kwame nkrumah-- 1/7/20

Today's selection -- from Africa Since 1940 by Frederick Cooper. Kwame Nkrumah (1912-1972) was one of the first and most prominent revolutionaries who led Africa out from under colonial rule. He formed the Convention People's Party, built on its appeal to the common voter. He became Prime Minister of Ghana in 1952 and kept this position when it declared independence from Britain in 1957, then was elected president in 1960 under a newly approved Ghanaian constitution. He was deposed in 1966 by the National Liberation Council, which under the supervision of international financial institutions privatized many of the country's state corporations. He lived the rest of his life in Guinea:

"By 1956 or 1958 French and British governments knew that the colo­nial endgame had begun. But where could colonial governments set the limits on the kinds of politics allowed in the ambiguous space between colonial domination and territorial autonomy? What could the first gen­eration of African political leaders allowed a measure of power do with their opportunities? In this period, French and British governments on the one hand and African movements and leaders on the other struggled with and occasionally fought each other, and ended up defining a certain kind of decolonization, one which opened up some political possibilities and shut down others. Supra-national possibilities -- federations of more than one territory, and Pan-Africanist imaginings -- were excluded from the political map. And as British and French governments came to real­ize that hanging on to power would be too painful and costly, they made clear that the responsibility for the consequences of these decolonizations would fall on African shoulders.

"By the early 1950s, citizenship in French Africa was proving to be an im­mensely powerful construct, seized by African social and political move­ments to claim all of the equivalence that being French implied. Self-­government in British West Africa was exploding out of the confines in which the Colonial Office had hoped to keep it. But how wide was the opening, and how did Nkrumah's generation wish to fill and expand it?

"The core of the agenda for the new political class owed something to the post-war agenda of British and French colonial rule, but it was given a new twist. The development project, to colonial administrators, implied that the possessors of knowledge and capital would slowly but generously disperse these critical resources to those less well endowed. But to African political parties, development meant resources to build constituencies and opportunities to make the nation-state a meaningful part of people's lives. In the Gold Coast and Nigeria the politics of development began with marketing boards, particularly in cocoa. As noted earlier, British governments in West Africa had put these institutions in place as the sole purchasers of export crops from African farmers, first to placate African opposition to the European businesses that had monopolized such trade, then to use as a source of development funds, to be doled out (or accumulated) as British officials thought wise. The CPP or the Action Group in Western Nigeria (the cocoa-producing region) quite accurately saw the surpluses held by these boards by the late 1940s as a source of development funding, and British arguments that too rapid spending of the surpluses would cause inflation were seen, with reason, as self-serving.

"As Leader of Government Business from 1951, Nkrumah was in a po­sition to manage development in a new way. But he did not choose to change a crucial element of British policy: maintaining government con­trol of marketing board surpluses. The farmer continued to get only a fraction of the world price; the government now used it more actively than had the British to promote government development initiatives. These took the forms of schools and roads -- highly visible to a voting constituency -- and industrialization, increasingly in the 1950s seen as the answer to economic dependence. The biggest industrial project backed by Nkrumah was originally a British one: building a dam on the Volta River to supply electricity to a hopefully industrializing economy and to power the smelting of the territory's bauxite into aluminum, making it a more valuable export and reducing dependence on cocoa.

"Kwame Nkrumah told his followers, 'Seek ye first the political king­dom.' He captured the imagination of a wide range of followers, who now saw in the idea of building an African nation a means to combine their personal ambition and idealistic goals, free of the constraints of colonial authority and an inward-looking traditional elite.

"Kwame Nkrumah told his followers, 'Seek ye first the political king­dom.' He captured the imagination of a wide range of followers, who now saw in the idea of building an African nation a means to combine their personal ambition and idealistic goals, free of the constraints of colonial authority and an inward-looking traditional elite.

"Nkrumah thus gave another inflection to the centralizing character of post-war imperialism. But his national focus quickly led to Nkrumah's first serious political conflict, and it came from advocates of regional autonomy and a weaker, federal state. People in the Asante region were not only conscious of the former power of the Asante kingdom, but they were among the leading cocoa growers and hence the most affected by the state's confiscatory policies toward cocoa wealth. Such revenue was vital to Nkrumah's national ambitions and, equally important, wealth in Asante hands constituted a danger to his ambitions, for such people were not dependent on the state for resources and were capable of financing political movements.

"Asante nationalism, organized into a political party, the National Lib­eration Movement (NLM), was itself torn between a conservative elite -- close to the leading chiefs who had exercised administrative power under the British system of indirect rule -- and younger men who saw them­selves as nationalists and modernizers, but identified 'the nation' with the Asante people. Some NLM leaders, such as Joseph Appiah, had been early supporters of Nkrumah, but had come to fear that his centralizing thrust was the harbinger of a dictatorial one, and that the Asante were likely to be its victims. The movement oscillated between violence and constitutionalist opposition.

"The British government pretended to referee the contest, but protect­ing minority rights was not their priority. The NLM, for its part, was both divided and unable to convince people from other regions that it repre­sented something other than Asante privilege. The CPP won elections in 1954 and 1956.

"Nkrumah's effort to preclude alternatives to his power went beyond Asante. Chiefs throughout the country were stripped of effective power, replaced by CPP loyalists, or co-opted into the CPP fold. Labor leaders, critical to Nkrumah's rise to power, were co-opted into a CPP-controlled union federation or else marginalized; the militant railway and mining unions were kept in check. Cocoa farmers, outside as well as inside the Asante region, were given little alternative but to market crops through state agencies and participate in CPP-dominated farmers' associations.

"But except for many Asante, Nkrumah captured the imagination of a wide range of Africans; he understood their dislike of colonial rule, their sense that Africa's time had come, and their belief that a new, African state could improve the lives of its citizens. In 1957, the Gold Coast be­came independent and Nkrumah renamed it Ghana, after an old African empire that had been located to the north of the present territory. The festivities were exuberant; the joy palpable. And one of Nkrumah's first acts as the head of an independent state was to ban all political parties organized on a regional basis -- including the NLM."



Frederick Cooper


Africa Since 1940


Cambridge University Press


Copyright 2002 Frederick Cooper


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