Samia Nkrumah, the daughter of the late Kwame Nkrumah, receives award for journalism last year by the European Parliament in Naples.
Originally uploaded by Pan-African News Wire File Photos.
Kwame Nkrumah had wanted to come back to Ghana after 1966 coup: says his daughter, Samia
Ghanaweb correspondent in Italy, Reggie Tagoe, was in Rome to cover the Press Conference hosted by the Ghana Embassy in Italy to launch activities planned for Ghana at 50 and incidentally met Samia Yaba Nkrumah, daughter of the first President of Ghana -the late Dr. Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah. He requested for an interview after the meeting which she obliged.
Below is the full text of that interview
Reggie Tagoe (RT): Samia, It’s pleasure meeting you.
Samia: Thank you. It’s a pleasure to meet you too, and to be here today listening to H.E. Ambassador, Agyei-Amoama, launch Ghana’s Golden Jubilee celebration program in Italy.
RT: How is your family doing and where are they now?
Samia: My mother, Fathia, and my older brother, Gamal, are living in Cairo, Egypt. Our eldest brother, Francis, is in Ghana, while Sekou, the youngest brother is between Ghana and the United States. I am very lucky to have my three brothers. There is great understanding between us despite the fact that we all live in different countries.
RT: How old now is your mother, Madam Fathia Nkrumah?
Samia: She is now 75 years.
RT: Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was a great politician how did he mix his political duties with family life at home?
Samia: My father’s priority was his work. We got to understand this at an early age. And we also understood that his life was in danger on many occasions and this necessitated a different kind of family relationship. A man who has had to endure half a dozen assassination attempts on his life, and some of them with lasting physical damage, must take certain precautions even if these included being separated from his family.
Aside from the question of danger, there was very little time at hand. There were many problems confronting early independent Ghana. If you read his book, Africa Must Unite, you understand that the newly independent Ghana did not have a single industry, no infrastructure whatsoever, no skilled labour, no educated workforce, after years of Colonial rule, the country had nothing. Everything had to be constructed from scratch.
RT: Tell me something about the family in your early years as you grew up.
Samia: When I was younger it felt that we, Nkrumah’s immediate family, had to take second place in his life. We did not see much of our father and we did not spend much time with him. But as I grew, I saw that in a sense his presence with us has been constant and powerful and his influence on us has been understandably huge. I have said before that while he left us no material inheritance, he left us a rich consciousness that continues to guide us in our lives. We have a solid understanding that we Africans hold the key to solving our problems. I have no doubt that as he once said, “When Africa becomes a strong and united nation, Africans will respect themselves and everyone will respect Africans.” When you are serving a big cause, a cause that concerns many people, you do not see a difference between the personal and the public. Personal sacrifices are not regarded as losses but as great gains because your happiness is linked to many others. That is how Nkrumah lived his life up till the very end and that is what he has transmitted to us his children.
RT: Where was the family when he was overthrown in the Military coup on February 24, 1966 and what happened thereafter?
Samia: My mother and the three of us, Gamal, Sekou and myself, were in Flagstaff House on the day of the coup. With help from the Egyptian Embassy at the time, we left Ghana on the same day on an Egyptair flight for Cairo. Naturally, spending the whole day not knowing what is going to happen to you in the company of young, and at times frightened, soldiers taking orders from their commanders is quite a terrifying experience for any child, but that is another story to be told at another time.
RT: Was he in contact with the family whilst in exile and did he mention anything about the coup and the people who ousted him from power?
Samia: Father spoke to us on the phone on very few occasions. We corresponded on a regular, if not frequent, basis. He did not talk to us about his plans and work. Nkrumah, however, detailed all his experiences and thoughts in the various books he wrote after the coup while living in Guinea. Nkrumah wrote some 14 books on various subjects ranging from the African unity project to specific problems in certain African countries at the time, see Challenge of the Congo and Rhodesia. Many of the books were completed while he was in Guinea after 1966. In his book, Dark Days in Ghana, he talks exhaustively about the coup.
RT: In cases about some former African Presidents or Heads of State forced out of power they tried to get back to power through any means, did Dr. Kwame Nkrumah plan to get back to be President of Ghana after the Feb. 24, 1966 coup , was there any desire in him for power in Ghana?
Samia: Nkrumah never lost sight of Ghana and never gave up on his dream and social development. One could not happen without the other. He certainly wanted to get back to Ghana and never lost hope of doing so. If he had returned to Ghana, there would have been fundamental changes. For example, he had said that the coup had made plain that the CPP could not longer follow the old line and it had to develop and reform. At the same time, he was equally concerned with diffusing his ideas on Pan-Africanism because he was convinced that they would outlive him anyway.
