To the Delegates Conference of the Ghana Students' Association of Britain & Ireland, at St. Bride's Institute. London, E.G.4. on Feb. 29, 1964. The speech, given extempore, was recorded.
Mr. Chairman, Ladies end Gentlemen,
I would very much like to congratulate the members of the Ghana Students Association for taking this great initiative to organize this address to follow their delegates' conference. I am sure they know the risk they are taking in organizing this meeting. I am sure they know that students in Ghana cannot hold such a meeting. I am sure they know that only a fortnight or perhaps three weeks ago the University of Ghana containing people like themselves, hoping like themselves to use what they can learn to serve their country, had to stand by and watch women, party members, brigaders, Nkrumah youth pioneers, invading their dormitories, their reading rooms, insulting them because they had dared to think that they had the right as students to learn to think for themselves. I am sure they had heard that the President of the Students' Union in the University of Ghana for this unpardonable crime is at present languishing in prison, we do not know even where. That is why I would like to congratulate you, and I find it not depressing, but encouraging that you should hold such a meeting at all. It gives me the power to think that all is not lost yet. I am certain it cannot be lost.
As a background to what I wish to say I would like to give you concrete pictures of a few things that I have myself seen, I do this rather than try to talk in generalities and theories, because I think those of us who belong to Ghana should look at things from a point of view quite different from those who are outside end who are looking at events in Ghana for the purpose of constructing logically intellectually satisfying theories. They can afford to indulge in those arid pursuits. We must look for something different.
Perhaps you know of many whose parents have been imprisoned, who have no one to look after them. I know some who have had to leave Achimota, I know some have had to leave Wesley Girls High School - their future blighted. That is the way in which we in Ghana must view what is going on.
I did a tour of different West African countries to see some of the thousands of Ghanaians who have left their homes because they cannot endure the authoritarian rule, and the order that they must all speak the voice which they are bidden to speak. I arrived at Abidjan at 8 o'clock at night. I got hold of one of the Ghanaians to take me round to see some of the Ghanaian people I knew well at Abidjan. The first house I was taken to was a house that was still being built, there were no doors and windows, in one case there wasn't even a roof. And out came three Ashanti Chiefs whom I had known in Kumasi. They all had their own houses. In Abidjan they had none - they were living in this unfinished house. They looked round to find me a chair as I had gone as a visitor, and they couldn't get one. I sat on the stump of a tree, we talked by the light of a flickering candle, and they told me their dreadful stories.
The next person I was taken to was one who has had a long experience as a merchant, has not just one house, "but several in Kumasi I have been to one of his houses and I think any of us will be proud to own s house like that. I knocked at the door of the smell room in which he was sleeping and seeing me, he said: "Please, don't come into this room, I couldn't even find a seat for you", and he talked to me standing outside and he didn't know where his next meal was going to come from.
I went to Lome. I arrived there the day after 46 people, including their Chief, had got away from Keta because they were going to be arrested. I went to speak with the old Chief, the rest stood around. "We are all fisher folks", they told me. "We had to flee. We have come here. Can't you get us a net, then at least we can afford to support ourselves." I looked at the Chief, he was sick. He has since died, died away from home.
I went to Lagos and then to Ibadan, and there was another man, fairly well to do, a good businessman who had run away because he was going to be arrested - in fact, a Preventive Detention Order had been passed against him. He complained about his illness. I spoke to a friend. We got him into the University College hospital. He was there for several weeks, then he had a message that his old father was ill. He said, "I must see my father before he dies." He's been in Ghana ten months, during the ten months he has had two rather serious operations. Three weeks after his second serious operation, after he had spent that time in hospital, he went home. He wasn't even able to stand and he was taken away to Preventive Detention, carried away on a stretcher, so I have been told in a letter.
I could go on like this and give you story after story of what it means to live in a country like Ghana today. Let me give you one more, because we must just take a look et those who are in detention themselves. We've got so used to it we don't even stop to ask what it means to be inside a prison in detention itself Do you know how they are being fed? Or when they sleep? Or what happens to them? We don't. I have tried to get reports, I appealed to the Human Rights Society in the U,S. I appealed to the International Commission of Jurists, who agreed to send someone to Ghana, to go to the prisons and to see how they are being treated. They appointed a distinguished Indian Judge, He obtained all the necessary papers. When he got to Freetown he got a message through the Ghana High Commissioner in Sierra Leone saying that he was not allowed to go into Ghana.
