The Achievements and Failures of President Kwame Nkrumah

Mon, 17 Aug 2009 Source: Annor, Joseph


Many Ghanaians have since independence believed that Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the first Ghanaian president achieved remarkable successes and that to date, his achievements are unparallel, by pointing particularly to:

• the fact that he led Ghana to attain independence from the British;

• his government made a lot of development projects: and

• his foreign policies, including his active contribution to the formation of the Organisation of African Union and Pan-African movement in general.

In this regard, President Atta Mills who adores President Nkrumah, for instance, has suggested that a holiday should be established on President Nkrumah's birth day, to honour him.

In contrast, the critics of President Nkrumah advocate that his government was a failure and the overthrown of his government by military is justified. The critics support their argument by citing:

• his Prevention Detention Act (detention without trial), harsh treatment of opponents including some held in detention till their death;

• the outlawing of opposition movement, declaring Ghana one party state and making himself life president; and

• the economic blunders causing the Ghanaian economy to deteriorate.

Given the above two opposing views, the purpose of this article is to critique the successes and failures of the government of President Nkrumah.


It is a fact that during the reign of President Nkrumah, major development projects took place in Ghana. And if anything at all, it is only Governor Guggisburg, who ruled Ghana on behalf of the British around 1925, and built Korle-bu Hospital, Achimota College, railway lines between Kumasi, Accra and Takoradi, roads etc, could come any close to the pace that President Nkrumah developed Ghana. The economic legacies of President Nkrumah include the building of Tema township, the Accra-Tema Motorway, Komfo Anokye Hospital in Kumasi, University of Science and Technology, University of Cape Coast, polytechnics and second school around the country, Akosombo Dam, Adome bridge etc, etc. Really, since President Nkrumah, no other government in Ghana has embarked on such a massive infrastructural development. Clearly, some of the infrastructures listed above still remain the main infrastructure in many sectors of Ghana.

Notwithstanding the above economic legacies, it has been suggested that when President Nkrumah became the leader of Ghana, the country had much more promising economy compared to places like Ivory Coast, but President Nkrumah basically destroyed the economy. At independence, the British left Ghana with a reasonable substantial amount of money and the international price of cocoa (which Ghana was the leading producer at the time) was very high, Ghana was therefore enjoying prosperity as both foreign and domestic reserves were healthy. Ghana economic condition at the time was almost as healthy as Spain and certainly as good as South Korea, if not better. The new CPP government led by Nkrumah therefore had plenty of money to develop the economy, and as stated above embarked on the massive infrastructure and other development projects. President Nkrumah's intention was to make Ghana an industrialised nation in order to break away from relying too much on imports, which in all respect was a very good idea.

However, some economic records of President Nkrumah paint his performance and achievements with blemish. In the early 1960s the Ghana economic conditions started to get bleak. The international price of cocoa started falling and the massive infrastructural projects had consumed much of the money that British left Ghana. Unemployment rose sharply, food prices increased significantly up over 250% from 1957 levels, with 66% of the food prices increase recorded in 1965 alone. Eventually, food became scare and essential services were cut in many sectors. The economic growth that had averaged between 9% to 12% per annum until 1960, decreased significantly to between 2% and 3%, and was unable to support the rapid population growth of almost 3% per annum. Nkrumah responded with socialist austere budgetary measures.

It is significant to mention that poor economic management also helped to accelerate the rate of the deterioration of the Ghanaian economy under President Nkrumah. Political considerations overrode the fundamentals of the economic planning. In this regard, some of the major industries that President Nkrumah built were not properly planned and implemented. For instance:

• he built a tomato and mango canning plant at Wenchi in the Brong Ahafo Region, which had a capacity to process 5,000 tons of tomatoes and 7,000 tons of mangoes each year. However, after completing the project eighty percent over the budget and ready to start operating, it was discovered that there were hardly any wild mango trees at Wenchi and surrounding areas, and it took seven years for newly planted mango trees to start producing fruits;

• he built a sugar factory at Asuatuare without a water system and it was after a year that the problem was rectified to enable the factory to start operation;

