Who was the first president in Ghana
Kwame Nkrumah: visionary, dictator, national hero
"Circle, Circle, Circle!" Shouts a young man from a minibus to passers-by. Four people get on quickly, then the vehicle joins the stream of buses, taxis and private cars that crowd the four-lane main road in the direction of "Circle". The "Kwame Nkrumah Circle", the largest roundabout in Ghana's capital Accra, is named after the country's first president. It's been 50 years since Nkrumah was put out of office - today he's as popular as ever.
"We still benefit from what Nkrumah had built. The Akosombo dam provides us with electricity to this day," says the young Ghanaian Asabea Akonor. "Nkrumah had a long-term plan. If our current politicians acted on such a plan, our country would be much more developed."
Academics from simple backgrounds
Kwame Nkrumah was born on September 21, 1909 as the child of a goldsmith and a farmer's wife in what was then the British crown colony "Gold Coast". He attended a Catholic mission school and then worked as a teacher for a few years. The inquisitive young man from a humble background dreams of studying in the USA. As a stowaway on an ocean liner, he succeeds in crossing; Nkrumah lives, studies and works in America for ten years.
The Akosombo Dam supplies Ghana with electricity to this day
In the mid-1940s, Nkrumah went to England to study law. There he developed into an ardent advocate of Pan-Africanism, the idea of a united, strong Africa. In 1947 he returned to the Gold Coast, organized strikes and boycotts and founded the "Convention People's Party" (CPP). The party's slogan: "Independence Now!"
Vision of a united Africa
In 1950 Nkrumah was arrested by the British. The elections the following year were won by the CPP with an overwhelming majority. Nkrumah is released and immediately accepted into the government. In 1952 he becomes Prime Minister - but the British Governor retains final decision-making power.
That changed in 1957 when the country achieved independence in a bloodless transition. In 1960 Ghana was elected a republic and Nkrumah was elected its first president. At the time, the country was the world's largest exporter of cocoa, but it did not have a single industrial facility for processing raw materials. Nkrumah founds numerous state-owned companies, started a large dam project, had schools and universities built and supported liberation movements in still existing African colonies.
Nkrumah during his swearing-in as president on 07/01/1960
On numerous trips, Nkrumah, who describes himself as a Marxist socialist, tirelessly promotes his idea of a united Africa with a common parliament. "In contrast to many other African heads of state, Nkrumah was actually concerned with the well-being of the nation," says the German political scientist Christian Kohrs, who has researched Nkrumah.
Always among people and yet alone
Above all, poor Ghanaians revere Nkrumah like a messiah, they write him hymen and prayers. Nkrumah's life is dominated by politics, he doesn't drink, doesn't smoke. When asked what he was doing to relax, he replied in an interview: "Working." He arranges a marriage with an Egyptian woman whom he had never seen before the wedding day and who only speaks Arabic and French, which Nkrumah does not understand either. The couple has three children.
Despite its great popularity, Nkrumah is a lonely, suspicious, and increasingly bitter person. In 1965 he wrote to his British secretary Erica Powell: "I am so lonely that I sometimes burst into tears. (...) Have I ever told you that I was married not for myself but for the presidency?"
Authoritarian leadership style
Nkrumah rules his country with an increasingly hard hand: In the year after independence, he enacts laws that allow the government to imprison people for up to five years without trial. In 1961 it becomes a criminal offense to express disrespect to the head of state. Nkrumah controls the media, his party influences almost all civil society organizations. In 1964, Nkrumah transforms Ghana into a one-party state.
1965: Kwame Nkrumah meets Che Guevara (l.)
Economically, the country is now getting into ever greater difficulties: Most of the 50 or so state-owned companies are poorly managed and are making losses. Many of Nkrumah's major projects are prestige structures that are rarely used. Nkrumah is building a huge, luxurious conference building in Accra that will be the headquarters of a future African unity government. In May 1963, however, the newly founded Organization of African Unity, the predecessor of the African Union, rejected Nkrumah's pan-African visions. Your first meeting will not take place in Accra, but in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Too much, too fast
The world market price for cocoa is falling so sharply that the government has to increase taxes. The cost of living rises and people take to the streets, strikes break out. "We had to queue in front of the stadium to get a ration of sugar," recalls the Ghanaian politics professor Mike Ocquaye. "The factories that Nkrumah built didn't work. We should run before we could run."
Political scientist Kohrs also believes that Nkrumah stumbled upon his own visions in the end: "If you want modernization, you have to take the people with you. He has lost sight of that. Nkrumah wanted to make Ghana a modern state, but he wanted to close it fast."
Nkrumah Mausoleum in Accra: Today Ghana is proud of its founding father
On February 24th, 1966 - Nkrumah is on a state visit to Beijing - the military takes power in Ghana with the support of the USA. The people on the streets of Accra cheer the soldiers. The slain president is granted asylum in Guinea, West Africa, and is even appointed pro forma vice-president there. On April 27, 1972 Nkrumah died in the Romanian capital Bucharest, where he was treated for colon cancer.
Today, 50 years after the coup, the statues of Nkrumah are again everywhere in Ghana. A mausoleum was built for him in Accra, numerous streets are named after him, and his face is adorned with banknotes and postage stamps. "People have had time to look back at his years in office and reevaluate what he has done and what the various military and civil governments since him have and have not achieved," says American historian Harcourt Fuller, who wrote a book about Nkrumah wrote.
For several years now, a statue of Nkrumah has stood in front of the headquarters of the African Union in Addis Ababa - a belated tribute to an early pioneer for a united Africa.
Collaboration: Isaac Kaledzi (Accra)
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