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Ghana re-evaluates Nkrumah

Legacy of nation's first leader improves with appreciation of Pan-Africanism.

Ghana’s international airport was renamed not for its founding president but for Army Gen. Emmanuel Kotoka, one of the leaders of the coup, who himself was killed a year later in a rebellion. Nkrumah died in exile in 1972.

“Those who instigated the coup tried to distort to a considerable extent the image of Kwame Nkrumah within the country itself,” Francis Nkrumah said. “So one is not surprised that post-’66, his books were banned, his images were prohibited from display. That had a profound effect on his stature in the country.”

Even Ghana’s famous kente cloth wasn’t spared. A special weave had been dedicated to the president and his wife. It was called “Fathia Deserves Nkrumah.”

“It held that name until Nkrumah was deposed. Then they changed the name of the cloth to ‘One Man Does Not Rule a Nation,’” said Doran H. Ross, an expert in African textiles. “Then as Nkrumah’s reputation has been revitalized, it’s returned to its original name.”

Ghanaian President John Atta Mills cemented Nkrumah’s comeback when he declared in his State of the Nation address in February that “we intend to honor Dr. Nkrumah’s memory with a national holiday to be known as Founder’s Day.” He called Nkrumah the “illustrious founder of our nation.”

The Sept. 21 holiday kicked off an eight-month-long celebration. The head of the bronze statue is on display alongside the original statue at the site of the Nkrumah mausoleum and museum.

The leader of the planning committee said the series of events won’t simply rubber stamp Nkrumah’s work.

“We therefore eschew polemics and provide a platform for all serious players who wish to discuss or present views on the times of Kwame Nkrumah — views for or against,” committee chairman Akilagpa Sawyerr said at a Sept. 14 conference at the University of Ghana. “We believe that untested ideas are not worth celebrating.”

Among the events will be essay contests among schoolchildren.

“The point being,” Sawyerr said, “to move the discussion to the schools and the youth in order that the next generation will not make our mistake of forgetting Nkrumah, if only briefly.”