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1.1 Background to the Study
According to African statesmen, the whites even after granting independence to the colonies
they were governing left as a parting gift to the Africans the concept of neo-colonialism. Neo-
colonialism is a situation whereby the black man feels inferior to the Europeans and derives
psychological satisfaction only by associating with them. Even till today, traces of neo-colonialism
are still visible. The African never values any product that is of African origin. He prefers the
product which has the label “made in China” or “made in America” and other foreign seals.
This predicament was what prompted African thinkers like Kwame Nkrumah, Julius
Nyerere, Leopold Senghor, Obafemi Awolowo, Nnamdi Azikiwe and others to embark on the
search for the ‘African identity’ and this they expressed in their works.
Kwame Nkrumah, one of the African statesmen, postulated an ideology known as
‘Consciencism’. This ideology is an exercise in anti-colonialism. It advocated for a social revolution
which was to be brought about by an intellectual revolution. This was clearly articulated in the first
sentence of the first chapter of the book. He noted that “practice without thought is blind; thought
without practice is empty”1.
This project work will have as its focal point ‘Consciencism’ as presented by Kwame
Nkrumah. It must be noted that Consciencism is a summary of Nkrumah’s ideological viewpoint
geared towards the economic and political emancipation of the African. It was marked that
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Consciencism arrived at a stage of development where the vigorous African search for freedom;
unity and identity need to be expressed in the form of philosophical statesments2.
Furthermore, the concept; ‘Consciencism’ has been subjected to some criticisms; hence
there is need for an overview of the concept with a view to presenting it in the very spirit of African
1.2 Statement of the Problem
Kwame Nkrumah’s ideology which he propounded for the development of the African is
based on a foundation of materialism. The minimum assertion of materialism is the absolute and
independent existence of matter3. Looking at it singly from this view, it becomes apparent that
‘philosophical consciencism’ as Nkrumah calls it cannot be reconciled with the religious realities
found in the African society as the roles of spirits and souls cannot be over-emphasized as far as
the African is concerned.
As pointed out by Paulin Houtondji, “consciencism is wrong in treating any political system
as interdependent with some specific metaphysical theory”4. For him, if political theories are to
need justification, “it must be political justification, belonging to the same level of discourse”5. In
other words, there is a problem with bringing metaphysics into the realm of political discourse.
Another problem is that of the realization of Nkrumah’s ideology. Nkrumah himself said
that “Colonialism and its attitude are die hard, like the attitudes of slavery, whose hangover still
dominates behaviour in certain parts of the western hemisphere”6. For the above reasons, the
problem arises as to whether or not philosophical consciencism is not merely a theoretical concept,
which will fail in practice.
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All these problems are associated with the concept of ‘consciencism’ and its application.
1.3 Aims and Objectives
A key purpose of this project work is to attempt an exposition of Nkrumah’s solution to the
African predicament brought about by colonial presence on African soil.
Another important purpose of this work is that it will evaluate Nkrumah’s proposed solution
with a view to deciding whether or not it will be useful in the African quest for moving forward in
every sense of it.
1.4 Scope of the Study
The work in its scope will be limited to an overview of Nkrumah’s ideology for de-
colonization. Nevertheless, in the process of over viewing his ideology, cognizance will be taken
of the influences on him, the work “Consciencism” itself, and circumstances surrounding the
postulation of the ideology.
1.5 Significance of the Study
The significance of the study is to show that if ‘philosophical consciencism’ is approached
in the way Kwame Nkrumah postulated it, then there will be no stopping the growth and
development of Africa.
1.6 Research Methodology
The method we shall adopt in this project work shall be analytical and critical. It shall be
analytical in that every concept used shall be broken down into simple words.
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In this work, we shall be making use of textbooks and also information sourced from
The first book under review is one written by Kwame Nkrumah himself and is titled
“Consciencism: A Philosophy and Ideology for De-Colonization”, published in London in 1964. In
this book, Nkrumah makes a case for a re-structuring of the African society away from colonialism
and towards economic and political success. He posits an ideology that is capable of processing the
old metropolitan ideologies of capitalism and European socialism and according to him
“consciencism is the map in intellectual terms of the disposition of the forces which will enable
African society to digest the Western, the Islamic and the Euro-Christian elements in Africa and
develop them in such a way that they fit into the African personality”.7
The second book to be reviewed is also by Kwame Nkrumah and is titled “Axioms of
Kwame Nkrumah”, published in London in 1967 by Thomas Nelson. The book brings together
various quotes of Kwame Nkrumah from various books by him and addresses delivered by him
either in his official capacity as president of Ghana or simply as Kwame Nkrumah.
