Monday, September 21 2009. That date is important for two main reasons: Eid ul-Fitr and Kwame Nkrumah’s 100th anniversary. Going with that, I’m going to focus on what I think Kwame Nkrumah‘s most important legacy to Ghanaians and Africans is. I don’t idolize him, but I definitely do admire and applaud him. I strongly believe that the true mark of an individual’s success is in how (much) he or she is able to positively impact others. Nkrumah definitely did that. Heck, he is STILL doing it. With Ghana’s population quickly approaching 24million, it is a wonder that we’re not bursting at the seams.


Ghana's first president Osagyefo Dr.Kwame Nkrumah shares a moment with an African-American boy on his state visit to see American President John F. Kennedy.

Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nrkumah, Pan-Africanist

The fact that our economy is being sustained by infrastructure and systems put into place by an ordinary human being is mind-blowing! Sure, he had his issues, but that’s the beauty of it all! Despite all the criticisms against him, this man achieved what no Ghanaian man or woman has been able to parallel. Critics say he let the power get to his head (what do you think today’s politicians are doing?), and that he wanted to rule Africa, and this and that, but at the end of the day, he certainly had one thing that set him apart from all the others (past and present): Vision.

Let’s look at the European Union. This vessel of power, integration, and a definite symbol of what we humans can achieve if we’re willing to work together. Sure, there might still be some cracks here and there, but all in all, it’s an amazing thing. It’s pretty ironic to think that Nkrumah’s very own country (and continent) men swept his suggestion of a “United Africa” under the rug, while the Europeans paid heed to what could only have been the immense vision of this man. The man was simply phenomenal. He possessed the vision and foresight that is sorely lacking among our so-called leaders today.

Sure, I’ve listened to my dad and grandma talk about Nkrumah numerous times. I know the acclaimed “Ghana, your beloved country is free forever” speech all too well. And I’ve felt pride every time a foreigner recognizes Ghana as a result of Nkrumah. He put our country on the map, and indeed, brought a different light to the continent. However, it wasn’t until I was conducting my independent research on Ghana and Malaysia, that I fully appreciated what a visionary Kwame Nkrumah was.


Nkrumah’s Long-Sustaining Vision

Hidden in the depths of chapter four of Critical Perspectives in Politics and Socio-Economic Development in Ghana by Tettey et al. (2003) was a section on how social and ethnic unrest in Ghana influenced (or rather impeded) its development efforts. The author, Adjibolosoo, explored Kwame Nkrumah’s attempts at dealing with these tensions. The Ghana Young Pioneers movement of June 1960 which aimed at character building and citizen development among youth was one of the initiatives that led to the ideology of patriotic nationalism or “Nkrumanism”. Through the Ghana Young Pioneers initiative, educational programs were implemented to educate children in the concepts of social solidarity, political action, value stabilization, individual integration into changing social structures, the direction and meaning of life, and learning to think in terms of a nation rather than ethnic groups. I think Nkrumah’s target group alone (children) is indicative of how forward-thinking this man was.

And, he didn’t end there.  Ghanaians from different ethnic groups were offered civil service jobs in languages other than their own thanks to his professional initiatives. The current National Service Scheme is reminiscent of this initiative; although many Ghanaians today will move heaven and earth to ensure that they remain in Accra or large cities like Kumasi and Tema. Adjibolosoo acknowledges that although Nkrumah’s initiatives did not rid Ghana of ethnic rivalries, it did have a significant impact on ethnic dynamics in Ghana. And I concur with that observation.

We are still living off of his vision. But at some point, the roads, schools, bridges etc that Kwame Nkrumah set up will be in need of serious repair, or will have to be done over entirely. It’s time that we quit nit-picking, and go on a full-out campaign to work and make necessary changes.

I cannot imagine what it must have been like living in Ghana a couple of decades ago. Nkrumah knew that in order for Ghana (and Africa) to prosper, we would have to put our differences aside and work together. United we stand, divided we fall. And boy, are we racing each other to the depths of poverty, instability and all the other inefficiencies that plague our country and continent. All nations who have achieved some semblance of democracy and development, have had to let some sleeping dogs lie and work together. In Malaysia, the native Malays and the Chinese and Indian foreigners did this. America’s north and south divides came together. In Ghana…well, let’s look on the bright side, things are better. This example is just a case in point of how visionary Kwame Nkrumah was.

Who cares whether high school in Ghana goes for a term of three or four years? What, pray tell us, are students supposed to be studying over that period of time? That is what we are supposed to be focusing on, the curriculum, the essentials, the specifics! We need to have a vision and long term goals, and then, we strategize step-by-step and determine how we will achieve these goals. Enough, of the short-term planning already! If we don’t commemorate Nkrumah’s 100th birthday in any way, I hope we at least take a page from his book on leadership, and strive to be visionaries and work not just in the present, but also for the future. In his own words, “Forward ever, Backward never.” RIP Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972).