Kwame Nkrumah, the founder and first President of Ghana, died prematurely, in 1973 when he was only 64. On the occasion of what would have been his 110th birthday on September 21, 2019, it serves a national and pan-Africanist purpose to acknowledge his contributions to Ghana and Africa.
Nkrumah was declared as “Africa’s Man of the 20th Century” in a BBC survey of thousands of Africans at the turn of the last century.
He is the only African Head of State with a statue in front of the headquarters building of the African Union Commission in Addis Ababa.
Many Ghanaians remember Kwame Nkrumah best through some of the physical infrastructure he constructed: the Accra-Tema Motorway, Akosombo Hydro Power Project, Kwame Nkrumah University for Science and Technology, and some of the more than 300 state-owned enterprises and institutions he established from 1951-1966, first as Leader of Government Business, then Prime Minister and President.
In the 1960s, Ghana produced radio and TV sets and fridges, well before Samsung and LG became household names.
Ghana assembled vehicles, produced sugar, manufactured car tyres, made glass, produced ceramic cookware, a wide range of textiles, shoes, paints, drugs, electric bulbs, canned foods, building materials, paper, and numerous other consumer products that Ghana does not produce today. Had the industrialisation trajectory been sustained, Ghana could have been supplying a lot of Africa’s manufactured needs today.
An Atomic Energy Reactor at Kwabenya, developed for peaceful purposes, could have enabled Ghana today to produce more than 10,000 MW of power to export all over Africa.
Nkrumah never dies
As President, Kwame Nkrumah found time to write more than 10 informative books. Kwame Nkrumah made sure that most of his ideas would outlive him, hence the phrase: “Nkrumah never dies!”
Kwame Nkrumah promoted Ghana’s national unity partly through the boarding school system where all students were made to feel very equal, irrespective of family wealth, creed, fame, ethnicity or occupation.
A successful national soccer team, the Black Stars; a 22-ship-fleet Black Star Line, the very popular Ghana Airways, and Ghanaian embassies in every independent African country, were amongst the strategies Kwame Nkrumah used to lift very high the flag of Ghana.
The main criticisms against him were alleged human rights abuses, unfair imprisonments, the reduction in some personal freedoms, economic stagnation from centralised government, shortages of consumer products by 1966, some cronyism, and a one-party state.
Achievements in Africa
Kwame Nkrumah’s success in helping to liberate the African continent is what gave him the greatest recognition.
He made Ghana’s highly prized passport readily available to the leaders of the various liberation movements of countries that were still under colonial rule.
He lived up to his own dictum that: “The Independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of the African continent.”
Kwame Nkrumah organised several conferences of African liberation movements. He gave them hard cash, provided training for their fighters and warriors, and gave scholarships for study in Ghana or elsewhere.
Through the effective use of Ghana’s missions overseas, and news dissemination through the Ghana News Agency and Radio Ghana (as GBC was then called),
Kwame Nkrumah took the fight to the colonialists and got them fleeing from Africa.
Kwame Nkrumah kept speaking, preaching and working for Continental Unity for Africa. “Africa Must Unite”, the title of one of his powerful speeches and a book, was a simple message with solid logical economic underpinnings.
His ideas and proposals are what led to the creation of the Organisation of African Unity (today the African Union Commission), the African Development Bank, and other pan-African institutions. Kwame Nkrumah helped to create the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) of countries, which wished to avoid coming under the command of the great powers—the USA and the Soviet Union.
He gave NAM its famous motto: “We Face neither East nor West, We Face Forward!” Kwame Nkrumah’s decision to marry an Egyptian woman, Fathia, on the same day they met in Accra, sent a strong message to North Africans of their oneness with black Africa.
At a time when African leaders struggle with allegations of corruption, KN managed to lead the Gold Coast and Ghana for 15 years without owning a single piece of land or a house. The very apogee of selflessness.
Africa’s new opportunities
The recently signed and ratified African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) agreement, after many decades of effort and negotiation, has justified the vision and toils of Osagyefo.
Africa has a framework for collaboration into the future that should give all Africans hope.
Africa’s Vision 2063 means that the continent’s leaders are thinking long-term about the Africa we want.
In a Knowledge Age, it is critical that Ghana fully harnesses its human capacity.
To live up to Nkrumah’s expectations, Ghanaians must network, develop, mobilize and deploy our knowledge like never before.
Nkrumah@110 must still lie uneasy, after all “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown”. Let’s hope that Nkrumah@150 - past 2063 - will be able to rest easily at last.
The writer has been an Ambassador of Ghana and a minister.
Previously, he worked at the World Bank, the African Development Bank and the Commonwealth Telecom Organisation.