The Greatest African Leaders: Kwame Nkrumah

By Joburg Post

Kwame Nkrumah PC led Ghana to independence from Britain in 1957 and served as its first prime minister and president. Nkrumah first gained power as leader of the colonial Gold Coast, and held it until he was deposed in 1966. An influential 20th-century advocate of Pan-Africanism, he was a founding member of the Organization of African Unity and was the winner of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1962. 

Early life and education

Gold Coast
Kwame Nkrumah was born in about 1909 in Nkroful, Gold Coast. Although his mother, whose name was Nyanibah, later stated his year of birth was 1912, Nkrumah wrote that he was born on 18 September 1909, a Saturday. By the naming customs of the Akan people, he was given the name Kwame, the name given to males born on a Saturday. During his years as a student in the United States, though, he was known as Francis Nwia Kofi Nkrumah - Kofi is the name given to males born on Friday. The name of his father is not known; most accounts say he was a goldsmith. According to Ebenezer Obiri Addo in his study of the future president, the name "Nkrumah", a name traditionally given to a ninth child, indicates that Kwame likely held that place in the house of his father, who had several wives. Kwame was the only child of his mother. Nkroful was a small village, in the far southwest of the Gold Coast, close to the frontier with the French colony of the Ivory Coast. His father did not live with the family, but worked in Half Assini before his death while Kwame was a boy. 

Kwame Nkrumah was raised by his mother and his extended family, who lived together in traditional fashion, with more distant relatives often visiting. He lived a carefree childhood, spent in the village, in the bush, and on the nearby sea. Nkrumah's mother sent him to the elementary school run by a Catholic mission at Half Assini, where he proved an adept student. He progressed through the ten-year elementary programme in eight years. By about 1925 he was a student-teacher in the school, and had been baptised into the faith. While at the school, he was noticed by the Reverend Alec Garden Fraser, principal of the Government Training College (soon to become Achimota School) in the Gold Coast's capital, Accra. Fraser arranged for Nkumrah to train as a teacher at his school. Here, Columbia-educated deputy headmaster Kwegyir Aggrey exposed him to the ideas of Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Du Bois. Aggrey, Fraser, and others at Achimota taught that there should be close co-operation between the races in governing the Gold Coast, but Nkrumah, echoing Garvey, soon came to believe that only when the black race governed itself could there be harmony between the races. After graduating from Achimota in 1930, Nkrumah was given a teaching post at the Catholic primary school in Elmina, and after a year there, was made headmaster of the school at Axim. In Axim, he started to get involved in politics and founded the Nzima Literary Society. 

In 1933, he was appointed a teacher at the Catholic seminary at Amissa. Although the life there was strict, he liked it, and considered becoming a Jesuit. Instead, he decided to further his education. Nkrumah had heard journalist and future Nigerian president Nnamdi Azikiwe speak while a student at Achimota; the two men met and Azikiwe's influence increased Nkrumah's interest in black nationalism. The young teacher decided to further his education. Azikiwe had attended Lincoln College, a historically black college in Chester County, Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia, and he advised Nkrumah to enroll there. Nkrumah, who had failed the entrance examination for London University, gained funds for the trip and his education from relatives. He travelled by way of Britain, where he learned, to his outrage, of Italy's invasion of Ethiopia, one of the few independent African nations. He arrived in the United States, in October 1935.   

Political life
Nkrumah spent his time on political organising. He and Padmore were among the principal organizers, and co-treasurers of the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester (October 15–19, 1945). The congress elaborated a strategy for supplanting colonialism with African socialism. They agreed to pursue a federal United States of Africa, with interlocking regional organizations, governing through separate states of limited sovereignty. They planned to pursue a new African culture without tribalism, democratic within a socialist or communist system, synthesizing traditional aspects with modern thinking, and for this to be achieved by nonviolent means if possible. Among those who attended the congress was the venerable W.E.B. Dubois along with some who later took leading roles in leading their nations to independence, including Hastings Banda of Nyasaland (which became Malawi), Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria and C.LR. James. The congress sought to establish ongoing African activism in Britain in conjunction with the West African National Secretariat (WANS) to work towards the decolonization of Africa. Nkrumah became the secretary of WANS. In addition to seeking to organise Africans to gain their nations' freedom, Nkrumah sought to succor the many West African seamen who had been stranded, destitute, in London at the end of the war, and established a Coloured Workers Association to empower and succor them.[28] The U.S. State Department and MI5 watched Nkrumah and the WANS, focusing on their links with Communism.[29] Nkrumah and Padmore established a group called The Circle to lead the way to West African independence and unity; the group aimed to create a Union of African Socialist Republics. A document from The Circle, setting forth that goal, was found on Nkrumah upon his arrest in Accra in 1948, and was used against him by the British authorities. 

