Kwame Nkrumah
Kwame Nkrumah

When Dancers Play Historians And Thinkers ? Postscript 3

The author of Black Star notes that the two overriding ideals or achievements with which his protagonist left the United States on his African return journey, through England, were the total and rapid decolonization of the African continent and African unification, or Pan-Africanism, which was a bona fide African-American ideal or vision unmistakably derived from the Euro-American creation and amalgamation of the erstwhile British colonies of North America into the Federal Republic of America or the United States of America: ? ?Two great ideals dominate his mind. The first is an old one, long cherished; many share it with him.

Kwame Nkrumah
Kwame Nkrumah
It is the idea that what Africans must now do, first and foremost and before anything else can be seriously discussed, is to ?get out from under? the colonial mountain. They have to push off colonial rule before they can stand up straight, start a new life of their own, work for their own good, recover their place in world history.

Before the Second World War this mountain appeared so tall and heavy that nobody would ever be able to push it off. But now, in 1945, it seems to have lost a lot of its height and weight. There may be a chance for Africans, even a good chance. ? But he thinks of his second idea perhaps even more. This second idea is above all the fruit of his stay in the United States.

It move[s] him with the vigor of a vision, and carried him far from the liner?s deck, opening up the splendid future of a United States of Africa, an Africa of unites states, a federation of hundreds of millions of black people who stride upon the world?s scene with all the force of their numbers and talents, skills and strength. ? It is an American vision, above all the creation of black people in the Americas.

Cut off from their distant homeland, deprived of their separate African cultures, languages and loyalties, black thinkers in the Americas came easily to the conclusion that differences between black people were far less important than the fact that all of them were black, and, being black, united in their interests. But if this was true about black people in the Americas, these thinkers concluded, then it must also be true of black people in Africa.

If the first could save themselves only by uniting their strength, then the resurgence of Africa must take the road of similar unity? (Black Star 40-41).

According to Davidson, Nkrumah was more of a Pan-Africanist than an African Nationalist in the fundamentally parochial sense of the term. And this, of course, largely explains his woeful inability to govern a culturally diverse and heterogeneous Ghana. In other words, as hinted earlier, the ambitiously vaulting idealist in him prevented Nkrumah from fully appreciating the practical realities of the necessary gradualist approach to his vigorous push for continental Africa?s geopolitical amalgamation or unification. His Pan-Africanist ?vision,? according to Davidson, was practically and patently absurd, since it illogically presumed to walk the newly-born continental African baby long before the latter had been weaned of its natural stages of crawling and then toddling before beginning to walk:

?But it seems clear that his years in the United States, his faith in Pan-Africanism, his own internationalist sense of belonging to the world and not simply some small part of the world, all tended to obscure for him the depth and diversity of Africa?s divisions. It seemed right and reasonable to him that Africa, once freed from foreign rule, should rapidly unite under a single federal government.

It was a view that vastly oversimplified reality, but he never abandoned it. His first great idea, the freeing of Ghana from colonial rule, remained always the servant of the second. Ghana?s independence, he was to say, would be meaningless if it were not linked with the total liberation of Africa. ? This is the field of thought that yields another key to his mind and mood.

Coming back from across the Atlantic, returning to England so as to prepare for returning home, he is already a man of ideas far more than a man of practical politics. He will transform himself into a man of action, and will prove to be repeatedly successful as one, but he will stay essentially what he is now: a man moved above all else by a world-changing vision.

In an Africa desperately needing such a vision, much of his renown will flow from this. ? The visionary nature of his thought comes out in much else that he says and does in these months. Returning from America, he is an intellectual who has still to ?re-Africanize? himself, who has still to test his ideas against the gritty problems of everyday life. He partly knows this, and partly ignores it.

He is a man standing on the brink of an ocean of storms, peering far away to the other side and charting an ideal course to cross it by the shortest route. The vision of what can lie beyond repeatedly urges him forward. Far more than any personal ambition, this ?lack of realism? was the price that he and his people had to pay for the privilege of leading black Africa on the road to political independence. Considering some of the ?realists? who sit in high places today, perhaps it was no high price to pay? (Black Star 42-43).

Like many of his detractors, both contemporary and latter-day, Davidson envisages Nkrumah to have been a man of confused illusions, disguised and erroneously paraded as ?visions,? who was equally pragmatic enough to qualify for the description of a ?Talented Opportunist?: ?As yet, returning home across the Atlantic, his further ideas on what to do, and how to do it, are still in a confusion. In 1957, he would describe himself as ?a non-denominational Christian and a Marxist Socialist.?

