I read an article about Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and in it he was referred to as the Osagyefo, so for this presentation I will borrow the title with the author’s kind permission. The Osagyefo was born in Nkroful, a village in Nzima land then known to European sailors at the time as Appollonia in the Gold Coast now the Republic of Ghana. According to our history the Osagyefo was the only child born to his mother. He also had half brothers and sisters born to other wives of his father, who was a goldsmith.
According to the Osagyefo himself, he was born on a Saturday, hence the name Kwame and incidentally, that day was the day his parental grandmother’s funeral was being performed. His original name was Francis Nwia Nkrumah and was born on September 21, 1909. He is quoted as saying “On that particular day in Nkroful, my birth was of very little interest to the villagers. I am told, however, that there was a good deal of commotion going on where I was, for apparently I took too long to show signs of life”.
“But my female relatives, having dragged themselves away from the funeral celebrations, would not give in so easily. They were determined to put life into me and proceeded to make as much noise as they could with cymbals and other instruments, at the same time jolting me about and even stuffing banana into my mouth in an effort to make me cough and draw breath. They finally succeeded in arousing my interest and, their job completed, handed me back to my anxious mother, a yelling and kicking Saturday’s child.”
The Osagyefo was educated at the Achimota School in Accra, where it is said he enjoyed his education but above all, where the foundation for his exceptional public speaking skills was laid. It was while at the Achimota School that his role model and mentor, Dr. Kwagyir Aggrey, then first Vice Principal of the school died.
“A few of us”, says the Osagyefo, “got together and formed the Aggrey Students’ Society in his memory. The society acted as a forum for speech-making. Eventually this became a debating society. I thoroughly enjoyed these debates and could never resist taking the side of the minority group, whether I agree with their view or not, because it prolonged the debate and gave me a chance to express views that I would otherwise never have thought of.”
He also mentioned that many years later, what he regarded as a pastime proved very useful in the struggle for Ghana’s independence and continued, “Although this was a kind of game with me then, it turned out to be my most valuable discovery. Without this ‘gift of the gab’, my battle would have been lost from the very beginning and the whole struggle would have been in vain.”
Upon leaving Achimota school he taught at the Roman Catholic school in Axim for two years then moved on to teach at the Roman Catholic Seminary at Amissano near Elimina.
Study and Years Overseas.
In the year 1935, he received a letter from the Lincoln University, in Pennsylvania, USA, admitting him to pursue a first degree course. He then left the shores of Africa for the United States of America via Liverpool in the United Kingdom (UK) where he was assisted by an agent of George Grant (Paa Grant). Paa Grant later became the first President of the United Gold Cost Convention (UGCC).
The Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah with hard work and perseverance eventually graduated from the Lincoln University in 1939 receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree with a major in Economics and Sociology. He later said of himself “I had never experienced any difficulty in getting along with my fellow students, but I was very touched and highly honoured when they voted me as being the Most Interesting among them, recording this in the Class Year Book of 1939.”
“I still owed the University some money” he continued, “My original intention on leaving Lincoln was to enter the Columbia School of Journalism, but I was so financially crippled that this was quite out of the question, for the time being at any rate. I was very despondent, but just when my prospects seemed at their blackest I received a letter from the Professor of theology and philosophy at Lincoln, Dr. Johnson, inviting me to return there as an assistant lecturer in philosophy”.
“This was quite an honour but not what I had planned for myself. However, I really had little option, for the nature of my passport as a student was such that I was not allowed to stay ‘out of school’ during winter months. I sat and thought about it. The offer had arrived at a most opportune moment. I was desperately broke. Maybe it was the hand of fate. In the end I accepted and so, in the autumn of that year, returned to Lincoln as a philosophy assistant.”
“I thoroughly enjoyed it as it turned out, but I was not fully occupied. To my way of thinking, unless I was busy pretty well the whole of the twenty-four hours of each day I was wasting my time. I spent my time reading every book on modern philosophy I could lay my hands on. After acquainting myself with the works of Kant, Hegel, Descartes, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Freud and others, I appreciated the truth in the saying that law, medicine and arts are the arms and legs of learning but philosophy are the brain” he concluded.
Later in the same year he gained entrance into the Lincoln Theological Seminary while studying at the same time for his master’s degree in education and philosophy at the University of Pennsylvanian and a Master of Arts in philosophy, first year Greek and Negro history.
While lecturing in political science at Lincoln, he was elected president of the African Students Organization of America and Canada.
During his time in the United States, he also visited and preached in black Presbyterian Churches in Philadelphia and New York City. In all the Osagyefo spent Ten years in United States of America. He also mentioned that many times while studying and working overseas he had to sleep out rough, and worked at jobs that caused him untold misery as a black man from Africa. On one occasion he said that he nearly froze to death at the controls of a counter in the Sun Shipbuilding Yard at Chester.
He finally left New York in May 1945 and arrived back in United Kingdom with the intention to study at the London School of Economics. However, following a meeting with Dr. George Padmore, he helped to organize the Faith Pan-African Congress in Manchester. After that he began to work for the decolonization of Africa and thus became Vice-President of the West African Students Union.
