Published Oct 4, 2009 11:30 PM
According to the history books, 100 years ago on Sept. 21, 1909, Kwame Nkrumah, the founder and leader of the African independence movement and the foremost advocate of Pan-Africanism during his time, was born in the western Nzima region of the Gold Coast, later known as the independent state of Ghana.
Nkrumah was the first head of state of an independent post-colonial nation in Africa south of the Sahara, after he led Ghana to national liberation under the direction of the Convention Peoples Party in 1957. Educated at the historically Black college of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, Nkrumah became involved in the Pan-African movement in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s as a leading member of the African Students Association, the Council on African Affairs, as well as other organizations.
After leaving the United States at the conclusion of World War II in 1945, he played a leading role in convening the historic Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England—a gathering that many credit with laying the foundation for the mass struggles for independence during the 1940s and 1950s.
During his stay in England from 1945 to 1947, he collaborated with George Padmore of Trinidad, a veteran activist in the international communist movement and a journalist who wrote extensively on African affairs. Nkrumah was offered a position with the United Gold Coast Convention as an organizer in late 1947 and made the critical decision to return to the Gold Coast to assist in the anti-colonial struggle that was intensifying in the aftermath of World War II.
After being imprisoned with other leaders of the UGCC for supposedly inciting unrest among veterans, workers and farmers in the colony, he gained widespread popularity among the people, who responded enthusiastically to his militant and fiery approach to the burgeoning anti-imperialist movement. After forming the Committee on Youth Organization, which became the best organized segment of the UGCC, Nkrumah was later isolated from the top leadership of the Convention, who objected to his demands for immediate political independence for the Gold Coast.
On June 12, 1949, Nkrumah and the CYO formed the Convention Peoples Party in Accra, Ghana, at a mass gathering of tens of thousands of people. They were prepared to launch a mass struggle for the abolition of British colonial rule over the Gold Coast. During this same period, Nkrumah formed links with other anti-colonial and Pan-African organizations that were operating in other colonies of West Africa. When the CPP called for a Positive Action Campaign in early 1950, leading to massive strikes and rebellion throughout the colony, Nkrumah was imprisoned by the colonial authorities for sedition.
The executive members of the CPP continued to press for the total independence of the colony, eventually creating conditions for a popular election in 1951 that the CPP won overwhelmingly. In February 1951, Nkrumah was released from prison in Ghana and appointed Leader of Government Business in a transitional arrangement that eventually led to the independence of Ghana on March 6, 1957.
Vision of Pan-Africanism, socialism
At the independence gathering on March 6, Nkrumah—now prime minister—declared that Ghana’s independence was meaningless unless it was directly linked with the total liberation of the continent. This statement served as the cornerstone of Ghanaian foreign policy during Nkrumah’s tenure as leader of the country.
George Padmore became the official advisor on African affairs, and was placed in charge of the Bureau of African Affairs, whose task was to assist other national liberation movements on the continent in their efforts to win political independence. In April 1958, the First Conference of Independent African States was convened, with eight nation-states as participants. This gathering broke down the colonially imposed divisions between Africa north and south of the Sahara.
In December later that same year, the first All-African Peoples Conference was held in Accra, bringing together 62 national liberation movements from all over the continent, as well as representation from Africans in the United States. It was at this conference in December 1958 that Patrice Lumumba of Congo became an internationally recognized leader of the anti-colonial struggle in that Belgian colony.
By 1960 the independence movement had gained tremendous influence throughout Africa, resulting in the emergence of many new nation-states on the continent. That same year, Ghana became a republic and adopted its own constitution, making Nkrumah the president of the government.
However, there arose fissures within the leadership of the CPP over which direction the new state would take in its economic and social policies. Many of Nkrumah’s colleagues, who had been instrumental in the struggle for independence, were not committed to his long-term goals of Pan-Africanism and socialism. Consequently, many of the programmatic initiatives launched by the CPP government were stifled by the class aspirations of those state and party officials who were noncommittal about a total revolutionary transformation of Ghanaian society and the African continent as a whole.
Internal struggles in Nkrumah’s Convention Peoples Party broke into the open, once even resulting in an August 1962 attempt to assassinate the president with a bomb attack.
