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Dakota Jenkins

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THE RELEVANCE OF KWAME NKRUMAH’S LEGACY IN GHANA’ 

CONTEMPORARY POLITICAL ECONOMY 

LECTURE GIVEN BY DR KWESI BOTCHWEY 

IN THE KWAME NKRUMAH MEMORIAL LECTURE SERIES 

UNIVERSITY OF CAPE COAST 

SEPTEMBER 2010 

LECTURE TWO – SEPTEMBER 21, 2010 

THE POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC DIMENSIONS OF THE LEGACY 

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

I thank you for coming back to today’s lecture. Today is a public holiday in honor of the day of Nkrumah’s birth, and I worried that perhaps some of you who were here yesterday, might be tempted to seek more directly pleasurable ways of spending the day, although, speaking for myself, I can think of no better way of spending the day than to spend it ruminating and reflecting on the legacy of the great man whose birthday we are honoring. Still, I thank you for coming.

Yesterday, we saw how Kwame Nkrumah’s legacy evolved, what influences and experiences at home and on both sides of the Atlantic helped shape it and what became its distinguishing features. We noted that it was, at once, first, militant and revolutionary, in contrast with the gradualist and accommodating path preferred by his early mentor Kwegyir Aggrey and the rest of the leadership of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC); second, that it was mass based, in contrast with the focus on the interests of the burgeoning class of African merchants, intellectuals and rich farmers; third that it was rooted in theory and a conscious ideology which, although it could not be called scientific socialism as such, was nevertheless broadly socialist and marked by a deep appreciation of theroots of colonialism in the capitalist economy and a yearning for self-determination, national independence and sovereignty; fourth, that it placed a premium on party organization and the role of the youth and the underprivileged in it; that fifth, it was national, continental and Pan African in scope, that from the very beginning, it saw the anticolonial struggle as linked to the struggle of black folk everywhere, but especially, in the America, against racism and for human dignity; and finally, and perhaps most important, that it was informed by a vision of what kind of society and nation he (and the social forces he led) wished to build. Let me add one other aspect of his legacy that I omitted yesterday but would like to come back to in my last lecture, namely, Nkrumah’s view of the place of culture and the arts in national development.

Today, I wish to focus on the political and economic dimensions of his legacy, starting with the political.

Kwame Nkrumah clearly understood the importance of politics in the anti- colonial struggle and in the struggle to consolidate our national sovereignty and independence. His famous declaration: ”seek ye first the political kingdom and all things shall be added to it” sums it all up. His tireless work in mass mobilization and organization as General Secretary of the UGCC, and in the independence struggle and its aftermath, and the time and attention he devoted to molding the CPP into an instrument for mass mobilization and development are all testimony to this recognition. It will take us too far afield to cover the entire ground of Nkrumah’s political legacy. Let me therefore dwell more on those aspects of the political legacy that we can and must learn from both from.

In the synopsis of this lecture, I stated that the political dimension of Nkrumah’s legacy was characterized by a number of basic principles. Let me start with perhaps the most important of these - mass and youth mobilization in the general framework of Party organization.

Kwame Nkrumah himself, as we noted yesterday was active in youth activism in his early years. In Achimota, he belonged to the Debating Society. At Lincoln University, he played a key role in the formation of the African Students’ Association; he knew first hand, the travails and challenges of students’ life. During preparations for the 5th Pan African congress, he worked tirelessly with the West African Student Union to rekindle the spirit of nationalism in the youth, and when he became General Secretary of the UGCC, the mobilization of the youth became his primary focus. He knew first hand, the challenges as well as the enormous potential of youth organization and mobilization. It was little wonder therefore that in 1960, the Nkrumah government, following cabinet approval in principle in 1959, decided to set up a Young Pioneers Movement to instill in the youth of Ghana, a high sense of, patriotism, respect and love for country. The Government studied different models of youth organization around the world and, in the end decided, to adopt one which more or less incorporated the best of all models. The cabinet decided to set up a Ghana Youth Authority (not a Ghana Young Pioneer Authority) to be responsible to the Ministry of Education. The Authority was to be responsible for all youth organizations, including the Young Pioneers, Boy Scouts, Girls Guides, etc. while charitable and voluntary organizations such as the YMCA fell under the control of the Ministry of Social welfare.

After Nkrumah’s overthrow, his youth policy was attacked perhaps the most, as a forum for indoctrination. Many of the criticisms were of course well-founded. Without a doubt, many overzealous functionaries gave the movement a very bad name. One of the most trenchant criticisms of the movement was that it encouraged children to spy on their parents. Supporters, on the other hand, claimed that special agents had been infiltrated into the movement to give it a bad name. No evidence of such infiltration has ever been found, nor has there been any evidence to support the charge of children spying on their parents. It is not my purpose to commend the Young Pioneer Movement as a particularly enviable example to be replicated. There were indeed many aspects of the experience that were unsavory. I discuss it here only to underscore the point that Nkrumah saw youth organization and mobilization as an important part of an overall political strategy and took a decision to establish an organization to tap its potential

Theodore Roosevelt once said “The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done and the self-restraint to keep from meddling with them, while they do it”. In the case of the Young Pioneer Movement, I am not sure Nkrumah picked good men to do what he wanted done, and if he did, he arguably should have meddled with them to see that they remained faithful to his intentions and objectives rather than give them free reign and see the organization founder.

