Contrary to the widely held view, largely among circles of his detractors, that Nkrumah had had a direct hand in the tragic events leading to the brutal assassination of Congo-Kinshasa’s Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, by forces loyal to Belgium and Eisenhower’s America, Mahoney provides clear and convincing evidence that what played out and culminated in the demise of the firebrand Congolese leader was a gross miscalculation of the aims and intentions of the dominant forces at work in the proverbial “Heart of Africa.” The young and radical Prime Minister Lumumba is depicted as a hopelessly impulsive, brash and naïve statesman/politician in league with an equally brash, albeit relatively more mature and foresighted, President Nkrumah with an inexorable urge towards the hasty implementation of a pan-African nationalist agenda of Ghana-Congo unification that violently clashed with the entrenched interests of the capitalist West.
Needless to say, Nkrumah’s agenda, while theoretically and morally admirable and even heroic, unpardonably verged on the patently quixotic, particularly when the astute observer and critical thinker on developments in contemporary African history and culture reckons the complex concatenation of disparate colonial influences, military strength and organization and the woeful lack of any remarkable intellectual and cultural awareness between the two radical African leaders and their respective peoples.
In other words, in agreeing to unify their two countries, Messrs. Nkrumah and Lumumba had woefully underestimated the potent counteractive agendas of the Eisenhower West, and the latter’s dogged determination not to share Africa’s sphere of influence with a “communist” Soviet Union in the cutthroat world of Cold-War politics. In thus attempting to both deftly and diplomatically play the NATO countries against the Warsaw Pact countries, in the dubious name of “Nonalignment,” both Messrs. Nkrumah and Lumumba found themselves to be suavely outmaneuvered. To this effect, the author of JFK: Ordeal in Africa observes: “The sudden emergence of Lumumba as the Congo’s most popular leader appeared to give Nkrumah the opportunity to unite Ghana and the Congo. Prior to Congolese independence, Lumumba had discussed the prospect of such a union with his ‘idol.’ When order disintegrated in the week after independence, Nkrumah lifted more than 1,000 troops, as well as medical and administrative personnel, to the Congo in support of the UN peacekeeping operation. Lumumba was grateful. He flew to Ghana on August 8, 1960 to sign a document uniting the Congo and Ghana. It was Nkrumah’s finest hour. ¶ But then Lumumba miscalculated [the military might of Ghana and the stature of Nkrumah in the global scheme of power relations]. He broke relations with [UN Secretary-General Dag] Hammarskjold, and in so doing lost the protection of the UN force against domestic mutiny and international intrigue. When he invited the Russians to intervene, the United States and Belgium moved to eliminate him [by using Lumumba’s arch political opponents, of course]. In the [ensuing] struggle for power in Leopoldville, Nkrumah repeatedly urged Lumumba to restore relations with the UN before it was too late. On September 5, when President Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba, Nkrumah’s own troops (acting under UN orders) prevented the premier from gaining access to the radio station. Lumumba accused Ghana of ‘treachery.’ Nkrumah’s trump card was lost”(164).
In sum, in deciding to meddle in the internal affairs of the Congo vis-à-vis the latter’s troubling relationship with Belgium, the erstwhile colonial overlord, Nkrumah had naively overestimated the bonding mortar of “Africanity” that readily appeared to organically unite the peoples of Ghana and the Congo against their common Western-European enemy. Essentially, Nkrumah had also failed to afford himself adequate time to study and appreciate the character and personality of Prime Minister Lumumba, in order to be able to more effectively work with the relatively younger and far less academic and intellectual Congolese leader towards the total emancipation of continental Africa.
Further, Mahoney observes that the tragic events in the Congo, culminating in the brutal assassination of Prime Minister Lumumba, may well have pushed the Ghanaian premier over the proverbial edge, thus unwittingly provoking Nkrumah into prematurely digging his own grave, by being propelled by the forces of anger and frustration to move dangerously close to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War: “The Soviets were quick to take advantage of Nkrumah’s anger at the West. During the week of December 15, 1960, Ghana received two of an eventual six Ilyushin aircraft from the Soviet Union. Nkrumah welcomed a thirty-four-member Soviet technical-assistance team to discuss $40 million worth of projects. Pointing to Nasser’s unhappy experience with the Americans, the Russians suggested that Nkrumah scrap the Volta project in favor of a smaller Soviet-financed dam. Nkrumah told them that he would consider the offer” (JFK: Ordeal in Africa 164).
For Mahoney, no Ghanaian politician more deftly deputized for the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) than Nkrumah’s own chief-lieutenant and finance minister, Mr. Komla Agbeli Gbedemah: “Whatever the case, the White House let it be known that inviting Nkrumah to Washington [in the wake of Lumumba’s assassination] had been ‘a difficult decision.’ The prevailing editorial attitude in Washington was grudging at best: ‘Mr. Kennedy decided that it would be useful to meet Nkrumah since he is rated as the only person in his country [with whom] to do business.’ The White House received another view from Komla Gbedemah, Nkrumah’s pro-Western finance minister, who was in Washington to see World Bank officials about the Volta project. Gbedemah suggested to Walt Rostow at a midnight meeting at Rostow’s home that the President should express ‘with great directness and force’ his concern about Ghana’s communist ties. This would not be the last [time that] the White House would hear from Mr. Gbedemah” (JFK: Ordeal in Africa 166-7).
Earlier, the CIA had sketched out and presented the following profile of the Ghanaian premier: “The Americans were beginning to realize that they had on their hands a man whose need for attention exceeded all other concerns. The CIA’s briefing paper [for President Kennedy] may have overstated matters somewhat, but [it] did identify the central trait: ‘[A] man beginning to slip just a bit and too conceited to see it, a politician to whom the roar of the crowd and the praise of the sycophant are as necessary as the air he breathes…[and who] desperately wants a favorable verdict from history” (166).
In other words, in the studious opinion of Mahoney, the most dangerous political detractor of Mr. Kwame Nkrumah was none other than one of the four or five men who stood on the podium with the “Osagyefo” at midnight on March 5, 1957, at Accra’s old polo grounds, to declare the radical severance of British colonial imperialism from Ghana’s umbilical cord. But, of course, this simple and plain narrative truth does not gibe with the received epic mythology of the CPP and its Nkrumaist odyssey. And so, naturally, and conveniently, it stood to reason to facilely trot in the Show Boy’s former mentor and most formidable and feared political opponent, in later years, for use as a scapegoat for all that symbolized the bane of political and ideological opposition in independent Ghana. The preceding portrait may yet constitute the most tragic and abominable dimension of the thankless role that a pioneering and unassailably patriotic Dr. J. B. Danquah played during the most treacherous era of Ghana’s liberation struggle. Here again, and once again, we prefer to defer ultimate judgment to posterity.
Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is Associate Professor of English, Journalism and Creative Writing at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is Director of The Sintim-Aboagye Center for Politics and Culture and author of “Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana” (iUniverse.com, 2005).
The opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views or have the endorsement of the Editorial Board of www.africanewsanalysis.com