Home Africa The polo field in Ghana where colonialism was given the boot 

The polo field in Ghana where colonialism was given the boot 

by Catherine Marshall
Kwame Nkrumah Ghana

Ghana’s founding father is buried on the polo field where he once declared independence from Britain.


It’s appropriate that colonialism was beaten on a polo field. In fact you can almost smell the sweet scent of victory and redress while standing on the colonial-era polo grounds in downtown Accra where political firebrand Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah declared independence from Britain in 1957.

It had been a long walk to freedom for Ghana’s “founding father”: an impoverished childhood in the country that was colonised by the British in 1874 and named Gold Coast; long and intense years of international study and political activism; imprisonment in James Fort on sedition charges; and, finally, presidency of the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence from its colonial masters.

Noble ideas never die

This site where the yoke of colonialism was officially thrown off today encompasses the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum and Memorial Park: five acres of tranquil parkland anchored by the crypt in which the great promulgator of Africa’s independence movement lies buried with his Egyptian-born wife, Fathia Ritzk. The striking, marble-clad edifice resembles the trunk of a tree, says my guide Mohamed Awell Yigan.

“He never died but is resting under a tree,” he says.

But the design also embodies the tragic interception of the president’s political trajectory, and the ephemerality of Ghana’s hard-won democracy: after nine years as president, Nkrumah was overthrown in a military coup. He went into exile in the West African nation of Guinea.

“The mausoleum is truncated to represent his thwarted ambition,” Mohamed says.

James Fort Prison Accra Ghana

James Fort Prison in Accra, where Kwame Nkrumah was imprisoned for sedition. Photo: Catherine Marshall

Short-lived freedoms

The story of Africa’s anti-colonial hero is summarised in the small onsite museum, where artefacts from his presidency are curated – including images of him consorting with other world leaders, such as Jawarharlal Nehru, Mao Zedong, Fidel Castro, John F Kennedy and Queen Elizabeth. Indeed, the coup that brought an end to his political dreams occurred while he was on a state visit to North Vietnam and China; he never returned to Ghana in his lifetime. From his exile in Guinea’s capital, Conackry, Nkrumah continued writing political treatises and pushing for his long-held ideal of Pan African unity.

“He was a great Pan Africanist. Freedom is meaningless unless it’s linked to the freedom of Africa,” Mohamed says.

“More than 60 per cent of the world’s resources are in Africa, and he supported a United States of Africa. He was branded a communist – he said, ‘We face neither East nor West’.”

Jamestown Accra

Accra’s oldest settlement, Jamestown, is nearby Nkrumah’s mausoleum. Photo: Catherine Marshall

Don’t ever look back

He was also famous for his slogan ‘Forward ever, backward never’, a sentiment which is encapsulated by the bronze statue outside the mausoleum – unveiled in 1992 – in which Nkrumah stands resolutely frontwards, the fingers of his right hand raised towards some imaginary, brighter future. An earlier rendition of the president stands nearby, in pieces; this statue had once stood outside parliament house, across the road from this park, but was vandalised during the coup. The decapitated head went missing, and decades later a member of the public presented it to authorities. In 2009, body and head could be reunited – symbolically – at last.

Nkrumah’s corporeal body was also reunified, eventually, with his motherland. He died in Bucharest while undergoing treatment for cancer in 1972, and his remains were initially repatriated to Guinea. After protracted negotiations between the Guinean and Ghanaian governments, his body was returned to his birthplace, the village of Nkroful near the south-western border with Cote d’Ivoire, for burial. In 1992, his remains were interred at the mausoleum in Ghana’s capital city, Accra.

“This is the third, hopefully the last, resting place for the founding father,” Mohamed says.

Free (and resting in peace) at last

It’s a peaceful place where locals and foreigners alike are able contemplate and appreciate the legacy of this great political mastermind and thinker, a man who was voted African Man of the Millennium by BBC World Service listeners in 1999. Water-filled canals symbolising life trickle soporifically around the grounds; flowers bloom in tribute to the notion of eternity. At the apex of the mausoleum, a skylight illuminate Nkrumah’s gravesite – much like this former polo field now  shed light on one of Africa’s great independence heroes. TTW

Catherine Marshall travelled as a guest of Intrepid. See Visit Ghana for details about Ghanaian tourism. Black Past is a compendium of information about notable African leaders including Kwame Nkrumah. The UN’s International Day of Democracy is held each year on September 15.

See also

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Australia’s elegant home of democracy.

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