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100 Years Of The Life And Work Of Kwame Nkrumah

Oct 1, 2009, 8:13 AM | Article By: Madi Jobarteh

21 September 2009 marks the 100th birthday of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, first President of Ghana and the leading exponent for African unity in modern times. Following his studies in US and Britain, Nkrumah became a major organizer of African students in Europe until 1945 when the 5th Pan-African Congress took place in Manchester, UK in which he became the co-chair with the Honorable WEB Dubois, the chief convener of that historic meeting. The major resolution of that meeting called for the total decolonization of Africa, and for Nkrumah, it also meant the unification of African states. In 1947, Kwame returned to Ghana at the invitation of the conservative United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), which was formed by elitist Ghanaian lawyers and businessmen, to help organize UGCC which was calling for independence on the basis of 'as soon as possible'. Immediately landing in Ghana, it became clear to Nkrumah that the leaders of UGCC led by a leading Ghanaian bourgeois intellectual and lawyer JB Danquah were not actually interested in the welfare of the people primarily; rather they were more interested to replace the colonizers in order to maintain their elite status as leaders of the people. Nkrumah had a different agenda. His agenda was for the people of Ghana and Africa to become the masters of their own destiny and control the resources of their land for the benefit of the people. Without doubt vibrations began to occur within UGCC especially when Nkrumah called for positive action, a peaceful civil disobedience action against colonialism leading to the arrest and detention of the leadership of UGCC. He was heckled by Danquah and Co while in prison for the 'humiliation' he brought upon them! Naturally, Nkrumah disengaged and organized common people and the famous 'Verandah Boys' (young, uneducated, poor, marginalized and exploited men and women who hang around stores and offices in cities and towns seeking any type of job to earn them a morsel of bread for that moment) into a formidable political movement called the Convention People's Party (CPP) in 1949.

With a series of well calculated mass actions backed by a program of organization and enlightenment, the colonialists were forced to recognize that Ghana had to be free and independent. It must be recognized that the only weapon of the people against oppression and exploitation are organization and enlightenment. No force on earth; no army or amount of missiles can defeat a people who are conscious and aware of their worth and value as human beings and organized to bring about their freedom and dignity. However the struggle for liberation did not come without a number of schemes and delaying tactics by the British intended to derail the upcoming nation and sow seeds of disunity and conflict. For example, the first move the British did was to draft their own constitution as they always did with new nations designed to 'legally' disempower the new government that is to come in. For most of Africa for example, such as the Gambia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe which lacked conscious leadership at the time of independence, Britain imposed constitutions on them, which in the case of Nigeria and Zimbabwe came to haunt them throughout their post-independence history up to today. A federal constitution was placed on Nigeria which is at the root of the disunity, power struggle and corrupt leadership in that country, while the Lancaster House negotiations between Britain and the European settlers on one hand and the African freedom fighters led by Robert Mugabe and Joshua Nkomo on the other hand in 1979 led to an agreement and constitution which stipulated that the Mugabe government will not raise the issue of land redistribution until 10 years after independence which then would be funded by the UK and US. To add insult to injury the agreement further states that the land reform will be based on a 'willing seller, willing buyer' principle, which means even if the funds are available, the government can only buy land from a settler who is willing to sell his or her land, otherwise no selling takes place. Obviously the colonialist had no intention to honour such commitment and the reason for the 10-year moratorium on land reform was merely to continue the colonial structure and give the settlers enough time to use all forms of protection so that when the ten years elapses, the government of Zimbabwe will find it difficult to get back the land, legally. What then happened in Zimbabwe since the mid 1990s is a direct offshoot of what they unconsciously agreed to in 1979 leading to independence in 1980! Nkrumah, who had advised Nigerian leaders at the time to reject the British-made constitution because of its trappings for a new state, automatically rejected the colonial constitution imposed on himself in Ghana. That constitution had divided Ghana into regions and empowered them on a federal basis, but made the Asante region the largest and made the Asantehene, the King of the Ashanti, the paramount chief of the nation. Nkrumah realized that such arrangement was as good as handing over the new nation and its President to the Asantehene, while the rest of the regions and their chiefs become subservient to the Ashanti. Incidentally Asante land is also the richest region in Ghana and constitutes more than half of the population, with most of the educated people of Ghana such as the leaders of UGCC. This action by the British was merely an attempt to plunge Ghana, as an emerging nation into a tribal warfare with a moribund government thereby laying the stage for a new round of colonialism as the new incapacitated nation will be forced to return to London for technical assistance of all sorts. With the intensification of positive action, Nkrumah was arrested in 1951. The people continued the unrest until the colonialists were forced to hold elections while the leader of the people was in prison. Nkrumah was registered for Accra and when the results came out, he won the Accra seat by more than 28,000 votes out of about 30,000 cast ballots! He was released immediately and asked to form a government on the basis of an 'internal self-rule,' another tactic of derailment and containment by the colonialist. As opposed to the Gambia, which continues to observe February 18 as Independence Day instead of April 24 when we became independent, Nkrumah realized the difference between 'internal self rule' and 'independence'. In 1954, he laid before the colonial 'internal self-rule' parliament a 'Motion of Destiny' in which he called for Independence Now! The struggled intensified so much so that Britain had to concede and Ghana was granted independence on 6 March 1957. Fifty two years ago!

