NKRUMAH The myth, his Mission & vision
SIXY-THREE years may not be too long a life, but at that age, Ghana’s first President, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, leaves a bold footprint on the sands of time.
His life is a cocktail of myth, vision, selflessness, hard-work and ambition.
Seven times he escaped assassination attempts; three times he is buried – once abroad and twice in Ghana; many times his effigy is burnt to ashes; for many years he is mocked and scorned by the very people he liberated from oppression and colonial bondage and for a long time his books and everything about him are ordered for destruction by his detractors in an attempt to wipe out his memory, at least from Ghanaian history. But he survived and remains the most celebrated person ever to grace the soils of Ghana and Africa. Truly Nkrumah never dies.
Yes Nkrumah, indeed, never dies! His memory remains indestructible, and with the celebration of his centenary birthday and the declaration of same as statutory public holiday, Osagyefo the President, as the media call him, has gained immortality. In the opinion of Dr. Edmund N. Delle, a former Chairman of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), Nkrumah has achieved martyrdom. “There is only Nkrumah one Nkrumah; you will not get such a person again for the next thousand years,” he believes.
From his birth on September 21, 1909 to his death in 1972, and even in his grave thereafter, the life of Nkrumah is extremely sensational. In spite of all his foibles, as human as he was, his admirers, critics and enemies alike unanimously acknowledge him as the greatest African of the second millennium.
Childhood and education
Born at Nkroful, a hitherto unknown village in the Western Region, Nkrumah showed signs of vision, academic intellect, leadership qualities and mythical disposition during childhood.
The date and day of his birth, as well as his family background, particularly the details about his father, are little known. One profound mystery that Nkrumah himself recalls in his autobiography is a story his mother often told, that one day, as she travelled with little Nkrumah through a stream of the way and when they get to the middle of it, he cries out in excitement that she is standing on a fish, and to her utter surprise, realizes that she has actually trapped a fish under her feet and catches it for a meal in the evening.
Growing up, Nkrumah attended elementary school at Half Assini and his academic prowess is made manifest even at a tender age. Instead of the normal 10 years of elementary education, he completes it in eight years, suggesting that he may have bee “jumped” over some stages of elementary education.
Somewhere in 1926, as the Principal of the Government Training College (later Achimota College) visits that school, he finds Nkrumah very impressive and offered him admission to become a pioneer student of the college.
After graduating as a teacher form Achimota in 1930, Nkrumah took up teaching appointments at the Roman Catholic Junior School at Elmina and later at the Roman Catholic Seminary at Amissano.
During this period, his popularity and charisma took shape, while his appetite for politics kept whetting every day, as he interacted with some influential figures in society. His sense of nationalism was inspired more by Nnamdi Azikiwe, a Nigerian journalist, who edited the African Morning Posts.
Nkrumah’s interest in politics was deepened following the deportation of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe by the colonial government for sedition.
Like Moses going to the Palace of Pharaoh to acquire training to liberate the people of Israel from bondage years later, Nkrumah also had to travel to the United States of America and the United Kingdom for academic, political and leadership training to redeem his people form oppressors’ rule. In 1935, young Nkrumah, desirous of pursuing higher education, and with money raised from family relations, set out on journey from Accra to New York. He managed to enroll in Lincoln University in Pennsylvania to study Theology and Philosophy.
It is at Lincoln University, the oldest Black American university college, that Nkrumah developed the consciousness of the Black and African personality as he interacted with Black American intellectuals. Buoyed by this new worldview, he moved to London after World War II and helped to organize Pan-African congresses with other black activist, writers, artists, and well-wishers.
Back in the Gold coast, the political temperature for independence was rising to a bolting point. The triumph of India over British colonialism in 1947 was strengthening the revolve of other colonies to go for the Golden Fleece. As Nkrumah returned home to join the struggle at the invitation of United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the leading political grouping in the country, his mission was clearly defined – “We prefer self-government in danger to servitude in tranquility”. His vision for an independent Ghana was also well cut out – if we get self-government, we’ll transform the Gold Coast into a paradise in 10 years”.
Yes, he succeeded in giving Ghana independence but did not transform Ghana into paradise after nine years’ rule when his government was overthrown by a police-cum military coup d’etat.
On his return home, Nkrumah was welcomed to a charged political atmosphere for self-government As the newly appointed General Secretary of the UGCC on the recommendation of Ako Adjei, one of its members, Nkrumah immediately unfolded his sleeves and got down to work. He and five other members of the UGCC, namely Ako Adjei, Obetsebi-Lamptey, J.B. Danquah, Akufo-Addo and William Ofori-Atta, were imprisoned by the colonial government for allegedly causing widespread agitation, protests and violence across the country. However, their incarceration rather made them more popular by learning reverence as the “Big Six”.
After his release from prison, and dissatisfied with the UGCC’s sluggish approach towards the cause of independence, Nkrumah fell apart with the group to form the CPP. Armed with charisma, eloquence and extraordinary organizational ability, Nkrumah made an onslaught on independence. His slogan, “Self-government now!,” provides a more potent arsenal for political freedom under circumstances than the UGCC’s cautious approach of “Self-government within the shortest possible time”.
