Kwame Nkrumah

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Kwame Nkrumah
Kwame Nkrumah

Kwame Nkrumah on a Soviet postage stamp

1st Prime Minister of Ghana
First Republic
In office
March 6, 1957 – July 1, 1960
President Queen Elizabeth II
(colonial head)
represented by the following:
Sir Charles Noble Arden-Clarke
(March 6 - June 24, 1957)
Lord Listowel
(24 June 1957 - 1 July 1960)
Preceded by None
Succeeded by Position abolished

1st President of Ghana
First Republic
In office
July 1, 1960 – February 24, 1966
Preceded by Queen Elizabeth II
Succeeded by Lt. Gen. J. A. Ankrah
(Military coup d'état)

Born September 21 1909(1909-09-21)
Nkroful, Gold Coast
(now Ghana)
Died April 27 1972 (aged 62)
Bucharest, Romania
Political party Convention Peoples' Party
Spouse Fathia Rizk
Children Francis, Gamal, Samia, Sekou
Profession Lecturer

Kwame Nkrumah (September 21, 1909 - April 27, 1972) was an influential twentieth century advocate of Pan-Africanism, and the leader of Ghana and its predecessor state, the Gold Coast, from 1952 to 1966. He became Prime Minister in 1952 and President when Ghana adopted a republican constitution in 1960. He was deposed in 1966 while overseas and ended his life in exile in Guinea, which made him an honorary co-president. His rule had become increasingly authoritarian while Ghana's economy had slipped from one of the strongest to one of the weakest in Africa. Between 1935 and 1945, Nkrumah studied at several Universities in the United States earning degrees in theology, science and philosophy. He taught for some time at Lincoln University. After working for the pan-African movement in England, he returned to Ghana in 1947, where he was appointed General-Secretary of The United Gold Coast Convention. He entered parliament in 1951. In 1964, he engineered a constitutional amendment making him President for life.

As Ghana's leader and as an advocate of pan-Africanism, he continued to contribute to the generation of ideas, writing several books although some of these were ghost-written for him by disciples. The Scramble for Africa had created many artificial states; pan-Africanism would allow Africans to re-shape the political geography of Africa in their own, not others' interests.

Although aspects of his philosophy and policies remain controversial, he is widely honored in Africa as a son of the soil who encouraged Africans to throw off the idea, inherited from the days of colonialism, that Africans could only progress by copying European models and practices. Instead of transplanting either capitalism or communism into African soil, Africans ought to develop genuinely African systems. He is generally, though, identified as pro-Marxist. Nkrumah thought that some African institutions, such as tribal-based kingship, hindered development and that too often traditional leaders had collaborated with the colonial rulers. He wanted Africans to be dynamic, independent, proud of their history and cultures. Gaining political independence would not automatically translate into genuine freedom as long as African's remained financially and also intellectually dependent, always borrowing ideas from outside. On the negative side, he damaged democracy in Ghana, where a series of coups and counter-coups took place until multi-party politics was restored in 1992. Like many founding fathers of Africa, Nkrumah's political apprenticeship had been served in the struggle to gain independence but he had relatively little experience of carrying the full responsibility of government without colonial oversight. At least some of the blame for the precariousness of democracy across Africa lies at the door of the former colonial powers, who did little to prepare their "wards" for the task of self-determination.

Early life and education

In 1909, Francis Nwia Kofi Ngonloma was born to Madam Nyaniba.[1] in Nkroful, Gold Coast. Nkrumah graduated from the Achimota School in Accra in 1930 studied at a Roman Catholic Seminary, and taught at a Catholic school in Axim. In 1935, he left Ghana for the United States, receiving a BA from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, in 1939, where he pledged the Mu Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, Inc., and received an STB (Bachelor of Sacred Theology) in 1942. Nkrumah earned a Master of Science in education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942, and a Master of Arts in philosophy the following year. While lecturing in political science at Lincoln he was elected president of the African Students Organization of America and Canada. As an undergraduate at Lincoln he participated in at least one student theater production and published an essay on European government in Africa in the student newspaper, The Lincolnian.[2]

During his time in the United States, Nkrumah preached at black Presbyterian Churches in Philadelphia and New York City. He read books about politics and divinity, and tutored students in philosophy. Nkrumah encountered the ideas of Marcus Garvey, and in 1943, met and began a lengthy correspondence with Trinidadian Marxist C.L.R. James, Russian expatriate Raya Dunayevskaya, and Chinese-American Grace Lee Boggs, all of whom were members of a U.S. based Trotskyist intellectual cohort. Nkrumah later credited James with teaching him "how an underground movement worked."

He arrived in London in May 1945, intending to study at the LSE. After meeting with George Padmore, he helped organize the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England. Then he founded the West African National Secretariat to work for the decolonization of Africa. Nkrumah served as Vice-President of the West African Students' Union (WASU).


When he returned to Ghana, he became General Secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention. He was elected to Parliament in 1951, becoming Prime Minister the following year. As a leader of this government, Nkrumah faced three serious challenges: First, to learn to govern; second, to unify the nation of Ghana from the four territories of the Gold Coast; third, to win his nation’s complete independence from the United Kingdom. Nkrumah was successful at all three goals. Within six years of his release from prison, he was the leader of an independent nation.

At 12 a.m. on March 6, 1957, Nkrumah declared Ghana independent. Nkrumah was hailed as "Osagyefo"—which means "redeemer" in the Akan language.[3] He remained Prime Minister until 1960.

On March 6, 1960, Nkrumah announced plans for a new constitution which would make Ghana a republic. The draft included a provision to surrender Ghanaian sovereignty to a union of African states. On April 19, 23, and 27, 1960, a presidential election and plebiscite on the constitution were held. The constitution was ratified and Nkrumah was elected president over J. B. Danquah, the UP candidate, 1,016,076 to 124,623. In 1961, Nkrumah laid the first stones in the foundation of the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute created to train Ghanaian civil servants as well as promote Pan-Africanism. In 1963, Nkrumah was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union. Ghana became a charter member of the Organization of African Unity in 1963.

The Gold Coast had been among the wealthiest and most socially advanced areas in Africa, with schools, railways, hospitals, social security and an advanced economy. Under Nkrumah’s leadership, Ghana adopted some socialistic policies and practices. 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. To improve public health in villages, tap water systems were installed, and concrete drains for latrines were constructed.


He generally took a non-aligned Marxist perspective on economics, and believed capitalism had malign effects that 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, while still respecting African values. He specifically addresses these issues and his politics in several of his books. He wrote:

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 out 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.[4]

Nkrumah was also perhaps best known politically for his strong commitment to and promotion of Pan-Africanism. Having been inspired by the writings and his relationships with black intellectuals like Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, and George Padmore; Nkrumah went on to himself inspire and encourage Pan-Africanist positions amongst a number of other African independence leaders such as Edward Okadjian, and activists from the Eli Nrwoku's African diaspora. With perhaps Nkrumah's biggest success in this area coming with his significant influence in the founding of the Organization of African Unity. He wanted African countries to play their role on the world stage. It was this that contributed to his overthrow, since he was visiting Vietnam in an attempt to end the Vietnam War when the coup against his regime took place. He was chair of the Organization of African Unity from October 1965 until his overthrow.


Nkrumah attempted to rapidly industrialize Ghana's economy. He reasoned that if Ghana escaped the colonial trade system by reducing dependence on foreign capital, technology, and material goods, it could become truly independent. Unfortunately, industrialization hurt the country’s cocoa sector. Many economic projects he initiated were unsuccessful, or with delayed benefits. The Akosombo Dam was expensive, but today produces most of Ghana's hydroelectric power. Nkrumah's policies did not free Ghana from dependence on Western imports. By the time he was deposed in 1966, Ghana had fallen from one of the richest countries in Africa, to one of the poorest.

Decline and fall

The year 1954 was a pivotal year during the Nkrumah era. In that year's independence elections, he tallied some of the independence election vote. However, that same year saw the world price of cocoa rise from £150 to £450 per ton. Rather than allowing cocoa farmers to maintain the windfall, Nkrumah appropriated the increased revenue via federal levies, then invested the capital into various national development projects. This policy alienated one of the major constituencies that helped him come to power.

In 1958, Nkrumah introduced legislation to restrict various freedoms in Ghana. After the Gold Miners' Strike of 1955, Nkrumah introduced the Trade Union Act, which made strikes illegal. When he suspected opponents in parliament of plotting against him, he wrote the Preventive Detention Act that made it possible for his administration to arrest and detain anyone charged with treason without due process of law in the judicial system.

