14 March 2006
LETTER FROM AMERICA
Re-articulating Nkrumaism as Part of a Progressive Political Agenda for the 21st Century
My memory is failing me for the precise year, but like our good old ancestors who used to calculate their ages by connecting their birthdays with the most auspicious events that straddled their entrances to this good earth, I distinctly recall my introductory parable as taking place on a 6th March in the recent past when our independence day celebrations and an earth tremor collided.
The tremor itself was not much on the Richter scale, but it was enough to re-ignite the perpetually fertile imaginations of a lot of latter-day prophets in search of catastrophic visions, and many of them seized their chance to carve multi-layered omens out of that small-sized dance of the earth. But it was my fellow trotro passenger’s interpretation of events that caught me off-balance momentarily, and has stood with me even up to this day. According to that rather creative prophet-manqué, the tremor was no other than an indication of the second coming of Kwame Nkrumah, because apparently, the Osagyefo promised on his death-bed that he would return a second-time, Christ-like, to deliver the political kingdom—and all other things that gets to be added to it—to his legion of long-suffering believers.
Last Monday was another 6th of March, and before it were the 24th of February and the 28th as well. The politically erudite know all about those dates, but for Nkrumaists in particular, they take on an added significance and on their latest resurrections, provided platforms for re-initiations into all-too-often-facile rituals of nostalgia. Thousands of miles removed from the Ghanaian scene, I can imagine candle-light marches and various gatherings that organized to commemorate the occasion(s) that would also have evoked the idea of an immortal Nkrumah as their theme.
Of course Nkrumah is hardly a midget in political affairs of the world. In African American communities here in the US, he is easily the most famous African of modern times. I have heard Native American nationalists cite him frequently, too. But he was in his true element in the 1960s when he torched off a light that inspired so many revolutionaries around the world, and was invoked by people as diverse as Patrice Lumumba, Nelson Mandela, Ho Chinh Minh, Malcolm X, Ernesto Che Guevera, Fidel Castro, Nikita Kruchev and a lot more. In the personality of Nkrumah loomed the hopes and aspirations of so many of what Frantz Fanon would call “the wretched of the world,” and the Mau Mau of Kenya, the Algerian revolutionaries, the South African Azanian forces, the Namibians, the new Nationalists of India, the jungle tigers of Vietnam and a thousand other groups all saw him simultaneously as a beacon of hope, and a slap in the face of imperialists’ many lies.
Even his ideological enemies such as John Kennedy of the U.S. learnt to respect him. After all, what would you do with a guy who is so confident as to declare that there is a new African in the world who is not afraid to take his destiny into his own hands, and is willing to go all the way to assert his place on the stage of history? Those were the good old days without HIPC scars, and those of us who lived in his shadow felt good because every time he mounted the podium in the UN to talk about world politics or Africa’s place in the world, it was such a happy time!
This was a guy he knew well enough to fight against the balkanization of Africa and consistently pointed out that the independence of Ghana, though it was unique in black history, was meaningless unless it was linked with the total liberation of Africa, and who would do so much for continental solidarity as to make people like Ali Mazrui call him “a bad Ghanaian but a good African.”
We can go on and on, but we also know that times have changed. The sad fact is that, on occasion of another Independence Day celebration as the one we had last week, what becomes obvious is the knowledge that Nkrumah died thirty-four years ago. Died both literally and metaphorically because those good things that he wanted, other people both among our own and outside our shores did not want. Those things that he sought, others vehemently opposed and did all they could to kill.
Since Nkrumah’s overthrow, there have been so many other different attempts to kill him by local elitist ideologues of all stripes and their allies from abroad. What they’ve always wanted is to take us as low as possible, and bring us to the position where we can go a-begging at the doors of proud neighbors under such psychologically horrendous tags as “highly poor and indebted” people. So we can live at the edge of others’ hostile desires.
But if there’s ever been any kind of poverty among us, it’s that poverty of imagination among the greedy elite classes that sell our people so cheap at the market places of our enemies and takes the thirty pieces of silver to build mansions of flatulence to cover their in-built inferiority complexes with. If there indeed is poverty among our people today, it springs from that amazing will-to-suicide that characterizes some of the policies of our contemporary politicians who, rather than thinking of how to forge a national ethos within a larger framework of continental solidarity and work towards creating the best of ourselves, would rather focus on narrow regimes of nepotism, tribalism, and a thousand other isms that only weaken us the more and make it easier for outsiders to take advantage of us.
In the light of these depressive realities, it is incumbent upon those who equate Nkrumaism with progressive, forward-looking, visionary, self-assertive politics also need to constantly remind themselves about the need not to only repeat the things Nkrumah did, but more importantly, to get out of the rut of the all-too-often lachrymose nostalgia for the past that was Nkrumah in order to forge a new progressive discourse that, while it draws from that man’s vision, can also connect with the masses of our people and their daily needs as they exist in this twenty first century.
Perhaps it is this blurred nature of Nkrumaist politics that enables self-seekers like Kwesi Nduom to walk the corridors of retrogressive power politics today and claim they’re Nkrumaists. To flush such opportunists out of the system, we need a new definition of terms, a new language that rises from the ashes of what used to be, and like a phoenix shoots us up into a new realm of self-belief, national pride, and real progress. Again, the politics of progress that we seek to articulate must be done in alliance with all the forces of progress both in our own country and outside just like Nkrumah knew, and used to do.
The real test of a contemporarily relevant Nkrumaism must also lie in its ability to transcend empty slogans and limited nostalgic lore, and to take the future by the horns. The people of our continent will ultimately take over the destiny of the continent, and overthrow all the exploiters and their local leeching allies, but we have to position ourselves in such a way as to facilitate the process.
This is ultimately what Nkrumah meant, and what our own reconfigurations of Nkrumaism must mean, and that is the more reason why the 6th of March and other dates in our history must be constantly re-narrated to suit our contemporary exigencies. We fail in our duty to posterity if we do not do so, and while we wait, others might appropriate these dates for their own narrow uses.
Not surprisingly, at the official podiums last week, Nkrumah’s name was conspicuously missing, but then again, it is not they, but we who should assert the things that matter to us. In doing so, we need no prompting from anywhere but the inner sources that tell us that we are doing the right things both for ourselves and for children’s children after us.
Happy belated independence anniversary to all; even to those who only wanted it “step by step...” because they have always been content to grab the bones that fall off the colonial masters’ tables!
Author: By Prince Kwame Adika, Ghanaian based in the USA