Ghanaians are marking the 112th birthday of their first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Known as the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day, the day is set aside to reflect on the life and times of the great Osagyefo, the inspiring leader and unique man of valor who led Ghana to independence.
According to several historians, Nkrumah was born to Kofi Ngonloma of the Asona Clan and Elizabeth Nyanibah of the Anona Clan at Nkroful in the Western Region of what was then known as the Gold Coast (now Ghana). He would lead the West African nation to gain its independence from Britain in 1957. A staunch advocate for a united African state and the total liberation of the African continent from imperialism and western dependency, Nkrumah was also one of the founding fathers of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU).
Nkrumah was toppled from power in a coup on February 24, 1966, by the military with western backing while on a state visit to China and North Vietnam. He is reported to have died of prostate cancer with no family member by his side after months of failing health following the mysterious death of his cook in Conakry, Guinea, where he was exiled.
Much has been written about Nkrumah, from his private to his public life. However, certain facts about him that are hardly or not even known, including the details he provided when he was applying to undertake a Ph.D. in Anthropology at the London School of Economics (LSE) in 1945, make for a very interesting case.
Born Francis Nwia Kofi Ngonloma, he changed his name to Kwame Nkrumah in 1945 in the U.K., preferring Kwame since he was born on a Saturday. On the LSE form, however, the names he provided were Francis Nwia-Kofi Nkrumah. And though Nkrumah’s date of birth has always been a topic of discussion, September 21, 1909, is the date that is officially accepted. On the LSE application form, however, he wrote his date of birth as September 12, 1912, before changing it to September 21, 1912.
Recently, a Ghanaian politician and oral historian, Joshua Attoh Quarshie, claimed that Nkrumah was not Ghanaian but a Liberian born to a Liberian father known as Kofi Nwia. Nyaniba is mentioned in many history books as the mother of Nkrumah. But in an interview with Ghanaian media Citi TV in October 2019, Quarhie argued that Nkrumah’s mother is not known. He said Nyaniba only adopted Nkrumah when he came to Ghana from abroad.
“Nkrumah is a Liberian; Nkrumah is not a Ghanaian. Nkrumah’s name is Nwia. Francis Nwia. That was Nkrumah’s name”, Quarshie said.
“Go and read when he went to Liberia, the welcome address. Tubman [William Tubman, former Liberian president] said ‘welcome to your fatherland’.”
“No one knows his [Nkrumah’s] mother. Nyaniba was a barren woman who had no child and they used to carry some sticks at the back…” he alleged.
Quarshie, a founding father of Ghana’s governing New Patriotic Party (NPP) who passed away this January, further claimed in the 2019 interview that Nkrumah only had artificial cousins like Obed Andoh, Ayeh Kumi, and others. He maintained that Catholic missionaries in the then Gold Coast (now Ghana) had to look for Nyaniba to care for Nkrumah when he came to Ghana from abroad.
Notwithstanding the above claims, Nkrumah, whose legacy like many great men is not uncontested, spent his childhood “in the village, in the bush and on the nearby sea” before attending an elementary school run by a Catholic mission at Half Assini, where he performed incredibly well. He later trained as a teacher at the Government Training College (which would become Achimota School) in the Gold Coast’s capital, Accra, where he met the Columbia-educated deputy headmaster Kwegyir Aggrey, who highlighted the ideas of Pan-Africanists, Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Du Bois.
By 1935, Nkrumah had saved enough money to finally sail from Gold Coast to London; he applied for an American visa from there. In the same year, he got admission to the Lincoln University of Pennsylvania. He completed his Bachelor of Arts Degree, Sacred Theology degree and then earned his Master of Science degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942. Nkrumah got another Master’s degree in philosophy the following year, according to several historians.
While studying at Lincoln University, Nkrumah was elected as the president of the African Students Organization of the United States and Canada, and later continued his schooling in England, where he helped to organize the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester in 1945. Later serving as Vice-President of the West African Students’ Union (WASU), Nkrumah founded the West African National Secretariat to work for the decolonization of Africa. He was also invited to become the General Secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention in 1947.
Hence, Nkrumah returned to Ghana to take that position after writing his first book titled “Towards Colonial Freedom” but soon left the party due to ideological differences to form the Convention People’s Party (CPP) that would eventually lead the country to independence, the first in sub-Saharan Africa to do so.
Watch Quarshie’s interview about Nkrumah below: