Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, born Francis Nwia Kofi Nkrumah on 21 September 1909, was raised in a rural village, Nkoful, in the then Gold Coast, Nzema region. After attending a Catholic mission school in Half Assini, Nkrumah went on to train and work as a teacher at the Government Training School (Achimota School) located in Accra. Nkrumah subsequently earned a teacher's certificate at the Prince of Wales College in 1930. During this period Nkrumah became introduced to anti-colonial resistance movements and ideologies, notably including Black nationalism which, in part, led to his departure in 1935 to the historically Black Lincoln college in Pennsylvania, United States of America to further his studies.
Nkrumah would go on to spend 10 years in the United States, gaining a variety of college certifications from sociology, theology, philosophy and theology. At the time of his arrival ideas around Pan-Africanism, Garveyism and Black nationalism had gained popularity in the northern parts of the United States following the mass internal migration of African Americans from the Southern regions. At the universities this led to the formation of black student unions and associations, in this climate, as a student activist, Nkrumah helped to found the African Students Association of America and Canada where he worked alongside particularly young people from numerous then colonies across Africa . The publishing arm of the student movement, “The African Interpreter”, focussed on analysis and commentary centered on African drawing contributors on a trans-continental basis(Clarke, 1974). Nkrumah from his early years remained an ardent advocate for solidarity across the African freedom struggle. Nkrumah also engaged with radical marxist oriented activists in his ‘America Years’ notably including Grace-Lee Boggs, CLR James and Raya Dunayevskaya (Sherwood, 1996) he would also go on to interact with young activists such as Elaine Brown, the soon to be leader in the Black Panther Party for Self Defence.
Nkrumah departed the United States in 1945 to enroll in a PhD in Anthropology at the London School of Economics. Shortly after starting, he deregistered and joined the University College in London to study philosophy. Nkrumah spent much of his time in London focussed on continuing his intellectual work and political organising. After developing a relationship with Trinidadian born George Padmore, Nkrumah became exposed to approaches to Black Nationalism that contended that the end to racial prejudice was inextricably tied to the end of the capitalist system (Sherwood, 1993). Nkrumah, who had published the pamphlet “Towards Colonial Freedom” from London detailing his perspective on the path forward the the national liberation struggles in Africa had garnered reputation that gained currency on the continent. In 1945, he was appointed as the general secretary of the West African National Secretariat, a position he held until 1947, and was elected regional secretary of the Pan-African Federation (PAF) (Milne, 2000). In the same year, Nkrumah participated and helped coordinate the fifth Pan African Congress, hosted in Manchester, which marked a significant turning point towards national independence in Africa and the British West Indies . The conference had attendees from Liberia, Nyasaland,Togoland, Nigeria, the Gold Coast and notably including Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Peter Abrahams of South Africa (Shepperson, 1986)). The precedent set in the Manchester Congress propelled Nkrumah’s international reputation and saw him develop further relationships with leaders from around the world including the likes of Malawi’s Dr Hastings Banda and W.E.B DuBois from the United States of America (USA).
In 1947, Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast on the invitation of lawyer Dr J. B. Danquah to join the newly formed United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), a political instrument formed and spearheaded by a group of academics and chiefs. They sought to take advantage of weakening British control in the wake of the end of the Second World War. Nkrumah,while initially critical of the movement, used the opportunity to return to the Gold Coast and develop relationships within the territory(Birmingham, 1998). , Nkrumah, who was by now gaining in local popularity, had attracted the attention of British intelligence for suspected Communist ties from his time in England. These allegations followed him to the Gold Coast causing increasing tensions within the UGCC. During his tenure in the UGCC, Nkrumah established the Ghana National College without the financial support of the convention leadership.A stepping stone towards the establishment of the first national university, the later known University of Ghana (Milne, 2000). Nkrumah and his close friend Komla Gbedemah went on to establish a youth structure, independent of the UGCC, and a newspaper under the name ‘Accra Evening News’ taking aim at local elite and agitating for self government in the Gold Coast (Lawson, 2010).
