Considering all the facts in their analytic totality does not, in any way, diminish Houphouet-Boigny’s role in Nkrumah’s overthrow, recalling that the former may have begrudged the latter for accommodating the leadership of the Sanwi People in Ghana, as his [Houphouet-Boigny’s] clampdown on the Sanwi People gave them no choice but to seek refuge in Ghana. Decidedly, the geopolitical variables of proximity, collective survival, and ancestral connections of the Sanwi People to the Akans of Ghana would direct the compass of their flight from political persecution to Ghana. Nkrumah the great Pan-Africanist could not have refused them entry into Ghana, for the artificiality of political demarcations meant nothing to him, as he saw them as members of the universal African family.
Thus, Houphouet-Boigny was the kind of Eurocentric Gaullist politician who saw great value in the educated French than in the educated Ivorian and on that basis alone filled up technocratic positions in postcolonial Ivory Coast with the former, while the latter languished in unemployment. But, the protection he enjoyed under the French through French mercenary soldiers and spies added to the difficulty of overthrowing his government, as happened in the case of Haile Selassie, for instance. That may possibly account for the questionable context of Houphouet-Boigny’s behavior toward Nkrumah’s political fortunes, though we do not firmly hold on to that simplistic formulation as an exclusive explanatory model for that exceptionable behavior, regarding the question of his role in Nkrumah’s overthrow.
Still, the legacy of Houphouet-Boigny is not as rosy as the Confederate enemies of Nkrumah would have their supporters believe. Tamar Golan writes in that regard: “COTE D’IVOIRE’S EXTERNAL DEBT REACHED THE FABULOUS SUM OF DOLLARS 20BN BY 1991. MANY OF THE LOANS WERE MADE BY PRIVATE BANKS, AT RELATIVELY HIGH RATES AND ON SHORT OR MEDIUM TERMS. THE WEST’S UNFAILING CONFIDENCE IN HB [HOUPHOUET-BOIGNY] BROUGHT ALL THESE LOANS. BUT THE BLESSING HAD TURNED INTO A CURSE. FOR THE FIRST TIME IN ITS HISTORY, COTE D’IVOIRE COULD NOT HONOR ITS DEBTS…BOTH CRISIS, THE ECONOMIC AND POLITICAL, CAME TO A HEAD AT THE END OF THE EIGHTIES AND CONTINUED INTO THE NINETIES…BUT WHEN HB FINALLY SOUGHT THE ASSISTANCE OF OTHER THIRD WORLD LEADERS, THEY FAILED TO RALLY. HE BELONGED TO ANOTHER GENERATION, TO ANOTHER WORLD.”
Golan continues: “YET HIS PEOPLE CONTINUED TO SUPPORT THEIR ‘VIEUX’ [another nickname for Houphouet-Boigny]. THE DEEP ECONOMIC RECESSION, THE PROFOUND SOCIAL ‘MALAISE’ DID NOT PUSH THEM TO VIOLENT ACTION. THEY EVEN FORGAVE HB HIS PERSONAL MISDOINGS AND EXTRAVAGANCES: HIS MARRIAGE TO A TOGOLESE 50 YEARS HIS JUNIOR, THE CONSTRUCTION AT YAMOUSSOUKRO OF A DOLLARS 150M ROMAN CATHOLIC BASILICA, MODELLED ON ST. PETER’S, IN ROME, AND HIS PRIDE IN AMASSING SUCH WEALTH THAT HE DECLARED HIMSELF ‘ONE OF THE RICHEST MEN IN AFRICA'” (see Tamar Golan’s article “Obituary: Felix Houphouet-Boigny,” The Independent, Dec. 8, 1993). Houphouet-Boigny was worth between $7-10 billion at the time of his death (see “Travesty of Justice in Cote D’Ivoire,” African Agenda, March 10, 2015).
Thus Houphouet-Boigny was not called “The Stalinist Billionaire” and “Mao Tse Houphouet” for just any reason. The West called him “the Sage of Africa” the same way it called Danquah “the Doyen of Gold Coast Politics.” Yet, it is also equally true that Houphouet-Boigny secured better deals for his country’s cash crops than Nkrumah’s Ghana could ever have imagined.