Another book that will be used in this work is by Gideon-Cyrus M. Mutiso and S.W Rohio
titled “Readings in African Political Thought”, published in London by Heinemann in 1975. The
book as the name suggests contains selected topics from various political thinkers and the writings
from Kwame Nkrumah featured prominently in the book.
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C. Okadigbo’s book titled “Consciencism in African Political Philosophy”, published in
Enugu by Fourth Dimension Publishers in 1985 is also under review. In this book, the author
provided a review of contemporary African philosophy with Nkrumah’s ‘consciencism’ under the
spotlight and according to him “there is here an evaluation of the solution proposed by the same
spirit of the African revolution”8.
Another book here under review is Kwame Nkrumah’s “Towards Colonial Freedom”,
published in London by Heinemann Educational Books in 1962. Here the author describes this book
as “a rough blueprint of the process which colonial people can establish the realization of their
complete and unconditional independence”9.
The sixth book under review is Kwame Nkrumah’s “Africa Must Unite”, published in
London by Pan-African Publishers Books in 1963. Here the author makes a case for Pan-African
unity. He also urged the people of African descent in the West Indies and in the United States of
America to strive for this unity as it will be a very important factor in the political and economic
emancipation of the African.
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The Continental Union Government of Africa
If there is one agenda or political framework which occupied Kwame Nkrumah’s attention
from his earliest political struggles to his overthrow in the year 1966 and even beyond, it was
precisely his vision of a continental union government for Africa. It was in fact his vision and
mission to accomplish this. Learning a great lesson from the balkanization of the Ottoman Empire,
which was orchestrated by the European powers and which eventually led to the disastrous World
War I (1914-1918), Nkrumah realized early in his political life that Africa's independent states,
which were artificially carved out at the Berlin Conference in 1884, could not survive if there was
no unified front on a continental basis in order to combat the threat imperialism posed. In other
words, Africa needed a continental union government that could act as a shield against external
interference. Nkrumah submitted that Africa's independent states could either become satellite
states of the imperialist countries or collapse one by one as a result of imperialist meddling in their
political and economic affairs.
Since some African countries were still struggling to liberate themselves from colonial
shackles at the time Ghana gained her political independence, Nkrumah expressed optimism that
Africa could be united under one socialist continental government, only if the remaining territories
still under colonial domination were liberated. Thus, all resources, human and material, were
mobilized in an effort to expel the colonial forces from the African soil. It was against this backdrop
that on the eve of Ghana’s independence Nkrumah made his celebrated speech: “The independence
of Ghana is meaningless unless it was linked up with the total liberation of Africa” (Nkrumah, 1963,
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p. 100). Thus, with the attainment of Ghana’s independence, Nkrumah reasoned that Ghana as a
sovereign state could not isolate itself socially and politically from the rest of the continent, since
it could not battle imperialism alone. Nkrumah was therefore determined to see Africa united under
a continental union government, just like the USA and the USSR (Nkrumah, 1963).
Nkrumah indicates that up to 1945 when the 5th Pan-African Congress was held in
Manchester, England, his idea of African unity was limited to West Africa. In other words, it was
his determination to see West Africa united under a single government. Perhaps the basic
assumption underlying Nkrumah’s idea of unity was largely motivated by the ontological reality of
colonialism, which was mainly divisive. Divisive, in a sense, that colonialism thrived on the theory
of divide and rule. Thus the division of colonial subjects into incompatible groups such as subjects
and citizens in colonial Senegal for instance, could be remedied by continental unity Nkrumah put
forward. In Towards Colonial Freedom for example, Nkrumah reinforced his idea of unity as
There is, however, one matter on which my views have been expanded, and that is
regarding African Unity. Since I have had the opportunity of putting my ideas to work, and
personally experiencing the bitter and arduous test of wit, patience and endurance that was
necessary before our own victory over colonialism was won, I lay even greater stress on the vital
importance to Africa’s survival of a political union of the African continent. Twenty years ago my
ideas on African unity, important as I considered them even at that time, were limited to West
African unity. Today, as I sit at my desk in Accra and glance at the several maps of Africa
surrounding me, I see the wider horizon of the immense possibilities open to Africansthe only
guarantee, in fact, for our survivalin a total continental political union of Africa (Nkrumah, 1962,
p. xi).
