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Kwame Nkrumah

[kwah' mE n kroo' muh] first Prime Minister and President of Ghana

Kwame Nkrumah

Early Years

Kwame Nkrumah was born at Nkroful in the Western Region of the Gold Coast in September 1909 (he celebrated September 18 as his birthday, but many sources say he was born on the 21st). He attended a Catholic missionary school in Half Assini, graduated from Achimota College in 1930, and spent a few years teaching in elementary schools along the coast before going to the United States for further studies in 1935. He received his Bachelor of Arts from Lincoln University in 1939, a Bachelor of Sacred Theology from Lincoln in 1942, a Master of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942, and a Master of Arts in Philosophy from Pennsylvania in 1943.

Nkrumah's exposure to African politics began while he was at Lincoln (the oldest black college in the United States), where he was elected president of the African Students Organization of America and Canada. His political activity continued after he moved to England (in 1945), where he helped organize the the 5th Pan-African Congress in Manchester. He also founded the West African National Secretariat to work for decolonization of Africa and served as vice-president of the West African Students' Union. In 1947, Nkrumah was invited to serve as General Secretary to the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), under Dr. Joseph Boakye Danquah. He accepted, and returned to the Gold Coast on November 15, 1947 to take up the position.

Independence Movement Leader

In February 1948, police fired on ex-servicemen protesting the rising cost of living in the Gold Coast, spurring riots in Accra, Kumasi, and elsewhere. The colonial government suspected that the UGCC was behind the protests and arrested many of its leaders, including Nkrumah. The government quickly realized that it had made a mistake, however, and released the leaders.

Nkrumah emerged from his brief imprisonment as the leader of a movement that wanted nothing less than immediate self-government for the Gold Coast. On June 12, 1959, Nkrumah led the formation of the Convention Peoples' Party (CPP), at an arena in Accra before a crowd of some 60,000. He was made Chairman of the Party, with Komla Agbeli Gbedemah as Vice Chairman and Kojo Botsio as Secretary. On January 8, 1950, he called for a campaign of "positive action" involving nonviolent protests, strikes, and non-cooperation with British colonial authorities. In response, the colonial government declared a state of emergency effective January 12 and prohibited the holding of processions, imposed curfews, and disconnected public services in certain areas. On January 21, Nkrumah was arrested for inciting an illegal strike and sedition for an article in the Cape Coast Daily Mail. Convicted of both crimes, he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment. Gbedemah ran the CPP while Nkrumah served his sentence at the James Fort Prison, from which Nkrumah routinely smuggled out messages written on toilet paper.

Despite being in prison, Nkrumah led the CPP to a stunning victory in the Gold Coast's first general election, on February 8, 1951. Elected to Parliament in that election, the colonial government released Nkrumah and installed him as the "leader of government business," a title that was changed to Prime Minister of Gold Coast in 1952. On March 6, 1957, Gold Coast became the first African colony to achieve full independence, as Ghana, and Nkrumah became its first Prime Minister.

Prime Minister

In 1958 Nkrumah's government legalized the imprisonment without trial of those it regarded as security risks, and it soon became apparent that his style of government was to be authoritarian. His popularity in the country rose, however, as new roads, schools, and health facilities were built, and as his policy of Africanization created better career opportunities for Ghanaians.


By a plebiscite, Ghana became a republic, with Nkrumah as President, on July 1, 1960. The plebiscite also gave the President wide legislative and executive powers under a new constitution, and Nkrumah began taking advantage of those powers immediately. His administration became involved in magnificent but often ruinous development projects, so that a once-prosperous country became crippled with foreign debt. Contraction of the economy led to widespread labor unrest and to a general strike in September 1961. From that time Nkrumah began to evolve a much more rigorous apparatus of political control and to turn increasingly to Communist countries for financial support.

As internal problems sprang up across Ghana, Nkrumah gave more and more of his personal attention to a personal campaign for the political unity of black Africa, and he played a key role in the formation of the Organization of African Unity in 1963. The attempted assassination of Nkrumah at Kulugungu in August 1962, the first of several, led to his increasing seclusion from public life. He turned the country into a one-party state in 1964, and took to indulging in a sordid cult of personality, dubbing himself Osagyefo, "the Redeemer."

Fall from Power and Later Life

On February 24,1966, as he stopped in Burma on his way to China at the start of a grand tour aimed at solving the Vietnam conflict, army officers intervened at home and took power. Nkrumah did not learn of the coup until he arrived in China. Premier Zhou Enlai, unsure of the protocol to follow, went ahead and hosted an eerie state banquet in his honor.

Nkrumah ended up taking up exile in Guinea, where another experiment in "African socialism" was in progress. Guinea's president, Sekou Toure, his own rule increasingly repressive and arbitrary, endowed Nkrumah with the title of "co-president." Nkrumah made regular shortwave broadcasts to Ghana, published ideological treatises, and plotted a triumphal return to power until he grew ill and died of cancer in Bucharest, Romania, on April 27, 1972.


Commanding Heights
Modern Ghana

See Also

Zhou Enlai
Sekou Toure

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The Robinson Library >> Ghana

This page was last updated on January 02, 2019.