Nkrumah’s Ghana and its independence in the words of the greats
A few years ago when Ghana celebrated the 60th Anniversary of weaning itself off the breast of wicked British colonialists, the president of the land, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, gave a very resounding speech. A speech that was described as nationalistic in character and historically inspiring.
He took us through our struggle as a people, highlighting particular individuals who championed the cause of our liberation from the manacles of colonialism and shackles of imperialism. It was an impressive speech and apt and right for the occasion. The president, some say, must be hailed profoundly for doing that – especially when he happens to be the son of one of the actors during the closing stages of our struggle against the wicked colonialists.
But the point must be made. One person stood when others sat. He was outstanding when they were standing, and became our standard when they were outstanding. It is by nature itself. “History chooses unusual people and reveals itself through the drama of their lives. It is also known that in all political struggles there are individuals whose presence in the field of battle makes a difference.” This is captured in the emergence of Kwame Nkrumah on our political scene in the struggle for independence.
Nkrumah’s appearance on the stage of our independence struggle was the change factor. He was the catalyst. And with my little science, I know catalysts change the reaction pathway and speed up the reaction. And so, he did it with energised momentum till we attained our independence. It is by nature itself. There happens to be the one ‘most hailed and most celebrated’ among a group of people. And this ‘most hailed and most celebrated’ in most instances happen to be the most diligent in the cause. Let us take an example with apartheid South Africa.
Six years before Mandela was born, the African National Congress was founded. On the fateful morning in Blomemfontein on January 8, 1912, as the founding fathers (Isaka Seme, Sol Paatje, Reverend John Dube, Thomas Mapikela, Walter Rubusana etc.) sang Enoch Sontonga’s Nkosi Sikelel’I Africa, little did they know that their task of winning political power for the Blacks would forever end up being synonymous with a child yet to be born – six years later in 1918.
Nelson Mandela grew up in a village in a royal house. He had to run away to the city when he was told a wife had been arranged for him. He found himself in the city and got involved with Oliver Tambo, Albert Luthuli and the rest who initiated him into the struggle. In the end, he surpassed people who were already in the struggle or who were with him. The Ahmed Kathradas, the Robert Sobukwe Mangalisos, the Steve Bikos etc. to become the one to bring Black South Africa into power.
And his name is now synonymous with the cause of ending apartheid in South Africa. The rest are somehow forgotten, but it’s just that history chose Mandela.
So, the point is simple. History chose Nkrumah and he stands tall. He is not only the greatest Ghanaian, but the Greatest African and one of the world’s greatest. He stands tallest. And it is this attribute of his that made him the magnetic factor wherever he found himself. Many of the people he associated with always had thoughts of his exceptional personality lingering in their minds and hearts.
At Lincoln, he was described as the most interesting of all students. In the 1939 edition of the school’s publication, his photograph accompanied a verse of him:
Africa is the beloved of his dream
Philosopher, thinker, with forceful schemes
In aesthetics, politics, he’s in the field
Nkrumah, tres interessant, radiates appeal
When Ghana was declared independent sixty years ago, a lot of the American civil rights activists were in the country. Some were surprised at the impact a leader had on the vast majority of his people, the command he had over them, and the overwhelming inspiration gained from his movements.
The erstwhile President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, wrote in a piece:
“During Nkrumah’s time at the University of Pennsylvania, he helped to establish its African-studies section. He also established the African Students Association of America and Canada, and served as its first president”.
Given all this, it is no wonder that some of the most notable Black people in American history were present to witness the moment of Ghana’s independence: U.N. Undersecretary for Special Political Affairs Ralph Bunche, also a Nobel Peace Prize recipient; Sen. Charles Diggs; Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.; Mordecai Johnson, the first Black president of Howard University; international labour activist Maida Springer; Horace Mann Bond, the first Black president of Lincoln University and the father of Julian Bond; Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King; and Lucille Armstrong, representing her husband Louis, who could not attend.
Also present was then-Vice President Richard Nixon. A rather telling story has been written numerous times of how Nixon approached a group of Black people whom he assumed to be Ghanaians and asked, “How does it feel to be free?”
“We wouldn’t know,” they responded. “We’re from Alabama.”
Their response only emphasised a remark made to the vice president by Dr. King at a reception that was held two days prior to independence. It was the first time the two had ever met. “I want you to come visit us down in Alabama,” King said, “where we are seeking the same kind of freedom the Gold Coast is celebrating.”
Dr. King felt so much inspired that during a radio interview in Accra, he stated: “It renews my conviction in the ultimate triumph of justice. And it seems to me that this is fit testimony to the fact that, eventually, the forces of justice triumph in the universe; and somehow the universe itself is on the side of freedom and justice. So, that this gives new hope to me in the struggle for freedom”.
When he returned home, he delivered a sermon titled The Birth of a New Nation. In that speech, he likened Nkrumah to Moses in the bible who led the Israelites out of bondage. He said: “The thing that impressed me more than anything else that night was the fact that when Nkrumah walked in, and his other ministers who had been in prison with him, they didn’t come in with the crowns and all of the garments of kings, but they walked in with prison caps and the coats that they had lived with for all of the months they had been in prison”.
Nkrumah stood up and made his closing speech to Parliament with the little cap that he wore in prison for several months and the coat that he wore in prison for several months, and all of his ministers round about him. That was a great hour. An old Parliament passing away.
And then at twelve o’clock that night we walked out. As we walked out, we noticed all over the polo grounds almost a half a million people. They had waited for this hour and this moment for years. As we walked out of the door and looked at that beautiful building, we looked up to the top of it.
And there was a little flag that had been flowing around the sky for many years. It was the Union Jack flag of the Gold Coast, the British flag, you see. But at twelve o’clock that night we saw a little flag coming down and another flag went up.
The old Union Jack flag came down and the new flag of Ghana went up. This was a new nation now; a new nation being born. And then Prime Minister Nkrumah stood up before his people out in the polo grounds and said: “We are no longer a British colony; we are a free, sovereign people”.
One of Africa’s greatest writers, Chinua Achebe, wrote about how profound Nkrumah and the independence of Ghana were to them. In his autobiography There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra, he wrote: “Ghana was a particularly relevant example for us subjects in the remaining colonies and dominions of the British Empire. There was a growing confidence, not just a feeling, that we would do just as well parting ways with Her Majesty’s empire”.
He later talked about the influence Nigeria’s first president, Nnamdi Azikiwe, had on other African leaders by saying: “Despite initial problems in Ghana, Azikiwe had acquired admirers, especially young aspiring freedom fighters; including Kwame Nkrumah, the greatest of them all”.
“The man of New York”, as Maya Angelou described Malcolm X, was in Ghana as part of his tour of Africa. And this is what he had to say:
“I think that nowhere is the Black continent’s wealth and the natural beauty of its people richer than in Ghana, which is so proudly the very fountainhead of Pan-Africanism.” He spoke highly of our nation and as usual due to the impeccable qualities of our first president, he never finished his chronicles without talking about him.
He said in his autobiography “In Ghana – or in all of Black Africa – my highest single honour was an audience at the Castle with Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Before seeing him, I was searched most thoroughly.
“I respected the type of security the Ghanaians erect around their leader. It gave me that much more respect for independent Black men. Then, as I entered Dr. Nkrumah’s long office, he came out from behind his desk at the far end. Dr. Nkrumah wore ordinary dress, his hand was extended and a smile was on his sensitive face. I pumped his hand.
“We sat on a couch and talked. I knew that he was particularly well-informed on the Afro-American’s plight, as for years he had lived and studied in America. We discussed the unity of Africans and peoples of African descent. We agreed that pan-Africanism was the key also to the problems of those of African heritage. I could feel the warm, likeable and very down-to-earth qualities of Dr. Nkrumah.
“My time with him was up all too soon. I promised faithfully that when I returned to the United States I would relay to Afro-Americans his personal warm regards.”
He reiterated later on: “President Nkrumah is doing something there that the government of America does not like to see done, and that is he’s restoring the African image. He is making the African proud of the African image; and whenever the African becomes proud of the African image and this positive image is projected abroad, then the Black man in America, who up to now has had nothing but a negative image of Africa – automatically the image that the Black man in America has of his African brother changes from negative to positive, and the image that the Black man in America has of himself will also change from negative to positive”.
After the infamous overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, he received many letters from state presidents across the world and from many other people. I choose the one sent him by Lee Kuan Yew. We all know how he turned a backward fishing colony into one of the most developed countries in the world. How he did that was captured in his book ‘From Third World to First World’.
This is what he wrote to Nkrumah: “I have taken two weeks to compose my thoughts to tell you how disturbed I was at the shocking news of what took place in Accra so soon after we last met. I visited Ghana twice, and I do not believe that political changeover has written ‘finish’ to the chapter of what has gone before. I do not know what exactly happened nor how things will turn out, but I am sure you know that there are many people who wish Ghana and you all the best.
“The Ghanaians are a vigorous and lively people and they deserve all the vision and leadership which you strove to give them, to make Ghana into a strong, modern part of an Africa whose unity you have always espoused.
“My colleague, Rajaratnam, and I remember your kindness to us and your support for Singapore, and would like to express our sympathy for you in your moment of distress. May what you stand for, a united Africa and a great Ghana, triumph and flourish.”
Let’s not forget that world-celebrated leaders came to Ghana to pick one or two thoughts from the greatest African. Not forgetting Nelson Mandela (though he never met him because Nkrumah was still recovering from a bomb attack on him) Muhammad Ali, Maya Angelou apart from the numerous ones who met with him at other geographical locations and picked up his thoughts; Gamel Abdul Nasser, Fidel Castro, Hastings Kamuzu Banda, Obafemi Awolowo and a long list of others that cannot be enumerated here.
Nkrumah is undoubtedly the greatest Ghanaian and the greatest African ever. C.L.R James described Nkrumah as the “Lenin of Africa” and Amilcar Cabral labelled him “the strategist of genius in the struggle against classical colonialism”.
In 1997, the first President of Tanzania, Julius Kambarage Nyerere, was in Ghana for the Ghana at 40 celebrations. And in his address he made a very powerful statement. The statement is revealing to the extent that Nyerere was thought to be the intellectual match to Kwame Nkrumah in the days of Casablanca-Monrovia bloc on formation of the Organisation of African Unity (now African Union). The statement showed that those days he was with Nkrumah, he debated him ignorantly and did not know what he was saying (with all due respect to his memory); a situation many of Nkrumah’s contemporaries found themselves in.
He said: “I still recall arguing with Nkrumah on occasional instances, when I told him that his idea of African unity was not going to work because he was doing things for propaganda purposes. But long after his overthrow and subsequent death, it took me 10 years of consistent study to get the full import of what Kwame was talking about. In fact, Kwame Nkrumah is the greatest African ever………”
NB: The writer is a Youth-Activist and the Executive Secretary of Success Book Club.