Ghana’s independence, on March 6, 1957, was the first in black Africa. It was a catalyst to the struggle for liberation from colonial rule across the continent. For the African masses, one man’s role stood out in achieving this feat: Kwame Nkrumah.
Inspired by the independence of India from Britain, in 1947, Nkrumah saw the possibility of defeating imperial Britain with co-ordinated and consistent political struggle against colonial rule. Nkrumah became a symbol of the anti-colonial struggle in the Gold Coast (as Ghana was known before independence) and the rest of Africa. His return to Ghana and the formation of the anti-colonialist party, Convention People’s 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 for self-enrichment, Nkrumah was genuinely committed to using the resources of Ghana for the industrial development and economic growth of the country. Ghana was rich in bauxite and that could help in the manufacture of aluminum, including for exports, if there was a reliable power supply. This, together with the need to produce electricity, set in motion the process of industrialization, leading to the Volta Dam project. The project was only half successful but nobody could reasonably doubt the positive intention behind it.
Nkrumah openly asserted capitalism was unable to achieve the goals of development. But beyond the rhetoric of anti-capitalism and ‘scientific socialism’ in Nkrumah’s celebrated speeches and writings, he never truly cut links with capitalism and imperialism. His socialism was based on the model of the Stalinist Soviet Union and a utopian African version of socialism. This was Nkrumah’s undoing and made it impossible to achieve his lofty goals.
For instance, Nkrumah’s government relied on a bureaucratically-run marketing board, which was a colonial invention, to mobilise the required resources from the sales of cocoa, the country’s then main stay of economy, to attain reforms. This created yet another avenue for official corruption rather than basic human needs and infrastructure it was originally designed to achieve.
State owned companies
Nkrumah set up state-owned companies and public utilities, ostensibly to provide some basic needs for the people. But the lack of democratic management and control of companies by working people bred mismanagement and corruption that crippled the initiative. These state-run companies not only failed to largely achieve their objectives, they became a curse rather than a blessing.
Since Nkrumah could only use the revenue from cocoa to bail out the public companies, he had to make the poor farmers sacrificial lambs. Through marketing boards, the government reduced the price paid to farmers for cocoa to raise more revenue. This was when there was an increase in the price of cocoa worldwide and farmers expected increased earnings. They were highly disappointed and demoralized by the situation in Ghana. This culminated in Ghana losing its place as the world’s largest cocoa producer.
The economic downturn created a social crisis that made the Nkrumah’s government unpopular. The response of the government to the protests 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 protests and disaffection to his government. Unfortunately, Nkrumah, who once proclaimed, “If we get self-government, we will transform the Gold Coast (Ghana) into a paradise in 10 years”, almost turned the country into hell on earth for workers. He declared strike actions illegal, arrested and detained opposition activists, without trial, and declared Ghana a one-party state with himself as life president.
There is no doubt that Dr. Kwame Nkrumah played a historic role as a fighter for national liberation. He was ousted by a military coup in 1966 and subsequently gave more speeches and wrote more about Africa’s development. He was a ‘Pan-Africanist’, par excellence, with some radical and socialistic ideas. However, Nkrumah was not a genuine socialist and revolutionary.
Notwithstanding his limitations, Nkrumah towers above the current generation of African leaders, who rolled back all the gains of the 1960s, as a result of neo-liberal attacks. 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 independence, to begin the process of developing industry and a welfare state. Of course, the welfare state, which was built on the basis of state funding, was an attempt to satisfy the huge pressure from the working class for reforms and as a means of providing an alternative to the ‘model’ provided by the Stalinist regimes.
In the present era of neo-liberalism, the current corrupt leaders of Africa have embarked on the shameless sale of their different nation’s industries, at give away prices, to the rapacious capitalists, locally and internationally. These industries were built up with public resources.
The new set of African leaders bastardised the original idea of African solidarity, championed by Nkrumah and others. They have come up with initiatives, like the New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD), which is designed to rely on the exploitation of Africa’s resources by Western imperialism. The anti-poor, neo-liberal economy is touted as the vehicle for “development”. By these vicious, anti-poor, pro-capitalist machinations, it is no surprise the idea of ‘Nkrumahism’, despite its limitations, remained attractive to many individuals genuinely interested in the development of Africa.
The shortcomings of the Nkrumahist welfare state were not a result of the personal failings of Nkrumah but arose from attempt to seek improvement and development within the confines of capitalism. Capitalism internationally is a barrier to the further development of humanity and has to be ended.
The lessons of ‘Nkrumahism also re-affirms that under capitalism the countries of the neo-colonial world will never be able to escape economic and social under-development. The only way forward is the struggle for a socialist society, where the economy is run under the democratic control and management of the working class and poor peasantry. Africa is the weakest link of the global capitalism. It is here that a revolutionary movement could start, which 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 co-operation and political union among African countries. He argued this was the only viable means of bringing about full and effective development of the continent’s natural resources for the benefit of all African people. This statement is still largely relevant today. But to be truly valid, such economic co-operation and political union has to be built on a genuine socialist programme. This must aim for the formation of a socialist confederation of African states. This, together with African workers and poor masses adopting the genuine ideas of Marxism, the ideas of Marx, Engel, Lenin and Trotsky, is the way forward.