Prof. Mike Oquaye
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
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
2½ 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
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
Danquah made the Declaration of Self Emancipation.
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
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
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
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
Member of Parliament and 2nd Deputy Speaker of
Parliament; former Minister of the NPP
government and Ambassador to India.