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The above quotation seems to summarize Nkrumah’s objective in seeking a continental
political union for Africa. For among other advantages, such a union would not only give Africans
a unified front in terms of diplomacy, foreign policy and defense but would also enhance Africa’s
material and cultural progress. It may be appropriate to ask, why political union but not cultural
union? Nkrumah answered that it was equally possible to seek cultural and economic unity as
opposed to the political unity he canvassed. He opined that political unity backed by a centralized
authority would give expression to other social integrations, such as cultural, diplomatic and
economic and at the same time safeguard Africa’s hard won independence. He writes,
Since our inception, we have raised as a cardinal policy, the total emancipation of Africa
from colonialism in all its forms. To this we have added the objective of the political union of
African states as the surest safeguard of our hard won freedom and the soundest foundation for our
individual, no less than our common, economic, social and cultural advancement (Nkrumah, 1963,
p. xi).
The objectives of continental union as enunciated in the above quotation constitute the
benefits Africa stood to gain if it were united under one continental union government. In this regard
Nkrumah thought that what Africa stood for, was what the imperialist powers stood against. Hence,
he opines, “Just as our strength lies in a unified policy and action for progress and development, so
the strength of the imperialist lies in our disunity. We in Africa can only meet them effectively by
presenting a unified front and a continental purpose” (Nkrumah, 1963, p. xvi). It was therefore
against this backdrop that Nkrumah became convinced that unless African leaders met the obvious
and powerful threat of imperialism with a coherent and comprehensive united African front, based
on a common military and economic policy, the imperialist powers would pick independent African
states and destroy them one after the other (Nkrumah, 1963). It must however be recalled that
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Kwame Nkrumah’s vision of African unity dates back to 1957, when the first conference of
independent African states was convened in Accra at his request. This symbolic gesture continued
and even gathered much momentum in 1959 when the seed of a continental union was sowed
following the Conakry declarationa declaration which sought to unite Ghana with Guinea as the
seminal seed of continental unity. In all these conferences, the message remained the same, namely,
African liberation and
And yet it appeared that unity was destined not to be. Thus, it will be appropriate to ask the
question, was the idea of African unity as conceived by Nkrumah utopia? It appears so because the
artificial boundaries separating one African state from the other could not be dismantled or done
away with, since African leaders were not prepared to surrender the political sovereignties of their
small, albeit nonviable, states in favour of a larger union. More generally, cultural, linguistic, and
ethnic differences militated against political unity. In particular, African leaders disagreed on a
unified framework or policy on which the African continent was to be united. While some preferred
a gradual approach towards unity, others went for an immediate and radical approach to unity.
Nkrumah belongs to the latter school. He was unrelenting and went ahead to propagate his views
on the continental union government of Africa. These were outlined in his book aptly entitled,
Africa Must Unite.
In chapter 15 of Africa Must Unite, titled ‘Towards African Unity,’ Nkrumah dismisses those
who thought that Africans could not form a continental union because of certain natural and social
differences like race, culture and language (Nkrumah, 1963). In spite of these natural differences,
Nkrumah was convinced that those forces which united Africans outweigh those that divided them.
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Nkrumah was convinced that the development of Pan-Africanism, the African personality in world
affairs and Africa’s colonial past all call for unity (Nkrumah, 1963). In fact, Nkrumah’s vision of
African unity and his efforts towards its realisation which dated back to 1945 and was sustained up
to 1963 and beyond were reinforced in Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, a book he
published only a year before he was overthrown.
In the above work, devoted principally to the exposure of the imperialist powers’ aim to keep
Africa exploited, balkanized and backward, Nkrumah measured the sinister operation of neo-
colonialism against the backdrop of African unity. Against this background therefore, he indicated
that the evil of neocolonialism is the prevention of the formation of larger territories powerful
enough to rival the imperialist countries. According to Nkrumah,
…if Africa was united, no major power bloc would attempt to
subdue it by ‘limited war’ because from the very nature of limited war, what
can be achieved by it is itself limited. It is only where small states exist that
it is possible, by landing a few thousand marines or by financing a mercenary
force, to secure a decisive result (Nkrumah, 1965, p. xi).
