Peter Sedgwick

Ghana – another saviour thrown on the scrapheap

(14 March 1966)

From Labour Worker, 14 March 1966.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

SO NKRUMAH, after all, will be able to maintain at least something of the style of life to which he has been accustomed. As honorary President of Guinea, he will enjoy some of the perks, though one palace will have to he enough this time. True, he will be unable to speak in any language, official or indigenous, that is understood by the people over whom he now presides – but perhaps that will not be such a change, in substance, from his previous situation.

In Ghana, as in Nigeria, the generals’ watchword is “stability” to regain the confidence of foreign capital. The Ironsi regime of Nigeria has imprisoned Ezeogwu and the outright Caesarists of the original coup; at the time of writing, the Parliamentary politicians are still in jail too. The military regimes in the African states affected by the recent train of coups will probably not govern by direct diktat, but through an alliance between top officers and civil servants. Political organisations will accordingly, be either banned or vetted, with their operations passed through an administrative grid before they reach the public.


The combinations between brasshat and bureaucrat will vary. From outside Africa, Indonesia and Pakistan already provide instructive examples.

In Ghana, the new rulers do not need to attack the trade unions, since Nkrumah integrated them into the State for his own purposes. It is doubtful whether the Ghanaian TUC had enough independence to provide the basis even of a flickering opposition to the military, as was the case for a while in Algeria after Ben Bella’s overthrow.

The Ankrah regime has repudiated Nkrumah’s support for liberation movements in the rest of Africa – virtually the only progressive element in the late Osagyefo’s policy. Thus, while internally the changeover makes little difference to Ghana’s farmers and workers, from a Pan-African standpoint a “militant” nationalist voice has been replaced by a “moderate” one. But even here, the differences can be over-stressed.

Nkrumah, it should be remembered, sponsored the UN Congo intervention that connived at Tshombe’s victory, and joined in Wilson’s derisory Vietnam mission at the Commonwealth leaders’ conference last year. And, while no more guerrillas will be trained in Ghana for liberation forces elsewhere, it is entirely possible that the new regime will try its own brand of African-freedom rhetoric in order to curry favour with the masses it cannot otherwise satisfy. The generals’ Algeria has after all just walked out on a conference of Organisation for African Unity for not being militant enough on Rhodesia! This, from a regime whose accession to power was interpreted by some socialists in this country as the result of an imperialist conspiracy from the West.

Similar accusations have been hinted (by the Daily Worker) concerning the coup in Accra. The CP, however, has been alone in seeing the hand of the CIA in Nkrumah’s replacement; others on the left who started out for Ghana as Nkrumah’s sympathisers have returned in disillusionment – Conor Cruise O’Brien being only the most prominent example. For those who were aware of the bankruptcy of Nkrumah’s Ghana – and its total lack of any features that could be even broadly described as socialist – the CIA is an unnecessary hypothesis, to say the least.

The military coups in Africa have been a blow only to those who set store by the prestigious figureheads who have been overthrown. Palme Dutt’s Labour Monthly even has a double-page spread for its fortieth anniversary exhibiting fraternal messages from Nkrumah and Azikwe, resplendently billed with their official titles, the Redeemer and the Rt. Honourable Privy Counsellor. It had become unfashionable to apply to Africa the words of the Internationale: “No Saviours from on high deliver: no trust have we in Prince or Peer.”

The only consolation socialists can draw from recent events in Accra is that the new rulers are likely to be considerably less successful in posing as saviours to their own peoples. The realities of class will be less and less avoidable for the working people of Ghana – though doubtless many in the European left will continue to succeed in avoiding them.


Peter Sedgwick, Oxford CLP


Last updated on 25.11.2004