Nkrumah’s legacy is a ‘blueprint’ of how to organise for revolutionary Pan-Africanism, to liberate Africa and ourselves from oppression, making the final step to true freedom. We not only have detail of his practice, he also left us many books setting out a clear strategy for learning and action. We urge you to read them, but we have summarised his key contributions here: 

African Identity
As midnight struck on March 5, 1957 and the Gold Coast became Ghana, Nkrumah declared: “We are going to see that we create our own African personality and identity.” Nkrumah said he was most inspired by Marcus Garvey’s messages, like “Africa for the Africans, at home & abroad.” Nkrumah said: “All people of African descent, whether they live in North or South America, the Caribbean, or in any part of the world are Africans and belong to the African nation.” 

Nkrumahism: An ideology based on African culture
“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.” 

Our Objective 
“Pan-Africanism is the total liberation and unification of Africa under Scientific Socialism.” “The total liberation and unification of Africa under an All-African Socialist Government must be the primary objective of all Black revolutionaries throughout the world. It is an objective which when achieved, will bring about the fulfillment of the aspirations of Africans and people of African descent everywhere. It will at the same time advance the triumph of the international socialist revolution.” 

Build a Pan-African mass political party
“The formation of a political party [AAPRP] linking all liberated territories and struggling parties under a common ideology will smooth the way for eventual continental unity, and will at the same time greatly assist the prosecution of the All-African people’s war. To assist the process of its formation, an All- African Committee for Political Co-ordination (AACPC) should be established to act as a liaison among all parties that recognize the urgent necessity of conducting an organized and unified struggle against colonialism and neo-colonialism. This committee would be created at the level of the Central Committees of the ruling parties and struggling parties, and would constitute their integrated political consciousness.” 

The important role of African women
“The freedom and development of the African woman are indispensable to the freedom and emancipation of the African people.” “The degree of a country’s revolutionary awareness may be measured by the political maturity of its women. And on the quality of political organising: “One market woman in Accra was worth any dozen Achimoto graduates!” “Women…must participate fully in the work of political education and organisation.

Class struggle & Neo-Colonialism
“A class is nothing more than the sum total of individuals bound together by certain interests, which as a class they try to preserve and protect.” “The African Revolution is an integral part of the world socialist revolution, and just as the class struggle is basic to world revolutionary processes so also is it fundamental to be the struggle of the workers and peasants in Africa.” 
“The essence of Neo-colonialism is…the state, in theory independent…” But, “In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside.” 

Africa Must Unite
“…our [Ghana’s] independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.” “The concept of African unity embraces the fundamental needs and characteristics of African civilization and ideology, and at the same time satisfies all the conditions necessary for an accelerated economic and technological advance.” 

  • Common foreign policy and diplomacy… we need a process of political socialisation that would “enable us to speak with one voice” in the world
  • Common continental planning for economic and industrial development…“building up a common market of a united Africa” that would bring about the material conditions we need to improve our collective quality of life in the global economy
  • Common currency a monetary zone and a central bank of issue…that we “need to orientate the economy of Africa and place it beyond the reach of foreign control” to be able to implement our social economy
  • Common defence system…“one over-all (land, sea and air) Defence Command for Africa” is needed to defend the social economy we create“I believe strongly and sincerely that with the deep-rooted wisdom and dignity, the innate respect for human lives, the intense humanity that is our heritage, the African race, united under one federal government, will emerge not as just another world bloc to flaunt its wealth and strength, but as a Great Power whose greatness is indestructible because it is built not on fear, envy and suspicion, nor won at the expense of others, but founded on hope, trust, friendship and directed to the good of all mankind.” 

The need for Socialism
Based on a simple principle: “…from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.” “Socialism in Africa introduces a new social synthesis in which modern technology is reconciled with human values, in which the advanced technical society is realized without the staggering social malefactions and deep schisms of capitalist industrial society.” “We shall measure our progress by the improvement in the health of our people; by the number of children in school, and by the quality of their education; by the availability of water and electricity in our towns and villages, and by the happiness which our people take in being able to manage their own affairs. The welfare of our people is our chief pride, and it is by this that my Government will ask to be judged.” 

Industrialise Africa
“…the essential industrial machine, which alone can break the vicious circle of Africa’s poverty, can only be built on a wide enough basis to make the take-off realistic if it is planned on a continental scale.” 

International solidarity 
“Strengthening of the Afro-Asian Solidarity Organisation and the spirit of Bandung is already under way. To it, we must seek the adherence on an increasingly formal basis of our Latin American brothers.” “[We have the] support of the growing socialist sector of the world.” 

On Zionist Israel 
Casablanca Accords in January 1961 (signed by Kwame Nkrumah as the President of Ghana) condemned “Israel as an instrument in the service of imperialism and neo-colonialism, not only in the middle East but also in Africa and Asia.” 


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