Ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) on August 4, two renowned journalists, Paul Adom-Otchere and Kwesi Pratt Jr cut to the layers of the Founder’s Day versus Founders’ Day debate.
This longstanding debate was brought to the fore earlier in 2017 when President Nana Akufo-Addo’s speech delivered at Ghana’s 60th independence anniversary parade came under attack over what some said was a skewed account of Ghana’s history to suit his father, Edward Akufo-Addo and uncle, J.B. Danquah who critical players in Ghana pre-independence.
This is criticism Kwesi Pratt would be likely to get behind given he is of the firm view Kwame Nkrumah should be regarded as the Founder of Ghana and celebrated as is done on his birth date, September 21.
Paul Adom-Otchere, on the other hand, believes Ghana’s history is incomplete without due regard given to the likes of the leadership of the UGCC, amongst others.
There can be more than one founder
Drawing from the American example, he reminded that John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington “are christened as founders of the United states because they sat down together on a particular date to decide on how the federation works,” despite Washington being that country’s first president.
However, in Ghana, a few things went amiss over the decades, Paul Adom-Otchere said, starting with the work of the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society to oppose the Lands Bill of 1897 which threatened land tenure and another layer of the indigenous sovereignty.
“This was a monumental act of John Mensah Sarbah and the aborigines and Sarbah formed the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society on the 4th of August 1897 at Saltpond and this was the single most successful achievements of the Aborigines which helped the Gold Coast progress the way it did, and then to the West African National Congress of Casely-Hayford and others.”
In 1947, over 100 years of the Bond of 1844, J.B. Danquah, George Alfred “Paa” Grant and others put in motion moves to kick start the independence drive with the formation of the UGCC.
But on why some believe these persons have been relegated to a foot note in Ghana’s history, Paul Adom-Otchere noted two significant actions of leadership in this regard; the 1948 riots leading to the arrest of the Big Six and then the Watson Commission and Coussey Committee that determined the independence constitutions for Ghana in 1950 leading to elections in 1951, of which the Kwame Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party, an offshoot of the UGCC, won.
“Because Nkrumah won the election of 1951, the processes that had been prescribed the constitution of the Coussey Committee fell on him to implement those processes towards independence and one of those processes occurred on a fateful day on July 1953 in Parliament where the leader of government business, as he [Nkrumah] became, was to put a motion in Parliament and it was christened by the evening news paper as the motion of destiny – a motion asking the British government to give us self-government.”
In that motion,Nkrumah outlined the history of Ghana, starting from the period of Okomfo Anokye, to the Aborigines Protection Society, but upon reaching the UGCC, he seemingly downplayed its impact by omitting the names of Paa Grant, J.B. Danquah, and others.
“This is a very important aspect where the confusion and the unnerving situation may have begun, where Dr. Nkrumah so eloquently traces the History of Ghana… and there is a clear omission of the names of the Grant, Danquah, Awonoor-Williams, Akufo-Addo, Obetsebi-Lamptey – the leadership of the UGCC that brought him here.”
August 4 not Ghana’s independence
Kwesi Pratt’s response to this was that the significance August 4, 1947 had not been downplayed, but explained that Nkrumah is recognized as the founder of the modern republic of Ghana “for good reason and there are those who are opposed to that.”
“You have to remember that at a certain point in history, certain political forces made the holding of Nkrumah’s effigy and photographs a criminal offense… they burnt books written by Nkrumah, they told lies about our History all in an effort to obliterate Nkrumah’s name.”
He further stressed that August 4, 1947, was not the day Ghana obtained independence but the day on which “a lame political party came into existence.”
“The UGCC, until Nkrumah’s arrival [when he returned to Ghana (Gold Coast) on December 10, 1947, upon invitation from J.B. Danquah to become the UGCC’s General Secretary] was a very lame political organization. It did not have any credible women’s wing. It did not have a youth wing. It was not integrated into the struggles of the working people of Ghana and so on.”
Aside from that, Kwesi Pratt said the people of Ghana “chose their own heroes in properly conducted free and fair elections [in 1951]. Danquah never won an election… if he is such a great politician, a national liberator and so on, how come his people didn’t recognize that? So I am not the one saying it. His own people did not recognize him as such in his days.”
Aware and skeptical of the fact the governing New Patriotic Party toes the line of the Danquah tradition, Kwesi Pratt said he “wouldn’t be surprised if it [September 21] isn’t acknowledged as a holiday.”
He described the UGCC as a club of elitists and asserted that Nkrumah owed no debt to the UGCC for bringing him to Ghana and slammed such “arguments as infantile and uninformed,” adding that opposing Nkrumah’s legacy was as futile as “kicking against a rock with bare feet.”
Paul Adom-Otchere, whilst acknowledging Nkrumah’s mammoth legacy, maintained that Nkrumah as early as 1953, was already showing signs of relegating the other key people in the history of Ghana.
“Nobody can actually obliterate Nkrumah from history. We are making the point that Nkrumah began something in his address of the motion of destiny to exclude people who were key.”
This exclusion is believed to have evolved into the CPP’s Nkrumah’s Preventive Detention Act (1958), which provided for detention without trial for up to 5 years (later extended to 10 years). On July 1, 1960, a new constitution was adopted, changing Ghana from a parliamentary system with a prime minister to a republican headed by a powerful president. In 1964, a constitutional referendum eventually changed the Ghana into a one-party state.
Nkrumah’s role in the UGCC
About Nkrumah being brought into the fold of the UGCC, Paul Adom-Otchere noted that the leadership of the party needed somebody to the work as a full timer because they were also occupied in the human rights work.
“There is no doubt about the fact that Nkrumah was a better orator that a lot of the UGCC people and that he was a better mass mobiliser given his history with the American civil rights movement.”
Kwesi Pratt viewed this point from Paul Adom-Otchere as self-indicting because it was ostensibly an admission that the UGCC leadership “considered other things more important than building the political party which was the main agitator for independence,”
In his view, the reason for the debate is because people are unhappy with the declaration of Nkrumah as the founder of the republic and he feels there is a desire to substitute Nkrumah with the Big Six.
As the debate concluded, Kwesi Pratt further argued that the legitimacy of the Big Six was compromised because, despite the Big Six being renowned for their arrests following the 1948 riots, the other five “denied involvement in the agitations that led to the rioting… it was only Nkrumah.”
This notwithstanding, for people with Paul Adom-Otchere’s sentiment, this debate “is a big issue because it has to do with the spirit of the country because we want to make the history of the country complete.”