But how do leaders who have such high ideals for their nations transform into hard-fisted dictators when they are in a position to make change? Do they become so accustomed to their power and the admiration that they no longer consider the opinions of their supporters and admirers as valuable?
Perhaps they always felt that they knew better than the common people, but they needed the support of the masses to a certain level. Is it that once they reach a place of elevation they see that their dreams and goals are harder to reach than anticipated and so must alter their approach from one that values people’ s movements to one that has no tolerance for them?
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was the son of a goldsmith, an advocate for Pan-Africanism, and co-founder of the Organization of African Unity. In 1957 he became the first Prime Minister and then the first President of Ghana. Dr. Nkrumah accomplished much and had mountainous vision, not just for Ghana, but for all of Africa. Unfortunately, like many leaders to come after him, his vision changed or rather his means of achieving that vision misaligned with the vision himself.
After leading the then British colony of Gold Coast, now Ghana, to independence in 1957, Nkrumah brought industrial advancements to the country such as the Akosombo Dam. He saw the industrialization of the country as one way to reduce its dependence on foreign goods and capital. Nkrumah also however, isolated, angered, and let down many of the groups that had supported him and helped him gain his presidency. For instance, he made the cocoa farmers pay more taxes in order to pay for the debt incurred from building the dam.
In 1964 he declared Ghana to be a one-party state and was determined to rule the country for life. In February 1966, he went to China and Vietnam. On February 24th while he was still away, Nkrumah’s government was overthrown by a military coup. He lived and died in exile in Conakry, Guinea and then in Bucharest, Romania. He died early, at the age of 62 in Romania.
Today his remains line beneath a monument dedicated to him in Ghana’s capital city of Accra. In 2000 BBC listeners voted him African’s man of the millennium. Obviously in retrospect, people understand and greatly respect Dr. Nkrumah’s accomplishments for the nation of Ghana and his influence on other African countries to become independent.
What can we learn from leaders like Nkrumah? Here are a few of my reflections:
1) We can strive to remember where we came from. You do see more and understand more than the average citizen but it’s important to put ourselves in their place.
2) While knowing where you’re going is important, you can’t be the only one that knows and understands where you’re trying to go.
3) It’s hard to make other people see your vision. If they don’t see and believe in it, it’s near impossible to get them to sacrifice to achieve it.
4) When other people’s lives and opinions are involved, I feel there are two options:
- Hold onto that vision but loosen your grip on how you’re going to get there, or how quickly you’ll get there.
- Adjust your vision. Break it into smaller pieces. It sounds like I’m advocating giving up on your goals but again, when dealing with so many people, personal goals have to take a side seat. It becomes about aligning your vision with other people’s goals, ambitions (or lack thereof). It may also help to let people know the end game, or agree on a general end-game, and know the reasonable hardships it may take to achieve it. Then again, President Obama told people that he alone couldn’t change their lives that that they as individuals would have to put in work themselves. People are like “yeah yeah, we got it.” But as the going has gotten tough…. I guess that’s why Nkrumah wanted to be president for life. He had this thing he wanted to see through and he knew that no one could carry out his vision as well as he could.
5) Don’t rip people off of make those already in somewhat of a low-position e.g. cocoa farmers have to pay for “ultimate” gain. That’s not fair.
Well friends, you’ll find no answers here; only reflections. I’m just holding this rubix cube- like situation up and pondering the patterns of great leaders whose visions have skewed or perhaps have been skewed by their visions.