The Death of Kwame Nkrumah

This article follows up on a previous paper entitled “The Formation of a Common Front Against Guinea by the Ivory Coast and Ghana” insofar as it deals with Kwame Nkrumah’s death and legacy.
Nkrumah’s demise in 1972 and his —first— funeral in Conakry, added another sad note to  Guinea’s horrible 1970s decade. For it happened a couple of years after the Portuguese-led attack on the capital-city. And it preceded Amilcar Cabral‘s assassination in 1973 in Conakry. Following a two-year respite (1974-1975), Guinea would be engulfed again in a series of alleged plots and murderous political purges, ranging from the so-called Fulani Plot (1976) to the Market Women’s revolt (1977), etc. Here Du Bois proposes a critical analysis of the rule of Ghana’s first president. He then makes a prescient statement about the evolution of the bilateral relations between Ghana and Guinea. And he concludes with a balanced judgement regarding Nkrumah’s strengths and shortcomings. Read on.
Tierno S. Bah

Victor D. Du Bois
The Death of Kwame Nkrumah
American Universities Field Staff Reports. West Africa Series, Vol. XIV No.5 (Ghana), June 1972, pp. 1-11

Victor David Du Bois (1932-1983)
Victor David Du Bois (1932-1983)

In distant Bucharest (Romania), April 27, 1972, far from his green and lovely native land and from his own people, Kwame Nkrumah died of an unspecified but apparently incurable illness. His was a lonely death, without ceremony and without drama for a man who had been surrounded by both throughout his political career as President of Ghana and one of Africa’s most famous men. A man with a price on his head, he was unable to return to the country he had led to independence in 1957 and which he had ruled for nearly 13 years. The former Ghanaian leader, who had virtually disappeared from the active political scene since his overthrow by a military coup d’état in February 1966, had since that time been living quietly in the Guinean capital of Conakry.

The Fight Over Nkrumah’s Remains

The death of one of Africa’s most prominent personalities normally would have occasioned a dignified reaction from the two major parties concerned:

  • President Sékou Touré of Guinea, who had granted Nkrumah political asylum in his country following the latter’s removal from power
  • Colonel Ignatius Acheampong, leader of the Ghana’s military junta which seized power from Prime minister Kofi Busia in January 1972. There began instead a macabre quarrel between the two over the final resting-place of the ex-President’s remains.

Colonel Acheampong desired that Nkrumah’s body be returned to Ghana where, he said, the former President would be given a dignified burial. Madam Elizabeth Nyaniba, aged mother of the deceased President, made an impassioned plea to President Toure to allow the body to be returned to Ghana: “I want to touch the body of my son before he is buried, or I die.” 1 She also indicated that she would like her son’s body embalmed and kept permanently on public display the way Lenin’s body is preserved. Sékou Touré would not consent, however—at least not until he had extracted from the Ghanaians important concessions which would redound to his personal profit. And, since the Romanians had sent the body to Conakry, the Guineans were in a strong position to dictate terms.

Press reports shortly after Nkrumah’s death announced that Toure had attached four conditions to the return of the ex-President’s body to Ghana:

  1. Nkrumah’s complete rehabilitation in the eyes of the Ghanaian people (lifting all charges that had been pending against him)
  2. Liberation of all of Nkrumah’s partisans still held in Ghanaian jails
  3. Removal of the threat of arrest which hung over all of Nkrumah’s followers who had chosen to remain with him in exile
  4. An official welcome by the Ghanaian government of Nkrumah’s remains, with all the honors due a deceased chief of state.

On May 20, 1972, it was revealed that Touré had imposed even more conditions. He now insisted that Nkrumah’s tomb be placed in front of Ghana’s Parliament building, and that all of the men who had occupied ministerial appointments and high positions in his civil service be restored to their former posts. Touré sought, in other words, to re-impose Nkrumah’s discredited government—minus only Nkrumah—on the Ghanaian people as the price for recovering the former President’s body. Barring acceptance of these terms, Touré implied the body would be kept in Guinea. Not unexpectedly, Colonel Acheampong refused to negotiate on such a basis and continued to urge the Guineans to allow the body to be brought back to Ghana.

Sékou Touré based Guinea’s right to keep Nkrumah’s body on Nkrumah’s having been granted asylum in Guinea and having been declared co-President of the Guinean Republic in 1966 when he was “betrayed” by the Ghanaian officers who overthrew him. He claimed that Nkrumah had actually been co-President of Guinea as far back as 1958, when the two countries had formed the Guinea-Ghana Union. He even insisted that this important decision—which automatically made each man co-President of the other’s country, in addition to being head of his own state-had been officially communicated at the time to all the countries and to all the international organizations with which the Republic of Guinea had diplomatic relations 2.

Touré obstinately refused to assent to the pleas of Nkrumah’s family and the Ghanaian people, and to the demands of the Ghanaian government and press. When Guinea’s leader appeared to have no moral justification for retaining Nkrumah’s body, African public opinion began criticizing Touré’s intransigence with increasing severity.

The Daily Nation of Nairobi, in an editorial titled “A Cruel Refusal,” stated:

« Though he now denies it, President Sékou Touré is believed to have asked for the impossible before allowing Nkrumah’s body to be taken to Ghana to be buried in his home town of Nkroful… The people of Ghana cannot be dictated to as to where Nkrumah’s mortal remains should be buried… Guinea should not fear loss of face. Facing realities is more important. It should reverse the decision and thus fulfill and honor a dead man’s wishes 3. »

The Daily Times of Lagos editorialized:

« President Sékou Touré should see reason to release the corpse as he had earlier promised… If he remains adamant, he would not be depriving the military Junta in Ghana of anything. It is the common people of Ghana who would be deprived of paying their final respects to their bereaved leader.» 4

The quarrel, now attracting attention from the non-African press as well, continued unabated. Finally, several African leaders, notably Presidents William Tolbert of Liberia, Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone, and General Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria, tried to persuade Sékou Touré that it was in the best interests of African dignity, and Africa’s image abroad, that the body be returned to Ghana. The West African press reported that Toure finally gave in to these appeals but this proved to be unfounded. As events were to show, Touré determined to squeeze every possible propaganda advantage from Nkrumah’s demise.

President Kwame Nkrumah presiding over the opening of Parliament. Accra, 1964 (Photo courtesy of Ghana Information Services)
President Kwame Nkrumah presiding over the opening of Parliament. Accra, 1964 (Photo courtesy of Ghana Information Services)

African Assessment of Nkrumah

When news of Nkrumah’s death reached other African capitals, the reaction from African heads of state and from the general public was surprisingly low-keyed. Nkrumah’s old adversaries, the presidents of the francophonic states, former President Namdi Azikiwe of Nigeria and others, all expressed their condolences to Nkrumah’s family, to the Ghanaian government, and to Toure. Their messages acknowledged Nkrumah’s place in history—based on his championing of the pan-Africanist cause and his role in leading his country to independence—but not even in these first public comments could these leaders refrain from treating Nkrumah’s failings as well as his achievements.

President Felix Houphouët-Boigny of the Ivory Coast, one of Nkrumah’s most vigorous and successful opponents on the African scene, remarked:

« It is my wish that in the Ivory Coast people remember that Kwame Nkrumah rendered great services not only to Ghana but to all of Africa. It is a great patriot who has disappeared. History will remember all the good that he did. He was, here on the western coast of Africa, the first to lead his country to independence. We are all men; we a have our weaknesses… but even the mistakes he made, he made because he wanted to do good. If tomorrow Ghana should recall the services he rendered and should wish to hold a funeral ceremony for him, the Ivory Coast would associate itself entirely in the hommage which we owe this great African 5. »

“He played a great role,” said President Léopold Senghor of Senegal adding, “He was one of the first leaders to attract the attention of Africans to our roots and authenticity. He was also a great man and like all great men had his faults.”

President Hamani Diori of Niger remarked:

« Nkrumah’s ideas were never mine, but for his country he was a determining [force], and in his own way, he wanted to achieve African unity. »

“Certainly he committed errors, as every man has,” conceded President Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone, “and these mistakes were regarded as serious among certain groups. But in my humble opinion, in the last analysis there will live in the memory of generations yet unborn the role of pioneer and hero he played in the initial stages of bringing forth the African personality on the African political scene. It is only with time that one will recognize his colossal stature.”

A loftier note was sounded by Jomo Kenyatta, as perhaps befitted the President of Kenya, a state geographically less exposed to Ghanaian influences:

« Dr. Nkrumah chose to dedicate his life to the noble ideal of African unity and cooperation in all areas. His premature disappearance leaves a void in the still unwon struggle for the realization of African unity and the complete emancipation from the colonial yoke. »

* * * * *

If most African leaders reacted in a decidedly restrained fashion to Nkrumah’s demise, it is because to many of them he was not so much a statesman as a demagogue who believed only in his own brand of pan-Africanism and who sought to foment trouble in the lands of those who differed with him or dared to oppose him. It is a well-documented fact that Nkrumah was one of the chief instigators of subversion in West Africa. He actively financed dissident movements in the Ivory Coast, Cameroun, Niger, Togo, and Nigeria, whose avowed aim was to overthrow the legally constituted governments of those countries.

In the Organization of African Unity and in other pan-African organizations, he sought to discredit the leaders of more moderate governments, vehemently branding them “stooges” and “lackeys” of colonialists and imperialists. In direct violation of the OAU’s Charter which he professed to uphold , he allowed secret camps to be installed on his territory in which bands of terrorists were trained to spread chaos and disorder throughout those African countries whose leaders did not see eye to eye with Nkrumah. One such terrorist, trained on Ghanaian soil during Nkrumah’s regime, nearly succeeded in assassinating President Hamani Diori of Niger. Ironically, by the end of his political career, Nkrumah, through his numerous intrigues and attempts at subversion, had himself become one of the greatest obstacles to the very African unity he had sought to advance and with which his own name had become synonymous.

Nkrumah's monument toppled shortly after the coup of February 24, 1966.
Nkrumah’s monument toppled shortly after the coup of February 24, 1966. (Photo courtesy of Ghana Information Services)

A Guinean Funeral for the Ghanaian Leader

Nkrumah’s body arrived from Bucharest on Saturday, April 29, 1972. Hundreds of thousands of party militants, mobilized for the occasion, lined the eight-mile route from the airport to the center of Conakry. The funeral cortege took two and a half hours to reach the Maison du Peuple, where President Toure waited, surrounded by members of the National Political Bureau, other high Guinean officials, and members of the diplomatic corps.

On Sunday, Nkrumah’s wife, Madam Fatiya Nkrumah, from whom he had been estranged since 1966, arrived from Cairo with their three children. She was met at the airport by Sékou Toure’s wife and a number of officials of the Parti Démocratique de Guinée, and then driven to the presidential palace where Sékou Touré received her. After visiting the Maison du Peuple where her husband’s body lay in state, Mrs. Nkrumah retired to the President’s summer residence at nearby Camayenne.

Later that day delegations flew in from many African countries. Radio Conakry also announced that the Cuban Prime Minister, Fidel Castro, would be arriving in Conakry on a state visit, and called on all party militants to reserve an enthusiastic welcome “for the leader of the Cuban Revolution and one of the greatest warriors of the progressive world.” 6

On Monday, May 1, at the Maison du Peuple, Touré delivered a funeral oration which lasted an hour and a half reviewing Nkrumah’s life from childhood through his last days in Guinea. He dwelt on Nkrumah’s studies in the United States, his role in the early pan-African movements in London and his rise to power in Ghana which culminated in his country’s gaining its independence from Great Britain in 1957 under his leadership, as he became first Prime Minister and then President.

“Betrayed in Ghana,” Touré said, “he found himself once again on free soil in Guinea, co-President of the Republic, to the great surprise of the imperialist powers enclosed in a bourgeois legalism. With Nkrumah,” he added, “African unity became an irresistible force. That is why this thinker and this man of action is not a Ghanaian, but an African—and even more—just a man.” 7

At Toure’s side while he delivered this eulogy were:

  • Fidel Castro
  • Mokhtar Ould Daddah (President of Mauritania and Acting President of the Organization of African Unity)
  • Sourou Migan Apithy (one of the triumvirate that is Dahomey’s Presidential Council)
  • President William Tolbert of Liberia
  • The Vice-Presidents of Congo-Brazzaville and Sierra Leone
  • The President of the National Assembly of Tanzania
  • A representative of Algeria.

Aside from them, however, few important political figures from abroad attended the ceremonies. Late in the day a five-member delegation from Ghana, headed by Colonel Benni, a member of the National Redemption Council, arrived in Conakry to attempt to persuade Touré to relinquish Nkrumah’s body.

Ghana’s Reaction to Nkrumah’s Death

In his own country, Nkrumah’s death evoked mixed feelings of grief, remorse, or indifference, depending on whether one’s sentiments had lain with or against the ex-President. Shortly after the news reached Accra, the government issued an official communique:

« His place in history is assured because he was the principal architect of Ghana’s independence, which hastened the liberation movement in Africa. Also, former President Nkrumah had followed a dynamic African policy in order to promote the unity of the continent and to rid it of all vestiges of colonialism and racism 8. »

While amenable to showing the proper deference toward Nkrumah at his demise, the Ghanaian government nevertheless wished to make clear that its public tribute in no way implied an endorsement of Nkrumah’s policies or a disavowal of the motives that had led to his overthrow: it was merely a recognition of the prominent role he had played in Ghana’s independence. “It is, therefore, unfortunate,” it said, “that certain people are misconstruing the Government’s position as a rejection of the February 1966 coup which ousted the Nkrumah regime and all the actions of the National Liberation Council.” 9

Colonel Acheampong and the National Redemption Council wisely allowed Nkrumah’s partisans to express their sorrow without any interference from the government. Even more, the military junta associated itself fully with the public display of regret. May 19 was declared a National Day of Mourning and a public holiday, and a non-denominational service was held in an open area around the State House in Accra. The ceremony was attended by a number of members of the National Redemption Council (although, significantly, Colonel Acheampong himself was not among them), by the diplomatic corps, and a few traditional chiefs. In addition, there were several thousand persons from all walks of life, from barefoot peasants and market women to persons who had held high office under Nkrumah. Many wore traditional mourning cloth and wept openly as they walked past the catafalque which—draped in kente cloth—stood, symbolically, where Nkrumah’s coffin would have been.

Most of the Ghanaian press gave the President’s death sympathetic coverage, recalling in their editorials and feature articles only Nkrumah’s qualities and overlooking his faults. They evoked his stature as the man who had led Ghana to independence, blazing the trail soon afterward followed by so many other colonies in Africa. Few were the observers who were able to take a sympathetic yet dispassionate look at Mr. Nkrumah’s checkered career.

One of the rare exceptions was Kwabena Kissi, a journalist for Accra’s Weekly Spectator. In a poignant and soul-searching article, “Nkumah, the Leader We Never Understood,” Mr. Kissi described the feelings of remorse which many felt.

« … No talking drum announced this tragedy to his own people in mournful tones. No gong-gong summoned any familiar face to his side. No dirges recounted a litany to his praise. No linguist was present to recite any of his numerous appellations in eloquent and ornate language.

Ironically, “Osagyefo,” “Kwame Atoapem,” “Show Boy” lay cold and still in a lonely infirmary among a strange people he did not know.

His own people had rejected him and put a price on his head as a common criminal 10. Ghana, the land which he risked everything to free from bondage, had stabbed a deadly wound in his heart. Like the stab of Brutus to Caesar, it was “the most unkindest cut of all”; for as we knew Brutus to be Caesar’s angel, so was Ghana dearest to Nkrumah’s heart.

And like Caesar, struggling in excruciating pain till he fell beneath the statue of Pompey, so did Nkrumah struggle alone in the agony of death , till he gave up his weary soul to its Maker in the Bucharest infirmary. “And what a fall was there there, my countrymen, that deny you and I and all.” Ghana and Africa fell.

Perhaps inspired by his Shakespearean allusion, Kissi himself then daringly essayed the role of Mark Antony orating over his fallen Caesar:

« … What moral justification have we now to mourn him, the man we despised and treated with unparalleled abuse and treacherous ingratitude; the man whose memory we contrived by ingenious and crafty means to wipe away forever in history…?
… Is it not the greatest irony in the history of the Black Race that the foremost architect of Africa’s emancipation from foreign domination should die a wanted man with a price on his head for any man who should bring him to Ghana dead or alive?
What price should history place on our head for murdering this man? It is a price that we and generations yet unborn shall have to pay to Africa for so unwisely creating a vacuum and for bringing to a sudden and abrupt halt the surge of nationalism sweeping through Africa and any place where political freedom ts denied to a people…
… From his books, his speeches and declarations on politics, Kwame Nkrumah did not conceal the fact that he was a Marxist socialist revolutionary who was determined to push through a socialist programme for political, economic and cultural emancipation…
… It is unfortunate, however, that the society he sought to transform into a socialist state was not receptive to his political philosophy and strategy. The socialist intellectuals who were needed to be in the vanguard of a true cultural revolution were not there. Most of our intellectuals at the time of Nkrumah’s ascendancy were, and still are, of the western political turn of mind…
… It is no wonder that he himself, half way along the road, was bound to succumb to the corrupting influences of the unsuitable material he was working with. Not even the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute and the intensive and calculated indoctrination of the Young Pioneers could alter the unsuitable human material with which Nkrumah sought to transform Ghana into a socialist state.

Most of the party ideologues who pontificated on socialist morality were intellectual dwarfs who had neither by themselves read anything serious about Marxism or had read only bits of commentaries on Marx by the very western political thinkers they fancied themselves disagreeing with…

… Other institutions in the society were equally reactionary to his cause, and his socialist ideals clashed headlong with these institutions.

One such institution is chieftaincy. In the end Nkrumah fell under the spell of the pomp and pageantry of chieftaincy. If he could not destroy it, at least he could use his immense power to invest the grandeur of chieftaincy in the presidency.

Linguists recited his appellations. State horn-blowers and sword-bearers lined his way to Parliament; then seated in the State Chair with his feet resting on a stool and a sword in his hand, no King was more resplendent in his majesty than the apostle of Marxist socialism was.

This was one example of his weakness—the love for pomp and pageantry, for frenzied adulation, and for extravagant exhibitionism—which were all subtle subverting influences
to a true socialist programme. …

… Then he had to deal with the army, one of the most conservative yet formidable institutions of society which is the most difficult, if not altogether impossible, to indoctrinate with any alien philosophy.

Nkrumah, like all socialists, realized the mighty force behind an institution built on foreign traditions averse to Marxism and which controls the means to naked power …

… At the time of his overthrow the whole western world thought that the army had acted timorously. It did not occur to us that Nkrumah had set such a high standard for political strategy that it demanded men of his calibre to fit into and respect action and visual economic monuments rather than mere political sermonizing by reactionary bourgeois intellectuals.

The result is clear for all of us to see—six years of preaching the liberal democratic gospel of being our brother’s keeper with only Guiness Stout to show for all that. Man shall not live by bread alone, but man cannot live at all without any bread. Bread, material bread is more necessary for the body in this material world than mere academic expositions on liberal
democracy. We have learnt this simple practical lesson, rather painfully, during these six uneventful years …
… Nkrumah was an unfortunate man. His vision was completely unsuited to the dynamics of the society which he sought to transform.…
… Despite everything to the contrary, Africa and especially Ghana is the poorer for his loss. We have been witnesses to six uneventful years of vacuum, and of inactivity since his overthrow. Nothing new has been added to what he achieved for Ghana.…
… Everything and every man must mourn him. The gentle ripples of the Volta Lake from Akosombo to Kete-Krachi will sing his praise. The voluminous water-shed of the Great Dam proclaims his greatness. Ships and cargo that dock at the quayside in Tema Harbour testify to his vision of economic emancipation.

Primary schools, training colleges, secondary schools, and the universities together with his policy of a fee-free education are unsurpassed anywhere in Africa.

The beautiful dual-carriage way of the Ring Road, the imposing buildings that enrich the landscape of our capital; roads, bridges, and the viable infrastructure he built for Ghana will stand as permanent monuments to his memory.

He gave the African a sense of pride and to the Ghanaian preeminence among Africans. No single leader in Africa has achieved so much for his people within so short a time as Nkrumah did for Ghana.

Oh! How we wish his statue would stand today. We would have adorned it with garlands of flowers and palm branches as the statue of a true hero.

Events unfolding themselves before our eyes today in our domestic politics have forced us to rethink if not entirely to recant our views about Nkrumah. All the accusations we
levelled against him can today be leveled against the latter day saints of our domestic politics—extravagance, corruption, nepotism and allied evils.

The Ghana he so welded into a people is now disintegrated into a group of tribal and ethnic entities who place their jealous and parochial interest above that of the nation. Political tribalism and tribal vendetta is no less an evil than political detentions. If Nkrumah is guilty of the latter, the latter day saints of our domestic politics are equally guilty of the former.…
… Let us learn from the mistakes of Kwame Nkrumah. At the same time let us learn from the life of this great man the danger in the impropriety of reckless emotionalism with which we seek to destroy our great men today and do them the honour of martyrdom tomorrow.…
… Rest in peace, Osagyefo.

Accra. Ghanaians demonstrating support for the National Liberation Council, led by General Ankrah, after the overthrow of Nkrumah. February 24, 1966. (Photo courtesy of Ghana Information Services)
Accra. Ghanaians demonstrating support for the National Liberation Council, led by General Ankrah, after the overthrow of Nkrumah. February 24, 1966. (Photo courtesy of Ghana Information Services)

The Implications of Nkrumah’s Death

Nkrumah’s disappearance from the African political scene is an event of capital importance, especially, of course, for Ghana. There no longer being any possibility of Nkrumah’s return, Ghana’s new leaders can now breathe more easily and plan their country’s future with greater tranquility than they could at any time since his expulsion in 1966. For the truth of the matter is that, even after he was ousted from power, Nkrumah haunted the nation’s politics. One sensed in Ghana the question, rarely openly discussed but always in the back of everyone’s mind : “what would happen if he were to return?” His successors, from General Ankrah through former Prime Minister Kofi Busia to the present ruler, Colonel Acheampong, all were unanimous in publicly proclaiming their determination that Nkrumah would never be allowed to return to Ghana, let alone regain power. Still , that possibility, however remote, hung in the air. And one always wondered whether Nkrumah’s Convention Peoples Party (CPP), the political machine so painstakingly put together by the former President, had really been dismantled by the vigorous attempts in this direction by those who succeeded him.

In the official lull that was permitted to allow one to pay his respects to the departed, it now became clear that Nkrumah still had many sympathizers in the country: former party and government officials who had held privileged and lucrative positions under him ; the students out at the University in Legon, who remembered only his stature as an African nationalist but not his outrageous acts against academic freedom as a dictator; the thousands of rank-and-file members of the Trade Union Congress, Ghana’s largest labor organization and one of the pillars of his regime; the legions
of youngsters who were recruited into his “Young Pioneers,” a militant youth group charged with spreading his word—and dealing with those who refused to accept it; finally, all of those people who, like Mr. Kissi the journalist felt that “nothing new has been added to what he achieved for Ghana.”

Nkrumah receiving a delegation of traditional chiefs
Nkrumah receiving a delegation of traditional chiefs. (Photo courtesy of Ghana Information Services)

How long Nkrumah’s influence will last without the former President himself to personify it and give it elan is difficult to gauge. Nkrumah had no heir apparent in Ghana—he would allow no one to rise that high—and consequently there is no one who can claim to be his legitimate successor.

The present wave of sympathy and pro-Nkrumah sentiment has created a climate that is favorable for the re-emergence of former CPP activists, quiet since 1966. While Ghana’s ruling military junta was willing to allow Ghanaians to give free vent to their sympathies for Nkrumah, it does not appear that Colonel Acheampong and the National Redemption Council are prepared to tolerate the resuscitation of institutions established by Nkrumah or a return to positions of influence of Nkrumah’s old comrades-in-arms.

The National Redemption Council, quite understandably, wishes to profit from this pro-Nkrumah feeling. But it is unlikely to allow itself to be swept along in the current, lest it be compromised with those elements of Ghanaian society, also very numerous who were—and remain-anti—Nkrumah.
Shrewdly, the NRC is reaping as much benefit as it can from the martyrization of Nkrumah (to much the same way that President Mobutu has done over the martyrization of Patrice Lumumba to Zaïre). It should not be forgotten, however, that both Colonel Acheampong and the other members of the NRC are themselves members of the same army that overthrew Nkrumah because of profound disagreements over how Ghana should be ruled. And in his public declarations to date, Colonel Acheampong has made it quite clear that neither he nor the other members of the National Redemption Council repudiate the coup of 1966.

Correctly enough, Mr. Kissi referred in his eulogy cited above, to the numerous projects—dams, harbors, public buildings, etc.—which were built during Nkrumah’s regime. Yet one should not forget that it was precisely because of the inordinate and freewheeling expenditure of state funds on such projects, many of them unnecessary and some them wasteful that subsequent rulers of Ghana are so hard put financially. Nkrumah’s extravagance had pushed the government to the very brink of bankruptcy 11,  and the difficult and always thankless task of trying to repair the massive damage done to the economy fell to those who came after him. It would be ironic, indeed, if Colonel Acheampong allowed the return to power of the very men who had played such a signal role in bringing the country to the edge of financial ruin.

For Guinea, Nkrumah’s death means that Sékou Touré now can throw over his own shoulders Nkrumah’s mantle as Africa’s number one anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist spokesman in West Africa. Nkrumah’s death also spares Touré further embarrassment in being held responsible for Nkrumah’s almost total withdrawal from public life during his final years, and the empty role he played as “co-President” of Guinea, an office with neither a juridical basis in the Guinean Constitution nor the proved mandate of the Guinean people. In all likelihood, Sékou Touré will eventually release Nkrumah’s body to Ghanaian authorities, thereby opening the way to a resumption of normal diplomatic relations between the governments.

In the other countries of West Africa—especially the French-speaking states that surround Ghana and that were frequently targets of his attempts at subversion—Nkrumah’s disappearance is regarded with unmitigated relief, for as long as he remained in conspiratorial exile in Guinea, a threat hung over them, as it did , indeed, over Ghana itself.

Any assessment of Nkrumah’s place in history must take into account the dual nature of this complex man’s personality and the ambivalent character of his accomplishments. Unquestionably, he was one of the major figures to emerge from post-colonial Africa; a man who led his country to independence and who gave to his own people, to other Africans, and to Black people in general, a sense of pride in the African personality. His presence, his oratory, the charisma which seemed almost tangibly to cloak him as he imparted his visions to his audiences, all put him in the front rank of the continent’s leaders. But at the same time there dwelt within him an arrogant, self-righteous megalomaniac who was convinced that he, and he alone, held all the right answers as to how Africa should be ruled. His partisans will accept only the former image of him; his critics remember only the latter. As with most such extreme generalizations, the truth lies somewhere in between.

Notes
1. Daily Graphic (Accra) May 20, 1972.
2. The ill-fated Guinea Ghana Union proved moribund almost from its inception. Contrary to what Touré now asserts, moreover, no official announcement of such a pact—that henceforward each of the two Presidents was to be regarded as co-President of the other’s country—was ever made. So important and peculiar an announcement would not have escaped the attention of the world press. And there is nothing in the public record to show that such an accord had been reached.
An indication of just how little regard President Sékou Touré holds for the office of “co-President,” which he bestowed upon Nkrumah with such alacrity, is revealed in an interview Touré granted to Russel Warren Howe, the American journalist, in 1967, about a year and a half after Nkrumah’s ouster. When pressed by Howe for an explanation about the co-presidential office, Toure is said to have replied, “… Any martyr of colonialism is my co-President.” The Sunday Times (London) December 24, 1967.
3. The Daily Nation (Nairobi, Kenya) May 22, 1972.
4. The Daily Times (Lagos, Nigeria) May 19, 1972.
5. These and other quotations immediately following cited from Fraternité-Matin (Abidjan, Ivory Coast) April 29, 1972.
6. Fraternité-Matin (Abidjan) May 3, 1972.
7. Fraternité-Matin (Abidjan) May 15, 1972.
8. Cited from Fraternité-Matin ( Abidjan) April 29, 1972.
9. West Africa (London) May 26, 1972, p. 674.
10. The Ghanaian police, indeed, had offered a reward of $120,000 to anyone who brought Nkrumah back to Ghana, dead or alive. The National Redemption Council, however, claims that this reward was posted during the time that Mr. J.W.K. Harlley (Nkrumah’s one time police commissioner who later joined the coup against him) was Inspector General in the period immediately following Nkrumah’s ouster. According to the NRC, the reward was revoked “in the spirit of the January 13 Revolution” (i.e., when the present junta came to power). West Africa (London) May 12, 1972, p. 575.
11. Opinions vary concerning the amount of indebtedness left behind by Nkrumah and his government when they were ousted from power in February 1966, but the most conservative estimates put the country’s external debt at that time between $500-700 million.

Tierno Siradiou Bah

Author: Tierno Siradiou Bah

Founder and publisher of webAfriqa, the African content portal, comprising: webAFriqa.net, webFuuta.net, webPulaaku,net, webMande.net, webCote.net, webForet.net, webGuinee.net, WikiGuinee.net, Campboiro.org, AfriXML.net, and webAmeriqa.com.