People across Ghana are celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence from Britain today. On March 6, 1957, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence from colonial rule. It inspired a wave of liberation struggles around Africa and the world. Just three years later, 17 more colonies had gained their independence. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: People across Ghana are celebrating the 50th anniversary of its independence from Britain today. Thousands are out in the streets of the West African nation to mark the occasion. More than 20 heads of state are attending the ceremonies, including South Africa’s Thabo Mbeki and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. In the capital Accra and beyond, Ghana’s Black Star flag is fluttering from electricity poles, car windows and palm trees to honor the watershed moment a half century ago.
On March 6, 1957, the Gold Coast became Ghana and the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence from colonial rule. It inspired a wave of liberation struggles around Africa and the world. Just three years later, 17 more colonies had gained their independence. Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, gained international stature, emerging as one of the leaders of the worldwide anti-colonial movement and one of the most influential Pan-Africanists of the 20th century.
PRESIDENT KWAME NKRUMAH: I am convinced that it is dangerous for the independent African states to wait any longer for the United Kingdom to do its duty. The time has come for the independent African states to take the initiative in their own hands.
AMY GOODMAN: Kwame Nkrumah helped usher in an era of independence for Africa after centuries of invasion, slavery and colonial rule. But in 1966, while he was away on a state visit to China, Nkrumah was overthrown in a CIA-sponsored coup. He never returned to Ghana and died in exile in Guinea in 1972.
In a few minutes, we’ll be joined by Kwame Nkrumah’s son Gamal. But first, let’s go back to 1960 to hear Kwame Nkrumah in his own words. Three years after becoming Ghana’s first president, Nkrumah traveled to New York to address the world in front of the United Nations General Assembly.
PRESIDENT KWAME NKRUMAH: Mr. President, distinguished delegates:
The great tide of history flows, and as it flows it carries to the shores of reality the stubborn facts of life and man’s relations, one with another. One cardinal fact of our time is the momentous impact of Africa’s awakening upon the modern world. The flowing tide of African nationalism sweeps everything before it and constitutes a challenge to the colonial powers to make a just restitution for the years of injustice and crime committed against our continent.
But Africa does not seek vengeance. It is against her very nature to harbor malice. Over two million of our people cry out with one voice of tremendous power. And what do they say? We do not ask for death for our oppressors; we do not pronounce wishes of ill-fate for our slave-masters; we make an assertion of a just and positive demand; our voice booms across the oceans and mountains, over the hills and valleys, in the desert places and through the vast expanse of mankind’s inhabitations, and it calls out for the freedom of Africa. Africa wants her freedom. Africa must be free. It is a simple call, but it’s also a signal lighting a red warning to those who would tend to ignore it.
For years and years, Africa has been the foot-stool of colonialism and imperialism, exploitation and degradation. From the north to the south, from the east to the west, her sons languished in chains of slavery and humiliation, and Africa’s exploiters and self-appointed controllers of her destiny strode across the land with incredible inhumanity without mercy, without shame and without honor. But these days are gone and gone forever. And now, I, an African, stand before this august assembly of the United Nations and speak with the voice of peace and freedom, proclaiming to the world the dawn of a new era.
AMY GOODMAN: Kwame Nkrumah, independence leader and the first president of Ghana, speaking before the U.N. General Assembly in 1960. That audio, courtesy of the Pacifica Radio Archives. Kwame Nkrumah’s son Gamal is the foreign editor of the Egyptian English-language newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly. He joins me from Cairo. Welcome to Democracy Now! Can you begin by talking about the significance of this day?
GAMAL NKRUMAH: This day is of tremendous significance. It symbolizes the end of colonial rule in Africa, and it ushers in a new era. It was an era full of hope. The aspiration of the people of Africa was about to be realized. Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed a few years after that, symbolized again by the 24th of February, 1966, coup d’état that overthrew my father’s government.
