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Influential Africans: Kwame Nkrumah


Over the past 50 years, African leaders have left their marks, for good or bad, on the continent and its development. But who are Africa’s most memorable leaders? Accra-based reporter Joana Mantey went to the University of Ghana, Legon, and spoke with students about who they thought were influential in Ghana.

Dr. Vladimir Antwi Danso is a Senior Research Fellow at the Legon Centre for International Affairs of the University of Ghana. He is strongly convinced that Kwame Nkrumah, the man who led Ghana to independence, is by far the most influential African.

“He, more than any other person, set the flame for the emancipation not only of Africa but other colored people all over the world. Now he started a foreign policy that also created conditions for our self-governance; for our self-determination. It created conditions for rebuilding our own structures; our being part of the international community.”

While recognizing the role played by other African leaders, Antwi Danso was emphatic that leaders such as the UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Kamuzu Banda of Malawi would not have made any impact but for the pioneering role of Nkrumah who acted as mentor and trial blazer.

Nkrumah is also remembered for his role in championing African unity. He favored a union of African states, an economic and industrial program for Africa and a Pan-African army. Nkrumah is also credited with embodying African ideals and encouraging pride in the continent’s heritage. On the eve of Ghana’s independence he declared that the event was meaningless without the total liberation of Africa.

Antwi-Danso said Nkrumah demonstrated to the world that Africans are capable of managing their own affairs. For example, he introduced free primary education and expanded secondary schools and universities. Prior to that, he said the colonial powers focused on educating the elites.

“Without that, it was the Metropolis, i.e. France, doing everything for the French colonies, Britain during everything for the British Colonies.

Today we have Ghanaians who are pilots, professors. It is because of that educational legacy he left to Africa. We would even have been more backward but for Nkrumah. When Nkrumah lit the light, Sekou Toure got independence from the French. Even those countries that were conservative like Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal; you know the nationalist government (ministers) of those places were members of the French Parliament. So they were not interested in getting independence for their people.”

Antwi Danso said today, Nkrumah’s influence is still felt in the African Union, which he helped to establish. He said some issues raised in the NEPAD document for the reconstruction of Africa were initially put forward by Kwame Nkrumah.

Some students of the university at Legon also gave their views:

“I am Charles Ofori Owusu. I will settle on Nkrumah not because I am a Ghanaian but because of his views of Africa as a whole. He was looking at uniting the whole of Africa and using Ghana as a hub to operate.”

“I am Cecil Kwache. In my opinion Mandela will be the most influential African leader because he was able to stand up for his rights and fight for his beliefs of most of his beliefs were channeled in the direction of we the African people.”

“My name is Ivy Appiah. I will choose Nelson Mandela because he is not power drunk. He had to step down for somebody to take over”

“I am Francisca Kobla. I will choose Kofi Annan as the most influential African person in terms of Africa because in the southern part of Africa he has made it to the top and most people respect him for that.”

Interesting views from Students who may one day themselves be the next Mandela, Nkrumah or Annan. At least, that’s what their professors say!

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