Kwame Nkrumah and the Dawn of the Cold War : Book review

Drawing on archival research including newly released MI5 files, Marika Sherwood reports on the extraordinary movement founded in 1945 by Kwame Nkrumah and colleagues in London and France to campaign for independence and unity, which led to the beginning of the Cold War in West Africa, writes Bob Newland.

At the Potsdam Conference the allied powers sought to agree the shape (and control) of the world after WW2. Winston Churchill fought tooth and nail to maintain British control of its colonies particularly in Africa. Truman on the other hand was focussed on opening up these markets to United States businesses. He was also concerned to keep an ongoing US presence in the air bases in Britain’s colonies it had been granted during the war.

Britain established its right to its colonies but the US succeeded in getting a clause into the constitution
of the United Nations expressing support for freedom from colonialism.

The peoples of the colonies believed their support for the war effort against Nazi Germany would be rewarded by independence. To their despair, Britain and the US reconciled their differences and opposed the granting of national independence to the colonies on the basis of a common opposition to an imagined communist threat.

Marika Sherwood’s book explores this process in extraordinary detail with a particular focus on Kwame Nkrumah and the West African National Secretariat (WANS). WANS was set up by Nkrumah who argued that only through an alliance of West African states would it be possible to achieve true and lasting independence and resist post-independence domination by the former colonial powers Britain, France and Belgium.

Sherwood has obtained access to many previously withheld British and US Government filles and a wide range of newspaper archives but expresses frustration at the many documents to which she was denied access. Interestingly, because of the exceptional degree to which Britain shared information with the US during this period, the author got some of her material from US sources despite being denied them by Britain.

In order for the US to support Britain’s foreign policy during this period it had to sell its own actions to an American public largely supportive of decolonisation. The threat of communism was the means by which it did this. Britain’s role was to provide the intelligence proving that communist threat.

Sadly it was a Labour Government, supported by the TUC, which performed that role and denied the peoples of Britain’s colonies their independence. Cecil King used the Daily Mirror’s newly established Gold Coast (Ghana) and Nigerian editions to support that policy and to seek to persuade the peoples of Africa that their best interests were served by delaying independence or by limiting such independence to such a degree to make it meaningless.

Nkrumah and man other independence fighters were condemned as communists despite their being no evidence for this. Strikes in the colonies were damned as communist plots. MI5 agents were inserted as journalists writing articles exposing the ‘Communist’ subversives. These reports were then used by the security services to inform and justify Government policy.

The author breaks down her examination into the actions against a wide range of organisations
including WANS, the World Federation of Trades Unions, the International Union of Students and other
organisations in Britain, its colonies and in the US.

This approach demonstrates the scale of the steps taken to block independence and to support a growing
post-war US hegemony not just in Africa but globally.

The extraordinary visions of Kwame Nkrumah and other African leaders shine throughout the book.
Sadly, while they failed to build the unity they sought, the present condition of Africa and the ongoing
exploitation of former colonies demonstrates that their aims were correct.

This book offers an exceptional record of the actions of Britain and the US to obstruct any development of unity between those seeking national independence. It is not easy to read as one of its strengths is the amazing range of documents to which it refers to prove its thesis that Africa and West Africa in particular paid a high price as a result of the West’s post WW2 ‘Cold War’.

Its cost of £50 may make it more a resource for students of this particular period of history although for other readers Pluto Books offer an e-edition at £9.99.

Bob Newland is a member of Liberation and was a London Recruit

Kwame Nkrumah and the Dawn of the Cold War. The West African National Secretariat (1945-48). Author: Marika Sherwood

Liberation is expanding its reviews of new and classic works on colonial history and antiimperialist struggles in the former colonies of the British Empire. What are your suggestions on essential reads? Plus, if you are an able writer and keen on reviewing books, get in touch. Email us at

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