Ghana at 50: A Socialist Appraisal of Nkrumahism
Ghana at 50: A Socialist Appraisal of Nkrumahism
By Peluola Adewale
The independence of Ghana on March 6, 1957 was a watershed in the history of Africa, being the first in black Africa. It was a catalyst to the struggle for liberation from colonial rule in the continent. For the African masses one man’s role stood out in achieving the feat. He was Kwame Nkrumah. Inspired by the independence of India from Britain in 1947, he saw the possibility of defeating imperial Britain with the coordinated and consistent political struggle and thus became a quintessential anti-colonialist. His return to Ghana and formation of anti-colonialist party, Convention Peoples Party (CPP) gave a radical fillip to the independence struggle and set the stage for the exit of the British colonialists.
Unlike the current generation of African leaders who are mostly only satisfied with earning foreign exchange from the sales of natural resources just for self-enrichment, Nkrumah was genuinely committed to using the resources of Ghana for industrial development and economic growth of the country. Ghana was rich in bauxite and that could make it to manufacture aluminium even for exports if there was a reliable power supply. This together with the need to produce electricity to set in motion the process of industrialisation informed the Volta dam project. The project was only half successful but nobody could reasonably doubt the positive intention behind it.
He openly asserted that capitalism was too complicated to achieve the goals of development. But beyond the rhetoric of anti-capitalism and scientific socialism in his celebrated speeches and writings he never truly cut link with capitalism and imperialism. His socialism was versioned on the Stalinist Soviet Union model and utopian African version of socialism. This was his undoing that made it impossible to achieve the lofty goals. For instance, his government relied on bureaucratically run marketing board, a colonial invention, to mobilize the required resources from the sales of cocoa, the country’s then main stay of economy, to attain the goals. This created more enabling avenue for official corruption than the provision of basic needs and infrastructure development it was originally designed to achieve.
He set up state owned companies and public utilities apparently to provide some basic needs for the people. But lack of democratic management and control of the companies by the working people themselves bred mismanagement and corruption that crippled the initiative. They did not only fail to largely achieve their objectives, they became a curse rather than a blessing. How do we mean? Since he could only use the revenue from cocoa to bail out the public companies, he had to make the poor farmers the sacrificial lambs. The government through the market boards reduced the price paid to farmers on cocoa in order to raise more revenue. This was at a period when there was increase in the price of cocoa in the world and farmers only expected fortunes. They were highly disappointed and demoralized to continue production of the commodity. This culminated into series of events that made Ghana to lose its place as the world largest producer of cocoa.
The economic downturn created a social crisis that made the government of the self styled Osagyefo (the Redeemer), the once hope of Ghana and beacon of Africa to become unpopular. The response of the government to the various agitation of working people and farmers worsened the situation. Rather than mobilising workers and the poor to completely break with capitalism Nkrumah became dictatorial and took some draconian measures against the widespread protest and disaffection to his government. Unfortunately, Nkrumah that once proclaimed during the anti-colonial struggle, “If we get self-government, we will transform the Gold Coast (Ghana) into a paradise in 10 years” almost turned the country into hell for workers and opposition. He declared strike actions by workers illegal, arrested and detained opposition without trial and declared Ghana a one-party state with him as the life president.
No doubt that Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was one of the greatest African nationalist leaders. His ouster by a military coup in 1966 provided him opportunity to give more speeches and writings on Africa’s development. He was a pan-Africanist per excellence with some radical and socialist flavour. However, Nkrumah was not a fully rounded Marxist. This limitation largely contributed to his inability to actualize all his set objectives and goals.
Notwithstanding the limitation of Nkrumah and his kindred spirits, they towered much above the current generation of African leaders who have rolled back, with neo-liberal attack of privatisation and cut in social spending ,all the gains of 60’s that saw massive investment of public resources in developmental projects. The rapacious colonialists refused to develop the continent despite sitting on its fabulous wealth. They only provided infrastructure that would aid exploitation of the resources of the continent. This placed enormous responsibility on the new African leaders after the independence to begin the process of necessary development and enthrone welfarist state. Of course, welfarist state, built on the Keynesian theory of state interventionism in economy and the dire need to prevent the idea of socialism that was appealing to workers from being enthroned in the West, was fashionable globally in the period after the independence.
In the present era of neo-liberalism the current corrupt leaders of Africa have embarked on the shameless, unwholesome sales of their different nation’s patrimony built with public resources at give away price to the rapacious capitalists locally and internationally. The new set of African leaders has bastardised the original idea of African solidarity championed by Nkrumah and others. They have come up with initiative like New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD) designed to rely on the exploitation of Africa’s resources by the Western imperialism and the anti-poor neo-liberal economy as the vehicle for development. With this vicious, anti-poor, pro-capitalist machination, it is no surprise that the idea of Nkrumahism, despite its limitation, has remained alluring to many individuals genuinely interested in the development of Africa.
It is apposite to state that the shortcoming of Nkrumahist welfare state was not out of the personal failings of Nkrumah but arose from its attempt to seek improvement and development within confines of capitalism. This was equally why Keynesianism in Western Europe and welfarism elsewhere ran into crisis. This has further underscored the fact that capitalism which has become fetter to the further development of humanity has to be defeated. It has also reaffirmed the relevance of the idea of permanent revolution which has proved the weakness of leaders of the neo-colonial world to develop their countries on the basis of capitalism, even to achieve what bourgeois revolution had done in advanced economies. Africa is the weakest link of the global capitalism, here a revolutionary movement could start that, with international working class solidarity, could defeat capitalism and imperialism.
Kwame Nkrumah in his speech, I Speak of Freedom: A Statement of African Ideology, talked of economic cooperation and political union among African countries as the viable means of bringing about full and effective development of the continent natural resources for the benefit of African people. This statement is still largely relevant today. But to be truly valid and achieve the desired objective such economic cooperation and political union had to be built on genuine socialist programme that aimed at formation of socialist confederation and if possible federation of Africa in solidarity with the working class internationally. This together with discovery of the genuine ideas of Marxism as taught by Marx, Engel, Lenin and Trotsky should be the task of workers and poor masses in Africa.