• he built a cattle hide-leather-shoe complex. The slaughter house was sited in the north at Bolgatanga (a good decision as cattle are mainly reared in the Northern Ghana). However, he sited the tannery for turning the hides into leather in the south at Aveyime. The leather produced at Aveyime was used at shoe factory built in Kumasi. The building of each of the three arms of the industrial complex at three different places increased transportation cost and logistical problems. In my view, all the factories could have been built at one place or two, either at Bolgatanga, or at worst the two other arms of factory complex should have been built in Kumasi or Aveyime to reduce transportation cost. It is cheaper to transport finished goods than raw materials. To make matters worse, the machines that were used at the Kumasi factory were imported from Czechoslovakia and they could only produce very poor quality shoes. In the end, the people in Accra where the majority of the shoes were sent for sale did not like them. As a result, the government tried to supply the boots produced at the Kumasi factory to the police force, but the police chief responded that the boots were uncomfortable and his staff would rebel if they were given the boots.

• the Ghana Airways purchased Soviet made Ilyushin planes and could only be serviced in the Soviet Union. This required Ghana Airways to have a service from North Africa to the Soviet Union to be able to meet the servicing requirement. Not surprising however, the planes travelled virtually empty on the routes between North Africa and Russia.

Like the Kumasi shoe factory and Ghana Airways, President Nkrumah based substantial part of his development projects on the socialist model, which was usually inferior in quality to the western standards. Thus, some of the factories that he established would in the long run not be viable.

He wasted a lot of money on his security, including using Chinese and other nationalities as part of his secret service. He also wasted money on his ideological school, which trained the young people he indoctrinated through his young pioneer movement.

Further, President Nkrumah gave about 10 million pounds of Ghana money to Guinea, just because Guinea rebelled against France and France withdrew its financial support to Guinea. This was very inappropriate and reckless decision, which should undoubtedly, remains the most serious financial loss caused to the nation of Ghana. Ten million pounds in 1960s translates to more than 450 million pounds in the value of today's currency, assuming the amount has been invested and earning an average interest rate of 10% per year. Assuming Ghana giving 450 million pounds today to Togo, while we beg for as little as $10 million. How could a person with good vision do that? Clearly, he did it to promote his own selfish interest. Clearly, while a friendly gesture to another African country was good, I think the amount that was given to Guinea at the time was significantly excessive, as Ghana was just an infant country. It is not surprising that Komla Gbedemah, a founder and organiser of Nkruma’s party (CPP), criticised Nkrumah's lack of financial discipline.

Of late, a lot has been said about the 'Oman Ghana Trust' held in Switzerland. It is not yet clear whether the rumours are true or not. But supposing if the rumour is true, why did Nkrumah put the money of Ghana in Switzerland to the extent that, accessing the money has become difficult? Or was the money put there for any other reason, other than the intention to have Ghanaians to benefit?


The government of President Nkrumah like all successive Ghanaian governments was very much corrupt. The corruption became so endemic among his ministers and other CPP officials that ministers became involved in dubious deals and encouraged bribe taking. For instance, Krobo Adusei is said to have built a massive mansion and his wife imported a gold plated bed costing about 3,000 pounds ($5000) in early 1960s. If the amount was invested at the time they bought the bed, with an average of 10% annual returns, it would be as much as 135,000 pounds in today's currency. That is how much one minister and/or his wife used our money to buy one bed for themselves. As the corruption became very entrenched, President Nkrumah made a "Dawn Broadcast" in April 1961 to denounce his ministers and other public officials engaged in corruption, but the attempt to reverse the problem was too late. Meanwhile, President Nkrumah himself has been accused of being corrupt, as an amount of $5 million is said to have been found in his secret accounts.


The ability of President Nkrumah to lead Ghana to attain independence from the British colonial rule is very much appreciated. While before President Nkrumah, Dr JB Danquah and others had formed UGGC to fight for independence, it appears they were not well organised, thus they invited President Nkrumah from UK to become the General Secretary.

The aims of UGCC were amongst others, to seek improvement in the life of Ghanaians and to ultimately attain independence for Ghana. It is significant to mention that just before Kwame Nkrumah came to Ghana the struggle to have improved living conditions and independence ultimately, had already begun. For instance, in 1948, just a year after President Nkrumah returned to Ghana, some Ghanaian ex-service men demonstrated against the British rule (mainly over their ex-service entitlements), and Sergeant Adjetey and another officer were killed, while others were wounded. Thus, Ghanaians were already gearing up as a force against the British rule before Nkrumah came from abroad.

