Tuesday, March 6, 2007.
Ghana @ 50: THE PROFILES
KWAME NKRUMAH (September 21, 1909 – April 27, 1972) was an anti-colonial, anti-neocolonial, and anti-imperialist African leader from Ghana. Nkrumah was the founder and first President of the modern Ghanaian State and emerged as one of the most influential Pan-Africanist of the 20th century.
Early life and education
He was born in Nkroful and Educated at Achimota School, Accra and the Roman Catholic Seminary Nkrumah taught at the Catholic School in Axim. In 1935 he left Africa for the USA, receiving a BA from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania in 1939. He also earned a Master of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and a Master of Arts in philosophy the following years.
While lecturing in political science at Lincoln he was elected President of the African Students Organisation of America and Canada.
During his time in the United States, Nkrumah visited and preached in black Presbyterian Churches in Philadelphia and New York City. He read books about politics and divinity. He encountered the ideas of Marcus Garvery. He also tutored other students in philosophy.
He arrived in London in 1945 intending to study at the London School of Economics. But following a meeting with George Padmore he helped to organize the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England. After that he began to work for the decolonization of the African and became Vice-President of the West African Students Union.
Nkrumah was later awarded honorary doctorates by Lincoln University, Moscow State University: Cairo University of Cairo, Egypt; Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland; Humboldt University in the former East Berlin; and other universities.
Return to the Gold Coast
In the autumn of 1947, Nkrumah was invited to serve as the General-Secretary to the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) under Joseph B. Danquah. This political convention was exploring paths to independence. Nkrumah accepted the position and set sail for the Gold Coast.
After belief stops in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast, he arrived in the Gold Coast in December, 1947.
In February 1948 police fired upon a protest by African ex-servicemen who were protecting the rapidly rising cost of living. The shooting spurred a series of riots in Accra, Kumasi and other towns. The government suspected the UGCC was behind the protests and therefore arrested Nkrumah and other leading members of the party.
Realising their error, the British soon released the convention leaders. After his imprisonment by the colonial government, he emerged as the leader of the youth movement in 1948.
After his release, Nkrumah began to hitchhike around the countryside. In community after community he proclaimed that the Gold Cost need “self-government now”. He built a large power base.
Making moves towards self-government, the British called for the drafting of a new constitution that gave some responsibility for policy decisions. Under the new Constitution, drawn up by a selected commission of middle class Africans, wage and property requirements were the basis for suffrage.
Nkrumah brought together his own “People’s Assembly” composed of representatives of party members, youth organizations, trade unions, farmers, and veterans.
The colonial administration’s rejection of the People’s Assembly’s recommendations led directly to Nkrumah’s call for “Positive Action” in January 1950, Positive Action included Civil Disobedience, Non-Cooperation, Boycotts, and Strikes. The colonial administration retaliated by arresting Nkrumah and many of his supporters in the CPP, Nkrumah was sentenced to three years in prison.
Facing international protests and internal resistance the British decided to leave the Gold Coast. Britain organized the first general election to be held in Africa under universal franchise in 1951.
Though in jail, Nkrumah won the election by a landslide and his party gained 34 out of 38 seats in the Legislative Assembly. Now the Leader of Government Business, Nkrumah was released from prison on February 12, 1951.
The British Governor Charles Arden-Clarke asked him to head a new government that would eventually lead to Ghanaian Independence; Nkrumah agreed.
In 1952, upon the withdrawal of the British Governor, he was appointed to the office of Prime Minister. Finally, winning the election of 1960, Nkrumah became the first President of Ghana.
In 1962 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union.
As a leader of the government, Nkrumah faced three serious challenges. First, he needed to learn the art of government. Second, he needed to create a unified nation of Ghana from the four territories of the Gold Coast. Third, he needed to win his nation’s independence.
Nkrumah was successful at all three goals. Within nine years of his release from prison, he was the Executive President of the unified nation with complete political freedom.
Under Nkrumah’s leadership, Ghana took enormous steps forward. To lift the nation out of poverty, Nkrumah created a welfare system, started various community programs, and established schools. He ordered the construction of roads and bridges to further commerce and communication. In the interest of the nation’s health, he had tap water systems installed in the villages and ordered the construction of concrete drains for latrines.
