F. N. K. Kwame Nkrumah

F. N. K. Kwame Nkrumah F. N. K. Kwame Nkrumah

Foreign Minister - Government of Ghana (1962 - 1963)

President - Government of Ghana (01 Jul 1960 - 24 Feb 1966)

Foreign Minister - Government of Ghana (1957 - 1958)

Prime Minister - Government of Ghana (21 Mar 1952 - 01 Jul 1960)

 

Selected Works

Publication

Consciencism: Philosophy & Ideology for De-Colonization [1964]

Africa Must Unite [1963]

I Speak Freedom: A Statement of African Ideology [1961]

Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah [International Publishers, 1957]

Towards Colonial Freedom [1947]

 

To many Kwame Nkrumah was a messiah, freedom fighter, Pan Africanist and a truly nationalist leader, greatly admired and adored both at home and abroad; while to others, he was considered authoritarian, undemocratic and utopian in his vision of a 'United States of Africa'. He was given the name of Osagyefo (the redeemer) for the part he played in the struggle for Ghana's Independence. He subsequently became the torchbearer of the anti-colonial movement across the whole of Africa and beyond. In 1978 the United Nations (UN) awarded Nkrumah a posthumous gold medal during a special session of the UN Committee against apartheid. In December 2002, BBC listeners in Africa voted him as their "Man of the Millennium".

Francis Nwia Kofie Nkrumah, who later became known as Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was the son of a goldsmith. He was born on 21st September 1909 in the village of Nkroful in Nzima in what was then the Gold Coast in present day Ghana. He started school at a nearby village school at Half Assini and later in 1927 trained as a teacher at the government teachers college at Achimota near Accra. He left for the United States in 1935, where he was admitted to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, from where he later graduated in 1939 with a Bachelor of Arts degree, majoring in Economics and Sociology. He was offered a job as an assistant lecturer in Philosophy, which he later described as "the hand of fate" guiding him at a time when he was in severe financial difficulties. He soon gained admission at the Lincoln Theological Seminary where in 1942 he graduated with a Bachelor of Theology degree coming the top of his class.

Nkrumah's pursuit for knowledge was insatiable and while he acquainted himself with the works of Kant, Hegel, Descartes, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud and others he studied Philosophy and Education at the University of Pennsylvania and a year later in 1943 obtained his Masters degree in Philosophy at the same University. During the ten years he spent in America he experienced very difficult times doing odd jobs and juggling to make ends meet, but this did not stop him finding time to help start and organise the African Students' Association of America. He was subsequently elected the President of the Association at its first conference, a position he held until he left America for England.

During his time in the US, Nkrumah's political thinking came to be greatly inspired by the works of Marcus Garvey, a black American whose thoughts were published in 1923 entitled Philosophy and Opinions depicting the notion of 'Africa for Africans' and his 'Back to Africa' movement. This was later to be the basis of his first publication entitled Towards Colonial Freedom, published in London in 1947.

Nkrumah's quest for a more frontline position in the struggle for the peoples' of the colonies presented itself when in May 1945, he left New York for London, where he soon linked up with other freedom activists and became a member of the West African Student's Union, later becoming its Vice President. He soon enrolled at Gray's Inn to study Law and joined the London School of Economics. Together with George Padmore and others, Nkrumah organised the Fifth Pan African Congress that took place in Manchester in October of 1945, attracting over 200 delegates from all over the world. He considered the congress a major success because it "provided the outlet for African nationalism and brought about the awakening of African political consciousness"(Nkrumah, 1957). Shortly after the congress, Nkrumah together with other Pan Africa leaders set up the West African National Secretariat that was to set in motion the struggle for the self-government in the British West African colonies. Due to his growing political activities, Nkrumah abandoned his Law studies and doctorate thesis.

In November 1947, Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast after having accepted the position of General Secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention (U.G.C.C). Differences soon began to emerge within the leadership of the UGCC over its policy and strategy. With increased agitation for self-government the leadership of UGCC soon clashed with the colonial administration. In the wake of strikes and boycotts that had spread throughout the Gold Coast, six UGCC leaders including Nkrumah were arrested and detained, with Nkrumah being singled out as the principal trouble causer. He was later removed from the position of Secretary General and appointed the Party's Treasurer. By this time Nkrumah had growing support among the rank and file of the UGCC and with the support of youth organisations across the country decided to break away.

On 12th June 1949, the Convention People's Party (CPP) was launched before an audience of about sixty thousand people. Kwame Nkrumah in a moving speech, demanded "full self-government now" from the British. The CPP's motto was "We prefer self-government with danger to servitude in tranquillity" and had as its guiding principle, "Seek ye first the political kingdom and all things shall be added unto you". Nkrumah soon after took over the leadership of the Party with its philosophy of Positive Action that was based on the principle of non-violence adopted by Mahatma Ghandi. The CPP was soon active in the whole country organising protests and strikes, which led to the arrest and imprisonment of Nkrumah on charges of sedition.

During Nkrumah's imprisonment, general elections were organised in early 1951 for the National Assembly in which the CPP participated. Nkrumah had arranged to be registered as a candidate while in prison. When results were released, Nkrumah emerged victorious, taking the Accra Central seat with a record number of votes: 22,780 out of an estimated 23,122 who had registered. Shortly after, he was released from prison to form a government in which he assumed the position of Leader of Government Business. On 21st March 1952, Nkrumah's position was elevated to that of Prime Minister becoming second in hierarchy to that of the Governor. He ably used his position to put forward the demand for Independence in a moving motion to the Assembly in 1953, which popularly became known as the "Motion of Destiny".

