Coup that set Africa 50 years back

Charles Quist-Adade Correspondent
A few days after the overthrow of the Convention People’s Party government of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s pioneer president, in a bloody coup d’état on February 24, 1966, our primary school teachers hurriedly organised a crash course on public demonstration for us.

We were taught a song, which has etched indelibly on my mind till now. The lyrics of the song roughly translate as: “Kotoka, drive him away; Nkrumah is coming!” We were then sent on a march through the main streets of the town, chanting the newly-minted and hurriedly taught song in praise of the coup plotters and in vilification of Nkrumah.

As we sang and waved flags, I vividly remember singing what I thought was the song we were taught on the assembly grounds that fateful morning. “Drive him away, Konkonte; Nkrumah is coming!” Unsuspectingly, I had mistaken the name of the coup leader, Lt. General Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka with “kokonte”, a Ghanaian dish, which is made from dry cassava flour.

Like the tens of thousands of school pupils herded on contrived demonstrations by the anti-Nkrumah forces, my schoolmates and I were used to demonstrate to the outside world how unpopular Nkrumah was as president and how Ghanaians welcomed his overthrow. Yet, I had no clue what was going on, and I suspect most of my mates didn’t either.

I conjecture this could be true for the legions of school children across the country who were herded along dusty streets in every nook and cranny of Ghana to greet the overthrow of Nkrumah with pomp and celebration. And one may suspect many of the adult demonstrators who joined the celebration of Nkrumah’s overthrow did so not so much because they were happy Nkrumah was deposed.

As has been revealed the placards market women from Makola, the main market in Accra, the Ghanaian capital, were brandishing in seemingly spontaneous merrymaking in the wake of the coup were, in fact, prepared in the US embassy.

This is not to discount the fact some of the sentiments expressed by some Ghanaians on the news of Nkrumah’s overthrow were spontaneous. For, by the time of the coup, the Ghanaian economy was in serious crisis. There were general shortages of basic goods. A pervading sense of fear had enveloped the country, as the Nkrumah government clamped down on his political foes, who were hell bent to depose him through multiple assassination attempts and acts of terror aimed at destabilising the country.

Dark days in Ghana

In his book, “Dark Days in Ghana”, Nkrumah revealed that the coup was the handiwork of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States of America. His detractors quickly dismissed his claim as delusional.

But in 1999, Nkrumah’s claim was borne out when the US government declassified the Western-orchestrated plot to get rid of the man who was “doing more to undermine our interests than any other black African.”

The US government was determined to depose Nkrumah before he managed to unite Africa under a united African government. As it turned out, the US government and some of its allies, including Britain, had financed, masterminded, and tele-guided the coup.

Prior to the declassification, John Stockwell, a CIA officer in Africa, had recounted the plot to undermine Nkrumah’s government and to sow anti-Nkrumah sentiments among Ghanaians. Stockwell wrote:

“Howard Bane, who was the CIA station chief in Accra, engineered the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah. Inside the CIA it was quite clear. Howard Bane got a double promotion, and was awarded the Intelligence Star for the overthrow of Kwame. The magic of it was that Howard Bane had enough imagination and drive to run this operation without ever documenting what he was doing and there wasn’t one shred of paper that was generated that would name the CIA hierarchy as being responsible.”

In 1957, Nkrumah’s Ghana became a trailblazer for African liberation. From faraway Virginia, USA, at the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), eyes were trailing what was happening in Ghana. According to Baffour Ankomah, just nine months into independence, the CIA issued a report on Ghana in December 1957, which was distributed within the American government and intelligence community.

Very prescient, the report: “The fortunes of Ghana — the first tropical African country to gain independence, will have a huge impact on the evolution of Africa and Western interests there.”

It didn’t take long for that prediction to come true. Within 10 years of Ghana’s independence, 31 other African countries had gained their own independence. And Nkrumah’s Ghana (which, in his own words: “we have got to make our little country an example for the rest of Africa”) had had a huge role in liberating Africa.