Since Nkrumah recognised neo-colonialism as an instrument whose deployment was meant
to break formerly united large colonial territories into numerous nonviable states which would be
incapable of independent development, and must therefore rely on imperial powers for economic
and social direction, he proposed that the solution to the neo-colonial situation is a united action.
He puts this succinctly, “I propose to show how in practice African unity, which in itself can only
be established by the defeat of neo-colonialism, could immensely raise African living standards”
(Nkrumah, 1965, p. xx).
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Placing emphasis on political unity as a pre-requisite to all other developments, including
economic, Nkrumah reminds us that however much the African continent increases its agricultural
growth or productive capacity, it will not benefit from such an increment “unless it is sufficiently
politically and economically united to force the developed world to pay it a fair price for its cash
crops” (Nkrumah, 1965, p. 9). This assertion is right, because an increase in the production of raw
materials in Africa without industrialization is tantamount to growing such cash crops to feed the
industrial plants of the Western powers, in exchange for pittance. It was exactly this unfair
economic relationship between Africa and the imperial powers that validated Nkrumah's call for
continental unity, as enunciated in the introduction and concluding parts of Neo-Colonialism.
He writes, “Only a united Africa through an all-African Union Government…is the answer
to neo-colonialism, balkanisation and all other internal enemies such as poverty, diseases, ignorance
and illiteracy” (Nkrumah, 1965, p. 36 & 259).
It appears pretty clear that Nkrumah’s idea of a continental union government permeated his
major works especially towards the end of his life when his political thought became revolutionary.
At this period, Nkrumah began to advocate revolution in order to bring about such a union. In my
opinion, Nkrumah’s change of views and strategy was quite right, considering that all diplomatic
efforts towards bringing his vision of African unity into realisation had not achieved the desired
results. It is consistent with the ethical principle that violence or revolution should be seen as a last
resort when all diplomatic and persuasive efforts have failed. At this stage too, Nkrumah began to
see socialism and African unity as complementary, such that one could not be achieved without the
other. Equally important is the fact that such a novel objective as African unity, in Nkrumah’s view,
could not be attained without the contribution of African peasants. According to Nkrumah,
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The choice has already been made by the workers and peasants of Africa. They have chosen
unification; and this can only be achieved through armed struggle under socialist direction. For the
political unification of Africa and socialism are synonymous. One cannot be achieved without the
other (Nkrumah, 1970, p. 84).
In his concluding remarks in Class Struggle in Africa, Nkrumah dismissed the idea that Africa
could only unite if there were a common language, common culture and common territory. Once
again, he opposed this view. He felt that, “The notion that in order to have unity it is necessary for
there to be a common language, a common territory and common culture, has failed to stand the
test of time or the scrutiny of scientific definition of objective reality” (Nkrumah, 1970, p. 88).
What then is scientific definition of reality? Nkrumah never answered this question satisfactorily.
Perhaps he assumed that it was an obvious issue that needed no further clarification. Nkrumah’s
apparent failure to clarify some expressions in his political philosophy poses a problem of
clarification. For example, if we are not so clear on the scientific definition of objective reality, to
what extend can we successfully interrogate African unity with regard to the diverse ethnic group
and cultures? It is more of a debate between philosophical monism and pluralism. These are two
parallel schools of thought whose definition of reality does not concur. Monism recognises that
reality is fundamentally one, while pluralism recognises that reality is composed fundamentally of
multiple objects and existence. Thus, given the diverse people and culture on the African continent,
how successful could this pluralistic continent be made monistic through continental union as
enunciated by Nkrumah?
All the same, Nkrumah summed up the objectives of his continental union government of
Africa as follows: The first objective is the overall economic planning on a continental basis in
order to increase economic and industrial power of Africa. The second is the establishment of a
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unified defence and military command. The third involves the institution of a unified foreign policy
and diplomacy, in order to give political direction to the joint efforts for the protection and economic
development of Africa (Nkrumah, 1963). To sum up, Nkrumah’s vision of a united Africa was so
forceful that when he was writing from exile in Conakry, the Guinean capital, his foreword to
Jaramogi Oginga Odinga’s Not Yet Uhuru reads:
It is clear than ever before that the political union of Africa, which has been one of my main
pre-occupations since the attainment of independence by Ghana, is the key to Africa’s economic
and political stability, peace and progress. A Union Government of Africa backed by organised
military power and sound continental and economic planning is bound to compel nations outside
Africa to respect our collective interest. States with imperialist tendencies, however powerful, will
tremble before taking unilateral decisions to interfere in our affairs (Odinga, 1967, p. xiii)
Phases in Kwame Nkrumah’s Socialism
It is interesting to note that up to 1963 when African Must Unite was published, Kwame
Nkrumah was preoccupied with the arduous task of building socialism in Ghana as an alternative
path to national development. Socialism was therefore seen as an ideology that would be adapted
to suit the African environment, African conditions and African communal way of life. Thus, at
this stage, Nkrumah believed in African socialism as opposed to scientific socialism.
