Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Kwame Nkrumah: Nkrumah never dies!

Yesterday I asked 'what exactly are we celebrating this coming week?' We have our Independence day, Republic day, etc. so how come we’re also celebrating the birthday of a man who’s been dead for 37 years? My conclusion is that that in itself shows the greatness of the man?!

Those alive during Nkrumah’s time tell me of his charisma and popularity. This is a man who was more of a celebrity than a head of State.
“Kwame Nkrumah - show boy”, “I want to see Kwame Nkrumah – show boy!” the Makola women would chant when they saw him in person, heard his speeches, or at any time they felt like it.

My older family members inform me that when Nkrumah spoke on the radio, people would rush to hear and there would be complete silence whilst he was on air. They often remember getting goosebumps as his eloquence pierced through the airwaves and caught the attention of each person in the listening crowds.

(picture borrowed from panafricanperspective)

The Young Pioneers, Nkrumah’s youth supporters (see Poet's excellent definition of them here, would cheer “Nkrumah never dies!”. This later became an everyday expression and it seems, is still true today, Nkrumah never dies!

As I write, I am surprisingly reminded of this fact. How? Microsoft Word spell-check recognizes Nkrumah in its vocabulary!


Nana Yaw Asiedu said...

Another fresh perspective. Nkrumah was supposed to be highly expressive in speech and in writing. But (something I planned to post on, but later abandoned)in the only recording of his voice that I have heard - the Declaration of Independence, he sounded strange. His influences were Ghanaian, American and British. But he did not sound Ghanaian. He did not sound American. He did not sound British. He sounded African, yes! But not Ghanaian. Was it his normal accent? Was it all the emotion? What was it?

Esi W. Cleland said...

I believe the song was...
Nkrumah ee, Kwame Nkrumah show boy" (2x)
I want to see you, Kwame Nkruman Showboy.

@Nana Yaw, As for the accent, I think it was more Nzema than anything else. What we have come to call the Ghanaian accent is more of a fanti and sometimes twi accent. Ghanaians from other parts of the country speak English influenced by their ethnic groups. So eg. an Ewe man raised in ewe land speaks English with distinct accent as does the northerner and Ga man. The people you find in Accra were often born or raised in the city, so do not have the accents from their original ethnic groups...since the "accent" in Accra is dominated by akan groups, mostly twi and fanti.

Abena said...

Nice one Maya...There are so many dimensions and layers to Kwame Nkrumah but charisma and popularity definitely stand out.
We probably have not had such a charismatic or popular leader in Ghana since...

Maya Mame said...

Nana Yaw, my mother remembers him sounding almost Nigerian. She pointed out exactly what you've said, about not sounding Ghanaian, but I think Esi probably has given us the most accurate answer.

Maya Mame said...

Thanks Esi, for the song lyrics and accent explanation!

It is so true that we have come to call one accent the "Ghanaian" accent when really each tribe has their own intonations.

Maya Mame said...

Thanks Abena. And you're right, we're a long way away from having another leader of his charisma!

Sijui said...

I have a tortured relationship with Kwame Nkrumah. To be perfectly honest I thought the man was mediocre at best....the garden variety megalomaniac.

Yet I cannot reconcile that he was made of strong intellectual timber, earnest and passionate about robust philosophical beliefs and courageous enough to stick his neck out for them and pay the price.

In closing, I do not celebrate the man.......he failed to live up to his potential because of personal demons, emotional insecurity and a heavy dose of self righteousness.

Nelson Mandela remains the gold standard of an African statesman who confronted his lesser self head on and won, to the benefit of his people and humanity.

Nana Yaw Asiedu said...

Esi and Maya, a work colleague confirms that he spoke that way because of his first language. I am educated. Maybe I should go and make a friend from Nkroful.

Maya Mame said...

I'm happy for your comment, Sijui. I've been wondering and recently discussing why the negative aspects of Nkrumah have hardly been mentioned this week in the media, including on my own blog. He was not a perfect man at all, far from it, and in many cases he could be described as an opportunist who thanks to his charisma got the glory for other people's work.

