The Fall of Kwame Nkrumah
from Urgent Tasks - Number 12
by Manning Marable
Summer 1981

A man who has just come in from the rain and dried his body and put on dry clothes is more reluctant to go out again than another who has been indoors all the time. The trouble with our new nation . . . was that none of us had been indoors long enough. . . . We had all been in the rain together until yesterday. Then a handful of us the smart and the lucky and hardly ever the best had scrambled for the one shelter our former rulers left, and had taken it over and barricaded themselves in. And from within they sought to persuade the rest through numerous loudspeakers... that all argument should cease and the whole people speak with one voice. (Chinua Achebe, A Man of the People [Garden City, New York. Anchor, 1967])


The heroic yet tragic figure of Kwame Nkrumah represents a major paradox within the history of African liberation struggles. As a leading theoretician and practical politician of Pan-Africanism, he shaped the direction of the British and French colonies in Black Africa during the post-Second World War period. Nkrumah's emergence as Prime Minister of the Gold Coast, or Ghana, his rise as a leader of the Third World, and his fall into political oblivion in the wake of a military coup in 1966, have been exhaustively explained and reviewed by Africanist scholars. One key toward understanding the strengths and weaknesses of Nkrumah's revolution, however, is within the writings of the Trinidadian socialist, political organizer and historian, C. L. R. James. James, along with Pan- Africanist George Padmore, had a pivotal role in young Nkrumah's intellectual development, and guided his steps to power. Before most Black and/or socialist critics, James also recognized the deep problems inherent within the Ghanaian revolution. The Nkrumah-James relationship reveals the distance between the rhetoric of Pan-Africanism and Ghana's "scientific socialism" and its reality.

Born in the village of Nkroful, Gold Coast, in 1909, Kwame Nkrumah was educated first at the teacher training college at Achimota. Borrowing money from a distant relative, he left the Gold Coast and spent twelve years abroad in the United States and Great Britain. It was during his sojourn in the U.S. at the time of the Great Depression and Second World War (1935-1945) that the young African intellectual became involved in the currents of Black nationalism, international socialism and Pan-Africanism. He was particularly influenced by the militant nationalism of Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association in 1914, and advocate of Black independent movements across the African diaspora. In New York City, Nkrumah first met another Black activist/intellectual who would play a major role in his subsequent political development, C. L. R. James.

It was through James that Nkrumah was initiated into the broader and more complex events of Pan- Africanism and anti-colonialist struggle. During the years 1934- 1936, James had been chairman of the International African Friends of Abyssinia, a committee whose "main purpose was to arouse the sympathy and support" of the West for the state of Ethiopia, having been overthrown by the fascist troops of Mussolini. In early 1937 James and other Black intellectuals formed the International African Service Bureau, which was the "forerunner" of the historically significant Pan-African Federation. James served as editorial director for the Bureau and later became editor of the Federation's journal, International African Opinion. James's international contacts during the decade of the 1930's and 1940's included a number of militants who would determine the political character of post-war Africa: Jomo Kenyatta, then an anthropology graduate student; T. R. Ma-konnen of British Guiana, general secretary of the Pan-African Federation in Britain; Chris Jones of Barbados; West African trade unionist Wallace Johnson; Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, a founder of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and premier scholar of Afro-American and African sociology and history, and George Padmore, born Malcolm Nurse in the West Indies, a former Communist and chairman of the London-based International African Service Bureau. When Nkrumah left the U.S. to enroll as a graduate student in London's University College, James provided him with a letter of introduction to Padmore. A firm personal and political relationship developed quickly between Nkrumah and Padmore, as both men served as joint political secretaries of the Fifth Pan-African Congress held at Manchester in March 1945.

With the active support of the Bureau, Nkrumah left London and returned to the Gold Coast in 1947. In James's words, Nkrumah's task was "to begin his preparations for the revolution which was to initiate a new Africa." He was immediately hired by Dr. Joseph Boakye Danquah, leader of the United Gold Coast Convention, to serve as the organization's general secretary and principal organizer. Within two years, Nkrumah had succeeded in mobilizing the African masses against British colonial rule beyond anyone's expectations. On June 12, 1949, Nkrumah launched his own formation, the Convention Peoples Party (CPP). Demanding immediate self-government, the CPP gained the support of thousands of students, small cocoa farmers, market entrepreneurs, trade unionists and the growing African urban petty bourgeoisie. In January 1950, CPP trade unionists and militants called for a "positive action" campaign against the British leading to massive strikes and some violence against foreign-owned property. The British arrested and subsequently imprisoned Nkrumah, hoping that his detention would divide and destroy the independence movement. In the general elections of 1950, however, the CPP received overwhelming support from African voters, winning 34 of 36 legislative seats. Sir Charles Arden Clarke, the British Governor, had no alternative but to release Nkrumah and invite him to become "leader of government business." Nkrumah became Prime Minister of an all-African cabinet in 1956. In 1957 Ghana became the first independent African nation-state in the postwar period.

