Nkrumah's Dream Shall Never Die
I grew up in a household where the name Kwame Nkrumah was treated with great respect. Everyone believed that if he had been given the chance to fulfil his goal of making Africa a united continent, then Africa would be a completely different place today. While searching for sources for this article, I came across the March 2000 edition of the New African Magazine. On the very first page, the very first item was a letter that contained a strong belief in the works and words of Kwame Nkrumah. The writer hailed him as ‘one of... it not the greatest personalities of our time’. Kwame Nkrumah was born in an era wherein many did not know their exact birthdays and the same applied to him. “The only certain facts about my birthday”, he wrote in his autobiography published in 1957, “appear to be that I was born in the village of Nkoful in Nzima around mid-day on a Saturday in mid September”. Apparently back in those days a mother would assess the age of her child by calculating the number of festivals that had been celebrated since its birth. This however was not always necessary because no one was very much concerned with age back then – time just did not count! According to Nkrumah’s mothers calculations, he was born in September 1912 and named Nwia-Kofi Nkrumah . However, he was baptised in a Catholic church and the priest recorded his birth date as 12 September 1909. The priest also gave him a Christian name which was Francis. This is the date that Nkrumah used on official documents. Later on in life, Kwame Nkrumah was to encounter problems with his identity and the history of his family tree. His political opponents in Ghana claimed that he was not born a Ghanaian. They claimed he was brought into the country by his Creole parents from either Liberia or Sierra Leone. No matter how absurd this sounds, it is difficult to argue for or against the claim as there remains up until today, very little on Kwame Nkrumah’s date and place of birth, talk less of the origins of his parents. He then became the first of a generation of African Leaders to be accused of ruling countries they were foreigners in; like Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia (supposedly a Malawian) and Yoweri Museveni of Uganda (supposedly a Rwandan). Nevertheless, with time, Nkrumah’s increasing achievements made the whole issue of his foreignness irrelevant.
He went through the colonial school system, and then he became a pupil teacher in Half Assini after completing elementary school. He then went back to school to train as a professional teacher at the Government College of Accra (now Achimota College) in 1926. In 1930, he left Achimota and became the first native teacher at the Roman Catholic Seminary at Amissano in the Central Region. While contemplating whether to ordain as a catholic priest, he was distracted from his vocation by the work of Nnamdi Azikwe a Nigerian patriot who had arrived in Accra, Ghana from the Lincoln University in America and was editing The African Morning Post a daily newspaper in Accra. ‘Zik’ as Nnamdi was later on nicknamed constantly harassed the British colonial government in the Gold Coast with his work. On the 15th of May 1936, he published an article titled ‘Has the African a God?’ written by a Sierra Leonean unionist I.T.A. Wallace Johnson. The article condemned Christianity and classed it as a tool through which European civilisation and imperialism were promoted. This for very obvious reasons caused a lot of controversy and it came as no surprise to anyone when Zik and Johnson were made to pay for their actions by the British colonial government. They were brought to trial on charges of sedition. Zik was found guilty and sentenced to 6 months in prison but was later acquitted after an appeal. Wallace Johnson also appealed his charge. Even though Dr. Kwegyir Aggrey, the Ghanaian nationalist and educationalist is named in Kwame Nkrumah’s autobiography as the soul inspirer for Nkrumah’s nationalism, it seems as though Nnamdi Azikwe was the real inspiration. Evidence states that before Zik was deported to Nigeria to ‘go and sin no more’, Nkrumah had gone to see him and discussed his desire to study abroad. His only problem was that he had insufficient funds. Zik states in his own autobiography, that he wrote to Lincoln University on Nkrumah’s behalf and he was accepted. With this acceptance, Nkrumah moved to America where he spent ten fruitful years of his life. I say fruitful because in those ten years he achieved a BSc in Economics and Sociology (1939), an MSc in Education (1941), a degree in Sacred Theology (1942) and a PhD for which he passed all the requirements except the dissertation in 1945. From the above, one can say with no doubt that his education was diversified. He was also conferred in 1952 with an Honorary Doctorate in Law at the Lincoln University.
