Canadian NGOs and Grass Roots Leadership/ Democracy in Ghana

Article excerpt

Presented at the Ghana Golden Jubilee Symposium, Kwantlin University College, Vancouver, BC.

Introduction:

Grass roots leadership and democracy in Gold Coast's independence struggles provide an important key to understanding the success and failures of Canadian and other foreign NGOs in post-independence Ghana. Those NGOs that tap into Ghanaian grass roots leadership and democracy are able to facilitate development in civil society. Those that do not tap into this vital resource contribute to growth without development.

NGOs emerge to fill the gaps in civil society left by the disconnect between the State/Government and the grass roots. Many Canadian NGOs in Ghana are motivated by the love for Africa, to help the poor and the disenfranchised--A LAUDABLE GOAL. However, because of their disconnect from grass roots leadership and democracy they become mere charities creating social parasites and deepening the dependency syndrome of Ghana.

For Canadian NGOs in Ghana to empower civil society, particularly the poor and the disenfranchised, they need to take cues from the key ingredient used to achieve success in the Gold Coast independence struggles. The key was Nkrumah and the CPP's effective connection with grass roots leaders and their democratic practices.

Leadership and Grass Roots Democracy in Ghana's Independence Struggles:

Ghana's independence struggles began formally with the establishment of the United Gold Coast Convention. This first political party of Ghana aimed to rely on the vanguard or the elite to organize the struggle for independence. This organizations and governance system was foreign and antithetical to indigenous governance of the various ethnic groups of Gold Coast. In these communities, governance thrived on grass roots leadership and democracy.

Kwame Nkrumah's strategy proved to be a different one. He turned to "the people", the grass roots, to facilitate a democratic mass movement. His background of poverty on the margins of the Gold Coast gave him more credibility as a populist leader than all his overseas education. The poor youth, farmers, women and wage earners of the Gold Coast were far removed in the social spectrum from the intellectuals and professionals of the colony. The grass roots were already directed against the colonial government. They were therefore natural allies to Nkrumah in his search for a wide-ranging grass roots coalition to challenge the local colonial authorities.

The democratically operated mass movement consisted of three main grass roots groups (Birmingham, 1990): the detached youth (Verandah Boys), cocoa farmers, women, and workers.

* The Youth Movement

The core of the youth movement was composed of school leavers and drop-outs who came to the urban centers in search of employment and slept on the back verandahs of distant relatives. When Nkrumah broke with the UGCC in 1949, it is this youth movement that was turned into the initial autonomous Convention People's Party (ibid).

* Cocoa Farmers

To gain a broad base of support from voters, Nkrumah connected with and motivated cocoa farmers to organize a democratically strong movement in support of the CPP's independence struggle against the Colonial government that was exploiting these farmers (ibid.).

* Women

The liberation movements of Africa discovered that one way of mobilizing support was to seek the approval of women. Powerful market women of Ghana were leaders who democratically organized grass roots women to facilitate Nkrumah's early organizing ventures. In the independent struggles, Gold Coast grass roots women were cheer leaders, fund-raisers, street-demonstrators, boycott organizers in support of the cause represented by Nkrumah and the grass roots in general (ibid.).

* The Workers

The Gold Coast wage-earners, especially the railway workers trade union movement of Takoradi, were a significant source of support for the Nkrumah-led independence struggles. …