Nkrumah stemmed inter religious conflicts
by Kofi Ayim
Ghana’s first President Dr. Kwame Nkrumah creatively used religion as a tool to weave a tapestry of political culture. In so doing he laid a foundation that basically spared inter-religious conflicts in Ghana that has been experience elsewhere in Africa and beyond. These observations were made March 26, 2017 by Dr. E. Obiri Addo, a professor of Pan- African Studies at Drew University, Madison, New Jersey. He was speaking on the theme “The Politics of Reli- gion in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana: An Enduring Legacy” at the Africana Transdisciplinary Theological Colloquium organized by the Drew Theo- logical School.
Dr. Obiri Addo pointed out that because Ghanaians are religious by nature, the belief system has been able to influence both traditional and contemporary politics. He cautioned against the demo- nization of non – Christian religions by the principle of “Christian triumphalism,” which could create religious antagonism and disturbed the peace Ghana has enjoyed thus far.
Faced with the daunting task of nation building in an ethno-religious fragmentation of his new Ghana, Dr. Obiri Addo theorized that President Nkrumah rightly concluded that Ghana would be well- served as a secular nation through a gorgeous mosaic of existing religio-cultural system, in order to avoid institu- tionalization of any particular religion. “Nkrumah aimed for secular modernization,” he said.
Acutely aware of the Ghanaian respect for religious and political leadership, Nkrumah employed religious semantics and myths to bridge the gulf between himself and his followers, a trend that became a bone of contention between President Nkrumah and his detractors including missionary churches. President Nkrumah was accused of building a personality cult out of his socio-political and reli- gious idealogy known as Nkrumaism. Consciencism, one of Nkrumah’s books, and the emergence of the Ghana Young Pioneers, a national youth movement with slogans such as “Nkrumah never dies,” and “Nkrumah is our Messiah,” did not sit well with some, especially the Church.
Taking a cue from Dr. John Mbiti’s refrain, “African people do not know how to exist without religion,” Dr. Obiri Addo observed that Nkrumah did not wholly embrace Karl Marx’s description of religion as the “opium of the masses”, but rather promoted a new secularism suitable to the new Africa.
Drawing from Nkrumah’s school days at Lincoln Uni- versity, Pensylvania, Dr. Obiri Addo posited that Nkrumah came to power in Ghana with a complex atti- tude towards (foreign) religion. It was therefore unsurprising that he eventually used traditional religion and spirituality to connect with and to his people and followers. Nonetheless, Nkrumah’s own philosophy ingrained in political pri- macy, precipitated in phrases of Christian parodies such as “seek ye first the political kingdom, and all things shall be added unto you,” and “Blessed are they who are im- prisoned for self-government, for theirs is the freedom of the land,” referring to his imprisonment after declaring “Positive Action.”
Dr. Obiri Addo also pointed out the role played by Nkrumah in elevating tradi- tional religiousity to new heights and awareness. Liba- tion was introduced, alongside Christian and/or Muslim prayers with traditional appellations and incantations, drums et al at State functions. Wearing of kente cloth, batakari and other traditional costume characterized Nkrumah’s African Personality and Identity. These and some, according to Dr. Obiri Addo solidified the belief of the Church about the “Divinization of Nkrumah” that some deemed sacrilegious.
Dr. E. Obiri Addo is the au- thor of “Kwame Nkrumah: A Case Study of Religion and Politics in Ghana (Lanham: Roman and Littlefield, 1997.)