By 1949, tensions within the UGCC led to a split within the convention and the formation of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), spearheaded by Nkrumah and his supporters. Shortly after the party launch on 8 January 1950, Nkrumah called on the people of the Gold Coast to push for self determination spurred by the publication of the party pamphlet “What I mean by Positive Action” (https://books.google.com/books/about/The_struggle_continues.html?id=M3YMAQAAIAAJ). “Positive Action” came to denote a tactical approach to challenging the British Empire, focusing on the deployment of non-violent civil disobedience and rolling industrial strike action. Nkrumah was imprisoned shortly after the declaration. He was arrested by the colonial government for sedition and given a three year sentence in Fort James prison in Accra. The CPP proceeded to contest legislative elections in his absence and went on to win a landslide victory in 1951, eventually resulting in Nkrumah’s release on 12 February that year. As Nkrumah stepped into institutional leadership in the Gold Coast, he faced significant challenges balancing his promises and vision for broader continental unity and the realities of underdevelopment within the inherited territory. As part of an attempt to address this, his early regime took steps to integrate and strengthen political and economic ties with neighboring British Togoland as part of an attempt to foster a new African Nationalism that cut across different ethnic groupings. A key foundation of the CPP’s strategy between 1951 and 1957 involved the following: the adoption of a 5-year plan of rapid industrialisation, attempts to radically improve access to basic health, tackling literacy through implementing free primary education, and developing institutions of higher learning (Padmore, 1953). The 5-year plan required significant financing and sought to source two thirds of its investment primarily from the export of surplus cocoa production and tax collection, with the remaining third from international finance loans and private sector business investment.
Cocoa. Volta. Structural Adjustments. Corruption.
With Nkrumah’s development plan so closely tied to production and export of cocoa, the early government attempted to encourage local farmers through economic incentives under a “New Deal for Cocoa” scheme in 1951. This forced the government to broker agreements with local chiefs. After this programme failed to achieve the intensive production goals required by the Nkrumah administration, the state began to play a coercive role in the cocoa industry implementing mandatory cutting. Other plans to rapidly increase production included the ambitious Volta Hydroelectric dam project, later known as the Akosombo dam, as the landmark industrialisation project that would form the bulwark of Ghana’s leap forward (GhanaWeb - “History of Akosombo Dam”, 2018). The Akosombo dam, initially proposed by British engineerings to supplement their local mining operations, was revived as an project that would provide wide scale electrification for industrial and domestic purposes. The development of the dam was intended to use nearby bauxite reserves and would require the upgrade of aluminium manufacturing within the country. In order to build the dam, however, Nkrumah’s government was forced to enter into the what was to be the largest post-Second World War loan issued by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to that date. Alliances with the companies in the USA under the Eisenhower regime were brokered notably including the aluminium firm Henry J. Kaiser Company. Conflict over the cost of electricity, fears around pending nationalisation of industries and Nkrumah’s growing public association with the Soviet Union with his radicalising speeches provoked interest; this time from the USA’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The most significant hurdles to Nkrumah’s expansive vision of Pan-Africanism began close to home as the CPP battled against ethnic-nationalist leaning opposition emerging from prominent groups such as the Ashanti within the Gold Coast and the Ewe in Togoland. The path to universal political franchise ultimately resulted in a new constitution and general election in 1954 and saw an expansion of numerous opposition parties contesting the CPP’s attempts to centralise power. The traditional leadership and professional elite from the Ashanti region in particular sought to challenge the 5 year plan through their influence on the cocoa industry. Nkrumah and the CPP embarked on an extensive attempt to garner support on a platform of national unity before eventually forcing Britain to concede indepence to what is now Ghana on 6 March 1957.
Triblist challenges to the newly independent Ghana continued unabated into the new era while Nkrumah redoubled efforts to push for broader based conceptions of unity famously declaring “Africa Must Unite”. The concept was further developed and synthesized into a pamphlet written by Nkrumah and dedicated to his mentor, George Padmore, in 1963 (Nkrumah, 1963).
In 1963, the Organization of African Unity (OAU) was formed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in part through the momentum generated by the movements in Ghana spearheaded by Nkrumah. The organisation was set up to form a political instrument, steered by African states, forming a front against colonialism. The organisation itself, as to be expected, was divided on its approach to challenging imperialism and in their varied conceptions of social transformation. The two major divisions (Duodo, 2013) had become known to consist of the Casablanca bloc (notably including Ghana, it comprised also Algeria, Guinea, Morocco, Egypt, Mali and Libya among others) and the Monrovian bloc (notably including Ethiopia, Nigeria, Senegal, Liberia and several others).
