14. "Kwame Nkrumah: Vision and Tragedy" by David Rooney

Title: Kwame Nkrumah: Vision and Tragedy
Author: David Rooney
Genre: Non-Fiction (Political)
Publishers: Sub-Sahran Publishers
Pages: 338
Year: 1988 (this edition, 2007)
Country: Britain

The activities marking the centenary celebration of Ghana's first president Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah would be launched next week, in addition to this, and as part of the celebration, his birthday (September 21) has been declared a national holiday by the present government (see the September 4, 2009 edition of the Daily Graphic: Nkrumah's birthday declared a holiday). However, how many Ghanaians truly know the man, Nkrumah, apart from being the person who won Ghana its independence. Most of us born way after the Nkrumah era (1950 to say 1970) know little of this son of Africa who has being both deified and demonised in one breath, whilst being labelled as a "great African and not a great Ghanaian" by academicians such as Professor Ali Mazrui.

David Rooney's book gives an account of Nkrumah right from his birthplace at Nkroful to Achimota, London, Lincoln University, back to Ghana, and finally Guinea where he lived after the coup of February 24, 1966. It also provides certain events that would hardly be heard in stories concerning Nkrumah especially the chapters titled 'Socialist State', 'Foreign Policy' and 'Denouement'. This criticisms border on Nkrumah's ideologies concerning the creation of scientific socialism for Ghana and a union government for Africa. His lofty ideas of rapidly transforming Ghana and taking the masses out of poverty influenced by the advice of great development economists such as Kaldor, Bognar, Lewis, Killick etc swayed him more and the events leading to the murder of Lumumba by CIA agents and the Belgians and the attempts on his own life entrenched his socialist leanings the more. His lofty ideas, including rapid industrialisation, translated into huge social investments such as the state farms, tomato factory, meat factory, shoe factory etc, which were more than not a failure.

He however, became isolated when his vision for a union government for Africa faced stern opposition from the other African countries who had by then also gained independence from their colonial masters. To achieve his aim, which perhaps was more of an obsession to the point of being psychotic, he lent lots of money out to various African nations to fight the imperialists and colonialism. This, together with his indifference to financial matters, led to the deterioration of the economy, thus annoying the already incensed populace. But surrounded by sycophants and praise-singers, Nkrumah virtually lived in a world of his own ignorant of the true state of the economy and the anger of the people. Besides, after the several coup attempts on his life, he became almost schizophrenic and using the Preventive Detention Act, which existed in colonial times, put behind bars any person who exhibited a modicum of opposition. This made him more unpopular amongst Ghanaians. Also, this Act was abused and misused by the die-hard Marxists who surrounded him and he was personally blamed as the president.

Yet above all these Nkrumah was the leader who commune with world leaders and mediate in conflict situations amongst countries, though he was alleged to have exhibited subversive tendencies, especially against countries that were against his idea of the union government.

What is not to be forgotten is the organisational power he brought to the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the political party headed by JB Danquah that invited him to join and be the party's secretary. Prior to his assumption of this role, the UGCC had no flag, no offices, and did not operate in the northern territories. It was through the hard work of Nkrumah that made sure that all these were done, thus paving the way for his popularity when he finally broke off from the UGCC to form the Convention People's Party (CPP). Also, Nkrumah discouraged all kinds of political groupings around tribe, or class thus the Northern People's Party (NPP) (mainly for the Northerners) and the National Liberation Movement (formed from the UGCC) (mainly for the Ashantis) were discouraged.

Since this is the first book of Nkrumah that I have read I cannot challenge its content or stamp it as the ultimate truth, for the man is as enigmatic as the stories surrounding him. He is described as having ideas in different watertight compartments of his mind. However, certain points are worthy to note, and perhaps could be contested:
  1. With the penchant of succeeding governments publishing defamatory articles about past governments, it is difficult to accept every point raised in this book as the ultimate truth without questioning the source. For instance most of the sources of the information used in the book after Nkrumah came from the military government's report, which is of dubious motive and of questionable integrity; 
  2. The book alleged that most of the books authored by Nkrumah were instead written by other people. This needs to be verified; 
  3. Reading this book shows that Nkrumah played no major role in the establishment of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and had it not been Emperor Haillie Selassie's intervention Nkrumah would not have signed on to it; 
  4. Subtly the book hardly pointed out any specific success Nkrumah chalked both abroad or on the continent. Every action Nkrumah took was seen by the author as self-gratulatory and a failure; 
  5. The book never really chastised the colonialist in Ghana and across the continent. It made me wonder why then were we agitating for independence, if all were rosy. In fact, with the exception of the February 28, 1948 shooting of the soldiers, everything about the colonial masters seemed okay; 
  6. Finally, the book claimed that though the CIA knew about the coup and all the leaders involved in it, 'it did not set the coup in motion or took part in it', though Danquah was deemed to have been on the payroll of the CIA.
The story also suggested that perhaps, Nkrumah grappling with the failure of his decisions and lacking the capacity to handle it or perhaps knowing that he has come to the end of his 'political tether', allowed the coup to happen as he insisted on travelling to Hanoi when all the coup indicators were red and several advisors have told him not to leave the country. Besides, the coup occurred just two days after his departure.

However, all in all, this book would give you an account of Nkrumah with more details than you would get in popular stories. Its veracity can be verified by the reader later.