When Nkrumah left America as a student, the Statue of Liberty at New York harbour implored his radical mind. “I was too stunned for emotions to play much part in the leave-taking”, he wrote in his Autobiography, “and it was not until the boat sailed out of the harbour and I saw the Statue of Liberty with her arm raised as if in a personal farewell to me that a mist covered my eyes”. He then recalls saying to the statue; “You have opened my eyes to the true meaning of liberty. I shall never rest until I have carried your message to Africa”. This was the beginning if the long journey towards independence in Africa. Before going home to Ghana to work, he spent some time in London, United Kingdom. While in London, he hoped to complete his PhD and attain another degree in Law. He registered at the London School of Economics, the University College and Grays Inn but he never finished any of the courses because he was made to believe by his friends namely George Padmore and Ras T. Makonnen that he was educated enough to start the struggle for freedom. He began to focus on learning how to organise mass political movements. George Padmore was his teacher. He was able to put into practice all he learnt when in 1947, he was invited home and offered the post of the General Secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), serving under Joseph Danquah. The aim of the UGCC was to explore options for independence. In February 1948, after police opened fire on ex servicemen who were protesting the rise in the cost of living, riots started all over Ghana especially in Accra and Kumasi. The government at the time suspected that members of the UGCC were responsible and Kwame Nkrumah was arrested and imprisoned along with other members of the UGCC. They were later released after which Nkrumah emerged as the leader of the Youth Movement. He proclaimed that Ghana needed ‘self government’. He got the support of the cocoa farmers who disagreed with the British policies on farming. He also invited women to get involved and this was a first as women’s suffrage was new to Africa. The trade unions also got involved and by 1949 all these varying groups came together to form the Convention People’s Party (CPP).
When the British realised that people were becoming more interested in the need for self government in Ghana, they selected a group of middle class Africans to draft a new constitution that would get more people involved in government, however only those who earned enough and owned property were allowed to vote. This urged Nkrumah to organise a People’s Assembly with the CPP members and other people who had been left out by the British arrangement. They proposed for amendments without property and earning qualifications that would enable everyone to vote but this Constitutional Proposal of October 1948 was rejected by the colonial administration. Nkrumah refused to give up. He organised a Positive Action campaign in January 1950. Following this, he was arrested along with many CPP supporters and imprisoned for 3 years. After a lot of protest and resistance both from within Ghana and the international community, the British decided to leave Ghana. Even though he was in jail, Nkrumah’s CPP won 34 out of 38 elected seats in the Legislative Assembly and he was released from prison and ordered to form a government. As leader, Nkrumah was faced with three major challenges. He had to learn how to govern, he wanted to unite Ghana and make it one republic rather than the four territories of the Cold Coast and he also wanted to gain complete independence. For that reason, Kwame Nkrumah is a name that shall forever remain in our history books as Ghana was the first country to declare its independence in 1957, paving the way for other African colonies. In March 1957, he led the first post independent government, under the CPP. Nationalism and pan-Africanism were the ideals for which the party stood. These ideals baited the support of the disaffected south of middle class groups. This support helped the CPP gain one half of the popular vote during elections on 1951 and 1956. Nkrumah became president under a new constitution as Ghana became a republic in 1960. The CPP came into power with a series of objectives. Their main one however was to ensure economic independence by rapid industrialisation. This was directed and funded by the state. Nkrumah’s personal aim was to make Ghana a model for the rest of Africa. Money was not an issue as Ghana was a rich country. In 1946, according to existing records, Ghana alone was “bolstering Britain’s foreign exchange reserves with its heavy exports to non-British areas, which amounted to $100 million”.
