Kwame Nkrumah, P.C. (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 in Nkroful, Gold Coast. 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. 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. 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. 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.