At 12 midnight on March 6, 1957 Ghana was declared independent. Nkrumah was now hailed as “Osagyefo” – which means “the victorious one” in the Akan language. Ghana was declared a republic in 1960 and became a charter member of the Organisation of African Unity in 1963.
He generally took a non-aligned Marxist perspective on economics, and believed capitalism’s malign effects were going to stay with Africa for a long time. Although he was clear on distancing himself from the African socialism of many of his contemporaries; Nkrumah argued that socialism was the system that would best accommodate the changes that capitalism had brought, whole still respecting African values. He specifically addresses these issues and his politics in a 1967 essay entitled ‘African Socialism Revisited”.
“We know that the “traditional African society” was founded on principles of egalitarianism. In its actual workings, however, it had various shortcomings. Its humanist impulse, nevertheless, is something that continues to urge us towards our all-African socialist reconstruction. We postulate each man to be an end in himself, not merely a means; and we accept the necessity of guaranteeing each man equal opportunities for his development. The implications of this for socio-political practice have to be worked our scientifically, and the necessary social and economic policies pursued with resolution. Any meaningful humanism must begin from egalitarianism and must lead to objectively chosen policies for safeguarding and sustaining egalitarianism. Hence, socialism. Hence, also, scientific socialism”(1)
Dr. Nkrumah married Helena Ritz Fathia from Egypt. His four children are Francis, Gamal, Samia and Sekou.
Decline and Fall
The year 1954 was a pivotal year in the life of Kwame Nkrumah. In that year, he won the Independence Election with an astonishing (but quite legitimate) 80 per cent of the vote. However, that same year saw the beginning of his ultimate political demise.
In 1954 the world price of cocoa farmers to reap the benefit from this windfall, Nkrumah decided to divert the additional profit to national development.
This new policy caused him to fall into disfavor with one of the major constituencies that had helped him originally come to power.
The year 1958 saw the introduction of two pieces of legislation that would restrict the freedoms of the people of Ghana. In the wake of the Gold Miners’ Strike of 1955, Nkrumah introduced the Trade union Act, which made strikes illegal.
In reaction to a suspected plot on the part of an opposition Member of Parliament, the Preventive Detention Act made it possible to arrest and detain anyone charged with treason without the involvement of the nation’s court system.
The Preventive Detention Act led to widespread disaffection with Nkrumah’s administration. Some of his men used the law to have innocent people arrested so that they could acquire their political offices and business assets. Advisers close to Nkrumah became reluctant to discuss Ghana’s true situation for fear that they might be seen as being critical.
When the nation’s clinics ran out of pharmaceuticals, no one notified him. Some people believed he no longer cared, the advisers trembled, and the police came to resent their role in society.
Meanwhile, a quite justifiable fear of assassination meant Nkrumah became less accessible. Ghana was declared a one-party state with Nkrumah as Life President in 1964.
Nkrumah’s commitment to industrial development at any cost led to his decision to construct a hydroelectric power plant on the Volta River in Northern Ghana. American companies would build the dam for Nkrumah, but they would also place numerous restrictions on what could be produced using the power that it generated. It was a bad deal, but Nkrumah did not back away from it. He used borrowed money to build the dam, placing Ghana in serious debt. Financing the debt required higher taxation of the cocoa farmers in the south. This accentuated regional differences and jealously. The dam project was completed and officially opened by Nkrumah amidst world publicity on January 22, 1966. Nkrumah appeared to be at the zenith of his power. In reality, the end of his regime was only days away.
In February 1966, while Nkrumah was away on a state visit to Beijing, China, his government was overthrown in a CIA backed military coup. Today, Nkrumah is still one of the most respected leaders in African history.
Exile and death
Nkrumah never returned to Ghana, but he did continue to push for his vision of African unity. Nkrumah went into exile in Conakry, Guinea where he was the guest of Sekou Toure. He spent his time reading, writing, corresponding, gardening, and entertaining guest. In failing health, he was flown to Bucharest, Romania for medical treatment in August 1971. He died of skin cancer in April 1972. He was buried in Ghana in a tomb (still present) at the village of the birth, Nkroful, but his remains were later transferred to a large national memorial tomb and park in Accra.
We now have: THE KWAME NKRUMAH MAUSOLEUM IN ACCRA
THE GHANAIAN TIMES - Tuesday, March 6, 2007 Pages: 4 & 6