It was here that the paradox of "Nkrumaism" began to take shape. By the late 1950's, Nkrumah appeared on the world stage as the leader of African independence. With Fidel Castro of revolutionary Cuba, Jawaharlal Nehru, and Gamal Abdul Nasser, Nkrumah represented a new wave of Third World militancy and self-determination. Loved as a political leader abroad and studied as a serious socialist theoretician, he seemingly combined the attributes of a revolutionary "philosopher-king." His old comrades-in-arms were pleased with their successful protege. During the difficult years of the independence struggle, Padmore was Nkrumah's "personal representative" in London. Padmore was appointed to a major foreign policy post and continued to advise Nkrumah until his death 1959. DuBois left the U.S. in October 1961 upon the invitation of Nkrumah to direct a major scholarly project, the Encyclopedia Africana. In his history of Ghana's revolution, James declared that Convention People's Party was "a creative adaptation of the most advanced political ideas of Western civilisation" within Africa, "the most important political instrument that has yet resulted from the European contact with tropical Africa." Speaking in Accra in July 1960, James asserted that if Nkrumaism "were adopted by the labour and socialist elements of the most advanced countries in the world it will not roll over Africa alone but it will lead to the emancipation of all oppressed peoples and classes in every section of the globe." James predicted that "when the time comes and the history of international socialism and the revolution to overthrow capitalism is written, at the head will be names like" Marx, Engels, Lenin and "Kwame Nkrumah." "The centre of the world revolutionary struggle is here in Accra, Ghana."

On February 23-24, 1966, the Ghanaian armed forces successfully initiated a coup d'etat against the Nkrumah government. There can be no doubt that the army's operation was generally supported by a significant percentage of the population. "The most astonishing aspect of the February coup was not that it took place at all," writes Trevor Jones in Ghana's First Republic, 1960-1966, "but that the ruling party and its integral wings collapsed so completely within the course of a few hours, offering no resistance to the takeover. Nkrumah's calls from exile for resistance over the next weeks fell on deaf ears. No elements of the party went underground and carried the struggle into the hills and forests." In his sometimes rambling, uncritical defense of the coup, Colonel A. A. Afrifa explained that "the only tangible basis for Nkrumaism is the man's own protean personality, maniacal tendencies, and essentially blurred visions of personal glory." Since 1957, "the former heroes like J. B. Danquah and others who were ready to sacrifice everything . . . had been killed or pushed aside. The new politicians became self-centered cowards without ideas, or 'comrades,' willing to denounce everything honour, name, truth, and morals in order to keep their place in the new ruling class and in the hierarchy of Nkrumah's circle." In The Ghana Coup, Hungarian political scientist Tibor Szamuely, a former instructor at Nkrumah's Ideological Institute, wrote:

A careful scrutiny of the actual workings of Nkrumaism reveals that for all the "progressive" trappings and "socialist" declarations it was basically much nearer to the fascist than to the communist pattern.... The adoration of the Leader was indeed vital to the continued existence of the Convention People's Party dictatorship, for the "party" was totally dependent upon him. Apart from Nkrumah it had no real existence of its own he was the sole expression of its corporeality. . . . Nkrumahist Ghana was an ideological state without an ideology, a one-party dictatorship without the party. It was also a Socialist state without a trace of socialism, whether of the Western or Eastern brand if by "socialism" we mean something more than just extravagance, waste, incompetence and shortages. The Ghanaian economy under Nkrumah was basically a capitalist one. The "commanding heights" the foreign currency earners were ranged firmly in the private enterprise sector.

How can one begin to reconcile fundamentally contradictory views of Nkrumah's Ghana? Was Nkrumah's overthrow the failure of Pan- Africanism as an ideology for the emancipation of the Black diaspora? Or does the ordeal of Ghana's first republic provide a critical lesson in the strategies toward developing a theory and practice of Third World Revolution? What were the strengths and weaknesses of Nkrumah's politics?


