Kwame Nkrumah at his memorial park Accra

Kwame Nkrumah at his memorial park Accra

Arrive in Ghana and it doesn’t take long before you start to acquaint yourself with two impressionable forces. The heat that pulls you down and the courage and vision of Kwame Nkrumah who brings you back up. Emblazoned on street signs, universities, roundabouts and billboards. As politicians come and go with increasing frequency, very few ever leave much of a legacy. Quickly forgotten as they pass from the political stage into the mists of obscurity. His achievements, however, have been remarkable and took Ghana on a bright new course. Allowing for the first time in centuries for Ghanaians to determine their own future. Ghana became independent in 1957, the first sub-Saharan country to do so. Giving inspiration to political activists across Africa and hope to millions more that freedom could be achieved. Over the next decade more and more African dominions obtained their Independence. Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, all given greater confidence by the situation in Ghana.

British influence started along the Gold Coast in the early years of the 17th century. Once Britain had brought in the abolition of slavery in 1807 it needed to look for new areas of revenue. As rubber, gold, cocoa and palm oil became viable exports over the next century, British interests moved further inland. To obtain total control the British needed to remove The Asante who exercised considerable power in the region. By teaming up with the Fante who already benefited from a strong trading partnership with the Europeans. Conflict played out over multiple wars until 1900 when Britain exiled the Asantehene (King) Agyeman Prempeh to the Seychelles. Two years later the remaining royal family were arrested and despatched to the Seychelles as well.

The large marble mausoleum dedicated to the first president Accra

The large marble mausoleum dedicated to the first president Accra

In 1935, some forms of indirect rule were introduced and the Asante confederation was reborn as the ‘Ashanti Confederacy Council’. Nationalist movements soon grew, the oldest going as far back as 1897. Producing greater demands that conceived an African majority in the Legislative Council. J.B. Danquah, founder of the UGCC party invited Kwame Nkrumah as party secretary to counterbalance a membership dominated by the educated elite. Danquah favoured a slow path towards independence which soon jarred with Nkrumah’s objectives of immediate Independence. He soon left to appropriate the Convention People’s Party. Gaining immediate popularity and inciting a national strike in 1950, to which he was quickly imprisoned by the British. As the CPP continued to grow, Arden-Clarke, Governor of Ghana released Nkrumah to help form a government. The CCP held a power share with the British until the Legislative Assembly called for complete independence in August 1956. Seven months later, in front of a packed stadium on Independence Square on March 6th 1957 the British flag was hoisted down to be replaced by the three banded emblem of red, yellow and green with a central black star. Ghana had severed the colonial shackles. Kwame Nkrumah had gone from Prisoner to President in one swift step.

Black Star Arch celebrating Independence day

Black Star Arch celebrating Independence day

The country started off with a promising future. Revered by Western leaders and Africans alike. The world’s leading cocoa exporter, a large share of the world’s gold, palm oil, bauxite, coffee, diamonds and timber. A high percentage of educated people and a quarter of the population were literate. Nkrumah set off immediately on an ambitious investment programme to bring the country into modern times. His economic ideology appeared practical, logical and sensible. Pushing forward an industrial platform that sought to reduce foreign dependency. However, time began to display that many of his ventures had been too costly, funding prestige projects that didn’t benefit the economy or the common majority. Drying up foreign currency reserves which soon plummeted Ghana into severe debt. The population lost confidence, political discontent increased and his style of scientific socialism had won few admirers. Economic gain and a return to greater balance were shelved when the global price for cocoa heavily dropped. Nkrumah’s own personality was part of the problem. Cementing a bizarre personality cult, often secretive and distrustful of his colleagues, becoming more and more introverted as he retreated to his state palace at Christiansborg Castle. He imposed a one party state in the mid 60’s to curb political opponents, frequently arresting suspects for up to five years under a Preventive Detention Act. Those heady days of Independence had soured and sincere promises soon withered. Eventually he lost the support of the single most important entity in retaining power, that of the army. Whilst visiting China in 1966 he was overthrown in a coup and subsequently exiled to Conakry in Guinea. He gradually abandoned the hope of ever sailing the course of his beloved Ghana again. He passed away under going medical treatment in Bucharest in 1972.

Monument to those who fell in the quest for liberation Accra

Monument to those who fell in the quest for liberation Accra

But there is no denying his brilliance in bringing Ghana to her freedom. Gamal Nasser, Jomo Kenyatta, Julius Nyerere, Joshua Nkomo, Kenneth Kaunda all felt his iconic influence in fomenting their own strategies towards Independence. Not only did he light the flame, he turned it into a gigantic bonfire.

He spent several years in the United States studying from 1939 – 45. Possessing a Bachelor of Theology, an MA Degree from the University of Pennsylvania and a BA Degree in Economic and Sociology from Lincoln University in Oxford, Pennsylvania where he also taught History of African Languages. Between 1945-47 he attended the London school of Economics for one semester. Becoming active in Pan African politics. It was while walking around the small dimly lit museum at his memorial park in Accra that I was surprised to see how many iconic leaders he had met. Fedel Castro, Mao Tse-Tung, Zhou Enlai, Harold Macmillan, JF Kennedy, Krushev, Haile Salassie, and Patrice Lumumba. Even a dance or two with Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. Perhaps by then the heat had finally won out.

Resting place of Kwame Nkrumah Accra

Resting place of Kwame Nkrumah Accra

Facts: Kwame Nkrumah’s memorial is open to the public. Entrance 10GHcd which includes the museum. Independence Square and Black Star Arch are both free.

Both TAP and Air Egypt fly to Ghana though none fly direct. Flight times vary from nine hours upwards. Expedia, Skyscanner will bring up a host of airlines whilst booking.com advertises a lot of accommodation to fit all budgets. For many you can reserve without paying a deposit. I stayed at Somewhere Nice, Cotton Avenue 9, Kokomlemle, Accra. (+233 54 374 3505) in the cities North which costs around $18 a night for a dorm bed with breakfast. They have private AC rooms with attached showers as well and there’s a small bar and swimming pool in the pleasant courtyard. The place is secure and offers off road parking for a few vehicles.

Western nations require a visa to Ghana which is obtained from the respective Embassy. You will need amongst you documentation ‘A Letter of Introduction.’ Somewhere Nice will send you one of these as an e-mail attachment for free when you make your booking. Visit The Ghana High Commission’s – London website for greater information. A 3 month single entry visa is currently £60. 6 month multiple entry is £100. The process takes 10 days though this can be reduced to three for an additional £40. You can not just turn up to the Embassy to make your application but will need to secure an appointment date which is all done at the above website. The application forms are there and can be filled and saved online, then printed off. You will need to show a valid Yellow Fever Certificate to prove you have been inoculated against the disease. Available from your GP but advance notice might need to be given to order the drug in. The price varies but expect anything from £50. It is not free on the NHS. There are travel courier services that can do the Embassy run for you. Travcour comes to mind which takes the headache out of getting up to London twice. They generally check your documents to avoid hiccups later on.

Red gold and green with the central black star The flag of Ghana

Red gold and green with the central black star The flag of Ghana

The currency is the cedi pronounced cd like an abbreviation of compact disc. The pound is hovering around 6 cedi. ATM’s and banks are very common in most towns. Card is accepted at up market hotels and obtaining cash is very simple.

Take out appropriate travel Insurance that covers repatriation and medical expenses. World Nomads is good if your into back packing and World First offers a well covered policy. Good Insurance is rarely cheap once you include premiums on valuables and upgrades on higher risk activities. A safe trouble free trip is always a wasted insurance!