But perhaps the most important aspect of Nkrumah’s political legacy was his early recognition of the cardinal role of effective party organization and the role of mass organization in it. I observed in the summaries of these lectures that the facile and negative characterization of the CPP as the Party of the “Verandah Boys”, in contrast with the UP as a party of the elite, was, in reality, a backhanded and no doubt unintended compliment to Nkrumah’s genius in recognizing the role and power of what T. S. Elliot called the “vast impersonal forces” in shaping the course of history! The kernel of Nkrumah’s political legacy was his focus on what has come to be called “mass democracy”.

Let me turn now to the economic policy dimension of Nkrumah’s legacy, Ghana’s story is much like Bysshe Shelley’s shattered lamp or broken lute whose melodies are sung, as Ghana’s were some fifty years ago, and soon forgotten, as the nation plunged into a period of sustained economic and political crisis in the late sixties seventies and early eighties. Ghana is often described in the literature as a case of a “model” colony which inherited a bountiful legacy at independence in 1957, and somehow managed to squander it by adopting “self-destructive” development strategies, characterized in the main, by pervasive state participation and intervention in the economy through much of the sixties and thereafter, for much of the seventies and early eighties, by an intensification of price and exchange controls and, widespread corruption and rent-seeking.

As with all sweeping generalizations, this statement of the Ghana story contains some grain of truth, but only a little grain. The Ghana story is much more complex; the “grace to grass” theory paints too simple a picture of it, and conveys a viewpoint which may very well be a sparkling invective, especially given the times we live in, but is misleading in many important respects and not a particularly balanced and useful assessment of Ghana’s “political economy” in the Nkrumah period.

It is true that Ghana was a relatively prosperous and well-endowed nation at independence in 1957. It had foreign exchanging reserves with a book value of over 200 million pounds sterling, equivalent to about three years of imports, a per capita national income almost three times India’s and Nigeria’s, and more than a shade higher than Egypt’s at the time. The country had a rich natural resource base- gold, diamonds, manganese, bauxite, and forest products - and, again relatively speaking, a good human resource endowment. Already, by the late fifties, Ghana’s primary and secondary school enrolment rates were far ahead of average rates in the West African region. To be sure, the legacy was by no means without its limitations, and as a number of writers have noted correctly, it is only in comparison with other colonies that Ghana’s assets at independence stand out so markedly. Among other things, skilled labor was limited, and shortages of specific skills were already evident in many critical areas before independence; even Ghana’s much vaunted civil service was not the paragon of bureaucratic excellence that it was said to be. More importantly, its economy was, like most colonial economies, heavily dependent on cocoa and extractive industries, with all the instability that this entailed for the budget and the balance of payments – for government revenues and for foreign exchange earnings; there was hardly any industrialization; its agriculture was still a “cutlass and hoe” agriculture, and the population was growing at a vigorous rate. Still, the country was undoubtedly better- placed than most other colonies at independence. But, contrary to what some of the literature suggests, what followed was not a linear case of reckless profligacy, or of incompetent and “counterproductive” policies pushed by self-seeking politicians, against the current of professional opinion and knowledge. This, in our view, cannot be a fitting description of the dynamics of economic policy in any period of the country’s history; it certainly will not be an appropriate characterization of the economic policy stance of the Nkrumah period.

For all its pitfalls, economic policy in the immediate post-independence years was driven more by the larger objectives of national development than by the philistinism that sadly came to dominate policy making in the seventies through much of sub-Saharan Africa. Nkrumah was a leader of great vision and a deep sense of history; the consolidation of Ghana’s sovereignty and independence through rapid economic development was a goal he pursued with a genuine passion. Tony Killick is absolutely right when he says, he this regard, that “it is impossible to obtain a rounded view of his (Nkrumah’s) policies, unless we accept long-term economic development as one of his chief objectives”.