The origins of the February 23-24, 1966 coup were formed over a decade before. An African opposition to Nkrumah and the Convention People's Party emerged with the establishment of the National Liberation Movement (NLM) in September 1954, at the old Ashanti capital of Kumasi. Its leader was Bafour Osie Akoto, a wealthy cocoa planter who had political ties to the ruling Ashanti chiefs. (Note: Nkrumah's people were the Nzima, who lived among the Fanti along the country's southwest coastline along the Atlantic Ocean.) Defeated at the polls, Danquah joined forces with the newly formed NLM, charging that his former associate was moving the nation down the road to communism. Ghanaian entrepreneurs and the aspiring Black bourgeoisie were also unhappy with Nkrumah's performance. The nation's major banks, Barclay's and the Bank of British West Africa, did not lend sufficient money to African businessmen to promote local commercial expansion. The British still controlled the currency system; even after independence, the country's currency was simply "the British pound printed on different colored paper." Ghana's Black bourgeoisie attacked Nkrumah for perpetuating British financial hegemony at their expense. And finally, the Ewe people of Eastern Ghana and the Mamprussi people of the Northern and Upper Regions expressed dissension because Nkrumah's public policies were, in their opinion, oriented heavily toward the South and specifically urban constituencies (Accra, Sekondi-Takoradi, etc.). By the elections of 1956, the joint opposition factions won 33 legislative seats to the CPP's 71 seats, and tallied over 40 percent of the popular vote.

From 1957 until early 1960, Nkrumah's general strategy was one of cooperation and nonconfrontation with U.S. and British capitalist interests. The Ghanaian state assumed control over the cocoa export trade, and ran the basic means of communication and transportation. The central means of production remained firmly under British control. Profits from gold mining production increased annually 35-50 percent in the late 1950's. Cocoa exports increased from 206,000 tons in 1956 to 405,000 tons in 1961. The CPP-controlled Trade Union Congress had grown more conservative. Graft and corruption among trade union bureaucrats helped indirectly to depress African workers' wages. Nkrumah's opponents were encouraged by the growing discontent against the government. However, the opposition was unable to stop the passage of a law banning tribally based political organizations in 1957. In 1958 the Preventive Detention Act was passed which allowed the government to arrest dissidents without criminal charges. One of the first detained was Dzenkle Dzequ, an old colleague of Nkrumah who had left the CPP bitterly in 1958. Danquah was detained in 1961 and died in a small cell in Nsawam prison on February 4, 1965.

Part of Nkrumah's dilemma was found within the composition of the Convention People's Party. Unlike Amilcar Cabral's African Party for the Independence of Guinea Bissau and Cape Verde (PAIGC), the CPP was not a vanguard party but a massbased formation. Africans from all occupations and social strata had rallied to defend Nkrumah during the struggle against British colonialism in 1947-1951. The Black women who bartered and sold fresh produce in the crowded streets of Accra; the African intelligentsia, the enterprising attorneys and civil servants seeking to replace white officials in government posts, the militant trade unionists, mine and dock workers: all looked to the Osagyefo, Kwame Nkrumah, to deliver them from the shackles of their peculiar class/caste bondage. The contradictions and outright graft within his government had to be understood as part of the uneven process of political development within any newly liberated zone. As James later admitted, upon his visit to Ghana in 1960, "I found the educated section of the population seething with anger" against the "cancer" of official corruption. "They felt that they had made history which they undoubtedly had. And now corruption was eating away at the foundations of the new state they so proudly cherished."

James recognized that "Ghana, from being the finest jewel in the crown of Africa, was [in 1960] obviously in a state of impending crisis." Despite delivering a speech to CPP leaders and cadres that spoke indirectly of "the perils I saw ahead," James made a difficult decision not to attack the Nkrumah program. "Against all criticism of the unquestioned anomalies of his regime, I stood firmly by the fact more important than all others added together that in a situation of enormous difficulty, on the whole he was not only doing his best but was, as politicians go, one of the most enlightened." James was not overly concerned about the detention of Danquah and other Nkrumah oppositionists. This "severity . . . drew no protests nor anguish from me," he noted later. "They were advocates neither of democracy nor even of the Christianity they professed." In a personal letter to Nkrumah, dated July 21, 1962, James stated, "you are one of the few of whom I can say that from the time I have known you, you have always had as your undeviating aim the emancipation from a subordinate position of the people of Africa and of African descent and your struggle for that emancipation in the context of worldwide events and the emancipation of the whole of humanity."

