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Kwame Nkrumah: Reflections on the Theoretician of the African Revolution

A tribute and reflection on one of the larger than life figures of the African struggle. Nkrumah is here situated within a human and humane canon of struggle for redemption whose promise and fullness finds itself expressed in his work as theoretician and ideologue of Pan Africanism.



27th April 1972: in a hospital in Bucharest one of the greatest Africans ceased to exist, at least corporeally. Dying from cancer of the throat, or as Cabral lamented, to the cancer of betrayal. He remains in the words of C.L.R James “In never-to-be-forgotten memory” for initiating the destruction of a decaying colonial regime. He lives unforgotten across the struggles and triumphs of progressive movements everywhere. 

Kwame Nkrumah of Africa died far away; far from the land he loved and fought for with all that he ever had and marshalled. His death in that remote corner of Europe is both an indictment and a chilling reminder to those who vow to carry forth the just work he started. But that is for another day. Today, honouring and remembering his contribution to our collective liberation will be well nigh enough. 

Nkrumah knew he had awakened a continent that would never go back to sleep and at the same time made powerful enemies whose economic and political interests he threatened. This is reflected in his body of work as he racked his heart and mind to guide the revolutionary takeover of Africans over their lands and resources. He lost no sleep in their machinations and as if by some dialectical turn, gained no sleep as he raced against time to figure out a way to lift up the powerless. 

He was the leader of a newly freed country, the first one on the continent, a country whose building required a Herculean incentive. Despite that, the progress of Ghana and its evolution was something Nkrumah tied directly to the stirring and struggle that was happening all around Africa. He knew that one nation state, winning in a sea of colonised others, as inspiring and grand as it was wouldn’t be able to fend for itself in the contest of nations within a capitalist world order.


How to resolve the contradiction of emerging nation states, who are barely free or strong enough to wade the waters, and their need to stay self determined is, when all is said and done, the mission and question that will fill Nkrumah’s whole life. It would change format and shift grounds but the preoccupation and theoretical basis of it remained: that even if these countries win the inevitable war of independence, they’ll still have to contend with greater global forces. How will they fare? What economic model will they adopt? Who’s solidarity will they lean on? Enter Nkrumah, now and forever, with the grand proposal of African Unity. 

African heads of states at the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), May 1963. Photo: OOPAU

Nkrumah understood that imperialism continues to gain strength and had accumulated vast experience from its ancient domination of Latin America. The Americas had been independent for a century and more before Africa started agitating for self determination, yet they continue to tremble under the weight of one puppet regime after another. He knew it was only a matter of time before Africa met the same fate, or more aptly, had the same fate meted out on her.

Nkrumah understood that imperialism continues to gain strength and had accumulated vast experience from its ancient domination of Latin America

Nkrumah went to work. Using dialectical thinking to justify the program of African unity, the Osagyefo recognised that the law of quality and quantity plays a major role in shifting the balances of power. Since our struggle was and still is a struggle of power we must have it on our side — i.e the side of the African liberation struggle. This could only be done by bringing the masses, the multitude into communion. A righteous commonwealth. At least this is how I contemplated Nkrumah’s move. And what a wise and scientific move that was. 

However, inasmuch as uniting Africa was important to Nkrumah, he understood that we can’t unite on the basis of sentiment and a shared notion of kinship alone. Community has to be rooted in an economic model that will guide the political and social superstructure. In comes scientific socialism as his adopted model and rightly so. To unite, he knew, there must be equality in the way we live, work and rest. To unite a people and keep them in a stratified nation where some labour their lives away and others reap the benefit for doing next to nothing is no unity. It will only be glorified slavery based on a sentimental shared assumption of oneness. Hence the importance of the “scientific” appendage since an array of socialisms were being bandied around at the time. Many of them with no basis in reality, only sentiment, and no science guiding them. It was mostly optimism and pragmatism that proved fatal wherever it was ultimately tried since it wasn’t guided by any sound theory rooted in objective reality. 

