By all means, let’s show quite a bit of respect, even reverence, to our political pioneers and neo-pioneers like the leaders who ushered Africa into the postcolonial era in the 1950s and 60s. But the fact also remains that every generation has to set and meet its own unique expectations.
We must not pretend as if the leaders of the Independence Generation were, somehow, perfect and ideal role models. The fact of the matter is that nearly every one of these leaders was a “proprietary dictator” who erroneously believed himself to be the unquestioned and unquestionable owner of the large parcel of territory ceded him by the erstwhile European colonial imperialists.
Like parakeets, they knew all the theories in their colleges’ social science curriculums/-la, particularly the ones they were shortly to cleverly and readily deploy as perfect munitions against the departing colonial administrators. We also need to promptly get out of this regressive mindset that the legendary Prof. Ali Mazrui termed as “Romantic Gloriana,” the patently false notion that, somehow, the politicians of the Independence Generation were any better or more enlightened than their present descendants and/or successors.
The African leaders of today are the veritable products of the leaders of yore. There is an Akan-Ghanaian maxim that says that “A crab does not beget a bird.” And it is on the latter score that I find Prof. P. L. O. Lumumba’s assertion that, somehow, the leaders of the Independence Generation, were they to come back to life, would be flabbergasted by the performance of their political progeny of today to be rather amusing. One only has to undertake a casual study of the regimes of the likes of Messrs. Nkrumah, Lumumba, Kenyatta, Nyerere, Kaunda and Banda to pointedly arrive at the conclusion that yes, indeed, our present crop of leaders are the veritable and unmistakable products of their fathers and grandfathers.
Nearly every one of these leaders administered a scandal-wracked regime. They were faultingly human and pathologically corrupt like their political and ideological successors and descendants of today. Quite a remarkable number of them only succeeded in establishing dynasties in place of the erstwhile glaringly relatively more modern and “democratic” colonial regimes that they inherited. I mean, if they were that worthy of our emulation, as the Director of the Kenya School of Law would have the rest of us believe, what accounts for the legion coups-detat that rocked nearly every one of the governments of these Independence Generation leaders?
Prof. Lumumba may not like to hear this, but at the time of his overthrow, on February 24, 1966, the Nkrumah-led government of the so-called Convention People’s Party (CPP) had literally run Ghana’s economy aground. There is also ample evidence for the enlightenment of those Nkrumah fanatics who prefer to fault the implacable dictator’s opponents for his downfall, particularly those fond of automatically drawing in the role of the U.S.
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) into the fray, that Nkrumah spent a remarkable amount of his time as President of Ghana scheming with his Soviet KGB mentors and patrons to destabilize the governments of fellow African leaders with who he was ideologically in vehement disagreement, such as the legitimately elected governments of Presidents Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere and Houphouette Boigny. There is also evidence that Nkrumah’s overplaying of his hands in the Congo crisis may well have contributed to the brutal assassination of Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba.
The Ghanaian leader would even have Togo’s President Sylvanus Olympio assassinated and cynically justify such patent and flagrant act of barbarism by vacuously claiming that the slain had made several attempts on his life (See Mahoney’s JFK: The Africa Ordeal).
Indeed, Prof. Lumumba may be quite right that nearly every one of the Independence Generation leaders left their countries in remarkably better condition that we find these countries today. But the fact of the matter is that quite a slew of these leaders were either booted out of power, such as President Nkrumah, while many of the rest of ossified dictators had to be pressured to cede power. These are not the kind of leaders, nearly all of them irreparably discredited in their time, whose opinions we ought to be discursively conferencing about.
Our own generation, of course, has a lot to learn from the generations of our predecessors. But we would be the wiser and better off measuring the caliber of the present generation of kleptocratic politicians against the equally corrupt and kleptocratic politicians of yore. Indeed, while I was growing up in Ghana in the late 1960s and 70s, my maternal grandfather, the Rev. T. H. Sintim (1896-1982) of the Presbyterian Church of Ghana (PCG), would lament on occasion by saying that “When the European colonial rulers were here, Nkrumah and his associates would scream their lungs out claiming that he could run this country better than these Anglo-Europeans. And then they handed the reins of governance to him. Now, look at the horrid mess that Kwame Nkrumah and his CPP government have created for us.”
The old man had personally met Nkrumah several times, including the last time in the middle of 1965, at the inauguration of the erstwhile Akyem-Kwabeng Presbyterian Men’s Training College, when I, barely a toddler, also got to meet the African Show Boy. Yes, I whole-heartedly agree with Kenya’s Prof. Lumumba that a strong case can be made for a foresighted President Nkrumah, vis-a-vis the latter’s deep insight into the neocolonialist stage of European imperialism, both West and East, but the most relevant question to ponder here is whether the Ghanaian leader studiously enacted the sort of policies that could have significantly meliorated the blistering impact of neocolonialism on Ghanaians and Africans at large. I don’t have to give you the answer, dear reader, or do I?
By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Garden City, New York