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Nkrumah's Socialism

The Kremlin described "the imperialists" as having retained in Africa "their commanding position in economic, political and military affairs." Nkrumah, however, was determined to build a socialist society in Ghana, 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 an independent republic, and by then it had become a one-party state, with an all-powerful head-of-state.

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. And Nkrumah was impressed. Nkrumah also visited Communist China and was impressed by China's program for economic advancement.

When Ghana had received its independence in 1957, there had been reason in that nation for hope. The British 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. But Nkrumah looked upon exports to the industrialized nations with disdain, calling cocoa contaminated by capitalism. Nkrumah gave little importance to developing agriculture, equating agriculture with bondage. He wanted to a great leap for his country to a modern, industrial economy. This, he believed, he could accomplish through socialism, not unlike the Soviet Union in the thirties.

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.

But, 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. Nkrumah's young party people, the Young Pioneers, 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: 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 were looking back to colonial times as a golden age. University professors and medical doctors began leaving Ghana for work elsewhere. Grammar school teachers began migrating to Nigeria, which was booming economically and where there were better jobs.

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 a gold bed.

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