Ghana’s independence leader and first president, Kwame Nkrumah, saw the potential for a unified Africa and espoused his idea of “pan-Africanism” in many forums. Nkrumah understood football’s role in the political climate of Africa in the same way that colonial African players utilized football as a vehicle for rebellion and unification. He understood that sports have the ability to instill intense pride and loyalty to common social, political, and economic objectives, rising above any deep-rooted tribal associations. You can get a great sense of Nkrumah’s political philosophy by watching the following speech that he gave in 1958 on African unity.



In order to give more power to African involvement in football, Nkrumah sought to make African football a presence in the international sports scene. He had Ghana quickly affiliated with FIFA in 1958. He even established his own club, called the Real Republikans, “who were to act as ambassadors for pan- Africanism and ‘the new spirit of the African man.’” [1] Even though Africa performed poorly in the 1962 World Cup, Nrkumah saw the pan-Africanist possibilities that the World Cup might offer: recognition and respect for Africa on a global platform.


A Ghana fan wearing a pot of burning incense on his head

A Black Star fan shows Ghana pride at the African Nations Cup, living out Nkrumah’s ideals in a modern context. Photograph: Michael Dunlop


However, in 1966, FIFA enforced limits upon Africa and Asia, allowing only one nation from each continent to qualify for the World Cup. In response, Nrkumah swiftly organized a boycott of the World Cup by African teams. Eventually, FIFA agreed upon a fair distribution of berths to Africa and Asia. [2]

Nkrumah’s dream of making Ghana football an international presence reached fruition with Ghana’s victory in the 2009 U-20 World Cup in 2009. Unfortunately FIFA has selfishly kept all highlights of this particular game to itself, but the following clip of the nail-biting penalty shots definitely illustrates the enthusiasm and talent exhibited by the U-20 Ghanaians national team.



Unfortunately, Nkrumah’s Real Republikans club contributed to the end of his presidency in 1966. The club’s methods of recruitment faced a great deal of scrutiny; Real Republikans essentially robbed Ghanaian clubs of the best players, demonstrating Nkrumah’s “broader centrist, autocratic tendencies.” [3] In one case, the Real Republikans aimed to recruit Modibo Toe from Hasaacas, a Sekondi-based club. In response, Hasaacas threatened to indefinitely suspend Toe and withdraw from the league if Toe was taken away. Nkrumah swiftly dismissed Hasaacas from the league, annulled Toe’s suspension, and transferred him to the national team. Overall, Nkrumah made great strides in the realm of African football, and his agenda is traditionally viewed positively.


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[1] Darby, Paul. (2005). Africa and the World Cup: FIFA Politics, Eurocentrism and Resistance.” International Journal of the History of Sport, 22(5), 883-905.

[2] Darby, Paul. “Africa and the World Cup: FIFA Politics, Eurocentrism and Resistance.”

[3] Darby, Paul. (2013). ‘Let Us Rally Around the Flag’: Football, Nation-Building, and Pan-Africanism in Kwame Nkrumah’s Ghana. The Journal of African History, 54(2), 240.


Edited and updated by Jake Toffler in 2015

2 thoughts on “Ghana

  1. Pingback: Sports: A Means to Build & Unite | Africa In Perspective

  2. Pingback: Sports Diplomacy: The Roles that Sports Play in Politics | The Politics of International Justice

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