Kwame Nkrumah became the first prime and later president of Ghana. He was born on September 21, 1909, at Nkroful in what was then the British-ruled Gold Coast, the son of a goldsmith. Trained as a teacher, he went to the United States in 1935 for advanced studies and continued his schooling in England, where he helped organize the Pan-African Congress in 1945. He returned to Ghana in 1947 and became general secretary of the newly founded United Gold Coast Convention but split from it in 1949 to form the Convention People´s party (CPP).
After his ´positive action´ campaign created disturbances in 1950, Nkrumah was jailed, but when the CPP swept the 1951 elections, he was freed to form a government, and he led the colony to independence as Ghana in 1957. A firm believer in African liberation, Nkrumah pursued a radical pan-African policy, playing a key role in the formation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. As head of government, he was less successful however, and as time passed he was accused of forming a dictatorship. In 1964 he formed a one-party state, with himself as president for life, and was accused of actively promoting a cult of his own personality. Overthrown by the military in 1966, with the help of western backing, he spent his last years in exile, dying in Bucharest, Romania, on April 27, 1972. His legacy and dream of a "United States of African" still remains a goal among many.
Nkrumah was the motivating force behind the movement for independence of Ghana, then British West Africa, and its first president when it became independent in 1957. His numerous writings address Africa´s political destiny.
The Rise of Kwame Nkrumah
In 1947 when the UGCC was created in the Gold Coast to oppose colonial rule, Kwame Nkrumah was invited from London to become the movement´s general secretary.
Nkrumah´s tenure with the UGCC was a stormy one. In March 1948, he was arrested and detained with other leaders of the UGCC for political activism.
Later, after the other members of the UGCC were invited to make recommendations to the Coussey Committee, which was advising the governor on the path to independence, Nkrumah broke with the UGCC and founded the CPP.
Unlike the UGCC call for self- government "in the shortest possible time," Kwame Nkrumah and the CPP asked for "self-government now." The party leadership, made up of Nkrumah, Kojo Botsio, Komla A. Gbedemah, and a group of mostly young political professionals known as the "Verandah Boys," identified itself more with ordinary working people than with the UGCC and its intelligentsia.
Nkrumah´s style and the promises he made appealed directly to the majority of workers, farmers, and youths who heard him; he seemed to be the national leader on whom they could focus their hopes.
He also won the support, among others, of influential market women who, through their domination of small-scale trade, served as effective channels of communication at the local level.
The majority of the politicized population, stirred in the postwar years by outspoken newspapers, was separated from both the tribal chiefs and the Anglophile elite nearly as much as from the British by economic, social, and educational factors.
This majority consisted primarily of ex-servicemen, literate persons who had some primary schooling, journalists, and elementary school teachers, all of whom had developed a taste for populist conceptions of democracy.
A growing number of uneducated but urbanized industrial workers also formed part of the support group. Kwame Nkrumah was able to appeal to them on their own terms. By June 1949, when the CPP was formed with the avowed purpose of seeking immediate self-governance, Nkrumah had a mass following.
Nkrumah, The First President of Ghana
On July 1, 1960, Ghana became a republic, and Nkrumah won the presidential election that year. Shortly thereafter, Kwame Nkrumah was proclaimed president for life, and the CPP became the sole party of the state. Using the powers granted him by the party and the constitution, Kwame Nkrumah by 1961 had detained an estimated 400 to 2,000 of his opponents. Nkrumah´s critics pointed to the rigid hold of the CPP over the nation´s political system and to numerous cases of human rights abuses. Others, however, defended Nkrumah´s agenda and policies.
Kwame Nkrumah discussed his political views in his numerous writings, especially in Africa Must Unite (1963) and in NeoColonialism (1965). These writings show the impact of his stay in Britain in the mid-1940s.
The Pan-Africanist movement, which had held one of its annual conferences, attended by Nkrumah, at Manchester in 1945, was influenced by socialist ideologies. The movement sought unity among people of African descent and also improvement in the lives of workers who, it was alleged, had been exploited by capitalist enterprises in Africa.
Western countries with colonial histories were identified as the exploiters. According to the socialists, "oppressed" people ought to identify with the socialist countries and organizations that best represented their interests; however, all the dominant world powers in the immediate post-1945 period, except the Soviet Union and the United States, had colonial ties with Africa.
