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Kwame Nkrumah Lessons from Nkrumah’s fallout with his economic adviser

 According to Nelson Mandela Ghana’s independence on March 6, 1957, provided much strength and great inspiration to African liberation movements. This article is a foundation essay.

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Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum play

Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum

Ghana, the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence, celebrates the 59th anniversary of its freedom from British rule this year.

 According to Nelson Mandela Ghana’s independence on March 6, 1957, provided much strength and great inspiration to African liberation movements. This article is a foundation essay.

These are longer than usual and take a wider look at a key issue affecting society

Ghana was to become the testing ground for Arthur Lewis’ ideas on economic development. The excitement surrounding Ghana’s independence in 1957 as tropical Africa’s first decolonised territory captivated Lewis as thoroughly as it did African nationalists and Afrophiles around the world. Lewis, a St Lucian, went on to win the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economics in 1979.

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A veritable who’s who of intellectuals of African descent living in the Americas flocked to Accra.

They were determined to show the world that Africans could govern themselves and achieve more for their people than the colonial rulers had. They were eager to make Ghana a shining example to inspire independence movements across the continent.

If, then, Lewis saw Ghana as a proving ground for his ideas on economic development, later scholars have viewed the Kwame Nkrumah years (1951-66) as a case study of striking failure.

From a country that seemed on the threshold of robust economic progress, it descended into economic misery and political instability.

Although Lewis was remarkably well informed on Ghana and knew many Ghanaian officials personally, he was not fully prepared for the complexities of his new position. Nor was he prepared for the fragility of Ghanaian economics and politics.

Seek ye first the political kingdom

The expectations surrounding Lewis at the time of his arrival were staggering. Since they were also highly contradictory, he could not meet all of them.

The Ghanaian politicians insisted that Lewis assert Ghana’s economic independence from its former colonial rulers and from the outside world. They looked to him to design financial institutions that would free Ghana from the British economy and promote rising standards of living as well as economic strength. Lewis was supposed to make possible Nkrumah’s famous slogan:

Seek ye first the political kingdom and all things will be added to it.

On the other hand, the British, the Americans, the international financial community, and representatives of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, wanted something quite different. They looked to Lewis to be a moderating influence – procapitalist and pro-Western.

The radical wing of the Ghanaian political elite alarmed the British and the Americans. Perhaps no-one more troubled the Westerners than the Ghanaian prime minister himself, whose political and economic preferences were far from clear at this time.

The dramatic and heavily charged clash between an economic expert (Lewis) and a political leader (Nkrumah) was repeated again and again in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This was happening as African states, emerging from colonial rule, sought to buttress their political independence with economic progress. Economic advisers and ministers, some of whom were Africans and some not, regularly had to sacrifice their economic projects to the patronage-building ambitions of politicians.

Rarely, however, are observers afforded the opportunity that the Lewis Papers provide to view the underlying tensions involving the political and economic elites that were so often covered up by anodyne formal announcements. The two men saw Ghana’s independence from different vantage points even though they were united in wanting the country to enjoy economic progress.

Politicians versus economists

Nkrumah believed that the political leadership had the obligation to set the economic agenda and that economists should then design programs that would make it possible to achieve these goals.

In contrast, Lewis believed that only the economists could determine what could achieved, and only they could delineate the appropriate methods for realising these goals. The proper role of the political leaders was to speak the truth to the people and to promote realistic views of what economic experts told them that their countries could accomplish.

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