When Kwame Nkrumah became the General Secretary of UGGC, it did not take him long to fall out with the other leadership of the organisation, who had invited him in the first case, to join them to fight for independence. While they had wanted independence at 'shortest possible time', Nkrumah wanted it 'now'. In the end, it was in 1957 that independence was granted, eight years after he formed his party. So whether the independence was achieved 'now' or 'at shortest possible time', I leave it readers to make their own judgement.

When President Nkrumah left the UGGC, he formed his own party, the CPP. The antagonism between Dr Nkrumah and other UGCC leadership worsened. Unfortunately for the UGGC leadership, his style became more appealing to most Ghanaians and he won the elections that were organised by the British. In this regard, at independence his party formed the government.

Further, by July 1960, Dr Nkrumah had pressed the British to relinquish all forms of control over Ghana to Ghanaians and British agreed and Ghana became a republic and Dr Nkrumah became president.

From 1960 onwards Dr Nkrumah begun to suppress all forms of opposition, firstly, by outlawing regional based political parties in Ashantiland, the North and the Volta region. The opposition parties had no choice but to come together. As the opposition parties came together under one umbrella, Dr Nkrumah used his CPP's parliamentary majority to ban all form of opposition and declared Ghana a one party state, and all forms of criticism, including constructive ones, were utterly suppressed. By and large, the situation grew so bad that the opponents were brutally suppressed and people like Dr J B Danquah were detained at Nsawam prison till they died. How could Nkrumah turn against JB Danquah and others in such a treacherous and cruel manner, despite that they had brought him to Ghana? President also unlashed his assault on traditional chiefs that he considered to support his opponents, disposed some, while others went into exile abroad.

Some closest associates of Dr Nkrumah were not spared the rod of his brutal suppression and political retribution. For instance, when Komla Gbedemah queried Nkrumah's lack of financial discipline, he was dismissed from the government in a dawn radio broadcast in April 1961.

After the April 1961 Dawn Broadcast, Tawia Adamafio, the then General Secretary of the CPP and other stanched supporters of Nkrumah began to promote him as being immortal and attacked anyone publicly queried that Nkrumah would live forever. Nkrumah's personality cult became very well entrenched, while he himself devoted much time to his cult 'kankan nyame', despite that he had early trained as a priest and obtained a Master's degree in theology. It has been suggested that he sacrificed humans to the cult.

The brutal suppression of political opponents became even more intense after a grenade was thrown at Nkrumah in August of 1962. After he recovered from his injury he had about 500 people arrested and detained indefinitely. He requested Parliament to pass the Preventive Detention Act, allowing the government to detain anyone without trial for any reason. Nkrumah also thought that it was Tawia Adamafio and his colleagues who had attempted to assassinate him. They were tried for treason, but were not found guilty. Nkrumah became angry and influenced Parliament to pass a law to enable him to set the verdict aside. New judges were appointed to retry them and they were found guilty and sentenced to death. Nkrumah commuted the death sentences.

In April of 1965, there was an assassination attempt on the president of Niger and President Nkrumah was accused of the sponsor of the plot. President Nkrumah denied the allegation and claimed that it was all part of western plot. However, President Felix Houphouet-Boigny of Ivory Coast challenged Nkrumah's denial and released evidence of guerrilla training camps in Ghana staffed by Chinese Communist instructors. Further, at a meeting of the foreign ministers of the Organization of African Unity in June 1965, Nkrumah through his representative, tried to divert criticism, but Niger representative released evidence showing seven guerrilla training camps operating in Ghana with Chinese and East German instructors, as well as further evidence showing that the terrorist that carried the abortive assassination had been trained in Ghana. It appears from the above information that President Nkrumah trained guerrillas not only to terrorise Ghanaians, but also to use them to sponsor terrorism across Ghana boards. This action clearly breached international laws and also made mockery of his active involvement in Pan-Africanism and his goal to have Africa as a one united country. In fact, one of principles of OAU was non-interference in the internal affairs of another member's country.

Above all, President Nkrumah also practised nepotism as he did not include some major ethnic groups in his cabinet, particularly, in the later part of his government. For instance, by 1965, no Ewe was in his cabinet of 18 members, despite that Ewes are almost 13% of the Ghanaian population (according to the 2000 census data). On the other hand, there were 13 Akans during that period, with 3 of them being from his Nzimah area (a sub Akan ethinic group made up of only about 1.2% of the total Ghana population, according to the 2000 census data). The table below shows the major ethnic composition of President Nkrumah's Government over the years

Year Akans Ewes Ga-Adangbe Guan Northern Total No % No % No % No % No %

1952 3 37.5 1 12.5 2 25 1 12.5 1 12.5 8 (100%)

1954 6 54.5 1 9 1 9 1 9 2 18 11 (100%)

1956 8 61.5 1 7.6 1 7.6 1 7.6 2 15.3 13 (100%)

1965 13 68.4 0 0 1 5 2 10.5 3 15.7 19 (100%)

(Source: Danso-Boafo 1996 cited in Asante & E.Gyimah-Boadi, 2004.)

Foreign policy

Soon after Dr Nkrumah became the leader of Ghana, he pursued an aggressive foreign policy, seeking to ultimately unite the whole of Africa. Hence, he was one of the founders of the Organisation of Africa Unity. He worked very tediously towards achieving this goal. The problem however, was that his foreign policy was to a considerable extent pursued to the detriment and neglect of the domestic front. In this regard, he left so much to the ministers of his governments who many of them became corrupt and amassed massive personal wealth at the expense of Ghanaian taxpayer...

Moreover, despite that Dr Nkrumah was trained in the West, he adopted socialist (eastern) ideologies. This was the time that cold war had become intense between the west and the east. In this respect, Ghana incurred the displeasure of America and it has even been suggested that the Americans played part in the 1966 coup. Unfortunately, as we realised, the western (capitalised) ideologies have proved to be superior to the socialist ideologies. Thus, both Russia and China have substantially modified their socialist (communist) ideologies to incorporate capitalised market orientation, which has made their economies to boom, particularly, China.


From the foregoing discussion, it appears that ability of President Nkrumah to build a lot of infrastructure in the early 1960s was primarily due to the enormous amount of money his government inherited from the British and the high international price of cocoa at the time. However, when the international price of cocoa begun to crush, he was unable to meet the challenges the economy faced. Further, rampant corruption among his ministers and some poor economic planning also contributed to his economic failure as discussed above.

Politically, while his ability to help Ghana to achieve independence is commendable, his harsh and atrocious treatment of opponents taints his political records. More importantly, contrary to the perception of some people that President Nkrumah more or less, solely achieved independence for Ghana, the saliency of the contribution of some other people like Dr JB Danquah to Ghana’s fight for independence cannot be underestimated. It is against this background that Asante & Gyimah-Boadi (2004, p20) have asserted that:

"Ghana became independent on 6th March 1957. This historic achievement was primarily the work of two political parties that emerged in Ghana in the post Second World War period. These were the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) and the Convention People’s Party (CPP). They were formed in August 1947 and June 1949 respectively".

In conclusion, with the brutal political suppression of opponents and the faltering of his economic miracles in the mid 1960s, it was inevitable that President Nkrumah would also fall. However, he only accelerated his downfall, when he established a heavily armed Secret Security Service and Presidential Guard made up of Chinese and other nationals and neglected the poorly-equipped regular Army and Police forces. Thus, while on an official visit to Vietnam, Generals Kotoko and Afrifa overthrew his already weakened government.

As Ghana was the first Sub-Sahara country to gain independence from Europeans, had President Nkrumah not adopted one party state, made himself life president, brutally suppressed all forms of opposition, and had fought corruption intensively and continue to build strong economy, as he started in the early 1960s, the whole Africa could have been different now. As later Presidents elsewhere such as Mobutu, Idi Amin, Mogube, etc, would have possibly, followed his footsteps.

Source of information:

• Asante R & Gyimah-Boadi E (2004). Ethnic Structure, Inequality and Governance of the Public Sector in Ghana. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development (UNRISD)

• www.greatepicbook .com

• http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/ghana.htm

• http://books.google.com.au/books?id=zswOAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA86&lpg=PA86&dq=Nkrumah+dawn+broadcast&source=bl&ots=mrWZ8kjycw&sig=7rBiWhzcL8iYQHd5bxFObHs8ZUE&hl=en&ei=PMqESszLGY_-6QO-nvT6Aw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#v=onepage&q=Nkrumah%20dawn%20broadcast&f=false


Joseph Annor BA (Hons), Master of Accounting, Grad Dip in Accounting, CPA.

Columnist: Annor, Joseph