Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana, and the German Sonderweg (part 2 of 2)
|October 31, 2012||Posted by Joseph Keysor under Blog|
Describing himself as a Marxian Socialist, Nkrumah initiated boycotts, inflammatory propaganda, and strikes. His radical demands appealed to many people on the lower levels of society. When violence broke out because of his agitation, Nkrumah was arrested and sentenced to three years in prison (the British Governor, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, referred to Nkrumah as “our local Hitler”).
Arrest by the British made Nkrumah even more of a hero, and when elections were held for the new National Assembly in 1951, Nkrumah’s party won 34 of 38 seats. The British (with their respect for constitutional procedure) released Nkrumah and invited him to become the new head of state in 1951.
As Prime Minister, Nkrumah proceeded to subvert British plans for a gradual transition to constitutional government and gather all power to himself (as Hitler did when he subverted the Weimar constitution that, as Chancellor, he was supposed to uphold). Soon Nkrumah demanded immediate full self government. The British yielded, and finally gave Ghana full independence. In 1960 Nkrumah introduced a new “constitution” that allowed him to rule by decree. The state had complete control of the media, political opponents were persecuted and imprisoned, and disrespect “to the person and dignity of the Head of State” became a criminal offense.
Ghana became a single-party state in 1964 with Nkrumah’s Convention People’s party controlling a vast network of organizations – youth groups, women’s groups, trade unions, the civil service, and others. A bishop who objected to the political indoctrination of young people in the youth groups was kicked out of the country. Nkrumah had direct personal control over every aspect of government, and staged rigged referendums to demonstrate the depth of his popularity.
Not content with political power, Nkrumah established a personality cult and enjoyed being praised with the most magnificent superlatives. A newspaper wrote of him in 1961, “the man Kwame Nkrumah will be written of as the liberator, the Messiah, the Christ of our day” (note that the political use of Christian language and imagery is no proof of Christianity). An official publication stated “Kwame Nkrumah is Africa and Africa is Kwame Nkrumah . . . his name is a breath of hope . . . Kwame Nkrumah is our father, our teacher, our brother, our friend, indeed our very lives” . Didn’t Rudolf Hess say that “Hitler is Germany and Germany is Hitler”?
Some more of his titles were “Man of Destiny, Star of Africa,” and Osagyefo, an African word meaning “redeemer” or “victor in war” [179-180]. His likeness appeared everywhere – on stamps, coins, banknotes, statues, and photos in government offices. Nkrumah “saw himself as a messianic leader”  and had vast ambitions. He wanted to unite Africa – with himself as leader – and make Africa politically, economically, and militarily equal to America and the Soviet Union. He even invented his own ideology “Nkrumahism” – a vaguely defined mixture of socialism and pan-African nationalism.
All of his big dreams failed. Isolated and suspicious of everyone around him, he was unable to endure contradiction, being accustomed only to constant praise and agreement. Completely incompetent as an administrator, he conceived of vast projects designed to enhance Ghana’s (and his) prestige but which turned out to be immensely costly and useless failures. Blatant corruption and squandering of funds led to sever economic difficulties, and what had been a stable and prosperous colony under British rule descended into strikes and protests that were met with sever repression. Debt soared, with poor record keeping leading to a complete loss of financial accountability. Nkrumah also devastated the agricultural sector with his inept and incompetent policies.
In foreign policy, Nkrumah’s obvious desire to call the shots alienated other African leaders who did not share his dreams of an Africa united under himself. He got involved with disputes with his immediate neighbors, sponsoring assassination attempts and revolutionary guerrilla activities.
In spite of the complete failure of all of his ambitions both domestic and foreign, Nkrumah remained cocooned in a fantasy world, blaming others for his difficulties, refusing to accept negative reports, surrounded by flatterers, and even more withdrawn after a failed assassination attempt. “Even in the face of such overwhelming opposition and daily evidence of economic collapse around him, Nkrumah refused to let go of his fantasy” .
What finally brought about his downfall in 1966 was his decision to interfere with the military. Trained in the British military tradition, the army had not involved itself with politics – but when Nkrumah sought to bring it under his political control the generals rebelled. While Nkrumah was on a trip overseas the army seized power, and the people of Ghana celebrated his overthrow. Slogans such as “Nkrumah is the new Messiah” and “Nkrumah never dies” were quickly abandoned.
Nkrumah went into exile in Guinea, blaming his downfall on “world imperialism” and “neo-colonialism.” He kept believing that he had supporters in Ghana and that someday he would return to power, but he fell into obscurity and died neglected and ignored.
Well, we can expect that sort of thing in Thailand, Ghana, Serbia, the Sudan, right? But Germany? At the very center of European civilization, with a great tradition of literature, philosophy, music, science, education, and government-provided social services?
What if evil is always not far beneath the surface, seeking ways to break out, and will break out unless it is consistently restrained? And we should consider the possibility that greater industrial power and cultural and scientific advancement (without corresponding spiritual and ethical advancement) only make evil much more devastating when it does emerge, since they give good men more power to do good, and bad men more power to do bad.
And what if America descends into barbarism one day? Might not our previous state of development make the barbarism that much worse when it does come?
 Martin Meredith, The State of Africa: A History of the Continent Since Independence (London, 2011), p. 19. All other quotes are from this source so page numbers will be given in the text.