Nkrumah attempted to resolve the crisis of confidence by moving to the left, toward a domestic strategy of "peaceful transition" to state-directed socialism. The Cocoa Purchasing Company, for example, established in late 1952 to provide loans to small farmers and purchase cocoa for the export market, was dissolved amidst charges of massive fraud in administrative circles. Its bureaucratic successor, the Ghana National Trading Corporation, further undercut Black merchants and petty bourgeois entrepreneurs in the cocoa trade. Small cocoa farmers experienced severe losses in real income after 1960. Massive state-sponsored industrial projects were launched, chief among them the Volta Dam endeavor. In theory, the huge dam should have helped the nation's balance of payments deficit by providing electricity to export to neighboring countries. Unfortunately, no proper coordination existed between the hydroelectric dam project and planning centers in the privately owned corporations, Too much money was allocated for the dam, and not enough for state-controlled heavy industries that could have used the electricity. Since the vital means of industrial production was still retained by the British, the government could not develop a serious national economic program effectively or efficiently. On the international front, Nkrumah shifted from a pre-1960 policy of nonalignment toward a generally favorable attitude toward the Soviet Union and China. Junior officers who as late as 1959 were trained at the Sandhurst Royal Military Academy were being sent by 1962 to the Soviet Union. Nkrumah's involvement in the Congo crisis on the side of martyr Patrice Lumumba, combined with the growing presence of Soviet military and political advisers, created enemies among the conservative, British-trained officers in the military.

It must be emphasized that most of Ghana's fiscal distress could be traced directly to metropoles of world capitalism. Nkrumah's industrial and agricultural programs promoted by the state sector were to be financed by the capital generated by cocoa exports. The price of cocoa peaked at L476 per ton in 1954 aid had never dropped below L200 per ton. The Seven-Year Development Plan projected a modest figure for cocoa at L200 per ton for the mid- and late-1960's. In 1965, the U.S. and British governments adopted policies which artificially lowered the world price of cocoa to i87 a ton. Both countries refused to lower trade barriers against processed and semi-processed cocoa products, as they had promised to do at the Geneva meeting of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development in 1964. The "economic squeeze," which would be used by subsequent American administrations against Allende's Chile in 1970-73 and Manley's Jamaica in 1978-80, was developed and perfected first against Nkrumah. The crisis within Ghana was also essentially a crisis within the CPP. This can be illustrated by a brief sketch of the careers of three of Nkrumah's most influential supporters: Komal Gbedemah, Krobo Edusei, and Tawia Adamafio. Gbedemah represented the petty bourgeois-entrepreneurial wing of the CPP. Imprisoned by the British in 1949 for six months, he nevertheless prepared his party for the municipal elections of the following year. As Vice Chairman of the CPP, Gbedemah stood second only to Nkrumah as the chief architect of the liberation struggle. James himself referred to Gbedemah in Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution as the "Trotsky leading the revolution" contrasted to Nkrumah-as-"Lenin." By the late 1950's Gbedemah was considered the party stalwart, first among all CPP activists who had built the organization from 1949 onward. As Minister of Finance and principal member of the presidential commission which ruled Ghana in Nkrumah's absences abroad, he wielded tremendous authority among middle class, urban and intelligentsia constituencies. In 1961, however, the control of the budget was transferred from the Finance Ministry to a newly formed Budget Secretariat under Nkrumah's control. After the labor strikes at Sekondi-Takoradi in Setember 1961 the government passed a Criminal Procedure Amendment Bill which greatly restricted domestic civil liberties. At the second reading of the bill, Gbedemah finally made public his opposition to the government, denouncing even the Preventive Detention Act as "an instrument of terrorism." He left Ghana in late December 1961 and joined the growing expatriate opposition against Nkrumah.

Krobo Edusei was perhaps the most popular leader of the CPP. A real "man of the people" in Achebe's terms, Edusei was a complete opportunist. In 1949 he organized people's courts to levy fines against Africans who refused to join in the boycott of white-owned stores. Monies were divided between himself and his own supporters. For years he enriched himself by pedaling governmental favors to the highest corporate bidder. Traveling extensively between Europe and Africa, Edusei acquired the reputation as a lavish entertainer and bon vivant. After one of his endless series of fiscal improprieties, Nkrumah dismissed him as Minister of Industries in April 1962. Despite all this, Edusei remained a leader of the powerful right wing of the CPP. His base of support was provided in part by his close personal/political ties to the Ashanti people. Edusei had participated vigorously in the construction of the police state apparatus. As Minister of the Interior in early 1957 he introduced the Preventive Detention Act without even first discussing the legislation with his party or cabinet members. To protect himself, he collected damaging political information on the Osagyefo with the intention of using the data "should he fall too far from grace."

