Kwame Nkrumah emerged from a typically humble Ghanaian Socio-economic background. By the close of the last millennium, however, he had become Africa's Man of the Millennium. He was born on September 21 1909; and trained at Achimota School in Accra as a certified teacher graduating in 1930.
During his years at Achimota School and also the few years he taught in primary schools in Ghana Nkrumah came under the influence of Pan-Africanist scholars like E. Kwegyir Aggrey, whose firm belief in the Africa renaissance and the advancement of the Africans through purposeful education inspired him to decide to study in the United Sates of America (US). Under the influence of implacable nationalists like Kobina Sekyi, Samuel R. Woode (a veteran nationalist and Secretary of the National Congress of British West Africa) and anti-imperialists such as Nnamdi Azikiwe (Editor-in-Chief of the African morning Post) and I. T Wallace Johnson all of whom were actively campaigning against colonialism and imperialism in Africa.
Nkrumah left shores of Ghana for studies abroad with deep memories of militant anti-colonial and anti-imperialist intellectual and political activities His experience in the US, as a student of Lincoln University and University of Pennsylvania, and the United Kingdom (where he did political work among African students and Diasporan anti-imperialists and Pan Africanists) convinced him of the need to fight to end colonialism and imperialism at all cost. By the time he returned to the UK at the end of his studies in the US his views on the colonial question and the need for African unity had been firmed up.
He used his short stay in the UK, during which he assisted in organizing fellow Africans studying there and Diaspora Africans into anti-colonial and anti-imperialists fronts which culminated in his facilitation of the Fifth Pan African Congress in Manchester. This doubtlessly prepared him for the anti-colonial struggle, and for the struggle for African unity which he plunged into upon returning to Ghana.
For him freedom from colonial rule and African unity were necessary preconditions for the African revolution which was the transformation of the social and economic structures of the continent and improvements in the material conditions of African peoples. In his Towards Colonial Freedom written in 1945 Nkrumah had emphatically stated that transformation of the economies and societies of West African States from backwardness into progress and prosperity for the people could be attained not from the mere attainment of independence but on the creation of a commonwealth of West African states.
In his legendary "Motion of Destiny" in the National Assembly of the Gold Coast (July 10 1953) he unequivocally called on the UK government to grant independence to the chiefs and people of Ghana, emphasizing the fact that self-government was merely a means to a greater end: "Self-government is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end, to building of the good life to the benefit of all, regardless of tribe, creed, and colour on station in life" He dismissed as imperialist and racist, the claim that Ghanaians were not ready to govern themselves. Again self-government was a means for another equally important reason.
Political independence with its ensemble of democratic institutions gave the people political and civil rights. As he told the British Government in his "Motion of Destiny", from 1951 when his party assumed the reigns of government they would apply themselves "boldly to the task of laying sound economic and social foundations on which this beloved country of ours can raise a solid democratic society." Kwame Nkrumah was sure that true freedom and democracy lay in freedom from poverty, illiteracy, and ignorance.
Social policy – creating equitable access to education, health services, water, employment, income, food, etc. – was therefore the motive force of development planning under his government. In addition to the commitment to the nation of Ghana, Nkrumah dedicated his life and resources of his country to Africa's emancipation and unity. He declared at Ghana's Independence day March 6 1957 that "Ghana's independence is meaningless unless it is linked to the total liberation of the African continent.
" This became the raison d'être of Ghana's existence as an independent nation just as his voice became the Voice of Africa. Earlier in 1953, Nkrumah had declared in his "Motion of Destiny" concerning the mission of Ghana in entire African project: "Our aim is to make this country a worthy place for all its citizens, a country that will be shinning light throughout the whole continent of Africa, giving aspiration far beyond its frontiers. From 1957 onwards, Ghana became both the platform from which Nkumah launched his campaign for the total liberation of Africa from colonial rule and its eventual unity as well as the instrument for realizing this project.
He organized conferences, mobilized continent-wide support, agitated, campaign I and outside Africa and lobbied his colleague heads of state and government to bring this vision into fruition. The First Conference of Independent African States (Accra, 1958), All African People's Conference (Ghana, 1958), Ghana Guinea Union (later joined by Mali), and the Sanniquelle Conference (Liberia, 1959), are signposts in Nkrumah's arduous struggle for Africa's liberation and unity. He offered Ghana as the home base for freedom fighters from across the continent.
His militant pursuit of this African vision earned him many enemies; and he faced stiff opposition from his contemporary heads of government and state as well as sundry politicians within Ghana, elsewhere in Africa and from wider world, especially the West. However, he never relented sometimes at grave danger to his personal security. The crisis of the Congo (now DRC) in the immediate wake of its independence from Belgian colonial rule in 1960, and blatant complicity of Western powers in the crisis convinced him more than ever before to the resolve imperialist forces to balkanize the continent, which thereby stressed the urgency of the African unity. Apart from being the first county to send troops to the DRC under the UN flag to project its fragile independence.
The formation of the OAU in 1963 was for Nkrumah a fatal compromise that met only the parochial and conservative aspirations of his colleague heads of states and governments. The powers of his vision and perspicuous intellect enabled him to grasp the vulnerability of Africa in the unfolding world order. For him, only an Africa with strong continental institutions of government, economy, defence and security could thwart the fatal machinations of imperialism. This historic imperative was a recurrent theme not only in his numerous speeches but also in his books notable among which are: • Towards Colonial Freedom (1945) • I Speak of Freedom (1958) • Africa Must Unite (1963) • Consciencism (1964) • Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage Of Imperialism (1965) • The challenge of the Congo (1966) To protect the independence of Ghana and Africa and avert the risk of war Nkrumah made the pursuit of world peace the centrepiece of Ghana's foreign policy.
Ghana's active role in the Non-Aligned Movement was also premised on the need for a peaceful world. The hosting of the World Without the Bomb conference in Accra (1962) attended by more than 130 people from 40 countries was a high point of Nkrumah's pursuit of global peace. Ironically it was while he was pursuing the cause of global peace that a faction of the Ghanaian military overthrew his government in collaboration with some of his political opponents and the support of the Central Intelligence Agency of the U.S. For the most part, Kwame Nkrumah of Africa remained a lonely voice, a prophet without honour in high official circles of the continent. The impact of his political career has however been a constant source of inspiration for many Africans of the continent and in its diaspora. Far from being a voice from the past, Nkrumah's exhortation for an Africa free and prosperous set a pertinent agenda for the future.