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Prof. Mike Oquaye

Current Member of Parliament and 2nd Deputy Speaker of Parliament; former Minister of the NPP government and Ambassador to India.



Ghana:   The Founding Fathers
By Prof. Mike Oquaye

September 16, Ghanadot

In his maiden address to Parliament, H.E. President Atta Mills made a speech which was useful in many respects: Down and rebuilding the edifices of our nation ( paragraph 5 of column 473,Hansard). I beg to re-echo our President in the light of the Ghanaian penchant for contorting our own history and being misdirected in the process.


And I do this with regard to the President’s call captured in part 2 of column 474 of Hansard. “We intend to honour Dr.Kwame Nkrumah’s memory with a national holiday to be known as Founder’s Day..”.

Every award has a basis. The President gave the basis as follows. First, Nkrumah was the “first president of the Republic”. Second, his “selfless leadership still remains a point of reference in our desire to build a better Ghana”.

What His Excellency said about Nkrumah was true. In fact, I will proceed to pay him further accolades as follows: Kwame Nkrumah pioneered the Ghana Educational Trust schools. This deepened access to secondary education and subsequently higher education generally. It cannot be forgotten, however, that this was part of the national development plan of the UGCC before Nkrumah arrived.


Indeed it was on this basis that Danquah called for a separate University College for the Gold Coast at a time when the British proposed one University for the whole of West Africa to be located in Sierra Leone. This was to be based on an expansion of Fourah Bay College. We should know that the University of Ghana came out of the UGCC demand led by J B Danquah. Kwame Nkrumah did very well with university expansion to Kumasi and Cape Coast. Other notable achievements under the great Nkrumah included the Tema Motorway, Akosombo Dam, Medical school, Korle Bu Hospital expansion and construction of Okomfo Anokye Hospital.

Nkrumah fostered African Unity to dizzy heights. While we gained global stature, Ghana was revered in Africa - even if it also meant doling out US$10m to Guinea and to Mali etc. The African liberation struggle was a principal item on our national budget. All these happened while charity was lacking at home; while we queued for soap, milk etc; and while the Accra Sports Stadium had by 1964 become a ration point for so-called "essential commodities" - milk, sardine, sugar etc.

Yes. Nkrumah did a great job in nation building as our first President. Yes. We may want to conveniently forget all the failings of Nkrumah and project his achievements to dizzy heights. Yes. We may recount the teachings to the Young Pioneers and say that like God, Nkrumah never erred. Yes. We may even say that vengeance belongs to God and to forgive is divine and thereby forgive Nkrumah for the Preventive Detention Act by which anyone could be imprisoned without trial, first for five years and then renewable for further five years and five years again and for ever. Yes. Let us give the Osagyefo everything. After all, a nation must have heroes and the more we raise our “angels” on a dizzy-like heavenly pedestal, the better our heroic cravings may be satisfied.

But there is one thing we cannot do, if we are guided by the truisms and lessons of history. We cannot say that Kwame Nkrumah was the FOUNDER of the nation we call Ghana. GHANA DOES NOT HAVE ANY ONE FOUNDER. We cannot pretend, we cannot do the ostritch beyond a certain degree. We have a number of noble founding fathers including Kwame Nkrumah, first Prime Minister and first President of the Republic of Ghana.

Indeed, to attribute to Nkrumah what belongs uncontrovertibly to others would reopen old wounds and inflame lovers of the truth in Ghana's political history. This is exactly what President Mills said does not help nation building.

If we were to call Nkrumah the one founder, we will be revisiting an unfortunate fallacy which prevailed in Ghana from about 1961 –
1966. It will revive an old unnecessary controversy that will divide rather than build. During the 1960s, Kwame Nkrumah put on Ghanaian coins, his image and certain words which generated controversy -“Conditor Ghanainses civitas” – Founder of the Ghana nation. This divided the nation as several thousands of people, historians, chiefs and ordinary people who simply followed contemporary events cautioned against this. Protests went on till Nkrumah was overthrown in 1966.

