Robert Tignor's lessons still leave us vulnerable
March 09, 2016
Those who read Prof. Robert Tignor' article "The
lessons Ghana learned from Kwame Nkrumah’s fallout with his
economic adviser," have to know that Dr. Arthur Lewis,
the Nobel Prize Lauriat, served in Ghana from 1957 to 59.
They also have to know that before coming to Ghana
Dr. Lewis was "advising the British Colonial Office
about the ways Britain could alter its economic relations
with colonial territories in preparation for their
independence ..... "
Prof. Tignor's article is about Dr. Lewis' relationship with
There is something unsurprisingly dishonest about such
articles in that they always have revisionist intent.
No one doubts something went wrong in the Nkrumah/Lewis
relationship, but that thing has nothing to do with what
went wrong in Ghana.
Dr. Tignor writes, "Lewis saw Ghana as a proving ground for
his ideas on economic development, later scholars have
viewed the Kwame Nkrumah years (1951-66) as a case study of
Of course, Prof. Tignor is not including Dr. Lewis in the
1951-66 "striking failure" time frame. He quickly extricates
him from the Nkrumah years.
But must Dr. Lewis' few years experience in Ghana be where
we start looking for "lessons"?
Check the dates again. Nkrumah was the Leader of Government
Business, from 1951 to 1957, before he became the Prime
Minister, after Ghana became independent. The obvious point
about this period is that the British were still in charge.
Nkrumah, therefore, had not much executive power.
In 1960 Ghana became a republic and Nkrumah assumed full
To arrive at "striking failure," Prof. Tignor must have been
(a) The Five Year development Plan (with Dr. Lewis' unhappy
(b) The Seven Year development Plan, which Nkrumah described
as "an economy balanced between industry and agriculture,
providing a sufficiency of food for the people, and
supporting secondary industries based on the products of our
Perhaps, he missed the key theme on Nkrumah's Seven Year
Development Plan. It was based on a policy of import
substitution. Some of us remember the "essential commodities
like milk and sardines" lament that ignited the 1966 coup.
And Nkrumah's response from exile that if he knew this
requirement was all we needed he would have flooded our
markets with the stuff.
How important was the import substitution policy under
Nkrumah? Immediately after the 1966 coup it was reversed.
Some fifty years later, we are now importing packaged
toothpicks from China.
For those who think the February 24, 1966 coup was a
benevolent act we have to ask why our economy is still in
Where are the options offered after 1966 to replace
Nkrumah's "ruinous" policies and how well have these options
worked? More important, no one thought to ask to bring
Dr. Lewis back. So why this sudden nostalgia and does it
now make sense to leapfrog the
year 1966 to look for blames starting in 1951?
Dr. Tignor must be serious, if he wishes to help. We have a
situation in Ghana now that the well intentioned would call
Dr. Tignor writes, "Lewis saw Ghana as ...a country that
seemed on the threshold of robust economic progress (that
descended) into economic misery and political instability."
The impression then is that the benevolent Brits, by 1951,
had set Ghana up for prosperity. But the bad policies of
Nkrumah ruined that good intent; in spite of efforts to help
by stalwart intellectuals like Dr. Lewis.
But where, in the sentiment expressed, were the markers for
this "threshold of robust economic progress" ? Were there
more schools, universities, hospitals and number of
factories built by the British before they left?
The truth is, Nkrumah in six years built more in these
sectors than the British did in hundred years.
Reasonable individuals will understand that Nkrumah never
intended Ghana to end up like it is today - the loss of
economic opportunities, the pervading sense of gloom and a
posture of growing spiritual debasement in a country that
once was the voice of Africa.
Nkrumah's experiment was aborted by people who thought they
knew better and, therefore, could offer superior options.
Instead, we had a coup, a singularly brutal, politically
traumatic event, the first in our nation that also begot
We have to delve into Prof. Stignor's "lessons" to find out
whether any of Dr. Lewis' development ideas were erased by
these coups. Or, should we assume that Nkrumah wiped away
all that alone?
Cocoa has been central to Ghana's economy. Any
development plan, including Dr. Lewis', had to be sensitive
to the price of the commodity. However, development
enterprises during the period of 1959 through 1965 was
undermined by a sharp drop in the price for cocoa on the
By 1965, a year before the coup, the cocoa price had fallen
to 33% of what it fetched in 1955. Somebody, somewhere
outside the country, was squeezing Ghana and it was not
Dr. Lewis left Ghana in 1959.
Perhaps Dr. Tignor raises a doubt about him by saying, "the
British, the Americans, the international ﬁnancial
community, and representatives of the World Bank and the
International Monetary Fund, wanted something quite
different (from Nkrumah's). They looked to Lewis to be a
moderating inﬂuence – procapitalist and pro-Western."
Are we supposed to think that Dr. Lewis was a tool of the
West? Was he in Ghana to help Nkrumah or the West? Were
Kotoka and Afrifa, the coup leaders of 1966, "moderating
Nkrumah, Prof Tignor writes, wanted Lewis to make possible
his famous slogan " Seek ye first the political kingdom and
all things will be added to it."
The principle "Seek ye first " has been treated with
derision by many. It was a simple invitation by Nkrumah to
use the political legitimacy of the state to develop. What
advanced nation on earth did not start with this principle;
to built economic structures and empires that benefit
solely that nation?
Britain was a nation that used this political formulation as
a platform to build an empire and Ghana became an appendage
of this empire.
France, the US and China took this route. China, the world's
second largest economy, is now extending its influence. But
Ghana is still floundering, (hooked to China loans anyway)
without any organizing developmental principle of its own.
I share partial sentiment in Prof. Tignor's statement that
"Perhaps no-one more troubled the Westerners than the
Ghanaian prime minister himself (Nkrumah), whose political
and economic preferences were far from clear at this time."
Nkrumah's ideas troubled the West. Try hearing these
messages from the 60s when African nations were seeking to
be free of colonialism.
1. Seek ye first the political kingdom
2. Neo-colonialism being defined as a trap for
And then think if the West would want these same messages
multiplied within the vast colonial spaces they were
exploiting and that were yet to be free. Of course, the West
would be troubled.
The West has always been realistic, in so far as their
interests are concerned. They are not as delusional as we
were in Ghana in 1966.
We need to cure the delusion.
Did the World Bank, the IMF, the US, France, and Britain
understand the economic power the Akosombo Dam could unleash
when they agreed to partly fund its development and had this
anything to do with how Nkrumah was quickly ousted soon
after the project was completed?
The West was an avid participant and enabler in Nkrumah's
overthrow, machinations to cover the intent notwithstanding.
Hopefully, Dr. Arthur Lewis' goodwill towards Ghana shall
But, instead of looking back to blame Nkrumah, we should
hold naive men like Kotoka and Afrifa accountable. Truth be
told, the West enthusiastically supported Nkrumah's
overthrow. But since, have never been in a hurry to save
Ghana. They have always wanted us as a client state.
Lessons like Prof Tignor's can
only leave us weak.
E. Ablorh-Odjidja, Publisher www.ghanadot.com,
Washington, DC, March 09, 2016.
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