Kwame Nkrumah

A Biography of Kwame Nkrumah,
First President of Ghana

Kwame Nkrumah is a name that might not immediately come to mind when one considers the last century’s notable political leaders. In the Western Hemisphere, the names of American presidents or major war-time powers float about in recent memory, but those who have led smaller countries or developing nations to their modern prosperity are often, unfortunately, overlooked.

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah - Ghana's First President

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah - Ghana's First President

But Kwame Nkrumah is a political figure worth understanding; the successes of national independence and establishment of a revitalized nation and continent he is today a prime example of how leaders –and their power– can evolve, dissolve, and die out.

For this complex and charismatic giant in the history of Ghana, the flame of success burned bright and was extinguished by its own momentum.

Nkrumah was born on 21 September 1909 in the town of Nkroful, in what was then still called the British Gold Coast.

His early life story reflects a youth remarkably intent on achieving academic success; after finishing studies at an elite establishment in the capitol city of Accra, Nkrumah went on to secure a bachelor of arts in theology from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1939. He quickly supplemented this degree with a master’s in the science of education in 1942 and a master’s degree in philosophy in 1943.

One of a distinct few Ghanaians to have had the opportunity to travel and study in the United States, the future leader became absorbed in the subjects he had studied, as well as their political arenas within the sphere of American social thought. Forming friendships with prominent intellectuals and political radicals hailing from around the globe, Nkrumah preached to congregations, served as a tutor and lecturer to students, and began to take on important organizational roles such as the African Students Organization of America and Canada, of which he was president.

Nkrumah’s political connections and personal convictions were further strengthened during a visit to London, where he helped to facilitate the Pan-African Congress in 1945. It was during this stay in London that the politician founded the West African National Secretariat, which would prove an immensely important component of progress toward decolonising Africa in the years to come.

The ensuing stage of Nkumrah’s career is a fast-paced and turbulent story, rich with resounding accomplishments as well as stunning disappointments. Returning to Ghana around 1947, he participated in several political events and organizations, which at the time were beginning to explore routes to independence from British colonial rule.

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah

Nkrumah garnered a great deal of public affection and admiration through his ability to relate to the people of Ghana; he hitch-hiked a route across the country, speaking about positive action and equality, even going so far as to encourage women to secure their roles in the political process, which was a supreme rarity in a time when the majority of African women had just been granted the right to vote.

Eventually jailed for his perceived ability to incite the people of Ghana, Nkrumah was released upon British withdrawal in 1951 and asked to lead the country to its new destiny. And the leader accepted his role with vigor and determination, helping the country gain full independence by 1957, and to unite its four distinct territories. He also drafted a constitution to help foster the creation of a Ghanaian republic, and integrated many socialist ideas into his public works and policy changes.

But where Nkrumah succeeded politically, he failed just as notably when it came to economics. Upon his rise to power, Ghana enjoyed vast national wealth courtesy of its attractive exports. Through a series of difficulties in attempting to industrialise the nation, Nkumrah squandered much of Ghana’s financial assets and significantly set the historic cocoa industry back.

The jump in the value of cocoa following Nkrumah’s financial woes was the basis for his eventual downfall. Instead of allowing farmers to reap the profits, the leader appropriated the funds for government projects, and lost the support of much of the country.

When strikes began to break out, Nkumrah introduced legislation banning strikes and protests, and which allowed people to be arrested and held without the due process of law.

In 1966, while on a trip to Vietnam, Kwame Nkrumah’s government was overthrown by a coup d’etat. He spent the rest of his days in exile in Guinea, passing away in 1972. Nkrumah was buried in in his hometown but later on his remains were transferred to a large national memorial tomb and park in Accra.

Today, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is still thought of as one of Africa’s most pivotal and remarkable leaders.

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