Abayomi Azikiwe Correspondent
Five decades ago on February 24, 1966, a coup was carried out against Dr Kwame Nkrumah, the leader of Ghana’s independence movement and chief architect of the 20th Century African revolutionary struggle.
Nkrumah, the founder of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) in 1949, which led the former British colony of the Gold Coast to national independence in 1957, was out of Ghana on a peace mission aimed at bringing an end to the United States’ intervention in Vietnam. The president had stopped over in Beijing, People’s Republic of China, for consultations with Premier Chou En-lai and had planned to continue on to Hanoi.
When Nkrumah later met with Chou, he informed him that there had been a military coup in Ghana. Nkrumah’s initial reaction was disbelief yet the Chinese leader told him that these setbacks were in the course of the revolutionary struggle.
The coup was carried out by lower-ranking military officers and police officials with the direct assistance and coordination by the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the State Department. Leading members of the CPP were killed, arrested and driven into exile while the party Press was seized along with the national radio and television stations. CPP offices were attacked by counter-revolutionary mobs encouraged by the CIA and the military-police clique that had seized power. Books by Nkrumah and other socialist leaders were trashed and burned.
Cadres from various national liberation movements who had taken refuge in Ghana and were receiving political and military training were deported by the coup leaders who called themselves the “National Liberation Council” (NLC). Other fraternal allies of the Ghanaian and African revolutions were fired from their jobs within the government, the educational sector and media.
The CIA involvement was widely believed to be pivotal at the time but in later years, firm documented proof was brought to light with the declassification of State Department files which originated under the administration of President Lyndon B Johnson. A letter of protest had been sent by US Undersecretary of State for African Affairs, G Mennen Williams, to the Ghana embassy in Washington during late 1965 in the aftermath of the publication of Nkrumah’s book “Neo-colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism”, which outlined the central role of Washington and Wall Street in the continuing underdevelopment of Africa.
Nkrumah and African American History
Kwame Nkrumah was born in the Nzima region of Ghana at Nkroful in 1909. He would later travel to the US in 1935 to pursue higher education at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, the first Historically Black College and University (HBCU) in the country founded during slavery in 1854. Lincoln was an ideal atmosphere for Nkrumah who studied the social sciences, philosophy and theology.
He became involved in the African American struggle through work with the African Students Association where he served as president for several years as well as the Council on African Affairs with Dr W.E.B. Du Bois, Dr William A Hunton and Paul Robeson.
He became a licensed Presbyterian clergyman, giving him access to speaking engagements in numerous African American churches. Nkrumah worked during his college days doing odd jobs and experiencing severe economic deprivation.
Leaving the US in 1945, Nkrumah settled in Britain for two years where he helped organise the historic Fifth Pan-African Congress at Manchester in October of that year. The gathering was chaired by Du Bois and enjoyed the participation of other leading figures within the African liberation movements including George Padmore of Trinidad, who had worked with the Communist International during the late 1920s and early 1930s; Amy Ashwood Garvey, the first wife of Marcus Garvey, who held left-leaning politics; Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya; along with representatives of trade unions, farmers’ organisations and students.
After Nkrumah returned to Ghana in late 1947 and with the founding of the CPP less than two years later, he would land in prison twice for organising against British imperialism. Due to his party’s mass support during a colonial-controlled reform election in February 1951, Nkrumah was released from prison and appointed Leader of Government Business as part of a transitional arrangement towards independence won later in March 1957.
During the independence period, Ghana became a haven for African American political figures, artists, professionals and business people.
Some within this group became staunch defenders of the Nkrumah government, which was under increasing pressure from the CIA and the State Department after 1961.
Several hundred African Americans took up residence in Ghana including Maya Angelou, a writer, dancer and supporter of African liberation movements; Alice Windom of St Louis, a social worker and educator who helped organise the itinerary of Malcolm X when he travelled to Ghana in May 1964; Vicki Holmes Garvin, a labour activist and member of the Communist Party served as a co-worker with Robert and Mabel Williams in China several years later after leaving Ghana; Julius Mayfield, a novelist and essayist who left the US amid attacks on Robert Williams, worked in Ghana as a journalist and editor of African Review, a Pan-Africanist journal in support of the CPP government; W.E.B. Du Bois was given Ghanaian citizenship and appointed as the director of the Encyclopedia Africana; Shirley Graham Du Bois, the second wife of Dr Du Bois, a political organiser, member of the Communist Party, prolific writer and producer, was appointed by Nkrumah to head Ghana National Television; among others.