Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s Prime Minister, was deposed in a bloodless coup d’état in February 1966. For once, the CIA was not involved, but I was there. Well…I was ‘sort of’ there. It was my very first coup d’état and I slept through it. It was hot, gray and raining when I rose to consciousness on February 25, 1966 so it was either 10:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. but how I knew that is anyone’s guess. I snatched at the vestiges of images in my mind to form a thought. Any thought I could recognize as such would do. Finally, it occurred to me I had no idea where I was. It was no small relief to feel my control-freak kicking in to begin its inventory of the situation. The data packets were sorted and re-sorted until they made sense. Ah ha! I was in a hospital room in Tema, Ghana smack in the middle of West Africa. Although I recalled curling up to receive a spinal tap I had no idea why I had gotten one or how I got here. To my great relief, Audrey entered the room. Answers would come now.
Audrey was my friend. Typically Ghanaian, she was beautiful, elegant, and graceful. Audrey was also the mother of five and very wise. She entered the room silently and began to bubble in Twi, her native Akan language, when she realized I was awake. My command of Twi was much less than hers of English or Dutch but I gathered I’d been unconscious for several days as a result of a bout with meningitis. She had brought wonderful cut oranges, which my parched body fairly inhaled, and some bloody awful tasting tea, which she said would heal me quickly. Later I wondered if she came prepared with these wonders daily or if she knew that that day I’d be back. The Ghanaians I know and love are incredibly intuitive.
As the excitement settled, Audrey unfolded the tale of the coup. She said that the generals had seen Kwame Nkrumah safely out of the country and then taken over. She also spun images of very dark happenings in Accra, Ghana’s capitol. The zoo had been broken into and many animals slaughtered and, she said, when the people toppled a statue of Nkrumah they found the skeletal remains of twins. Bad Juju. Prime Minister Nkrumah had worshiped in his own temple and completely embraced his surrogate title, Osagyefo, which means “redeemer”. Times would become even more difficult for the Ghanaians and very strange for expatriates like me as General Joseph Arthur Ankrah took the reins of power.
All of us faced a new Ghana, a new order to life as the military closed the harbors, set up checkpoints, and inserted themselves into schools, unions, and the workplace. The dash-bribes-became virtually codified and bottles of Simba (beer) would no longer do. Cash became king. This is not to say that Nkrumah had done less, it was just that he did it differently. Nkrumah was focused on his intellectual legacy as well as his in-country power. Ankrah’s administration was corrupted at a far more fundamental level.
Kwame Nkrumah, like President George W. Bush, ruled during those rare times when greatness is possible. A brilliant, educated, charismatic character, Nkrumah led his country
out of colonial rule and held the potential to lead his continent out of bondage. Like Bush, Nkrumah blew it. Bush blew it every way possible following 9/11/2001. He set the Republic up for a regression to bondage based in fear. Nkrumah blew it in intellectual arrogance and a fundamental lack of understanding of his own culture. He set his country up through the assumption that his culture was based on ‘African socialism’ and attempted to force the socialist ideology he had absorbed in his U.S. East Coast education in Pennsylvania, and his work on the docks there, down the throats of his people. Before anyone gets their tail feathers twisted, Nkrumah just happened to be on the East Coast during the early 1940s. He could have embraced the same indoctrination on the West Coast or England or France at that time. Quite the opposite is true of Ghanaians and many others I know in Africa. They are based in family NOT socialism. Without a doubt, left to its own cultural resources, Africa is a fundamental free market environment based on familial bonding.
According to an excerpt from Commanding Heights by Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw,
1998 ed., pp. 88, Nkrumah discovered his dream had ended in China “…”The myth surrounding Kwame Nkrumah has been broken,” announced an army colonel on the radio. Nkrumah did not learn of the coup until he arrived in China. Premier Zhou Enlai, unsure of the protocol to follow, went ahead and hosted an eerie state banquet in his honor. Nkrumah ended up taking up exile in Guinea, where another experiment in “African socialism” was in progress. Guinea’s president, Sekou Toure, his own rule increasingly repressive and arbitrary, endowed Nkrumah with the title of “co-president.” Nkrumah made regular shortwave broadcasts to Ghana, published ideological treatises, and plotted a triumphal return to power until he grew ill and died in 1972, still in exile. The “political kingdom” had crumbled as fast as it had been built. “The Redeemer,” who had once inspired a continent, had fallen far from grace….”