Wole Soyinka was and still is highly critical of his political tendencies toward the political repression of the Opposition, extravagance, and excessive materialism at the expense of the universal development of the Ivory Coast, questioning the practical wisdom in constructing the Yamoussoukro basilica for instance, when the country evidently lacked certain basic amenities such as classrooms, hospitals, portable water, public conveniences, and electricity. Omar Bango, Houphouet-Boigny’s Francafrique colleague and an important tool of France’s exploitative politics, owned villas and a fleet of luxury cars in France. Well-paid French citizens chauffeured him around whenever he visited France. In the vicinity of his French villas poor, homeless Gabonese citizens begged for money, food, and other means to survive. As well, Mobuto could not maintain the shanty and tattered country the Belgians left behind and barely added to the country’s scanty inventory of Belgian colonial infrastructure, yet he was a kleptomaniacal billionaire at the time of his overthrow.
Clearly these leaders were antithetical to the special case of Nkrumah’s exemplary leadership.
All the preceding notwithstanding, Golan ascribes the following remarks to Houphouet-Boigny: “A BAOULE CHIEF DOES NOT DIE. HE DIES ON HIS THRONE.” This statement points to another theory that Houphouet-Boigny’s one-party rule was a product of Baoule cultural epistemology and cosmogony! Who are the Baoule anyway? The Baoule are Akan and are believed to have been led westward to present-day Ivory Coast by Queen Pokou, niece of Osei Kofi Tutu the First and Opoku Ware the First, after she refused to join the Ashanti Confederacy and broken away with her faction (see Guida Jackson’s “Women Leaders of Africa, Asia, Middle East, and Pacific: A Biographical Reference” and Adele King’s edited volume “From Africa: New Francophone Stories”).
Similarly, models for Western leadership styles heavily draw upon Greco-Roman historical and cultural precedents, among others. Asians do the same. Again, Houphouet-Boigny was implying in that submission that his one-party presidency drew upon Baoule historical and cultural traditions. Yet Nkrumah was an Nzema, also a member of the Akan grouping, not a Baoule. Could they both have drawn upon ancient traditions including those of Akan traditions? If so, and since Nkrumah did not create those ancient traditions, why would anyone hold Nkrumah singularly liable for Houphouet-Boigny’s preference for the one-party political system? There is a factual poignancy to the preceding query from the standpoint of Golan’s valuation of the philosophical differences between the two men. He writes: “THE TWO MEN [NKRUMAH AND HOUPHOUET-BOIGNY] DIFFERED ON EVERYTHING, AND ALL THEY WOULD DO WAS AGREE TO DISAGREE.”
Again, who convinced whom of the cultural superiority of the one-party political system to the European state and on what basis did they “agree to disagree” on the one-party political system? Admittedly, the primordiality of Nkrumah’s chronological age and Ghana’s independence does not, as a matter of principle and discursive historicity, impute the originative causation of the one-party political system to Nkrumah. More, it is easier and ideologically convenient to exclude the communicratic backdrop to the practice of African leadership’s political behavior from a holistic methodological critique of leadership in general. This, too, has not been given much attention in postcolonial literature as far as the critique of the range of leadership strategies and tactics are concerned, especially in the African context. Another author Peter J. Boettke recalls another statement ascribed to Houphouet-Boigny regarding his leadership style. The former writes in his book “The Collapse of Development Planning”: “HERE IN IVORY COAST, THERE IS NO NUMBER 1, 2, OR 3. I AM NUMBER 1 AND I DON’T SHARE MY DECISION.”
There is no doubt that Houphouet-Boigny shared his “NUMBER 1” with his privileged top-level French advisers, but, as it were, on his self-serving terms. Nkrumah, like Houphouet-Boigny’ had European advisers in the persons of Geoffrey Bing and others, but we leave the Nkrumah bashers to conduct their own investigations into the comparative strengths of the leadership styles of the two men along the lines of expatriate expertise. Also, throughout his presidency Houphouet-Boigny stood unopposed in all the sham elections conducted under his and France’s watch. The French did not force him to relinquish power under any terms of democratic switchover where elective franchise decided the fate of his political entrenchment or removal. His servile neocolonial marriage to French interests prevented that option from material actualization.
