A Powerful African Voice — Kwame Nkrumah | Political economics

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IIf change is denied or delayed too long, violence will erupt here and there. It’s not that the man planned or wanted it, but it’s their accumulated grievances that will erupt with volcanic fury – Nkrumah

Kwame Nkrumah spearheaded the Gold Coast independence movement and its transformation into modern Ghana. As the most powerful African voice espousing freedom, Nkrumah inspired subsequent independence movements across the continent. The quest for freedom has become a lifelong passion for the son of a goldsmith. Her mother was a retail trader.

From relatively humble beginnings, Nkrumah has risen to Olympian heights and become Africa’s most prominent face. Trinidadian Marxist historian CLR James counts him among the 50 most influential people in history. This, of course, is an exaggeration. Nevertheless, his importance as a pan-African statesman can hardly be denied. This notoriety and the influence he came to exercise in Africa became the main cause of his downfall.

His unceremonious exit from power and death in exile was orchestrated by the neo-imperial order, the Ghanaian military junta and the metropolitan bourgeoisie acting in tandem. Nkrumah therefore warrants serious scientific scrutiny.

Born in 1901 and baptized Roman Catholic, Nkrumah spent nine years in Roman Catholic elementary school in the neighboring half of Assini. After graduating from Achimota College in 1930, he began his career as a teacher in the Roman Catholic primary schools of Elmina and Axim and in a seminary.

Increasingly drawn to politics, Nkrumah decided to continue his studies in the United States. He entered Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in 1935 and graduated four years later. Later, he earned master’s degrees from Lincoln and the University of Pennsylvania. He studied the literature of socialism, notably Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin, and of nationalism, in particular Marcus Garvey, the black American leader of the 1920s.

Eventually, Nkrumah came to describe himself as a “non-denominational Christian and Marxist socialist.” He also immersed himself in political work, reorganizing and becoming president of the African Students Organization of the United States and Canada.

Nkrumah was a voracious reader. He read books on politics and divinity and gave philosophy lessons to students. In 1943, Nkrumah met influential historian CLR James, Russian expatriate Raya Dunayevskaya, and Chinese-American Grace Lee Boggs, all of whom were members of a US-based Marxist intellectual cohort.

Nkrumah later credited James with teaching him “how an underground movement worked”. Federal Bureau of Investigation files on Nkrumah, kept from January to May 1945, identify him as a possible communist. The categorization is questionable. Nkrumah wanted to go to London to continue his studies after the end of the Second World War.

James, in a 1945 letter introducing Nkrumah to Trinidad-born George Padmore in London, wrote: “This young man is coming to you. He’s not very bright, but still do what you can for him because he’s determined to drive the Europeans out of Africa. This sheds enough light on his political orientation, which had an accent of autochthony. He left the United States in May 1945 and went to England where he organized the 5e Pan-African Congress in Manchester.

Meanwhile, in the Gold Coast, JB Danquah had formed the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) to work for self-government through constitutional means. Invited to serve as General Secretary of the UGCC, Nkrumah returned home in late 1947. In this capacity, he spoke at meetings throughout the Gold Coast and began to create a mass base for the new movement.

After extensive rioting in February 1948, the British briefly arrested him and other UGCC leaders. Nkrumah defined his system of beliefs as “the ideology of a new Africa, independent and absolutely free from imperialism, organized on a continental scale, based on the conception of a one and united Africa, drawing its strength from modern science and technology and traditional Africa. belief in freedom.

Following a split between the middle-class leaders of the UGCC and its more radical supporters, in June 1949 Nkrumah formed the new Convention Peoples Party (CPP) committed to a program of immediate self-rule. In January 1950, Nkrumah launched a campaign of “affirmative action”, involving nonviolent protests, strikes and non-cooperation with the British colonial authorities. This indicated a strong influence of MK Gandhi on him.

A crisis ensued, services across the country were disrupted and Nkrumah was again arrested and sentenced to one year in prison. But the first Gold Coast general election (February 8, 1951) demonstrated the support the CPP had already won. Elected to parliament, Nkrumah was released from prison to become head of government affairs. He became Prime Minister of the Gold Coast in 1952. Things were not easy for the political regime which had just gained independence. The colonial structures were intact and had produced a certain mentality among the ruling elite.

Following a plebiscite in 1960, Ghana became a republic and Nkrumah became its president with broad legislative and executive powers under a new constitution. Nkrumah then turned his attention to the campaign for black African political unity, an idea far too big to realize in the 1960s, when the Cold War had limited options for postcolonial states. He prioritized infrastructure development which was vital for the country’s economic growth.

These initiatives were condemned as ruinous development projects, so that “a once prosperous country has become crippled by foreign debt”. The Western media was plagued by such propaganda. His government’s second development plan, announced in 1959, drew sharp criticism from capitalist circles. Such pressure was put on Nkrumah’s government that the plan was abandoned in 1961.

The shrinking economy then led to widespread labor unrest and a general strike in September 1961. Nkrumah then began to develop a much tighter political control apparatus and to look increasingly to communist countries for get support. In retrospect, the strategy is defensible because, given the postcolonial context, political stability was essential.

In 1964, Ghana was officially designated as a one-party state and Nkrumah as nation and party president for life. It seems that politics in Ghana needed time to adopt a two-party system. As the administration of the country increasingly passed “into the hands of selfish and corrupt party officials,” Nkrumah busied himself with the ideological education of a new generation of black African political activists.

Meanwhile, the economic crisis in Ghana has deepened and shortages of food and other commodities have become chronic. On February 24, 1966, while Nkrumah was visiting Beijing, the army and police seized power in Ghana. Nkrumah was deposed by the National Liberation Council, under whose supervision international financial institutions privatized many state-owned companies in the country.

Nkrumah found asylum in Guinea, where he spent the rest of his life. He died of cancer in Bucharest in 1972.


The author is a professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts, National University Beaconhouse, Lahore

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