Nkrumah’s aim was to deprive the colonial masters of the economic and financial gains that they had used African colonies for. Being a Marxist deterred his purpose and only brought the worse out of the West. Britain and America suspected that he was a communist and in the midst of the cold war, they wanted to stop Nkrumah from spreading his views. Nkrumah had development plans that the West feared greatly. By 1966 when he was overthrown, there were 53 state enterprises, 12 joint state/private enterprises and 23 public boards running the modernisation effort. The programme was successful and to a great extent it accounts for Ghana’s industrial capacity today. It is often said that if his plans had become reality, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank would be irrelevant agencies to Africa today. In 1954, the price of cocoa rose from £150 to £450 per ton. But instead of allowing the farmers to maintain the windfall, Nkrumah invested the capital into other national development projects without convincing the farmers of the need for this or getting their support. This move alienated the farmers who were the core of his support system and were partly responsible for him being elected and this was where his many problems began. The West saw this dwindling support as the perfect opportunity to drive a wedge between Nkrumah and his supporters and took advantage of this by manipulating the international price of cocoa. During Nkrumah’s fifth year in office, the price of cocoa was £480 a ton. By 1966 when he was overthrown, it had dropped to £60 a ton. The West had set the cocoa price! Cocoa production and exports declined and the over valuation of the exchange rate prevented other good from filling the blank. Considering that cocoa was Ghana’s largest export, it is not a surprise that the economy suffered greatly. This made him very unpopular to say the least and it was no surprise that he was overthrown but aside from this there was the fact that he appeared to have morphed into a tyrant towards his own people. He devised a Prevention Detention Act that enabled him to eliminate his opponents. J B. Danquah whom he had served under while the General Secretary of the UGCC was detained and died in prison for being a liberal. Ghanaians became terrified as the meaning of the liberty that he had learnt from the Statue of Liberty was gradually ebbing away and being replaced with something else. On 24th of February 1966, he was overthrown and following this all his books were destroyed along with everything to do with him and the CPP was banned. Later on it was believed that the coup was a master plan of the Americans. The reason being that African unity was a threat to the West’s economic and political control of Africa which is still prevalent until this very day. In order to prevent Nkrumah from realising his dream, they had to get rid of him. Thanks to his friend, the then President Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, he was exiled in Guinea until he died in April 1972.
There have been so many contrasting views on Kwame Nkrumah, ranging from the highest praise to the lowest condemnation. Some have portrayed him as a god-like figure, others as a demon. This I believe is an indication of how complex he was. To his supporters, he was like a god as demonstrated by the paradoxical Creed written in adoration of him. On the other hand to his critics he was a “Leninist Czar”, quoting from the Kenyan-Asian writer Ali Mazrui. Hugh Setson Watson a British Historian took this view further when he said, “Nkrumah certainly seems to possess more of the hysteria of Hitler and the vanity of Mussolini than the cold genius of Lenin”. However with all the criticism, it is impossible to think of Nkrumah as a failure. He was undoubtedly a success in very many ways and these include the way in which he renewed the Gold Coast’s sovereignty and identity by creating unforgettable symbols such as changing the country’s name to Ghana. In conjunction with that, he respected and encouraged the different religions of his nation and the socialism of science. Today he is listed amongst the greatest leaders of the century but as with everyone else, he was not perfect. It is very difficult not to say that he was avid for glory and worship. You only need to listen to his eloquent speeches to see that. And he was so presumptuous about his dream of nationalising Africa that he had to suffer the burden of success or failure all alone. He really thought he could do it all alone and did not realise that he would need an unyielding support system that believed in his vision and included people of the highest stature in order to make his dreams come true. After Ghana became independent, he said that “Ghana’s independence is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of Africa”. In a way, his dream did come true because by 1980, all of Africa was liberated and independent. However that is where the dream ends until today. There are times when I do question whether gaining independence was such a great thing for some African countries because so many of our countries are not fully independent. We still rely on the West for handouts and unfortunately our leaders have not been able to manage and organise our countries so that we can begin the journey from underdeveloped, through developing to developed.
In a lot of ways Ghana remains the leader of the pack with a booming economy and on average a decent standard of living. My father spent over 10 years working in Ghana and we resided in Accra. Throughout that period, each time I went to visit I would notice new infrastructural development that was not there before. Young people who could not afford to go to the expensive private schools or study abroad were able to attend decent government schools and universities. We would all go out and meet in the same places like Frankies or Papaye and you could not tell who was home based or who was visiting. Unlike other places in Africa, young Ghanaian graduates from the West are happy to go back home without the fear of having to adapt to a major change in their standard of living. Another remarkable thing for me was that throughout the time I visited, I hardly ever experienced a lack of electricity or shortage of water. Even when we did, it was never for a long period of time. It is often stated that ‘Nkrumah never dies’ and I personally pray every single day that his dream remains alive amongst us. It still waits to be shared, communicated and brought to life. It has now become my dream and the dream of many other Africans that sooner rather than later, Africa will be a dignified and self reliant continent united by love, peace and harmony. When this happens, the dreams of Kwame Nkrumah would no longer be dreams. Rather, they would be a living testimony to his aspirations and achievements.
Kwame Nkrumah & Ghana In My Library:
Submitted by: Pamilerin Beckley; non-conforming, retiring and recovering under-cover-over-lover... writing is my medicine. For me it cures everything!