Note also that over fifty years on, Africa is still struggling with unity and an African High Command. The latter being one of Osagyefo's inchoate ideas for which he fiercely fought. This is a book that is to be read by all Ghanaians and everyone who wants to know more about the man, Nkrumah. However, I believe it would only be fair, as in all cases of studies, to read other accounts of the man.

As an aside, do you know that the word awam, which has come to mean deception, is actually an acronym from the Nkrumah era? It represents the Association of West African Merchants (AWAM) run by the Syrians and the Lebanese, which were accused of cheating the populace by increasing prices.

Rating this book would be a bit difficult since it is not a novel and is based on giving facts, which cannot be verified now. Besides, rating based on the style and type of narration would not also be fair. However, I would rate it based on its readability.
Read my poem on and for Kwame Nkrumah here


  1. this author is one of those people i would like to sit down with and ask very serious questions seriously!

    I believe Nkrumah speaks for himself more loudly than any David Rooney!!!

  2. Hi Novisi, you could see that I put up about six questions which needed to be answered. I really had my doubts about some of the things in the book. I never met the Nkrumah era yet time is the best judge giving us the benefit of hindsight. I still believe Nkrumah did more for Ghana than any president. His vision was too big for the simple minded simpletons to cope. However, I only have to review the book as it is written and raise questions afterwards.

  3. David Rooney just like Martin Meredith among many scholars once again demonstrates that arrogance and disrespect that Europeans meet to Africa and her leaders in which they degrade and distort our humanity and dignity. David may have the liberty to speak of Nkrumah as a stupid madman who is corrupt and promiscuous, but certainly if Nkrumah were so evil like Idi Amin or Hitler, I do not think the world will hold him in the position he is being held. It is easy and cheap to look at the efforts and struggles of Africans today and in the midst of all the errors and mistakes they make, to conclude that we are stupid. But such people like Rooney and Co. would do well to remember the damage Europe has inflicted on Africans in the course of enslavement and colonialism, and the unhelpful position they continue to take since our quest for independence, but which we have been struggling to usurp. The tragedy is Africans have become so naive as to allow David and Co. to continue to ridicule and castigate Africans and their leaders and we still patronise them and allow their distorted books to line our bookshelves in our shopping malls and university bookshops as in Accra and many places in Africa. Certainly anyone can mischievously eke out so many errors and mistakes of Winston Churchill or George Washington or Abraham Lincoln if you want to. Of course that is to talk about the many presidents and prime ministers in Europe and America who have blundered irreparably over time but who today have been trumpeted to us as great and smart leaders. But how smart is Churchill or Degaulle to us as Africans? SO for me David is one of many western marcenaries and detractors who are hell bent on distracting Africans as they sow seeds of confusion and conflict. I have read the book, unfortunately and i find it most obnoxious, unsubstantiated and foolish. Surely if such was Nkrumah's character as he portrayed in the book, then clearly Nkrumah and Ghana could not have achieved what we have today.

    Madi Jobarteh

  4. Thanks Madi Jobarteh... and one only has to look at DR Congo to know what they are still doing... and some African novelists have bought into that conditioned machinations. thanks again

  5. I dont like Nkrumah for his idea of one party state and the intimidation he employed to mute any opposing force, it must be noted that the initiatives of the man cannot be doubted.
    He laid every foundation the Ghanaian economy today. Social interventions which are necessary for a nation were paramount in his approach to solving poverty.

    I, as a person do not support democracy and don't believe it is the solution for all problems. "Liberal Socialism" which in my understanding should have been employed by Nkrumah to have cooled tempers and allowed opinions of people to be heard would have helped.

    For the writer to have said Nkrumah played no role in the OAU is absurd and nonsensical. Who is he and what does he know. Sometimes i am bored by these white supremacist who think black man cant do anything. I am even shock and surprised by his assertion that most of Nkrumah's book were not authored by him but different people did. For goodness sake what does he take Nkrumah for, can we say he,Rooney did not write this after someone has done a study of him and who will do a study on a man called Rooney. He is insignificant in history. We Nkrumah and what he did. Though we may not agree with some of his approaches to issue, he stand s out as one of the insightful leaders of the continent.

  6. @NAO... I get your point. I hope we don't wake up one day and be told that Mandela never wrote any of his books. lol.

    yes, I am also not drunk on the idea that democracy is the key to solving every single problem a country faces. It only ensures that those who can buy the law would get away with anything including murder, financial malfeasance, stealing and more. All you need is a good lawyer. If not how could the Judiciary claim they are not hearing cases of their own members who came out to say that there is corruption in the judiciary. Democracy only shifts the element of autocracy from one individual and a 'council' to a group of individuals. I am a serious believer in sharing is caring.

    About Nkrumah's adoption of PDA to 'mute' his opposition, I guess PDA was used when his life fell into danger. After Kulungungu, he really needed to clamp on those trying to remove him by force. I don't love 'one party state' but looking at the multi-party democracy we have and the winner takes all attitude I believe I would have to revisit this again. One party wins elections, and blasts the past one for so many years and because it is afraid to lose elections cannot implement things which would go to the benefit of the whole population but would harm some few.

    We would talk more on this...

  7. I enjoyed reading this article and the ensuing comments very much.


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