By Kwesi Yankah

21st September is Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day, Osagyefo’s day of birth, and a public holiday. I take this opportunity to trail the great man within the pages of my new book, The Pen at Risk.

My book goes far beyond the intrigues and comedies of childhood. The thrill and drive in preparing the manuscript was the silhouette of Kwame Nkrumah that moves in and out of virtually every chapter in the book. Altogether Kwame Nkrumah occupies 30 solid pages of this class essay on Myself, giving me very little breathing room as author. Reading all that, my colleagues may have a field day complaining that I have disturbed their ears for too long with Kwame Nkrumah; they would probably pose the ultimate query, ‘Kwesi Yankah koraa, aren’t you Nkrumaist?’

To which I plead the right remain silent.

The thread of Nkrumah’s presence runs through my childhood at Winneba Zion, where as a Young Pioneer I chanted ‘Nkrumah is our Leader, Nkrumah is our Messiah, Nkrumah never dies’ aaaaa till he ‘died.’ All school boys and girls in Zion primary, were by default Kwame Nkrumah’s children. That account is at the early part of my Winneba days (page 21), and receives a jolt on Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966, when I was at Winnesec. Even though our father had been overthrown, we did not go into orphanage; we rejoiced! (page 59).

My next major encounter was through the appointment of Nkrumah’s poet, Okyeame Boafo Akuffo, to the Linguistics Department of Legon, to help build a library on oral traditions at the university. That was years after Nkrumah’s overthrow. It was that sage who gave Nkrumah the traditional title, Osagyefo (Saviour at War). Okyeame was the earliest to have piqued my interest in ethnography of communication.

But there was more of Nkrumah to come ahead of me. During my academic sojourn abroad including visits to Stanford, Pennsylvania, University of California, Santa Cruz; part of my latent passion was to trace the footsteps of Nkrumah’s network. Stanford University, I met one of Nkrumah’s advisors, the great African American John St Clair Drake, who was head of sociology at Legon, from 1958-61. I had voraciously read his book, Black Folk Here and There, while I was on Ford fellowship at Stanford. The climax was 1995, when I met eyeball to eyeball, the great Willie Abraham, Nkrumah’s brilliant advisor and philosopher born in Cape Coast, but poached from Oxford by Nkrumah. My interview with him in 1995 is a smooth read in the book; but so do I roll out Willie Abraham’s letter to me as recently as 6th March, 2021. The son of Paa Willie Abraham, Henry, currently lives in Ghana and was at my book launch last month. Early in the year, I had sought to get Legon to invite Willie Abraham who now lives in England, to come over and give a rare public lecture to mark the University’s 75th anniversary, and to consolidate his historic links with Legon and Ghana. It was, however, too late for the anniversary’s program, I was told.

My visit to Upenn in 1998 as a visiting professor, was by accident a great opportunity, to trace further the footsteps of Kwame Nkrumah. University of Pennsylvania was where Nkrumah did his master’s in education in 1941 and started a doctorate which he never finished. The University made available to me a rare pix of Nkrumah receiving a citation from U Penn, in 1958. Most importantly, I got access to brief written remarks on Nkrumah by his professors ahead of his honor. One of his professors refers to him as follows, “Nkrumah gave hints of a subtle sense of humor; individualistic, somewhat aloof, and preoccupied” (page 221). And who would have snubbed an opportunity while I was at U Penn, to also visit Lincoln University only one and half hours away from Philadelphia. Lincoln University is where Osagyefo obtained a bachelor’s in theology. At this spot in 1999, I heaved a sigh of triumph, touching the busts of Kwame Nkrumah and Nnamdi Azikiwe conspicuously displayed. The two were past students of Lincoln, but also first presidents of Ghana and Nigeria respectively. See how reverently American universities honor their heroes!

The period 2003-06 opened me up further to Kwame Nkrumah, his academic initiatives and the domestic dilemmas he span in Ghana’s academia. I had been appointed as Honorary Secretary of the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, a great academic think tank Osagyefo established in 1959, the first in sub Saharan Africa. I was serving along with distinguished scholars: Venerable Nana Dr SKB Asante, distinguished lawyer and Paramount Chief of Asokore Mampong as President; Professor Ivan Addae-Mensah, Vice President for the Sciences; Professor Kwame Gyekye, Vice President for the Humanities, and Professor Ewura Ama Addy, Honorary Treasurer. During my orientation, I read voraciously of the drama within academia on Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966; and this I elaborate in my book.

Not only was Nkrumah dismissed from the Academy he himself had founded; the University of Ghana added to the theatre: its Governing Council officially saluted the gallant men of the Ghana Armed Forces for overthrowing Kwame Nkrumah. The premier university went further to pull Nkrumah’s books from shelves and publicly set them on fire. Universities including KNUST also purged Nkrumaists from the midst.

We have indeed come a long way.

Today, Ghana has come terms with itself. The book explains the process of carefully restoring Nkrumah at the Ghana Academy; the name Kwame Nkrumah had been restored in Kumasi’s KNUST, and also as a dorm in my alma mater Winnesec (Nkrumah House). Furthermore the dynamic MP of Winneba, Alex Afenyo Markin, has recently produced a giant monument at the Winneba Junction, where Nkrumah and J. B. Danquah are locked in a handshake. The rehabilitation at the national level is clearly the brightest and best: the Kwame Nkrumah mausoleum has been refurbished and relaunched, by the nephew of his nemesis J B Danquah: Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, President of the Republic. I was quietly seated at a nook that day watching proceedings at the ceremony. Today the mutilated parts of Kwame Nkrumah are on the mend.

Let’s salute the Danquah family, for their enormous capacity to have quietly endured the agony: the tragic death of J B. Danquah in Nkrumah’s prisons, a victim of Nkrumah’s dreaded detention without trial. But let University of Ghana also put far behind, the merciless battering of academic freedom under the Nkrumah dictatorship.

Ghana, let’s build on the prevailing harmony, and consider this Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day a great thing after all, an even greater opportunity to hold hands and salute Osagyefo, and point to any angel in this world who is without fault.

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