Tawia Adamafio was certainly the most ambitious of all of Nkrumah's cadre. Born Joseph Tawia Adams, he Africanized his name as an act of defiance when he was employed at the supreme court as a clerk. Adamafio opposed the CPP during its early years. As a writer for the Accra National Times in 1952, he denounced the CPP as "the party of fooling and thieving." He participated in a raid against the CPP's central newspaper offices, and physically attacked the editor. In 1953 he served as assistant general secretary to an anti-Nkrumah political faction. By this time, however, Adamafio reassessed his political situation and decided to join Nkrumah's ranks. After the 1954 general election, Adamafio rose to the post of assistant general secretary of the CPP. As a law student in London in the mid-1950's, he worked with Padmore to establish the National Association of Socialist Student Organizations, a militant formation supported by the CPP. Despite Gbedemah's opposition, Nkrumah appointed Adamafio general secretary of the CPP in January 1960. Adamafio soon developed a strong base of supporters among the Ga people in the government, including Foreign Minister Ako Adjei and Cofie Crabbe, CPP executive secretary. By early 1961 a serious power struggle had emerged between Adamafio's "leftists" within the state and party bureaucracy and the Gbedemah faction, who primarily occupied seats within the legislature and controlled the African private sector.

Adamafio's fall from power was as rapid as his emergence. As Minister of Presidential Affairs, Adamafio was largely responsible for the suppression of striking workers in September 1961, calling laborers "despicable rats" and "agents of neocolonialism.' Adamafio led the purge of the right wing in 1961-62 and was widely considered the heir apparent to Nkrumah. Adamafio praised his mentor from the floor of parliament as "the Great Emancipator who delivered Ghana from the bondage of imperialism." In August 1962 Nkrumah was nearly killed in an assassination attempt. Adamafio's enemies within the CPP gathered circumstantial evidence which indicated that the Adamafio faction was somehow involved. Adamafio, Adjei, Crabbe and others within his group were promptly arrested. Tried in 1963, the Adamafio faction were declared not guilty by Sir Arku Korsah, the Chief Justice. Within two days, Nkrumah dismissed Korsah and nullified the court's proceedings. All three were detained in prison until the 1966 coup.

Nkrumah's decision to dismiss Chief Justice Korsah provoked a sharp response from James. Dated December 14, 1963, James's correspondence described the dismissal as "a terrible business, bound to have effects far outside Ghana and in Ghana itself." James requested detailed information on the incident in order to explain the case in the Trinidad Evening News. "I hope . . . you have people around you able to tell you quite plainly what is now required from you," he confided. Nkrumah did not respond to the correspondence, and in early 1964 James made the letter public. With a degree of sadness, James issued a brief but insightful essay in the News on the "failure" of Nkrumah:

I suppose it brings to an end an association of twenty years that I have valued more than most. I signed myself a sincere supporter of Nkrumah: a bad phrase. Nkrumah did not and does not need my support. I needed his. I have been and am concerned with and active in a lot of politics, one part of which was and is the expulsion of imperialism from Africa and the development of under developed countries. . . . In all this Nkrumah played a great role: he is one of the greatest of living politicians. I always appreciated the splendid work he was doing amid immense difficulties. When people pointed out what they considered negative aspects of his regime I held my peace because I knew the positive aspects, the immense positive aspects.

James stated that Nkrumah should publicly declare that he had made a grievous mistake in the Chief Justice's dismissal. Unfortunately, none of Nkrumah's closest supporters were in a position to tell the President the truth. "A prime minister who has not got people around him who can tell him that is living on borrowed time," James predicted. "If he hasn't got such people around him it is his misfortune and his fault. Worse still it is the misfortune of the people over whom he rules." One reason for the current "catastrophe," James argued, was that Nkrumah "has been fooling himself and a lot of other people with a dangerous fiction Its name is democratic socialism." Because the Osagyefo takes himself so seriously, he has "ended up with the totalitarian state no democracy and no socialism." The large, state-sponsored public works campaigns and the rhetorical commitment to rapid westernization helped generate the collapse of parliamentary government and an inevitable emergence of a dictatorial, one-party state. James warned, "Africa will go crashing from precipice to precipice unless the plans for economic development are part of a deep philosophical concept of what the mass of African people need. That is where Nkrumah failed."

