Kwame Nkrumah: Eminent pan-Africanist 

Kwame Nkrumah was the first Prime Minister and President of Ghana. He was a nationalist, publisher and politician. He was the first African nationalist to lead his country to independence from British rule in 1957. He was an advocate of pan-Africanism and a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU).

Born in Nkroful, Gold Coast (now Ghana), on September 21, 1909, Nkrumah had his higher education in the United States of America, where he came in contact with eminent black intelligentsias and embraced the Negritude philosophy that the whites are not superior to blacks.

Returning to Ghana in 1947, Nkrumah began his political career, advocating national independence and calling on Africans to unite and embrace the African culture and morals.

Resigning as the General Secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) in 1949, Nkrumah formed the Convention People’s Party (CPP) on June 12 of the same year. On February 22, 1950, he and some of his party members were arrested, tried and imprisoned for campaigning against British rule.

In February 1951, while still in prison, his party featured him to stand for the legislative election holding that year. It was the first general election to be held under universal franchise in colonial Africa. Nkrumah represented Accra Constituency and had a landslide victory. The colonial government, for fear of another strike, had to free him and his party members from prison.

Nkrumah later became Prime Minister in 1952 and retained the position till March 6, 1957, when Ghana became independent. In 1960, Ghana adopted a new Constitution and he was elected President. The new Constitution was later amended in 1964 to make Ghana a one-party state and also declared Nkrumah president for life for the nation and the CPP.

Referred to as Osagyefo (Redeemer), Nkrumah as President promoted pan-African culture, calling for international libraries and cooperative efforts to study African history and culture. He decried the norms of white supremacy and Euro-centrism imposed by British textbooks and cultural institutions. He was most times seen sporting Ghanaian traditional wears as a symbol of his identity.

Nkrumah identified education as a key to development. He made secondary education to include ‘in-service training programmes,’ created trade centres and made primary education free and compulsory.

The Accra Evening News he co-founded with other nationalists was used as an instrument of mobilisation to overthrow colonialism and imperialism and to also assist total African independence and unity.

He established the Gold Coast Broadcasting Service (1954), the Ghanaian Times (1958), the Daily Graphic (1962) and also revamped the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation (GBC).

In February 1966, the National Liberation Council (NLC) overthrew his government, while he was on a state visit to North Vietnam and China. Returning home, he moved to Conakry, Guinea, where he lived in exile as a guest of President Ahmed Sekou Toure, who made him honorary co-president of his country. Nkrumah was also a proponent of the United Nations (UN).

Inspired by the writings of black intellectuals, including Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. Du Bois and George Padmore, among others, Nkrumah used his slogan, ‘Africa for the Africans’ to spread the idea of political independence as a prerequisite for economic independence.

Different universities, including Lincoln University (Pennsylvania), Moscow State University (USSR), Cairo University (Egypt), among others, awarded him honorary doctorates. He was the winner of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1962.  

In 2000, the BBC World Service listeners voted him the ‘Africa Man of the Millennium,’ while BBC described him as ‘Hero of Independence,’ and an ‘International symbol of freedom,’ as the leader of the first black African country to gain independence.

Ghana has declared every September 21 as Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day.

He died in April 1972 at the age of 62 in Romania and was buried in Nkroful, Ghana. While the tomb remains in Nkroful, his remains were transferred to Ghana National Memorial Tomb and Park in Accra.

Compiled by Omiko Awa

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