Kwame Nkrumah asserted that even the United States, which had never colonized any part of Africa, was in an advantageous position to exploit independent Africa unless preventive efforts were taken.
The Fall of Kwame Nkrumah
According to Nkrumah, his government, which represented the first black African nation to win independence, had an important role to play in the struggle against capitalist interests on the continent.
As he puts it, "Ghana Independence would be meaningless unless it was tied to the total liberation of Africa". It was important, then, he said, for Ghanaians to "seek first the political kingdom." Economic benefits associated with independence were to be enjoyed later, proponents of Nkrumah´s position argued. But Nkrumah needed strategies to pursue his goals.
On the domestic front, Nkrumah believed that rapid modernization of industries and communications was necessary and that it could be achieved if the workforce were completely Africanized and educated.
Even more important, however, Nkrumah believed that this domestic goal could be achieved faster if it were not hindered by reactionary politicians--elites in the opposition parties and traditional chiefs-who might compromise with Western imperialists.
From such an ideological position, Nkrumah supporters justified the Deportation Act of 1957, the Detention Acts of 1958, 1959 and 1962, parliamentary intimidation of CPP opponents, the appointment of Nkrumah as president for life, the recognition of his party as the sole political organization of the state, the creation of the Young Pioneer Movement for the ideological education of the nation´s youth, and the party´s control of the civil service.
Government expenditure on road building projects, mass education of adults and children, and health services, as well as the construction of the Akosombo Dam, were all important if Ghana were to play its leading role in Africa´s liberation from colonial and neo-colonial domination.
On the continental level, Kwame Nkrumah sought to unite Africa so that it could defend its international economic interests and stand up against the political pressures from East and West that were a result of the Cold War.
His dream for Africa was a continuation of the Pan-Africanist dream as expressed at the Manchester conference. The initial strategy was to encourage revolutionary political movements in Africa, beginning with a Ghana, Guinea, and Mali union, that would serve as the psychological and political impetus for the formation of a United States of Africa.
Thus, when Nkrumah was criticized for paying little attention to Ghana or for wasting national resources in supporting external programs, he reversed the argument and accused his opponents of being short-sighted.
But the heavy financial burdens created by Nkrumah´s development policies and Pan-African adventures created new sources of opposition. With the presentation in July l961 of the country´s first austerity budget, Ghana´s workers and farmers became aware of and critical of the cost to them of Nkrumah´s programs.
Their reaction set the model for the protests over taxes and benefits that were to dominate Ghanaian political crises for the next thirty years.
CPP backbenchers and UP representatives in the National Assembly sharply criticized the government´s demand for increased taxes and, particularly, for a forced savings program.
Urban workers began a protest strike, the most serious of a number of public outcries against government measures during 1961. Nkrumah´s public demands for an end to corruption in the government and the party further undermined popular faith in the national government.
A drop in the price paid to cocoa farmers by the government marketing board aroused resentment among a segment of the population that had always been Nkrumah´s major opponent.
The Overthrow of Nkrumah
The officer corps of the regular armed forces viewed the activities of the Nkrumah regime with increasing alarm.
As a result, on February 24, 1966, a small number of army officers and senior police officials, led by Colonel E.K. Kotoka, commander of the Second Army Brigade at Kumasi, Major A.A. Afrifa, staff officer in charge of army training and operations, Lieutenant General (retired) J.A. Ankra, and J.W.K. Harlley, the police inspector general, successfully launched a coup d´etat against the Nkrumah regime.
These army officers justified their takeover by charging that the CPP administration was abusive and corrupt.
They were equally disturbed by Nkrumah´s aggressive involvement in African politics and by his belief that Ghanaian troops could be sent anywhere in Africa to fight so-called liberation wars, even though they never did so.
Above all, they pointed to the absence of democratic practices in the nation-a situation they claimed had affected the morale of the armed forces.
According to General Kotoka, the military coup of 1966 was a nationalist one because it liberated the nation from Nkrumah´s dictatorship-a declaration that was supported by Alex Quaison-Sackey , Nkrumah´s former minister of foreign affairs.
The new government, known as the National Liberation Council (NLC), justified its action by citing Nkrumah´s abuse of power, widespread political repression, sharp economic decline, and rampant corruption.
Dr. Nkrumah´s mortal remains and his important personal belongings are kept in a meseum specially built for him, 20 years after his death on the same grounds he proclaimed Ghana Independence. This meseum is located in the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum.