Nkrumah and Mandela – Great sons of Africa

The ongoing controversy  as to which of the two great sons of Africa – Kwame Nkrumah, first President of the Republic of Ghana, and Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, the first President of post-apartheid  South Africa –  is greater is not the subject of this article.

I do not think a comparison is necessary. It is not fair to both of them for anyone to state that one is greater than the other.

Both Nkrumah and Mandela did not run the same race and both of them did not breast the tape at the same time.

The focus should be on whether both achieved the goals they set for themselves. Both of them were confronted with problems that were not the same.

Nkrumah’s concern and the task he set for himself were decolonisation of the African continent and African unity.

Nkrumah was not the first person of African descent to take on the mantle as exponent of decolonisation and Pan-Africanism.

Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Du Bois have been mentors to Nkrumah and he derived much inspiration from their pioneering contributions to African decolonisation and Pan–Africanism.

Mandela’s problem and his tasks were different. He found himself born into a country where the colonialists and settlers were not like the types many African countries took on.

Dutch and British settlers landed on the shores of South Africa at different periods in history. The Dutch arrived earlier in the 17th Century. The British came to South Africa in 1808.

After unsuccessful resistance from the indigenes, the Dutch colonised what became the Orange Free State and Transvaal and the British seized the Cape of Good Hope and Natal.

The British eventually defeated the Dutch in a war that lasted from 1899 to 1902. The Union of South Africa was formed in 1910.

In 1948, the ruling National Party made apartheid, a political philosophy of separate laws and separate development for the racial groups in South Africa, an official policy. In 1961, South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth of Nations.

It was clear that the settlers were in South Africa to stay and rule that African country with apartheid as a political philosophy.

The colonial masters to face were not Britain, France, Portugal or Spain but European settlers who had decided to make that sprawling part of Africa their own forever.

Nkrumah was born at Nkroful in the Western Region of the Gold Coast, now Ghana, in 1909 to Kofi Ngonloma, a goldsmith, and Elizabeth Nyaniba.

The original name of Nkrumah was Francis Nwia Kofi which he changed to Kwame Nkrumah because he was born on a Saturday.

Nkrumah obtained a teacher’s certificate from the Prince of Wales Training College, Accra, in 1930.

After teaching for some time, he entered Lincoln University in Pennsylvania in the United States and obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Theology in 1939, Master of Science in Education and Master of Arts in philosophy in 1943.

Nkrumah left the US for London in the United Kingdom with the aim of studying Law.  At the same period, the problem of colonisation of Africa and Pan-Africanism had engaged the attention of African scholars at home and abroad.

The sixth Pan-African congress took place in 1935 in Manchester, UK, and Nkrumah and George Padmore played major roles in its organisation.

In 1947, Nkrumah abandoned his law studies to take up an appointment as General Secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), a political party that was campaigning for independence for the Gold Coast.

Executive members of the UGCC, including Nkrumah and five other prominent leaders, were arrested and jailed in 1948 for disturbances in the country.

Having been relieved of his post as General Secretary of the UGCC, Nkrumah formed his own party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), and agitated for immediate independence for the Gold Coast.

He and some prominent members of his party were arrested and jailed in 1950 for rioting in which some policemen were killed.

In 1951, he contested the general elections from prison and won. He was released and became Leader of Government Business and Prime Minister in 1952. Through vigorous agitation for independence, the Gold Coast attained independence in 1957 with Nkrumah as Prime Minister.

Nkrumah became President in 1960 when Ghana attained Republican status.

As part of his contributions to the decolonisation of Africa, Nkrumah organised the All-African People’s Conference in 1958 in Accra. He played a prominent role in organising the conference of 32 independent African states in Addis Ababa in 1963 and the formation of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now African Union (AU).

Nkrumah made Ghana a one-party state with himself as president and his CPP as the sole party. In February 1966, the military overthrew the Nkrumah regime and the National Liberation Council took over the reins of government.

Nkrumah also made significant scholarly contributions to the struggle for African decolonisation and African Unity.

Books he wrote and published to promote those goals included the following: Africa Must Unite, Towards Colonial Freedom, The Challenge of The Congo, Class Struggle in Africa, Consciencism: Philosophy and Ideology for Decolonisation, Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare and Revolutionary Path.

Kwame Nkrumah died in Romania in 1972.

Mandela was born on July 18, 1918. His mother was Nonqaphi Nosekeni and his father was Nkosi Mphakanyiswa Gadla Mandela.

His father who died when he was 12-years old was a counsellor to the acting King of the Thembu people to which Mandela belonged.

When he was young, he was told stories about his ancestors’ resistance against the white settlers and he had cherished the hope of being a freedom fighter for his country.

Mandela had his early education at a primary school at Qunu where his school teacher gave him a Christian name, Nelson, because then every school child must have a Christian name.

He attended the Wesleyan Secondary School and he continued his education at the University of South Africa and had a B.A degree in 1943. He worked as a mine security officer in Johannesburg from 1941.

In 1981, he completed his law studies while in prison and had an LLB degree from the University of South Africa. Mandela joined the African National Congress in 1944 and helped in the formation of the ANC Youth Leagues.

In 1952, he was appointed Commander-in-chief of the military wing of the ANC. The same year, he and Oliver Thambo, another prominent ANC leader, set up a law firm - Mandela and Thambo - the first black law firm in South Africa.

On returning to South Africa after military training in Morocco and Ethiopia in 1962, he was jailed five years for leaving the country unlawfully. In 1964, he and six other ANC leaders were sentenced to life imprisonment for planning to overthrow the government.  

He was released in 1990 and was overwhelmingly elected as the first President of post-apartheid South Africa in 1994. Mandela stepped down voluntarily as President in 1999 after serving one term. He passed away at the age of 95, in 2013.

The contributions of both Nkrumah and Mandela have been recognised and awarded by the international community.

Nkrumah has been declared man of the 20th century and a statute has been erected to his honour at the AU headquarters at Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

For his singular contribution to world peace, Mandela has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize jointly with former President de Klerk of South Africa.

Connect With Us : 0242202447 | 0551484843 | 0266361755 | 059 199 7513 |