Déjà vu Somalia

Dedicated to the memory of Brett Fredericks. Thank you for your service.

On October 3rd and 4th, 1993, two years after the Cold War was declared ‘over’, the U.S.somalia military was in Somalia and they were still fighting. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush deployed 28,000 U.S. troops to Somalia to protect food and medical supply lines to the millions of starving people who suffered at the whims of a gaggle of warlords. The newly-elected Clinton considered the mission important, so the military, including the Delta Force, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D), were in Somalia executing the orders of the Commander-in-Chief.

This was the setup for Black Hawk Down the First Battle of Mogadishu, which was part of Gothic Serpent, an operation to capture Mohamed Farrah Aidid, perhaps the vilest of the Somali warlords and self-appointed president of Somalia. Of the eighteen Americans who died on October 3rd and 4th, 1993, five were Delta Force. Seeing an American soldier’s body dragged through the street enraged an American public. Instead of turning the furies of hell loose to smash the evil, the U.S. withdrew its troops in March 1994. But, why was the U.S. really there in the first place? Did George H.W. Bush, President and former CIA Director, really care about suffering Africans?

Running from the problem didn’t solve it. Twenty-two years later the warlords still battle it out in Mogadishu. In December retired Delta Force member, Brett Fredricks, was murdered there by Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Shabaab rebels. The questions are what is the current political situation, what or who is Al-Shabaab, and why did former Delta Force member Brett Fredericks die on Somali soil? Continue reading

From the Ashes a Cheetah Rises – A Peculiar Ghanaian Tale

Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s Prime Minister, was deposed in a bloodless coup d’état inmap-ghana-africa-imp 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.

In the early morning hours of 24 Feb., 1966, Ghana's armed forces, with the cooperation of the National Police, took over government in "Operation Cold Chop", a well-organized coup d'etat. The first announcement made from Radio Ghana said that the coup was led by Kotoka.  Nkrumah`s statue was pulled down! Here children are seen standing on Nkrumah`s statue”

In the early morning hours of 24 Feb., 1966, Ghana’s armed forces, with the cooperation of the National Police, took over government in “Operation Cold Chop”, a well-organized coup d’etat. The first announcement made from Radio Ghana said that the coup was led by Kotoka. Nkrumah`s statue was pulled down! Here children are seen standing on Nkrumah`s statue”

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. Continue reading

Mogadishu

“Black Hawk Down” is a simple phrase.  After the passage of two decades, these three wordssomalia.mogadishu summon images to my mind that, unbidden, give rise to rage, horror, and impotence.  On October 3rd and 4th, 1993, two years after the Cold War was declared ‘over’, our military was in Somalia still fighting on a front the ten-month old Clinton administration considered important.  The military was denied the support the field command requested.  Black Hawk Down is a common name for the First Battle of Mogadishu, part of the larger operation Gothic Serpent to capture the Somali warlord, Mohamed Farrah Aidid.  The Somali Maalintii Rangers lost many in this battle and, locally, refer to it as Day of the Rangers.

YouViewed/Editorial posted the following excellent piece on Mogadishu simply entitled Today Marks The 20Th Anniversary Of The Battle Of Mogadishu.

Order Of Battle

U.S. and UNOSOM Units involved in the battle:

Task Force Ranger, including :

  • C Squadron, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (1st SFOD-D) — aka “Delta Force”
  • Bravo Company, 3rd Ranger Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment
  • 1st Battalion, 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment (Airborne) (The Night Stalkers) with MH-6J and AH-6 “Little Birds” and MH-60 A/L Black Hawks
  • Combat Controllers and Pararescuemen from the USAF 24th Special Tactics Squadron

SEAL Team Six (four Navy SEAL operators)

CVN-72 U.S.Abraham Lincoln & Carrier Air Wing 11

Task Force-10th Mountain Division, including:

  • 2nd Battalion, 14th Infantry Regiment,
  • 1st platoon, C Company, 1st Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment
  • 15th FF Battalion, of the Frontier Force Regiment, Pakistan Army
  • 19 Lancers of the Pakistan Army

United Nations Forces

19th Battalion, Royal Malay Regiment of the Malaysian Army

10th Battalion Baloch Regiment of the Pakistan Army, (less two companies who were held in reserve)

Somali Militias

The size and organizational structure of Somali forces are not known in detail. In all, between 2,000-4,000 regular militia members are believed to have participated, almost all of which belonged to Aidid’s Somali National Alliance, drawing largely from the Habar Gedir clan.” But wait, there’s more!