Having said that, we are yet to come to terms with why some Asian one-party systems have proved so successful and efficient than some of the much-touted Western models of governance and economic development. In any case what is the situation like in other geopolitical environments beyond the African context? For instance, what explains the “one-party presidency” of Franklin D. Roosevelt, the democratic one-party rule of South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC), the one-party presidency of Spain’s Francisco Franco, or the one-party political system across Asia? Could it be that elective franchise cannot use its comparative numerical power to usurp the political complacency of the one-party political system?
The special example of the ANC supports the contention that democracy, too, can breed or have great potential to shelter the one-party ideology, or that the South African example is hiding behind elective dictatorship or elective franchise to perpetuate its entrenchment (see also Daniel Posner’s “Institutions and Ethnic Politics in Africa”). This is exactly what we see in the Blue States and Red States dichotomy of the United States. Apparently, elective dictatorship lacks the moral nerve to critique the kind of neocolonial relationship Houphouet-Boigny established with the French. As a matter of fact, this constitutes a pinch of painful truth because Francafrique benefits African elites and their French patrons.
Furthermore, the idea of bringing up the close collaborations between Western leaders and their African political androids is to place emphasis on Soyinka’s disputation that Africa’s underdevelopment is hardly the doing of African leadership alone, but the combined results of those close political collaborations. But African leadership has a choice to chart a pathway for Africa’s development irrespective of the negative tendencies of Francafrique! Nkrumah’s political philosophy and Pan-Africanist precepts championed that choice of self-determination! Yet Soyinka’s view is neither controversial nor contrarian from the vantage points of international relations and diplomatic history. An excellent example worth recalling was the clandestine collaboration among Israel, America, and Britain that brought Idi Amin to power (see Andrew Rice’s book “The Teeth May Smile But The Heart Does Not Forget: Murder And Memory In Uganda”).
Another excellent case in point is the active role Prof. Charles Debbasch, a French legal scholar, has been playing in the authorship of constitutional documents for certain African governments as well as in the strategic orchestration of constitutional usurpation or displacement of the political rights of would-be politicians who may not be the preferred choice of the metropole, France. Prof. Debbasch (some reports say he has Togolese citizenship) has worked for Houphouet-Boigny, Omar Bongo, Henri K. Bedie, Eyadema, and now Faure Gnassingbe (see Robert Kaplan’s “The Ends of the Earth”).
What role did Debbasch play in the one-party political systems advanced by these African leaders, for, after all, he has been a major force behind the design of the instruments of constitutional affirmation of the one-party political system in a number of African countries, mostly in the former French African colonies?
What does Debbasch bring from French or European history to bear on these one-party political national constitutions in France’s favorite former African colonies? That is why those who easily ascribe the origination of the one-party political system to Nkrumah need to re-examine the historical and contemporary evidence from a holistic standpoint of the complex and simultaneously-diverse evolution of the ideology.
Besides that, French soldiers and mercenaries like Bob Denard worked for Houphouet-Boigny, De Gaulle, Jacques Foccart, the French state, and even Francois Mitterrand’s French Socialist Party in defense of Francafrique. Yet again, Houphouet-Boigny did not see any moral contradictions between his absolute support for the socialist policies of Mitterrand, say, and his arrant rejection and denunciation of the socialist rhetoric of Nkrumah and Lumumba. Evidently, our argument leads to a critique which argues that, those Nkrumah bashers should have to include the Houphouet-Boigny-endorsed Bob Denard’s mercenary politicization of African politics in the valuation of the latter’s bequest of the one-party political system, rather than let it pass unnoticed.
An obvious corollary of that assertion makes the case that the Confederate bashers of Nkrumah may also have to re-evaluate the impact which Houphouet-Boigny’s one-party legacy had on the former French African colonies, since the reach of his political influence via his collaborations with the French state extended into those geopolitical territories.