By 1964 the First Republic of Ghana had held an election that mandated the adoption of the one-party state form of government. During this period, the CPP was attempting to restructure the country’s economy from dependence on trade with and investment by the capitalist world. This proved to be a formidable task due to the legacy of colonialism in the country and the relative weakness of the Soviet Bloc and China, which limited their ability to provide economic assistance to newly independent African states.
Nkrumah in 1963 identified neocolonialism as the major impediment to the genuine liberation of Africa. At the founding meeting of the Organization of African Unity in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, he released his book entitled “Africa Must Unite,” which provided a proposal for the adoption of a continental union government as the only means of countering the development of the new form of colonialism on the continent.
At the OAU conference in Egypt during July 1964, Nkrumah pleaded for the adoption of a United States of Africa by the heads of state. This proposal was not accepted despite apparent problems associated with the legacy of colonialism on the continent. The Congo crisis and the economic stagnation of many of the newly independent states illustrated that these nations were not viable as economic and political entities.
At the October 1965 OAU Summit held in Accra, many of the heads of state from other nations did not attend because they opposed the CPP government’s foreign policy. At this conference, Nkrumah issued his book entitled “Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism,” which condemned the United States as the principal imperialist power behind the new form of hegemonic rule, which was designed to maintain Western control over the newly independent states in Africa and throughout the so-called developing world.
This book so infuriated the U.S. government that its Undersecretary of State for African Affairs G.M. Williams wrote a memorandum of protest to Ghana’s Embassy in Washington, D.C., saying that Nkrumah was working in contravention to the interests of the U.S. government in Africa.
Just four months after the release of his book on neo-colonialism, Nkrumah was overthrown on Feb. 24, 1966, by a coup d’etat led by lower-level military officers and police in Ghana. Since they perceived Nkrumah’s policies as a threat to the economic and political interests of the Western powers, the U.S. government and the imperialist world united behind the coup.
At the time Nkrumah was in China en route to North Vietnam. He was on a mission to bring about a peace settlement in the U.S. war against the peoples of Southeast Asia when Chinese officials informed him of the events in Ghana.
Aborting his mission to Vietnam, he returned via the Soviet Union to Africa, traveling to Egypt and eventually settling in Guinea-Conakry. Nkrumah remained in Guinea until he was flown to Romania to undergo treatment for cancer in 1971. During the period following the coup from 1966 to 1971, he continued to write on the history of Africa and the revolutionary movement for Pan-Africanism and world socialism.
The legacy of Kwame Nkrumah
Despite the coup, Nkrumah’s legacy in Africa and throughout the African world continues. His view on the necessity of coordinated guerrilla warfare to liberate Africa was realized in the subcontinent during the 1970s and 1980s when the settler-colonial regimes of Rhodesia and eventually South Africa were defeated. Cuba’s role in the liberation and security of Angola was clearly in line with Nkrumah’s ideas, which argued that until settler colonialism was destroyed, the entire continent of Africa would not be secure.
Though the realization of a United States of Africa is still far away, this issue continues to be discussed broadly on the continent and in the Diaspora. The Organization of African Unity was transformed into the African Union in 2002 in order to increase efforts aimed at the unification of the continent. A Pan-African Parliament was formed and is now housed in the Republic of South Africa.
The current chairman of the African Union, Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, has continued to stress the necessity of forming a continental government along the lines Nkrumah advocated during the 1950s and 1960s.
In Ghana Nkrumah’s legacy was utilized in both a positive and a negative manner by the successive regimes that took power after his departure. These regimes are compelled to use his image and legacy, despite their refusal to adopt the CPP program in its totality.
In the United States and throughout the Diaspora, increasing identification with Africa has occurred over the last forty years. The African community in America and the Caribbean played an instrumental role in the solidarity struggle with the national liberation movements in southern Africa during the 1980s and 1990s. Nkrumah’s views on the necessity of African unity have been prophetic in light of the continuing underdevelopment of the continent and the phenomena of domestic neocolonialism in the United States and the Caribbean. Consequently, the legacy of Nkrumah is still relevant to the present-day struggle of African and other oppressed peoples around the world.
A greater understanding of Nkrumah’s ideas and activities can only benefit the present efforts to create a world that is genuinely independent and self-determined.