My only conclusion is that when we see where Ghana once was and where it is today, it is easy for us turn a blind eye to all his bad actions and rather celebrate the good. Under his leadership Ghana was heading further than we've gotten today.

Not sure how this works as an answer, but I see where you're coming from.

Maya Mame said...

Thanks for the confirmation Nana Yaw!

novisi said...

you think Mandela never supported any act of violence ever???????????

Mandela comes no where near Nkrumah in terms of vision and prosecuting a vision! Mandela had the benefit of the 'white' south africans having developed significant infrastructure for SA. compare that scenario to what Nkrumah inherited and come again on your 'mediocre' (pun intended too) challenge to Nkrumah!

in fact i'd love to know what you define as 'mediocre' and to what you make that comparison!

your general statement doesn't help much. you need to come again! it's a need! hehe!

Sijui said...

Hi Novisi,
The best response I can muster is philosophical. I consider Nkrumah mediocre based on my assessment that he made an intellectual and emotional choice to be mean-spirited, self righteous and intolerant of all things that did not revolve around his philosophical or polical agenda. Worst still I feel he allowed this to trump his obvious intelligence and common sense in terms of appreciating the value of a pluralistic, democratic and free society.

Believe me, I am not trying to imply that Mandela is a saint. My point, Mandela strove to rise above his personal deficiencies and those of his society......he is beloved far and wide primarily because of that singular character trait of refusing to succumb to cynicism, bitterness, vengeance and a sense of entitlement. Far from perfect he is and I am the first to admit not above reproach either......but he has built a legacy of political and personal integrity for his people.

The same cannot be said of Nkrumah in my very humble personal opinion.

novisi said...

ok Sijui,
interesting points there. but still the general without specifics is difficult to deal with.

i can't take away from you your personal 'believes' from your assessments but a careful examination could be made and that's what i'd do now!

MEDIOCRITY? (based on mean spirit?)
for one thing i can't tell the 'spirit' of any man truly. i lack the 'skill' for that.

but the actions of a man speaks louder than perceptions really.
Nkrumah mean spirited?
this was a man who after becoming president appointed a number of his detractors to important positions: J B Danquah was head of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences which was placed under the presidency then for example. J. H. Mensah was the secretary who authored the famous 7 year development plan.

Nkrumah self-righteous? even his official cameraman would tell you have Nkrumah used to consult him even though he was a 'small boy' and had 'zero' executive power.

Nkrumah intolerant of all things that didn't "revolve around his philosophical or political agenda"?
really? where is the proof for this???????? if it were so, how come he worked with Danquah anyway after becoming prez?????? how did Nkrumah go dealing with 'capitalist' America to build Akosombo Dam if what you say is true??? a hypothesis as this that clearly lacks firm foundation must be discarded. and i implore you at this juncture to look in that direction.

Again, i can do little about your feeling. but to say Nkrumah did not appreciate the "value of a pluralistic, democratic and free society" is clearly untrue since the facts don't support that GENERALIZATION as well.

indeed it was his drive for a pluralistic, democratic and free society that led him to fight for Northern Region, the Volta Region and the Ashanti Region to join the rest of the gold coast for independence.

if Nkrumah did not believe in such ideals and let alone demonstrate them, then perhaps he should have allowed some of those calling for secession moves like the Ewes, the Gas, The Ashantis, the Northerners to have their way! did you ever hear of the Biafra war in Nigeria??? ask yourself sincere questions about that in the context of the Ghanaian experience! i implore you a second time.

most people who mention this things talk about his one party-state. but even that must be put in the right context. this was at the height of secessionist moves by various groups and 'Terrorist' attacks.

nkrumah has some appreciable legacy of political integrity! so 'same' can be said of him.

1. check negotiations for independence. while others were were agreeing to rights for only a select few like property owners and chiefs to vote Nkrumah stood against it and called for the 'normal' adult universal suffrage.

