Kwame Nkrumah and How Africa Disastrously Chose Marxism at Independence

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This article was originally published at the Economic Freedom Institute Ghana.

21 September marks the birthday of Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Africa’s Marxist revolutionary and first President of the Republic of Ghana. The day is celebrated as a public holiday in Ghana to commemorate the significant role Nkrumah played to free the Gold Coast from colonial rule.

Dr Kwame Nkrumah was born on 21 September 1909 at Nkroful in what was then the British-ruled Gold Coast, the son of a goldsmith. After his graduation from Achimota College in 1930, he traveled to the United States of America to pursue his master’s degrees at Lincoln University and the University of Pennsylvania where he was influenced by Marxist ideologies and Pan-Africanist ideas, especially Marcus Garvey, the Black American nationalist leader of the 1920s. Eventually, Kwame Nkrumah came to describe himself as a socialist and a Marxist, a leading proponent of African socialism, the offshoot of Pan-Africanism.

He returned to Ghana in the late 1947 under invitation of UGCC, the first political party in Ghana. Nkrumah served as the general secretary to the party, but due to his Marxist tendencies broke away from the conservative UGCC party to form his own socialist political party CPP that won the 1951 general elections. Kwame Nkrumah became Prime Minister of Ghana and latter, president of the new republic in 1960. He was the winner of Lenin Peace Prize in 1962. Nkrumah found numerous state-run companies, launched the construction of a huge dam for the generation of hydroelectric power, built schools and universities and backed liberation movements in African colonies that had yet to achieve independence.

In 1964, faced with economic crises caused largely by his Marxist economic policies, Nkrumah’s possible solution to the crises was to tighten government control. He declared Ghana a one-party communist state with himself as president for life. Kwame Nkrumah was accused of actively promoting a cult of his own personality, Nkrumahism, which eventually led to his overthrow in 1966 by military coup d’état. He died in Bucharest, Romania after six years in exile in Guinea at age 62.  In the year 2000, Nkrumah was voted Africa’s “Man of the Millennium” by listeners to the BBC as a “Hero of Independence,” and an “International symbol of freedom as the leader of the first African country to shake off the chains of colonial rule.”

“Nkrumah’s primary concern really was the good of the nation,” noted German political scientist Christian Kohrs, but the path he chose was dangerous both for himself and for the people of independent Africa.

Like Nkrumah, many other African leaders, namely Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, Modibo Keita of Mali, Léopold Senghor of Senegal, Sékou Touré of Guinea, among others, also took the socialist path in the struggle for Africa independence. This resulted in the rise of despots and series of military coup d’état in most African countries and a devastating effect on the social and economic life of Africa. Though some of these African socialists did not align themselves with Marxism like Nkrumah did, their brand of socialism was no different from the collectivist principles of Marxism. Senghor claimed that “Africa’s social background of tribal community life not only makes socialism natural to Africa but excludes the validity of the theory of class struggle.”

On the surface, socialism might appear natural to African tribal community life as with many other economies of the world, but according to the American-based Ghanaian economist, Professor George Ayittey, “Africa has had a long history of free market economies dating back to precolonial times.”

According to Joseph Schumpeter, Marxism is a religion whereby the ends of society are distributed to them by their all-knowing state. This differs from capitalism where each individual in a society is held as absolute end in himself. Marxism, a materialistic philosophy developed by Karl Marx, like all other socialist theories of nationalism, Nazism, fascism, tribalism, and communism, is based on the principle of collectivism that overrides the free decisions of individuals. It is only capitalism that allows the individual to be free and pursue his interests which at the end will be for the common good.

The brutal rejection of capitalism in favor of socialism by African politicians at independence was largely due to a deep-seated misconception that equates capitalism to colonialism. In fact, according to Lenin, capitalism was the extension of colonialism and imperialism. For this reason, African leaders at independence didn’t want anything to do with capitalism. They claim capitalism is exploitative. Nkrumah said “we need socialism to fight off the imperialists.” Nyerere said: “capitalism encourages individual acquisitiveness and competition. We don’t want that, we need socialism.” This led African leaders to adopt the socialist ideology of Marxism. By that they mean complete ownership of all the means of production by the state. At the end the socialism experiment was a big failure in African politics.

Insanity is said to be the inability to correlate causes and effects. Wherever Marxism/socialism has been practiced, it has meant slavery and death for the majority. It’s no surprise that Marxism failed in Africa just as it has done in many other nations. Throughout history, there has been a lot of evidence showing capitalism works and socialism is a failure. The results of socialism are poverty and tyranny. Despite all these failures and atrocities committed under national socialism by Marxist dictators, there is a majority that still believes socialism is the way to go for Africa’s social and economic prosperity. The truth is socialism is not about economics. Socialism is about competition for political power that results in the destruction of wealth and prosperity.

Unfortunately, Africa currently is largely under the influence of Marxism because of the political ideologies of its founding fathers and anti-capitalist mentality of the West, especially the United States.

As I am writing this article, many African nations are starving and deeply in debt as a result of the socialist programmes that have been pursued by their governments. According to the World Bank, 416 million Africans still live in extreme poverty, 210 million of which are in fragile and conflict-affected countries. African development partners continue to think the solution to these challenges is more political than economic. So, they keep on pouring money to support big government programmes in Africa as a way of reducing poverty and social injustice.

The only real solution to Africa’s long-standing challenges is economic and less political. Africa needs less and less government control and more capitalistic control of the economy. This will make competition for political power unattractive and more freedom for people to exercise their right to individual initiatives, which is the only way to peace and prosperity.

“As far as I am concerned, I am in the knowledge that death can never extinguish the torch which I have lit in Ghana and Africa. Long after I am dead and gone, the light will continue to burn and be borne aloft, giving light and guidance to all people.”  ~ Dr Kwame Nkrumah