The critics, the UGCC and the faith of our Fathers

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“…We must fight with the weapons of today, constitutional, determined, persistent, unflinching, unceasing until the goal of freedom is attained”- (J. B. Danquah; Saltpond, 4th August 1947).

The question is quite simple: was Kwame Nkrumah the sole founder of the country now named Ghana? We will answer no! But, it seems the debate will not end, not when remnants of the Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP) critics, who spout Marxist jargons to impugn the patriotism of Kwame Nkrumah’s opponents, reduce historical facts into zero-sum debates and games, and continue to paint a false narrative about the fight for independence.

Several decades after his overthrow, his supporters would want us to forget the foundations of independent Ghana, the men and women who struggled before Nkrumah arrived in 1949, the greatest betrayals that led to the formation of the CPP, which the remnants call ‘pragmatic politics – real politik,’ and we call betrayal, or the jubilations at the news of the coup that ended the tyrannical regime of the Convention Peoples’ Party (CPP). Ghana needs to recount her history. And, in doing that, it is only fit to do reverence and honour all those, who, in diverse ways, contributed to the fight for independence, including all those whose ideas were ridiculed at the time. Of course, Nkrumah’s place will be preserved. Ghanaians will still honour him for his sterling role and his vision, even when most did not agree with him. We would be doing this nation a great harm, if, in our bigotry, we lower the bar to redefine and damp down the role of others.

Times have changed. Now the ideals embodied in the formation of the United Gold Coast Convention are recognised and enunciated all over the free world, and many Ghanaians are resoundingly expressing their concern about big size of government and corruption. A good reason to celebrate the formation of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC). Especially as the bigger centralised state and institutions which Nkrumah created, and successor regimes have try to imitate, have failed to deliver on the promises of independence. Indeed, all of us have a place in the long story of our history – a story we continue, but whose end, none of us will see.

 

But we digress. Since, as the critics say, ‘one of the greatest imperatives in writing history is to follow and interrogate facts wherever they led’, we would attempt to do same briefly here. The formation of the UGCC did not occur in a vacuum. Before 1947, there were two moribund political organisations in the country. They were not working effectively because of tribal divisions, notably between the Akan and Ga ethnic groups, and dominated by lawyers and wealthy merchants. It was these two moribund parties – the Gold Coast People’s League and the Gold Coast National Party – that joined together to form the UGCC to demand for freedom ‘to liberate the energies of the people for the growth of a property-owning democracy in this land, with the right to life, freedom, and justice as the principles to which the government and laws of the land should be dedicated, in order, specifically, to enrich the life, property and liberty of each and every citizen.’

Kwame Nkrumah, a known communist at that time, was invited, and he accepted to come and act as the General Secretary of the UGCC and work with the ‘elite, reactionary, middle-class intelligentsia’, whom he distrusted, knowing very well he would be totally at odds with their views. Any principled man would have rejected the offer, but Nkrumah accepted to work for the UGCC, and took advantage of the opportunities preserved by Danquah and the others.

He arrived on 14th November 1947, nine years after he left, to meet a country which had ‘already reached a high level of political sophistication, unmatched elsewhere in Africa, and was the pioneer of political change,’ and did his job, well. He set up branches, collected donations, moved the party to the Ashanti and Northern Territories, organised rallies and speaking tours, and simply brought dynamism into Ghanaian politics. He recruited some of the sharpest young brains, including Komla Agbeli Gbedemah.  However, Nkrumah made sure that these young men owed their allegiance, not to the UGCC, but to him. Nkrumah did his job very well, knowing all along that his long-term intention was to usurp the structures he was building for himself, and to further his socialist ideals, which he did at Saltpond, in front of the same hall the UGCC was formed. Ironic, isn’t it?

Danquah and the others never ‘thwarted every effort to deliver the promise of self-government they committed themselves to in August 1947.’ They wanted to debate the form and feature of the future country and differences solved; they favoured devolution to the regions and a government restrained in its powers at the centre; they advanced the liberal principle of decentralisation and property rights; and they were wary of a powerful central government. For this, they were ridiculed, and it was for this that most of them died in Nkrumah’s prisons, while their ideas were suppressed.

Unfortunately, when the ideals of liberty, individual rights, decentralisation, rule of law and property are to be explained, most people in the country, including some in the current regime, and including most intellectuals, turn to derision, explaining that those ideals are nothing more than ‘symbolism and the product of status anxiety,’ echoing the opposition.

Nkrumah preferred a socialist welfare economy, with the means of production and distribution controlled by the state. Of course, he could not tell the citizens his long term aims; would have no debates on the pros and cons of his ideas, and rather resorted to ridicule, abuse and clichés to scuttle all debate on the form of government after independence.

While most of the critics of the celebrations are not disputing the contributions of those who gathered in Saltpond in 1947, and many others before them, to the anti-colonial struggle, especially, Danquah’s, that should end the debate? But, no! The story of our history; a story of a flawed and fallible people, divided by selfishness and controlled by opportunist journeymen and no enduring ideals, must be retold. Presently, it seems our minds are closed and sealed tight against any idea, but the premises and conclusions that a government exists to solve our economic and social problems – an antique system of wishful thinking. So far, this country has become a minor roadblock, poor, vulnerable, and raped by corrupt opportunists with no principles, and eager only for the rents they collect.

It is not that simple. So long as there is politics, there will be those willing to create or exploit chaos to either gain power or maintain it. But, celebrating the formation of the UGCC was not a search for scapegoats, it was a call to our conscience. Simply said, we must be wary of false ideas and wean people away from the notion that the critical role of the central government is to allocate resources and set production levels. Ringing phrases that talk about the goals of one nation, one people, and one destiny, without reference to our history – a history limited by failing institutions and hidden by prejudice and the circumstances of our founding. The arguments of Danquah and the others still echo in Ghanaian politics. Seventy years on, it seems we share only a space on earth, not a country.

What do we do with a Constitution that makes our president an imperial monarchy and a tool by which our politicians and the state trample on individual rights and property? What should be the proper role of government in our lives? How do we build a nation of justice and opportunity? Like the socialist remnants, most in the NPP just don’t get it. These people still live in the country Nkrumah built, a country where government is the answer to all personal problems.

As we celebrate that day in history, we must be bold to declare to the whole country, successful democracies are not so much because of politics as it was a victory of ideas; not so much of one man or party as it was a victory for a set of principles. Those who lead our nation today, and those who will lead it tomorrow, must rekindle our faith in freedom and democracy to vindicate the ideals of freedom and to see to it that they guide our country.

The message of 1947, like the message of 2000 and 2016, is that social engineering, in whatever form, will fail at all times; it is to dedicate the country to democratic values to help us reflect on what these mean for our country, to the people, to the economy, and ‘that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these (democratic) ends, it is the right of the people to alter it, and to institute a new government.’

It is that central government should get out of our lives and decentralise with a vengeance!

Source: Kwadwo Afari

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