2. Nkrumah clearly did not steal govt money for his personal gain. he lived up to this expectation!

3. Nkrumah demonstrated beyond doubt that he believed in building a nation where all men and women are equal no matter the ethnic origin.

4. At the time when even women participation in leadership was almost a no go in America, Nkrumah demonstrated clearly that women were as important as men in leadership. about 10 women were in his govt.

5. etc. etc. etc.

novisi said...

here is the continuation:
MANDELA comparison:
if it boils down to preference then i don't have a problem.

but again and again, we must look at the issues involved.

1. i've already mentioned the different challenges both men had to deal with as 'fresh' presidents. Mandela had far far more than basic infrastructure in place. Nkrumah didn't and had to start from a clean slate almost. in the end, Nkrumah's physical infrastructure development is what is still being depended on heavily till now. housing schemes, industries, electricity, schools, roads, etc etc.

2. Pan-Africanism. As for this one. Mandela is a child in comparison. Nkrumah was at the very front with leaders like Marcus Garvey, Padmore, Du Bois etc. does Mandela even get a mention on this rather serious issue????

3. Scientific advancement? Nkrumah started the Ghana Atomic Agency and but for his overthrow Ghana would have had generations of nuclear scientist by now. Ghana could have been where Iran is now struggling to step.

Again, Nkrumah had an elaborate plan to build a Science and Technology village for research. he even had plans of making even school dropouts appreciate the value of science through mass education. now tell me when did America have a silicon valley? see vission? yet this was the middle of the 20th century right?
did Mandela make any such monumental contributions to the advancement of Science?

3. Nkrumah even while he was busy about wrote about 20 books. how many did Mandela write? one?

4. Nkrumah's philosophies are very deep. i wonder if Mandela could much him in that light.

5. Mandela, was about launching a guerrilla war during the apartheid struggle. do you know that? Mandela was planning 'terrorist' attacks on the then govt. do you know that? in fact do you know that he formed the military wing of the ANC??????? and i'm not against this when the need is clear!

6. That Mandela rose above "personal deficiencies and those of his society"???? Nkrumah also did acknowledge his deficiencies. no problem there? maybe if Nkrumah had lived longer he would have had more opportunity to comment and demonstrate more of such commitment!

so you see the generalization does not help.

Sijui said...

Thanks Novisi for that very thorough synopsis however I think your memory is a little selective:
1) Mean spirited: Nkrumah in the span of a decade morphed in to a tyrant goaded by the belief that those who were opposed to his political vision were also 'personal' enemies to be disposed off. His demise is a result of many things including his sowing the seeds of political intolerance.
2) Let us not forget his loyal corps and delusions of grandeur, remember when children and the youth formed Nkrumah brigades to spy on his detractors including their parents? This is what I refer to as mean spirited......with a heavy dose of self righteousness.
3) In my estimation Nkrumah built the foundation that soon followed for Ghana: militaty juntas, lack of democracy, economic and political retrogression.

No doubt he did many laudable things for Ghana for which he should be commended. Perhaps we have set the bar too low for ourselves when we commend political leaders for achieving something tangible in office when in other societies that is a given.

And I do not single Nkrumah out alone, there were many independence 'heroes' that were far worse like Kenyatta, Banda, Mugabe et al. I have come to look at our post colonial history dispassionately with the realization that we just did not produce the leadership timber of our peers be it George Washington.....or Mahatma Gandhi.....or Lee Kuaw Yan.

Maya Mame said...

Sijui and Novisi, I am finding your debate so interesting and rewarding. But as you may have noticed, I'm being a coward ;) and letting you battle it out alone.

Keep the comments coming!

novisi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
novisi said...

my memory is not 'selective'. what i'm doing is raising challenges to the things you sort of 'debunk' Nkrumah for.

i don't have a problem if you think Nkrumah was 'mediocre'. what i want to see is a substantiation of the assertions. else call a woman some name and walk home free without feeling responsible for anything. see?

