A few what ifs in our history

BY: Collin Essamuah

There are a few matters in our political history that never cease to provoke me to wonder what the conclusions would have been if they had resulted in different outcomes.

I do of course believe that we cannot change what has happened already, but the fertile field of what could have happened and the different conclusions therefrom, have never ceased to fascinate us as Ghanaians.

We can readily agree without much dispute that the two major political beliefs in this country revolve around the lives and politics of President Nkrumah of the First Republic and Prime Minster Kofi Busia of the Second Republic.

In the current Fourth Republic, the adherents of Dr Busia are to be found in the ruling New Patriotic Party (NPP) of President Akufo-Addo, and those of the arguably more famous, more influential and more successful  Dr Nkrumah have found a home in the party founded in the name of President Rawlings, the National Democratic Congress(NDC).

This is a fact, not a slight of the current Convention Peoples’ Party(CPP) which is a pale, pathetic shadow of the party that secured independence for this country in 1957.

But don’t we sometimes wonder over the fact that these two enduring dispensations were both ousted from power by coups detat? What this overthrow has meant for us Ghanaians is that we are left to use our imagination to deduce the glorious ends of the regimes founded by these two leaders, Nkrumah and Busia.

We have rather their propagandists and supporters claiming the state of perpetual bliss and happiness that Ghanaians have regrettably missed since their terms in office were truncated forcibly by soldiers and not by the route by which they assumed power, the ballot.

What if

There are thus two types of suppositions which thrive in our imagination; the possibility that death would have taken them away at the time they were overthrown or the effect of they being in power till the time they naturally died.

For Nkrumah, these would have been what if he had fallen down dead on February 24, 1966 or on April 27, 1972, still as President of Ghana, the position he held at the time of the coup that overthrew him?

For Dr Busia, what if he had fallen down dead on January 13, 1972 as Prime Minister or on August 28, 1978 also as Prime Minister of this country?

These are not idle inquiries. Many things happened in the periods from their overthrow till their deaths which make these fascinating lines of inquiry, and of course, provide us with the reasons and justifications for the ideological changes and amendments which are now our lot in the Fourth Republic today. 

Let me ask just two questions which cut across the ironclad beliefs of these two men and their politics in this country. First, what if President Nkrumah had been in office at the time of the June 1967 Six Day Middle Eastern war fought by Israel and several neighbouring Arab countries, the principal one being Egypt then ruled by a friend of Nkrumah, President Gamel Nasser?

Or, secondly, if President Nkrumah had died while Premier Busia, his arch adversary in domestic politics, was in office as our Prime Minister? As we shall presently see, these are not idle questions at all.

Ideological contours

Immediately, knowing the ideological contours of the politics represented by these two men, we are faced with the formidable issue of the utility of mindless inflexibility in our politics. We know that one of the most ardent friends and supporters of Nkrumah in his politics in Ghana was the state of Israel, centering around a deep friendship with David Ben-Gurion the famous Israeli Prime Minister, our shipping line, the Black Star Line, Ghana Airways, both defunct were products of that association between the two countries.

The Black Star Square, the Hall of Trade Unions among other iconic structures of the First Republic were all constructed by the Israelis.Indeed, Israel gave the presidential yacht moored at Akosombo to Nkrumah.Is it still there?

After the 1966 coup, Nkrumah became more extreme in his ideological views captured in the books he wrote at the time. And we all know the friendship between Nkrumah and President Nasser of Egypt. On which side would Nkrumah have thrown his considerable weight in African and international diplomacy? Just recall that Nkrumah was overthrown while on a peace mission to Vietnam in South East Asia.


For Dr Busia, he would probably have had no qualms about rejecting the burial of Nkrumah in Ghana after the latter’s death in Romania in April 1972. Why? Because Busia had fled this country in 1959 into exile from a probable political detention by Nkrumah following the events around the Congo Junction coup attempt of RR Amponsah and Modesto Apaloo, also known as the Ahwaitey Affair and captured in the Granville Sharp Report.

Busia returned home in 1966 after the coup which ousted Nkrumah to form his Progress Party(PP) whose victory made him the Prime Minister. His government had passed a law making the possession of any Nkrumah artifact a crime and the mention of his name too, evidence of the deep, unbridgeable gulf of hatred and dislike his party held Nkrumah in.

This tale of what ifs is not as farfetched as it may seem. Our current President, Nana Akufo-Addo was an identifiable member of Nkrumah’s CPP as a Legon student when the Nkrumah government was toppled in 1966 after which he left to join the group he is now identified with. If the coup had not happened, what do you think would have been the political future of President Akufo-Addo today?

Perhaps, this may be a cautionary tale of the pitfalls of ideological inflexibility and political dogmatism.

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