Socionationalism in Ghana: History, Insights, and Lessons for Africa
Yidana, Richard, Journal of Third World Studies
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)
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. (4)
There is some validity to each side, but with a modified and qualified outlook, because neither agency alone was, at any given moment, capable of single-handedly winning political freedom. The eventual breakthrough of the critical masses was a crucial complementary sociopolitical force that infused colonial politics with mass nationalism. This populist element provided the much needed accelerant and possibility for the formation of mass political parties that proved to be the grave-diggers of colonialism. For example, the formation of parties such as the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) and the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) in Ghana, Northern People's Congress (N PC) and National Council of Nigeria, and the Cameroons (NCNC) coincided very closely with these movements and Whitehall coming to terms with popular nationalism (rhetorical or otherwise) within anticoloniai struggles. (5) None of these political organizational feats would have been possible without the adequate conditions and sentiments for the social formation of socionationalist movements capable of mounting the kind of political resistance that Nkrumah called "positive Action" through strikes--a sort of Gandhian nonviolent anticolonialism.
My analysis, however, also hinges on the unfolding of world-historical events that provide the push or impetus for the struggles at home to succeed (e.g. Ghanaian and Nigerian independence in 1957 and 1960 respectively), and the decisions abroad in London, Paris, or Lisbon to come to terms with the changing dynamics of global political economy. It was by no means fortuitous that the political and moral lexicon of anticolonial movements of twentieth century Africa deeply reflected most if not all of the nostrums of the fruits of liberal ideals popularized and valorized as universal by the French Revolution (e.g. self-determination, freedom, liberty, sovereignty, etc). The crucial question here is why the nationalist movements and aspirations before WW II proved to be politically less successful in the acquisition of political power and ultimately self rule than those after?
In an attempt to answer the preceding question, some workable definitions of the concepts that are prominent throughout the paper will be provided followed by a brief outline of the historical, political, and ideological contexts which make Ghana the best place to look to for the reconstruction of African nationalism. The analysis the relevant literature with direct bearing on this undertaking, and Ghana will be examined as a specific case study to draw illustrative historical and political examples whenever relevant to the core arguments being made..
The concluding part of the paper will attempt to broach two issues. On the one hand, it teases out the logical and theoretical paradoxes of each of the two dominant narratives for explaining decolonization, which will also include my singular category here--the critical masses. The paper will also offer some insights and lessons for African politics today.
CONCEPTS AND DEFINITIONS: THE INTELLIGENTSIA AND THE CRITICAL MASSES
Before returning to the issues raised above, it may be useful to define, or identify, the two concepts prominent in the decolonization movement. First, the bilingual or anticolonial intelligentsia were comprised of Western educated persons like Nkrumah and Azikiwe who received University degrees in the United States, and Jomo Kenyatta who was educated in Great Britain. They included lawyers, the upper echelons of traders, and a merchant class. Within the colonial system of racial and economic stratification, they could be said to be in the middle strata of the colonial social hierarchy. While one's social standing and status with in the colonial system was ascribed and very rigid, they were relatively upwardly mobile politically and economically. Some came from aristocratic backgrounds. Such was the make-up of the core members of the Aborigines Rights Protection Society (ARPS), the National Congress of British West Africa, later, and some members of the UGCC.
The critical masses are used here to connote both senses of the word. In other words, they were critical as a political class and self-interested actors. Sociologically, they comprised a mosaic of overlapping but closed social strata within the colonial system. The group was broadly made up of peasants and farmers, market women, ordinary artisans, primary and middle school leavers or dropouts and people from less well-off backgrounds who came to acquire the name, the Verandah Boys. Unless otherwise stated, both concepts will be used to mean these social and political groups.
SO WHY GHANA AS THE EMPIRICAL-HISTORICAL INSTANCE?
In the first place, Ghana is widely regarded in the literature (6) as a trailblazer that paved the way for both continental and historical Black struggles for the emancipation of their dignity and humanity. Immanuel Geiss author of by far the most influential text on Pan-Africanism has noted that, "the Gold Coast was the most important center for (7) the development of Pan-Africanism of the African soil" Reiterating a previous declaration, Kwame Nkrumah said the following while speaking to the first meeting of the Ghanaian Parliament on July 4, 1960:
As far as Africa is concerned, I have long ago stated a postulate that Ghana's independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa and with the projection of the African Personality in the international community. Our resolution on this issue is unshakable and the government of Ghana will continue to give every support to freedom fighters in all parts of Africa. (8)
All of the historians, political scientists and historical sociologists who have closely studied African nationalism in the twentieth century acknowledge Nkrumah's commitment to the "total liberation of Africa." Let me further illustrate the centrality of Ghana to African nationalism by offering two more pronouncements by Nkrumah. He says:
The success or failure of our efforts to make Ghana into a prosperous and happy state will extend far beyond the frontiers of Ghana itself. A failure on our part would have tragic consequences for other African territories striving towards independence. We must not fail. We shall not fail. We cannot fail. For the fate of African liberation rests upon us the pied pipers (9) of 'African nationalism.' (10)
In the above quote, it is clear that Nkrumah envisaged Ghanaian freedom--political and economic---only via the same feat for the entire continent. In concert with this spirit, he again enjoins that
The Government of Ghana will ... continue to work for African unity and independence and will endeavor in accordance with that objective to make the political union of African states a living reality. It is against this background that we must view the significance of the presence at the celebration ushering in the Republican Constitution of my Brother President Sekou of the Republic of Guinea. (11)
Till his untimely death, the above theme remained the ethos of Nkrumah's political and intellectual life. It was with this mind that Ghana hosted the Nationalists' Conference of African Freedom Fighters on June 4, 1962. It was the first of its kind at the time. The themes were colonialism, nationalism, and neocolonialism. What is important about this meeting is that some of the conferees like Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, and Amilcar Cabral of Guinea, among others, became either Presidents of newly christened African nations or seasoned anticolonialists like Cabral. Pointing to Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, and reminding them of the arduous task at hand and the hard road ahead, Nkrumah noted that they "must each see themselves as part of a greater Africa "in order that" the project of "colonialist-imperialism and its new …
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Publication information: Article title: Socionationalism in Ghana: History, Insights, and Lessons for Africa. Contributors: Yidana, Richard - Author. Journal title: Journal of Third World Studies. Volume: 29. Issue: 1 Publication date: Spring 2012. Page number: 103+. © Association of Third World Studies, Inc. Fall 2008. COPYRIGHT 2012 Gale Group.
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