Presidents Modibo Keita of Mali, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana & Sekou Toure of Guinea sign agreements for the union of African States
A Guinean Funeral for the Ghanaian Leader
Nkrumah’s body arrived from Bucharest on Saturday, April 29, 1972. Hundreds of thousands of party militants, mobilized for the occasion, lined the eight-mile route from the airport to the center of Conakry. The funeral cortege took two and a half hours to reach the Maison du Peuple, where President Toure waited, surrounded by members of the National Political Bureau, other high Guinean officials, and members of the diplomatic corps.
On Sunday, Nkrumah’s wife, Madam Fatiya Nkrumah, from whom he had been estranged since 1966, arrived from Cairo with their three children. She was met at the airport by Sékou Toure’s wife and a number of officials of the Parti Démocratique de Guinée, and then driven to the presidential palace where Sékou Touré received her. After visiting the Maison du Peuple where her husband’s body lay in state, Mrs. Nkrumah retired to the President’s summer residence at nearby Camayenne.
Later that day delegations flew in from many African countries. Radio Conakry also announced that the Cuban Prime Minister, Fidel Castro, would be arriving in Conakry on a state visit, and called on all party militants to reserve an enthusiastic welcome “for the leader of the Cuban Revolution and one of the greatest warriors of the progressive world.” 6
On Monday, May 1, at the Maison du Peuple, Touré delivered a funeral oration which lasted an hour and a half reviewing Nkrumah’s life from childhood through his last days in Guinea. He dwelt on Nkrumah’s studies in the United States, his role in the early pan-African movements in London and his rise to power in Ghana which culminated in his country’s gaining its independence from Great Britain in 1957 under his leadership, as he became first Prime Minister and then President.
“Betrayed in Ghana,” Touré said, “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,” he added, “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.” 7
At Toure’s side while he delivered this eulogy were:
- Fidel Castro
- Mokhtar Ould Daddah (President of Mauritania and Acting President of the Organization of African Unity)
- Sourou Migan Apithy (one of the triumvirate that is Dahomey’s Presidential Council)
- President William Tolbert of Liberia
- The Vice-Presidents of Congo-Brazzaville and Sierra Leone
- African revolutionary Amilcar Cabral
- Mirriam Makeba
- The President of the National Assembly of Tanzania
- A representative of Algeria.
The African revolutionary Amilcar Cabral and South African legendary musician Miriam Makeba were also there. Late 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 relinquish Nkrumah’s body.
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, 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 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 Death of Kwame Nkrumah
American Universities Field Staff Reports. West Africa Series, Vol. XIV No.5 (Ghana), June 1972, pp. 1-11
In distant Bucharest (Romania), April 27, 1972, far from his green and lovely native land and from his own people, Kwame Nkrumah died of an unspecified but apparently incurable illness. His was a lonely death, without ceremony and without drama for a man who had been surrounded by both throughout his political career as President of Ghana and one of Africa’s most famous men. A man with a price on his head, he was unable to return to the country he had led to independence in 1957 and which he had ruled for nearly 13 years. The former Ghanaian leader, who had virtually disappeared from the active political scene since his overthrow by a military coup d’état in February 1966, had since that time been living quietly in the Guinean capital of Conakry.
The Fight Over Nkrumah’s Remains
The death of one of Africa’s most prominent personalities normally would have occasioned a dignified reaction from the two major parties concerned:
- President Sékou Touré of Guinea, who had granted Nkrumah political asylum in his country following the latter’s removal from power
- Colonel Ignatius Acheampong, leader of the Ghana’s military junta which seized power from Prime minister Kofi Busia in January 1972. There began instead a macabre quarrel between the two over the final resting-place of the ex-President’s remains.
Colonel Acheampong desired that Nkrumah’s body be returned to Ghana where, he said, the former President would be given a dignified burial. Madam Elizabeth Nyaniba, aged mother of the deceased President, made an impassioned plea to President Toure to allow the body to be returned to Ghana: “I want to touch the body of my son before he is buried, or I die.” 1She also indicated that she would like her son’s body embalmed and kept permanently on public display the way Lenin’s body is preserved. Sékou Touré would not consent, however—at least not until he had extracted from the Ghanaians important concessions which would redound to his personal profit. And, since the Romanians had sent the body to Conakry, the Guineans were in a strong position to dictate terms.
Press reports shortly after Nkrumah’s death announced that Toure had attached four conditions to the return of the ex-President’s body to Ghana:
- Nkrumah’s complete rehabilitation in the eyes of the Ghanaian people (lifting all charges that had been pending against him)
- Liberation of all of Nkrumah’s partisans still held in Ghanaian jails
- Removal of the threat of arrest which hung over all of Nkrumah’s followers who had chosen to remain with him in exile
- An official welcome by the Ghanaian government of Nkrumah’s remains, with all the honors due a deceased chief of state.
On May 20, 1972, it was revealed that Touré had imposed even more conditions. He now insisted that Nkrumah’s tomb be placed in front of Ghana’s Parliament building, and that all of the men who had occupied ministerial appointments and high positions in his civil service be restored to their former posts. Touré sought, in other words, to re-impose Nkrumah’s discredited government—minus only Nkrumah—on the Ghanaian people as the price for recovering the former President’s body. Barring acceptance of these terms, Touré implied the body would be kept in Guinea. Not unexpectedly, Colonel Acheampong refused to negotiate on such a basis and continued to urge the Guineans to allow the body to be brought back to Ghana.
Sékou Touré based Guinea’s right to keep Nkrumah’s body on Nkrumah’s having been granted asylum in Guinea and having been declared co-President of the Guinean Republic in 1966 when he was “betrayed” by the Ghanaian officers who overthrew him. He claimed that Nkrumah had actually been co-President of Guinea as far back as 1958, when the two countries had formed the Guinea-Ghana Union. He even insisted that this important decision—which automatically made each man co-President of the other’s country, in addition to being head of his own state-had been officially communicated at the time to all the countries and to all the international organizations with which the Republic of Guinea had diplomatic relations 2.
Touré obstinately refused to assent to the pleas of Nkrumah’s family and the Ghanaian people, and to the demands of the Ghanaian government and press. When Guinea’s leader appeared to have no moral justification for retaining Nkrumah’s body, African public opinion began criticizing Touré’s intransigence with increasing severity.
The Daily Nation of Nairobi, in an editorial titled “A Cruel Refusal,” stated:
« Though he now denies it, President Sékou Touré is believed to have asked for the impossible before allowing Nkrumah’s body to be taken to Ghana to be buried in his home town of Nkroful… The people of Ghana cannot be dictated to as to where Nkrumah’s mortal remains should be buried… Guinea should not fear loss of face. Facing realities is more important. It should reverse the decision and thus fulfill and honor a dead man’s wishes 3. »
The Daily Times of Lagos editorialized:
« President Sékou Touré should see reason to release the corpse as he had earlier promised… If he remains adamant, he would not be depriving the military Junta in Ghana of anything. It is the common people of Ghana who would be deprived of paying their final respects to their bereaved leader.» 4
The quarrel, now attracting attention from the non-African press as well, continued unabated. Finally, several African leaders, notably Presidents William Tolbert of Liberia, Siaka Stevens of Sierra Leone, and General Yakubu Gowon of Nigeria, tried to persuade Sékou Touré that it was in the best interests of African dignity, and Africa’s image abroad, that the body be returned to Ghana. The West African press reported that Toure finally gave in to these appeals but this proved to be unfounded. As events were to show, Touré determined to squeeze every possible propaganda advantage from Nkrumah’s demise.