As I speak to you now, after many strenuous efforts I do not know in which prison Dr. Danquah is. In one case I appealed to the Red Cross. They gave me the normal Red Cross forms on which one may write a message of greeting - specifying so many words - just that! An international agreement!! We have not been able to get even these passed on to the prisoners by Ghana authorities. No replies have come from them.
Now it may seem perfectly futile! As you read your resolutions, I couldn't help laughing. It may seem perfectly futile! What can we do in Ghana? This may not even get to the ears of the people of Ghana. The Press is controlled, the radio is controlled; we know that the mail is censored. Yet I think this is a useful thing to do; there are many people in Ghana today who may feel completely helpless, who are more tired than we are. Let us not hasten to judge them. But I am sure they would like to know that you have done something like this. That at least there are people outside who are prepared to speak. It does entail some risk.
Some people, in a sense insulting the African, think that Africans cannot be expected to cherish the things that they cherish - such as human dignity. If Africa did not have the technology to produce electric lights, if we did not have the technology to build roads, if we did not have the technology to produce aeroplanes we did have the human heart to care for our people.
And although there are many things which in the contemporary situation we have had to learn from Europe, what makes me really sad is that today we have a band of leaders, some of them so anxious to strain for the big buildings, big cars and motor cycles and destructive weapons that they have forgotten that the one important contribution that the African can make to the world is to keep on reminding everyone that it is out of human sympathy and the love for one another that we can build eventually what is valuable and peaceful.
I loved my work as a teacher, but what was the use of sitting down in the University of Ghana trying to teach people on the basis that they will go and work in a Free Society which would have respect for their ability, whatever it was, and give them the opportunity to serve their country. What was the use of doing that when I knew that they were going to go into a built-up dictatorship which would enslave their minds? If you want to know it, that is why I left the University.
I know what happened in Germany. First, Hitler was a hero and then there were the people who knew that what was coming was grim and they said "What can I do - I have my family to keep, I'd better just keep quiet", until they found that something had arisen against which they were powerless and helpless. When a man wants to be a dictator, when a man yearns for power, he will attack every individual and institution that is likely to be a source of opposition to him.
I knew the University would be attacked. Six professors were sent away not long ago. We haven't been told the reason. The reason cannot be told. But I have it on quite good authority that someone in a position of responsibility went to see President Nkrumah who tried at first to get the University to dismiss the professors. The University wouldn't do it because these professors were on contract. We know whet has happened. The President has done it himself. I have it on good authority that the reason he gave was that these professors - four of them Americans and one British - were plotting to kill him! That fantastic story again. Why do these things happen? The University started well. I betray no secrets if I say that I know one instance where members of the London University turned round and said to a Ghanaian head of department, "Your standards are too high even by ours, please lower them".
Today we have a University where Builders Brigaders and Young Pioneers are the ones who are being used to say what should be done. What sort of country are we building? We are told that all these things, this power, this lust, this concentration, this dismissal of judges, all these are necessary in order that we may have economic development.
What are the facts? We started our independence with two hundred million pounds (£200m.) saved up for us. What is the situation today? There are people who go to Accra, I have met them - Americans, British people, they come back and they say "Ghana is bursting with great activity. Look at the big buildings going up, look at the Volta River Project, and look at your great city."
Once I looked across at Mr. Gbedemah, once our Finance Minister, as he made one of his able Financial Statements. And I said to him, I am not looking for the testimony of your success in the Ambassador Hotel and the printing press. I am looking for it in the kind of room in which the farmer sleeps, the kind of food he eats, and what he can afford.
What is the story coming out of Ghana today? You know it? What letters do you get? They order onions from abroad, they buy eggs from abroad, they go to the Ivory Coast to buy salt - the ordinary things which are necessary for life, they are finding extremely difficult to get. And yet, I have been around a little - been around other African countries and I can say this without disrespect to any African country. Judged by what we are given: judged by the schools we had: judged by the quality of people we had in our civil service, the army, and the police; judged by the foundations that we were given in Ghana, I have not yet seen one country in Africa that was launched on independence with greater opportunities for making a success of it than Ghana.
What have we made of it? I receive letters quite frequently from America, from other parts of Africa, and from Europe. Some of them come from some of the most experienced sons of Ghana who have left the country and are living abroad You may say they are doing service to other countries. True, it is a good thing to do that but some of them would rather serve at home. And what is more, I receive letters from people here in Britain, some in America, students in Europe, some of them have either completed their courses or at the verge of completing them.
