On March 6, 1957, Kwame Nkrumah became the first Black African president of Ghana signaling national independence from the British colonial regime. As the first postcolonial administrator, Nkrumah is popularly heralded as “The Father of Pan-Africanism” for an ardent philosophy of racial solidarity among Africans on the continent and in the diaspora through economic, political, social and artistic cooperation. This position was built through his sojourn in the U.S. where Nkrumah received his bachelor’s degree at Lincoln University and his master’s at the University of Pennsylvania. Nkrumah also began a doctoral program in Philosophy at Oxford University but returned to Ghana before finishing. Throughout Nkrumah’s stay in these western nations, he witnessed the Great Depression, Jim Crow segregation and racially restricted covenants, all of which helped to determine his course once in Ghana.
Through a shared sense of subjection stemming from slavery and colonization, Black Ghanaians’ struggle against imperialism and African Americans’ fight against segregationist practices served to bolster racial and political networks of hope and transformative change. During his tenure, Nkrumah embarked on an ambitious agenda of “ideological education” and material development that would ensure Ghana’s self-sufficiency from western government and financial interests. As Nkrumah states, Ghanaians “were studied in such a way as to reinforce the picture of African society as something grotesque, as a curious, mysterious human backwater, which helped to retard social progress in Africa and to prolong colonial domination over its people.” Once in office, Nkrumah began setting a comprehensive national agenda with particular economic, educational, political and cultural objectives that would inculcate Ghanaians into a national structure of racial self-determination.
Cultural arts were used to galvanize the public around an African socialist agenda based on swift development. This program included an extensive exhibition of indigenous arts—drumming, traditional folk music, praise poetry, storytelling, highlife music and concert parties—endorsed by the government in state ceremonies, presidential visits with other country leaders, and public holiday celebrations. The aim of Nkrumah’s cultural agenda was to unite the country’s more than a dozen ethnic groups through a revitalized appreciation for indigenous knowledge and its centrality for accomplishing Ghana’s future development initiatives.
Nkrumah’s critical design and rehabilitation of much of the country’s infrastructure—hospitals, universities, and the Volta Region dam project that continues to provide for the needs of citizens—was essential to the global struggles waged by disenfranchised communities against a persistent imperialism in Cuba, Algeria, South Africa, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, among other places. He imagined building a United States of Africa where borders between countries would not contribute to division and isolation. Rather, Africans across the continent and in the diaspora would share their cultural specificities by building economic, intellectual, political and spiritual coalitions of self-definition and determination. Nkrumah envisioned that through networks of egalitarianism, Africa could develop a commonwealth of states and secure a unified political presence that would be able to compete with the U.S. and U.K. Additionally, African Americans could repatriate to their cultural homeland and contribute to commerce building, through an investment of money and skills, across the continent.