On Independence Night Nkrumah declared that, "the independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent." Essentially what Nkrumah meant was that as long as there are other countries on the continent that were not independent then Ghana's independence is under threat from colonial powers. This also means that just as Ghana was independent it is necessary all other states on the continent to also gain independence in order to ensure the security and development of all of Africa. In fact he utilized the resources of Ghana extensively to support the independence struggle. When Guinea Conakry drove the French out through a referendum in 1958, Nkrumah gave the new country 10 million pounds for the new government to begin with as the departing French virtually emptied the country of all ingredients needed by a government to run a country! Hence for Nkrumah, independence was merely a first step and a means to secure a developed Africa, as he used to say, "seek first the political kingdom, and all other shall be added unto it." 

With Ghana's independence, Nkrumah launched an ambitious program of liberation for the whole continent. Ghana immediately became the headquarters for all liberation movements and freedom fighters. On 15th April 1958 he convened the Conference of Independent African States which were eight at the time - Guinea Conakry, Sudan, Libya, Egypt, Morocco, Ethiopia and Liberia. The purpose of that conference was for those states to come to a common understanding and plan for Africa in terms of how to support the liberation struggle and lay the basis for unity when independence is finally complete. It was at that conference that April 15 was declared African Freedom Day, which was to be changed to African Liberation Day on May 25 following the formation of the OAU in Addis Ababa in 1963. Following the April conference, Nkrumah again called another major congress in December of the same year, the All-African People's Congress in which he invited all liberation movements and freedom fighters on the continent to converge on Accra for a series of consultations to decide our common and future destiny. From the Cape to Cairo; Banjul to Mogadishu, all liberation movements and hundreds of freedom fighters participated in the meeting. Within five years of that congress, Africa gained 32 independent states by 25th May 1963!

Nkrumah had realized very early that unless we have the capacity to decide own our destiny and take control of our resources which is basically what independence means, we would not be able to therefore develop ourselves socially, economically, culturally, intellectually and ultimately gain liberation in its totality. Furthermore Nkrumah's concept of a free and independent Africa is incomplete without African Unity. On unity he was unequivocal that either Africa unites or it perishes. In a statement to fellow leaders who constituted the radical Casablanca Bloc in a meeting in 1961 in Rabat, Morocco, he said, "as I have always stated, and as I will continue to proclaim, I can see no security for African states unless African leaders like ourselves have realized beyond all doubts that salvation for Africa lies in Unity. Your Majesty, excellencies, let us unite, for in unity lies strength, and as I see it, African states must unite or sell themselves out to imperialist and colonialist exploiters for a mess of pottage, or disintegrate individually."

This is because Nkrumah observed that it is only within the context of African unity with one government that can we garner the required capital, resources and expertise that individual countries lacked to engage in any meaningful level of economic development and investment. Otherwise he noted that what will happen is that we will end up going back to the colonialists to take loans, expertise and materials for our development thereby laying the foundation for a new round of colonialism. This he prophetically said would lead to our lack of fulfilling the needs and aspirations of our people and so with increased poverty and hardship all forms of vices such as corruption, coups, civil wars and strife will characterize the African nation. "What I fear worst of all is the fact that if we do not formulate plans for unity and take active steps to form a political union, we would soon be fighting and warring among ourselves with imperialists and colonialists standing behind the screen and pulling vicious wires, to make us cut each other's throats for the sake of their diabolical purposes in Africa," observes Nkrumah.

