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He was born in Nkroful, Gold Coast (Ghana) as Francis Nwia-Kofi Ngonloma. Educated at Achimota School, Accra and the Roman Catholic Seminary, Amisano, he taught at the Catholic school in Axim. In 1935 he left Africa for the USA, receiving a BA from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania in 1939. He also gained an MS in Education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and a MA in Philosophy from the same place in 1943. While lecturing in Political Science at Lincoln he was elected president of the African Students Organization of America and Canada.
He arrived in London in 1945 intending to study at the LSE. But following a meeting with George Padmore he helped to organise the Sixth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England. After that he began to work for the decolonisation of Africa and became Vice-President of West African Students Union.
He returned to Gold Coast in 1947 to join the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) under Joseph B. Danquah . In the same year he formed his own party - the Convention People's Party (CPP), with the motto 'Self-government now'. In 1949 Nkrumah left the UGCC and in December of 1949 he declared 'Positive Action' - mass action in the form of boycotts, strikes, and civil disobedience; and was arrested by the British in January 1950.
Facing international protests and internal resistance the British decided to leave the Gold Coast. In 1951 Nkrumah won a seat in the Legislative Assembly while still in prison, the CPP won 34 out of 38 seats. He was released later from prison in February and the Governor Charles Arden-Clarke asked him to lead the new government in cooperation with the British to lead to independence, he agreed.
On March 6, 1957 Ghana was declared independent and Nkrumah (now hailed as 'Osagyefo' or 'victorious leader') accepted the role of Prime Minister. Ghana was declared a republic in 1960. Ghana became a charter member of the Organization of African Unity in 1963.
He believed that capitalism's effects were going to stay with Africa for a long time, if not forever. He thought that socialism was the system that would best accommodate the changes that capitalism had brought, while still respecting African values. He distanced himself from the African socialism of many of his contemporaries. He did not believe that socialism would return Africa to a condition similar to that which had existed prior to the arrival of imperialists, but he did think that it was the best way to lead Africa forward while still respecting the distinctions between European and African ways of living. Nkrumah attempted to move Ghana’s economy toward a more industrial model. His reasoning was that moving Ghana out of the colonial trade system by reducing its dependence on foreign capital, technology, and material goods would allow it to become truly independent. Unfortunately, he moved to industrialization at the expense of his country’s cocoa growing sector, which had been a strong economic sector until then. In the end, the various economic projects that he undertook were generally unsuccessful and hugely expensive. Neither did they remove Ghana from dependence on Western imports.
Following an economic downturn, political conflict, an assassination attempt and general unrest, Nkrumah established Ghana as a one-party state with himself as Life President in 1964. But on February 24 1966, while he was visiting Beijing and Hanoi, his government was overthrown in a military coup d'état.
Nkrumah never returned to Ghana, but he did continue to push for his vision of African unity. He lived in exile in Guinea but died while in Romania seeking medical treatment in April 1972. He was buried in Ghana in a tomb (still present) at the village of his birth, Nkroful, but his remains were later transferred to a large national memorial tomb and park in Accra.
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