September 21, 2014

Happy Birthday: Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972)

On this date we mark the birth of Kwame Nkrumah in 1909. Kwame Nkrumah became the first prime minister and later president of Ghana. He was born at Nkroful in what was then the British-ruled Gold Coast, the son of a goldsmith.

In 1930, at Achimota College in Accra, the capital of the Gold Coast Nkrumah earned a teacher's certificate and taught at several Catholic elementary schools. In 1939 he graduated from Lincoln University with B. A. degrees in economics and sociology, earned a theology degree from the Lincoln Theological Seminary in 1942, and received M. A. degrees in education and philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and 1943.

He also promoted Pan-Africanism, a movement for cooperation between all people of African descent and for the political union of an independent Africa. In 1945 he went to London, to study economics and law. That year he helped organize the fifth Pan-African Congress, in Manchester; with Black American sociologist and writer W.E.B. Du Bois, future president of Kenya Jomo Kenyatta, and American actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson. In 1946 Nkrumah left his academic studies to become secretary general of the West African National Secretariat. That same year, Nkrumah became vice president of the West African Students Union, a pro-independence organization of younger, more politically aggressive African students studying in Britain.

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).

However, the strikes had convinced the British authorities to move the colony toward independence. In 1951 Nkrumah, while still in prison, won the central Accra seat by a landslide. The British governor of the Gold Coast released Nkrumah from prison and appointed him leader of government business. The following year he named him Prime Minister. Reelected in 1954 and 1956, Nkrumah guided the Gold Coast to independence in 1957 under the name Ghana, after an ancient West African empire. Nkrumah built a strong central government and attempted to unify the country politically and to muster all its resources for rapid economic development.

As a proponent of Pan-Africanism, he sought the liberation of the entire continent from colonial rule, offered generous assistance to other African nationalists, and initially pursued a policy of nonalignment with the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). His goal was never realized, but his efforts helped bring about the Organization of African Unity in 1963, which promotes peace and cooperation between African nations. In 1960 Ghana became a republic and Nkrumah was elected president. Between 1961 and 1966 Nkrumah put together an ambitious and very expensive hydroelectric project on the Volta River that though highly successful, was laced with economic mismanagement along with several other developmental schemes over the period.

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.

Nkrumah did not hesitate to use strong-arm methods in implementing his domestic programs. He remained popular with the masses, yet his tactics made enemies among civil servants, judges, intellectuals, and army officers. While Nkrumah was visiting China in 1966, his government was overthrown in an army coup. He spent his last years in exile, dying in Bucharest, Romania, on April 27, 1972, while receiving treatment for throat cancer. Kwame Nkrumah's remains were returned to Ghana for burial in his hometown.

His legacy and dream of a "United States of Africa" still remains a goal among many.


Mac Daddy Tribute Blog said...

Good post. I was introduced to his writing by reading Kwame Toure.

Unknown said...

MacDaddy - I've never read anything by him. However, I am glad that I'm able to post this historical marker on my blog for posterity. If we don't tell OURstory ... who will?

Chris M said...

The idea of a politically united Africa, Pan-Africanism, has been around for over a hundred years. While the pan-african movement has been involved in anti-slavery and anti-colonial struggles and the fight against Apartheid South Africa, there has never been any significant movement towards a political unification. However, recent historical events, quite unexpectedly, may provide an impetus in this direction.

Unknown said...

Canada Guy - I imagine that one thing we can do here in North America is simply become more informed about Africa. We often think of it as a monolithic place. We refer to it as Africa and rarely stop to learn or think of it as 53 individual countries.

Anyhow, thanks for your comment. I'm heading over to visit the link you provided with your comment.