In memory of Africa’s man of the millennium.
On March 6, 1957, when Ghana became independent, I was about 10 years old, and in class three at St Peter’s Middle School, Kumasi. On President Nkrumah’s maiden voyage to the Garden City, school children lined up along the principal streets in Kumasi to welcome the leader of the new nation. Our school’s vantage point was at the Amakom roundabout, and it was here that I caught a first glimpse of the president. He had arrived from Accra and was escorted in a slow paced open car from which he waved to the children.
That fleeting beginning was but the early morning of an epoch of trials and tribulations from which the African continent was never to be the same again. We were too young and too naïve to even begin to ponder that sooner than later the man waving at us was to lead the independence movement across black Africa.
Already, the TIME magazine, in 1953, had unveiled a picture of Nkrumah on its cover, with the caption: “GOLD COAST’S KWAME NKRUMAH. In the Dark Continent, dawn’s early light?”
In business, a classic way of gaining an upbeat market position is by deploying and defending a brand. Like a business, the Gold Coast had been rebranded with a new name, Ghana: it had a logo – the national flag sporting the bright colours of red, yellow and green, with a majestic black star radiating at its centre. The brand sported a tag line: Freedom and Justice. For good measure, on the international front, Nkrumah had initiated the Black Star Shipping Line to explore wider horizons. The Ghana Airways was to lift high the flag of Ghana across the skies.
The Ghana brand stood for more than just one small country; in sync with Nkrumah’s personal charm, the world considered the great possibilities ahead for Africa. The independence struggles within the continent itself became an emotion and an experience. The success of the Ghana brand was so great that it used to be said, in those days, that when a black man met a Ghanaian for the first time, the introductory remark that followed was simply this: “You are lucky”. Nkrumah heralded the African personality, an international clarion call that was to inspire the blues singer, James Brown’s revolutionary lyrics, “Say it loud, I’m black and proud”.
Industrializing Ghana from 1957
Over half century ago, Nkrumah showcased Ghana as the beacon of progress for the African continent. To industrialise the nation to sustain itself, he nursed major state enterprises from scratch: the Black Star Shipping Line, Ghana Airways, Volta River Authority, Ghana Industrial Holding Corporation, Ghana Atomic Energy Commission, Ghana Housing Corporation, State Fisheries, Meat Packaging, Sugar Plantations, Shoe Factory, Jute Factory, Workers Brigade, Youth Employment Service, United Ghana Farmers Council, Ghana Education Trust, State Publishing, Ghana News Agency, Institute of Languages, etc. He relayed a host of meaningful state enterprises into the hands of his fellow countrymen as independent pioneering challenges, distributed across the regions. Today almost all of those bold initiatives have gone defunct.
The continued survival and success of Ghana Commercial Bank (which was lately about to be sold off), for example, was a true miracle, a God-sent model. Its inception by Nkrumah afforded Ghanaian bankers the means to escape from a lifelong clerical subservience in colonial banks, and to excel as bona fide African managers of import.
After independence, there was hardly a single structural layer of economic importance which did not have Nkrumah’s imprint and blessings. Ghana and Africa have to “sift from the ruins of the past” in order to understand the present, and grasp the future. The path is clear through the visionary precedents set by one man: his empathy for the masses’ well-being; his concerns for both adult education and universal higher technological education. On occasions, I’ve engaged a few of that seemingly lost generation of youngsters peddling wares on street corners from dawn to dusk, and asked in friendly tones, “Do you know who Dr Kwame Nkrumah is?” A few spirited ones inquired, “Wasn’t he the first president of Ghana?” Yes! But how very little is known today about this great African leader by the youth to whose advancement he was so committed like no other!
With Ghana’s adolescence today trapped on the streets, competing with vehicular traffic for speed and space to push imported catapults, toothpicks, matches, superstition and pornography, where’s the hope of this once proud nation? With the exquisite God-given landscapes – which in places Kwame Nkrumah enhanced with Parks and Gardens – now ravaged into slums and wastelands; with indiscriminate galamsey mining and toxins now poisoning the rivers, and ruining the lush farming hinterland, where’s the hope?.
Africa’s current leaders
These days, when African leaders, in their flowing robes or stylish western suits, happen to meet their counterparts – especially leaders from the successful emergent nations enjoying superior standards of living – do they not squirm? How can a person of conscience not be moved considering how far others have come, having emerged from similar deplorable beginnings? At the root of the African dilemma is the lack of foresight, the greed, the selfishness, and phrase a British prime minister has now famously coined, “fantastically corrupt”! Where do we go from here?