Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, was on the list of eligible bachelor heads of state and government when he was made the prime minister of the new nation on March 6, 1957. Despite having a son, Dr Francis Nkrumah, there was no known woman in his life.
Until December 31, 1957, the new prime minister was single and busily involved in government business. Unbeknownst to many Ghanaians and female admirers of the charismatic leader, a search had been launched in Egypt for the country’s first-ever first lady.
According to American journalist, Pauline Frederick, in her 1967 book Ten First Ladies of the World in which a chapter was devoted to the lucky Egyptian woman, Nkrumah sent his friend, Major Saleh Said Sinare, who was one of the first Ghanaian Muslims to study in Egypt, to find him a Christian wife.
The matchmaker, Major Sinare who was a soldier in the Ghana Armed Forces and its first Chief Imam, himself was married to an Egyptian Muslim woman, Souad El-Rouby, in 1953.
The late Imam’s son, Captain Nasser Sinare, said in an articlepublished in February that Major Sinare and his wife Souad were made to fly to Cairo in search for a wife for Kwame Nkrumah.
“Kwame Nkrumah paid a visit to Major Sinare at his home in Labone Estates in Accra. On arrival, he knocked on the main door to the house many times until Souad, Major Sinare’s wife opened the door. Being a typical Egyptian woman with rich Islamic background, she refused to allow any man other than her husband to shake hands with her bare palm and this is what happened on that very day,” he narrated.
“Kwame Nkrumah stretched his hand to give Mrs Souad Sinare a handshake and to his surprise, Souad who by then had a veil over her head, used part of the veil to cover her hand before accepting Nkrumah’s handshake. Souad did not even allow Nkrumah in her living room without the presence of her husband Major Sinare.
Kwame Nkrumah was shocked and later begged Major Sinare to search for him a wife just like Souad his wife. He told him ‘my brother, if I get a wife like yours then I’ll have proper security’,” he said.
Fathia Halim Ritzk, a then 25-year-old banker and ex-teacher, was chosen among five women and Kwame Nkrumah proposed to marry her despite her mother’s refusal because she didn’t want to lose her child to a foreign country, Frederick highlighted in her book.
Captain Sinare pointed out that the then Egyptian president Gamel Abdul Nasser, paid the dowry on behalf of Nkrumah and Fathia was flown to Ghana in the company of Major Sinare and his wife Souad.
“Major Sinare once told me, ‘when I brought Fathia, I went straight to the Flagstaff House and did the formal introduction. I told the president: Kwame, this is your wife Fathia and then looked at Fathia and said to her this is your husband Kwame. I am done’,” he added.
Kwame Nkrumah married Fathia at Christiansborg Castle in Osu, Accra on the evening of the 1957 New Year’s Eve upon her arrival in Ghana. The couple lived together until 1966 when a coup separated them.
Fathia moved to Cairo with their three young children while Nkrumah went into exile in Guinea where he died in 1972. Fathia died in 2007 after suffering a stroke in Cairo. She was later buried next to her husband at the Kwame Nkrumah Mausoleum in Accra.
Many believe that Kwame Nkrumah’s choice of an Egyptian woman as a wife was largely due to his vision of creating a borderless continent with a common goal of African unity.