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Kwame Nkrumah, P.C.[1] (21 September 1909 – 27 April 1972) was the leader of Ghana and its predecessor state, the Gold Coast, from 1951 to 1966. Overseeing the nation's independence from British colonisation in 1957, Nkrumah was the first President of Ghana and the first Prime Minister of Ghana. An influential 20th-century advocate of Pan-Africanism, he was a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity and was the winner of the Lenin Peace Prize in 1963. He saw himself as an African Lenin.

Early life and education

Kwame Nkrumah was born as Francis Nwia Kofi Ngonloma in 1909[3][4] in Nkroful, Gold Coast.[5][6] Nkrumah studied to be a teacher at Achimota School in Accra from 1925 to 1935. For the following five years he worked as a teacher in several schools in the Gold Coast including a Roman Catholic school in Axim, while he was saving money to continue his education in the United States of America. In 1935, Nkrumah sailed from Takoradi, Gold Coast, to Liverpool, England, and made his way to London, England, where he applied and received his student visa from the American Embassy.

It was while Nkrumah was in London in late 1935 that he heard the news of the Invasion of Abyssinia by fascist Italy, an event that outraged the young Nkrumah. This prompted him to set his sights on a political career.

In October 1935, Nkrumah sailed from Liverpool to the United States, where he enrolled at the Lincoln University of Pennsylvania. He completed his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1939, and then he completed his Bachelor of Sacred Theology degree in 1942. Nkrumah also earned his Master of Science degree in education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942, and then his M.A. in philosophy in 1943. While he was lecturing in political science at Lincoln University, he was elected the president of the African Students Organization of the United States and Canada. As an undergraduate student at Lincoln University, he took part in at least one student theater production, and he published an essay on European government in Africa in the student newspaper called The Lincolnian.

During his time in the United States, Nkrumah also preached at black Presbyterian churches in Philadelphia and New York City.[9] 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 an American-based Trotskyist intellectual cohort. Nkrumah later credited James with teaching him "how an underground movement worked". Nkrumah's association with these radicals drew him to the attention of the FBI, and he was placed under surveillance by the early part of 1945.

Nkrumah returned to London in May 1945 with the intention of studying at the London School of Economics.[9] 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 towards the decolonization of Africa. Nkrumah served as Vice-President of the West African Students' Union (WASU). Nkrumah's association with left wing radicals meant that he was watched by the Special Branch while he was in England between 1945 and 1947.
Return to the Gold Coast

In the autumn of 1947, Nkrumah was invited to serve as the General Secretary to the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) under Joseph Boakye Danquah.[10] This political convention was exploring paths to independence. Nkrumah accepted the position and sailed for the Gold Coast. After brief stops in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast, he arrived in the Gold Coast on 10 December 1947.

On 28 February 1948, police fired on African ex-servicemen protesting the rising cost of living, killing and injuring sixty eight. The shooting spurred riots in Accra, Kumasi, and elsewhere. The government suspected the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) was behind the protests and on 12 March 1948 arrested Nkrumah and other party leaders. Realizing their error, the British released the convention leaders on 12 April 1948. After his imprisonment by the colonial government, Nkrumah emerged as the leader of the youth movement in 1948.

After his release from prison, Nkrumah hitchhiked around the country. He proclaimed that the Gold Coast needed "self-governance now", and built a large power base. Cocoa farmers rallied to his cause. He invited women to participate in the political process at a time when women's suffrage was new to Africa. The trade unions also allied with Nkrumah's movement. On 12 June 1949, he organized these groups into a new political party: The Convention People's Party (CPP).

The British convened a selected commission of middle-class Africans to draft a new constitution that would give Ghana more self-government. Under the new constitution, only those with sufficient wage and property would be allowed to vote. Nkrumah organized a "People's Assembly" with CPP party members, youth, trade unionists, farmers, and veterans. They called for universal franchise without property qualifications, a separate house of chiefs, and self-governing status under the Statute of Westminster 1931. These amendments, known as the Constitutional Proposals of October 1949, were rejected by the colonial administration.
Nkrumah with Egyptian Egyptologist Pahor Labib at the Coptic Museum, 1956

When the colonial administration rejected the People's Assembly's recommendations, Nkrumah organized a "Positive Action" campaign on 1 January 1950, including civil disobedience, non-cooperation, boycotts, and strikes. That day the colonial administration immediately arrested Nkrumah and many CPP supporters, and he was sentenced to three years in prison.

Facing international protests and internal resistance, the British decided to leave the Gold Coast. Britain organized the first general election to be held under universal franchise on 5–10 February 1951. Though Nkrumah was in jail, his CPP was elected by a landslide, taking 34 out of 38 elected seats in the Legislative Assembly. Komla Agbeli Gbedemah is credited with organizing Nkrumah's entire campaign while he (Nkrumah) was still in prison at Fort James. Nkrumah was released from prison on 12 February and was summoned by Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, the Governor, and asked to form a government on 13 February. The new Legislative Assembly met on 20 February, with Nkrumah as Leader of Government Business, and E.C. Quist as President of the Assembly.