Nkrumah already had a plan for unity even before most of our so-called leaders dreamt of unity. At the 1963 OAU Summit, he placed his plan before his colleagues which can be summarized into a 10-point proposal:


1.         A Common Economic and Industrial Program

2.         An African Common Market

3.         A Common African Currency

4.         An African Monetary Zone

5.         An African Central Bank

6.         A Continental Communications System

7.         A Common Foreign Policy and Diplomacy

8.         A Common Defense System

9.         A Common African Citizenship

10.       A Common African Army with an African High Command

It is clear today that the entire preoccupation of the African Union is merely to follow the proposals made by Nkrumah. This same proposal is what we see take shape in Europe which was not known to be keen about unionism at the time Nkrumah was vehemently arguing the case for Africa. Nkrumah's contribution to the liberation and development of Africa was not only in the political sphere. He was also an accomplished and prolific writer who published books on socio-political and economic issues almost every year of his presidency.

In 1963, Nkrumah published, 'Africa Must Unite' and distributed copies to the new leaders who converged on Addis Ababa to sensitize them on the challenges they confront and called for unity.
 They did not heed his call. In 1965, when the OAU summit took place in Accra, he again published 'Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism', a book that explores and exposes the nature of colonialism and its new versions and how they are strangulating Africa. Furthermore this book exposed how the neo-colonial system is intertwined with global politics and economics and the powers of the West in how they deal with Africa. This book was so revealing that the US government has to summon the Ghanaian ambassador in Washington to the State Department to hand over a protest note which threatened that anything that happened to Ghana was the fault of Nkrumah. Within six months of the publication of that book, the CIA hatched a well coordinated regime change in Accra with the help of misguided soldiers and police officers.

Nkrumah believed in Africa and argued that a new Africa was needed; hence the African Personality which he noted constitutes a set of values which must characterize not only the African man or woman, but also of the African government and its institutions. In his view the New Africa needs a new African Personality who embodies these values: "Africa needs a new type of citizen, a dedicated, modest, honest, informed man and woman who submerges self in service to the nation and mankind. A man and woman who abhors greed and detests vanity. A new type of man and woman whose humility is his and her strength and whose integrity is his and her greatness."

In this new century, Nkrumah is gaining more and more popularity and acceptance than ever in his lifetime. In fact it is important to note that in 2000 BBC listeners in Africa voted Kwame Nkrumah as the 'African Man of the Millennium'! African scholars, leaders, students and general public are now beginning to understand and appreciate the laudable project Nkrumah was engaged in for Africa. It is now believed in many circles that had Nkrumah's program been left to flourish, the continent would have attained a higher level of development as to match that of the developed countries otherwise known as Tiger economies.

It is also important to note here that contrary to views held by some Ghanaians and Africans that Nkrumah neglected his home country for Africa, a cursory look at his government will show that in fact Nkrumah was laying the basis for a very modern state in Ghana with a speed and strength unprecedented in the history of any new nation, including the United States of America. By 1965 Nkrumah had already laid down plans to launch Ghana into nuclear technology! Not only was education and healthcare free for all at all levels, but also Nkrumah's government has virtually laid the foundation for any endeavor of development that any modern nation would require - from sports, communications, agriculture and energy to transportation, medicine, education and capacity building among others. When the Akosombo Dam opened in 1965, it was the biggest dam in the world. Of this dam , Nkrumah said the rationale was to provide adequate and uninterrupted energy for the purpose of industrializing Ghana, because as he put it, the future of nations will be determined by how industrialized a nation is or not; those who can manufacture their own finished products and compete in the global market versus those who are mere producers of raw materials and consumers of the manufactured goods of others; those who have mastered technology which they use to expand and provide healthcare, education and agriculture and those who depend on rudimentary and ancient methods in providing human needs.

Nkrumah's life was not only significant for himself, but for what he stood for and his mission and what he envisioned. In the first place colonialism was a crime against humanity, just as slavery before it. The entire struggle against slavery and colonialism was a struggle for democracy and freedom. It was also a struggle for dignity, knowledge of self and discovery and recognition of a people's worth and value as human beings. This is because slavery and colonialism are projects that dehumanize and disempower as they oppress and exploit human beings as tools to be used as a means to an end.

As we celebrate the life and work of Nkrumah, we cannot fail to assess the health of independence in Africa and to ask the fundamental question, 'Is the struggle for liberation complete?'