Finally, here are a few observations the two writers, Guy Martin and Mueni wa Muiu, provide as a way of shedding light on the complexity of the France’s neocolonial relationship with her former African colonies (see their book “A New Paradigm of the African State”):
“In Togo, Charles Debbasch, a French professor of constitutional law, former dean of the law faculty, and president of the University of Aix-Marseille 111, was a key advisor to the late president Gnassingbe Eyadema (a ruthless dictator) until his death on February 5, 2005; since then, he acts in the same capacity to Eyadema’s son and successor, Faure Essozimma Gnassingbe, the (contested) winner of the April 24, 2005 presidential elections. As legal counsel to the president with ministerial rank, Dean Debbasch (as he likes to be called) holds wide-ranging powers, including vetting ministerial appointments and proposed legislation.”
They write elsewhere:
“In the French colonies, in each territory, France created local intelligence units (Postes de liason et de renseignements/PLR), advised and led by French intelligence officers so that, those intelligence units were organically and inextricably linked with the French secret service network (SDCE and Reseaux Foccart). Third, the new countries did not have enough trained personnel to take over, which meant that colonial officials stayed on for years as ‘advisers’ doubling as spies for the metropole. Thus, in Cote d’Ivoire, President Felix Houphouet-Boigny (a key ally of the French in Africa), retained, until his death, the services of two Frenchmen in the strategic posts of director of the president’s office and permanent secretary to the presidency: Guy Nairay and Alain Belkiri, respectively.”
The authors conclude:
“Instead of removing African countries from the colonial yoke, independence tied them even closer to the colonial powers. It also silenced the people by giving them a sense of false hope. Now that the people had their Uhuru (independence), all they had to do was work hard, and all other fruits of freedom would follow. Various foreign agencies controlled the economy while African leaders opted for political power. But the rulers became more corrupt as they kept part of the proceeds for themselves in a game that was controlled by the West.”
We should bear in mind how Europeans made all the money during the five hundred years of their monopolistic exploitation and economic colonization of the Gold Coast, repatriated that stolen monetary wealth to Europe and used that to develop Europe, at the expense of the development of the Gold Coast, yet Nkrumah in less than a decade managed to transform the Gold Coast and then Ghana with the money his and Arthur Lewis’ investment strategies accumulated for Ghana. Only two years of the entire span of his high quality leadership, from 1964 to 1966, otherwise the formal chronology of the political practice of the one-party state following its parliamentary passage, ate into that unparalleled transformation of the unitary state.
If White supremacy, colonialism, and imperialism could not achieve for the Gold Coast and then Ghana with all that wealth in five hundred years what Nkrumah achieved in less than a decade with a token, what could colonialism have achieved for the Gold Coast and then Ghana in the next five hundred years after 1957? We should understand that the British left not a dime for the Gold Coast. The British Colonial Government and its representatives even refused to pay the end of service entitlements promised the men of the Gold Coast whom they recruited to fight on behalf of the British in faraway places like Burma. This was happened when the Colonial Police gunned down Sgt. Adjetey, Pvt. Odartey, and Cpl. Attipoe. An additional sixty ex-servicemen suffered seriously various wounds to their persons. Who did Nkrumah order to be shot dead under his official one-party rule from 1964 to 1966? In fact the financial burden of the surviving ex-servicemen fell on the shoulder of Nkrumah’s internal government!
Lastly, in another context, upon hearing news of the success story of the Ivory Coast, the so-called “Ivorian miracle,” Nobel Laureate V.S. Naipaul visited the country where he had hoped to see the facilitation of reconciliation between the evidence of his ears and that of the veritable evidence of his eyes. That was not to be. In fact, he came away from his firsthand touring experiences of the country’s hotspot of development with a perception of paradoxical evasiveness, dismissing the Ivory Coast as another disappointment (see Naipaul’s “Crocodiles of Yamoussoukro” and Selwyn R. Cudjoe’s “V.S. Naipaul: A Materialist Reading”). The French literally owned everything in Ivory Coast in those days when Naipaul visited, as Dr. Molefi Kete Asante would confirm it to us when he visited the country and meeting with some of its leaders in the 2000s, expressing his profound shock at France’s 99% ownership of Ivory Coast’s political economy.