A year later, the constitution was amended to provide for a Prime Minister on 10 March 1952, and Nkrumah was elected to that post by a secret ballot in the Assembly, 45 to 31, with eight abstentions on 21 March.

He presented his "Motion of Destiny" to the Assembly, requesting independence within the British Commonwealth "as soon as the necessary constitutional arrangements are made" on 10 July 1953, and that body approved it.
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Decline and fall

The year 1954 was pivotal for 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 central government levies, then invested the capital into various national development projects. This policy alienated one of the major constituencies that helped him come to power.

From 1958 onward, Nkrumah's regime became increasingly authoritarian. That year, partly in response to the Gold Miners' Strike three years earlier, he introduced the Trade Union Act, which made strikes illegal. While Nkrumah had organized strikes just a few years before, he now opposed industrial democracy because it conflicted with rapid industrial development. That same year, he suspected suspected opponents in parliament of plotting against him. To muzzle them, he wrote the Preventive Detention Act, which gave his government sweeping powers to arrest and detain anyone charged with treason or otherwise deemed a security risk. This law effectively suspended due process, since prisoners were often held without trial. The only legal method of recourse was personal appeal to Nkrumah himself.


When the railway workers went on strike in 1961, Nkrumah ordered strike leaders and opposition politicians arrested under the Trade Union Act of 1958. 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 as opponents. When the clinics ran out of pharmaceuticals, no one notified him. Some people believed that he no longer cared. The police came to resent their role in society, particularly after Nkrumah gave most of their duties and responsibilities to the National Security Service and regiments from his personal guard. Nkrumah disappeared from public view out of a fear of assassination following multiple attempts on his life.

In 1964, he proposed a constitutional amendment which would make the CPP the only legal party and himself president for life of both nation and party. The amendment passed with 99.91 percent of the vote, an implausibly high total that led observers to condemn the vote as "obviously rigged."In any event, Ghana had effectively been a one-party state since independence. The amendment transformed Nkrumah's presidency into a de facto legal dictatorship.

Akosombo hydroelectric dam

Nkrumah's advocacy of industrial development, 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. Kaiser Aluminum 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 22 January 1966.

Nkrumah wanted Ghana to have modern armed forces, so he acquired aircraft and ships, and introduced conscription.

He also gave military support to rebels fighting against the government of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), which had declared independence from Britain in 1965. In February 1966, while Nkrumah was on a state visit to North Vietnam and China, his government was overthrown in a military coup led by Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka and the National Liberation Council. President Nkrumah himself alluded to a possible American complicity in his 1969 published work entitled ‘Dark Days in Ghana’. Some claim this was an accusation based on forged evidence given to him by the KGB.

Exile, death and tributes

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 felt that he was still threatened by western intelligence agencies. When his cook died mysteriously, 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 prostate 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.

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 East Berlin; and many other universities.

In 2000, he was voted Africa's man of the millennium by listeners to the BBC World Service, being described by the BBC as a "Hero of Independence," and an "International symbol of freedom as the leader of the first black African country to shake off the chains of colonial rule."

In September 2009, President John Atta Mills declared 21 September (the 100th anniversary of Kwame Nkrumah's birth) to be Founder's Day, a statutory holiday in Ghana to celebrate the legacy of Kwame Nkrumah.

Works by Kwame Nkrumah

    "Negro History: European Government in Africa", The Lincolnian, 12 April 1938, p. 2 (Lincoln University, Pennsylvania) - see Special Collections and Archives, Lincoln University
    Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah (1957). ISBN 0-901787-60-4
    Africa Must Unite (1963). ISBN 0-901787-13-2
    African Personality (1963)
    Neo-Colonialism: the Last Stage of Imperialism (1965). ISBN 0-901787-23-X

        "The essence of neo-colonialism is that the State which is subject to it is, in theory, independent and has all the outward trappings of international sovereignty. In reality its economic system and thus its political policy is directed from outside." (Introduction)

    Axioms of Kwame Nkrumah (1967). ISBN 0-901787-54-X
    African Socialism Revisited (1967)
    Voice From Conakry (1967). ISBN 90-17-87027-3
    Dark Days in Ghana (1968). ISBN 0-7178-0046-6
    Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare (1968) - first introduction of Pan-African pellet compass. ISBN 0-7178-0226-4
    Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for De-Colonisation (1970). ISBN 0-901787-11-6
    Class Struggle in Africa (1970). ISBN 0-901787-12-4
    The Struggle Continues (1973). ISBN 0-901787-41-8
    I Speak of Freedom (1973). ISBN 0-901787-14-0
    Revolutionary Path (1973). ISBN 0-901787-22-1
...