The Congo: Crunch Time

“This accidental meeting of possibilities calls itself I. I ask: what am I doing here? And, at once, this I becomes unreal.”  ― Dag Hammarskjöld, Markings

 ‘Old Shaky’, the Douglas C-124 Globemaster II, argued with her pilot, Captain Richard T. Johnson, about taking that last turn into the Elizabethville (now called Lubumbashi) Airport

C124 Globemaster

C124 Globemaster

before landing in 1961. Noted as a heavy lift airplane, this evening it was loaded to the gills with Gurkhas[1] from the Indian Independent Brigade Group and their gear. Deployed by NATO to quell the latest fighting between the mineral rich Katanga province, whose citizens viewed the rest of the Congo as a nation of thieves, and the rest of the old Belgian Congo, the Gurkhas were battle hardened and ready. Capt. Johnson, a veteran Cold War (1947-1991) pilot, was no fool. He knew this was a Cold War strategy pure and simple. The United Sates and the Soviet Union were ‘duking’ it out for the Congo’s mineral wealth; but they were doing so by deputation. As he fought to bring the Globemaster in line for the approach, there was no friendly voice from the control tower;

The Gurkhas in the Congo

The Gurkhas in the Congo

there was no control tower. His second enemy was the surrender of daylight, Johnson couldn’t be certain he was at the correct airfield but it was the only flat spot in view that was big enough to land the old girl. Gunfire erupting to the port side confirmed he was at the right place, and Johnson wondered once again, if that old airplane was prescient. Landing quickly, safely and deploying the Gurkhas became a burning priority. A quick conference with their commander as the airplane made contact with the tarmac brought the Globemaster to a quick turn to port with the doors already opening. The Gurkhas[2] rolled straight out of the aircraft directly into the battle. Taking care of business, they were. After unloading the last of the supplies, a quick salute sent the old airplane back to the runway and she was off.

 The 1960-1965 uprising in the Congo had its roots back in 1884-1885  when German Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck invited fourteen countries to The Berlin Conference to sit down and establish who was doing what to whom in Africa. France, Great Britain, Germany, and Portugal were among the important players. Going into The Berlin Conference, the European countries maintained isolated posts and the vast majority of the African Continent was still ruled by local tribes in a traditional fashion. By the end of the conference, Africa was covered with boundary lines that took no account of local mores or tribes. The Belgian Congo, the Democratic Republic of Congo, some 900 thousand square miles, was picked up by Belgium and King Leopold II. The rest of the continent was divided as well:[3]

  • Great Britain took a Cape-to-Cairo collection of colonies from Egypt, Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, South Africa, and Zambia, Zimbabwe (Rhodesia), and Botswana. The British also controlled Nigeria and Ghana.
  • France grabbed much of western Africa, from Mauritania to Chad (French West Africa) and Gabon and the Republic of Congo (French Equatorial Africa).  
  • Portugal got Mozambique in the east and Angola in the west.
  • Italy was given Somalia (Italian Somaliland) and a portion of Ethiopia. 
  • Germany picked up Namibia (German Southwest Africa) and Tanzania (German East Africa).
  • Spain ended up with little Equatorial Guinea (Rio Muni).

Much of the terrible fighting, bloodshed, and famine is a legacy of The Berlin Conference. The fifty ‘countries’ that were formed in a conference room made no sense in the context of the centuries old cultures that were Africa. Groups that were culturally poles apart and didn’t even like each other were forced to live together. This mess, which worked fairly well while the colonies stayed in place, blew up as the colonies began to receive their independence from the home countries in the 1950s. The traditional cultures, you see, had not been erased; they had just been ignored or controlled by the colonial interests. The old Belgian Congo was one such place.

Belgium treated the Africans in the Congo as children. They were cared for, trained and their rulers

The Congo, a beautiful, rich land filled with violence and contradiction.