A recap of the chronology of events shows that before the arrival of Nkrumah, some gallant men were taking steps to lead Ghana to independence and in fact a number of political parties were formed soon after the end of the Second World War in 1945. Kwame Nkrumah left for US in 1935. He studied and worked in US and England. He returned to Ghana in December 1947 on the invitation of the UGCC leaders who paid Nkrumah's fare, expenses etc. He was the only person on salary in the UGCC. If something had not been founded, what was Nkrumah brought down for? If there was nothing, what was he to come and help to consolidate?

The cry for independence reached full blast after the 1948 riots. On 28th February 1948 when the Ex-servicemen marched to the Castle and shooting took place there was enough political consciousness in Ghana ! The cry for independence had been resonating from 1945 to 1948. What magic could Nkrumah alone have done from December 1947 (when he arrived in Ghana) to February 1948 (when agitation reached its apogee) if there was nothing worthwhile on the ground?

Nkrumah did not alone compose the classical sonata and constitute the orchestra which sang Ghana’s clarion call to independence in sweet melody, all in 2 months! The fathers of the Nation were there already. They included: Paa Grant, J.B Danquah, Akufo-Addo, Ako Adjei, Obetsebi Lamptey and William Ofori-Atta. It needs to be emphasised - something existed before Nkrumah was invited to come and help. How can the helper alone become the founder (sole founder)? Nkrumah was great. He played a big part in the struggle for independence. He may be honoured with a holiday. But it cannot be Founder’s Day. Why? Because he was not the founder of our dear nation.

Some people have regrettably asked: How can we have more than one founder? To such compatriots, I humbly lend this advice: Foundership need not be perceived in monoistic terms. Every year, Achimotans celebrate the founding fathers - Aggrey, Fraser, Guggisberg. In Ashanti, we have Osei Tutu and Okomfo Anokye. In the U.S.A., Washington is not the founder. They have Founding Fathers.

And you do not have to be a founder for your greatness to be recognized or given a holiday. Martin Luther King (USA) is an example.

Some have said Nkrumah was founder because of the declaration he made on the Old Polo Grounds - Ghana, your beloved country is free for ever. Some people do not know that this event was essentially a CPP rally and not the declaration of independence which was done by the Duchess of Kent on behalf of Queen Elizabeth later in the National Assembly. So assuming that before that old polo grounds rally, Nkrumah was indisposed and Mr K.A. Gbedemah had made that statement, would Gbedemah have become the founder of Ghana? This argument is, to say the least, unfortunate. I feel sad that our history is sometimes toyed with. No teacher should ever teach again that independence was proclaimed or declared by Nkrumah at old polo grounds. If that had been so, it would have amounted to the Unilateral Declaration of Independence which happened only in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) under Ian Smith.

Ghanaians must know exactly where we are coming from; so that the past should be a guide to the present and the future. We should give credit to our forebears who signed the Bond of 1844 on 6th March 1844, for example. They established a contractual relationship between the Gold Coast and the British. Soon after 1944, our leaders could demand; “white man, time is up. Go home!” This is what Paa Grant, Danquah and others did.

We should recognize 4th August 1947 as the founding of the ultimate independence movement. That day the UGCC was inaugurated in Saltpond. It was a Broad Movement of Chiefs, clergymen, lawyers, professionals, business men, teachers etc. “It marked the beginning of a new era in the Gold Coast”, said one historian. Saltpond was the headquarters of the Joint Provincial Council of Chiefs and that is why the meeting took place there. It was a unity movement which incorporated all existing groups, e.g Obetsebi Lamptey’s League of the Gold Coast, Danquah’s Youth Conference etc. Paa Grant was Chairman, Danquah was the Political Leader.

Danquah made the Declaration of Self Emancipation. This became
the cornerstone of the New Ghana. Something happened in Ghana akin to what took place in the USA. People should know that even though Americans declared independence on July 4, 1776, it was not until 1787 that the US Constitution came into force. Those who made that Declaration of Independence are all Founding Fathers in America.

Ghana’s Famous Declaration was made in 1947 by Danquah (who the British came to declare as the Doyen of Gold Coast politicians). Nkrumah was not in the country at all. The great leader said: “We have come from all the corners of this country… (to decide) how we are to be governed, a new kind of freedom, a Gold Coast liberty. We left our homes in Ghana and came down here to build for ourselves a new home: There is one thing we brought with us from ancient Ghana (870 years ago). We brought with us our ancient freedom. Today the safety of that freedom is threatened; has been continuously threatened for 100 years; since the Bond of 1844 and the time has come for a decision”.

