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Prodigals of a worthy inheritance

By Owei Lakemfa
AFRICA stepped into 2010 with shaky legs and uncertainty about the future. This is not so much due to the anarchy in the Congo, the failed state of Somalia, the rise of hooligans in Guinea-Conakry, the sway of military might in Mauritania, the strong arm tactics of the Niger regime or the blood thirsty nature of the Sudanese government. All these as well as the continent’s economic ill health are contributory factors.

But there is the far worse factor of lack of vision; the absence of an African programme or objective towards which the African people with their huge resources can be channelled.

While other peoples define themselves, draw up programmes, set goals and confidently face the future, Africans are largely defined by non-Africans, by people who do not know us but claim to be African “experts”. We are defined by foreign institutions like the World Bank who claim to know us and our needs but do not even know our name.

The world is knowledge-based; you are essentially what you know. But even in the information world we are absent. While the Americans have various electronic networks, including the CNN, the Europeans have theirs like EURONEWS and the Asians, their ALJAZEERA, Africans have none. Even the Pan-African News Agency which is supposed to help report our own story is mainly buried in under funding.

We simply accept what others tell us. We exist in a continent in which visionary, principled and purposeful leadership is generally absent. Nelson Mandela who possesses these qualities is too old to drive the process. But this has not always been the case. We have had leaders with vision, principles, commitment and the courage of conviction.

The centenary birth of two of such men rolled by in the old year. Jeremiah Obafemi Awolowo, born on March 6, 1909 might not have led an African country but he had the necessary qualities. His ideas, especially his  faith in education as the necessary foundation for development are documented in his numerous books.

The  other leader whose centenary appeared in the firmament is perhaps the most far sighted, principled and courageous African leader ever.  Kwame Francis Nwia Kofie Nkrumah was born on September 21, 1909. About his vision and leadership skills on the continent, there is  no dispute, but some  have argued falsely that his local  leadership  of Ghana was a failure. Statistically and politically, we can prove that his leadership of Ghana, 50 years later, is unmatched. Let’s take the education sector.

After over two centuries of colonial rule by Britain which claimed to be on a mission of civilization and enlightenment, Ghana had 1,083 primary schools with an enrolment of 153,360, in contrast within a dozen years under Nkrumah, the country had 8,144 primary schools with an enrolment of 1,137, 495.Colonial rule established 13 secondary schools with 5,033 enrolment, in 12 years, Nkrumah’s leadership increased it to 105 with a 42,111 enrolment.

Teacher training schools rose from 22 to 83 while enrolment moved from 1,916 to 15,144. Technical schools were increased from five to 11 with enrolment increased from 622 to 4,956. The only University College, Legon became fully fledged while the University of Science and Technology, Kumasi and the University of Cape Coast were added.

The administration broke the monopoly of foreign companies like Cadbury and UAC over cocoa by establishing the Cocoa Purchasing  Company and passing control of the market to the Cocoa Marketing Board. The cocoa cash crop was diversified with cattle and sheep farming while mechanised farming and farm schools were introduced.

One of his most enduring legacies was the building of a cheap source of power; the  Volta hydro-electricty project (the Akosombo Dam)  which supplied the needs of Ghana, Togo and Benin republics. One of Africa’s most famous historians, F K Buah wrote: “The dam itself created the world’s largest man-made lake, which served a growing fishing industry and provided transport from the south to the north of the country.

But for the vision and courage of Nkrumah …the country’s industrial growth would probably have been grounded since the 1970s in the face of the very high world price of industrial oil.” He also built the Tema Port complete with a new Tema town.

Inevitably, his sterling leadership in both Ghana and Africa was bound to elicit a backlash from the former colonialists.  He escaped two bomb attacks including one which killed 11 and injured him.  In a 1964 assassination attempt by the presidential guard, he personally disarmed the assassin. These led to his adopting a preventive detention policy which regrettably led to detention without trial.

On February 24, 1966 he was overthrown by the neo-colonial army. But all the coup leaders ended up being killed or disgraced. Coup leader, Major General Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka was killed by mutinous soldiers one year later. LT General Joseph Arthur Ankrah who took over after Nkrumah, was sacked for taking bribes while General Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa who was the deputy coup leader was executed 13 years later for corruption.

Nkrumah’s vision for Africa remains the most penetrative and enduring. From 1957 he had told Africa that as individual countries they cannot develop. So unite they must “without necessarily sacrificing our sovereignties”.

In May 1963 he presented to African Heads of State a proposal for a Union of African States  with capital in Bangui or Leopoldville with a presidium and a common constitution.

Nkrumah also articulated a unified economic and industrial programme which would include a Common African Market, currency, monetary zone, African Central Bank, a continental communication system, common foreign policy, a single defence system and a common African citizenship.

Countries like Nigeria were sceptical, but the emergence of the European Union (EU) seems like the implementation of Nkrumah’s ideas for Africa; it proved that his ideas are practicable. To these ideas we must return or we would remain a foot mat for the rest of humanity.


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