Kwame Nkrumah: A Pan-Africanist Quest for An Independent Africa

Kwame Nkrumah, born on September 21, 1909, was the first Ghana president who served from 1960 to 1966. As a Nationalist and Pan Africanist, Dr Kwame Nkrumah played a very vital role in the independence of Ghana (Gold Coast) in 1957. From 1949 until Ghana’s independence, Nkrumah served as a strong force in the Convention People’s Party (CPP) – a party he formed in the interest of the people against the colonial government.

According to his autobiography, Nkrumah started his activism struggle at Lincoln University when he was elected as the president of the African Students Organization of America and Canada, while also lecturing in political science at the university.

When Dr. Nkrumah later moved to England to continue his education, he helped organize the Fifth Pan-African Congress in 1945. Then, he formed the National Secretariat of West Africa to work on the decolonization of Africa. Nkrumah was also the Vice-President of the Students Union of West Africa (WASU).

Over a period of time, historians have reported different version of stories surrounding the struggles and arrests of Nkrumah during his lifetime. One account is of the opinion that Nkrumah was first arrested in February 1948, shortly after the protests held by Ghana’s service men due to rise costs of living in the country. The Colonial government believed that Dr. Nkrumah alongside other leaders triggered the demonstrations, but they were later released on grounds of error after some months.

However, the arrest inspired him to spear head the country’s journey to independence, Kwame Nkrumah demonstrated a lot of Nationalist demonstrations and later declared that the Gold coast needed a “self-government”.

His demonstration and proclamation led to the formation of the Convention People’s Party at Accra on June 12 1949, high profiled heroes who shared the same dream with Nkrumah were also included in the central working committee of CNPP while Nkrumah was made the chairman.

On January I, 1950, in the midst of large crowds at different areas of the country, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah announced a “positive action” against the colonialist. This led to an immediate declaration of a state of emergency by the colonialist government, curfews were imposed and gatherings were banned.

In the same year, Dr Nkrumah was arrested and sentenced to three years imprisonment on allegations of inciting illegal strike through his article published by the then Cape Coast Daily Mail.

While Nkrumah was held at the James Fort jail, the then Vice chairman of CPP, Mr. Gbedemah kept the party’s vision and mission alive and was in regular contact with Dr. Nkrumah. There, messages were smuggled to the party’s headquarters on toilet paper.

Though in jail, in the February 1951 elections, Dr Nkrumah led the CPP to gain a spectacular victory. He was later set free to form a government, and in 1957, his struggles paid off as he led the colony to independence.

Nkrumah, a strong believer in African independence, pursued a progressive pan-African agenda, playing a key role in the establishment of the African Unity Organization in 1963.

Nkrumah led a huge socio-economic development at home that saw the emergence of infrastructure across the country. His infrastructural legacy is still considered by some as a threshold to measure the achievements of successive governments till date in Ghana, while his contributions to peace and his push for an Africa-wide approach to cooperation and economic developments made him one of the most significant figures in Africa.  

In 1964, he was accused of becoming a tyrant and even of founding a one-party state, posing himself as “president for life” and actively cultivating a cult of his own personality. His administration was subdued by the military force in 1966, and he later died in Bucharest, Romania on April 27, 1972 after having spent the dusk of his last years in exile in Guinea where he was named honorary co-president.

To many young Africans, Nkrumah’s idea of a unified Africa, still remains a dream yet to be achieved.

Nkrumah in His words

“In the very early days of the Christian era, long before England had assumed any importance, long even before her people had united into a nation, our ancestors had attained a great empire, which lasted until the eleventh century, when it fell before the attacks of the Moors of the North. At its height that empire stretched from Timbuktu to Bamako, and even as far as to the Atlantic. It is said that lawyers and scholars were much respected in that empire and that the inhabitants of Ghana wore garments of wool, cotton, silk and velvet. There was trade in copper, gold and textile fabrics, and jewels and weapons of gold and silver were carried.”

Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah

“By far the greatest wrong which the departing colonialists inflicted on us, and which we now continue to inflict on ourselves in our present state of disunity, was to leave us divided into economically unviable States which bear no possibility of real development….”

“…We must unite for economic viability, first of all, and then to recover our mineral wealth in Southern Africa, so that our vast resources and capacity for development will bring prosperity for us and additional benefits for the rest of the world. That is why I have written elsewhere that the emancipation of Africa could be the emancipation of Man.”

– Nkrumah’s speech at OAU Summit Conference Cairo 7/19/64 (from his book Revolutionary Path)

“Common territory, language and culture may in fact be present in a nation, but the existence of a nation does not necessarily imply the presence of all three. Common territory and language alone may form the basis of a nation. Similarly, common territory plus common culture may be the basis. In some cases, only one of the three applies. A state may exist on a multi-national basis. The community of economic life is the major feature within a nation, and it is the economy which holds together the people living in a territory. It is on this basis that the new Africans recognise themselves as potentially one nation, whose domination is the entire African continent.”

– From his book Revolutionary Path

“Party is the rallying point of our political activity. Without the Party there would be no force through which to focus the needs and desire of the people. The Convention People’s Party is this force. The Party, therefore, is the hard core of those who are so dedicated to its ideology and program, that they make their membership the most serious business of their lives. The Party is nothing but the vanguard of the people, the active organ of the people, working at all times in the service of the people.”

– Speech at the conclusion of the Civil Service Commission Referendum, Evening News, Feb. 4, 1964

“The mutual protection theory: that the OAU serves as a kind of insurance against any change in the status quo, membership providing a protection for heads of state and government against all forms of political action aimed at their overthrow. Since most of the leaders who adhere to this idea owe their position to imperialists and their agents, it is not surprising that this is the viewpoint which really serves the interests of imperialism. For the puppet states are being used both for short-term purposes of exploitation and as springboards of subversion against progressive African states.”

“Africa is one continent, one people, and one nation. The notion that in order to have a nation it is necessary for there to be a common language; a common territory and common culture has failed to stand the test of time or the scrutiny of scientific definition of objective reality… The community of economic life is the major feature within a nation, and it is the economy which holds together the people living in a territory. It is on this basis that the new Africans recognise themselves as potentially one nation, whose dominion is the entire African continent. ”

Class Struggle In Africa

“A recent development in the psychological war is the campaign to convince us that we cannot govern ourselves, that we are unworthy of genuine independence, and that foreign tutelage is the only remedy for our wild, warlike and primitive ways. Imperialism has done its utmost to brainwash Africans into thinking that they need the strait-jackets of colonialism and neocolonialism if they are to be saved from their retrogressive instincts. Such is the age-old racialist justification for the economic exploitation of our continent.”

“And now, the recent military coups engineered throughout Africa by foreign reactionaries are also being used to corroborate imperialism’s pet theory that the Africans have shamelessly squandered the golden opportunities of independence, and that they have plunged their political kingdoms into blood and barbarism. Therefore the imperialist mission: we must save them anew; and they hail the western-trained and western-bought army puppets as saviours. The press, films and radio are last spreading the myth of post-independence violence and chaos.”

Writer, journalist, and legal researcher, Alafarika for Studies and Consultancy.

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