Kwame Nkrumah wearing Kente

Greatest African leaders of all time

Kwame Nkrumah

Best known for being a massive promoter of Pan-Africanism, Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first president (serving from 1960 to 1966), avoided Western attire and instead chose to wear a fugu – a traditional garment from the Northern region of Ghana. The Ghanaian smock is known in the southern regions as batakari.

In some cases, the fugu the African leader wore was made using Kente cloth produced in the Southern part of the country, symbolizing Nkrumah’s identity as a representative of all of Ghana.

In the picture above, Nkrumah can be seen wearing the Kente clothe, the traditional attire originally worn in toga-like fashion by the Akan people, especially royalty and people from the upper echelons.

History and symbolism of kente cloth

Kente cloth, the traditional or national cloth of Ghana, is predominantly worn by the Akan people.


Nkrumah with African American boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who can be seen donning the Ghanaian kente cloth

Kwame Nkrumah and the Golden Age of High pan-African Ambitions

Kwame Nkrumah (1909-1972) was a Ghanaian politician and revolutionary who became the first President of Ghana, serving from 1960 until 1966. He was born in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) and spent over a decade receiving education from a number of institutions in the United States and England, where he became involved in anti-colonial and Pan-African activism.

Nkrumah returned to Ghana in 1947 and became the leader of the nationalist movement, leading the country to independence from Britain in 1957. He implemented socialist policies, including nationalizing industries and instituting free education and healthcare, and was a key figure in the Pan-African movement, advocating for African unity and independence.

Nkrumah’s political career coincided with a period of great pan-African optimism and ambition, often referred to as the “golden age” of the movement.

Under his leadership, several institutions were established to promote and preserve Ghanaian and African culture. These included the Ghana Museum, which opened on 5 March 1957, the Arts Council of Ghana in 1958, the Research Library on African Affairs in June 1961, and the Ghana Film Corporation in 1964.

Nkrumah also established the Institute of African Studies in 1962, located on the campus of the University of Ghana in Legon, Accra. The Institute’s mandate was not only to promote African arts and culture, but also to promote an African-centered political and economic ideology, namely pan-Africanism.

His government was overthrown in a coup in 1966, and he went into exile. He continued to be an influential figure in African politics and wrote several books on Pan-Africanism, including “Africa Must Unite” and “Consciencism.”

The former leader of Ghana passed away on April 22, 1972 in Bucharest, Romania (then Socialist Republic of Romania). The cause of death was prostate cancer.

Kwame Nkrumah and Kente cloth

Kwame Nkrumah (far right) in the presence of some traditional leaders. Majority of them, including Nkrumah, are wearing the kente cloth.

Did you know?

The word “kente” in the Akan language translates to “handwoven” as it was believed by the Akan people that the colorful patterned fabrics was inspired by the manner in which a spider weaves its web.

In mid-2020, a number of US lawmakers from the Democratic Party donned kente scarves as part of their efforts to show solidarity with the African American community that often suffer harsh treatments from law enforcement agencies in the country. The kente design that the US legislators wore on that day is known in the Akan language as Kyembre. That particular design symbolizes altruism, knowledge and understanding.

Today, the kente cloth is known globally and serves as a potent symbol of not just Ghanaian culture but also African identity in general. In the United States in particular, donning the fabric has been used as a means to pay homage to the invaluable contributions made by African-Americans and people from Africa to our beloved nation.