In 1956, Nkrumah was made Prime Minister in an all African cabinet, which was charged with governing the country until the elections for the National Assembly. Subsequently in March 1957 the CPP won the elections that ultimately brought independence, by winning 71 out of the 104 seats of the National Assembly. Nkrumah was named Prime Minister of an Independent Ghana State on 6th March 1957 and the CPP with its slogan "Forward Ever-Backwards Never" became the ruling party of independent Ghana.

On 31st December 1957, Nkrumah married Helena Ritz Fathia, an Egyptian whom he had met while visiting the then Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser. It was a civil wedding, without the pomp expected of a Head of Government. They were later blessed with three children.

In the aftermath of independence, Nkrumah's government pursued a socialist led ideology, with Pan African ideals forming its major foreign policy thrust. One of his first acts in this connection was to organise a Conference of Independent African States in 1957 with the prime objective of coordinating the Independence struggles taking place in the whole of Africa. He went a step further in late 1958 to form a Ghana-Guinea Union together with Guinean President Sekou Toure, which they hoped would form the nucleus of a Union of Independent African States. It was with this spirit in mind that the All African People's Conference was held in December 1958 under the banner of "Hands off Africa! Africa Must Unite". This conference brought together leaders from across the continent, who at the time were spearheading their own independence struggles. The conference proved a success and was a major diplomatic victory for Nkrumah and the other Pan African leaders. Nkrumah's vision of African Unity saw the harnessing of the continent's resources for development. These sentiments were echoed in his book, published in 1961, I Speak of Freedom, where he wrote, "divided we are weak; united, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world".

In July 1960, Ghana became a republic, under a new constitution that gave Nkrumah, as President, wide-ranging executive powers. This was later seen by some as the beginning of his undoing. He became intolerant to criticisms and would seldom permit divergent views from those of his own. In a daring move that raised concern among his critics, he summarily dismissed the country's Chief Justice for "giving a judicial decision of which he never approved"(James, 1977). It was said that Nkrumah was suspect of some of his comrades whom he viewed as traitors with leadership aspirations. This argument gave credence to the reason why he surrounded himself with advisers who were chiefly not his countrymen, in particular West Indians and Black Americans. He survived two assassination attempts on his life.

The final years of Nkrumah's presidency were further marred by authoritarian policies and undemocratic actions. In 1964, he became the life Chairman of his Party and life President of the republic, banning all opposition parties. He distanced himself from his old colleagues and comrades with whom he had started the independence struggle. He is quoted as stating, "even a system based on a democratic constitution may need backing up in the period following independence by emergency measures of a totalitarian kind".

Perhaps one of Nkrumah's biggest disappointments was that he could not achieve so much in such a short time. He clearly did not envisage that the forces of Western powers (which viewed his intentions as being bent on Marxism/Leninism doctrines) would one day undermine his Pan African dream. At the height of the 'cold war' these lofty ideals of African Unity were observed with scepticism in the West, especially as the main architects of this new paradigm were tending towards the Soviet Union for support.

On the domestic front, by the mid 1960's Nkrumah's government found itself heavily indebted as a result of the hugely costly infrastructural projects it undertook using short-term development loans and revenue from cocoa exports. The country's balance of payments became severely affected when the world cocoa prices plummeted in the mid 1960's. This created difficulties for the government, which had to service the loans. The economic malaise coupled with the political upheaval developing in the country began to cause public discontentment and apathy. These became clear in the signs of the waning support for Nkrumah's government by the mid 1960's.

On 24th January 1966, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown in a coup by the military and police, a move which was widely welcomed by the Western powers, given his growing links with the Soviet Union. Some involvement in the coup by the West has often been suggested. The coup happened while he was in China on his way to Hanoi on a peace mission. The new rulers, under a governing body called the National Liberation Council, blamed Nkrumah's government for its arbitrary abuse of power, corruption and economic mismanagement.

Nkrumah spent the rest of his life in exile in Conakry, Guinea during which time he spent reading, writing and monitoring events in Ghana. He remained optimistic of the day he would return to Ghana to lead his people once again. The Guinea authorities bestowed on him the title of Co-President. His health however started to fail him and notwithstanding various conspiracy theories about the probable cause his ailment, he was flown to Bucharest, Romania, where he died of cancer on 27th April 1972. His remains were flown back to Conakry where he was accorded a state funeral on 14th May 1972, to coincide with the 25th anniversary of Sekou Toure's Democratic Party of Guinea. He was temporarily laid in the Camayenne Mausoleum, which was reserved as a resting place for Guinea's national heroes. On 7th July 1972 Nkrumah's remains were exhumed and returned to Ghana where they were laid to rest first at his birthplace in Nkroful in Western Ghana, and later in his own mausoleum in Accra on the site where he stood and declared Ghana's independence.

Besides the criticisms levelled against Nkrumah, he will be remembered as a pace setter for most of Africa's liberation movements, who as a key anti-colonial agitator sowed the seeds for their successful independence struggles. As Professor Ali Mazrui correctly stated in the BBC programme, The Story of Africa, "great leaders in particular circumstances are not great leaders when those circumstances change". This could not be more true in the case of Nkrumah who had been very successful as an anti-colonial agitator but did not enjoy the same success as a post-independence leader.

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