In the introduction of Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution, James wrote that Nkrumah's decision in the case "showed the degeneration not only of the regime but of his own concept of government." Nkrumah had to be aware of the consequence of his act. "The very structure, juridical, political and moral, of the state is at one stroke destroyed, and there is automatically placed on the agenda a violent restoration of some sort of legal connection between government and population. By this single act," James stated, "Nkrumah prepared the population of Ghana for the morals of the Mafia."

In the span of two years, Nkrumah had decimated both the right and left leadership of the CPP. In a curious pattern, Nkrumah's policies parallel those of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in 1924-31. Of course, Stalin's major opponents to the left were destroyed first, notably Leon Trotsky and the "Left Opposition." As Nicolai Bukharin and the rightist Bolsheviks participated in the destruction of Trotskyism, so did Adamafio and his supporters lead in the overthrow of Gbedemah. And within months, both Bukharin and Adamafio would themselves be overthrown. The destruction of both ideological factions in the Soviet Union initiated Stalin's infamous "left turn" as a massive program for superindustrialization and the physical elimination of the well-to-do peasantry became the order of the day. The destruction of the CPP's left and right wings merely left the real control of the government under the personal domination of Nkrumah. After 1963, he "never again permitted one of his lieutenants to build up a personal following within his party comparable to Adamafio's," wrote Trevor Jones. "He continued to tolerate private baronies of wealth and patronage, but only on the unspoken condition that the barons themselves eschewed any political ambitions. He allowed the radicals to continue to press their uncompromising view of revolution, but denied them the means of bringing it about." As in Stalin's Russia, the only force in society capable of commanding a serious challenge to the leader's hegemony was the armed forces. Stalin took care of this potential source of opposition during 1937-39, when Marshal M. Tukhachevsky, the leader of the army, was shot. Within the army about 20,000 officers, 25 percent of the entire officers' corps, were detained and several thousand eventually executed without trial.

Nkrumah was no Stalin both in the positive and negative meanings of the word. James revealed this in his assessment of the man. "Nkrumah is a man of great generosity of spirit," James wrote in the 1950's, "and it is common talk in Ghana that even in internal party relations, except where political principle is involved, he is a soft rather than a hard man." Unlike Stalin, he preferred simply to arrest nis opponents rather than torture or murder them. Aware of the problems he encountered within his own army, in August 1965 Nkrumah removed from office his Chief of Defense. Major-General Stephen Otu. and Ours chief deputy. Major-General J. A. Ankrah. Both generals were actively involved in a conspiracy to overthrow the government organized by Nkrumah's police chief. John Harlley, and Colonel Emmanuel K. Kotoka, commander of the infantry brigade. Nkrumah's announcement declaring that he was assuming personal control over all armed forces was, for most officers, totally unacceptable. In late November 1965, in an emergency session of the legislature, the government passed the Africa Defense bill, granting to Nkrumah the right to send the nation's armed forces anywhere on the African continent. This act, more than any other, set the wheels of the coup into irreversible motion.

With Nkrumah out of the country on the morning of February 23, 1966, the rebel leaders struck. The coup was virtually bloodless. Kotoka announced over the radio that "the myth surrounding Nkrumah has been broken. Parliament is dissolved and Kwame Nkrumah is dismissed from office." Dozens of Nkrumah's "firmest supporters" immediately backed the military junta. Nkrumah's destruction of the left wing of his own party meant that no working class base could be organized immediately to oppose the regime. The intelligentsia, the African petty bourgeoisie, the entrepreneurs and laborers had long since grown indifferent at best, and usually hostile, towards the government. Had Nkrumah developed and trained thousands of serious younger cadre committed to his ideals of socialism and Pan-Africanism, he might have succeeded in reversing the military coup. Ac one of the conspirators freely admitted as late as 1967, "the irony of the present situation in Ghana is that it is quite probable that President Nkrumah and the CPP would command the support of a majority of the electorate, even in genuinely free elections." But Nkrumah's party had never developed any ideological consensus. Despite the existence of Ideological Institute of Winneba, there was no real theoretical development that was an on-going part of mass-based CPP politics. Nkrumah's primary constituency between 1962 and 1966 was the bureaucratic caste of public and party officials who benefited personally from the state. Devoid of any viable working class or peasant base of support, Nkrumaism gave way without a fight.