The formation of the OAU follows in the wake of the 1955 Bandung conference hosted in Indonesia and is considered the first wide scale Afro-Asian conference of its kind. Forged in the context of rising Cold War and the broader recognition of a common fight against colonial and imperial domination and interference by Western powers. Bandung then led to the formation of the Non-Aligned movement spearheaded by Josip Broz Tito of Socialist Yugoslavia, Jawaharlal Nehru of India, Sukarno of Indonesia, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana pivoting on a platform structured around the need to respect and defend notions of sovereignty and independence and as a means to establish a development road beyond the currents of either the US-Allied forces and the Soviet Union. Nkrumah’s participation and leadership in these forums accompanied by growing financial and political relationship with socialist states across the Third world, notably including Mao Zedong.
In the 1960s, debates on the relevance and applicability of socialism in the African freedom struggle had become hotly contested. Two competing lines of debate emerged: “African Socialism” advanced by the likes of Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and “Scientific Socialism” notably articulated by Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea and Kwame Nkrumah himself. Nkrumah opposed the hostility to the notion of “class struggle” articulated from African socialists and defended the universal objective of “scientific socialism” but argued that this would only be possible under a political united and socially and economically integrated Africa. This position was formalised under Nkrumah’s vision of a “United States of Africa”.
Nkrumah passionately believed in building solidarity between the African continent and its diaspora. This manifested concretely through examples such as the invitation of high profile intellectuals WEB duBois and Shirley Graham duBois. WEB duBois, among many pursuits in his move to Ghana, was offered support by Nkrumah to develop his ambitious long standing dream of developing an “Encyclopedia Africana” chronicling the historical development of African peoples across the world. Shirley Graham duBois served as an adviser to Nkrumah's government before becoming the director of Ghana's first national television network in 1964 (Azikiwe, 2018). Nkrumah further introduced policies of “Right of Return” encouraging African descendants of the trans Atlantic slave to return to the continent to help build the new Ghana and the Pan African project in general. Among the returnees included US Black Power activist Stokely Carmichael, who soon became Kwame Ture, who returned to the continent to help build the newly formed governments in Ghana and neighboring Guinea.
By 1966, as Nkrumah’s international stature and involvement continued to grow a crushing economic crisis and extensive state corruption within the CPP government led to bankruptcy in the national treasury and political instability. In February of that same year, while Nkrumah was on route to help contribute to a peace dialogue between North and South Vietnam (citation needed), Joseph Ankrah led a coup to seize power, forcing Nkrumah and his family into exile. Nkrumah, who had only reached as far as Peking in the People’s Republic of China, headed to Moscow under the support of the Soviet Union while proceeding to re-establish contact with allies on the African continent and abroad.
In the immediate aftermath, Nkrumah’s wife, Faith Nkrumah, returned to her family and birthplace in Egypt along with their children. Kwame Nkrumah received an invitation from his political ally Ahmed Sékou Touré, leader of post-independence Guinea who awarded him an honorary co-Presidency of the nation as part of commitment to continue their shared vision of African unity under scientific socialism.
Nkrumah’s time in Conakry, posthumously detailed in the book “Kwame Nkrumah. The Conakry Years.His Life and Letters” (Milne, 1990), comprised of vigorous writing, theory development and the continuation of his internationalist solidarity work. Over his 5 year stay in Conakry, Nkrumah maintained contact and was visited by liberation movements including the leadership of the PAIGC, through it’s leader Amilcar Cabral, Black Panther Party members from the Algiers office among numerous others. In 1969 Nkrumah produced a pamphlet titled “Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare: A Guide to the Armed Phase of the African Revolution” (Nkrumah, 1969) in an attempt to provide political leadership towards a challenge to the coup which had deposed his regime drawing significant inspiration from his observations of the people’s war articulated by China PR’s Mao Tse-tung. By 1970, Nkrumah had refined his conception of national liberation and attempted to contribute to the debates on socialist transformation in Africa through publishing two key texts: “Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for De-Colonisation” (Nkrumah, 1964) and “Class Struggle in Africa” (Nkrumah, 1970).
After years Nkrumah suffered from a growing isolation and intensifying paranoia of around the prospect of assassination or abduction. Nkrumah eventually lost his life to cancer in 1972 in Bucharest, Romania while seeking treatment. While debates around the evolving nature of Kwame Nkrumah’s politics the global impact of his politics continues to breath life into movements that advance ideas around Pan-Africanism and Useful Archive Resources:
Pandora’s box film: