By - Isaac Joseph
Kwame Nkrumah was born in Nkroful, a small village in the Nzema area, in the far southwest of the Gold Coast, close to the frontier with the French colony of the Ivory Coast. His father was a goldsmith and his mother a retail trader. In an interview by the Times Newspaper, it was revealed that Nkrumah’s father’s name was Opanyin Kofi Nwiana Ngolomah, a native of Nkroful who belonged to the Akan tribe of the Asona clan but stayed at Tarkwa-Nsuaem to practise his goldsmith business. It was stated that Opanyin Ngolomah was respected for his wise advice by those who sought his counsel on traditional matters and domestic affairs. Nkrumah’s mother, whose name was Elizabeth Nyanibah stated his year of birth as 1912, but Nkrumah wrote that he was born on 18 September 1909, a Saturday. Nyanibah, a native of Nsuaem belonged to the Agona family and was a fishmonger and petty trader when she married Nkrumah’s father. On the eight day after his birth, his father named him as Francis Nwia-Kofi after a relative but later his parents later changed the name to Francis Kwame Ngolomah.
The Early Life of Kwame Nkrumah
Nkrumah was brought up by his mother and his relatives, who lived together in a communal fashion, while more distant relatives regularly visit them. As a young boy, he had so much freedom and spends most of his time in the village, in the bush and on the nearby sea. In line with the customs of the Akan people, he was named Kwame, which was a name given to males born on a Saturday (this however depends on the tribe i.e. Ashanti or Fante). Nkrumah, being the only child of his mother, lived in Nkroful with his mother for about three years before they joined his father, a gold smith at Half Assini. Nkrumah, who was baptized at a Roman Catholic Church, spent nine years at the Roman Catholic elementary school in nearby Half Assini. His elementary education was greatly influenced by a German Roman Catholic priest named George Fischer. After the completion of his elementary education, he became a pupil teacher at the age of 17. Nkrumah continued his education at the training college in 1927, the same year he lost his father. The demise of his father made life difficult in terms of sustenance, but he was able to manage all these hardship and graduated in 1930 from Achimota College.
Nkrumah was offered a job as a primary school teacher at the Roman catholic junior school at Elmina where he taught lower class one. He was later made head teacher of the school at Axim, where he got involved in politics and founded the Nzima Literary Society. He was later appointed a teacher at the Catholic seminary at Amissano in 1933. Life was a bit tough there but he enjoyed it, and considered becoming a Jesuit. While at Achimota as a student, Nkrumah had listened to journalist and future Nigerian president Nnamdi Azikiwe; he later met him and Azikwe’s influence propelled Nkrumah’s interest in Black Nationalism. He took a decision to further his education. Azikiwe, who had attended Lincoln College, a historically black college in Chester County, Pennsylvania, west of Philadelphia advised Nkrumah to enroll there.
In October 1935, he arrived in the United States and graduated from Lincoln University with B. A. degrees in economics and sociology in 1939; he also earned a theology degree from the Lincoln Theological Seminary in 1942 and M. A. degrees in education and philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and 1943 respectively. Nkrumah was influenced by the works of German political philosopher Karl Marx, German political economist Friedrich Engels, and Russian revolutionary leader, Vladimir Lenin while studying in the United States. This influence made him form an African student’s organization and he became a popular speaker, advocating the freedom of Africa from European colonialism. While studying as a student in the United States, Nkrumah was popularly known as Francis Nwia Kofi Nkrumah – Kofi is the name given to males born on a Friday. However, he changed his name to Kwame Nkrumah in 1945 in the UK, favouring the name “Kwame”.
Nkrumah’s Journey into Politics
Nkrumah was so active in the Pan-African movements, the African Students Association of America and the West African Students’ Union while in college. He even played crucial role in organizing the Fifth Pan-Africanist Congress in 1945. In 1947, Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast in 1947 when the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), a nationalist party pursuing independence for the British colony and ably led by Ghanaian politician J. B. Danquah invited him to serve as its secretary general as they were attracted by Nkrumah’s activism. He gave speeches all over the colony to rally support for the UGCC and for independence. Nkrumah and several other UGCC leaders were arrested by British colonial authorities and briefly imprisoned in 1948. After a series of colony-wide strikes in favour of independence which almost brought the colony’s economy to a standstill, Nkrumah was again in 1950 imprisoned for subversion. The strikes, however forced the British authorities to consider independence for the colony. While still in prison in 1951, Nkrumah won the central Accra seat by a landslide. He was later released from prison by the British governor of the Gold Coast and appointed leader of government business.
However, ideological differences between J. B. Danquah and Nkrumah made Nkrumah establish his own party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP) in 1949. Nkrumah and the CPP sought self-government through the nonviolent strategy of “positive action”, which employed the tactics of protest and strike against colonial administration. Nkrumah and the CPP received a decisive majority of votes in Ghana’s first general elections in 1951 Nkrumah became the first prime minister of the Gold Coast on 22 March 1952. Five more years prior to the realization of full independence, the Gold Coast became the self-governed nation of Ghana.
On Independence Day…
Nkrumah stood before tens of thousands of supporters and proclaimed, “Ghana will be free forever.” At the first session of the Ghana Parliament, he told his new country’s citizens that “we have a duty to prove to the world that Africans can conduct their own affairs with efficiency and tolerance and through the exercise of democracy. We must set an example to all Africa.” Nkrumah was regarded as the Osagyefo – which means “redeemer” in the Akan language. The independence ceremony witnessed the presence of the Duchess of Kent and Governor General Charles Arden-Clarke. There were more than 600 reporters in attendance and the Ghanaian independence is regarded as one of the most internationally reported news events in modern African history. Nkrumah opened Black Star Square near Osu Castle in the coastal district of Osu, Accra in reverence to the new nation. This square would be seen as a national symbol and a venue for mass patriotic rallies.Legacies of Kwame Nkrumah
Nkrumah administration adopted some socialist policies and practices and he created a welfare system, started various community programs and established schools. He also moved to eliminate “tribalism”, which was a prevalent menace then. Thus, as he wrote in Africa Must Unite: “We were engaged in a kind of war, a war against poverty and disease, against ignorance, against tribalism and disunity. We needed to secure the conditions which could allow us to pursue our policy of reconstruction and development.” In 1958, under Nkrumah’s leadership, there was: “An Act to prohibit organisations using or engaging in racial or religious propaganda to the detriment of any other racial or religious community, or securing the election of persons on account of their racial or religious affiliations, or for other purposes in connection therewith.” He made attempts to saturate the country in national flags and declared a widely disobeyed ban on tribal flags. Nkrumah was a symbol for black liberation in the United States. In 1958, the Harlem Lawyers Association had an event in Nkrumah’s honour and diplomat Ralph Bunche told him:
“We salute you, Kwame Nkrumah, not only because you are Prime Minister of Ghana, although this is cause enough. We salute you because you are a true and living representation of our hopes and ideals, of the determination we have to be accepted fully as equal beings, of the pride we have held and nurtured in our African origin, of the freedom of which we know we are capable, of the freedom in which we believe, of the dignity imperative to our stature as men.”
Nkrumah was never afraid to use rigid methods in implementing his domestic programs. He gained popularity with the masses, but his tactics made him enemies among civil servants, judges, elites, and military personnel. On a visit to China in 1966, his government was overthrown in an army coup. Nkrumah stayed in exile in Guinea, where Guinean president Sékou Тоигй appointed him honorary co-president of Guinea. He later died in 1972 in Romania while receiving treatment for throat cancer. His remains were returned to Ghana for burial in his hometown.
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