History records that Ghana’s first president, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, died from prostate cancer with no family member by his side after months of failing health while he was in exile in Romania in 1972.

Nkrumah, however, had suspicions about what was happening to him, as he believed that he was not safe from Western intelligence agencies and had suspicions of being poisoned.

This was particularly so because his cook had died a mysterious death in Conakry, Guinea, during his exile in the country right after his overthrow in Ghana.

Upon his death on April 27, 1972, Kwame Nkrumah’s body was sent to Guinea, where he had been named a co-president.

That moment started one of the most contentious tales over the body of a Head of State, that has never been seen or heard of before.

What Kwame Nkrumah wanted his body to be used for:

In a video report by Afristory Productions, titled ‘The Mystery of What Happened to the Body of Kwame Nkrumah,’ it is said that in the words of the first president of Ghana, he wanted his body cremated and the ashes distributed across Africa.

According to the report, Nkrumah wrote in his Will that “I, Kwame Nkrumah of Africa, cause my body to be embalmed and preserved, like Lenin. If this was not possible, and the ashes scattered throughout the African continent, in rivers, streams, deserts, savanna.”

And for his over 100-year-old mother, Madam Elizabeth Nyaniba, all she wanted at the time was to be able to have her son’s body returned home to Ghana, so that she could “touch the body of my son before he is buried, or I die.”

$120,000 police bounty on Nkrumah’s head:

It is reported that the Ghana Police Service, upon the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, had offered a reward of $120,000 to anyone who was able to bring the president back to Ghana, dead or alive.

Later, however, the National Revolutionary Council (NRC), which overthrew Nkrumah, claimed that the reward was posted before they took over the country, adding that they had, “in the spirit of the January 13 Revolution,” revoked it.

The battle for Nkrumah’s body:

With Guinea now in possession of the body of Nkrumah, its President, Sékou Touré, was not convinced in releasing it to Ghana, although there had been assurances to him, by Col Ignatius Kutu Acheampong, Ghana’s leader at the time, that he would be given a dignified burial befitting his status.

But all Sékou Touré wanted for his country’s co-president, was that Ghanaian authorities would meet his demands: after all, since Romania had sent the body to their country, they were in a strong position to dictate terms.

The demands made by Sékou Touré included the lifting of all charges pending against Nkrumah, the release of all Nkrumah supported from prison, the removal of threats against Nkrumah’s followers who remain with him in exile, and an official welcome of Nkrumah’s remains with all the honors due a deceased president, among other demands.

With Acheampong’s refusal to meet these demands, Sékou Touré continued to exert his authority, refusing to release the body; after all, Nkrumah was also theirs as much as he was for Ghana.

According to a paper published in the American Universities Field Staff Reports – West Africa Series in 1972 by Victor D. Du Bois and titled The Death of Kwame Nkrumah, Toure had imposed even more impossible conditions such as the placing Nkrumah’s tomb in front of Ghana’s Parliament building and the restoration of Nkrumah’s appointees to their former positions.

But this led to a lot of public backlash against the Guinean government, with Kwame Nkrumah’s mother also constantly pleading that her son’s body be returned to her.

Eventually, it had to take the pleas of Presidents William Tolbert of Liberia, Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone, and General Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria to persuade Toure to return the body, but not until a state funeral in Guinea.

Thousands of Guineans lined the eight-mile route from the airport to the center of Conakry on Saturday, April 29, 1972, when Nkrumah’s body arrived from Bucharest. The body was driven to the state house and laid in state.

Nkrumah’s wife, Fathia Nkrumah arrived in Conakry the next day with their three children and went to the state house where they saw Nkrumah for the first time since 1966.

The state funeral was held on Monday, May 1, 1972, and in attendance were African and world leaders including Cuban Prime Minister, Fidel Castro, President of Mauritania and Acting Organization of African Unity (OAU) President Mokhtar Ould Daddah, President of Liberia William Tolbert and representatives from Congo-Brazzaville, Sierra Leone, Dahomey, Tanzania, and Algeria.

“Betrayed in Ghana, he found himself once again on free soil in Guinea, co-President of the Republic, to the great surprise of the imperialist powers enclosed in a bourgeois legalism. With Nkrumah, African unity became an irresistible force. That is why this thinker and this man of action is not a Ghanaian, but an African – and even more – just a man,” said Sékou Touré during his hour-and-a-half speech at the funeral.

Later in the day, a five-member delegation from Ghana, headed by Colonel Benni, a member of the National Redemption Council, arrived in Conakry to attempt to persuade Touré to return Nkrumah’s body which had been buried.

Back in Ghana, the military government declared May 19 as a National Day of Mourning and a public holiday. A non-denominational service was held at the forecourt of the State House in Accra without the body. It was attended by members of the government, the diplomatic corps, and Nkrumah’s supporters. The embalmed body of Kwame Nkrumah was exhumed and finally flown to Ghana on July 7, 1972, in a special Guinean Air Force plane after months of negotiation. All flags were ordered to fly at half-mast until the country’s first leader was buried.

Nkrumah’s body was laid in the state the following day, Saturday, at the State House in Accra and thousands of Ghanaians paid their last respects. The body was flown on Sunday to his hometown, Nkroful, where he was buried in a vault. 

The story can also be found here.


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