Socionationalism in Ghana: History, Insights, and Lessons for Africa

Article excerpt

Nationalism is seldom an independent variable, but rather a form through which a variety of responses, aspirations and interests are expressed. Its force is not internal but depends on the intensity of sentiment of various social groups. That is why self-conscious nationalist politicians never get very far unless they can harness the aspirations of the masses for a better life..... the focus on professional nationalists artificially narrows the meaning of politics. Peasants, workers and traders are seldom motivated by an abstract desire for nationhood. More often than not they relate to national and other communal appeals as a means of realizing some other objective. (1)

The Wind of Change is blowing through Africa, and whether we like it or not this growth of national consciousness is a political fact. We must all accept it as a fact; our national policies must take account of it. (2)

INTRODUCTION

This article is about the most dominant theme of twentieth century African history namely, decolonization/national liberation. "The wind of change" (3) alluded to above by British Prime Minister Macmillan concerns this process. This article is an attempt to reconstruct the narrative of this political development through the specific instance of Ghana (the then Gold Coast). However, while Ghana is the article's specific historical-empirical case study, the world-historical context will remain throughout as its sociohistorical unit of analysis. The politics, history, and sociology of decolonization/national liberation will be situated in a more general framework called socionationalism. Unless otherwise stated, socionationalism will be used throughout not as an esoteric concept but rather a mosaic of intersecting factors and processes (local, national, regional and global; political, social, economic and moral) that evolved mutually and ultimately shaped the relationship between on one hand, the demands for social justice and equity and on the pursuit of purely 'nationalist' objectives--so to speak.

The organizational and mobilizational ability of the ilk of nationalist intellectuals who came to prominence in the struggle against colonialism and the demand for self-rule was crucial but limited in terms of what they could actually achieve politically. It is true that iconic leaders like Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Nnamdi Azikiwe (popularly known as "Zik") of Nigeria, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and Amilcar Cabral of Guinea Bissau (formerly Portuguese Guinea) to name just a few, possessed extraordinary abilities to mobilize, among other things, the decolonization movement because of their bilingual heritage in the colonial world inter alia. But equally important is the fact that the masses proved to be vital in making the decolonization movement what it became. In one respect, there is no elite without a mass; the presence of one presupposes the presence of the other.

The popular struggles will be personified here by the critical masses (to be defined shortly). Their role as a vital completing component is indispensable if any explanation of the process of decolonization is to be complete and, therefore, a comprehensive analysis of decolonization must account for the instrumental role played by the critical masses in the eventual fall of formal colonialism. Their role has been lost in the struggle between the anticolonial elite and the metropolis for the control of both the political and historical narrative of national liberation and/or decolonization.

Over the years, two extremes have emerged as dominant narratives of African nationalism each of which has privileged the singular historical and political vitality of its agency. The first strand, commonly referred to in the literature and political circles as national liberation or 'push-out,' has tended to privilege the role of the bilingual anti-colonial intelligentsia. Conversely, the second strand, the metropolitan-internationalist or decolonization or 'pull-out' (also intellectually and politically eclectic), has also had a tendency to emphasize the foresight, planning, fortitude and moral vision of colonial policy makers in preparing African colonies for political freedom or self-rule. …