This marks the first phase of Nkrumah’s socialism. In Consciencism and Neocolonialism
however, Nkrumah attempts an elucidation of socialism as a theory, and then defends African
communalism- its humanist and egalitarian principles- as the precursor of African socialism. Here,
Nkrumah contends that the idea of class struggle is inconsistent with African egalitarianism. He
brands Marxian materialism atheistic, because Marxian socialism is contemptuous of spiritual
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values. He states that “strictly speaking, the assertion of the sole reality of matter is atheistic, for
pantheism, too, is a species of atheism. Philosophical consciencism, even though deeply rooted in
materialism, is not necessarily atheistic” (Nkrumah, 1964, p. 84).
Finally, the period 1967-1972 marks the last and final phase of Kwame Nkrumah’s socialist
discourse. This period saw Nkrumah’s efforts towards presenting a comprehensive and coherent
analysis of socialism within the Marxian framework. Nkrumah acknowledges the class antagonism
in Marxian socialist philosophy as a fact and he advocates social revolution in order to establish
scientific socialism in Africa. In this section of this chapter, we examine the three phases that
constitute Nkrumah’s defense of socialism.
However, before we examine the phases in Nkrumah’s socialism, it is worth noting to first
of all examine African socialism, a concept which was espoused by most African independence
leaders. This, we believe, will throw more light on the phases in Nkrumah’s socialism.
Kwame Nkrumah and African Socialism
In the course of the 1960s, African socialism emerged as a popular version of socialism
embraced by the post-independence African leaders. After political independence in Africa there
was a rush by African leaders to call their political ideas anything but capitalism. The label “African
socialism” came in handy. This was the situation not just because it was fashionable to do so but
perhaps also because they thought socialism had different local characteristics, and so Africa had
its own version of socialism uniquely African.
Mboya defines African socialism as “… those proven codes of conduct in the African
societies which have, over the ages, conferred dignity on our people and afforded them security
regardless of their station in life” (Mboya, 1975, p. 60). Mboya further notes that African socialism
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should be seen as those ideals and attitudes of mind in traditional African norms and customs which
regulated man’s conduct, with the social weal as its fundamental objective (Mboya, 1975).
Similarly, In Consciencism, Nkrumah argues that the indigenous African society is anti-capitalist
and egalitarian in nature. To this effect, socialism in his opinion had a lot in common with traditional
African communal past and hence socialism was a suitable ideology for the new African countries.
In justifying his preference for socialism, he argues that such a theory is an advancement
and refinement of communalism. Thus humanism and egalitarianism are common
features of socialism and communalism. Employing ethical analysis, especially the principle of
utilitarianism, Kwame Nkrumah argues that, “under socialism the study and mastery of nature has
a humanist impulse and is directed not towards a profiteering accomplishment, but the affording of
ever increasing satisfaction for the material and greatest needs of the greatest number”
These views among other African socialist theories tend to see socialism as a socio-ethical
doctrine. Socio-ethical doctrine in a sense that the state will play a critical role by exercising a
socialistic control over the economy while discouraging the concentration of wealth in private hands
by ensuring the widest form of property decentralisation. Though African socialism will allow
private enterprise and public control of the economy, nevertheless, it repudiates both capitalism and
communism (Omi & Anyawu, 1981). To be sure, it regards capitalism as too exploitative of human
dignity and communism as being contemptuous of African spiritual values. At another breadth most
African independence leaders believe that apart from the unethical concerns of capitalism regarding
its treatment of man as a means to an end, how could such an ideology which had been responsible
for Africa’s underdevelopment be the same ideology for Africa’s advancement? Seydou Kouyate,
Mali leader for Development, stretched the argument further. He argued that “You cannot be a
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capitalist when you have no capital” (Benett, 1964, p. 98). This argument helps explain partly why
African states found it difficult to switch directly to the capitalist system of production when
independence came. If socialism is the means by which production, distribution and exchange of
goods are publicly owned and controlled, what then would be the characteristic content of the
African brand?