The decision was taken that day. The Gold Coast should be free and translated into the modern Ghana. The seed was duly sown. And Nkrumah was not only physically in the UK, but also he made no input whatsoever.

Nkrumah came and added bountifully to it. And Nkrumah was a great man. But he was not in Ghana when it all started. Nkrumah was not the Founder! Danquah conceived the idea of calling the independent Gold Coast, Ghana. This was formally adopted in Saltpond. It became known to every school child then that our nation would soon become independent; that our leaders were fighting for this; and the name of the new nation would be Ghana. And all this happened before Nkrumah arrived. And not even Nkrumah could have resiled from this when independence arrived.

Ghana is known in our history. Danquah gave it the nationalistic interpretation – hence our name.

When Nkrumah said on the eve of Independence that our beloved country Ghana was free for ever, he was putting the icing on the
cake. But there were other bakers of the cake. Can you forget them?

No. Our independence was gained more with brain than with brawn. This must be acknowledged.

Tetteh Quashie’s cocoa had made the economy strong. The Gold Coasters were far more educated than any part in Black Africa. The economy was booming with gold, diamond, manganese, bauxite, timber etc. Escott Reid observed Ghana had the highest per capita income in Africa South of the Sahara (white south Africans apart).

A whole host of heroes contributed to what culminated in independence in 1957. After the 1948 Riots it was J. B. Danquah who sent that famous Cable to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, saying the colonial administration had collapsed. He made specific demands as leader of the independence movement. He asked for the recall of the Governor. Danquah called for an interim government run by the UGCC. He proclaimed a Constituent Assembly to draw a new Constitution for self government.

In his historic telegram, addressed to all the Chiefs and people of the Gold Coast, it was Danquah who declared “The Hour of Liberation Has struck””. Danquah wrote: “Inheritors of Ghana’s ancient Kingdom. My message as you see, is not moved by fear. Aggrey blotted fear from our dictionary. ‘Eagle fly for thou art not a chick’.

It was Danquah’s demand which clearly identified the leadership behind the protestations of the time, which led to the arrest of the Big Six including Kwame Nkrumah. The latter had just been brought down and he was doing a great job in fuelling the fire for independence. The rest is history.

Before Nkrumah arrived, our name had been chosen by the nationalist leaders at Saltpond. The Founding Fathers also chose the Eagle as our national emblem. The national colours chosen were red, yellow and green. These were our colours on attainment of independence. Nkrumah reversed this in 1964. He substituted the national colours with what he desired all along - red, white and green - the CPP colours. This also brought loads of acrimony until Nkrumah was overthrown and the wish of the Founding Fathers restored.

All these teach us to stop the mischief which President Mills spoke about. We cannot keep going forward and backwards all the time. Ghana must learn to give everyone his/her due. For example, you should not take other people’s titles away from them and ascribe them to yourself because you are great. For example, the title "osagyefo" in Ghana belongs to the okyenhene as "otumfuo" is for the Asantehene. Under Nkrumah, Osagyefo Ofori Atta II was banished from Kibi and his title taken by Nkrumah who became “Osagyefo the President”. This brought resentment and protestation, division and rancour, till Nkrumah was overthrown. These are the inhibitions in nation building which the learned professor, also president, spoke about.

A great man does not need to take away what belongs to others in
order to be great. Nkrumah himself, unfortunately did some of these in his lifetime and it lowered his integrity. We should let those unfortunate parts of a great man be interred with his bones.


Nkrumah was a great leader. He was one of the founding fathers but never the founder of our nation. No matter how great Paul was, he cannot be the founder of Christianity to the exclusion of Peter and others.


By Prof Mike Oquaye

Current Member of Parliament and 2nd Deputy Speaker of Parliament; former Minister of the NPP government and Ambassador to India.




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Ghana: The Founding Fathers

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- In his maiden address to Parliament, H.E. President Atta Mills made a speech which was useful in many respects. Down and rebuilding the edifices of our nation (paragraph 5 of column 473,Hansard). ..

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