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Black Star: A View of the Life and Times of Kwame Nkrumah Paperback – June 30, 2007
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None of the biographies and other writings on Nkrumah are as eloquent, detailed and critical yet balanced as Basil Davidson's Black Star. [It] is indeed one of the most insightful assessments of the life and political role of a visionary who was far ahead of his time. [...] In this reader-friendly, thought-provoking book, Davidson deals very comprehensively with the life of a truly African revolutionary. [It] will no doubt remain a veritable goldmine of useful information for anyone interested in the life and times of this great African son of the twentieth century. --African Historical Review
About the Author
Basil Davidson is author of numerous publications on Africa, among them Black Man's Burden, The Search for Africa. The African Slave Trade, African Genius and The Lost Cities of Africa
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Davidson was a friend of Nkrumah, and while he makes a few references to their friendship, he manages to present an objective, if positive portrayal of Nkrumah as a protagonist. That does not keep him from criticizing the political and economic choices Nkrumah made (or felt he had to make), especially in the period from 1951 to 1957 when he managed to win a modified self-governance for the Gold Coast. Among the most valuable contributions this book makes is that the notion of independence for the African colonies in the aftermath of World War II was not a given - the French and Portuguese would stubbornly hold on to their colonies to the bitter end - and many in Britain and what became Ghana would also have reservations about the pursuit of independence. That Nkrumah won it without the sort of prolonged conflict that engulfed other colonies was testimony to his vision and relentless focus on independence, regardless of the many distractions and obstacles in his path.
But was the cost of this too high, in economic and political terms? Here this story of Nkrumah is at its best, as we see his struggles and eventual capitulation to the weak institutions, corruption, and a global economic system that could countenance no other role for his nation except as an exporter of raw materials. Davidson calls into question the appropriateness of applying the Westminster system of government in a country whose people had their institutions of governance which were systematically undermined by colonial rule. That does not mean there were no successes: aside from the victory of independence itself, Nkrumah gained control of the bureaucracy and used it in ways that were successful, including the rapid expansion of access to education and the construction of a modern port in Tema, just outside the capital Accra.
If the book has a flaw, it is in its near total dismissal of political views and approaches of the other "Big Six" figures who also contributed to the struggle for independence. The views of Nkrumah and these other political contemporaries - including most notably JB Danquah - are roughly reflected in the main political parties of Ghana today. The country politically is fairly evenly divided between the National Democratic Congress and its social democrat focus (more closely aligned with Nkrumah's vision) and the New Patriotic Party and its right of center orientation (influenced by the Danquah-Dombo-Busia tradition). Ghana recently marked the 50th anniversary of the passing of Danquah, an intellectual who spent his final years in prison, a telling indictment of the intolerance Nkrumah had to criticism of his policies in the later years of his rule.
But on the whole, Nkrumah, for his success in leading the independence struggle in his homeland and his belief in a united Africa was without peer in his era. Though his final years after the coup were difficult ones, since his death, his name has been rehabilitated and today he is a national and Pan-African hero. Black Star examines his strengths and weaknesses as a leader in equal measure. It is a must read for those who wish to know more about Nkrumah and the forces that have shaped Ghana even to the present day.