Kwame Nkrumah: Ghana’s First President Once Disclosed That September 21 May Not Be His Birthday

Kwame Nkrumah: Ghana’s First President Once Disclosed That September 21 May Not Be His Birthday

As Ghana marks September 21 as Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day with a public holiday, digs into the past to explain why this date may not be accurate and how it has become the official birthday of Ghana’s first prime minister and president.

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Officially, Dr Francis Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president and the steward of the country’s independence from British colonial rule was born on September 21, 1909. But that is most likely inaccurate. Nkrumah himself has admitted that both his year of birth and September 21 could be wrong.

Kwame Nkrumah was born in an era and in a community where dates of birth, marriages, and deaths were not properly registered. The only ways parents marked the ages of their children was by festival celebrations. This is how Nkrumah became somewhat convinced that 1909 is an accurate-enough year of birth.

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“The only certain facts about my birth appear to be that I was born in the village in Nkroful in Nzima around mid-day on a Saturday in mid-September,” he explained in his autobiography titled “Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah.”
Dr Kwame Nkrumah
Kwame Nkrumah is Ghana’s first president. Source: UGC.
Source: Instagram

About his year of birth, Dr Nkrumah suggests he may have been born three years earlier than the officially-recognised 1909.

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"In the outlying areas of the Gold Coast nobody bothered to record the dates of births, marriages and deaths, as is the custom of the western world. Such happenings were remark able only because they provided a cause for celebration. By tribal custom it was enough for a mother to assess the age of her child by calculating the number of national festivals that had been celebrated since its birth. In most cases, however, even this was unknown as nobody was concerned very much with age: time did not count in those peaceful communities. The national festival of Nzima is called Kuntum. According to my mother's calculations, forty-five Kuntums have taken place since I was born, which makes the year of my birth 1912.”

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How September 21, 1909 Passed Into History As Nkrumah’s Date Of Birth

Kwame Nkrumah
Kwame Nkrumah is regarded as a key figure in pan-Africanism. Source: UGC
Source: UGC

While the Roman Catholic wields significant authority and influence the affairs of many people today, these were stronger in the past. Kwame Nkrumah recalls in his autobiography that the Catholic priest who baptised him basically imprinted September 21, 1909 into history.

This is how Nkrumah explained the issue in his book:

“…the priest who later baptised me into the Roman Catholic Church recorded my birth date as 21st September 1909. Although this was a mere guess on his part, I have always used this date on official documents, not so much because I believed in its accuracy, but in so far as officialdom was concerned, it was the line of least resistance. It was not until recently that I came to realise how near the mark this guess must have been.”

Nkrumah himself thinks he was born on a Saturday on September 18, 1909. He said he arrived at this conclusion by piecing important past information together.

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The relevant parts of his book on the matter reads as follows:

"On the night of 27th August 1913, the Bakana, on her way back from Nigeria to the United Kingdom with a cargo of oil, got into difficulties in a particularly heavy surf between Dixcove and Half Assini. In spite of the efforts of the captain to turn the ship seawards, the Bakana was dragged by a strong current nearer and nearer the shallow water until she got her propeller embedded in about five feet of sand. Two ships, the Ebani and the Warri arrived the following day and endeavoured to pull her out to sea, but the Bakana refused to be moved. The master, Captain Richard Williams, then gave orders to abandon ship and the crew and a few passengers were safely lowered into surf boats and taken ashore.
“My mother confirms the fact that I was a small boy at the time and that the event occurred some little time after she brought me from Nkroful to live with my father in Half Assini.

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“Assuming therefore that the year of my birth was 1909, the Saturday nearest to the middle of September in that year was the 18th. It seems likely, therefore that I was born on Saturday, 18th September 1909.”

Controversy About Nkrumah As Founder Of Ghana

Dr Kwame Nkrumah
Kwame Nkrumah is regarded by historians as a visionary leader. Source: UGC
Source: Twitter

Beyond the uncertainty about his date of birth, another raging debate concerns whether it is appropriate for him to described as the founder of Ghana or there are other founders.

The political debate is essentially between the two main political parties in Ghana, the National Democratic Congress (NDC) the New Patriotic Party (NPP).

The NDC administration marked September 21 every year as the “Founder’s Day” in recognition of his efforts that won independence for Ghana.

However, under the Nana Akufo-Addo-led NPP administration the law was changed to make the day “Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day”. While it is not supposed to be a holiday, for unknown reasons this year’s has been observed as a public holiday.

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Under the NPP, the Public Holiday’s Act (2001) was amended to include August 4, as “Founders’ Day”, a public holiday in recognition of all the efforts of past statesmen towards Ghana’s independence.

Despite the uncertainties about Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s date of birth and his place in Ghana’s independence efforts, he remains a towering pillar in discussions about Ghana’s journey to becoming a true republic. Kwame Nkrumah remains a behemoth in past and modern drive towards pan-Africanism.

Queen Elizabeth’s Historic Visits To Ghana In Ten Rare Photos covered a previous story in which the late Queen Elizabeth II visited Ghana several countries worldwide in 1961.

According to historical accounts, before the late Queen left on the trip, members of the UK Parliament and the public did not want her to go due to rising tensions in Ghana, where Kwame Nkrumah had toppled the colonial government a few years earlier.

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The UK Parliament was concerned that her visit could prove too dangerous.

But that historic trip was very successful. According to Biography, from the moment Elizabeth arrived in Ghana, along with Prince Philip, she was surrounded by crowds and excitement.

A highlight of that trip was the many photos she took with Dr Kwame Nkrumah.

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