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Nkrumah and King, 1957


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The fate of Africa revisited
A review of the Book  
by Martin Meredith “The Fate of Africa”
E. Ablorh-Odjidja

This book written by Martin Meredith, titled “The Fate of Africa,” is driven by a concept that predates the so called “Wind of Change” on the continent of Africa. At its core is the boiler plate assumption that the African cannot govern himself.

Writing an endorsement for the book, Sir Bob Gerdoff says “You cannot even begin to understand contemporary African politics if you have not read this fascinating book.”

Unfortunately, what Sir Gerdoff understands, with the help of this book, differs greatly with the experiences of some us who grew up within the time period Meredith writes about. Meredith is at least wrong about one issue: his observations about the significance of Nkrumah and his impact on Africa.

Meredith says his book “focuses in particular on the role of a number of African leaders whose character and careers had a decisive impact on the fate of their countries.” And he goes on to explain “why after the euphoria of the independence era, so many hopes and ambitions faded and why the future of Africa came to be spoken of only in pessimistic terms.”

Part One of his book is titled “the Gold Coast Experiment”. However, Meredith's jaundiced view about Nkrumah as the typical African leader whose” character and career” had a negative impact on the fate of his country, allows him to miss a crucial aspect of this experiment.

True, there was a Ghanaian or Gold Coast experiment.  But Meredith conspicuously avoids speculating about how the February 24, 1966 coup that overthrew Nkrumah could have ended prematurely the “Gold Coast Experiment”.

The negative fascination with Nkrumah career stems, as said, from the assumption that the African cannot govern himself. Having reluctantly given the first black nation its independence, the colonials couldn't wait for it to fail.  The leaders of Ghana could have been any of Nkrumah’s contemporaries, J. B. Danquah, Obetsebi Lamptey and it would not have mattered to the purveyors of this indoctrination point – that the African cannot govern himself, so help him fail.

In Nkrumah’s case, however, the attack has been phenomenal and continues, even after his death. In the process writers like Meredith have suppressed the opportunity to notice the significance of the character of this rare leader.

For example, the universal verdict on Nkrumah as Africa’s Man of the Century, garnered by a BBC poll at the beginning of the new millennium, never gets a hint of respect from Meredith - despite the fact that the merit was established before his book was first published and that a century is a long time and must have contained a lot of white actors of the era, on the continent, who never made it to the top of the BBC list.

To be fair to Meredith, the opinion expressed in the poll was mostly African. So Meredith neglect has to be opened to conjecture. But Africans know who their illustrious leaders are, unless you view their collective opinions as puerile.

Otherwise, and at this point in Africa’s history, it has to be noted that Nkrumah’s contributions to the continent lie in the realm of ideas. To avoid discussing these ideas and their ongoing impact everywhere is to be intellectually dishonest. Those who would recommend Meredith’s book should pay attention to this aspect of it.

Take, for example, the much maligned Nkrumah statement that said “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all else shall be added unto you” that Meredith obviously derides in his book. Instead of ignorantly interpreting it as an invitation to neglect economic sector activities, as Meredith would wish, contemporary Africans are beginning to see it as summons to take political cognizance of all their national assets, including economic ones.

The political "cognizance of national assets" was made clear long before the "Asian Tigers" had any inkling that they would be economic giants. Contemporary Africans now wonder whether China, for instance, could have made it without “seeking first the political kingdom”!

Contemporary Africans can also imagine the Congo with a political will of China and conclude that the endemic scramble for their resources could not have continued for this long.  With this knowledge, it should be sufficient for an impartial observer to deduce that this notion of “seeking first the political kingdom, as Nkrumah said it, was right on the mark then and right on the mark now.

There is also the question of the “Neo-colonialism” concept, a political and economic theory that Nkrumah constructed and planted on the global political landscape but which never gets mentioned or commented on by Meredith.  But is the concept relevant or not to contemporary Africa? This is worth discussing if we are bent on deriding the notion behind seeking "first the political kingdom." So why must a book that purports to discuss “leaders whose character and careers had a decisive impact on the fate of their countries” miss this point and for what purpose?

Clearly, the omission is an example of a type of intellectual exercise which is often directed at Africa: A ground shaking idea comes out of the continent but writers like Meredith will choose to ignore it.  Instead they will often opt to bring to the fore topics that will induce pessimism or distemper for the mind on Africa.

One thing that characterized post independent Africa is the huge problem left in place by departing colonial governments. I will not make much of this now only because enough time has elapsed for Africa to have resolved this on her own terms.

However, a pre-colonial structure of government characterized by absolute rulers like governors and their supporting colonial agents was certain to guarantee dictatorial rule after independence; exactly what happened in many places. Nothing changed.

Bribery and corruption, for instance, could not have been a post colonial invention. The bureaucracy that was left behind bred it. The African managed to advance the corruption further.

Meredith claim that Nkrumah specifically set up the National Development Corporation to “fascilitate the handling of bribes from foreign businessmen and others seeking government contract” and the implication that he became wealthy as a result has no merit because it lacks evidence.

This book was published in 2005. It is hard to believe that Meredith did not know that Nkrumah died in exile in 1972, penniless and only six years after being removed from office by the combined forces of the CIA, the British, the French and the Ghana Armed Forces. He didn’t have time enough to collect his bank books before he left for exile and to this day not one has been found.

Also, the life style of Nkrumah’s kids and family, who are still around today, could have told Meredith that the man didn’t hoard any wealth. It is absurd to think that he hid his wealth from his family when he knew he was dying.  Remember he had a protracted illness before his death. The only problem for Meredith is that he will not allow this contemporary truth, easy to verify, get in the way of the fat book he was writing. To view Nkrumah as poor would ruin his “pet thesis” of him as a corrupt leader who derailed the African revolution.

Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Ivory Coast was corrupt - rich beyond the dreams of Nkrumah, yet Meredith writes fondly of him as the man who built “state capitalism” in the Ivory Coast. Houphouet had a longer reign, But after him the Ivory Coast was plunged into chaos. Nkrumah, by the way, was forcefully removed. After that, the chaos happened.

The question of why Nkrumah was removed from office, and Houphouet-Boigny was not, cannot be answered by the accusations of corruption and dictatorial rule by one and not the other. The theme for Meredith’s book should have demanded an answer.

The historical fact is Nkrumah was foremost in promoting revolutionary African ideas, more so than any other African leader -from midwifing freedom fighters to the formation of the AU. Even Nkrumah’s proposed African Command, which Meredith obviously does not think much of, is now in vogue some forty years later. Anytime there is trouble anywhere on the continent, the concept springs up as solution in the manner Nkrumah described!



Continued 1/2  ...Next page




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