Community has to be rooted in an economic model that will guide the political and social superstructure

This righteous compulsion of his, to unite the continent under scientific socialism would prove fatal. The enemies, both home and abroad, knew that if Africa must unite they would never again be in a position to control its immense material and human resources. His theoretical and ideological work, so clear and lucid, in distilling the nature of the forms of domination they had now adopted had them and their handlers exposed. Nkrumah became dangerous, too dangerous to stay in any position of power. He was getting ahead of them, frustrating them, and worst of all Africa, both her masses and their leaders, were listening to him. They had to take him out and in 1966 the CIA and their minions succeeded in overthrowing him, and through that bringing the African Revolution to its knees from which it still hasn’t recovered.

‘The People Of Africa Are Crying For Unity’ – Kwame Nkrumah. African Liberation Day was founded in 1958 when Kwame Nkrumah convened the First Conference of Independent States. He gave one of the greatest speeches of his life on 24th May 1963 when 32 independent African countries met in Addis Ababa to find ways to unite the continent.

Nkrumah went on to live in Guinea, unwavering in his commitment to the principles he held and deeply believed in. While in Guinea, he threw himself body and soul into guiding the African Revolution as the continent had now entered into a new and ruthless phase; that of violent reactionary takeovers that heralded the full unveiling of the neocolonial project. He, bless him, was of the conviction that he was to tarry there a while before going back home to Ghana as a president triumphant in the face of the sellout elements who took over his seat. This was never to happen and he departed this life far away, never to see the land he loved ever again. Through it all he died an unbroken man who fought to the bitter end unbowed and reverent . 

Perhaps, in the fullness of time, the great contribution of Nkrumah is in how he touched and was touched by the small man, the little woman; those unloved and unseen by power. It remains reflected in his works when he references the bent back peasant and the lumpenised African throughout the corpus of his written and spoken work. True, he was a man given to the grand narrative and the big story but he was never beholden to it, and it’s no lie that big stories find their beginnings in the small tales just as one trickle gives way to a flood, a deluge. 


He continually insisted on honouring the masses by being with them. This reflects early on in his life as an anti colonial organiser. We find him sleeping, eating and laughing amongst the people when he came home from the West to rally support for the independence movement in the then Gold Coast. This was before the founding of his own party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), which became the base of the peoples struggle for independence. When I visited Ghana and spoke to the elders who remember his time, he is spoken of as a visionary and one who loved the people and was loved by them. He wasn’t no cold blooded ideologue nor frantic pragmatic, but a balance of the thought and the act as he tarried ever on about the liberation of his people who span the globe. 

Kwame Nkrumah’s vision still resonates with Ghanaians.
JB Dodane/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-NC

To humanise the man is to honour him accordingly. It’s neither hyperbole nor a corruption of history but only a colouring of the right pages. A long overdue veneration of a man who did what he did, no matter how imperfect, out of love for the lone bent back farmer left for dead in the rural landscape picked clean by the callused hands of the colonial enterprise. Out of long suffering contemplation into the condition of the toiling masses of Africa and her diaspora and by extension for all those who suffer everywhere from the ruthlessness of Empire and big money. 

The Revolutionary Path should be aptly considered a will and a testament addressed to posterity

To remember him eventually means an invitation to think and act for the sake of the African Revolution. His very last act on earth forces us to honour this call. He spent it finishing a book that would be a summary of his life’s written work and ideological canon. The book, now known to the world as Revolutionary Path, should be aptly considered a will and a testament addressed to posterity. That the path is but a revolutionary one until the lives and afterlives of this vast African humanity is bettered permanently. That this dystopian colonial continuity, which he named neocolonialism, be defeated to usher in a radiant people and an ever blossoming economic and social life that is pegged on a free society and liberated mass. 

Meeting young Africans all over the continent committed to this dream of Nkrumah and willing to live and die for it remains a hopeful event. From Accra to Nairobi I have hung out, studied and debated these grand dreams of Nkrumah. We have worked in the depths of night infusing life into the old but living bones of Nkrumahism and we continue to do so joyfully everyday even as the neocolonial state persist. To continue  distilling from his corpus and canon what will guide our movements to the new Africa, to new worlds. 

We are meeting again, to emphasise, such as our revolutionary ancestors did during that historical phase of the struggle against colonialism. Our stories and lived experiences echo the same theme as founded before us. An ever abiding echo that reminds us that only a relentless struggle will bring forth the African Nation that must be. 

May it be so that in this our final walk to triumph the great ghost of Kwame Nkrumah will eventually rest in both power and peace as the deferred dream has come true and Africa has finally come into its own. 


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