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ARTICLE: 4 February – a day of mourning

J B Danquah advocated an independent Ghanaian constitution that would safeguard citizens from an interventionist welfare state

On 4 February 1965, a significant event took place in the history of Ghana. J B Danquah died in Nsawam Prison as a result of Kwame Nkrumah’s detention laws. He had stood up for his belief in freedom and opposition to tyranny.

On this day, patriotic conservatives in Ghana will not celebrate with fireworks, parades or family gatherings. Instead, they will reflect solemnly on the significance of his death.

The death of J B Danquah is significant because of his call for individual wealth creation, which was best expressed in the 1947 Saltpond Declaration of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC).

This call championed individual liberty, equal rights, decentralisation, free markets, free trade and the inalienable right of all Ghanaians to life, liberty, property and the rule of law.

As we look back at Danquah’s life, we cannot deny that he left a significant legacy. He played a vital role as a delegate at most of the constitutional conventions and was one of the main advocates for policies that emphasise freedom and liberty, aiming to establish a Ghana with policies that enable individuals to use their intelligence and abilities to provide for their families, without minimum state intervention.

J B Danquah advocated for an independent Ghanaian constitution that would safeguard citizens from an all-encompassing interventionist welfare state, which would leave the state and government with excessive control and planning:

“The party’s [UGCC’s] policy is to liberate the energies of the people for the growth of a property-owning democracy in this land, with the right to life, freedom and justice, as the principles to which the government and the laws of the land should be dedicated in order specifically to enrich life, property and liberty of every citizen.”

Returns for hard work

He fought sincerely for the freedoms and limitless opportunities that came with Ghanaian independence. Danquah believed in rewarding those who work hard, take risks and prioritise long-term goals to improve their lives and those of their families. His philosophy is still very relevant today.

During Ghana’s fight for independence, there were two opposing groups with differing ideologies. Nkrumah’s group criticised the values of Western democracy and identified what they wanted to move away from. On the other hand, Danquah’s UGCC had a positive vision of a free society and believed in pluralism, tolerance, free markets and free expression.

Danquah did not just express frustration with colonialism; he painted a brighter picture of a future of individuals who were willing and ready to develop the country in freedom.

First taking office in March 1957, Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first independence leader and opponent of the ideals of Danquah, rapidly set in motion a centralised, socialist, planned economy. As he put it, “No newly independent country is strong enough to defeat neo-colonialism.“

His “Work and Happiness” agenda in effect imposed a fascist-style economic system over the country, one that was partly inspired by the communists in Russia and was sustained by massive government spending and borrowing never previously experienced in the country’s history.

Danquah’s freedom philosophy

Nkrumah’s ideology, which Danquah strongly opposed, divided the world into two categories – oppressors and oppressed – which are opposed to each other.

If you are oppressed, you belong to the ordinary class, and you are entitled to protection, compassion and the bigotry of low expectations. If you have money you are an enemy, and you get taxed heavily to give to the poor.

Those deemed oppressed are, by definition, innocent victims of the rich and are incapable of doing anything wrong. The rich are always complicit in the poverty of the poor.

During Nkrumah’s regime, the environment for individual wealth creation was destroyed. The Industrial Development Corporation imposed strict regulations on almost all Ghanaian government-mandated industries, which controlled prices, wages, work conditions and output levels in both manufacturing and retail businesses.

This was accompanied by a large-scale government employment programme that focused on infrastructure that was determined by politicians and bureaucrats who supervised government activities, programmes and projects, including farms that engulfed almost everything and everyone in Ghana. This created state competition with peasant farmers and those in retail trade.

It could have been better – but some of the underlying trends Danquah warned about have become more marked and more ominous. The politics of oppression continues to use popular slogans and refrains such as “Food for the People”, “24-hour economy” and so on. While these slogans express a deep passion and appreciation for development, they do not necessarily make a philosophy.

The key to Danquah’s freedom philosophy lies not in the slogans themselves, but in the substance that underlies them. For example, the slogan “Self-Government Now” is a nice sentiment, but without a robust understanding of what “self-government” really means and why it is important, the words can be somewhat empty.

Danquah’s freedom and liberty philosophy emphasises individual rights, personal responsibility, self-improvement and creating value for others. It recognises the benefits of free markets. However, our economy stagnates due to high taxes, fixed interest rates and inflationary monetary policies imposed by “progressives”.

It is ironic that 67 years ago, there was a wide ideological gap between Ghanaian political parties. Nowadays, there is just a small divide separating them. Most politicians are fond of and fascinated by the power of big government, and their policies are quite similar.

The article was written by Kwadwo Afari

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