AMY GOODMAN: Before we get to the coup in 1966, the day you also left Ghana, I wanted to go back. Could you trace the freedom struggle of your father, President Kwame Nkrumah, and, before that, the freedom leader? Talk about where he was born, how the independent struggle was formed, and how Ghana became an independent nation.
GAMAL NKRUMAH: My father was born in the western region of Ghana, the coastal region near the border with Ivory Coast. He was educated in Ghana and then left the country to study in the United States. And in the United States, he met with many influential Pan-Africanists, and he had imbued the spirit of Pan-Africanism. The likes of Marcus Garvey greatly influenced Kwame Nkrumah’s thinking, but also W.E.B. Du Bois, whom he invited later to move to Ghana, and he conferred on him Ghanaian citizenship, where he died, of course. And so, it was in the United States and later on in Britain, where he was very active with the Pan-African movement in establishing the fifth Pan-African Congress. So, in a way, my father was the first link between continental Africa and Africans in the diaspora. And that greatly influenced his ideas later on and his vision. After independence —
AMY GOODMAN: He went to Lincoln University in Pennsylvania?
GAMAL NKRUMAH: Yes. Yes, he did. And later on in the London School of Economics in London.
So the point I want to put across is that he became a link between continental Africa and Africans in the diaspora, across the Atlantic, especially, in the Caribbean and in the United States. After independence, he was convinced that the only way forward for Africa is African continental unity.
He was also for social justice at home. So he was a great believer in the free education and free healthcare, which was essential at the time for the people of Ghana, and it was unprecedented in the African continent. Hundreds of schools were built, and hospitals, across the country for the first time in the rural areas, as well as in the urban centers. He laid the foundations for the industrialization of Ghana. He built the Akosombo Dam to generate electricity. He also built the Tema Harbour, which was a deepwater harbor, immediately after independence. So he was laying the foundation for the industrialization of Ghana.
However, his dreams, his visions for Ghana were cut short by the 24th of February, 1966, coup. And today, we suffer in Ghana from the consequences of that coup. Over the years, there were successive military regimes —
AMY GOODMAN: Gamal Nkrumah, we have to break for stations to identify themselves. When we come back, though, I want to go back and ask you about President Nkrumah running for president from prison and what it was like in that first election. Gamal Nkrumah is our guest, the son of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah. Gamal is the foreign editor for the English-language newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly. He is speaking to us from Cairo, Egypt. This is Democracy Now! Back with him in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Gamal Nkrumah is our guest, the son of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah. Gamal is foreign editor of the English-language newspaper, Al-Ahram Weekly. He lives in Cairo, Egypt. Today, mass celebrations in Ghana on the 50th anniversary of the independence of Ghana from Britain. Gamal Nkrumah, can you talk about how your father came back to Ghana — called the Gold Coast then — and organized, and how he ended up in prison?
GAMAL NKRUMAH: Well, Nkrumah returned to Ghana after being very active in the Pan-African movement in Britain. He was mobilizing many of the African students who were in Britain at the time. He mobilized their support for a Pan-African organization, and, sure enough, they organized the fifth Pan-African Congress.
After that, he was asked to return to Ghana by the ruling — the educated elites at the time who had formed a party, and they asked him to be the secretary general of that party, because of his activism in Britain that they had heard about. And, sure enough, he organized. However, he quickly realized that they had a vested interest in not gaining independence from Britain, because as the educated elite, they wanted to retain what little power the colonial administration gave them.
It was after that that he formed his own party, the Convention People’s Party, and broke away from the established elitist party, the UGCC. And with the CPP formed, he galvanized the young and the masses of African people in Ghana at the time, and his rallying cry was “Independence now!” And he realized that the people of Ghana wanted independence at that particular moment.
After that, the colonial authorities imprisoned him, but he continued leading, even from prison. And the colonial authorities had to organize elections, because the country was in such a state of unrest then. And, sure enough, Kwame Nkrumah was democratically elected as prime minister, but the country still remained under the British Crown. In ’57, however, Ghanaians voted to have independence, and Ghana was the first African country south of the Sahara to gain independence from Britain, or from any European colonial power, for that matter. However, on the day of independence 50 years ago, Kwame Nkrumah stressed that the independence of Ghana was meaningless without the total liberation of the continent of Africa.
