We were told he was the most corrupt leader ever; an impostor who did not earn a PhD but was flashing his honorary Doctorate around; a ‘showboy’ who built useless white elephants the country neither needed nor could afford; an economic illiterate who drove Ghana’s economy to the ground. And oh he detained those who wanted to kill him without trial. We were told Kwame Nkrumah was the very embodiment of Sasaabonsam.
Then we had General Ankrah who was ousted for taking bribes within minutes but not before he and two of the masterminds of the 1966 coup, Colonel Emmanuel Kotoka and Lt. Col A.A. Afrifa, along with their Attorney General Mr. Victor Owusu, replaced the Preventive Detention Act with their Preventive Custody Decree and swapped one set of prisoners they liked, along with common criminals, for others of the CPP they were opposed to.
Meanwhile there were rumours about JWK Harlley and diamonds that were never found. Then the large scale sale of industrial assets including the State Pharmaceutical Corporation, to friends and family and summary dismissals of editors of national newspapers who wrote ‘out-of-turn’ about what became known as the Abbott Laboratories controversy.
After the failure of the ill-fated “operation guitar boy” coup attempt and the murder of Kotoka, the country witnessed its first open-air shooting by firing squad, superintended by the now Lt. Gen Afrifa. Afrifa allegedly took the CIA’s shilling and handed the reins to Professor K.A. Busia who sacked public servants because they might be opposed to him and told us no court in the land could tell him what to do.
His flagship foreign policy was ‘Dialogue’ with the racist apartheid regime of South Africa that was shunned by most of the African continent and other progressive nations. The policy was rumoured to be part of a quid pro quo for the financial support the racist regime had afforded Dr. Busia and his party through intermediaries in Ivory Coast (one of the few African countries sympathetic to the South African regime) while they were in opposition. Dr.Busia lost his foreign minister who disagreed him over the policy and an otherwise sympathetic journalist, Cameron Duodu, then editor of the largest selling daily newspaper, over his Dialogue policy.
Despite his protestations, the relationship between Dr. Busia and B.J. Vorster, then Prime Minister of the apartheid regime, was allegedly much stronger than most people realised. I have it on authority that the discovery of private correspondence between Vorster and Dr Busia in Osu Castle after the latter’s overthrow in 1972 was the death knell for the already cool-relations between veteran politician Joe Appiah and Dr. Busia. Joe Appiah, a natural opponent of the policy, was apparently so shocked at the exchanges between the two men he never forgave Dr. Busia for what he saw as an act of betrayal. Still, we won’t know the whole truth until we see the private papers of Joe Appiah – or Vorster.
For a party that protested the deportation of leaders of then Moslem Association Party of Ghana in the 1950s, their flagship domestic policy, when they got into power in 1969 – the Aliens Compliance Order – was to compel non-Ghanaians (many of whom had either been born or spent most of their lives in the Gold Coast and Ghana) to carry photo-ID cards reminiscent of the pass laws of the Apartheid South Africa and to deport, wholesale, those without requisite residency documentation.
The Prime Minister, Dr. Busia, placed the blame for the deteriorating economic conditions squarely on the one-and-half million ‘aliens’ living among a population of 8.5 million. Long before Idi Amin expelled Ugandans of Indian origin for their supposed stranglehold on the Ugandan economy, Nigerians and other West African immigrants in Ghana were similarly accused by no less a figure than the Prime Minister who resented their dominance of parts of the Ghanaian economy, at the expense of the majority, indigenous population – with no agency, apparently.
In an interview with veteran journalist and editor of the Daily Graphic, Cameron Duodu, the Prime Minister said “[u]nemployment, rising prices and pressure on government had resulted from the influx of aliens“. Much of reported crime was committed by ‘aliens’ he averred, because as he said “90 percent of the prison population were ‘aliens'”. He lamented the fact that ‘aliens’ dominated the business of “petty trading” at the expense of Ghanaians and his policies, by implication, were to emasculate these evil monsters who were wreaking havoc on the Ghanaian economy.
Aliens without resident permits were given fourteen days to leave the country which set off what Dr Obed Asamoah described as a “stampede for residence permits and victimization of aliens as the deadline approached”. Across the country, in scenes reminiscent of Nazi Germany raids on Jewish quarters, ‘alien’ communities in the Zongos of Accra, Kumasi, Sunyani and other metropolitan centres were rounded up, taken to detention centres and deported, often without any of their lifelong belongings. It did not matter how old or frail they were – some pregnant women even gave birth in the lorries taking them back ‘home’. Organisations that employed so-called aliens were required to terminate them immediately and many were summarily dismissed without compensation.