We started by singing here: Land of our birth, we pledge to thee - and again I wondered where the idealism with which we fill people is going. There are some of these young men who look around and cry: "What are the opportunities that I have for serving at home?" And some of them decide to stay here in Britain or go elsewhere. This is the kind of situation that we are faced with - not with the theory, not with the attempts to justify it. Now I ask. Can this be justified as being African? What are the traditions?
You ask me to talk of one-party state - you notice I have not said anything about it yet, not because I don't wish to deal with that subject but because I want to show what one-party state means or has meant inside one country that has adopted it. You see you can build up theories. There are people who say "It is within a one-party state that you can build unity and we want our people united." For what? Where is the unity in Ghana today? What does unity mean there? What unity means, it seems, is that we want only people who will acknowledge that Nkrumah alone has all the wisdom and that everybody, whatever he does, must obey his will.
If you sit in the court you must either get your instructions direct from him or anticipate what you think will be his will. And your little child in school, and this I think is one of the most serious things happening in Ghana - when you get brain-washing and indoctrination of the child who is asked to close his eyes and pray to God, and see if toffee will rain down, and it doesn't, and then it rains down when he asks Nkrumah. and he is taught every day to say that Nkrumah is infallible, so follow him. This is a grave thing.
What I am saying is this. When people start arguing about one-party states and start building up theories I look at the reality. I have not known one country in Africa which has become a one-party state without other things following. Just look! When they become a one-party state, they start doubling, tripling and adding to the number of policemen who guard the President end the Ministers and other people. They start controlling the Press, and the Radio. And they start building up the apparatus for oppression and repression so that the argument that this is the way to achieve unity and freedom is belied by the reality. And it is the reality that I want to look at.
There are all kinds of theories flying about in Africa. The Chairman started by saying just now that he would like the socialists in Britain to look at Ghana and stop encouraging them. Socialists! I am painfully amused by the sort of support that is given any country, and Ghana in particular, by people who are socialists in Britain just because Nkrumah pays lip service to socialism. And again and again I say to myself, can't they see? Aren't there any standards? I thought that the cardinal principle of socialism was the moral sense of social justice which looks and seeks to use the instruments at the disposal of a government to bring about equality and social justice within a State! I thought that this was the thing to look out for! But then when I look at Ghana, I see a new kind of situation, I see a new kind of socialism which means the privilege of political office, the privilege of wealth for a few party officials and the oppression of a large number of people. And when I still see that accepted and supported by people who are expected to be the leading exponents of the theory of socialism, I begin to wonder!
I am glad to see that there are others here who come from outside Africa. You see, it is true that we should look, and are looking for something African, something that belongs to our own past, because this enables us to express ourselves and to claim equality. Let me say this: It is true that every country must do its best to stand on the traditions of its past, but there is no past in the sense of standing still. Everything is continually changing. Africa today and the culture of Africa cannot be seen merely in terms of something that has come from our past. It must also be seen in terms of the things we are accepting now and the things we wish to build up for the future, because we too belong to the 20th century.
And the thing I want to end on is this. My political career is motivated by one thing above all. By the firm conviction that I have in my heart and my mind that all men share a common humanity. That irrespective of a man's colour he is a man; and that in Africa too we have people who, given the right kind of leadership and the right kind of opportunity, can rise to the highest that man has risen to anywhere in the world.
As I have often said in my political speeches, I look for Ghana's progress in the quality of our citizens, and the quality of our social life. When I go into a school, I want to see a student in the 6th form who can look at any student anywhere else in the world in the 6th form and win his respect as a human being in the 6th form. I would like to go into a carpenter's shop and look at his work and see there a carpenter who anyone who calls himself a carpenter whether he is in Russia or Britain or America will feel proud that he belongs to his trade. I would like to see a Ghana civil service where people maintain high integrity and efficiency can look at their counterparts anywhere in the world in the face. This is my faith. I am certain it can be done. The rest - the institutions and the forms in which we express them, these are matters for ourselves. But I believe that there are certain things which are universal and true. For example, that all men love beauty, freedom and goodness, irrespective of their colour; and I do not want anyone to pretend to speak for Africa by saying we did not love these things.