When the railway workers went on strike in 1961, Nkrumah ordered strike leaders and opposition politicians arrested under the Trade Union Act of 1958. While Nkrumah had organized strikes just a few years before, he now opposed industrial democracy because it conflicted with rapid industrial development. He told the unions that their days as advocates for the safety and just compensation of miners were over, and that their new job was to work with management to mobilize human resources. Wages must give way to patriotic duty because the good of the nation superseded the good of individual workers, Nkrumah's administration contended.

The Detention Act led to widespread disaffection with Nkrumah’s administration. Some of his associates used the law to arrest innocent people to acquire their political offices and business assets. Advisers close to Nkrumah became reluctant to question policies for fear that they might be seen opponents. When the clinics ran out of pharmaceuticals, no one notified him. Some people believed that he no longer cared. Police came to resent their role in society. Nkrumah disappeared from public view out of a justifiable fear of assassination. In 1964, he proposed a constitutional amendment making the CPP the only legal party and himself president for life of both nation and party. The amendment passed with over 99 percent of the vote—an implausibly high total that could have only been obtained through fraud. In any event, Ghana had effectively been a one-party state since becoming a republic—the amendment effectively transformed Nkrumah's presidency into a legal dictatorship. He gave himself the title Osagyefo (redeemer).

Nkrumah's advocacy of industrial development at any cost, with help of longtime friend and Minister of Finance, Komla Agbeli Gbedema, led to the construction of a hydroelectric power plant, the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River in eastern Ghana. American companies agreed to build the dam for Nkrumah, but restricted what could be produced using the power generated. Nkrumah borrowed money to build the dam, and placed Ghana in debt. To finance the debt, he raised taxes on the cocoa farmers in the south. This accentuated regional differences and jealousy. The dam was completed and opened by Nkrumah amidst world publicity on January 22, 1966. Nkrumah appeared to be at the zenith of his power, but the end of his regime was only days away.

Nkrumah wanted Ghana to have modern armed forces, so he acquired aircraft and ships, and introduced conscription. Increasingly, more Russian advisers than those from elsewhere found a warm welcome.

He also gave military support to those fighting the Smith administration in Zimbabwe, then called Rhodesia. In February 1966, while Nkrumah on a state visit to Vietnam, his government was overthrown in a military coup, which some claim was backed by the CIA. Given the presence of Soviet advisers, Ghana would almost certainly have been regarded by the CIA as a theater for Cold War activity.[5]

Exile and death

Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and Memorial in Accra

Nkrumah never returned to Ghana, but he continued to push for his vision of African unity. He lived in exile in Conakry, Guinea, as the guest of President Ahmed Sékou Touré, who made him honorary co-president of the country. He read, wrote, corresponded, gardened, and entertained guests. Despite retirement from public office, he was still frightened of western intelligence agencies. When his cook died, he feared that someone would poison him, and began hoarding food in his room. He suspected that foreign agents were going through his mail, and lived in constant fear of abduction and assassination. In failing health, he flew to Bucharest, Romania, for medical treatment in August 1971. He died of skin cancer in April 1972 at the age of 62. Nkrumah was buried in a tomb in the village of his birth, Nkroful, Ghana. While the tomb remains in Nkroful, his remains were transferred to a large national memorial tomb and park in Accra.


Nkrumah's role as philosopher of Africa was later challenged by Julius Nyerere who denounced his ideas. On the other hand, friend Milton Obote of Uganda admired Nkrumah and based some of his policies on his ideas including dismantling Uganda's three traditional monarchies, and centralizing governance. Several re-assessments of his legacy have increased his popularity and Nkrumah remains one of the most respected leaders in African history. In 2000, he was voted Africa's man of the millennium by listeners to the BBC World Service.[6] Above all, he wanted Africans to develop an African Personality, as he announced to his nation on the eve of independence:

We are going to see that we create our own African personality and identity. We again rededicate ourselves in the struggle to emancipate other countries in Africa; for our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.[6]

The way in which African nations have stepped up to assume the responsibility for peace-keeping in situations such as the Somali Civil War, too, builds on Nkrumah's ideals of an Africa less dependent on foreign intervention or tutelage.