The coup solved absolutely none of Ghana's pressing problems. In 1969 Dr. K. A. Busia succeeded the military junta as President. An old ally of Danquah from the 1950's, Busia represented the local Black petty bourgeoisie and reactionary bureaucratic elite. With Nkrumah's fall, the U.S.-inspired boycott of Ghanaian cocoa ended, and its price rose 220 percent in two short years. Busia received a 1.5 million dollar loan from the World Bank at generous terms, and initiated a strictly capitalist fiscal policy at home. Nationalized firms under Nkrumah were restored to private ownership, workers' real wages were cut drastically. These and other austerity measures did not halt the acceleration of the balance of trade deficit, and served to galvanize working class/peasant opposition to the new rightist regime. The military again took charge by ousting Busia in January 1972. A series of military takeovers and unstable civilian governments have since followed. As for Nkrumah, his political career had come to an end. The last years of his life were spent in exile, producing a series of thoughtful studies in African political economy and theory. In Revolutionary Path, he described his stay in Conakry, Guinea, as "one of the most fruitful periods of my life. For, in a secluded villa by the sea, my enforced freedom from the day to day work of government leaves me time to study, to contemplate deeply on the problems of Africa, to write, and to prepare actively for the next vital phase of the African Revolution. . . . " Nkrumah died in Bucharest, Rumania, on April 27, 1972.

Writing in the Black World, James reflected on the meaning of Nkrumah's life and thought in an essay published in July 1972. "Kwame Nkrumah was one of the greatest political leaders of our century," he noted. "We must be on guard that his years of exile do not remove from our constant study and contemplation the remarkable achievements of the great years." Perhaps deliberately avoiding any discussion of Nkrumah's contradictory record in power between 1957 and 1966, James concentrated his analysis instead on the period of "positive action" against British colonialism in the Gold Coast. James applauded the manner in which "Nkrumah mobilized" the masses, but did not mention the invaluable contributions of Gbedemah and other lesser CPP leaders. James did not analyze the shortcomings of Nkrumah's model of political praxis, the choice of creating a mass-based party rather than a vanguard-style party, along the lines of Cabral's PAIGC or Agostinho Neto's MPLA, to pursue the anti-colonialist struggle. Instead, he asserted, "there is not a political leader or a political party anywhere in the world which cannot learn from Nkrumah's politics in the revolutionary Gold Coast, 1947-1951." James agreed that "it would be dishonorable to attempt to deny Nkrumah did not establish a viable regime in Ghana." However, he justified Nkrumah's failures as being a legacy of British colonialism. "Nkrumah's failure was not a failure of individual personality," James observed. "It was the impossibility of establishing a viable regime and bringing some order into the messes the imperialists had left behind."

This was, strictly speaking, historically true. Nkrumah's achievements against overwhelming odds throughout his entire career are a matter of record. Under his leadership, the First and Second Five-Year Development Plans (1951-56 and 1959-64) established the foundations for the cultural and industrial transformation of modern Ghana. Nkrumah's assertion that "in ten years we had achieved more than in the whole period of colonial rule" was no empty boast. Between 1951 and 1961, the amount of paved or gravel motor roads in that country increased from 3,491 miles to 5,396 miles; the number of telephones more than tripled, from 7,383 to 25,488; post offices increased 75.4 percent, from 444 to 779; the number of health care clinics increased from 1 to 30; the numbers of dentists and doctors rose 159.9 percent, from 156 to 500. Nkrumah's commitment to mass literacy and a general improvement in the educational apparatus was unequaled in Africa. The enrollment of primary and middle school children increased from 220,535 in 1951 to 1,286,486 in 1964-65. By the mid- 1960's, there were 89 secondary schools with 32,971 students; 11 technical schools; 47 teacher training colleges; and three major universities in Ghana. In 1945, the Gold Coast's only nursing establishment graduated 8 nurses annually; in 1961-62 Ghana's 6 nursing schools produced 265 midwives and nurses.

