Interview with Samia Nkrumah, the woman referred to as “The new Mandela”
She walks into the room with sinuous grace in a striking gown of African weave. Forceful, articulate and ambitious, Samia Nkrumah is clearly Ghana’s face of the future and the person of whom The Huffington Post once said “The new Mandela is a woman.” The daughter of Ghana’s first President Kwame Nkrumah and today the chairperson of the party he founded, Ms Nkrumah, recently in Italy as part of the international jury for arcVision Prize 2014 for women architects, took time off to speak to Vaishna Roy of her vision for Ghana and for Africa.
Your family was exiled in 1966, and you spent long years abroad. What made you return to Ghana politics now?
I come from a political family, so it is not very surprising but yes, I was out of the country for decades. I guess when I went back to meet my father’s writings — he wrote about 14 books — on the fourth visit something clicked. I realised that his political thought, his message, his ideology needs to be practised — not just read about and talked about. It was this desire to reactivate his vision for Ghana, for Africa, that made me return.
And of course, another factor was the democratic dispensation being enjoyed in Ghana since 1992, when we returned to multi-party democracy after years of military rule, coups and counter-coups. Since 1992, every four years we have had elections, and on two occasions a peaceful transfer of power, in the sense that the ruling party loses the elections and there is peaceful transfer of power. This environment has encouraged some of us to return; those of us who have been away, who were in exile, voluntary or otherwise.
You are now the chairwoman of your father’s Convention People’s Party (CPP), banned in 1966 and revived in 1996. Tell us a bit about what CPP stands for today.
Our party was banned for many years. So our party is in a process of renewal. This is the task that some of us have taken upon us — to dedicate our lives to reviving CPP. There is indication that more and more people are interested to at least hear our message and see what we can do, particularly young people who make up the majority of our population.
We are what you can call an African party. We believe staunchly in pan-Africanism — that African countries must plan together, work together, and bargain together. So we must unite. That includes forging closer relations not only with Africans within the continent but with the African diaspora, and it also includes South-South cooperation. That is why we were very big in the 1960s in the Non-Aligned Movement; that is when our friendship with your country consolidated and grew. So we believe strongly that yes, the developing world must work together and exchange notes.
Another pillar of our ideology is justice, social justice. We define that as creating opportunities for everyone, every single Ghanaian. And as meeting the basic social needs of our people for a happier, more humane society.
The third pillar for CPP is self-determination and self-reliance. That is, we believe that we can offer (our own) solutions for our problems, for our economy — an independent African development solution rather than accept or pursue prescriptions coming from outside. We have the competence. Of course we can take advice, but we have competence and we can forge an independent development path and we must. The challenge is how to do it. But we must do it so that we can better control our resources, our growth and economy.
You are the first woman to chair CPP, and your father was one of the pioneers who included women in the political process. What role do you see for women politicians in the violence that is Africa today?
Even though women make up 51 per cent of the population in Ghana according to the latest census, this figure is not represented in decision making. So we definitely need greater participation by women. For progress to be felt, we need to carry all segments of the population. It is not charity but if you want to maximise your efforts and your resources, then women must be better represented.
Now, more than ever, women will be crucial in peace making, even in negotiations. We need their inputs, their ideas. It has been documented that when women are in politics they tend to promote more bills that impact children, the vulnerable and the marginalised. There is every indication that if women play a greater role in conflict resolution, you would have more peace. I think we need them more than ever, particularly when there is conflict.
What do you see as the challenge for Ghana today?
We seriously feel the time has come for us to focus on our natural capacity. The country’s macro-economic indicators are not bad with a 7.4 per cent growth rate, but it is not being felt. And it can only do so if we produce more locally. The challenge for our countries — not only Ghana but quite a few African countries — is how we can create the environment for us to produce more locally. This should be our priority. Our import bill is too high; it is unnecessary. We are a rich country — we have gold, bauxite, manganese, oil, gas… so there is something that is not adding up. We need not import.
I think now more and more people are beginning to understand that political independence was just a precondition to economic independence, for the freedom to create wealth.
We did not gain independence to hoist a flag or play the national anthem. It was a means to acquiring economic independence, and that is the challenge of all developing countries today. After all these decades of political independence, the time has come to complete the second phase of our mission, by controlling the know-how, the technological and scientific knowledge so that we can create wealth.
Your father Kwame Nkrumah was deeply influenced by Gandhi. But would you say that maybe Gandhi’s message is too dated for today’s world?
Certain messages are timeless. It is how you adapt them to the current situation. Gandhi is timeless. He preached self-reliance, and that is something we are talking about strongly today. And he also said that you can agitate and change things, you can be very strong in your convictions without violence. What you need is commitment, perseverance, sacrifice, dedication, patience. You need all that, but you can do it. His message is relevant even today.