Now he might say much the same, yet it would be little more than a declaration of loyalty to the ideas of far-reaching change. In America he read some of the Marxist classics and dabbled in many philosophies. It seems they have given him no clear guide to action. He remains above all a pragmatist, a man who will act according to opportunities, leaving great principles to save themselves by the sheer force of their own logic. It will be his strength as well as his weakness? (Black Star 43).

In other words, for Davidson, Nkrumah was a reckless opportunist in whose purview critical and principled consideration of decisions mattered much less if the alternative promised to place him well above and ahead of his rivals and competitors.

We would see such immodest opportunism quixotically impel Nkrumah into the erstwhile Indo-China and with the latter misadventure, his auspicious overthrow. Davidson goes forth to further observe, albeit charitably, that, indeed, by the standards of his time, Nkrumah definitely possessed the intellectual wherewithal for the pursuit of doctoral-level work; nevertheless, his was decidedly a mediocre mind that significantly and seriously lacked an analytical orientation and the patient diligence required for undertaking high-end doctoral-level thinking. This apparent lack of a cohesive analytical orientation may largely explain why the author of Black Star thinks that Nkrumah was too impractically visionary for his own good or political success on the ground:

?Happily based on Burleigh Road, Nkrumah threw himself into many activities. He put down his name at Gray?s Inn, one of the great law centers. He put down his name for lectures in economics at the University of London. A little later he put down his name for lectures in philosophy as well, and was admitted as a candidate for London?s doctorate in philosophy. ? He attended a few of these lectures, but had no time to persevere.

Too many other interests plucked at him. Professor Sir Alfred Ayer, the distinguished philosopher who admitted him as a candidate has told me [Basil Davidson] that Nkrumah was popular in the philosophy department, where he was known as a Hegelian. ?But I can?t honestly say,? Sir Alfred comments, ?that I thought [of] Nkrumah as a first-class philosopher. I liked him and enjoyed talking to him but he did not seem to me to have an analytical mind. He wanted the answers too quickly.

I think part of the trouble may have been that he wasn?t concentrating very hard on his thesis. It was a way of marking time until the opportunity came for him to return to Ghana.? Later, when news of his achievements began to filter back to London, Ayer was one of many who had met him who were understandably surprised that this political leader was the man whom they had known? (Black Star 47-8).

We don?t know what they might have had to say about the intellectual temperament of Dr. Danquah, had Davidson had occasion or the interest to interview some of Danquah?s former University of London professors. By 1944, or thereabouts, Danquah had been gone for nearly twenty years.

Well, his Black Star is Davidson?s paean to his protagonist. What can be aptly observed at this juncture is that Davidson does not seem to have had a very favorable opinion of the putative Doyen of Gold Coast and Modern Ghanaian Politics. But this largely appears to have something to do with Davidson?s cleverly, albeit thinly, veiled disdain for the first-rate educated African. Maybe he found Danquah?s rare kind of genius a bit offensive, or rudely far above the status of his race and people in the normal scheme of global affairs. In this sense, the otherwise magnanimous author of Black Star may be seen to have held Danquah?s erudition and aristocratic manners against the latter.

In the opinion of Davidson, it appears that Danquah had absolutely no right to assume his hard-earned social and intellectual and/or cultural status as a world-class scholar and philosopher. Now, dear reader, take this reading of Davidson?s glancing profile of Danquah and the UGCC leaders, for example: ? ?Another letter came, this time from Dr. J. B. Danquah, moving spirit of African dignity.

Danquah appealed to Nkrumah to set aside his work in London, and come straight home at once. The need was urgent. What to do? Danquah was undoubtedly a ?middle-class lawyer? of the type that Nkrumah most distrusted [?envied? is probably the more appropriate term]. Yet it was possibly an important offer. He asked for advice from his friends and fellow-workers in the West African National Secretariat. ?It might be our beginning,? was the general thought, ?but it could also be our end.?

A meeting decided on balance, that he should go. ? So it was that he sailed from Liverpool in November 1947 with many doubts about the people who were to employ him. Had those people known more about him, they would have returned these doubts. Would they have withdrawn their offer? It is hard to guess. Probably they thought that if Nkrumah proved awkward they could bring him to heel. They were influential men who were immensely sure of their own superiority over the mass of their fellow-countrymen. Theirs was to be a rude awakening? (Black Star 53-4).

By Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D.
Garden City, New York
E-mail: [email protected]


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