This is where the dreams of Africa’s bright future were born – and where they died. Once known as “the Black Star of Africa,” Britain’s former Gold Coast became the Republic of Ghana in 1957. In his time, the socialist leader, Kwame Nkrumah, was as fashionable in the West as Mandela today. When the young Queen Elizabeth became pregnant, he was the first Commonwealth leader to be informed.
In the post-1945 period Ghana was Africa’s richest black state, producing 10% of the world’s gold, holding some US $1 billion in foreign reserves and with a per capita income roughly that of Spain. By diligent housekeeping, this level of prosperity could have been consolidated, even expanded. It was not to be. Declaring that it was his intention to “make Africa a strong and unified continent of Socialist commonwealth,” Nkrumah wrote the first chapter in the savage and tragic end to the colonial process.
His political philosophy, much the same as that of the ANC/SACP today, was that African states were not poor and backward because of any intrinsic physical or human reasons, but because the colonisers had deliberately held back Black Advancement. To counter that, he introduced a bastardised Stalinism, arrogating to himself quasi-divine powers, crushing all opposition and wrecking the rule of law.
Capitalism was decried, Western nations insulted, the people promised Eastern-type “liberation,” none of it remotely relevant to the African experience. The economy zig-zagged downwards; the State gained majority participation in 235 enterprises; foreign holdings turned into a $1 billion deficit. When he was overthrown in 1966, while headed for China (where, he said, he was going to solve the Vietnam War), Ghana had been reduced to almost present-day Ethiopian standards.
Ghana’s agony was far from over. In 1982, after a succession of coups and counter-coups, Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings moved ruthlessly to establish what he termed a “People’s Republic.” Over the next two years he demonstrated how a confused leftwing “revolution” could transform a critical situation into unmitigated disaster. Then came the U-turn, with Rawlings now saying that he “hated” Marxists, that his “contempt for them was beyond measure.”
The World Bank moved in, plus big infusions of foreign aid, and the state that pioneered African socialism is now attempting to make itself a showcase of African free market innovation. The future, alas, is uncertain.
There was a time when ex-President Julius Nyerere, a man seduced by leftwingers from the London School of Economics and former high priest of one-party, African socialism, stubbornly provided chapter and verse in defence of “one-party democracy.” For decades he argued that developing countries could not afford the luxury of democratic opposition: that his particular form of pseudo-communism was the only system promising paradise for the labouring masses: with predictably awful results.