Nkrumah, Kwame [key], 1909–72, African political leader, prime minister (1957–60) and president (1960–66) of Ghana. The son of a goldsmith, he was educated at mission schools in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and became a teacher. A brilliant student, he studied (1935–45) in the United States and then went to London. While studying law there he held important posts in African nationalist organizations, espousing Pan-Africanism. Returning to the Gold Coast in 1947, he was made general secretary of the United Gold Coast Convention party by its founder, Dr. J. B. Danquah, who was later jailed by Nkrumah. In 1949, Nkrumah formed his own party, the Convention People's party, and led a series of strikes and boycotts for self-government. He was imprisoned (1950) by the British for sedition, but was released in 1951 when his party swept the general election; he became prime minister in 1952. Under his leadership the Gold Coast achieved (1957) independence and, in 1960, became the Republic of Ghana. Martin Luther Kingpraised Nkrumah's leadership and commitment to nonviolent action. In a 1957 speech, King said of Ghana's independence, "It reminds us of the fact that a nation or a people can break loose from oppression without violence."
Probably the leading proponent of pan-Africanism, he effected a loose union with Guinea (1959) and Mali (1960). Following a course of international political neutrality, he secured economic and technical aid from the United States and the Soviet Union. As president, Nkrumah suppressed political opponents, and in 1961, after a series of strikes, made himself supreme commander of the armed forces; he also assumed absolute control of the Convention People's party. Several attempts were made on his life. He increasingly isolated himself from the populace, meanwhile promoting a cult of personality. In 1966, while he was on a trip to Beijing, Nkrumah was removed from power in a coup led by the Ghanaian military and police. He subsequently took refuge in Guinea.
See his autobiography (1957); biographies by G. Marais (1972), B. Davidson (1974), and D. Kellner (1987); see also D. Rooney, Kwame Nkrumah: The Political Kingdom in the Third World (1988), A. Biney, The Political and Social Thought of Kwame Nkrumah (2011), J. S. Ahlman, Kwame Nkrumah: Visions of Liberation (2021), and C. L. R. James, Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (new ed. 2022).
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