Pan Africanism and civil religious performance: Kwame Nkrumah and the independence of Ghana.

Author:Mensah, Eric Opoku


The birth of a new nation is usually characterized by public orations. This was the situation on the 6th of March 1957, the day of Ghana's independence. Within a period of twenty-four hours, three momentous speeches had marked the oration of Nkrumah on the birth of the new nation of Ghana. The first speech was made on the evening of the 5th of March in Parliament before members of the Assembly and the colonial government, a few minutes before midnight in Accra. The delivering of the second speech was begun to coincide with midnight at the Old Polo Grounds, across the street from the Assembly building. The third speech was delivered the next morning on the 6th of March, the day of Ghana's independence. It was delivered during the official opening of the new Parliament--the independence one.

The first and third speeches delivered by Nkrumah in Parliament(s) immediately before and after Independence, draw attention to some key issues. The first speech marked Nkrumah's last task of, in the words of Salazar (2002), "speaking on behalf of the nation to those who also spoke on behalf of it" (p. 21). It was Nkrumah's last duty as Prime Minister under the British colonial regime, leader of an old colonial Cabinet having to say farewell to representatives of the people in the Gold Coast Parliament. David Rooney (2007) reports that Nkrumah in his speech that evening on the 5th of March "looked back over the great struggle for independence and concluded with the words 'by twelve o'clock midnight, Ghana will have redeemed her lost freedom'"(p. 186). As the first and last Prime Minister of the colonial Parliament for a period of six years, Nkrumah formally needed to mark an end of colonial government business through a befitting oration in the Assembly, and he chose to do that just a few minutes before midnight, before the first hour of a nation's independence. In a rhetorical sense, the effect in the use of space (the Assembly building) and time (before midnight) for the delivery was significant, thus, preparing the audience for what was to happen at midnight: the birth of a new nation.

Again, the third speech on the morning of the 6th of March marked a new era. The Assembly was in effect differently constituted, not in terms of a change of the representatives of the people, but it marked a new period in the founding of a nation. The British colonial governor had only become a shadow of British colonial representation in the parliament of the "nation." This was certainly a dramatic change. Many dignitaries, both local and from abroad, were present to witness the first ceremonial section of the new parliament. Notable among them was the Duchess of Kent. In her speech, she expressed the cordial wishes of the Queen of England to the people of Ghana (Rooney, 2007). In a similar ceremonial tone, Nkrumah spoke about his new capacity as the head of the nation before properly constituted representatives of the Parliament of Ghana, not the Gold Coast. He delivered a lengthy speech in which he noted "the warmest feelings of friendship and goodwill" (Rooney, 2007, p. 187) which existed between Ghana and Britain even as the newly independent nation parted ways with its colonial master. The two speeches made by Nkrumah on the floor of the 'old' and the 'new' parliaments, that is, the evening of 5th March and the morning of 6th March, are important in their own rights. The former, marking the end of public deliberation within the rules and confines of the colonial administration; the latter, symbolising the beginning period not only of the deliberations of the new Assembly, but more importantly what the Assembly could freely and legitimately have as its business.

Ghana's independence had been partly borne out of parliamentary deliberation in the Gold Coast Assembly. Nkrumah's 1953 Motion for Independence was a key success of public deliberation in the colonial parliament. The various disagreements which occurred between Nkrumah and the opposition National Liberation Movement (NLM) led to many debates and issues involving Whitehall and a debate in the British Parliament (Rooney, 2007). Perhaps, this may be the reason for Nkrumah's deliberate inclusion of the public Assembly to feature prominently in the activities during the final hours to the nation's independence. But the greater battle for independence had been fought by the ordinary people on the streets and market places.

