By Kwesi Pratt,Jnr
Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was not just the first President of Ghana but a very extraordinary man whose life and works contributed significantly to changing the world. He grew from a little village boy in Nkroful in the Western Region of Ghana to a world leader fully devoted to the struggle to free all black people from all forms of racism.
He was also against everything which kept people irrespective of their colour in conditions of slavery. He opposed oppression and exploitation in all its forms.
Many historians including Basil Davidson and F. K. Buah credit Nkrumah with the leadership of the struggle which led to granting independence to many African countries under various forms of colonialism. Indeed Nkrumah is placed in the same category as Einstien, Karl Marx, V. I. Lenin, Tousant O’Liverture and Mahatama Ghandi whose ideas and actions helped to make the world a better place.
Amongst the many things which make Nkrumah stand out as an extraordinary personality was his realization that Africans everywhere ought to unite in common effort to assert their dignity and use their resources for meeting their needs and realizing their aspirations. His ideas for the unity of all Africans has come to be known as Pan-Africanism and they have their roots in his experiences as a colonial subject, his sojourn in the United States of America and the racist experience he suffered there and his association with Pan-Africanist thinkers of the time including W. E. B. Dubious, Marcus Garvey, George Padmore and Makonnen.
After completing his elementary school education, Nkrumah went to Achimota School from where he graduated as a teacher. He was still burning with ambition to excel academically and in 1935, he left for the United States of America where he enrolled at the Lincoln University, first obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree and later doing a masters course at the Philadelphia University.
Given the fact that Nkrumah came from a poor background, he had to work to pay for his education. He worked as a waiter and sometimes as a dish washer. He did anything which would put a few dollars in his pocket and help him fend for himself in a land which was obviously strange to a village boy from Nkroful.
Nkrumah experienced racism at first hand. He saw that Africans were all victims of racism no matter where they came from. In searching for to questions about racism Nkrumah joined black students organizations and became acquainted with the ideas of such activists as Marcus Garvey. He read widely and was transformed into an activist.
When Nkrumah moved to London in 1945, he joined other Africans and persons of African decent in implementing the ideas he had formed. They worked in the West African students Union and the West African National Secretarial for the sole purpose of accelerating the independence process in West Africa as part of the general struggle of emancipating the African wherever he may be.
Nkrumah had established contact with George Padmore one of the key organizers of the 5th Pan African Congress before he arrived in the United Kingdom and it was indeed Padmore who found accommodation for him at the West African Students Union’s hostel. Padmore guided Nkrumah in his early days in London and together they plunged into work for the 5th Pan African Congress held in Manchester in October 1945.
According to June Milne, a biographer of Nkrumah, the 5th Pan African Congress was a departure from earlier ones to the extent that there was a strong participation from the youth and students of Africa. In her book “Kwame Nkrumah, A Biography” she asserts that earlier Pan African Congresses were dominated professionals and members of the intellectual class.
It is widely held that Nkrumah’s own involvement with the West African students Union and Associations of African students in the United States of America contributed largely to this departure. The strong participation of youth and students in this congress was also a clear manifestation of Nkrumah’s organizational ability.
The 5th Pan African Congress was particularly important because it defined and clarified the ideology of Pan-Africanism. It defined Pan Africanism as an anti-imperialist concept and saw its prime movers as workers and the underprivileged. Pan Africanism was also seen as an enterprise at building socialism.
A resolution which was drafted by Nkrumah and adopted by the Congress read as follows;
“We believe in the rights of all peoples to govern themselves. We affirm the rights of all colonial peoples to control their own destiny. All colonies must be free from foreign imperialist control, whether political or economic. The peoples of the colonies must have the right to elect their own government; a government without restrictions from a foreign power. We say to the peoples of the colonies that they must strive for these goals by all means at their disposal.
“The object of imperialist powers is to exploit. By granting the right to the colonial peoples to govern themselves, they are defeating that objective. Therefore, the struggle for political power by the colonial and subject peoples is a first step towards, and the necessary pre-requisite to complete social, economic and political emancipation.
“The fifth Pan-African Congress, therefore, calls on the workers and farmers of the colonies to organize effectively, Colonial workers must be in the frontlines of the battle against imperialism……”
Nkrumah’s success in helping to organize the 5th Pan African Congress and his activities in the West African Union spread way beyond England to all corners of the African world. The leadership of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) heard of the exploits of this man at a time when their own organization needed rejuvenation. They quickly invited Nkrumah to take up the full time position of General Secretary of the Convention.
By accepting to become the General Secretary of the UGCC, Nkrumah did not abandon the Pan African ideal. As a matter of fact when he returned to the Gold Coast in 1947, he recognized that he was only taking one step towards the unification of the African continent as a home for Africans everywhere.
He kept his contacts with Padmore, Mahonnen, and all the others with whom he had worked on the Pan African project.
It is significant that on the eve of Ghana’s independence on 6th march 1957, he declared loudly that “the independence of Ghana is meaningless until it is linked to the total liberation of the African continent” The organization of the All African People’s Conference in Accra only one year after the declaration of independence attest to the Pan-African Agenda of Dr Kwame Nkrumah. This conference brought together the newly independent states in Africa and the national liberation movement to strategize on how to speed up the decolonization process. It was also the beginnings of what became known as the Organization of African Unity (OAU).
One year after Ghana’s independence, Nkrumah pushed for the Ghana-Guinea Union as the nucleus of the continental Union Government of Africa. In 1961, Mali was drawn into the Union which became the spearhead of the agitation for a continental government. The OAU was eventually formed in 1963.
Whiles desperately forging the unity of the states in Africa, Nkrumah maintained his contacts with Africans everywhere in the world. He spoke out for the civil rights movement in the USA and met with Malcom X on more than one occasion. Malcom was even invited to visit Ghana and to hold discussions with the Ghanaian authorities on the links that existed between the struggle of African-Americans and developments on the continent. Nkrumah was also a keen inspiration for the Black Panther movement.
He was also the most strident advocate of Pan Africanism in his days. Many of the books he authored advocated the unity of Africans from all over the world. Some of these books were “Africa Must Unite’ “Neo-Colonialism, the last Stage of Imperialism” and “Class Struggle in Africa”
Nkrumah’s strongest arguments for African Unity are made in his book “Africa Must Unite”. He writes “we in Africa who are pressing now for unity are deeply conscious of the validity of our purpose. We need the strength of our combined numbers and resources to protect ourselves from the very positive dangers of returning to colonialism in disguised forms. We need it to combat the entrenched forces dividing our continent and still holding back millions of our brothers. We need it to secure total African liberation. We need it to carry forward our construction of a socio-economic system that will support the great mass of our steadily rising population at levels of life which will compare with those in the most advanced countries”
For Nkrumah the situation in which Africa remains the richest continent on the globe whiles its people are counted amongst the poorest is untenable. He saw Pan-Africanism defined loosely as the ideology and activism of Africans everywhere united in the battle against their under development as a redeeming force. Pan Africanism was not just an intellectual exercise, for Nkrumah it was the ideology for the liberation of the African from the clutches of oppression and exploitation.