The Return Home.
In the autumn of 1947, the Osagyefo was invited by the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) a conservative nationalist movement, to serve as its General Secretary where he worked directly under Dr. J.B. Danquah. This political convention was exploring paths to attain independence for the Gold Coast. The Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah humbly accepted the invitation and returned home to the Gold Coast by December.
Two months later, in February 1948, the Osu Cross Roads Shooting incident occurred. Police fired upon African ex-servicemen who were protesting the rapidly rising cost of living in the Gold Coast in which three ex-servicemen died. The shooting incident spurred a series of riots in Accra, Kumasi and other towns and this led to the government of the day suspecting that the UGCC was behind the protests and therefore arrested its leading members including the Osagyefo himself. However, having realized their mistake the government later released them from detention. Shortly after that he emerged as the leader of the youth movement.
The Osagyefo then began a series of country-wide travel, and moving from community to community, he proclaimed that the Gold Coast needed “self-government now”. This then led to the establishment of a large power base in which he gained the massive support from the cocoa farmers who rallied to his cause because they disagreed with the government policy concerning the containment of the swollen shoot disease. He also appealed to the market women to be a part of the political process and this was at a time when women’s suffering was new to Western Democracy. The workers unions also allied massively behind his movement. By 1949, he had organized these groups into a new political party called the Convention People’s Party (CPP) after he had fallen out of favour with the UGCC.
The Osagyefo’s political momentum had reached such a peak with moves towards the establishment of self-government that the colonial government had to call for the drafting of a New Constitution that gave some responsibility for policy decisions. Under the new Constitution drawn up by a selected commission of the middle class, wages and property requirements were the basis for suffrage in the Gold Coast. The Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah brought together his own “People’s Assembly” which was composed of representatives of party members, youth for a universal franchise without property qualifications, a separate house of chiefs, and self-governing status under the Statute of Westminster. This amendment, known as the Constitutional Proposals of October 1949, was rejected by the colonial administration.
The colonial administration’s rejection of the People’s Assembly’s recommendations eventually led directly to the Osagyefo’s call for “Positive Action” in January 1950. This “Positive Action” was to include the call for civil disobedience, non-cooperation, boycotts, and strikes which would force the government to yield to their demands. This action back fired and the colonial masters retaliated by arresting the Osagyefo and many of his party leaders and supporters. He was eventually sentenced to three years in prison at the James Fort prison.
The Osagyefo’s conviction was seen as a move to silence and break the back of the CPP so it generated considerable international pressure and protests to British continued rule and hence the decision by the Queen of England to grant independence to the Gold Coast. Britain therefore organized Africa’s first general election to be held under universal franchise in 1951. Even though in jail, the Osagyefo won the election by a landslide victory and his CPP party gained 34 seats in the Legislative Assembly. The Osagyefo was released from prison in the mid morning of February 12, 1951 to become the Leader of Government Business. A wholly new period began, in which the principle of ultimate independence was no longer in question. This finally paved the way for the Gold Coast to begin preparations towards the attainment of independence within the “shortest possible time”, when the then British Governor in the person of Sir Charles Arden-Clarke asked him to head a new government which would eventually lead to independence.
As leader of the newly established government business, he was appointed Prime Minister. The Osagyefo faced three major challenges. The first was that he needed to learn the art of government and secondly, he was required to create a unified Nation from the 4 territories of Gold Coast. The last hurdle was that, he needed to win independence for the Gold Coast. Being a man in a great hurry, the Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was very successful at achieving all three challenges and within a span of Nine years of his release from prison; he became President of a unified Nation with complete political freedom.
Under the Osagyefo’s exemplary leadership, the Gold Coast took enormous steps forward to lift the nation out of poverty by creating Welfare system. He also started various community based programs, and established many schools. He also ordered the construction of major roads and bridges to further commerce and communication. In the interest of the nation’s health, he had portable drinking water systems installed in the villages and ordered the construction of concrete drains for latrines.
At the stroke of 12 midnight on March 6, 1957 the Gold Coast was declared an Independent state and the Osagyefo in his inaugural speech named her Ghana. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was hailed as “Osagyefo” which means “Victorious Leader” in the Akan language.
Ghana was declared a Republic in 1960 and the Osagyefo became its first President after winning the general elections again. In 1962 he was awarded the Lenin Peace Prize by the Soviet Union. The Republic of Ghana also became a character member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963.
The Osagyefo’s Political Career.
The Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah generally took a non-aligned Marxist perspective on economics, and believed the malignant effects of capitalism were going to stay with Africa for a long time. Although he was clear on distancing himself from the African socialism of many of his contemporaries; Nkrumah argued that socialism was the system that would best accommodate the changes that capitalism had brought, while still respecting African values. He specifically addresses these issues and his politics in a 1967 essay entitled ‘African Socialism Revisited’
He was also best remembered politically for his strong commitment and promotion of Pan-Africanism. Having been inspired by the writing and his relationships with black intellectuals like Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois, and George Padmore; he went on to inspire and encourage Pan-Africanist positions amongst a number of other African independence leaders and activists from the African Diaspora and perhaps his biggest success in this area being his significant influence in the founding of the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
The Osagyefo attempted to move Ghana’s economy towards a more industrial model. His reasoning being moving Ghana out of the colonial trade system by reducing its dependence on foreign capital, technology, and material goods, which would allow it to become truly independent. Unfortunately, he moved massively to industrialization at the expense of his country’s cocoa growing sector, which had been a strong economic sector then.
In the end, the various economic projects that he undertook, though generally successful, like the case of the Volta Dam, were a total drain on the foreign reserves of the country. Neither did they also remove Ghana from dependence on western imports. By the time he was overthrown, Ghana had gone from being one of the richest countries in Africa to one of the poorest.
In 1958, The Osagyefo introduced two pieces of legislation that would restrict the freedoms of the people of Ghana. In the wake of the Gold Miners Strike of 1955, the Trade Union Act was introduced, which made strikes illegal. In reaction to a suspected plot on the part of an opposition member of parliament, the Preventive Detention Act (PDA) was also introduced and this made it possible to arrest and detain anyone charged with treason without the involvement of the nation’s court system.
In 1961, when the railway workers went on strike he ordered the arrest of the strike leaders and opposition politicians under the Trade Union Act of 1958 even though he himself had organized strikes a few years before. There was no longer any place for those who opposed him in his plan for the rapid industrial development of the country. He told the unions that their days as advocates for the safety and just compensation of miners were over and their new job was to work with management in the mobilization of human resources. Wage incentives were to give way to patriotic duty. In the Osagyefo’s eyes, the good of the nation as a whole superseded the good of all individual workers.
The Fall Of The Osagyefo.
The Preventive Detention Act led to widespread disaffection in his administration. Some of his henchmen used the law to have innocent people arrested and thrown into jail so that they could acquire their political offices and business assets and his closest advisers were reluctant to discuss Ghana’s true economic situation for fear that they might be seen as being critical of him. So when the nation’s clinics ran out of pharmaceuticals, no one notified him and this made people believe that he no longer cared. The situation was such that even his advisers trembled at the sight of the Osagyefo when they were called in to answer questions about the economy and the quite justifiable fear of an assassination attempt made him become even less accessible.
By 1964, Ghana was declared a one-party state with the Osagyefo declaring himself Life President. The Osagyefo had by now become one of Africa’s most ruthless dictator. He was also described as a man in a very great hurry.
However, his commitment to the industrial development of the country at any cost led to his decision to construct a hydro-electric power plant on the Volta River at Akosombo. American corporations built the dam but they also placed numerous restrictions on what could be produced using that power from it. The cost of borrowing money to build the dam placed the nation in serious debt; and financing the debt required higher taxation from the cocoa farmers. The dam project was eventually completed and officially opened amidst world publicity on January 22, 1966. The dam today continues to generate about 60% power for Ghana and neighboring countries like Togo, Benin and the Ivory Coast.
The Osagyefo also wanted Ghana to have modern armed forces so he acquired military aircraft and ships and also introduced conscription in the armed forces. He also gave military support to those fighting the white minority governance of Southern Rhodesia which is modern day Zimbabwe.
The momentum of the Osagyefo’s actions, symbolized by the break with Britain, threatened the independence of the army and the police so on February 24, 1966, while he was on a gratuitous peace mission to Vietnam, his government was overthrown and his CPP party outlawed. The military rulers then announced that “the myth of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah is ended forever.”
The jubilant crowd destroyed all statues of the Osagyefo and renamed the many roads, circles, buildings and universities that had borne his name. From a dreary exile in Guinea, he ineffectually tried to rally Ghana against the new military regime. Though initially proclaimed “Co President of Guinea” on his arrival, a gesture of sentiment. He soon found himself watched and isolated without his Egyptian wife Madam Fathia of 8 years and children who had also been kicked out of the Flag Staff House and had to return to Egypt.
The Osagyefo never returned to Ghana, but he did continue to push for his vision for African unity in Guinea, where he spent his time reading, writing, corresponding, gardening, and entertaining guests. Despite his retirement from public office, his fear of western intelligence agencies did not abate so when his cook died, he began to fear that someone would poison him and he took to hoarding food in his room. He also suspected that the foreign agents were going through his mail and lived in constant fear of abduction and assassination.
By 1971, then in failing health, he was flown to Bucharest in Romania for medical treatment where he was diagnosed with skin cancer. He died there on April 27, 1972 at the age of 62 and was flown back to Conakry and buried. His body exhumed and finally brought back to Ghana after very difficult diplomatic wrangling and it was interred in a tomb at Nkroful, the place of his birth.
In July 1992 his remains were transferred to a purpose built mausoleum and park situated in the capital Accra.
1. The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah.
2. Britannica Concise.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia.
4. Other web articles, books and magazines.