not about what individual great men or women proclaim were the intentions and motives.  

Behind their actions; rather it is about the social and political processes, about the actions and struggles of social forces, actions that indeed sometimes bring about outcomes vastly different from what the individuals leaders and policy makers themselves may have intended. But of course individuals do influence history, especially if they are leaders who, although molded by the age in which they live, are able to capture its spirit and provide the inspiration that helps galvanize a momentum for progressive change. And in both the national and the wider continental and diaspora African world, Nkrumah supremely epitomized such an individual.

Of all the political leaders in the nation’s entire pre and post colonial history, Nkrumah stands out as the one leader whose legacy and influence has been the most enduring and this, because he was, in many ways, ahead of his time. We see his legacy imprinted everywhere - in the macroeconomic and real sectors of our national economy, in the banking and insurance industries, in the countries basic infrastructure – in the energy and power sector, we have added precious little to what he left us. Ghana Commercial Bank, the National Investment Bank, the Agricultural Development bank and the State Insurance Corporation are still dominant in the banking and insurance industries. It is a legacy that evolved over a long period starting with the maturing of his intellectual and philosophical outlook in his student days, especially in the United States and in Britain, through his active role and leadership in the anti – colonial and PanAfrican movements, through his pivotal role in the independence movement and down to his role in the shaping of postindependence strategies for accelerated economic development. It was a diverse but in many ways coherent legacy that had a decidedly revolutionary intellectual anchoring and spanned the dimensions of ideology, politics, culture and economics.

The evolution of Nkrumah’s legacy, like his biography, was in many ways diverse and complex, and as a number of his biographers have pointed out, even contradictory. As it well known, he was condemned as a dictator and a repressive tyrant by some and as a romantic and pragmatist by others. Monuments to him were built in his lifetime and then promptly torn down on his overthrow in 1966; his books were burnt and references to him or his works proscribed in a shameful display of the abject national catharsis that gripped the nation on his overthrow. Still, Nkrumah’s rather extensive theoretical legacy and development philosophy endured and is still hotly debated to this day. He died in exile but his remains were brought back and buried in a mausoleum at the polo grounds where he famously declared in 1957: “Ghana, your beloved country is free forever”. Indeed, the state of that mausoleum with the old and decrepit community centre perched eerily next to it, and the unsightly cacophony of “tro-tro” vehicles, taxis and pedestrians milling in the nearby grounds, is eloquent testimony to the nation’s continuing ambivalence to memory of the great man!

In the early years of his intellectual and political maturation, Nkrumah was influenced by a number of distinguished individuals and mentors. First among them, as is well known, was Kwegyir Aggrey, whom he met in 1927 at the Accra Training College (later to become Prince of Wales College and Achimota School in its final incarnation) Aggrey bemoaned the lack of emphasis on African history and culture in the colonial education system but thought and hoped that a day would come, more or less through the natural evolution of things and a harmonious coexistence between whites and blacks, when the continent of Africa would stand up and be counted. But in an early indication of the surging militancy in his evolving world outlook, Nkrumah disagreed with Aggrey’s view, or rather his optimism. He believed, as he was later to admit in his autobiography, that

“….such harmony can exist (only) when the black race is treated as equal to the white race”, adding, “Only a free and independent people – a people with a government of their own – can claim equality, racial or otherwise, with other people“

Nkrumah’s magnetism and his charisma and leadership qualities were noticeable very early in his teaching career. Basil Davidson, one of Nkrumah’s many biographers, quotes a British colonial school inspector who, after sitting in the young Nkrumah’s class in his early teaching career at the Roman Catholic Junior School in Amisano, observed poignantly, “ I have never forgotten our meeting …….since. I was suddenly made aware that here was no ordinary teacher. Despite a frieze of noisy spectators at the open windows, the pupils reacted to his calm, dignified and magnetic manner wholeheartedly. It was an unforgettable inspectorial experience”.

But perhaps Nkrumah’s first real political mentor was, some would say, Samuel R. Wood, then Secretary of the National Congress of British West Africa, an organization formed in the 1920s that grouped civil society leaders of the four British colonies – the Gold Coast, Nigeria, Serra Leone, and the Gambia – and was devoted to the advocacy of independence through a gradualist approach within the space permitted by the colonial regime. Through his association with Wood, Nkrumah got to deepen his knowledge of the politics of the larger West Africa.But perhaps Nkrumah’s first real political mentor was, some would say, Samuel R. Wood, then Secretary of the National Congress of British West Africa, an organization formed in the 1920s that grouped civil society leaders of the four British colonies – the Gold Coast, Nigeria, Serra Leone, and the Gambia – and was devoted to the advocacy of independence through a gradualist approach within the space permitted by the colonial regime. Through his association with Wood, Nkrumah got to deepen his knowledge of the politics of the larger West Africa.

Clearly also, Nkrumah was influenced by the early ideologists of African nationalism, including James A. B. Horton a Sierra Leonean, Edward Blyden and his associate Casely Hayford, as well as the early pan Africanists, notably, W. E. Du Bois who helped organize the first three Pan African Congresses in Paris, Brussels and Lisbon in 1919, and 1923 respectively, and Marcus Garvey after whose steamship company Nkrumah was later to name Ghana’s national shipping line, the Black Star. Nkrumah himself professed to have been influenced by “The Philosophy and Opinions of Marcus Garvey “published in 1923. He called it in his autobiography, “the book that did more than any other, to fire my enthusiasm”.Indeed, Nkrumah got the idea of a United States of Africa from him.

Nkrumah’s experience in America was a milestone in his intellectual and ideological formation that was to become the decisive factor in shaping his legacy. It marked something of a transition from his preoccupation with the anti-colonial struggle to a greater focus on the wider plane of the pan-African struggle and on theory and ideology, specifically, socialist ideology and the pitfalls of capitalism. It also, importantly, brought to him, a keener appreciation of the role of culture and the arts, through his association and closeness to the African American literary circles in New York, including Richard Wright, with whom Nkrumah had a particularly close friendship.

So by the time Nkrumah got back to the Gold Coast to become General Secretary of the UGCC, his political and ideological stance was already largely formed and mature. It was soon to be manifested in his management of the UGCC. In January 1948, he planned a reorganization of the UGCC into a mass-based political movement. He yearned to make the UGCC not just a movement for the rich African merchant classes on the coast but also for the masses in the entire country, especially the Northern and Volta Regions where the UGCC had as yet little or no presence. The UGCC leadership went along with Nkrumah’s reorganization plan rather halfheartedly; they approved it in principle but hoped it would be throttled by the sheer scale of its ambition. For that same reason, the colonial administration did not fret about the plan either. But for Nkrumah, the plan was part of a larger program for expanding the UGCC’s political reach and a reflection of his own belief in the power of the masses. He set up about one hundred new branches in short order, traveling extensively throughout the country in a vehicle that famously broke down quite frequently and was pushed back to life by enthusiastic crowds.

The February 28, 1948 peaceful protest by the exservicemen and its aftermath, exposed the fissures in the UGCC leadership and led, eventually to Nkrumah’s. departure from the UGCC and the formation in June 1949 of the Convention Peoples Party which led and won the fight for independence under Nkrumah’s leadership. Thus Nkrumah’s political and ideological worldview was in the end a product of the times he lived in. But he was not a passive repository of the currents that these times unleashed; on the contrary, like all great leaders, he stoked these currents and galvanized them for a cause. In its domestic, continental and panAfrican reaches, Nkrumah’s worldview espoused a militant and revolutionary path in place of a staid gradualist and reformist one. He was moved not just by the widespread yearning for freedom, but by a keen theoretical grasp of the nexus between colonialism, imperialism and the laws of capitalist development.

Tomorrow, we will discuss the economic and political dimensions of Nkrumah’s legacy. Thank you all for listening so intently.