One of the most profound and iconic revolutionaries of our time is Kwame Nkrumah, the first president of an independent Ghana in 1957. He successfully led Ghana to attain its independence and it became the first Sub-Saharan African country to gain its independence.
However, his legacy has been flawed. In some cases he is viewed as a hero-turned-villain. Kwame Nkrumah left office in an unceremonious manner, deposed through a military coup while he was out of the country. Kwame had harboured ambitious plans to turn Ghana into an industrialized and modern state. The desired methodology to this effect was his undoing. Nkrumah did tremendous work towards the development of Ghana soon after its independence. At that time Ghana was the largest exporter of cocoa but lacked the modern and efficient plants and machinery to process the cocoa. He built schools, roads, hospitals and the largest dam in Ghana.
Nkrumah’s heroics were evident in his endless efforts to help the other African states that had not gained their independence yet. Robert Mugabe, the current president of beleaguered Zimbabwe, said that his inspiration for joining politics came whilst he was in Ghana; he was an avid follower of Nkrumah. Nkrumah’s pan-Africanism was so deep that he wanted a united Africa with a single Parliament. Politics was the life of Nkrumah. The people had intense fondness for him. They adored him a lot. Ghanaians, particularly the poor and the underprivileged, revered Nkrumah as their messiah. He undoubtedly was their hero.
Behind all this, Nkrumah had a streak of authoritarian rule in him. In as much as his socialist and Marxist principles had led to the alleviation of the people’s problems, they made his government increase its authoritarian rule at every turn. As the years progressed, authoritarianism showed its grim face onto the Ghanaian political landscape. In 1961, the iconic revolutionary introduced a legislation that made it possible for people to be sent to prison for five years without even having a trial. His whims, his suspicions, his lonely life were taking over at the expense of the freedom of the people.
Insulting the president was tantamount to a criminal offence. He took control of the media, and his party’s influence oozed into almost all of the civil society organizations. He officially made Ghana a one-party state in 1964. His dictates, his rule. What was supposed to be both flag and economic independence only remained flag independence. The country’s woes continued to increase, most state-run companies found the going tough. They were poorly managed and made enormous losses. He built large buildings to boost the economy’s performance but they were hardly used, he even built a large complex that was hoped to be the seat of the future government of a united Africa. But with the newly-formed Organisation of the African Unity (OAU) in 1963, his visions of a united Africa were quashed, probably deemed unrealistic. The first OAU summit was held in Addis Ababa, and not in Accra.
Commodity prices took a nosedive, thus affecting cocoa prices. He had no other option except to raise the taxes. The cost of living skyrocketed, much to the chagrin of the citizens. Driven with anger, people demonstrated. Nkrumah wanted to transform Ghana to a modern industrialised state but he wanted to do it quickly and his vision of a united Africa was his greatest undoing.
On 24 February, 1966, Ghana's military staged a coup while Nkruma was on a state visit to China. The coup plotters had the backing of the United States. Jubilant crowds greeted the soldiers on the streets of Accra. Nkrumah was granted asylum in Guinea where he was appointed co-president. He died in the Romanian capital Bucharest while being treated for cancer in 1972.
Nkrumah is still hailed as a great success in Ghana, Africa and the rest of the world. People look at his achievements, and compare that with the military governments that followed. A verdict still has to be passed: Is he a hero or a villain?