Nkrumah's unfulfilled Seven-Year Development Plan projected the creation of 500,000 jobs in agriculture and industry; 400,000 jobs in construction, commerce and government services; and 100,000 in mining, transportation and government utilities. Unemployment remained at relatively low levels throughout Nkrumah's tenure in public office. Most of the nation's balance of payments difficulties were due less to the state's mismanagement, graft, etc., and more to the inflation in prices for imported consumer goods and the U.S.-sponsored boycott of Ghanaian cocoa. For these and other reasons, W. E. B. DuBois wrote privately to Nkrumah on November 30, 1961: "You [have] set the highest standard of African training with worldwide recognition and [have taken] the great step forward toward uniting the old classical learning and modern technology into one broad plan of education for human uplift."

In late 1963 a Ghanaian political journal requested from James a contribution on African politics. James refused "to write anything about Africa I knew the hopelessness of the situation in which the African leaders found themselves, and knew that all that I had to say would not be published in any African paper." He suggested instead a seemingly neutral and somewhat esoteric topic on V. I. Lenin's final writings on Soviet development and the problems involved in socialist construction in a so-called backward country. The essay, drafted in a kind of Aesopian language, spelled out the problems of the Soviet Union's struggle for socialism in such a manner that comparisons to Nkrumah's Ghana were not only clear but unavoidable. Any social revolution must commit itself to two goals "the reconstruction of the governmental apparatus" and "the education of the almost illiterate peasantry." Echoing Lenin, James condemned the growth of a state bureaucracy that promised much, but produced only official corruption and social stagnation. Lenin "always believed and often said that any serious and notable change in the social and political construction of Russia came from the proletariat ot from the masses, only when the masses take part does real politics begin." The implications for Ghana were specific Nkrumah must smash the vestiges of the colonial state apparatus that still existed, and make an uncompromising break from those CPP factions who were willing and eager to pursue neo-colonialist policies. Real politics for Ghana would begin again, as in the period 1947-51, when the broad working masses, the peasantry and the proletariat, were dictating the direction of the struggle.

The sad failure of Nkrumah and the destruction of his government rests here. Ghana had begun the long and painful struggle down the road toward socialism. Measured in terms of educational institutions, culture, transportation and communications systems, and even in some sectors of agricultural production, Nkrumah's Ghana represented a qualitative leap toward the inevitable reality of a unified, socialist Africa. Nkrumah pursued the socialist vision through the sterile corridors of a bloated and inefficient bureaucracy, the worst legacy of British colonialism, a state apparatus largely devoid of any fundamental commitment to the leader's ideological aspirations and bold public policy imperatives. By the early 1960's, an elite stratum of opportunistic CPP officeholders, trade union bureaucrats and petty civil servants acted as a permanent buffer between the material needs of the working masses and the publicly stated goals of Pan-Africanism and socialism. The party had begun to educate the masses in technical skills, but failed to re-educate itself and transform its membership ideologically from its motley origins as a purely anti-colonialist, united front. The CPP never evolved into a tough, effective apparatus for social construction and cultural revolution. Ignoring James's repeated warnings, Kwame Nkrumah failed to transform himself from being an anticolonialist activist into a genuine revolutionist, while he still occupied a position of state power. Nkrumah relied instead upon the CPP and state bureaucracy to support his programs. This was the reason that millions of his former allies and supporters rejected him in February 1966.

Manning Marable is a Senior Research Associate at the Africana Studies and Research Center of Cornell University, He is also Communications Coordinator and Northeast States National Representative of the National Black Independent Political Party.


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Samir Amin, Neo-Colonialism in West Africa (New York and London: Monthly Review Press, 1973).

The Correspondence of W. E, B. DuBois, Volume III: Selec- tions, 1944-1963 (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1978).

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"Nkrumah, Padmore, and the Ghanaian Revolution," taped lecture, 1974, Institute of the Black World, Atlanta, Georgia.

Trevor Jones, Ghana's First Republic, 1960-1966: The Pursuit of the Political Kingdom (London: Methuen and Company, 1976).

Rukudzo Murapa, "Nkrumah and Beyond: Osagyefo, Pan-Africanist Leader," Black World, 21, 9 (July 1972), pages 12-20.

Kwame Nkrumah, Africa Must Unite (London: Mercury Books, 1963).

Class Struggle in Africa (New York: International Publishers, 1970)

Consciencism (London: Nelson, 1965).

Dark Days in Ghana (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1968).

Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah (London: Nelson, 1957).

Revolutionary Path (New York: International Publishers, 1973).

George Padmore, Pan-Africanism Or Communism (Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1972).

R. Pinkney, Ghana Under Military Rule, 1966-1969 (London: Methuen and Company, 1972).

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