Ghanaians Reflect on Legacy of Kwame Nkrumah

Anna Boiko-Weyrauch

This week, Ghanaians are marking the 100th anniversary of the birth of their first president, Kwame Nkrumah, who championed independence from British rule and promoted the liberation and unification of the entire African continent.

Musicians with horns and drums helped usher in this week's ceremony at Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park and mausoleum in Accra.  People from all parts of Ghanaian society attended the event, commemorating the national holiday.

President John Atta Mills spoke of the independence leader's example for all Ghanaians.

"Kwame Nkrumah stood for so many things: unity, hard work, perseverance," said John Atta Mills. "And we should always be guided by these values, which I believe are the only values that can help us in building a better Ghana."

Nkrumah Memorial Park sits on what was once British colonial polo-grounds where Mr. Nkrumah declared Ghana's independence in March of 1957.

"Today from now on, there is a new African in the world," said Kwame Nkrumah. "That new African is ready to fight his own battles and show that after all, the black man is capable of managing his own affairs."

"March 6, 1957, we were young men," said Victor Nortey, who was there to hear Mr. Nkrumah's historic speech.

"It was so exciting," he said. "The euphoria for national independence then took off and whatever it was that had to be done for national independence we were all for it.  And we were running up and down - up-country and down-country, everywhere that Kwame Nkrumah went, we needed to go there.  And it was like you have ignited a fire, which everybody was basking in."

President Nkrumah worked to industrialize Ghana by building dams, schools, roads and factories.  He was a leader of pan-Africanism, organizing meetings of African states and writing a number of books on the subject.

Later, he imprisoned his opponents, abolished rival political parties and declared himself president for life.  Mr. Nkrumah was overthrown in a CIA-backed coup in 1966 and lived in Guinea for several years before his death in 1972.

Today, he is widely remembered as a hero for his contributions to Ghanaian independence and contemporary political thought.  This week, many people marked the national holiday of his hundredth birthday by visiting Nkrumah memorial park.

"When we come around this place it gives us that spirit of togetherness," said one visitor. "It brings the people of Ghana together and everyone who comes here is full of joy.  You know he is our hero, and we really adore him.  We wish he is here now."

"Kwame Nkrumah means a lot," said another. "The man who helped Ghana to gain our independence and it is a very great achievement.  I remember when I was in school I learned he was man of passion.  He have this kind of human sensitive and all that.  So Kwame Nkrumah means a lot to me, a lot."

"I was not there, I was not born, from what I have heard ... he is a great leader," said another person. "He has done a lot for us and he make Africa proud."

"His legacies are relevant," said a visitor to the Nkrumah memorial park. "His ideologies are relevant today as it was then.  Talk about unity. Talk about economic empowerment.  Talk about freeing yourself from neo-colonialism, colonialism and imperialism."

"I see Kwame Nkrumah as a god-given son, to Ghana, to Africa and to the world," was the opinion of still another visitor.

Ghana was Africa's first European colony to declare independence.  On that night 43 years ago, Mr. Nkrumah said the future would demand a lot of hard work.

"I am depending on the millions of the country, the chiefs and people, to help me to reshape the destiny of this country," said Nkrumah. "We are prepared to build it up and make it a nation that will be respected by every other nation in the world."

This year's commemorations have seen the creation of a new political party - the Nkrumah Never Dies Party.  Elsewhere, other organizations are marking the anniversary by launching new social programs, including a scholarship fund and anti-malaria campaign. 

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