In all, Soyinka has hardly questioned Leopold Senghor’s de facto one-party rule, except to heap glowing tributes on Senghor’s rhetorical sophistication and general writing prowess and to advance the argument that his Nobel Prize in Literature should have been awarded to Senghor instead. Soyinka made this comment during Senghor’s internationally televised 90th birthday. It is also a rhetorical refrain in some of his major texts. Soyinka has great respect for Nkrumah’s vision and Pan-Africanist politics but, probably more important to students of African politics and leadership models, he has as yet to make a definite public statement on Paul Kagame’s one-party rule and to come to terms with Kagame’s repression of his political opponents and the sudden if inexplicable disappearances of political opponents under Kagame’s one-party rule. Kagame and Soyinka are very good friends!
When all is said and done, we should be bold enough to confront the truth that the greatest supporters of these one-party regimes in Africa are Western governments, multinational corporations, and intelligence outfits, not the African people. In the 2000s, for instance, America secretly negotiated with the Mugabe Government to purchase $10M worth of diamonds. At the same time the American media lashed out at Mugabe calling him a tyrant and a thief. Why gift a tyrant and a thief a whopping windfall of $10M? Our point is that the Taliban, Saddam Hussein, Al-Qaeda, Timothy McVeigh, Apartheid, the Mau Mau Resistance, Osama bin Laden, Jim Crowism, and a host of others are Western creations. Hilary Clinton has come out strongly in favor of America’s central role in creating Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. She told the US Congress and the American people so. A number of well-placed high-profile American citizens from the federal government, intelligence community, and security services, and so forth, have backed Clinton’s claims in a refreshing community of biographies, memoirs, autobiographies, CIA/FBI literature, and Congressional investigations and hearings!
As well, we should be bold enough to question why one-party regimes like Singapore and China have proved more successful, lasting, efficient, transformative, and politically vibrant than, say, the one-party regime of Spain’s Francisco Franco or the one-party regime of the British Empire in the Gold Coast! Why African countries go to these Asian one-party regimes for financial and technological assistance and political guidance? Why the Beijing Consensus is as influential as the Nordic Model and the Washington Consensus? Why African countries may want to be like China or Singapore? Why Paul Kagame’s so-called “economic miracle” is modeled on or derived from the Asian Tigers, Singapore particularly? Lest we are not mistaken for the wrong ideological, philosophical, and political reasons, we want to make it clear that wherever there is any mention of “economic miracle” in connection with a given African state, be it Houphouet-Boigny’s or Paul Kagame’s, then it is Western multinational corporations and governments that are disproportionately reaping the benefits!
Let us ask: Why state capitalism, communist and socialist ideas are still such dominant forces in the policy direction of China’s political economy? Daily Mail reports (see “China Vows No ‘Western Values’ In Universities,” January 30, 2015): “’China’s education minister has vowed to ban university textbooks which promote ‘Western values’, state media said, in the latest sign of ideological tightening under President Xi Jinping. Never let textbooks promoting Western values appear in our classes,’ minister Yuan Guiren said, according to a report late Thursday by China’s official Xinhua news agency. REMARKS THAT SLANDER THE LEADERSHIP OF THE COMMUNIST PARTY OF CHINA AND ‘SMEAR SOCIALISM’ MUST NEVER APPEAR IN COLLEGE CLASSROOMS, he added…THE PARTY OFTEN BRANDS CONCEPTS SUCH AS MULTIPARTY ELECTIONS AND THE SEPERATUION OF POWERS AS ‘WESTERN,’ DESPITE THEIR GLOBAL APPEAL AND APPLICATION” (our emphasis). Education Minister Guiren insisted that communism was still the ideology of the state! Are the minimal achievements of multiparty democracy across Africa worth the comparative attention of the mega-achievements of China’s one-party state in a generation?
Your guess, if there is any such thing, is as good as ours!
We shall return…