Unto the Gold Coast was born a son in the Nzema town of Nkroful in the south-western most part of the country on September, 21, 1909. He was given the name Kwame Nkrumah.
His father was said to be a goldsmith and the mother a housewife and petty trader. Kwame Nkrumah did not allow the circumstances of his birth or the remoteness of his birthplace from what one may call civilisation to affect his destiny and to resign himself to fate.
After his basic education at the local Roman Catholic School, he moved to Achimota College where he trained as a teacher. He then managed to travel to America after teaching for a while where he had university education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania.
Nkrumah’s nationalist agitations
Nkrumah got involved in nationalist agitations in America and Europe and helped to organise colonial people he came across on both continents to fight for freedom at home. He made friends with people of African descent wherever he went and made them to remember that their ancestors came from Africa, shipped as slaves to go and work on plantations across the Atlantic.
No wonder when he returned home and won political power in the Gold Coast which he renamed Ghana, he never forgot about his black friends. He encouraged some of the best brains to come “home” and settle in Ghana to be part of the revolution he embarked upon to turn Ghana into a paradise on earth and a home for blacks everywhere and those of African descent.
This was how African Americans like William Du Bois, Henry Clark and Dr Robert Lee and West Indians like George Padmore and the celebrated economist, Arthur Lewis all came to settle in Ghana as top advisers. He was also able to attract people like Marcus Garvey, Malcom X and Martin Luther King to visit Accra to see things for themselves.
Next Monday will be Nkrumah’s 106th birthday and Ghanaians and the rest of the world will celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest Africans and probably the greatest blackman that ever lived on this planet. It was not by chance or for nothing that the BBC voted Nkrumah as the greatest African of the millennium 15 years ago.
As we mark another Nkrumah birthday, it is not enough to extol his virtues, or argue about his place in history, which is already guaranteed, but the impact his life has made and continues to make 43 years after his demise. His critics at home will always argue that he did not care so much about what went on in Ghana. He was rather obsessed with his dream of becoming the President of Africa and therefore poured all resources which he could have used to develop Ghana into his pet project of becoming the leader of the continent. So they said.
It is true that Nkrumah placed a lot of premium on Africa’s emancipation and total liberation from the colonial yoke? He could not fathom how a new independent Ghana could remain an oasis surrounded by oppressed people everywhere.
At least he had told the rest of the world when the Union Jack was lowered for the last time at the Old Polo Grounds in Accra on March 6, 1957 that “Ghana’s independence would be meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent”. Nkrumah certainly did not mince words and he pursued the agenda to free the whole of Africa religiously and was certainly on course when he was overthrown on that fateful day on February 24, 1966.
It was a dark day for Ghana as the lights literally went off in one of the most progressive countries in Africa. Many then did not realise it but the clocks started going backwards. Instability set in as the soldiers tried to fill the vacuum. Military rule became the order of the day interspersed with short-lived civilian regimes until the inauguration of the Fourth Republic in January 1993 that so far has brought in some stability to Ghana.
Even though the propaganda at the time of Nkrumah’s overthrow was that he neglected the home front to pursue his African agenda, today there are many who believe that Nkrumah pushed Ghana to achieve some measure of industrialisation and also pursued programmes to raise the living standards of Ghanaians.
Looking at what is happening today we cannot downplay the enormous contributions Nkrumah made towards the economic and social development of the country. Just as his critics are ready to point out to the resources he spent on the African project so can his admirers point to the so many interventions he introduced to make Ghana a showpiece on the continent. In retrospect one can look at such projects as the Akosombo Dam, the Tema Motorway, GIHOC, that is the Ghana Industrial Holding Corporation, with many subsidiaries in distillery, pharmaceuticals, shoe manufacturing, cannery and many more.
I believe the Daily Graphic editorial of Wednesday July 29, 2015 with headline “Let’s revive the industrial sector”, captures it all.
“Many private individuals and companies also set up industries which provided hope for the future of the new independent country which was the envy of many a country on the continent and beyond.
“Decades down the line, however, many of the manufacturing establishments that provided the youth of the country with job opportunities everywhere, have become ghosts because the industries that were set up in industrial enclaves have now become centres for religious and trading activities, defeating the country’s attempts at import substitution.
“The result is that Ghana now imports every conceivable item, from safety matches to toothpicks, a practice that has contributed, in no small measure to the foreign exchange difficulties being faced by the country”.
Some of Nkrumah’s achievements
In fact, talking about safety matches reminds me of the Kade Match Factory that provided all the matches we needed in the 1960s and they were of good quality too. Some of us still remember the Aboso Glass Factory and the Pwalugu Tomato Factory.
Nkrumah made sure some of these factories were sited in the rural areas where some of the raw materials could be found. The question now is what would have happened if Nkrumah had stayed a little longer, say 10 years more, to run the affairs of this country? The pace at which Ghana was running only God knows where we would have been by now. We started off in much the same way as Malaysia, of which Singapore was a part, till it became independent. Under Lee Kuan Yew, who ruled for about 40 years, Singapore was virtually transformed into a highly industrialised country. The same can be said of Malaysia.
While these countries were making progress because of stability and the fact that they had a leadership that was not ready to compromise on accelerated development, the opposite was the case in Ghana. As a result of sheer envy and jealousy those who overthrew Nkrumah were not ready to continue from where he left off. The only thing they believed in was to destroy the legacy of Africa’s man of destiny and wipe his name out of Ghana’s history, as if he never existed.
The result is what Ghana is facing today. By that coup of 1966 we were taken back several centuries whereas the Osagyefo had stated clearly that what Europe had taken centuries to accomplish, we have to take only decades to achieve.
In a recent discussion with Nana Akuoko Sarpong, Omanhene of Agogo Traditional Area, who was at the Old Polo Grounds on March 6, 1957 when he was a student of Accra Academy, he said he was a great admirer of Nkrumah as a nationalist and a leftist. However, he said he did not like the Preventive Detection Act Nkrumah introduced to silence his opponents. Nana believed that Nkrumah was simply unbeatable in any election and could have continued to rule Ghana without throwing his opponents, like Dr J. B. Danquah, into jail.
That may probably be the only dent in Nkrumah’s career. But as we mark his 106th birthday, which is now a public holiday, thanks to our late President, Prof. John Evans Atta Mills, let us salute the man who brought independence to Ghana, and who, but for destiny, would have carried Ghana to places.
May his soul continue to rest in perfect peace.
By: Razak El-Alawa