The Ghanaian politician, political theorist, and revolutionary, Kwame Nkrumah, born on 21 September 1909 was the first Prime Minister and President of Republic of Ghana. He led the independence of Gold Coast (now Ghana) from Britain in 1957. He ruled Ghana as a prime minister from 1957 to 1960 and ruled as the president from 1960 to 1966. Thus becoming the leader of the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain its independence.
His father was a goldsmith and did not live with the family, but stayed and in Half Assini where he worked and pursued his goldsmith business until his death. Kwame Nkrumah was raised by his mother who is a retail trader and also raised by his extended family, who lived with them according to their tradition, with more distant relatives often visiting. Being the only child of his mother, she did her best to raise him by sending him to the elementary school run by a Catholic mission at Half Assini.
He was a baptized Roman Catholic, and he spent nine years at the Roman Catholic elementary school in Half Assini. From 1926 to 1930, Kwame Nkrumah attended mission schools at Accra and government training colleges at Achimota where was trained to be a teacher. He started his career as a teacher at Roman Catholic junior schools in Elmina and Axim and at a seminary after graduation from Achimota College in 1930. He was later made the headmaster after a year there in Axim.
While in Axim, he picked interest in politics and started to get involved in it, which led to the founding of the Nzima Literary Society. While a student at Achimota, he has heard a Nigerian journalist Nnamdi Azikiwe speak and he had been influenced by his speeches. He later met Nnamdi Azikiwe and Azikiwe’s influence increased his interest in black nationalism. As he a result of this, Nkrumah decided to further his education overseas. Nkrumah was advised by Azikiwe to go and study at Lincoln University. The Nigerian had attended Lincoln University, a historically black college in Chester County, Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia, and he was able to convince Nkrumah to enroll there. Despite failing the entrance examination for London University, Nkrumah gained funds for the trip and his education from relatives and arrived in the United States, in October 1935.
On arriving the United States, he attended Lincoln University in 1935 and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics and sociology in 1939. He proceeded to the University of Pennsylvania and by 1943, he had earned multiple bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics, sociology, theology, education and philosophy.
While in the United States, he also immersed himself in political work by being an activist student where he became a leading figure in the campaign for the United States of Africa. He played the role by organizing a group of expatriate African students in Pennsylvania and building it into the African Students Association of America and Canada, and he became the president. He promoted a Pan-african strategy despite some members of the group suggesting it to aspire for each colony to gain independence on its own.
A devoted Pan-Africanist, Nkrumah played a major role in the Pan-African conference that was held in New York in 1944. The conference urged the United States, at the end of the Second World War, to help ensure the development and freedom of Africa.
Nkrumah left the United States in May 1945 and returned to London England, where he studied as a Ph.D. student at the London School of Economics. He held key positions in anti-colonialist and Black-nationalist organizations there in London. Also, he authored controversial papers calling for African independence and unity. He co-founded the Pan African Congress in 1945 which became an influential voice against colonialism in Africa.
In England, Nkrumah spent his time on political organizing. He was among the principal organizer of the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester (15–19 October 1945). The Congress proffered a strategy for supplanting colonialism with African socialism. They resolved to push for a federal United States of Africa, with close regional organizations, governing through separate states of limited sovereignty. Also, they planned to pursue a new African culture; democratic within a socialist system, synthesizing traditional aspects with modern thinking devoid of tribalism. They planned achieving this aim by nonviolent means if possible. Notable figures that attended the conference are the venerable W. E. B. Du Bois along with some who later took leading roles in fighting for their nation’s independence, including Hastings Banda of Nyasaland (which became Malawi), Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, the move for self-government has already started gaining ground in the Gold Coast with the formation of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) by J.B. Danquah seeking self-government by constitutional means. On returning to the Gold Coast in 1947, Nkrumah became general secretary of the newly-founded United Gold Coast Convention. He was very active as the general secretary where he addressed meetings throughout the Gold Coast and he started creating a mass base for the new movement. He later became dissatisfied with the organization, finding it staid and conservative, overly tied to colonial business interests.
Due to ideological differences, a split developed between the middle-class leaders of the UGCC and the more radical supporters of Nkrumah. In the process demonstrating his supreme organizational abilities, in June 1949, with several associates he formed a new party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), a mass-based party that was committed to a program of immediate self-government.
Nkrumah became more proactive in his drive for self-government by initiating a campaign of “positive action,” in January 1950. The campaign involves nonviolent protests, strikes, and non-cooperation with the British colonial authorities. As the head of the CPP, Nkrumah protested by criticizing British rule and led numerous petitions for self-government. In 1950, he was arrested and imprisoned by the British for his political activities. However, in 1951, Nkrumah was released when his party won the general election (February 8, 1951) in a landslide victory. He became the leader of government business and, in 1952, prime minister of the Gold Coast.
Subsequently, the Gold Coast and the British Togoland trust territory became an independent state within the British Commonwealth in March 1957, Nkrumah became the prime minister of the new nation. Nkrumah’s governnment initiated some policies notably the legalization of imprisonment without trial of those it regarded as security risks. This made it apparent that Nkrumah’s style of government was to be authoritarian. However, his popularity increased as new roads, schools, and health facilities were built and as the policy of Africanization created better career opportunities for the citizens.
Ghana became a republic by a plebiscite of 1960, with Nkrumah becoming its president, with wide legislative and executive powers under a new constitution. He then concentrated his attention on campaigning for the political unity of Black Africa, and thus began to lose touch with realities in Ghana. His country became crippled with foreign debt as a result of his administration’s involvement in magnificent but often ruinous development projects.
Poor handling of the economy led to widespread labour unrest and to a general strike in September 1961. This made Nkrumah evolving a much more rigorous apparatus of political control. Also, situations in the country made him to turn increasingly to the communist countries for support. Early in 1964, Nkrumah made Ghana to be designated as a one-party state, thus making him a life president of both nation and party. The country’s administration passed increasingly into the hands of self-serving and corrupt party officials, while Nkrumah became busy with the ideological education of a new generation of Black African political activists and preferring to focus on grand schemes of African unity than on running the country. Meanwhile, shortages of foodstuffs and other goods became chronic in Ghana and the economic crisis worsened.
On February 24, 1966, while Nkrumah was visiting Beijing, his government was overthrown in a violent coup d’état led by the national military and police forces, with backing from the civil service. Nkrumah had no knowledge of the coup until he arrived in China. He never returned to Ghana, however, he continued to push for his vision of African unity while in asylum in Guinea. In 1971, he flew to Bucharest, Romania, for medical treatment and in April 1972, hebdied of cancer in at the age of 62. He was buried in a tomb in Nkroful, the village of his birth in Ghana. While the tomb remains there, his remains were transferred to a large national memorial tomb and park in Accra, Ghana.
In 2000, listeners to the BBC World Service voted him as African Man of the Millennium as he was being described by the BBC as a “Hero of Independence”, and an “International symbol of freedom”. This is in recognition of him as the leader of the first black African country to shake off the chains of colonial rule.