Since the overthrow of Nkrumah on 24th February 1966 by the Ghana military and police with the direct backing from the CIA and the US government and their Western allies, Africa has witnessed constant challenges of development and marginalization in the world. According to reports by the World Bank and the IMF, the vast majority of African people live on less than $2 a day, while disease and conflicts take a toll on its people. There is no contest that Africa is the most endowed continent with natural and mineral resources, yet Africa houses some of the poorest people on earth. Kwame Nkrumah himself had observed that, 'if Africa's multiple resources were used in her development, they could place Africa among the most modernized continents of the world, but Africa's resources are used for the development of overseas countries."

As the excruciating pain of conflicts, diseases and poverty ravage our people, it is sad to note that the African leadership, intellectuals and institutions have failed to develop the necessary instruments, policies and programs, or where they have created them, refuse to respect and apply them in order to place the continent on a path of development and democracy. Rather, bad governance and corruption has now become the major trademark of the continent. Human rights workers have observed that the respect for the rule of law and constitutionality are fast fading away in the whole of Africa day by day. In most countries, basic human rights and freedoms are being violated with impunity, while constitutionality is being disregarded leading to bloody civil strife as witnessed in Ethiopia, Kenya and Zimbabwe following election malpractices by their governments and political parties recently.  In several other countries such as Niger, Senegal, Egypt and Libya constitutions are being changed or about to change or tailor-made in order to allow one man to rule indefinitely or have their sons inherit them as has already happened in DRCongo, Togo and Gabon. Corruption and narco-trade is so rife in Guinea Bissau that it has polluted the political environment to a level that assassinations have become the order of the day. In far too many countries, governments have become totally intolerant to dissenting view that basic freedoms of speech and media are under constant threat. In other parts of the continent, for far too long civil wars are just common such as in Sudan, Somalia, and Congo, while coups, which are thought to be outdated have reared its ugly head again in Guinea and Mauritania with many other countries facing threats of coups. In most of our countries, State inefficiency and wastage, and lack of public trust and confidence in the political system have become endemic such as in Central African Republic, Cameroun, Nigeria, Chad, Malawi and Sao Tome and Principe among others, which serve to only entrench corruption, poor service delivery and proliferation of criminal activity.

While bad governance continues unabated, the leadership of Africa has refused to take the necessary steps to deal with the issue. For example the recent AU summit in Libya voted overwhelmingly to condemn the ICC indictment of Sudan's Bashir, yet the continent has taken no definite steps to deal with impunity and killings that continue to be unleashed by the Sudanese-backed Janjanweed militia against African people in Darfur! With the exception of Botswana, even countries that pose positive signs for the continent such as Ghana have kept mute over the issue when it is expected that Accra of all places would stand up and speak out on the side of the people. Furthermore, since February 2009 when the Heads of State met in Addis Ababa and called for contributions to fund the trial of Hissene Habre, it is sad that up to today no one government has made any contribution to kick start the trial of that murderer. These and other intolerable conditions are one of the very reasons why African youths, having lost all hope in their motherland, are bracing the high seas on a deathly journey to Europe by any means, even unnecessary.

The end result of these tragedies is that Africa has become more impoverished, insecure, corrupt, marginalized, weakened and disrespected in the world. The situation is so grave that some observers claim that the continent now runs the risk of recolonization or self-destruction. The wealth of the continent however continues to feed the rest of the world and a very small minority of Africa's elite, as the people scavenge in their rubbish and leftovers in the midst of abundance. From all indications therefore, it is clear that the New Africa and the African Personality dreamt by Nkrumah has been betrayed by mainly the leaders and intellectuals in Africa, but which are so essential if Africa is to fulfill the needs and aspirations of her people, and take her rightful position in the comity of nations.

In the 100th year of Nkrumah's birth and given the deplorable condition of Africa, it is an understatement to call on all Africans to take their destiny into their own hands and demand an Africa that they deserve; an Africa where they enjoy the full and complete benefits of her wealth and resources; an Africa where people enjoy their rights and freedoms without fetters; an Africa where the rule of law and democracy thrives.

The greatest challenge we face today is how to continue to decolonize our minds, our institutions, our systems and Africa as a whole in order to ensure that rights and freedoms and democratic culture are internalized and become our way of life. This is the only way to empower and develop ourselves and Africa so that we will become direct beneficiaries of our wealth and work, and occupy our rightful place among the nations of the world. In this challenge we must confront ourselves as individuals, leaders, institutions as well as our beliefs and culture, for we no longer can afford to romanticize either the past nor abet bad leadership and glorify negative culture on the basis of color or African-ness. We are human beings who deserve dignity, freedom, justice and development. Nkrumah Lives.


Long live the New Africa! Death to this Decadent Africa of today!!