AMY GOODMAN: What does Pan-Africanism mean to you, Gamal Nkrumah, and what did it mean to your father?
GAMAL NKRUMAH: Much the same thing. I believe in my father’s vision of Pan-Africanism. Pan-Africanism, as Kwame Nkrumah saw it, was continental African unity. That is, the whole continent would be united into the United States of Africa. And that includes both North Africa and Africa south of the Sahara. It also means that the African diaspora would have the right to return and to have African citizenship, if they so wish.
It also means that Africa, as an impoverished continent, as a continent that suffered from 500 years of slavery and colonialism, that it needs to redress these wrongs done its people. And so, the onus would be on social justice, that those who suffered the most, the masses of Africa, would have access to free health and free healthcare and free education. These are essential parts of Nkrumah’s Pan-Africanist vision. And this is precisely the Pan-Africanism that I believe in.
AMY GOODMAN: Gamal Nkrumah, can you talk about the day of the coup in 1966? Who was behind it? You were six years old at the time?
GAMAL NKRUMAH: Yes. This is the only day that perhaps I remember from dawn to dusk. It was a terrible experience for a child of six. My sister was five at the time, and my younger brother was two. My younger brother, Sekou, did not realize what’s going on. My sister was crying. I remember she was crying the whole time, very distressed. My mother was very courageous, because, of course, my father was away on a state visit to China at the time.
And very early on in the morning at dawn, about 4:00 or so, she phoned President Gamal Abdel Nasser, after whom I was named, of Egypt, and told him that there is artillery fire and there is a coup d’état, what appears to be a coup. And Nasser promised to send an Egyptian plane to come and take us as a family to Egypt.
In the meantime, there was fighting between the presidential guard, who were loyal to my father, and the army and police who had plotted the coup with the help of the CIA. And there was much fighting in the grounds of the presidential palace. It was called Flagstaff House. It still stands in Ghana in Accra today.
And we vacated the building at about 6:00 in the morning. And we went first to the Egyptian Embassy in Accra, and then we went to the police headquarters, where my mother was interrogated. After that, we were taken to the airport, where the Egyptian plane had just landed. At first, the coup plotters did not want to release us children. They wanted my mother to travel alone. And she refused point blank. She said that she has to have her children with her. And we did eventually board the plane. And we arrived Egypt the following day at dawn. It was a very difficult day. It is perhaps the only day that I remember from dawn ’til dusk.
AMY GOODMAN: Gamal Nkrumah, how do you know that the CIA was behind the coup in Ghana?
GAMAL NKRUMAH: Well, it is no secret that George Bush, the father, was behind that particular project to topple Kwame Nkrumah. And surely enough, he was rewarded after the coup by being made director of the CIA, and his political career took off after that day. And the papers and documents of the time that were embargoed are now — anybody can have access to those papers in Washington in the Library of Congress and read. Any serious student of history who’s interested in this particular episode would find ample evidence in those documents in Washington. It’s available for all today.
AMY GOODMAN: Gamal Nkrumah, let me ask you about what Kwame Nkrumah was criticized for toward the end, before the coup, when he had declared himself president for life; Preventative Detention Act, which allowed Nkrumah to hold anyone for up to five years without trial; the Trade Union Act, which made strikes illegal. Your comment on that?
GAMAL NKRUMAH: Well, I think we have put that in the context of Ghana at the time. The situation was that all the left-leaning presidents in Africa, such as Gamal Abdel Nasser in Egypt or Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana or others, were under tremendous pressure. In Egypt, there was the Israeli aggression, the Tripartite aggression in ’56, the Suez. And after that, Israel was always having wars and launching wars on the Arab countries, including Egypt, the largest one.
