Kwame Nkrumah was born in September 1909 in Nkroful, Gold Coast (now Ghana). He led the Gold Coast’s drive for independence from Britain, becoming the independent nation’s first leader from 1957 until he was overthrown by a military coup in 1966. He received an education in the U.S. at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, where he obtained Masters Degrees from both Lincoln and the University of Pennsylvania. While in the United States, he reorganized and became president of the African Students Organization of the United States and Canada. He left the U.S. in 1945, moving to England, where he organized the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester, one of the few Africans present. W.E.B. Du Bois and Nkrumah met at this conference and became lifelong friends and collaborators for African independence and justice. In 1949, he formed the Convention Peoples Party (CPP), a mass-based party that was committed to immediate self-government. In 1950, he led a campaign of nonviolent protests, strikes, and non-cooperation activities with the British colonial authorities, leading to his arrest. While in prison, the United Kingdom decided to leave the Gold Coast and organized the first general elections. In 1951, Nkrumah was elected to Parliament, which led to his release from prison. Soon after being elected to parliament, he became the prime minister of the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast became an independent state within the British Commonwealth in March of 1957, when it was renamed Ghana, which means “warrior king,” in reference to the ancient Ghana empire. Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African nation to gain its independence. In 1958, Nkrumah’s government legalized the imprisonment without trial of those regarded as security risks, signaling Nkrumah’s authoritarian tendencies. By a plebiscite in 1960, Ghana became a republic, with Nkrumah as a president with wide legislative and executive powers.
Kwame Nkrumah was the first president to espouse Pan-Africanism. In a piece titled “I Speak Freedom,” published in 1961, Nkrumah writes “ it is clear that we must find an African solution to our problems, and that this can only be found in African unity. Divided we are weak; united, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world.” He also warned Africa of too much foreign investment, which foreshadowed the debt, and loan crisis that has plagued the continent for decades. In Towards Colonial Freedom, he states, “it is a common economic experience that wherever there is economic dependence there is no freedom” (17). Nkrumah’s philosophy, coined “Nkrumaism” or scientific socialism, argued that western industrial countries and their multinational companies are the main threat to Third World economic prosperity. Therefore, governments should take over the means of production and distribution and use the profits to provide for further industrial and social development.” This coupled with the idea of a united Africa remained lifelong goals for Nkrumah and his followers. Through his “Policies of Africanization,” many accuse the Nkrumah with participation in ruinous development projects that left Ghana with substantial foreign debt where once there was none. The attempted assassination of Nkrumah at Kulugungu in August 1962 (one of many such attempts) led to increasing seclusion from public life and to the growth of a personality cult, as well as a massive buildup of the country’s internal security forces. In 1963, Nkrumah received the Lenin Peace Prize, which is the equivalent to the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1964, Ghana was officially declared a one party state with Nkrumah at the head for life. As he began to spend less time in Ghana, this cleared room for the army and the police to seize power in 1966. Nkrumah found asylum in Guinea, where he spent the remainder of his life. He died of cancer on April 27th 1972 in Bucharest.
For more information on Nkrumah and Du Bois, please visit The Special Collections and University Archives on Credo.
Nkrumah, Kwame, I Speak of Freedom: A Statement of African Ideology (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1961)
Nkrumah, Kwame, Towards Colonial Freedom (London: William Heinemann Ltd., 1962).