Deep down, the Ghanaian reaction to the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah and his parti unique, the Convention People’s Party, was an ageless, cynical coolness. There were no barricades erected by the party faithful, and the masses nowhere rose to defend their Osagyefo. On the contrary, the most prudent went out as soon as they were sure the government had really changed, to proclaim, in the exact words taught them by Nkrumah and his party bureaucrats, their “unflinching support” for the new men of power, even though most did not know for certain who exactly these new men were, or what exactly they stood for.
To many Africans outside Ghana and to many of the sons of Africa dispersed throughout the Americas and the Caribbean, especially those in any way involved in radical pan-African causes, this Ghanaian coolness has come as a cruel disappointment. Their questions have been filled with chagrin, even with bitterness. What happened to the revolutionary ardor with which all Ghana was presumed to be burning? What of the socialist zeal animating the country’s politics?
These pathetic questions are evidence of a schism in the current affairs of Africa: the tragic gap between words and reality. The people who now ask such questions about Ghana are people who used to read the flaming words of Nkrumah’s weekly Spark and the bold formulae of such books as Consciencism and Neocolonialism, the Last Stage of Imperialism, and, having read them, felt relieved that Africa’s problems were being solved in all seriousness.
But, by and large, the Ghanaian people, most of them illiterate, were not readers of The Spark or the Nkrumah books, though of course the most prudent would have copies available in conspicuous places, opportune testimony to their loyalty to the Osagyefo. So for most Ghanaians it was not possible for the poetry and the beauty of the printed word to form a screen between themselves and cynical reality.
Nkrumah produced a lot of words—words full of the anger of the oppressed, words full of the pathos of the situation of the downtrodden, words of defiance hurled in the teeth of the powerful masters of the enslaved. Then Nkrumah produced plenty of action, even of deeds. But all too often, especially during the last days of his power, the deeds ran counter to the words. The words were those of a man bent on revolution they were austere, dedicated, powerful. The deeds, unfortunately, were those of a brash, newly successful tycoon eagerly searching for spectacular ways to make his grandeur manifest. And so between the words of revolutionary sacrifice and the reality of decadent narcissistic indulgence all possibility of reconciliation was lost. When, in February 1966, the coup came, Ghanaians had had a profound experience of something which moralists will call political hypocrisy, and which sociologists will label political schizophrenia. At the root of the chagrin of the pan-Africanists lies the schism; one of the black South Africans expelled from Ghana after the coup gave it perfect, anguished expression:…
This is exclusive content for subscribers only.
Get unlimited access to The New York Review for just $1 an issue!
Continue reading this article, and thousands more from our archive, for the low introductory rate of just $1 an issue. Choose a Print, Digital, or All Access subscription.