Perhaps the most egregious was the Enterprise Promotion Act passed by Parliament in June 1970 that mandated the transfer of over 600 retail and wholesale businesses owned by so-called ‘aliens’ worth over 15 million New Ghana Cedis at the time, to Ghanaians who had neither invested nor contributed to the creation of those businesses. This was not just expropriation, it was state-sanctioned mugging and daylight robbery! Worse, in an unconscionable act of economic vandalism, the government closed down alien-owned shops with a turnover of under 500,000 New Ghana cedis. Bizarrely, like Father Christmas, the government then distributed 1.2million New Ghana Cedis from the Exchequer to over 1600 Ghanaians, to purchase alien-owned businesses that were going for ‘dongomi’.!
If there ever was a wicked and ill-judged piece of domestic policy it was the disgraceful and xenophobic Aliens Compliance Order for which those deported deserve a massive apology from the government and people of Ghana, plus reparations.
Anyhow, after the Aliens Compliance Order failed to turn the economy round, the much-vaunted economic wizards decided to devalue the currency – the Cedi – and Colonel Acheampong seized his chance and jumped in with his First Brigade command. He gave us kalabule, Golf cars for booties, and long queues for ‘essential commodities. When that got too much for his colleagues General FWK Akuffo talked about the whole governmental activity having become a one man show
But before he could settle in, a young disillusioned upstart, air force pilot, Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings made his own pitch in his inimitable style. Undertook his own house cleaning, with his young followers harassing anyone who had achieved anything in life and called for blood to flow. And flow it did. Eight former leaders were shot dead by firing squad in open view much like SS officers did in the War against anyone they saw as an enemy of the Fuhrer.
Our young Fuhrer was persuaded to stand aside after shedding much blood and burning down a market for the hapless Hilla Limann who led a party he had never been a member of or believed in. Soon he too would be ousted by the young pretender who came back to finish off the unfinished business of ‘national cleansing’.
But first he cleansed the young idealists who gave him support and intellectual cover for a plain old opportunistic coup d’état they pretentiously called a revolution. This was no Trotsky or Lenin vs Kerensky though: there was no peasants revolt; no storming of the Winter Palace or the Bastille from an earlier century; no firing from the battleship Aurora. This was rustling up old men from their beds, most of them hungover from their New Year’s soiree, and packing them off to Nsawam, and overcoming a tiny force at Broadcasting House and proclaiming a revolution.
Then followed 11 years of torment with everything from torture and rape to abductions and murders while many of his erstwhile revolutionary supporters languished in jail or fled into exile and sought to preach the evils of the regime to those who had opposed it all along.
With growing civil disobedience and protests by a broad coalition of civilians and goading from the international community our L’Enfant terrible decided to give up his military fatigues and handover to himself. Remember: he and his minions always asked, “handover to whom?”. In 1992 we got the answer: “to me your Fuhrer, you idiots”, it turned out. And thus began eight years of civilian rule of economic pillage, ruinous corruption and self-enrichment. But with the prospect of change in 2000 the people held on in hope.
To ensure there was no return to the ancien regime all opposition parties lined up behind JA Kufuor who took over the reins. He sought debt forgiveness in return for HIPC but soon decided to help himself to someone else’s property on the spurious grounds of national security and put himself and his people in charge anything that made money. He hollowed our and sold Telecom for tuppence, ignoring the recommendations of the investment bankers paid loads of dosh to advice on the sale. Did he get cut his cut? Who knows ? Ghana@50 was endowed with USD50m petty cash for the boys and by the end of his eight years, debt levels were back where they were when he started.
Then we had Professor Mills who had been knocking on the door of the presidency for years. He chose to forgive instead of holding the violators of our naive nation to account. He preached the Christian faith of forgiveness to a country that wears its Christianity on its sleeve but is most unchristian in how it conducts its affairs. He forgot that this is the country whose folkloric hero is the perennial cunning and dishonest, Kweku Ananse, not Christ! He was a good man who did more than any to restore Nkrumah’s honour and place in the country.
Sadly he passed because of a mysterious illness and power passed on to Mahama, son of a Minister on the first republic. A good communicator with no ideological bone in his body. He learned lessons from Kufuor and his government too helped themselves and their cronies with just as much impunity.
The pendulum has swung back to the Kufuor lot under President Akufo-Addo and from electricity privatisation, galamsey and vanishing excavators we are now back where we started
Nkrumah where art thou?