Kwame Nkrumah

(1909–1972) Ghanaian prime minister

Kwame Nkrumah was born in the British-controlled Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) in West Africa. He trained as a teacher and studied in both the United States and England. Nkrumah helped to organize the 1945 Pan Africa Congress and remained a staunch supporter of African union and cooperation. An ardent nationalist, Nkrumah served as general secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention but split from the party to establish the Convention People’s Party (CPP) in 1949. His book, I Speak for Freedom, was an impassioned defense of African independence.

Nkrumah was jailed by the British for his activist campaigns but was freed in 1951. He led the Gold Coast to complete independence in 1957. The newly independent nation of Ghana had a sound economy and under Nkrumah’s leadership was looked to for direction by other African states. Nkrumah championed the Organization of African Unity (OAU), formed in 1963. He also was an outspoken opponent of the apartheid white-dominated regime in South Africa.

However, Nkrumah became increasingly dictatorial and established Ghana as a one-party state in 1964 when he took the title of president for life. A cult of personality arose around Nkrumah, and a trend of one-party states under dictatorial “rulers for life” emerged in many African states during the 1970s. Nkrumah was overthrown in a military coup d’état in 1966; in subsequent years he lived in exile and died in Romania in 1972.

See also Ghana.


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