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Nkrumah's Socialism

The British extended independence to Ghana in 1957. They had helped develop a well-trained and literate citizenry. Ghana had led the world in the export of cocoa. It had been mining almost ten percent of the world's production of gold. Ghana was also rich in diamonds. And it had bauxite, manganese and hardwoods for export.

Kwame Nkrumah was Ghana's first prime minister. Nkrumah was determined to build a socialist society, one that was Ghanaian in character and African in outlook, and he frequently spoke of the evils of "neo-colonialism."  The leftists around Nkrumah drummed out of office Nkrumah's able and responsible economics minister, who fled into exile, fearing for his life. Emergency measures in late 1957 were used in curbing political opposition.

In 1960, Ghana became a republic and Nkrumah its head of state in the place of Britain's monarchy. Nkrumah maintained ties with the West, including friendly ties with the Kennedy administration, Kennedy agreeing to join with Kaiser Aluminum in helping Nkrumah develop a hydroelectric facility on the Volta River. The Russians were willing to help Nkrumah where they could. They gave him a grand tour of their country and showed him their economic achievements. Nkrumah was impressed. He also visited Mao Zedung's China, and he was impressed by China's program for economic advancement.

Nkrumah looked with disdain upon the export of non-manufactured goods to industrialized nations. He described cocoa as contaminated by capitalism. He gave little importance to developing agriculture, equating agriculture with bondage. He wanted a great leap for his country to a modern industrial economy.

Nkrumah described Ghana's socialism using a Marxist phrase: scientific socialism. He launched a seven-year economic plan, and he moved to collectivize agriculture – against the wishes of Ghana's independent farmers, who had been the tax base for the nation. Nkrumah created state run industries, in distilling, metallurgy, tire manufacturing, vegetable oil production, boat building, paper mills, cocoa processing, footwear manufacturing and pharmaceuticals. By 1963, he had set up over forty enterprises, hoping to gain profits that could be invested in further economic growth.

On 2 January 1964 Nkrumah survived a fifth attempt on his life. Later in the year he ran a referendum that made Ghana a one party state, the vote 99.91 percent in his favor. Nkrumah became president for life. Nkrumah had created the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute to train Ghanaian civil servants, and beginning in 1964 all students entering college were required to attend a two-week "ideological orientation" at the Institute. Nkrumah had been educated at a Roman Catholic missionary school and had been baptized a Roman Catholic, but now he said that "trainees should be made to realize the party's ideology is religion, and should be practiced faithfully and fervently." note84

Meanwhile, much to Nkrumah's surprise, his enterprises were losing money and eating up public funds. The state-run airline he had created, Ghana Airways, was racking up huge losses. Nkrumah tried saving money by cracking down on the import of luxuries from abroad, but this was not enough as his enterprises continued to cost more money than they made. Young people in Nkrumah's political party were called the Young Pioneers. They were idling their time away on state farms or at other state enterprises. Ghana's economy was in decline. Labor unrest developed. Nkrumah's solution to growing economic problems was to nationalize. He nationalized plantations, gold mines and laundries. With its foreign currency reserves low, Ghana was unprepared for the drop in cocoa prices in the mid-sixties. The value of its currency declined, and a loaf of bread cost one and a half days of labor at minimum wage.

Many of Ghana's farmers and middle class had begun looking back to colonial times as a golden age. University professors and medical doctors were leaving Ghana for work elsewhere. Grammar school teachers began migrating to Nigeria, which was booming economically.

A "black market" thrived. And with party hacks in lucrative positions, many Ghanaians were upset with what they saw as corruption. Nkrumah lived modestly but his party men were often seen with great new cars, often with a well-dressed, unwifely looking young woman in the passenger seat. Nkrumah's close colleague, Krobo Eduisei, owned twenty-seven houses and had a gold bed. Nkrumah had been a popular leader, but he had lost it and was now vulnerable.


In February 1966, when Nkrumah left Ghana for a state visit to North Vietnam and China, the army staged a coup. Market women celebrated in a boisterous procession. Ghana's Trade Union Congress threw socialist literature into a bonfire and marched joyously, chanting "Nkrumah, foolish boy."

The new head of state was Joseph Arthur Ankrah, who had been the army's commander. He began working on the creation of a new constitution for the purpose, he said, of not having "a dictatorship again."

Kwame Nkrumah never returned to Ghana, but his vision of a global African community, Pan-Africanism, lived on. Nkrumah wrote a book, published in 1969, titled Dark Days in Ghana. In it he alluded to the possibility of CIA involvement in his overthrow, basing his comments on documents shown him by the KGB. "Intimate contact" between the CIA and coup leaders was to be described by John Stockwell, former Chief of the CIA's Angola Task Force. The administration of President Lyndon Johnson had been looking forward to Nkrumah's overthrow, but it was Ghanaians and the situation in Ghana that had created it. There was to be some who credited the CIA with more power than it actually had. The CIA had failed against the Castro regime in Cuba, and at the time of Nkrumah's overthrow it was failing in Vietnam.

After retirement from public office, Nkrumah continued to feel threatened by US and British intelligence agencies. When his cook died mysteriously, Nkrumah feared being poisoned, and he began hoarding food in his room. He is described he fearing abduction and assassination. His biggest enemy, however, was internal. In August 1971 he flew to Bucharest, Romania, for medical treatment in August 1971. He died there in April 1972 of prostrate cancer, at the age of 62.


Copyright © 1998-2015 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.