Nkrumah managed to prevail over all forms of opposition, both internal and external, but not without paying the price of incarceration. However, the masses will pronounce judgment in his favour by overwhelmingly voting for him in local election while in prison, to become the leader of Government Business of the Gold Coast in 1952.
With the promised land clearly in sight, Nkrumah kept his foot on the accelerator at the Old Polo Grounds in Accra on March 6, 1957, he stood before an enthusiastic crowd and proclaimed, “At long last, the battle has ended, and Ghana your beloved country, is free forever” The spontaneous applause that greeted the proclamation reverberated in the heavens.
Nkrumah instantly became a national hero. The name “GHANA” is even explained as the acronym for “God Has Appointed Nkrumah Already”. Many songs were composed in his honour. He had virtually become a deity.
Religion and culture
Nkrumah was a huge symbol of culture in the country. He projected the Ghanaian and African culture through the wearing of “batakari” (smock) and Kente cloth. Everyone desires to be an “Nkrumah look-alike” and so the wearing of “batakari” and Kente became very fashionable.
Nkrumah was very religious and whiles teaching at the Roman Catholic Seminary at Amissano, he writes, “I grained the religious fervor to such an extent that I seriously formed the idea of taking the vocation of priesthood myself”. He took this desire to a higher level by studying Theology at Lincoln University, but Nkrumah had his own worldview about religion. “I believe strongly that church-going should be a matter of conscience and should not be obligatory”, he argues.
Nkrumah and African liberation
Ghana’s independence, according to Nkrumah, was not an end to the fight against colonialism, but the beginning of the emancipation of Africa from foreign domination. “Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent,” he declared at the Old Polo Grounds. In that regard, he devoted much attention and energy to the African liberation struggle.
Sadly, no one was listening to him and painfully, Africa is now paying the price of its deafness to the vision and wisdom of Nkrumah. It is for this reason that a renowned African scholar and historian, Prof Ali Mazuri, observes at one of Ghana’s Golden Jubilee Lecture series in Accra in 2007 that Nkrumah is a great son of Africa but never a great son of Ghana.
In his zeal to protect the interest of Africa, Nkrumah marshaled every force at his disposal, including positive action, to resist what he considered to be “neo-colonialism and imperialism. ”It is on the basis of this resolve that Nkrumah convened the “Positive action conference for peace and security” in Accra on April 7, 1960 for a united Africa response to the testing of nuclear weapon in the Sahara by France earlier in February that year “There is no force, however impregnable, that a united and determined people cannot overcome ,” he tells the conference.
As a fearless character, Nkrumah took the fight against neo-colonialism to the arena of a world heavyweight like the USA. On March 22, 1965, for instance, Nkrumah went on a foray and accused the US of causing turmoil in Africa, citing American interference in the Congo. His outburst against the US is also based on the conviction that America was behind the assassination attempts on him.
The US was extremely disturbed by the comments of Nkrumah. The US Ambassador to Ghana at the time, Mr William P. Mahoney, therefore, sought audience with the Osagyefo to register America’s protest. In a telegraph tot eh US Department of State, Mr Mahoney recounts, “I looked up and I saw he was crying. With difficulty he said I could not understand the ordeal he had been through during the last month. He recalled that there had been seven attempts on his life. He suspects America is behind the assassination attempts.
A man of ambition
Dr Nkrumah was ambitious. After independence, he undertook many ambitious projects, including the Accra-Tema Motorway, the Tema Harbour, schools, hospitals, railway lines, and factories using them as the foundation for making Ghana an industralised nation. Indeed, Nkrumah’s legacies to Ghana are too numerous to recount.
Nevertheless, one singular ambitious project that stands tall among his legacies is the Volta River Project, involving the construction of a hydroelectric dam and smelter. This is a project described as the “the most complex since Queen Marie was selling Romanian bonds.” After lengthy negotiations for its construction Nkrumah proudly inaugurated the dam on January 22 1966, just in good time before his overthrow a month later on February 24, 1966.
On his mediation in the Vietnam war, Nkrumah said “The Vietnam issue is a world issue and the world should be grateful to anyone who would succeed in making contribution towards its speedy solution, “he confidently told a press conference in Cairo, Egypt, as he embarked on a 10,000 mile journey form Accra to Hanoi, Vietnam, to broker peace.
While on his way to China, CIA-backed military and police officers overthrow his government in a coup.
Interestingly, Nkrumah liberated Ghana in 1957 and becomes the happiest man on earth, but at age 57, soldiers known as the National Liberation Council (NLC), decided to liberate Ghanaians from "Nkrumah’s dictatorial ruler” and makes him the most disappointed man on earth.
After his overthrow, Nkrumah found favour with Guinean President Sekou Toure, who in appreciation of Osagyefo’s benevolence to Guinea, made him co-president of Guinea.
However, in keeping with the biblical injunction that, “where a man’s treasure is, there his heart leis,” Nkrumah keeps his eyes, ears, mind and heart on Ghana, dispatching shortwave broadcasts across Conakry to Accra and writing voluminous letters, ideological treaties and books, all in the hope of winning back the hearts of the people he so much loved and for whose political freedom he has devoted greater part of his life.
DAILY GRAPHIC Pages: 1-3 FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2009