In Ghana the pressures were also there — Ghana was being sanctioned — and especially after Nkrumah wrote his book, Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism in 1965. After that, in which — in this book he exposed the neo-colonial — in fact, he coined the term. He said that an African country might be independent and have all the trappings of independence — a government and currency, etc. — but that in reality its economy is controlled by foreign capital. He explained that in his book, Neo-Colonialism. And I believe that it was after his publishing that particular book that the CIA decided they have to get rid of him. And so, Ghana was sanctioned, and the economic situation in the country began to be shaky.
Of course, Nkrumah’s detractors said that his program of free education and free healthcare led to economic disaster. But that was not the case. The case was that Nkrumah was laying the foundations for Ghana’s industrialization and that what topped the top of his agenda was social justice and social rise. And I think it is important in the context of the Cold War at the time, in the context of underdevelopment, to realize that at the time people — leaders like Nkrumah and Nasser in Egypt had stressed social rights, as opposed to individual human rights today, not that they underestimated individual human rights, but, to them, social rights, which means social welfare, which means free education and free healthcare, were vitally important. And so, their priorities were a little bit different than some of the democratic Democrats today, whether in Africa or elsewhere. And Nkrumah stressed that his people’s welfare was of utmost importance.
AMY GOODMAN: Gamal Nkrumah, I wanted to ask you about Malcolm X meeting with your father, with Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana, and the effect that that had on the two men.
GAMAL NKRUMAH: That was a meeting of minds. They were two men who were very much alike in outlook. They both had a very broad perspective and a long-term vision. And this is what differentiated them from their contemporaries. Nkrumah was convinced that the only way forward for Africa was African continental unity, coupled with socialism. And Malcolm X was convinced that the only way forward for African Americans was their connection and solidarity with the peoples of the developing world, the people of the South, and, in particular, Africa, the people of Africa. So this is what differentiated Malcolm X’s vision.
What was so vitally important about it is that he put the struggles of African Americans for civil rights at the time in the context of linking up and networking with people from the developing countries of the South, including Africa. And that is why, again, the CIA saw that he had to go. It is this vision of the two men, that the most important thing is the networking of oppressed people, and the unity is paramount to the success of the struggle, and this is why the two men had to be cut short by the powers that be in Washington and other colonial capitals.
AMY GOODMAN: Gamal Nkrumah, we will lose our satellite connection to you in Cairo, Egypt, in just a minute. But I wanted to ask about why your father, after the coup, chose to go to Guinea, where he died years later.
GAMAL NKRUMAH: He chose to go to Guinea, because it was the nearest base to Ghana at the time. He had dreamt of returning to Accra, Ghana and making Ghana the headquarters of a United States of Africa and inviting Pan-Africanists from all over the continent and from the United States, the Caribbean and the whole of the African diaspora to come to Ghana and make it their base. And so, he chose Guinea, because it was geographically closest to Ghana, and he had a special friendship with its president, Ahmed Sekou Toure.
AMY GOODMAN: In this last minute, your final comments, as you speak to us from Egypt, from Cairo, Egypt, Gamal Nkrumah, on this 50th anniversary of the founding of Ghana, your birthplace, your original home.
GAMAL NKRUMAH: I would appeal to all Pan-Africanists the world over, not just in Africa, to stick to Nkrumah’s vision of continental African unity and social justice, the welfare of the poorest and most vulnerable sections of society. This was Nkrumah’s legacy, and this is the only way forward for the people of Africa. And it is only when Africa stands tall among the nations of the world that people of African descent everywhere would also be proud. As long as Africa remains impoverished, as long as it remains divided, susceptible to civil wars, then Africans and people of African descent the world over would never feel fully free or their aspirations fully realized.
AMY GOODMAN: Gamal Nkrumah, I want to thank you very much for being with us, the son of Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah. Gamal Nkrumah is foreign editor of the English-language newspaper Al-Ahram Weekly. He lives in Cairo, Egypt.