While Nkrumah remains an historical figure, he was horribly flawed and his return to popularity defies logic. Since the turn of the century, his remains were exhumed and
returned to Ghana and placed within a large mausoleum, Nkrumah would have liked that. ”In 2000, he [Nkrumah] was voted Africa’s man of the millennium by listeners to the BBC World Service, being described by the BBC as a “Hero of Independence,” and an “International symbol of freedom as the leader of the first black African country to shake off the chains of colonial rule.” And “In September 2009, then President John Atta Mills declared 21 September (the 100th anniversary of Kwame Nkrumah’s birth), Founder’s Day, a statutory holiday in Ghana to celebrate the legacy of Kwame Nkrumah.”
Earlier I stated that this was one coup the CIA did not foster. Perhaps, I should have written may not have fostered as there is controversy and documentation on both sides of the argument of whether or not the CIA deposed the regime. The Soviets are masters of disinformation. The forged Soviet documents, an expendable Nkrumah, the value to the Soviet’s of blaming the U.S. and the accompanying power gains in Africa lends weight and credence to Soviet involvement. The arrogance of the Ghana CIA section chief, Banes, allowed a soviet set-up to be nearly perfect. Nkrumah always believed the U.S. was involved and became increasingly paranoid and preoccupied that the CIA was trying to kill him. Nkrumah’s paranoia was fed by the old Soviet Union who forged documentation, discovered later, implicating the U.S. In the end, Nkrumah became a pitiful, useful idiot of the many Cold War games that were played by his friends, the Soviets, and his perceived enemies, the U.S.
Back in 1966, however, life was not easy. In Accra the big department store fought for goods
to sell and the open air markets were chaotic and hostile. For a little while, the U.S. Navy waited just over the horizon in case Americans needed evacuation. It was nice to know they were there, and we were a bit twitchy but, in general, we were okay and they eventually left. That fall, a friend and I were thrown in the pokey for illegally entering Tema Harbor. We’d been at a Greek party and were asked to drop off a couple of Russian merchant marines on our way home. We grabbed some Simba and took off. We did fine bribing our way into the closed harbor but got busted on the way out because we were out of beer. We were charged with spying. I called the American embassy as was basically informed that it was my problem. My friend, fortunately, was British. Her embassy showed up an hour or so later with good cash money and got us released. Later in my life I would worry that this little incident would get in the way of my security clearance, but it did not. I never again trusted the American State Department and always had a back door plan. Still do.
Life is good when one is young, invincible and on a quest, but Ghana became darker and
darker. I despaired for I lacked the maturity to know these waves will eventually break on a shore that cries for freedom. Little did I know that at that very minute a young Ghanaian man with a great intellect was in college preparing his mind for a bright future. George Ayittey, is an economist, an author, the founder and president of the Free Africa Foundation, and a purveyor of ideas that can bring Africa back from the ashes. He believes that “Africa is poor because she is not free”, that the primary cause of African poverty is less a result of the oppression and mismanagement by colonial powers, than a result of modern oppressive native autocrats.” Ayittey advocates for solutions that address the abuses of the past and present; specifically he calls for democratic government, debt reexamination, modernized infrastructure, free
market economics, and free trade to promote development. And he has a sense of humor to boot! According to Ayittey’s Ted bio, “Economist George Ayittey sees Africa’s future as a fight between Hippos — complacent, greedy bureaucrats wallowing in the muck — and Cheetahs, the fast-moving, entrepreneurial leaders and citizens who will rebuild Africa.”
George Ayittey is one of Africa’s Cheetahs. He and the other Cheetahs must run fast if they are to get in front of the exploitation of Africa’s great mineral and agricultural resources but they can still do it. Ayittey’s point that ‘helping Africa’ has become a national pastime is well taken. He says “Helping Africa has been turned into a theater of the absurd. It’s like the
blind leading the clueless.” The U.S. has a military presence in over thirty African nations in addition to State Department representation to help with some mythical stabilization. China, who has been in Africa militarily since the 1960s, is taking the continent by storm with trade agreements tying up mineral and oil resources.
George Ayittey and the other cheetahs offer solutions with hope. Out of the ashes of Ghana, a cheetah rose. There is a gene pool of brilliance in Ghana and other African nations. They can solve their own problems and rise to glory. I wish Ayittey and the other Cheetahs Godspeed to stay ahead of the hyenas.
 Wikipedia; Kwame Nkrumah; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kwame_Nkrumah#Decline_and_fall
 TED; George Ayittey: Africa’s cheetahs versus hippos; http://www.ted.com/talks/george_ayittey_on_cheetahs_vs_hippos.html