Nkrumah, too, is not the only father of an African state who exercised more or less absolute power. As have other African leaders, he justified this as necessary in order to quickly build the necessary foundations of a viable state; "Even a system based on a democratic constitution may need backing up in the period following independence by emergency measures of a totalitarian kind."</ref>Austin, 88.</ref> He argues that the state had to be protected from forces "seeking to undermine" its independence. Nor is he the only leader to create a one-party system, or to become President for Life. Others have chosen to manipulate elections to prolong their stay in office. It may, however, be unfair to lay all the blame for this on Nkrumah and his fellow African leaders. Like many founding fathers of Africa, Nkrumah's political apprenticeship had been served in the struggle to gain independence, with only a short period in a position of real responsibility before independence and that was under the supervision of the colonial power. Like others, he had relatively little experience of carrying the full responsibility of government. At least some of the blame for the precariousness of democracy across Africa lies at the door of the former colonial powers, who did little to prepare their "wards" for the task of self-determination. Of course, even in mature democracies people can be elected to power who have little experience of governance. However, in such contexts, institutions have checks and balances on the use of powers built into a stable, proven, well established, and self-policed system.

Nkrumah Hall at the University of Dar es Salaam in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.


Over his lifetime, Nkrumah was awarded honorary doctorates by Lincoln University, Moscow State University; Cairo University in Cairo, Egypt; Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland; Humboldt University in the former East Berlin; and other universities. Various memorials to his legacy include a University Hall at the University of Dar es Salaam and a monument in Accra. in 1989, the Soviet Union honored him with a postage stamp.

Selected works by Kwame Nkrumah

It has been argued that the earlier books were written by Nkrumah but that later texts were written in his name by his disciples. Most of these books exist in multiple editions. The titles, such as Class Struggle in Africa and Revolutionary Path indicate his Marxist leanings.


  1., Nkrumah, Kwame. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  2. Lincoln University, The Lincolnian Newspaper Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  3. Jonathan Zimmerman, The ghost of Kwame Nkrumah, The New York Times, April 23, 2008. Retrieved June 19, 2018.
  4. Kwame Nkrumah, Revolutionary Path (New York, NY: International Publishers, 1973, ISBN 978-0717804009), 441.
  5. Kwame Botwe-Asamoah, Kwame Nkrumah's Politico-Cultural Thought and Policies: An African-Centered Paradigm for the Second Phase of the African Revolution (New York, NY: Routledge, 2005, ISBN 978-0415948333, 16.
  6. 6.0 6.1 BBC, Kwame Nkrumah's Vision of Africa, BBC World Service, September 14, 2000. Retrieved June 19, 2018.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Austin, D. Ghana Observed: Essays on the Politics of a West African Republic. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 1976. ISBN 978-0841902787.
  • Birmingham, David. Kwame Nkrumah: The Father of African Nationalism. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press, 1998. ISBN 978-0821412428.
  • Botwe-Asamoah, Kwame. Kwame Nkrumah's Politico-Cultural Thought and Policies: An African-Centered Paradigm for the Second Phase of the African Revolution. New York, NY: Routledge, 2005. ISBN 978-0415948333.
  • Davidson, Basil. Black Star—A View of the Life and Times of Kwame Nkrumah. Oxford, UK: James Currey Publishers, 2007. ISBN 978-1847010100.
  • Mwakikagile, Godfrey. Nyerere and Africa: End of an Era. Pretoria, ZA: New Africa Press, 2006. ISBN 0980253411.
  • Nkrumah, Kwame. Revolutionary Path. New York, NY: International Publishers, 1973. ISBN 978-0717804009.
  • Rahman, Ahmad A. The Regime Change of Kwame Nkrumah: Epic Heroism in Africa and the Diaspora. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007. ISBN 978-1403965691.
  • Tuchscherer, Konrad. "Kwame Francis Nwia Kofie Nkrumah." In Coppa, Frank J. (ed.), Encyclopedia of Modern Dictators. New York, NY: Peter Lang, 2006. ISBN 978-0820450100.

External links

All links retrieved June 16, 2018.

Party Political Offices
New Title Leader of the Convention People's Party
1948 – 1966
Succeeded by: Parties banned
Political offices
New Title Prime Minister of the Gold Coast
1952 – 1957
Succeeded by: Himself as Prime Minister of Ghana
Preceded by:
Himself as Prime Minister of the Gold Coast
Prime Minister of Ghana
Succeeded by: Himself as President
Preceded by:
Himself as Prime Minister
President of Ghana
Succeeded by: Lt. Gen. Joseph A. Ankrah
Military Head of State
New Title Foreign Minister
1957 – 1958
Succeeded by: Kojo Botsio
Preceded by:
Ebenezer Ako-Adjei
Foreign Minister
1962 – 1963
Succeeded by: Kojo Botsio
Preceded by:
Gamal Abdel Nasser
Chairperson of the Organization of African Unity
1965 – 1966
Succeeded by: Joseph Arthur Ankrah


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