Family Background

Kwame Anthony Akroma-Ampim Kusi Appiah was born on Saturday, May 8 1954 in London, where his Ghanaian father was a law student, but moved at the age of six months, with his parents, to Ghana. (We know it was a Saturday because “Kwame” is the Akan name for a boy born on a Saturday.) His father, Joseph Emmanuel Appiah, a lawyer and politician, was also, at various times, a Member of Parliament, a political prisoner, an ambassador and a President of the Ghana Bar Association; his mother, the novelist, Akan art collector and scholar, and children’s writer, Peggy Appiah, whose family was English, was active in the social, philanthropic and cultural life of Kumasi. Their marriage in 1953 was widely covered in the international press, because it was one of the first “inter-racial society weddings” in Britain; and is said to have been one of the inspirations for the film “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.”

Kwame’s grandfather, J. W. K. Appiah was the Chief Secretary of the Asanteman Council, the ruling body of the Asante kingdom. In 1970, his uncle by marriage, Otumfuo Nana Opoku Ware II succeeded his great-uncle by marriage, Otumfuo Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II, as Asantehene or King of Ashanti. His three younger sisters Isobel, Adwoa and Abena, were born in Ghana. They were members of a non-denominational Christian church called St. George’s, in Kumasi, of which their mother was an elder, and they were also privileged to have Muslim and Jewish cousins.

As a child, Kwame spent a good deal of time in England, at the home of his grandmother, Dame Isobel Cripps, widow of the English statesman Sir Stafford Cripps. Sir Stafford was the British Ambassador to Moscow during the Second World War, and served after the war as Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, or Minister of Finance. He was also involved in negotiating the terms for Indian independence. Stafford’s father, Lord Parmoor, was the first Labour leader of the house of Lords, with Viscount Haldane, and a major supporter, with his wife, Marian, of the League of Nations and Save the Children. Parmoor’s sister-in-law and brother-in-law, Beatrice and Sidney Webb, were the founders, with George Bernard Shaw and Graham Wallace, of the London School of Economics, and were central figures in the Fabian Society. Isobel Cripps traveled widely, including on an extended visit to China in 1947, accompanied by her daughter Peggy, where she met Chairman Mao and Generalissimo and Madam Chiang Kai Shek as President of the British United Aid to China Fund, which she went on to chair for many years.

Education