African leaders did not have a coherent answer to this all important question. Attempts were
made to rectify this intellectual confusion. The first attempt to clarify the various ideas construed
as African socialism was made at the Dakar Colloquium in 1962. At this conference, several notions
were raised about African socialism. Apart from the diverse views expressed as African socialism
by Senghor, Nyerere and Kenyatta, Nasser of Egypt also spoke eloquently about Arab socialism.
Nyerere, together with Sekou Toure, and Senghor and Nkrumah insists that traditional
Africa exhibited no classes or class struggle. Hence while the existence of occupational castes in
West Africa and elsewhere in Africa should be acknowledged; these were not classes ‘founded on
wealth’ with conflicting interests in their opinion (Benett, 1964, p. 98). Nyerere and Sekou Toure
emphasise the strong community sense of African society. While Nyerere regards Ujamaa
(familyhood) as the basis of African socialism, Sekou Toure considers that “Africa is essentially
‘communaucratic’. ‘Collective life and social solidarity,’ he says, ‘give her habits a humanistic
foundation which many peoples may envy’ (Benett, 1964, p. 98). Thus African socialism as
conceived by its adherents may be summarised under four broad themes, namely, the denial of
classes or class struggle in pre-colonial Africa, the rejection of vulgar materialism inherent in
Marxian socialism, the desire to return to the African past that never was and the rejection of
capitalism on ethical grounds.
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The different nuances about the ontology of African socialism put forward by African
leaders are well captured in Friedland and Rosberg’s comments that “there was much failure by
Africans themselves at the Dakar Conference and elsewhere to present a precise definition of
African socialism” (Friedland & Rosberg,1958, p. 50).
The inability of the leaders at the Conference to clearly state what constitute African
socialism made it difficult to present a coherent and systematic articulation of the concept. The
different perspectives that existed in the name of African socialism make it appear a potpourri of
ideas, having little or no coherence. Confused by the oversimplification of the concept of socialism
by independence African leaders, the magazine, African Report, accused the delegates of paying
lip service to socialism. Nkrumah, of all the leaders who converged at Dakar, saw the need of
giving the concept a coherent interpretation.
This realisation however came only after his exile years in Conakry. Nkrumah in Class
Struggle in Africa affirms that the basic tenets of socialism are universal and abiding.
Socialism as a Path to Development
Shortly after Ghana became a republic in 1960, Nkrumah recognised the urgent need for
ideological education that would enhance his socialist agenda. We recall that in Towards Colonial
Freedom he underscores the importance of political education as an instrument for winning political
independence. To realise this objective, the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute at Winneba was
established in 1961. And in his speech at the launching of the institute, Nkrumah reiterated his
commitment to socialism as a framework for national development.
Nkrumah said that For twelve years, twelve long years therefore, no conscious consistent
effort had been made to provide party members with the requisite education in the party’s ideology
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of socialism–socialism based on the conditions, circumstances and peculiarities of our African life”
(Obeng, 1979, p. 6).
What does ‘African life’ in the above quotation imply? One may guess that the communal
life of cooperation which is unique to Africans as opposed to the individualism of the West was
what Nkrumah meant. Secondly, Nkrumah seems to have bought into the socialist debate among
African independence leaders about the viability of African socialism. Nkrumah opines that the
ideological training at his institute was meant to equip men and women with analytical knowledge
so that “men and women who pass through this institute will go out not only armed with analytical
knowledge to wage the battle of African socialism but will also be fortified with a keen spirit of
dedication and service to our motherland” (Obeng, 1979, p. 6).
In fact, this was a tacit admission that apart from Marxian socialism, there was another
version of socialism called African socialism, and that African socialism encapsulates the African
experience, the African conditions and the African way of life. At another point in the same speech,
Nkrumah hinted that the structure of his party was to “built up from Ghanaian experiences,
conditions, environments and concepts entirely Ghanaian and African in outlook and based on the
Marxist philosophy and world view” (Obeng, 1979, p. 12). Nkrumah seems to present a difficulty
of interpretation. What does it mean to say “Ghanaian and African experiences and conditions based
on Marxist socialist philosophy and adapting it”? Could it mean borrowing Marxism and adapting
it to suit Ghanaian conditions? Or integrating African experience into Marxist socialist philosophy?
This lack of clarity in Nkrumah’s socialist thought partly explains why Rooney (1988) remarks that
“a clear and coherent outline of Nkrumah’s socialist policies is difficult to achieve because,
although his overall aim remained fairly constant, his views and attitudes often appear
contradictory....” (Rooney, 1988, p. 236)
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Again, in a dawn broadcast of April 8th 1961, Nkrumah intimated that the aims and
objectives of his party “are the building of socialist patterns of society in which the free
development of each is the condition for the free development of all” (Obeng, 1979, p. 16). If state
socialism is defined as the process by which the means of production, distribution and exchange of
goods and services are owned and controlled by the state, then Nkrumah implies exactly this: As
our party has proclaimed, and as I have asserted time and again, socialism is the only pattern that
can within the shortest possible time bring the good life to the people. For socialism assumes the
public ownership of the means of production land and its resources and the use of those means
for production that will bring benefits to the people. Socialist production is production of goods and
services in fulfilment of the people’s needs. It is not production for individual private profit, which
deprives a large section of the people of the goods and services produced, while their needs and
wants remain unsatisfied (Obeng, 1979, p. 70).
Nkrumah however conceded that Ghana was yet to become a socialist state because apart
from the unavailability of adequate material conditions in Ghana at the time, the foundation of
socialism which he recognises as complete industrialisation and scientific agricultural production
had not been built in the country. Hence, “socialism” in Nkrumah’s view needs socialists in order
to build it (Nkrumah, 1963).
In chapter 14 of Africa Must Unite, titled ‘Building socialism in Ghana,’ Nkrumah outlines
the topmost priorities of his government as consisting in fighting “poverty, ignorance, illiteracy and
improving the health services” to the people. Given the colonial legacy his government inherited,
Nkrumah realised that such objectives were long term objectives which were not amenable to
legislation. All the same, he was firm in his conviction that working to achieve these objectives
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was a justification for winning independence from the erstwhile colonial masters. So he spells out
his socialist objective as follows:
Production for private profit deprives a large section of the people of the goods and services
produced. If, therefore, we are to fulfil our pledge to the people and achieve the programme set
out... socialism is our only alternative. For socialism assumes the public ownership of the means of
production, the land and its resources, and the use of those means in fulfilment of the people’s needs
(Nkrumah, 1963, p. 119).
Nkrumah opted for socialist organisation of the mode of production and distribution of the
wealth of the state. This was so because he believed it was such mode of production that would
bring social and economic equity to the masses as opposed to socio-economic inequalities
associated with the capitalist mode of production. This sums up the first phase of Nkrumah’s
socialism, namely, socialism as an ideology or a path to development. The second and third phases
of Nkrumah’s socialism are mainly enunciated in Consciencism and Class Struggle in Africa.
Nkrumah’s Defense of African Socialism
In Consciencism, Kwame Nkrumah recognizes that “the traditional face of Africa includes
an attitude towards man which can only be described in its social manifestation as being socialist.
In Africa man is [fundamentally] regarded as a spiritual being who is originally endowed with a
certain inward dignity, integrity and value” (Nkrumah, 1964, p. 68). We aver that the idea of the
original value of man imposes duties of a socialist kind upon Africans. Thus, this constitutes the
theoretical basis of African communalism. Besides, this theoretical basis of socialism was
expressed in the clan, the tribe and the family which together constitute the social group in which
every African found himself. In this kind of social formation therefore, it was extremely difficult if
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not impossible for class antagonism to arise. Nkrumah thinks that, in this social situation, it was
impossible for classes of a Marxian kind to arise (Nkrumah, 1964). Nkrumah was not alone in the
belief that traditional Africa was a classless society. Julius Nyerere expressed similar remarks when
he contends that "...the idea of class or caste was non-existent in African society" (Nyerere, 1987,
p. 10).
Nkrumah claimed that in traditional African society, no interest of a particular section of
society could override others; nor was there any legislation or executive authority that aided the
interests of any particular group at the expense of another. In fact, in Nkrumah’s view, the welfare
of the people was supreme. But he was quick to add that colonialism should take the blame for
altering this traditional system. We can safely say that Nkrumah was actually appraising pre-
colonial Africa in his work. Like Aristotle, who was appraising the Greek city states which had
become obsolete as a result of the conquests of Alexander, Nkrumah was equally appraising a pre-
colonial African civilisation that had been tremendously transformed by the colonial contact.
Recognising a bond between communalism and socialism, Nkrumah draws an analogy
between the two as follows:
…if one seeks the socio-political ancestor of socialism one must go to
communalism. Socialism has characteristics in common with communalism,
just as capitalism is linked with feudalism and slavery. In socialism, the
principles underlying communalism are given expressions in modern
circumstances (Nkrumah, 1964, p. 73).
As communalism is linked to modern socialism, Nkrumah does not hesitate to express his
preference for socialism. He thinks that socialism had the capacity to abolish inequalities that had
been created by the colonial system. Nkrumah considers the evil of capitalism as consisting in its
alienation of the fruit of labour from those who with the oil of their body and the sweat of their
brow produce this fruit. This aspect of capitalism in his view makes it irreconcilable with those
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basic principles which animate traditional African society. Thus, capitalism is not merely unjust
and too complicated to be workable in the Africa which was regaining its independence, “it is also
alien,” he concludes (Nkrumah, 1964, p. 76).
Nkrumah further recognises that the restoration of Africa’s humanist and egalitarian
principles requires socialism, whose guiding philosophy he terms philosophical consciencism. He
defines philosophical consciencism as “the map in intellectual disposition of forces which will
enable African society to digest the Western and Islamic and the Euro-Christian elements in Africa
and develop them in such a way that they fit into the African personality” (Nkrumah, 1964, p. 72).
And the “African personality is itself defined by the cluster of humanist principles which underlie
the traditional African society” (Nkrumah, 1964, p. 79). The proposed process of harmonising the
combined presence of the three religious experiences which have created a crisis in the African
conscience is what Nkrumah calls Categorical Conversion (Nkrumah, 1964). Philosophical
consciencism takes dialectical materialism to be its operating methodology.
Nkrumah’s dialectical materialism acknowledges the duality of matter and spirit. It further
takes matter to be the “primary reality not the sole reality” (Nkrumah, 1964, p. 88). But Nkrumah
rejects the idea that matter is apathetic to motion (inertia). For him, matter is simply a plenum of
forces and its dynamism lies in the fact that every quantitative transformation results in a qualitative
change in the elevation of the human condition from lower to a higher form of existence (Okoro,
2010). This summarises Nkrumah’s second phase of socialism.
Nkrumah’s Defense of Scientific Socialism
It has been stated that in a letter to Engels, Karl Marx betrayed scientific socialism when he
stated that “he” (Marx) was not a “Marxist” (Senghor, 1964, p. 102). But in a way that is not exactly
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similar to this assertion, some writers have argued that in spite of allegations that Nkrumah was a
Marxist or communist, Nkrumah actually became a Marxist after his overthrow. This is borne out
by the fact that Nkrumah fully embraced Marxian Socialism and repudiated his earlier study on
African socialism and communalism. In other words, Nkrumah tried to correct his earlier
idealisation and glorification of the African communal past. In “African Socialism Revisited,” an
article written in 1967, a year after his overthrow, Kwame Nkrumah recognises ‘socialism’ as a
slogan that unites African leaders in their quest to restore Africa’s past humanist and egalitarian
principles. He expresses skepticism about the real meaning of socialism in the context of African
political discourse. Thus, as at 1967, Nkrumah felt that socialism had lost its objective meaning “in
favour of a distracting terminology and in favour of a general confusion. Discussion centres more
on the various conceivable types of socialism than upon the need for socialist development”
(Nkrumah, 1967, p. 1)
In this article, Nkrumah classifies African leaders into two distinct schools of thoughts,
namely, African socialists and socialists in Africa. Socialists in Africa refer to those who use
socialism with the aim of remolding African society in the socialist direction; to reconstruct African
society in such a manner that the humanism of traditional African life re-asserts itself in a modern
African community (Nkrumah, 1967). In other words, Nkrumah thinks that socialists in Africa are
those who believe that true economic and social development cannot be promoted without the real
socialization of the means of production and distribution. African socialists on the other hand are
those who use the term with the belief that it would smoothen the path to economic development.
On hindsight, this distinction appears to be a distinction without a difference. All the same, of the
two schools of thought, Nkrumah espouses the former and despises the latter. In other words, he
identifies himself with those who believe in the universal validity and applicability of socialism as
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