Kwame Nkrumah’s Legacy: David Birmingham’s view

Written by Bose Maposa

As we continue in our weekly discussions regarding the presidency of Kwame Nkrumah and some of the most important lessons that can be extracted from his leadership, a key aspect that constantly lingers is the importance of decision making. In the end, what I have come to realize is that what we question about our leaders is precisely their ability to make sound decisions. Specifically who deems those decisions sound or meaningful- the whole population or sections of it? What differences and similarities exist in decision making when running for office and while in office?

In line with Nkrumah’s first message, “Africa for the Africans”, David Birmingham (1) outlines three threads as the foundations of his leadership; the concept of black identity; the search for national autonomy and; and advocacy for a Pan-African identity. His legacy as the ‘Father of Nationalism’ or the ‘Father of Pan-Africanism’ speaks to the first and last thread.

An example of Nkrumah’s pursuit of national autonomy is the example of the Volta region project which was discussed last week. As Damilola questioned Nkrumah’s vision, the question still remains-what really went wrong with the building of the dam? This was supposed to be an innovative way for Ghana to attain national autonomy. I believe it all goes back to decision-making.

My argument is that the legacy of the Volta region project is an example of bad, autocratic decision-making. Despite the fact that the idea in itself was a good one, it was not done through a democratic process. Nkrumah forgot the principles in which he ran for office. We know of his relationships with the youth movement; with the cocoa farmers; his mobilizing of women and his strive to move beyond ethnic politics- all of which was based on a culture of engagement.

Birmingham believes that Nkrumah forgot his foundations as no evaluation, no consultation, and no discussion was ever made about the implications of this dam with the interested stakeholders. Any attempt to advice from all these groups was met by Nkrumah’s deaf ear. One can ask why was then so different about this particular project?

In seeing his vision of what the dam would do, Nkrumah did not compromise. He writes in his autobiography, maybe what might have been his motivation and reason that “ what other countries have taken three hundred years or more to achieve, a once dependent territory must try to accomplish in a generation if it is to survive. Unless it is, as it were, ‘jet-propelled’, it will lag behind and thus risk everything for which it has fought” (Nkrumah, p x).

Nkrumah naivety led him to be “an early victim of the capitalist realization that lending to Third World could be extremely profitable” (Birmingham, p 66). In addition he forgot the foundation of his leadership. So in response to the question of how a leader can align his vision with the desires of his people, I give you Nelson Mandela’s number 8 lesson in leadership-Quitting is leading too (2) .

(1) All references to David Birmingham are based on his book Kwame Nkrumah: The father of nationalism.
(2) http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1821467-3,00.html

Bose Maposa

Bose Maposa is the Assistant Director of the African Studies Program at Ohio University, USA.

3 Responses to Kwame Nkrumah’s Legacy: David Birmingham’s view

  1. This is really an insightful read! I am currently doing a course on the effects of the Volta Lake Ressetlement in Ghana for one of my Anthropology courses.

    Your paper has really exposed me to new insights about what really went wrong with a plan that seemed so solid, what was meant to be "a symbol for social and economic progress in the newly independent Africa" and yet has ironically proved to be the opposite of that.

    Most of the readings on the issue have tended to focus on Nkrumah's ousting from power in 1966 as the main cause for the project going wrong, so as to say if he had indeed stayed in power, the results would have been dramatically different.

    Its quite englightening to read your (and Birmingham's) critical perspective on the vital mistakes that Nkrumah himself made in contributing to the social ruin that resulted from the construction of the Akosombo dam in the Volta Lake region (although not denying that Ghana has to some extent derived some benefits from the dam).

  2. What an interesting comment! You are assessing some of the major errors made by President Nkrumah and how up and coming leaders can learn from those mistakes.

    from Sibusiso Mabuza

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