This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday March 10 2013
On Wednesday March 6, 2013, President Mahama of Ghana paid tribute on the 56th Anniversary of Independence “to the late President Kwame Nkrumah and other leaders who led the struggle for independence for their courage, perseverance and self-determination”.
In Ghana, the National Commission for Civic Education (NCCE) proposed a National Reconciliation Forum in 1999. A National Reconciliation Act was passed in 2002. Professor Gyimah-Boadi, Director of the Centre for Democratic Development, believes that: “By design or default, the process of developing a framework and legislation for national reconciliation in Ghana has been fairly open, consultative, and participatory”.
The territory of modern Ghana was known as the Gold Coast. The ancient kingdom of Ghana controlled the gold trade between the mining areas to the south and the Saharan trade routes to the north. Ancient Ghana was also the focus for the export trade in Saharan copper and salt. Forts and castles were built by Portuguese, Dutch, British and Spanish merchants to repel competitors and store gunpowder, ivory and gold. Slaves replaced gold as the most lucrative trade along the coast, and the forts were used for keeping newly acquired slaves pending the arrival of the ships sent to collect them. Whole regions were destroyed and depopulated.
After the Dutch withdrew in 1874, Britain made the Gold Coast a protectorate and ruled, exploiting ethnic conflict and sapping the regions natural resources, until post-war downsizing forced it to abandon its empire.
The colonised people had never passively accepted the imperial yoke. After rioting increased in 1948, members of the United Gold Coast Convention were arrested, including Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah formed his own party, the CPP (Convention People’s Party. After his party gained 34 out of 38 seats in the Legislative Assembly in 1952, Nkrumah was released. After further negotiations with Britain, on March 6, 1957 Nkrumah declared Ghana “free forever”.
Like Hugo Chavez, Nkrumah had ambitions, which displeased the USA, beyond his own nation. His espousal of Pan-Africanism had roots in his experiences as a colonial subject. Living in exile in the USA he absorbed the ideas of thinkers like WEB DuBois and Marcus Garvey as well as experiencing at first hand white racism. Nkrumah maintained his contacts with Africans everywhere in the world. He spoke out for the civil rights movement in the USA, met Malcolm X and gave inspiration to the Black Panther movement.
In his book Africa Must Unite, Nkrumah wrote that total African liberation was essential: “We need it to carry forward our construction of a socio-economic system that will support the great mass of our steadily rising population at levels of life which will compare with those in the most advanced countries”.
Nkrumah did seek help from the USA in the sense of trying to get a decent return on his country’s resources. Aluminium ore was abundant in Ghana. Having access to a cheap source of electricity with which to process aluminium would have greatly increased profit margins and reduced processing costs for the manufacture of the metal. Nkrumah’s plan was that America would mine Ghana’s minerals and use the Volta Dam’s electricity.
Eisenhower was interested and contacted Kaiser, the world’s largest aluminium manufacturer. Kaiser’s plan was to use Ghana’s cheap electricity – importing aluminium ore from other places in the world, and then exporting the aluminium back to America. Nkrumah had to agree to America’s terms if he wanted the dam to be built, but had to raise $30 million. The infant nation immediately became indebted to the World Bank.
The Volta Dam was completed on January 22, 1966. One month later, Nkrumah was overthrown. Former CIA officer John Stockwell wrote: “The Accra station was encouraged by CIA headquarters to maintain contact with dissidents of the Ghanaian army for the purpose of gathering intelligence on their activities. It was given a generous budget, and maintained intimate contact with the plotters as a coup was hatched.”
A series of coups ended with the ascension to power of Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings in 1981. The constitution was suspended and political parties banned. The economy declined soon after and many Ghanaians migrated.
The economy began to recover when a structural adjustment plan was negotiated with the IMF. A new constitution was promulgated in 1992. In recent years, power has been peacefully transferred from one legitimately elected leader to another; Ghana seems to have recovered its status as a stable democracy.
Professor Gyimah-Boadi has warned: “Though the prospects for Ghana’s reconciliation are promising, the country’s program still faces daunting challenges.” Acrimony dogged the debate on the national reconciliation program with erstwhile supporters of the military regimes anxious that they might be targeted and harmed. A practical obstacle to reconciliation is that there has been silence on the question of how restoration, restitution and compensation and institutional reforms would be funded.
Optimists note that Ghana enjoyed a high rate of economic development in 2012. Pessimists call for a new approach in times of austerity. Ernest Opoku-Boateng writes on Ghana Web: “There is no light. There is no water. There is no petrol. There is no LPG. Prices are on the rise. … Mobilizing additional revenue is important but we should also cut our coat according to our size, beginning with the President, his office and his Cabinet”.