Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Can Samia Nkrumah Revive the CPP in Ghana?

Ghana: Can Samia Nkrumah Revive the CPP?

The formidable Samia Nkrumah will realise that the Convention People’s Party is not built to last, argues Nelson Oppong

November 2011 - 3:56pm
By Nelson Oppong

The Convention People’s Party (CPP), which successfully led Ghana’s struggle for independence against British colonial rule in 1957, has been consigned to the fringes of the country’s contemporary politics. Revived in January 1996 following a merger of the People’s Convention Party and the National Convention Party after almost three decades of censorship, it has since witnessed perennial decline in its electoral fortunes.

The party received just 1.3% of the presidential vote in 2008 against 1.8% in 2000 amid a drop-off in its parliamentary seats from four in 1996 to just one in 2008. Over the years, the CPP’s appearance in the local media has been predominantly characterised by internal party wrangling, while its support structures in communities have been riddled with apathy and logistical constraints.

However, the election of Hon. Samia Yaaba Nkrumah, daughter of Dr Kwame Nkrumah - Ghana’s first President - as the party’s Chairperson has rekindled hopes for the CPP’s future transformation into a credible and formidable political force in Ghana.

Samia Nkrumah holds a clear conviction in her charismatic father’s ideology. This shared belief, coupled with her unique appeal to the youth and women within and across Ghana’s Nkrumahist faithful, makes her the ideal person to bring the positive change that the CPP urgently needs. However, there are many reasons to be doubtful of Samia’s prospects for reviving her father’s CPP into a party that can make any significant impact on Ghana’s political future.

Built on shaky grounds

The CPP was formed in 1949 by Dr Kwame Nkrumah following disagreements with the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), a party that had been formed to spearhead Ghana’s independence “within the shortest possible time”. Nkrumah, who served as the UGCC General Secretary, quickly fell out with the party’s leadership on the strategic direction to achieve independence. Again, Nkrumah’s Marxist orientation and Garveyite activism conflicted with the liberal pretensions of the UGCC leadership.

When Nkrumah formed the CPP, he envisaged a socialist-based political machinery whose strength would be derived from the urban working class and rural peasantry. He believed this would enable him to undertake his state-led developmental programme and actualise his pan-African vision after independence. By 1957, Nkrumah’s charismatic appeal, effective organisational skills and connection with the masses had turned the CPP into a vibrant political force that delivered Black Africa’s first independence.

In government, the CPP witnessed remarkable growth largely due to state patronage networks, governmental co-optation of the youth, women’s groups and trade unions, and repression of rival political groups. In 1962 Nkrumah declared a de facto one-party state, formalised in 1964 by a highly questionable referendum that rendered the CPP the only political party in Ghana. By the time he was overthrown in 1966, Nkrumah’s CPP was a proverbial “mighty oak tree” whose existence precluded other political associations in the country.

Despite its progressive and mass-based appeal, the CPP was founded on very shaky grounds. By building and maintaining the party around the charisma and inspiration of a single individual whose mass appeal was driven by the trappings of state power, the CPP was bound to collapse with the demise of Nkrumah. This shaky foundation of the party became even more pronounced given the fact that Kwame Nkrumah’s legacy attracts unrepentant loyalists and fierce critics alike in Ghana.

Following a coup in 1966, the military junta disbanded the CPP and its ancillary organisations. Under new legislation, the Elections and Public Officers Disqualification, many CPP functionaries were disqualified from holding any public offices. Subsequently, any party that bore a resemblance to the CPP’s old self, such as K A Gbedemah’s National Alliance of Liberals, became the target of state intimidation. The systematic exclusion of the CPP in Ghana’s body politic persisted through subsequent civilian and military regimes until its revival in 1996 following years of legal wrangling which began when Ghana returned to constitutional rule in 1992.

Samia's successes

Samia Yaaba Nkrumah faces an uphill task in building a formidable political party with the CPP. She has scored remarkable success since she entered Ghanaian politics. In 2008 she contested the Jomoro Constituency on the CPP’s ticket and became the lone voice of the party in Ghana's parliament. Her victory was unique because for the first time the CPP won an election in Ghana’s legislature without any “special alliances” with other political parties.

In parliament, Samia has maintained an independent identity and voice for the CPP that has been uncharacteristic of previous CPP legislators. Indeed, she is one of just a few Ghanaian politicians who could be described as modest in thought but formidable in action.

Her strong showing in the race for the CPP chair, where she polled 1,151 votes against the combined 695 votes of 3 other candidates, attests to her strong endorsement within the party. Already, she has declared her intention to unite the various Nkrumahist elements and groups in Ghana under the umbrella of the CPP as a way of boosting the electoral fortunes of the party. In addition, she has instituted a Friday Freedom Forum initiative in which she hopes to build a lively policy platform that will make the CPP resemble a potential “government in waiting”.

An impossible journey

However, the revival of Samia’s CPP is set to be another impossible journey. As a party, the CPP has demonstrated that it is not short of ideas. Indeed, most of the measures that Samia has undertaken so far are not new. Over the past decades, many CPP leaders have paid lip service to Nkrumahist unification.

Nevertheless, various meetings and conferences to achieve this objective have produced disagreements on party emblems and logos, leadership contests and personality clashes. Again, under the leadership of Nadi Nylander, the party’s former chairman, the CPP initiated a shadow government that enlivened Ghana’s policy debates under weekly press conferences dubbed, “How the CPP will do it”. Yet, like many CPP projects it floundered and was quickly overshadowed.

While Samia has managed to keep a reasonable measure of neutrality in the jostling within the party, partly due to her long absence from its top echelons, the full extent of this internal wrangling is likely to emerge soon, especially as the CPP prepares to nominate its presidential candidate. Again, many CPP functionaries have maintained a demonstrable disinterest in the party and are unwilling to invest time and monetary commitments, given its poor showing in recent elections. The appalling apathy within the CPP has undercut the party’s logistical bases and, as demonstrated by its low quality PR campaigns, many political activists genuinely believe that it is not a party worth fighting for.

In need of a constituency

The greatest threat to Samia’s ambition with the CPP is the presence of Ghana’s dominant political parties, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) and the National Democratic Congress (NDC). Since 1992, both parties have worked in various ways to establish themselves as the frontrunners of Ghana’s unwritten two-party democratic system. While the NPP managed to garner the support of the urban middle class and the dominant ethnic groupings based on a liberal democratic platform, the NDC have monopolised the urban underclass, rural peasantry and minority groups within a social democratic ideological project. The NDC and NPP have therefore rid the CPP of any constituency of support from which they could draw from. Worse still, the two parties have sustained a significant presence within various potential political networks, from student groups to trade unions, and have even infiltrated the ranks of smaller parties including the CPP.

It may take a long time for the CPP to assume the prestige, credibility and organisational character of both the NPP and NDC and surpass them to win an election in Ghana. So while I wish Samia Nkrumah very well, I am sad to concede that she will soon realise one thing: the CPP was not built to last. It has withered away with the demise of Dr Kwame Nkrumah.

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