KWAME NKRUMAH (1909-1972)
Kwame Nkrumah, the leader of the Gold Coast's movement toward independence from Britain during the 1940s and '50s, headed the new nation of Ghana following its independence in 1957 until 1966, when he was overthrown by a coup.
Excerpt from "Commanding Heights" by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw, 1998 ed., pp. 83-88. (Simon & Schuster, Inc., N.Y.)
-- In the period of [African colonial independence] the beacon country from Africa was Ghana, first to achieve independence in 1957. The new nation's most influential figure was its prime minister, later president, Kwame Nkrumah. When Nkrumah was born in 1910, Ghana was still the Gold Coast, a British colony known for its plantations and for being the world's largest producer of cocoa. Its frontiers were the result of bargains among the colonial powers - Britain, France, and Germany - that did not correspond to the historical boundaries of the kingdoms that preceded colonization, particularly the once-mighty Ashanti empire.
Nkrumah, who came from a modest, traditional family, received his early education at the hands of Catholic missionaries. He went on to train as a teacher and for a few years taught elementary school in towns along the coast. He was popular and charismatic, and earned a decent living. But exposure to politics and to a few influential figures sparked in him a greater interest - to go to America. He applied to universities in the United States, and with money raised from relatives, he set out on a steamer in 1935. He reached New York almost penniless, and took refuge with fellow West Africans in Harlem. He then presented himself at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania and enrolled; a small scholarship and a campus job helped him make ends meet.
In the United States, Nkrumah saw alternatives to the British tradition of government. He also became suffused with an acute consciousness of the politics of race relations. Unlike many new African leaders, who sought to emulate their European instructors, Nkrumah plunged into America's black communities. Founded before the Civil War, Lincoln University was America's oldest black college, and its special atmosphere inspired and comforted Nkrumah. In the summers, he worked at physically demanding jobs - in shipyards and construction at sea. He studied theology as well as philosophy; he frequented the black churches in New York and Philadelphia and was sometimes asked to preach. He also forged ties with black American intellectuals, for whom Africa was becoming, in this time of political change, an area of extreme interest. Moving to London after World War II, Nkrumah helped organize Pan-African congresses, linking the emergent educated groups of the African colonies with activists, writers, artists, and well-wishers from the industrial countries. It was a time of great intellectual ferment, excitement, and optimism. India's achievement of independence in 1947 stirred dreams of freedom for the other colonies. "If we get self-government," Nkrumah proclaimed, "we'll transform the Gold Coast into a paradise in 10 years."
READ MORE HERE
*[First posted 17/03/07]