He set up training camps in Ghana for African freedom fighters, and through financial, political and other support, Nkrumah’s Ghana kept the African liberation torch burning very brightly.

True to his electoral promises, Nkrumah went to work putting the economic and social fundamentals in place. This encouraged the people to work even harder. Nkrumah firmly believed that political independence was meaningless without economic independence.

Thus, by the time he was overthrown in the CIA-inspired coup, Ghana had 68 sprawling state-owned factories producing every need of the population—from shoes, to textiles, to furniture, to lorry tyres, to canned fruits, vegetables and beef; to glass, to radio and TV; to books, to steel, to educated manpower, virtually everything!

Nkrumah wanted to industrialise Ghana within a generation, and everything was on course until the Americans and their British cousins (according to their own declassified documents) used disgruntled and self-serving Ghanaian soldiers, staged that terrible coup on February 24, 1966 that truncated Ghana’s progress. It was a major setback, not only for Ghana but the whole of Africa!

“If Nkrumah had been allowed to complete his industrialization plan, Ghana would today have been another Malaysia on the west coast of Africa, and the modern doomsayers who now mock Ghana by showing us the bright lights in Kuala Lumpur, would not dare show their warped tongues!”

But Nkrumah was overthrown, and we are now left with nostalgia and what might have been. After the coup, the IMF rubbed salt into our injuries by sending a delegation to Accra to tell the military junta to discontinue Nkrumah’s industrialisation programme. And they did! And, as a reward, some of them got airports named after them!

Today, 50 years after the coup, almost every Ghanaian (except those still suffering from acute blindness and amnesia) now realizes our great loss.

It has taken the country half a century of blood and tears to hang on to the straws that have barely kept us afloat through five turbulent decades to arrive at the current political and economic stability achieved, since 1992, under six terms of constitutional rule-first under president Rawlings’ NDC (1992-2000), President John Kufuor’s NPP (2000-2008), John Atta Mills and then John Mahama’s NDC (2009 to date).

Ghana has learnt its lessons the hard way.

The Pan-Africanist Prophet

When Nkrumah wrote that long after he was dead and gone, the torch which he had lit in Africa would continue to be held aloft to give light and hope to his people, his detractors called him a self-delusional megalomaniac. But testimonies since his death bear him out. How so true the old saw: “A prophet is not unknown, except in his own country.”

Kwame Nkrumah, the visionary Pan-Africanist who dreamt of a united, prosperous Africa, was a man of foresight. He had a noble vision for Africa and the Black race. He saw the metropolises of Africa becoming the headquarters of science, technology, and medicine. He saw in Africa a giant hypnotised, made dormant by years of foreign tutelage and exploitation, and he sought to awaken this giant. But time and his contemporaries were not on his side. He seems to have been born ahead of his time and his contemporaries. As the celebrated British historian, Basil Davidson, put it: Nkrumah lived far ahead of his time. It is in the years ahead that people would read about his works and wonder to themselves why such a man should have lived at such a time.

Nkrumah’s and indeed Africa’s tragedy was that he came to power at the wrong time, in the “heat” of the Cold War, a period when the bi-polar East-West ideological confrontation made leaders like Nkrumah sacrificial lambs on the alter of superpower chauvinism. Cold War politics brooked no homegrown nationalists and patriots; it did not forgive leaders who refused to worship the gods of Soviet communism or American capitalism.

We Africans have ourselves to blame if we continue to plough our narrow furrows instead pooling our efforts, human and material resources in order to compete in the globalised 21st century. If we fail to take up the challenge of continental unity now, the continent will inevitably be gobbled up by the colossus of capitalist globalism this century, just as in the last century it was enslaved, balkanised, and exploited of its human and natural resources through the trilogy of slavery, colonialism, and neo-colonialism.

Listen to what Nkrumah said on that score: “If we do not formulate plans for unity and take active steps to form a political union, we will be fighting and warring among ourselves with the imperialists and colonialists standing by behind the screen and pulling vicious wires, to make us cut each other’s throats for the sake of their diabolical purposes in Africa.”

How so prophetic! — Pambazuka News.

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