The Congo, a beautiful, rich land filled with violence and contradiction.

were used for tasks like tax collection or to recruit labor but they played no part of the legislative process. The bad or uncooperative children/rulers were deposed and replaced. While the United Kingdom and France began preparing their colonies for independence, Belgium made no such effort. Following WWI, American as well as European corporations invested in cotton, coffee, cacao, and rubber operations as well as livestock ventures. The Katanga province was developed for its mineral wealth; gold, copper, tin, cobalt, and zinc. During WWII, the U.S. used the Belgian Congo as a source of uranium. During this time, Africans worked four to seven year contracts as indentured servants in mining, agricultural and public infrastructure sectors. They built electric generation, roads, railroads and public buildings.

Agitation for independence began in 1958 with the formation Patrice Lumumba’s Congo National Movement, the first nationwide Congolese political party. By January 1959, they were rioting for independence in Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) and continued for a year. Belgium, which asserted that there was no possibility of independence in the immediate future, suddenly changed its political mind and the Congo became an independent republic on June 30, 1960.  The problem was the cultural context. The tribes enclosed by the Belgian Congo’s border did not really like each other. Before the First Republic in 1960, the native Congolese elites formed semi-political organizations based on ethnic relationships, personal relationships, and urban intellectualism which evolved into Lumumba’s party pushing for independence. It was a perfect set-up for interference by the Cold War rivals; the U.S. and the Soviet Union.

Katanga picked up it marbles, business interests, mines, and 6,000 Belgian troops and left the new republic in July 1960, less than a month after independence. Katanga declared itself independent under the leadership of Moise Tshombe. Diamond rich South Kasai followed in October. This was not good as Katanga and Kasai were wealth generators. Money grew short and the crisis grew hot.

In July 1960, The United Nations passed a resolution to force the Belgian troops out of the Congo, including Katanga and Kasai. UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld disagreed with Lumumba that the UN force could be used to subdue the rebel government of Katanga. Hammarskjöld believed that the secession of Katanga was an internal Congolese matter and the UN was forbidden to intervene by Article 2 of the United Nations Charter. And so it went.

When the United Nations refused to intervene, Lumumba asked for and received Soviet military assistance to bring Katanga and Kasai to heel. Soviet ANC troops were airlifted into Kasai resulting in the deaths of hundreds of local Baluba tribesmen and 250,000 refugees. Lumumba’s decision engage the Soviet’s POed  the Eisenhower administration in the U.S. resulting in the CIA being given its head to support Joseph Mobutu and Kasa-Vubu, two other political hopefuls. Rumor has it that the CIA planned to poison Lumumba’s food. What can be established is that the CIA station chief in Leopoldville did cable his director to saying: “Congo [is] experiencing [a] classic communist effort [to] takeover government… there may be little time to take action to avoid another Cuba”.[4]

'Che' Guevara in the Congo.

‘Che’ Guevara in the Congo.

In 1965, following the assassination of Congolese independence hero Patrice Lumumba Cuba did join the fight.  Fidel Castro sent  ‘Che’ Guevara to the Congo to try and spark a revolution against the pro-Western regime, which had emerged after . Guevara’s attempt was defeated by mercenaries led by Colonel “Mad Mike” Hoare.  According to BBC News:

“…Che Guevara’s seven-month stay in the Fizi Baraka mountains was, as he admits himself, an “unmitigated disaster”. 

The mercenary Colonel “Mad Mike” Hoare, who had been contracted by the American-influenced government in Kinshasa, squeezed Che’s small Cuban force into an ever smaller area until he had to escape back across Lake Tanganyika into the then-friendly territory of revolutionary Tanzania….”

 Katanga remained a free and independent state for three years; Kasai for much less time. In the five bloody years it took to bring the old Belgian Congo together as a new country, thousands died and over a million became refugees. Famine, in a country that four years before could feed itself and have enough left over to export, killed thousands more. Lumumba, Mobuto and others ripped up the farms, deforested, and looted the country to starvation. Lumumba was killed by Joseph Mobutu’s forces; Che Guevara went to the Congo to ‘help’ in 1965, and UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld died in a plane crash in Africa while on a quest to find some middle Congolese ground. The U.S. saw their choice, Mobutu, in power. In 1997, when he died, his bank accounts just about equaled the amount the World Bank had loaned and granted the Congo; Zaire as it was called by then.