RT: What do you think were Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s ambitions?
Samia: In a nutshell, his only ambition was the full realization of the dignity of the African wherever he or she might be in the world. To realize this, he championed an African solution in the form of the Pan-African Project and within this project he called for the economic, social and political development of the continent along continental lines. To Nkrumah, the optimum zone of development for Africans is the whole continent. He believed that if the resources and population of African States were pulled together, development planned and executed continentally, Africa would be far ahead. Nkrumah was convinced that only a strong, economically viable African Nation, or a United States of Africa, would address the continents’ problems. He also understood that a stable, peaceful African continent would contribute to world peace and advancement. Ghana was his starting point, however. With the various development plans in place at the time, Ghana was to become a model of economic advancement and freedom and from there able to safeguard its political freedom.
RT: He was talking of ‘Nkrumaism’ when his countrymen and women did not even clearly understand what democracy is all about. What’s your take on that?
Samia: I would urge you to read Nkrumah’s books to get an idea of what he was about. Let’s not forget that a relentless character assassination was carried out against him. He couldn’t have got everything right, I’m sure, but in the 15 years he was in power, 1951-1966, Ghana had made great social and economic leaps. By 1966, there were factories, roads, railways, radio and TV stations, telephone services, the Akosombo Dam … The list is endless. It was important to make accessible the African Unity ideas to the people of Ghana. You cannot rely on economic unification only, you have to understand why the call for unity and back it with political will. To do so, you need people’s acceptance and understanding of the concept of unity. Unity is a culture that must be understood and not imposed on people and therefore it had to be explained.
It is telling that 40 years on, the slogan on the official site of the African Union (AU) is Africa Must Unite, which is one of the titles of Nkrumah’s books and his main thesis. It is interesting that the AU is championing many of the steps that were recommended by Nkrumah in the early sixties. It is also interesting that some great African leaders, like the late Julius Nyerere of Tanzania, who at the time were not totally convinced of Nkrumah’s Pan-African project eventually came to understand and agree with it.
RT: He imprisoned his political opponents against the backdrop of freedom, justice and independence. What was he aiming to achieve?
Samia: Let me first say that I wish to sincerely apologize to any Ghanaian who was imprisoned in the name of Nkrumah. It saddens me to know that anyone suffered for their political beliefs. I am an advocate of freedom and democracy and human rights. And I am strongly opposed to violence as a way of reacting to any problem.
But before answering your question fully, we have to examine the context in which those actions were taken. At a time when the new Ghanaian government was busy laying the foundation for the industrialization of the country, laying plans for education, medical services, utilities, factories, road networks, etc. Nkrumah’s government was subjected to untold economic and political pressure and external interference. Just to give a few examples on the economic level, the cocoa price was forced down, and promptly raised after the 1966 coup. Investment and credit guarantees were cancelled. On the domestic political level, Nkrumah and his colleagues were subjected to violence in the form of assassination attempts on his life and a relentless character assassination campaign. The pressure on Nkrumah professionally and personally was beyond anything you might imagine.
Despite this, no one was ever executed for attempting a coup against Nkrumah’s government or for attempting to murder Nkrumah. And this was because Nkrumah was strongly opposed to this.
I believe there has been a big campaign to taint Nkrumah’s name and reputation. Nkrumah is not here to defend himself against those accusations. Like you, I am asking questions concerning the curb of freedom: Was he mislead by certain advisors? Did he get distracted and not control what some of those around him were up to?
But what I do know is that Nkrumah was not interested in power for its sake. Neither was he a man who amassed personal wealth at the expense of his country.
Why do I say all this in connection with these accusations? Because, most dictators are all those things: corrupt, violent and only interested in securing power. Nkrumah was not any of these.
RT: Do you think he rushed Ghana into Independence too early?
Samia: Political independence was not regarded as an end in itself but the means to achieve economic freedom and advancement. After years of colonialism, Ghana had no industries, no skilled work force, and no infrastructure. Only after independence did the full truth about the extent of our economic backwardness became known. A colonized State is developed in a way that serves the colonizer. Colonialism was not only economic, but cultural and social. Why would any one want that for themselves?
The struggle for political independence is not putting the whole blame on the colonizer. Slavery and colonialism, like all the present ills of our society, could not have happened without the consent of some of us.
Likewise, our most intractable problems would never be solved, and here I’m thinking of long-term solutions and not just quick relief, without an African solution. This is not because we don’t respect people’s advice, but because the best solutions have to be specific to a certain context and born out of real life experience.
RT: Let me get back to the issue after Nkrumah’s overthrow from power. What happened to the family when you went back to Egypt?
