The Advent Of UGCC And The Independence Of Ghana: Examining Their Relevance In Our Contemporary Society.

I have been asked to try and answer two questions as part of my contribution to the subject we are examining today. The first question is:


I have been asked to try and answer two questions as part of my contribution to the subject we are examining today. The first question is:

To what extent has the formation of the UGCC contributed to democratic governance in our country?

Yesterday I read an article in the Daily Graphic and I don’t want to cite the by-line or the title of the article. It’s enough to say the article sounded like it was meant to be something of a tour de force of an answer to the lecture given last Friday by Professor Mike Ocquaye, the Honourable Speaker of our Parliament. Prof Ocquaye had sought in his lecture to place the date of the formation of the UGCC, August 4 as a date that should be celebrated as Ghana’s date of destiny.

Not to put too fine a point on it, the writer of the Graphic article sought to provide proof that the UGCC was a waste of time, does not deserve to be accorded any recognition in the political history of our country, never mind its members being counted among the Founders of our nation.

I hesitate to join in the debate, if debate it is, about whether Kwame Nkrumah founded Ghana all by himself or whether it was a collective effort.

As the writer in the Graphic put it, nobody celebrates the conception date of a baby, we only celebrate the date of birth. In a country that takes such liberties with the date of birth, maybe it might be a good idea for us to pay attention to the date of conception.

I don’t think Prof. Ocquaye suggested that August 4 should replace March 6 as our national day. It is, after all, the UGCC people who had picked the March 6 date and had determined that independence, whenever it came should be on March 6, the anniversary of the formal colonization of our country.

It is equally important to emphasize the point that the founders of the UGCC acknowledged the fact that they were building on something that had been started by their forebears; they paid homage to those who had fought against the Crown lands bill of 1897, they paid homage to the Aborigines Rights Society. Indeed, Paa Grant was a member of the Aborigines Rights Society.

It is not unlikely that their choice of August 2 to 4 for the inauguration of the UGCC was deliberate and was done to acknowledge the anniversary of the victory over the rejection of the Crown lands bill. It was on August 5 1898 that the meeting was held in Downing Street with the Gold Coast delegation and the British Secretary of Colonies gave up on the attempt to impose the Crown lands bill in the Gold Coast.

As for the deliberate effort to fight for the independence of our country, it is churlish to try to deny that the start of that fight can be attributed to any other event or personalities other than the founding of the UGCC. That is when the formal fight for independence started.

Whether the conception or the birth was the more important thing, I believe we should leave to the gynaecologists and obstetricians. The important thing is that Ghana joined the comity of nations as an independent country and at sixty we are no longer young and we should behave as such.

Time was when some thought and felt and said that the existence of an opposition in our political setup was a nuisance and unnecessary. I daresay there are some among us who still feel that way. However, I doubt that there would be many open adherents to that belief today.

The UGCC followers found themselves in opposition for such long periods, they had no choice but to learn to cope and the lesson that emerged surely is that it is possible to survive in opposition. There cannot be a better lesson in learning how a democracy works than knowing how to cope with opposition. In this fourth republic when a consensus has finally emerged that we are best served by a multi-party democracy, we should be grateful that members of the UGCC tradition are able to demonstrate that there is honour in serving in opposition and have held on to this belief and practiced it throughout.

The second question I will deal with is: Is the NPP rewriting history by seeking to ascribe some relevance to the UGCC? When I thought about this proposition, what came to my mind is one of the sayings of that famous Hungarian writer Péter Esterházy. He said in his Celestial Harmonies: “History belongs to the victors, legends to the people, fantasy to literature. Only death is certain.”

A variation on the same theme of course is the famous saying: “the winner writes the history books”. If the winner didn’t write the history books how could it be that some people would take issue with President J.A. Kufuor for stating in his speech at Ghana’s 50th anniversary celebrations that J.B. Danquah researched, decided on and campaigned for the name Ghana to be adopted at independence?

