We remember 4th February 1965, at the Nsawam prisons

Joseph Kwame Kyeretwie Boakye Danquah

Joseph Kwame Kyeretwie Boakye Danquah was born on December 1895 at Bempong and died on 4th February 1965 at the Nsawam Maximum Prisons. He was a lawyer and a politician. In 1929, he helped J. E. Casely Hayford found the Gold Coast Youth Conference (GCYC) and was Secretary General from 1937 to 1947. In 1931, he served as secretary of a delegation to the British Colonial Office.

Danquah founded a newspaper, the “Times of West Africa” and actively sought constitutional reforms in the early 1940s and became a member of the Legislative Council in 1946. He helped to found the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), with the policy “to liberate the energies of the people for the growth of a property owning democracy” in Ghana. The UGCC demanded self-government. Danquah was elected to the Legislative Assembly in 1951 but failed to be re-elected in 1954 and 1956.

In 1960, he run for President against Nkrumah and lost. He was imprisoned in 1961 under the Preventive Detention Act, released in 1962 and was again imprisoned early in 1964 and died a year later, February 4 1965.

Joseph Boakye Danguah was betrayed and killed by a friend who preached, “the cause is greater than personalities”. A good slogan under which to betray friends, and the damnable thing is we continue to do it today. Being a politician has always been a most treacherous job in Ghana, and never more so in today’s highly polarised country. The masses face threats from highly motivated ‘bad guys’, greedy manifesto writers, fanatical partisans and sophisticated demagogues, seeking political power.

Today, we are reminded of his ideas on the power of freedom and liberty, the influence of a voice, and the meaning of a sacrificial life. We are reminded of his bold faith in the energies of the people in the creation of wealth and his belief in the sanctity of private property. His words and actions have left a lasting mark on Ghana politics, with a powerful legacy that is as undeniable as it is inspiring.

Only those of a seasoned age are likely to remember that the basic issue between Danquah and Nkrumah was two principles: Individualism and Collectivism. The role of the state — the government. The one to contract and the other to enlarge the powers of the government to the utmost. The ideas represent two opposite principles and are the roots of two opposite social systems. In a country where virtually every family owns land, Danquah wanted recognition of productive property rights across the populace, while Nkrumah wanted the state to appropriate and allow productive property in the hands of the state in the ‘interest’ of the individual.

Danquah believed in the ability of the individual to create wealth in an open decentralised competitive market economy. Individualism holds that man has inalienable rights, which cannot be taken away from him by any other man, nor by any number, group or collective of other men. Therefore, each man exists by his own God-given right and for his own sake, not for the sake of the group.

Not so Nkrumah! Nkrumah’s thinking and belief was that individuals have no rights; that their work, their body and their personality belong to the state; that the state can do with them as it pleases, in any manner, it pleases. Throughout his rule, he worked towards the gradual and incremental extensions of government control and direction of economic affairs and social change.

Several years after Nkrumah, and with a total public debt stock of nearly GH 600 billion cedis, the story is that Ghana is not working. Nothing is going to get fixed – really fixed – until we come clean about this basic, sad and distressing fact. Our abysmal centrally controlled economy has strayed from the basic principles upon which all free nations are founded. This has created unhappy people who have lost confidence in their leaders.

In such unhappiness, people on both sides of the political aisle too often accept “solutions” that still grant the government more control of our lives, even though that control is usually the source of the problem. The political decay, alongside the looting, irresponsibility, a disengaged citizens and a corrupt leadership cult presiding over an ever-intrusive ‘bourgeois socialist’ or ‘crony capitalist’ state do not define a free independent nation.

Under the fourth Republic Constitution, the drift towards political oligarchy continues unabated as nearly all-economic activity is facilitated through taxation and borrowing. We forget government spending does not multiply the economic power of money; it rather diminishes growth and innovation. The factual truth is Ghanaian socialist democracy has not work out for the majority of the citizens because the system is not based on democratic principles of ownership and personal responsibility. It is based on government dependence.

Very often bad and failed ideas do not die. They simply reappear in slightly different intellectual garb, and offer “solutions” that merely help to bring about some of the very types of crises for which they once again claim to have the answers. The sad thing is the political class and their intelligentsia still turn up their noses at the concept of property owning democracy, and the masses who have bought the lie that property is greed, will not even listen.

When our politicians and their intelligentsia invoke democracy today, they mean specifically voting. This should not be the case.  What Danquah meant by property owning democracy was less about voting and appointing government officials and more about the ‘right government’. A government that restrain leaders from harming each other and people coming together to overcome the challenges of life together. He interpreted democracy as a grassroots phenomenon, with people governing their own affairs.

Indeed, the years after Nkrumah’s one party totalitarian system, Ghana is still filled with corruption, “hypocrisy and lies,” in which silence and the lack of free expression is claimed to be the highest form of loyalty and patriotism. Our poverty is the results of a rigged political system. Unfortunately, we the people, in spite of everything, continue to believe this dependent system,” filled with “hypocrisy and lies. Our acceptance of bad leaders and governance confirm the system, fulfil the system, and make the system. We have become the system.

Now the ‘new few’ do not want economic growth. They want an oligarchy that keeps the gravy train rolling for partisans while the majority suffer. As grave as this message is, the past several years of independence have taken us far away from the bedrock philosophy that the free market works for all ideal of Danquah to the ideology of the masses, government spending. Nkrumah did his job well.

Our experiences so far, should tell us that socialism, in all its mutations, is now long passé. The embarrassing experience of “socialism-in-practice” in the form advocated by Nkrumah, and put on steroids by his successors in this country, will not fly anymore. The real question is whether the ideas of Danquah are really so distant?

The current state of the economy and failure of government policies and rising debt is enough for a departure from the past. Danquah classical liberals should stop mimicking Nkrumahist reliance on government solutions and abandoning principles that will grow the economy.

We have to get back to the basic principles Danquah advocated and build upon them, and add to those the questions of corruption, education and, of course, inflation.

By: Kwadwo Afari


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