Ethiopia, Africa’s bright gem
Set high among the verdant hills
That gave birth to the unfailing
Waters of the Nile
Ethiopia shall rise
Ethiopia, land of the wise;
Ethiopia, bold cradle of Africa’s ancient rule
And fertile school
Of our African culture;
Ethiopia, the wise
And remould with us the full figure
Of Africa’s hopes
Kwame Nkrumah delivered this poem at the end of his speech on May 25, 1963, in Addis Ababa at the close of the meeting that created the Organisation of African Unity.
Born and raised in the British colony of the Gold Coast, Nkrumah had received his university education in the United States. He got both his Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Theology from Lincoln University, then his Masters of both Philosophy and Education from the University of Pennsylvania. Back in the Gold Coast he led non-violent resistance to British rule, was sentenced to a year in prison, but when his party did well in the colony’s first General Election he was released, and he became Prime Minister in 1952. In 1957 he helped lead the Gold Coast and British Togoland to independence as Ghana.
Initially popular because of new roads, schools and hospitals and the Africanisation of employment, his government became increasingly authoritarian, corrupt and incompetent while Nkrumah himself focused on his Pan-African vision and Third World solidarity. He was a driving force in creating the OAU in Addis Ababa in 1963. He was ousted in a military coup in 1966.
Technically there isn’t much in his OAU poem to justify the term in the sense of “verse”; there are two pairs of rhymes in the middle of the piece (rise/wise; rule/school), but none of the rhythms or structures that English-language poetry is built on. But though Nkrumah was fluent in English, his mother tongue was Fante – so for all I know, the poem above is a translation of his original thoughts… and translations are notoriously unpoetic, especially when the two languages have different poetic traditions. But equally the poem may be no more than a rhetorical flourish at the end of his OAU speech.
Photo: Kwame Nkrumah during a state visit to the United States, by Abbie Rowe, 8 March 1961; John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum