He was born in Nkroful, Gold Coast (Ghana) as Francis Nwia-Kofi Ngonloma. Educated at Achimota School, Accra and the Roman Catholic Seminary, Amisano he received a BA from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania in 1939. He also gained a MSc in Education from the University of Pennsylvania in 1942 and a MA in Philosophy from the same place in 1943.
He arrived in London in 1945 intending to study at the LSE. But following a meeting with George Padmore he helped to organise the Sixth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, England. After that he began to work for the decolonisation of Africa and became Vice-President of West African Students Union.
He returned to Gold Coast in 1947 to join the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) under Joseph B. Danquah. In the same year he formed his own party - the Convention Peoples Party (CPP), with the motto 'Self-government now'. In 1949 Nkrumah left the UGCC and in December of 1949 he declared 'Positive Action' - mass action in the form of boycotts, strikes, and civil disobedience; and was arrested by the British in January 1950.
Facing international protests and internal resistance the British decided to leave the Gold coast. In 1951 Nkrumah won a seat in the Legislative Assembly while still in prison, the CPP won 34 out of 38 seats. He was released later from prison in February and the Governor Charles Arden-Clarke asked him to lead the new government in cooperation with the British to lead to indepenedence, he agreed.
On March 6, 1957 Ghana was declared independent and Nkrumah accepted the role of Prime Minister. Ghana was declared a republic in 1960. Ghana became a charter member of the Organization of African Unity in 1963.
Following a economic downturn, political conflict, an assassination attempt and genral unrest he established Ghana as a one-party state with himself as Life President in 1964. But in February 1966 while he was visiting Beijing and Hanoi his government was overthrown in a military coup d'état.
Nkrumah never returned to Ghana but he did continue to push for his vision of African unity. He lived in exile in Guinea but died while visiting Romania for medical treatment in April 1972. He was buried in Ghana.
His books include Why Africa Must Unite (1963), African Personality (1963), Handbook for Revolutionary Warfare (1968) and Class Struggle in Africa (1970).