It is largely rumoured that towards the end of his life, Nkrumah once said: “If I’d known that what Ghanaians wanted was milk (and not development), I would have made sure it flowed through their taps at home”. I have had the privilege of interviewing the daughter of his personal driver, and one of the soldiers who actually overthrew him, a few others from that era. All wished he was still alive. They realise it was better he gave them streets and schools, water and electricity, factories and houses; so they could always afford to either make or buy milk.
I remember seeing a placard from the coup that over threw him with a large inscription: “Nkrumah latrine boy. Who born dog?” At the time when Ghanaians sought Nkrumah’s overthrow, they strongly believed he was the reason the nation wasn’t moving forward. They felt the Tema Motorway was too ambitious and unnecessary for a country with just a few cars. They wondered why he will construct such a huge dam for a population that was barely five million. They felt he was spending too much of Ghana’s money on other African countries. They hated him to the core. Today, we love him to bits. A lot of his decisions didn’t make sense to Ghanaians at the time he made them, but today, we are still harvesting from those precious seeds he sowed.
Kwame Nkrumah was a visionary, not a politician. His focus was not personal gain, it was national and continental development and freedom. When he spoke, the world listened because he spoke as one with spine. He was a man of strong convictions and he lived by them. He lived by those words: “Forward ever, backwards never”. He created a country that the rest of Africa looked up to, and even though most of Ghana’s glory seems to have faded, his name is still revered all across the continent and the rest of the world.
As I sit in this Lagos apartment and pen these words, I can’t help humming the lyrics that got the band Wulomei into trouble: “Sisa ehee, ni oya oba, yaak33 sisa’momo ak3, nk33 ehia mie, k3 ef33 emadje mi”; which translates: “New ghost departing, please tell the old ghost that we’re in dire need of his assistance”. The call for the spirit of Nkrumah didn’t start in 2014. Fact is, there hasn’t been another like him, and it shows; on our streets, in our homes, in our wallets and in our politician’s secret safes and bank accounts.
After Nkrumah was overthrown, the spectrum of leaders we’ve had has ranged from intellectuals who spoke plenty big English but suffered from analysis paralysis, to arse worshippers from the famous “fa wo to b3 bye golf” era, to malnourished tyrants who still can’t stop booming, to three generations of smilers, who sometimes seem to forget they are actually supposed to be running a country not advertising toothpaste. What every single one of these post Nkrumah leaders has lacked is hutzpah: The courage and vim to just do what needs to be done; even if it will make them unpopular in the short term. They’re specialised in the art of baring their teeth but lack the courage to bite, where and when it matters.
You listen to some of our parliamentarians talk (forget the bad grammar. Not everybody went to a good school); you listen to their analysis of problems, you listen to their propositions, you listen to their arguments… you watch their demeanour and you ask yourself: “What are these ones too doing there?” But they are there because the ones with the most ability, don’t make themselves available. We’re happy to soothe our pain with a few rants on Facebook, we curse them on Twitter, we laugh at them on Whatsapp and board the next available plane when the kitchen gets too hot.
I know many Ghanaians in whom the spirit of Nkrumah lives. Young men and women who passionately love Africa, and Ghana. Young men and women have wrestled with the best of the world in academia, business, politics and art and have won and keep winning. This nation is blessed with many of those but they’re not making themselves available; and when the capable don’t make themselves available, it is the incapable who shall lead them. Nkrumah, first and foremost, made himself available.
So whilst we criticise those who currently lead; let’s respect the fact that they made themselves available. Their motives might be wrong, their vision may be poor, their intellects may be weak but at least they made themselves available. Can you be the change you want to see? Can you rise today because your nation demands your devotion? Can you get involved?
Happy Birthday Mother Ghana, Happy Birthday, Fellow Ghanaians.