Samia: We went to live in Egypt where the government of the day took full care of us providing us with a house and financing our education. The government of Egypt met our every need and I am grateful for that. We were very lucky unlike many other children who are caught up in political conflicts all over Africa and the world.
RT: Your family after some years came back to live in Ghana. Tell me what happened and you left again.
Samia: We arrived in Cairo the same day of the coup and where we lived till 1975 when the Government of the day in Ghana, the Military Government with Gen. Acheampong as Head of State invited us back. By the early 80s’, we were all out of Ghana. My mother had decided she would be more comfortable in Cairo. Gamal and Sekou were already outside the country studying in England and Romania respectively. I ended up in the UK too where I lived for almost 10 years, working and studying.
RT: Do you feel any resentment against the people who overthrew your father from power? Certainly life wasn’t the same isn’t it? Samia: You are right. Life was never the same. But I strongly believe things happen for a reason, and if you keep an open mind, the reason is always a good one. Being Nkrumah’s daughter has taught me a great deal about humility. We are not talking here about a mere sentiment. I can sincerely say that the pain and confusion have served me very well. I had to wipe the slate clean. I have made an effort to understand what Nkrumah tried to do and that has led me to embrace all Ghanaians and Africans in my thoughts.
Understanding his ideas led me to those thoughts and that cancelled all the resentment. I understand clearly that we are an inseparable part of a whole nation. Being Kwame Nkrumah’s daughter means being a daughter of Ghana and Africa and having a responsibility to Africans everywhere.
We worked hard and tried to make ends meet like most ordinary people and I am very grateful for that. How else could I really understand people who are struggling if I had an easy time myself?
I have not found to date any solution that is better articulated and that makes more sense than the Pan-African project as he explains it. At the same time, I fully respect those who might not agree with Nkrumah’s ideas.
I do not condone violence in any form but I respect differing opinions.
RT: How often do you visit Ghana and do you still have family ties there?
Samia: I haven’t been back since 1984. Two of my brothers, Francis and Sekou, are there with their families. We’ve also got some family from Nkroful and one day we hope to establish stronger links with them.
RT: Do you think Dr. Kwame Nkrumah would have achieved his objectives on Africa if he’s not been overthrown. Africa is a continent with diverse languages, tribes, cultures etc.?
Samia: Nkrumah is quoted as having said, “I have often been accused of pursuing the policy of the impossible but I cannot believe in the impossibility of achieving African unity any more than I could ever have believed in the impossibility of attaining African freedom …” Just consider this: By 1963, around 44 years ago, Nkrumah had called for an all-African Commission to take steps to set up a common market for Africa, an African monetary zone, an African Central Bank, a Continental Communications System, an African common currency, a Commission for a common citizenship … Today the European Union is implementing these plans. What does that tell us?
RT: How old would Dr. Nkrumah be today if he’s to be alive?
Samia: Well, he was born in 1909, or 97 years ago.
RT: How do you view the situation in Ghana today – economic, social, infrastructure, governance and the people in general?
Samia: Ghana is politically stable and is has a good standing among African countries and internationally. Understandably, like all so-called developing countries it is grappling with the all too familiar challenges of unfavourable trade rules and a high import bill that naturally adversely affects economic and social activity.
RT: Do you have any intention to settle in Ghana some time to come?
Samia: A friend once told me that there is a right time for everything and I think that is very apt to every occasion. I have never ruled out settling in Ghana eventually and when the right time comes, I may very well decide to do just that.
RT: Dr. Kwame Nkrumah wrote many publicised books, which of these books are you favourites and what was he talking about?
Samia: ‘Revolutionary Path’ competently puts together all of Nkrumah’s political ideas and it also contains extracts from other writings. ‘Africa Must Unite’ gives a general idea of early independent Ghana and how it fitted in with the African Unity project. The ‘Challenge of the Congo’, shows how far Nkrumah saw Ghana and other African countries’ interlinked paths. ‘The Conakry Years’ published posthumously also gives an idea of the range of his thoughts.
RT: What do you think the future holds for Ghana?
Samia: More progress, I hope. We have an opportunity before us these years. This year is the 50th Anniversary of Independence. Ghana is holding the presidency of the AU. The country is politically stable and advancing democratically. This is good time to plan ahead.
RT: What have you been doing presently?
Samia: I am currently living in Rome working as a Freelance Journalist. I am also a program and students coordinator with the University of Arkansas Rome Centre. I am part of an African Association bringing together a number of African immigrants together. I am married to Michele Melega, and Italian-Danish man, and we have one child, Kwame, who is 9 years old.
RT: Any other comments?
Samia: I simply want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to voice my thoughts on Nkrumah.
RT: Thanks for this interview, Samia, I appreciate your willingness to talk to me.
Reggie Tagoe in Rome