These ordinary Gold Coasters had been present at the numerous political rallies and campaigns and they represented the human force in all the demonstrations that were organised by the Convention Peoples' Party (CPP) which ultimately served as an unbending force to change the policies of the British colonial government. It was the physical struggles within different parts of the colony that opened the door for legitimate discussions of independence in the colonial Assembly beginning from 1951 when Nkrumah was voted to office as Leader of Government Business. Therefore, it was rhetorically expedient for the oration marking the birth of the nation to be done in the midst of the people who symbolically worked to conceive the nation, to be witnesses to the nation's birth. In other words, the newly born belongs to the people and, therefore, it was only appropriate that they should be present during the final minutes of travail and the delivery of the nation (Salazar, 2002). In fact, the nation was born through an extempore rhetorical "performance" of Nkrumah before the people at the Old Polo Grounds in Accra.

Extempore addresses had characterized many CPP political rallies (Rooney, 2007; Timothy, 1963). Within the colonial Assembly, Nkrumah had to play by the rules of parliamentary speech, instead of his fierce public rhetoric (Timothy, 1963). However, at midnight, as he stood before the people to declare independence, those with whom he had endured through the struggles, Nkrumah's rhetoric, once again, was freed from all formal parliamentary restraints. He could reach the people with his characteristic tone and unbridled rhetorical fervour. He was once again, on a very momentous occasion, in his oratorical elements.

My take in this piece is to at attempt to discuss Nkrumah's rhetorical construction of his Independence Declaration with its underlying message examining the intended effects. I will look at Nkrumah's "performance" of the nation's birth. Winding back the clock, I will also attempt to analyse and show the hidden message within the Declaration in relation to its target "audience" (Perelman, 1982, p. 14). Secondly, I will take a critical look at Nkrumah's epidictic stance as a means of highlighting the major stories and incidents behind Ghana's independence struggle. Next, I will show how he employed the speech as a means of creating solidarity and unity as a strategy to deepen the emotional effect of the address; then I will demonstrate Nkrumah's craft in his effort in revealing the new nation's foreign policy immediately after its birth. And last, I will conclude with the speech's application of civil religion as a counter hegemonic tool to colonialism.

The Birth of a Nation

"At long last the battle has ended, and thus Ghana, your beloved country is free forever."

This declarative sentence ended the birth pangs of the the new nation Ghana--the first country to become independent in Africa south of the Sahara. Nkrumah, through this performative act (Austin, 1962), had symbolically ushered the Gold Coast into a nation. In other words, the rhetor's performance does not only usher a new era, but calls into being a nation which hitherto was non-existent. Nkrumah's declaration was received with a thunderous shout from the sea of people who had gathered at the Old Polo Grounds to receive the news of independence.

Hence, the independence declaration was a momentous political and a psychological activity in the life of any nation. Though the request for Gold Coast's independence had been agreed upon by Whitehall (Nkrumah, 1957, pp. 281-282), it is Nkrumah's proclamation that gave it performative power, rendering it rhetorically effective. However, the uniqueness of Nkrumah's declaration of independence transcended, calling a nation into existence. It was by giving the nation a name which in essence will embody the destiny and ideals of the new nation. Nkrumah called the new nation "Ghana" (Nkrumah, 1957). Naming the new nation is in line with the Ghanaian culture of outdooring the newly born. The newly born is recognised by the entire society with its identification. Without a name, the individual has no recognition within the setup of the society. In a rhetorical move, Nkrumah's declaration of independence becomes complete, partly through the name "Ghana," since "Gold Coast" as a name was a mere colonial tag which had no association or connection as a name with any traditional state within the Gold Coast. By naming the nation "Ghana," Nkrumah was rhetorically summoning into being once again that old celebrated past civilization of Africa (Padmore, 1953) into a new form as a means of giving inspiration to the new citizens.

Thus, through words, a new group of citizens were being constituted independent of their immediate past. Metaphorically, the birth of the nation constitutes the people's birth anew. The people, in a sense, are now new born babies (Salazar, 2002). Though in their old self, Nkrumah called for the people to shed off their old colonial sense of thinking in order to embrace their new selves as citizens of the new nation. He warned the people that "we must change our attitudes and our minds. We must realise that from now on we are no more a colonial but a free and independent people."

Since the essence of rhetoric is to cause change (Perelman, 1982), Nkrumah's call for a change in attitude was key to the Declaration. A nation's transition from a colonial state to independence is marked by physical changes but it has got a lot...

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