It must be recalled that for just about the entire decade of the fifties, from 1951 to 1957 (when Nkrumah’s Convention People Party headed an “internal self-government”) and for the immediate post-independence period, through 1961, economic policy was barely distinguishable from the policies of the colonial period. It was characterized by a cautious fiscal and monetary policy, a liberal trade and payments regime, and a comfortable cushion of foreign exchange reserve. Moreover, the nature and extent of state intervention or participation in the economy, and the instruments for such intervention did not differ from those employed in the colonial period. Thus, no real break with the past occurred in the general direction of economic policy, until 1961 when a new and, at least by self-assertion, socialist development strategy emphasizing industrialization through the public enterprise route, was launched. It is also interesting to observe that throughout the entire period of Nkrumah’s rule – before and after the launch of public enterpriseled industrialization – the government’s ideasabout development differed little from those of mainstream development economists of the time. Indeed, by his own admission, Nkrumah had for instance, taken great comfort from Myrdal’s pronouncement that “government interference in all matters affecting economic growth in less developed countries is today a universally accepted principle…” Nkrumah had, in his service – though perhaps not at his service – a crop of well-motivated “technocrats” who shared his view of the stateled industrialization, and worked to translate it into Development Plans. These were times, it must be recalled, when “centralized planning” was widely accepted in the UN development agencies, including the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA). Within the ranks of the economics profession itself, there was a substantial body of agreement that central planning was a perfectly legitimate, in fact, necessary, way of correcting the well-known imperfections for the market system. Indeed, at the beginning of the sixties, just about the entire world outside Western Europe, North America, and Japan appeared to be ruled by a non-market philosophy. In East Asia, no free market comets had blazed yet; the Bretton-Woods institutions, notably the World Bank, for their part, had not really begun to focus on the problems of the developing countries quite yet. Nkrumah, it must also be noted, availed himself of the advice of world acclaimed and prominent members of the economic profession, during both “phases” in the evolution of his development strategy. A number of leading scholars of the period were on hand to discuss a Seven-Year Development Plan (1963/4-1969/70) at an experts’ conference in 1963, and reportedly joined others in endorsing the Plan’s basic strategy. This was the plan that heralded the socialist program, and advocated a decisive shift in the composition of government expenditure to directly productive activity, away from social sector investments.

Now, all this is not, of course, to suggest that the blame and responsibility for the economic difficulties that marked the implementation of the new strategy of big push industrialization lay with the technocrats at home and their professional collaborators abroad, much less with the profession as such. Nor is it to suggest that no mistakes were made, or difficulties encountered in policy making and implementation during the Nkrumah period. It is simply to say, at this stage, that Nkrumah did not spurn, as is often suggested, an obviously superior alternative strategy of development in favor of a demonstrably destructive one, just so that he and those who ruled with him could line their pockets. As we indicated in the introductory chapter, the new political economy and its precursor theories that see politics in the so called developing countries essentially as the pursuit of private interest, do not provide a particularly useful framework for analysis. To the extent that they say anything at all, they say something that is no means unique to the developing world or to Africa. As is well known, self-enrichment and corruption in politics are sadly, a near universal phenomenon and by published indications, may very well be even more grave in scale, if not in incidence, in the industrialized democracies.

For the Nkrumah period, for instance, these theories will not explain why, for instance, in the face of stiff opposition from some of his own political constituencies, he would opt, as h e often did, to impose hardship by raising taxes and curbing consumption rather than curtail investment expenditure. That mistakes were made cannot be denied; they were mistakes partly of a political kind; among them, the fact that the shift in economic and political direction was initiated in rather inauspicious political conditions. The Convention Peoples Party (CPP), Nkrumah’s party, had been, from the very beginning, a mass party, fired by anticolonial sentiment and perfectly suited to the struggle for independence and sovereignty.

It did not undergo any fundamental change after independence, and in fact, by 1961, when the policy shift to a planned and state controlled policy was made, it had lost much of its nationalist fervor. It had neither the consciousness in its rank and file nor the commitment in its leadership to prosecute the socialist revolution which the party and government sought. It had no trained cadres to deploy to help bring about the desired radical transformation in economic and political relations. On the contrary, by 1961, the party’s ranks were bursting with populism and its leadership had fallen captive to a wave of opportunism masquerading as a new spurt of militant socialism. Moreover, the national political consensus, never before exactly ironclad, was by 1961 even more frayed; things were to get worse still with the promulgation of one party rule in 1964. These were hardly the conditions in which to launch even a national democratic revolution – one simply aimed at a consolidation of national sovereignty and independence through a more efficient management of the colonial economy, as even this would have called for a broad alliance of social forces, including anti-socialists. For a socialist revolution, the circumstances were even less opportune.

All this notwithstanding, I would like to conclude by noting that nothing attests to the enduring nature of Nkrumah’s economic policy legacy more clearly than the fact that fact that “closed” economy, with its large public sector and its regime of import licensing exchange and price controls remained in place, with very little change through the second Republic - in spite of its professed liberal economic philosophy - and through the extended period of military rule under Akyeampong. By some stroke of irony, it took another left leaning government under the PNDC and the successor NDC to dismantle this closed economy and undertake a real program of liberalization. Tomorrow, in my last lecture, we will discuss the relevance of Nkrumah’s legacy in today’s Ghana (and Africa).

THANK YOU!