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Tuesday, November 4, 1997 Published at 08:28 GMT

Special Report: Africa at 40

Nkrumah - an African visionary with feet of clay

Kwame Nkrumah's dream of a free, united and prosperous Africa made him an icon of the post-colonial era.

Generations of policiticians have claimed to be inspired by his Pan African ideals - though some have not always put them into practice.

They will get the chance to examine his vision afresh at the Africa at 40 conference called to consider their progress since the milestone of Ghanaian independence.

However, Dr Nkrumah was not without faults.

And not all of his ideas - such as his desire for a kind of United States of Africa - remain in fashion.

Hero of independence

Dr Nkrumah became an international symbol of freedom as the leader of the first black African country to shake off the chains of colonial rule.

As midnight struck on March 5, 1957 and the Gold Coast became Ghana, Dr Nkrumah declared: "We are going to see that we create our own African personality and identity.

"We again rededicate ourselves in the struggle to emancipate other countries in Africa; For our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent."

But over the next few years he was increasingly regarded as an authoritarian and remote leader.

In 1964 he declared himself president for life and banned opposition parties.

Justifying his actions he wrote: "Even a system based on a democratic constitution may need backing up in the period following independence by emergency measures of a totalitarian kind."

Many Ghanaians celebrated when their former hero was overthrown by the police and military while he was on a visit to China in 1966.

There was little response to Dr Nkrumah's broadcasts calling for the nation to rise against the coup leaders. He died in exile in Romania in 1972.

An end to colonialism

Dr Nkrumah was born Kwame Francis Nwia Kofie in the south-west of the Gold Coast in 1909.

In 1939 he left to study economics and sociology in America.

There and in London he was active in the Pan African movement which was demanding freedom and independence for the colonies.

Dr Nkrumah returned to his homeland in 1947 and became Secretary General of the United Gold Coast Convention which was campaigning to end British rule.

However, in 1948 he was expelled from the organisation for leading a campaign of civil disobedience.

He responded by founding the Convention People's Party in 1949, the first mass political party in black Africa.

[ image: Dr Nkrumah during his year in jail]
Dr Nkrumah during his year in jail
Imprisoned by the British in 1950, he was released the next year after the CPP's landslide election victory. In 1952 Dr Nkrumah became the country's first prime minister.

After independence in 1957 Ghana became a republic in 1960.

But while Dr Nkrumah worked to improve living standards at home his ambitions extended beyond national boundaries to the creation of a federal union of African states.

United for the good of all

Explaining his vision in his 1961 book, I Speak of Freedom, he wrote: "Divided we are weak; united, Africa could become one of the greatest forces for good in the world.

" I believe strongly and sincerely that with the deep-rooted wisdom and dignity, the innate respect for human lives, the intense humanity that is our heritage, the African race, united under one federal government, will emerge not as just another world bloc to flaunt its wealth and strength, but as a Great Power whose greatness is indestructible because it is built not on fear, envy and suspicion, nor won at the expense of others, but founded on hope, trust, friendship and directed to the good of all mankind."

However, few of the newly independent African countries were persuaded of the need to give up some of the power they had recently won, to a central parliament for the continent.

Ghana was one of 30 nations that founded the Organisation of African Unity in 1963. The OAU remains the leading mouthpiece for African opinion.

But Dr Nkrumah regarded it as inadequate as it was not the United States of Africa he longed for.

Dr Nkrumah's speech at Ghanaian independence celebrations 1957, from BBC Sound Archives

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