The people languishing in prison; or people like you who are at the risk of forfeiting your scholarships, and being hunted and spied upon, are prepared to hold meetings here; and many whom I know who, in spite of all they have suffered, continue to show every day that the love of freedom has no boundaries of colour. And do not make a mistake. I have learnt from our illiterate people in my political campaigns that they understood more about freedom than some of those who read books. There are people here who write theory and say "Oh, we can't judge the African, They do not understand all this talk about freedom and all about constitutions and so on". I have been to villages and sat at their feet. They have been free all their lives. They know freedom better than we do and Nkrumah's prisons are full not only of people who can read and write, it is full also of illiterate people; why? Because they have dared to stand for what they see to be true.
When I reflect upon one-party state all over Africa, all I can say is this, I do not think any justification can be found in the traditions of Africa to justify one-party state. If we seek to justify this we must seek it in other ways. You see it is very easy to build up a one-party. The lust of power is not confined to any colour or race. The moment you are in power, you wish to remain in power; and where you have a local government system, a police system, all the apparatus built up to maintain authoritarian rule, you go further to perfect them.
All this contention about democracy found in one-party state - you know, the thing which Africa hasn't faced and the most obvious thing about Colonial government was that a colonial government divorced people from the active participation and day to day decision-making about things which concern themselves; and this is found in local government and we have yet to see African countries striving to develop democratic systems of local government. What most of them seem to be busy doing is to develop an authoritarian system. We must face these challenges. We can develop democratic systems which ensure personal freedoms too. And it isn't the people who flatter us who love us. It is the people who dare to tell us to face them.
I shall end by saying this. I am not prepared to accept either in our local government in Africa or in our international relations, a second class status for Africans. And what I would leave with you is this. I do not think myself that idealism is dead. I think that unless a man has faith in something that he wants to see, unless he has vision, he is not going to stand up for much.
What is your picture of Ghana? What is your picture of Africa? What is your picture of the citizen? By the last resort, it's your faith, your picture of a Ghanaian that is going to count; that is going to determine the things for which you stand. I believe that we would all like to see a country that is truly free. We would all like to see a country where we are doing our best, whether it is farming or reading or manufacturing; co-operating with other people on the basis of our common humanity, achieving respect and equality by the things we do, and not by the words we shout. And when we do, then we wouldn't have to shout for them, we will get them. What Nkrumah is busy doing is shouting for African unity and breaking the unity. He is shouting for respect for the African end disrespecting him in his own country. Dismissing his judges, imprisoning others, allowing countries around us, with justification, to think that Ghanaians are slaves.
Ladies and Gentlemen. I have spoken to you, particularly to those who have organized this conference, to show you something of the things in my own heart and in my own mind. The things that inspire and motivate me. The things which make me. My faith in Ghana and in Africa that we can equal the best is so strong that I will keep on saying these things, convinced that we shall win in the end.
And one last word; when you talk about things like corruption and inefficiency, then immediately you are told "Oh, our country is corrupt too, that doesn't matter at all". That is what we are told. And then my reply is the fact that there are low standards in one country doesn't mean that there should be low standards in all countries. When I began my political career and started decrying corruption, it took me three years to get the Cocoa Purchasing Company enquiry on. People thought I was trying to convert the country into one church. I wasn't, I was trying to point out that there are certain standards which had to be achieved if we were going to run a democratic country and run it well. And it is obvious for anybody to see that if you have corruption it leads to injustice. The injustice of those in government getting richer and the people getting poorer, because they are cheated; it leads to mistrust of the government. The government retaliates by oppressing. It leads to distrust by investors.
I was only the other day sent an article from Norway written by one of the people who had been asked to go into Ghana to run one of our fishing trawlers. They took their trawlers away and went back to Norway. Ghana abused them in the Ghanaian papers. They wrote back in Norwegian papers saying they were asked to pay so many bribes, they just couldn't make the thing pay, end when they wanted to report to the President, even the man who was to pass on the report asked them to pay £1,000 (one thousand pounds) before he would submit their report. This appeared in a Norwegian paper.
You see, people think that I make a mistake by saying that human beings should come first, but I insist on that. It is the quality of individual and social life that counts most. I have many friends in the commercial field who tell me: "When you write your policy why don't you give emphasis to bread, and to economic development which everybody wants," and I answer: Bread has its place, but the greatest resource of Africa is her men and women. We must not, on the excuse of seeking to give them bread rob them of their freedom and dignity. The result of such a policy has always been degradation and misery.