I wouldn’t have thought that there was any argument about that particular indisputable fact. This, after all, is something Danquah had done way back even before the formation of the UGCC, and yet so comprehensive had been the obliteration of Danquah’s role in the official accounts of the struggle for independence that it came as a surprise to a generation of Ghanaians that he had done the work that led to the adoption of the name Ghana at independence.

The CPP version of the history became the official rendition of events. To carry on with Peter Esterhazy’s saying, we would deal with legends belonging to the people.

I will never forget the incredulity of a group of young people when I happened to mention in a conversation how coup d’etats used to be regular features of our lives. The young people found it difficult to even believe that once you captured Broadcasting House, you had staged a coup. “What about the other radio stations”, I was asked. “And what about the NGOs and human rights activists”, I was asked.

Not only do the people’s legends have a short life span, they also tend to become Chinese whispers, the stories change in their retelling.

Thus in the retelling, the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute became this romantic place that people who believed in Nkrumahism boasted about attending.

But in truth, I also attended the Ideological Institute, everybody who entered university in Ghana in 1963, 1964 and 1965 had to go to the Ideological Institute for two weeks of orientation. It was obligatory.

Every part of the history of the victors of the first Republic was written with an ideological slant. Does a retelling without that slant constitute a rewriting?

Yesterday I witnessed a group of young people expressing shock and horror at a reported comment by the Minister of Education. The honourable Matthew Prempeh had suggested that the school day should be extended from 2pm to 4pm. Many of the young people did not even know that the school day in all public schools used to end at 4pm and was only changed to 2pm during the PNDC days.

Am I rewriting history if I state that the school day used to end at 4pm? Did the history of Ghana start on the day Nkrumah came back to Ghana in December 1947 or on March 6 1957 or on 31st December 1981? Even the Khmer Rouge had to concede in the end that there was something to Cambodia before they came.

Let me get to the third part of the Peter Esterhazy saying: to literature, fantasy. There is a dialogue in one of Clint Eastwood’s old movies, Outlaw Josey Wales. The character of the Senator is talking to Fletcher, the character played by Clint Eastwood

The Senator said:

Fletcher, there's an old saying: To the victors belong the spoils.

And Fletcher said:

There's another old saying, Senator: Don't piss down my back and tell me it's raining.

I am old enough to speak from personal experience about many of the events of the independence time. My father and four of his friends who were all teachers at Mawuli School in Ho, were sent into internal exile away from the Volta region. That is history, it is not in any official account but it happened.

I knew Dr Seth Cudjoe and his two daughters, Djagbe and Metrova, and the woman he brought to Ghana, Genevieve Marias. Dr Cudjoe’s version of events does not appear in any historical account. Would my telling of that story be a rewriting of history?  The victor-written history?

As the Roman saying goes: Vae victis (Woe to the conquered). It characterizes the fact that in warfare, the conqueror can set the terms, which usually included a transfer of wealth. Then there is the classic “Finders keepers, losers, weepers”. It goes of course also to the winner of an election being able to appoint their own choices for many jobs. I believe the standard political term is “Installing your own team”.

It is my view that some of our history do need to be rewritten, at the very least to fill in some of the critical blanks. If the NPP now has the opportunity to add to the history by adding things that had been deliberately omitted because it did not suit the politics of the victors, so be it.

If September 21 1909 can be offered as a date for the celebration of the Founder of Ghana, then of course it is an admission our history is not based on fact. That date was not and cannot be the birthday of our first President. That 21st September date was a Tuesday, President Kwame Nkrumah was not born on a Tuesday, he was probably born on a Friday for he was known and called Kofi Nwiah, up until he went to the United States and that is where he changed his name to Kwame Nkrumah.

Nothing wrong with changing your name but it goes to show that we have been changing our dates of birth for a long time. The footballer featured in the Gazette of July 12 was only carrying on a long tradition when he swore an affidavit to change his date of birth from 1st July 1986 to 20th December 1997.

Our history has been deliberately distorted by the victors of the independence struggle. It is time we faced up to it.

Established in January, 2008 is named after Dr. Joseph Boakye Danquah, one of Ghana’s founding fathers who established Ghana’s first political party, the United Gold Coast Convention, in 1947. Read more

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