I recently received this text message: “GHANA…..misplaced priorities, clueless leadership, bankrupt of 21st century ideas. Frankly…what has celebrating 5 years of Atta Mills death, revisiting the birth of the UGCC and all the crap that gets mentioned got to do with sorting out the mess in which we find ourselves?”
It came from someone who is simply tired of our development merry go round. I understood the sentiment. The past week has been dominated by news of the United Gold Coast Convention; the political party that Kwame Nkrumah broke away from to form the great Convention People’s Party. (At its peak, it was probably one of the largest political parties on the continent) There have been several reports quoting our learned Speaker of Parliament as saying that President Nkrumah was not the sole founder of the independent Republic of Ghana. In his view, several other Ghanaian historical giants such as the doyen of Ghanaian politics, JB Danquah and other members of the “big six” played equally important roles and are also founders. As you can imagine, this has led to intense debate; some more acrimonious than others. One of the finest contributions to this debate came from a brother by the name Ekow Nelson. The Daily Graphic published an article he wrote on Wednesday 9th August in which he argued that “we can debate who started the struggle for independence but we can’t dispute who achieved it”. He adds: “Even if we accept the UGCC as the harbinger of the anti colonial struggle, where in the world, or in our lives is conception equally or more important than birth?”.
One man can make a difference. This doesn’t mean any more than that. I know that once upon a time there were several men and women conspiring to free Ghana from what they considered a faltering third republic. The PNDC was born. Who do we associate it with? Jerry John Rawlings.
Major historical events often come about via a conspiracy of circumstances. When the time is ripe, the time is ripe and someone is thrust into a leadership position around which all else revolves. That is the nature of these things. My brother Ekow quotes Professor Senah: “national histories do not have starts; just major confluences of powerful factors and strong personalities”. Indeed, these personalities often include simple ordinary common men and women, many of whom give their lives in the pursuit of a political cause. As Kwame Nkrumah himself once said: “there comes a time …….when all must be set on a hazard, and out of the simple man is ordained strength”.
So yes it is never the battle of one single individual, but make no mistake, one man can make all the difference when he embodies the aspirations of the majority of the people in dire need of a better life. They put all their faith in him and catapult him onto the national stage and an incomparable place in a nations history.
The size of the challenge determines the size of the man. We must accept this. Such great men are after all one of us. They represent all of us even if some of us claim them more, whilst others do all in their power to tear them down.
If you ask me what I think of all the hullabaloo, I will say “There is space for everybody”. Laymen like us know the role of our nationalist leaders in the anti colonial struggle. We are proud of all of them. We do not get involved in arguments that attempt to elevate the contribution of others over others. Neither do we want to revise history.
I daresay that if politics wasn’t so polarized we would not be having this argument. The consequences of our intense polarization are actually more serious than a raging debate over who founded Ghana. It leads to poor choices when it comes to jobs and appointments, lack of objectivity in critical discussions, winner takes all mentality and an acceptance of corrupt practices when it come from “your side”. What kind of party politics are we practicing? Things don’t need to be so polarized.
Political traditions are either of the left or of the right. We need both to make choices. The choice to the right in Ghana is to go NPP. The choice to the left is to go NDC. One is perceived to be representative of the well off and the other as representative of the masses. It’s an age old battle even if it has changed its form with time. I know it’s hard for my friends of the Nkrumahist tradition to accept it, but the truth is that the NDC replaced the CPP as the main party to the left in Ghanaian politics. They both ideologically lean left of Centre. They represent the common man even if not always in practice. Because the NDC was born out of a quasi military regime – the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC), the water is slightly muddied so the association is rejected by many die hard Nkrumahists.
Professor Oquaye somehow strays into this territory and claims that the NDC has no tradition. Looked at superficially it is possible to arrive at that assertion. However a fair bit of scrutiny should reveal that the NDC party is the heir of the Nkrumahist tradition as in occupying its place on the left. That is why the Nkrumahist parties no longer summon any worthwhile votes. NDC has replaced them on the left of the political spectrum. It is just difficult to accept this fact because of the larger than life personality of our Soldier President, and the harshness of his earlier incarnations.
Left leaning parties that represent ordinary folk have a way about them. The masses tend to congregate around a populist leader – one whom they perceive as sharing in their trials and tribulations even if only in appearance. But appearance also matters to ordinary folk. How else can they form an opinion?
Nkrumah was a populist leader. He led the largest mass political movement in this country’s history. Rawlings was a populist leader. He led a revolution that created people’s defense committees and workers defense committees. Populist leaders have to be frugal. It is important for them to identify with the masses. It is no wonder that neither Nkrumah or Rawlings can be accused of ostentation and corrupt leadership. Their lieutenants often end up a lot more well off than them.
Today NPP is riding high. The country needed change. NDC appears to have lost its way a bit but it will reinvent itself. It has to, if it is to provide a decent opposition to the NPP. Ghana needs solid political parties if it is to use democracy for development. It is not in anybody’s interest for political parties to fail.
Our politics needs to mature if we are to make real progress. Let’s come together in the midst of our differences and focus on the pressing needs of development. Arguing about who played more of a role than the other over 60 years ago is not really a productive use of our precious time. After all, all men are born equal but some are more equal than others.