Banda, Mugabe, Kenyatta etc may have their own problems. but one thing is clear: these guys come no where near Nkrumah on many of the issues i've already mentioned.

some of this guys 'just' occupied leadership. Nkrumah on the other hand 'lived' (if you want) leadership.

The other icons like Ghandhi, Washington etc had their own problems. but you still find them worthy of emulation. and that is exactly the point i'm making.

Maybe you should read about the ills of Ghandhi while he was in South Africa. i wonder if Ghandhi ever made the time or had the opportunity to reconcile himself with those ills before he died.

all these Icons are known for some things.

Ghandhi- for his philosophies and his 'almost unbelievable' non-violent protests! Ghandhi did little in terms of infrastructure building for india.

Washington- for his founding of America. Washington used violence in order to secure the union of America. people died for opposing him. but we celebrate him for a greater course right?

Mandela- for withstanding years of political imprisonment and for bowing out out of leadership which is a rarity in Africa. imagine that so many of these had happened before Mandela. would he be that iconic still?

Nyerere- he's celebrated for giving up when the going got tough and for living a simple life even after being president. He was not corrupt. He was a teacher too. a good one. but he had problems with managing his nations economy.

so you see. every one of these leaders had their ups and downs. but in the sum the greater good is what is celebrated.

personally i believe human beings have taken too long to realize certain basic things. like the fact that chieftainship is an affront to humanity. like the fact that freedom of speech must not even be censored etc etc. but i still believe that we must recognize those who achieved some landmark events. or at least, we should be thorough in assessing the the issues.

it is true that certain things like the provision of infrastructure are a giving in certain areas. but again we all know what happened when Bush did not respond 'decisively' to the hurricane catrina victims.

even in our kind of places where the provision of basic infrastructure is almost like a favour, others have built roads and houses and schools, but the works of Nkrumah still stand tall and very tall indeed.


novisi said...

i'm enjoying the debate too. but i don't want to 'spam' your page.



Sijui said...

Thanks Novisi for engaging me on this and Maya for your fantastic blog as always!

Your points are all solid and factual.

My opinion remains that Nkrumah was the poster child for the 'cult of personality' that bedevils Africa and continues to hold us back. Blind faith and following of political charlatans. Nkrumah did many laudable things but it is not lost on me that people are celebrating these as Nkrumah's achievements rather than as the collective achievement of a body politic that had come of age politically, socially and economically as exemplified by its leader.

My point, you hear Americans celebrate George Washington and their founding fathers but never once are their achievements credited to George Washington-the individual or the Founding Fathers-as a group of individuals. They celebrate 'America's achievements' as extended to George Washington and the founding fathers who exemplified the best values that they as a people collectively ascribed to. In short, there were no personality cults.

Let me go to the other end of the spectrum....Lee Kuaw Yuan who for all intents and purposes was and is a beningn autocrat. He established an authoritarian regime for Singapore that exists today based on their own unique social and cultural millieu and his trajectory followed basically the same path of Nkrumah in terms of intellectual self reliance, geo-political independence, investments in indigenous technology etc, etc but the results were vastly different because once again the former invested in building a technocratic civil service and economic system whilst the other succumbed to a personality cult.

The story is repeated in almost every African country post-independence and realms of paper have been wasted on asking why is Africa so poor in relation to her peers?

We failed to sow the seeds for excellence in governance and consequently produce leaders who are equally mediocre.

Kofi said...

@ Sijui
You think there is any man on earth who does not enjoy power? I'm sorry to tell you that even Mandela wanted power so much so that he patiently waited to be given power. Yes same could not be said of Nkrumah who would not wait for his people's blood to be sucked by leeches before given power. Well I think you could do better that to label Nkrumah as a mediocre and megalomaniac politician of his time. When a leader finds his life under any kind of threat from terrorists, he is left with no other choice than to detain people without trial. The US have Guantanamo prison for such people albeit masterminding the overthrow of Nkrumah for the same reason among others. It is so sad to see people of your ilk making hasty generalization on the man's great and unparalleled achievement in world politics.


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