Honoring Ghana’s Founder in a Reclaimed Space

By Sam Klein

Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president and one of the leaders of Pan-Africanism, is buried in a mauseoleum in central Accra.

Where the British polo grounds once stood in Accra, there is now a bronze statue of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah pointing the way forward. The space, once off-limits to Ghanaians, now celebrates the nation’s first president and the face of Pan-Africanism.

The tomb where Nkrumah is buried, next to the tomb of his wife Fathia (not pictured).

The statue commemorates the slogan of Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party (CPP): “Forward ever, backward never.” It is also located where Nkrumah gave the 1957 speech declaring independence from British rule.

The twin pools in front of Nkrumah’s statue have figures of horn-players, a traditional Ghanaian practice honoring the death of a chief or other important figure.

Behind the statue is Nkrumah’s mausoleum, though it is his third resting place. He was first embalmed in Guinea — where he lived most of the end of his life in exile following the 1966 coup that ousted him from power — and buried in his birthplace, Nkroful, located on the coast of Ghana far west of Accra.

The original statue of Nkrumah, which stood in front of the Parliament building, was vandalized and decapitated following the 1966 coup that saw Nkrumah ousted and forced into exile.

The complex includes a museum, with a number of artifacts — such as Nkrumah’s writing desk — and photographs, primarily documenting his meetings with foreign leaders from Kennedy to Khrushchev. To the side of the museum is the statue which once stood in front of Parliament before being vandalized and decapitated during the coup. The statue’s head was returned in 2009 by one of Nkrumah’s followers who had hidden it for decades. Despite the efforts of three military takeovers, Nkrumah’s legacy remains as entrenched in Ghanaian society as the collective memory of its colonial history.

The mausoleum is filled with trees, including some planted by foreign leaders from places as disparate as Zimbabwe, Italy and the U.S.