According to the history books, 108 years ago on Sept. 21, 1909, Kwame Nkrumah, the founder and leader of the African independence movement and the foremost advocate of Pan-Africanism during his time, was born in the western Nzima region of the Gold Coast, later known as the independent state of Ghana.
Nkrumah was the first head of state of an independent post-colonial nation in Africa south of the Sahara, after he led Ghana to national liberation under the direction of the Convention Peoples Party in 1957. Educated at the historically Black college of Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, Nkrumah became involved in the Pan-African movement in the United States during the 1930s and 1940s as a leading member of the African Students Association, the Council on African Affairs, as well as other organizations.
After leaving the United States at the conclusion of World War II in 1945, he played a leading role in convening the historic Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England—a gathering that many credit with laying the foundation for the mass struggles for independence during the 1940s and 1950s.
During his stay in England from 1945 to 1947, he collaborated with George Padmore of Trinidad, a veteran activist in the international communist movement and a journalist who wrote extensively on African affairs. Nkrumah was offered a position with the United Gold Coast Convention as an organizer in late 1947 and made the critical decision to return to the Gold Coast to assist in the anti-colonial struggle that was intensifying in the aftermath of World War II.
After being imprisoned with other leaders of the UGCC for supposedly inciting unrest among veterans, workers and farmers in the colony, he gained widespread popularity among the people, who responded enthusiastically to his militant and fiery approach to the burgeoning anti-imperialist movement. After forming the Committee on Youth Organization, which became the best organized segment of the UGCC, Nkrumah was later isolated from the top leadership of the Convention, who objected to his demands for immediate political independence for the Gold Coast.
On June 12, 1949, Nkrumah and the CYO formed the Convention Peoples Party in Accra, Ghana, at a mass gathering of tens of thousands of people. They were prepared to launch a mass struggle for the abolition of British colonial rule over the Gold Coast. During this same period, Nkrumah formed links with other anti-colonial and Pan-African organizations that were operating in other colonies of West Africa. When the CPP called for a Positive Action Campaign in early 1950, leading to massive strikes and rebellion throughout the colony, Nkrumah was imprisoned by the colonial authorities for sedition.
The executive members of the CPP continued to press for the total independence of the colony, eventually creating conditions for a popular election in 1951 that the CPP won overwhelmingly. In February 1951, Nkrumah was released from prison in Ghana and appointed Leader of Government Business in a transitional arrangement that eventually led to the independence of Ghana on March 6, 1957.
Vision of Pan-Africanism, socialism
At the independence gathering on March 6, Nkrumah—now prime minister—declared that Ghana’s independence was meaningless unless it was directly linked with the total liberation of the continent. This statement served as the cornerstone of Ghanaian foreign policy during Nkrumah’s tenure as leader of the country.
George Padmore became the official advisor on African affairs, and was placed in charge of the Bureau of African Affairs, whose task was to assist other national liberation movements on the continent in their efforts to win political independence. In April 1958, the First Conference of Independent African States was convened, with eight nation-states as participants. This gathering broke down the colonially imposed divisions between Africa north and south of the Sahara.
In December later that same year, the first All-African Peoples Conference was held in Accra, bringing together 62 national liberation movements from all over the continent, as well as representation from Africans in the United States. It was at this conference in December 1958 that Patrice Lumumba of Congo became an internationally recognized leader of the anti-colonial struggle in that Belgian colony.
By 1960 the independence movement had gained tremendous influence throughout Africa, resulting in the emergence of many new nation-states on the continent. That same year, Ghana became a republic and adopted its own constitution, making Nkrumah the president of the government.
However, there arose fissures within the leadership of the CPP over which direction thenew state would take in its economic and social policies. Many of Nkrumah’s colleagues, who had been instrumental in the struggle for independence, were not committed to his long-term goals of Pan-Africanism and socialism. Consequently, many of the programmatic initiatives launched by the CPP government were stifled by the class aspirations of those state and party officials who were noncommittal about a total revolutionary transformation of Ghanaian society and the African continent as a whole.
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire