Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

The Legacy of Kwame Nkrumah in Retrospect

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

The Legacy of Kwame Nkrumah in Retrospect

Article excerpt


The focus of this article is to re-evaluate Nkrumah's legacy in terms of the controversies surrounding him as a political figure and his vision for achieving a continental union government for Africa via Pan-Africanism as a solution to Africa's many economic, social and political problems. Second, this work reviews Ali Mazrui's positive and negative Nkrumahism construct, and examines Nkrumah's single party state from 1964 onwards and thus his authoritarian system of government which led to an increasing concentration of power and an undemocratic government.

"Nkrumah is a reminder not of what Africa is, but of what Africa must become." Kofi Hadjor, 1986.


As the twenty-first century unfolds, the face of Nelson Mandela is instantly recognisable around the globe. That of Kwame Nkrumah, who was once the Nelson Mandela of the 1950s and 1960s is less known to a new generation of Africans on the African continent and in the Diaspora. Therefore it is essential that the achievements, relevance and a reassessment of Kwame Nkrumah's role and contribution to African history are acknowledged. However, among diehard African political activists and Pan-Africanists, Nkrumah was and continues to remain a revered hero, committed nationalist and Pan-Africanist deserving of high esteem.

Yet, Nkrumah's historical reputation is shrouded in considerable ambivalence and controversy. His performance as independent Ghana's first leader and his policies on the domestic, African and international stage have continued to generate lively debate within African studies and in popular forums. African listeners to BBC Focus on Africa reflected the popularity of Nkrumah in a poll in December 1999. Nkrumah was voted "Africa's Man of the Millennium." In a New African 2004 poll of a 100 greatest Africans Nkrumah was considered number two, "a true son of Africa." The top position was given to Mandela.

However, as Charles Abugre suggests, Nkrumah's historical legacy is far from being monolithic. He writes:

Dead politicians are different things to different people. Both their good and their wrong define the goal posts and hence the playing fields upon which the survivors take their positions in society. Their good is usurped, their failures exhumed and magnified as appropriate and in accordance with creed. It is in the nature of humanity to review the past, for in doing so we not only define our own essence but also seek to learn lessons if we genuinely desire to do so.

Shakespeare wrote "the evil that men do lives after them but the good is interred with their bones." Of deceased political figures, Abdul-Raheem writes: "Politically, victims and beneficiaries remember both. It is the balance between the two [the good and the bad achievements] that determines their place in the politics of memory, which, like all memories, is prone to being selective."i Even General J. A. Ankrah, who headed the Supreme Military Council that took over after the 24 February 1966 coup d'etat that toppled Nkrumah, confirmed that his place in African history had been assured.

In short, Nkrumah has been vilified and revered for both his failures and achievements by scholars and ordinary people alike. However, it is imperative that we contextualise Nkrumah and understand what motivated him, for the present generation is far removed from the indecent denial of human and particularly political rights Africans were subjected to. Given that whites ruled over Africans during the colonial era and believed it was their destiny and responsibility to do so, because Africans were racially inferior, marked the height of European imperial arrogance and racial supremacy. The "white man's burden" justified European economic exploitation and political domination over Africans. Nkrumah courageously challenged this prevailing orthodoxy in his readiness to mobilise thousands to fight for political independence, go to prison and his various axioms. …

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