Capt. Johnson was lucky; he flew away. The Gurkhas’s and others fought admirably in a terrible situation. And all of this horror happened because a bunch of people in Berlin, who

The Congo is incredibly rich in minerals.

The Congo is incredibly rich in minerals.

only knew what they wanted, drew lines on maps in 1914. When freedom in Africa tried to stick its head out in the 1950s, the country borders formed lay lines of power and greed. The colonists took the people of Africa for granted and their lack of respect for their cultural fabric has ripped the continent apart. The natural resources are an irresistible attraction for more ‘developed’ predator nations. The continuing upheavals leave the peoples and the nations of Africa vulnerable.

Was it all inevitable with or without the colonial period? Maybe, but it didn’t need to happen this way.

 

“They’re rioting in Africa. There’s strife in Iran. What nature doesn’t do to us. Will be done by our fellow man.”-

The Merry Minuet

Copyright Alley Music Corp. and Trio Music co., Inc.

 


[2] Firefight in Elizabethville, Congo – Lt Lee Ah Pow PGB of C Squadron, 2nd Reconnaissance Regiment; April 10, 2011; http://renjervalour.blogspot.com/2006/03/firefight-in-elizabethville-congo-lt.html

[3] Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 to Divide Africa; http://geography.about.com/cs/politicalgeog/a/berlinconferenc.htm

[4] The Church Committee; Assassination Planning and the Plots; http://www.history-matters.com/archive/church/reports/ir/pdf/ChurchIR_3A_Congo.pdf

Hammond

A Ghanaian who witnessed the fall of colonial rule and the rise of self-rule, Hammond appeared ancient to my nineteen year old eyes. He was a member of the Fante people. His face was weathered and his brow heavy but the parallel scars on each cheek and the scars of various shapes on his arms testified to his traditional upbringing. Hammond carried a well-used King James Bible at all times and was a respected juju man in his village. He read only classic literature and his script was incredibly ornate. Hammond spoke clearly but wrapped his lessons in riddles and open-ended questions he refused to answer.  An enigma, Hammond took the role of the Greek goddess Mentor teaching Telemachus seriously. Why he chose this particular nineteen year old to push through the door of adulthood, I will never know. That he did is a gift I will always treasure. Hammond, you see, had Mana. He could reach through the veil and touch the gods.

Michael, Kwame, Addo, Kaita, and Kofi were already a team managed by Hammond when I proudly began my little 18-month contract to run the recreational facilities for Kaiser Engineers International in Tema, Ghana. Of course, I had no idea what I was doing but I was young and confident that I could learn. The recreation facility—pool, bar, snooker room, and outdoor movie theater—were located within the concrete block walled interior of the ex-patriot compound I always referred to as the Pequod, the famous ship in Moby Dick that represented the world.

My Kaiser briefing probably included corporate goals and objectives but the only thing I recall my boss telling me was to fix the pool so that his wife’s hair did not turn green. You bet! Once Hammond introduced himself and the team, I asked what on earth could turn the boss’ wife’s hair green and why. Hammond explained that she did something to her hair that many oburoni, white man, do that made her hair a yellow color.

The chlorine used in the pool came in 55-gallon drum excessed from WWII. Sometimes things happened and hair turned funny colors. I quickly learned that broadcasting chlorine can result in interesting pH phenomena. Over the next few weeks we experimented. We learned to drive the pH very high between 1:00 and 2:00 P.M., right after the afternoon rain. We waited an hour for the water to calm down in the beating equatorial sun and we’d all jump in for our swimming lessons and mix it up the best we could before the kids and women arrived. By the time the men came in, there was little evidence of chlorine left. Pretty much we solved the problem; although we ran around with red eyes and bleached swimming suits for a while.

Hammond taught me about spitting cobras in the equatorial regions of Africa when we found a baby in the grass. He said we’d find twenty or thirty more and the mother. We did. He demonstrated that he could get the truth from people using a hot knife on a tongue. Although we almost came to blows, he was already in the process when I arrived at work. The thief was identified and ousted from the team and we had no more missing anything while I was there. He laughed at my outrage, protested that only the thief felt pain, and suggested I learn about ways of his people.

One week, Kofi and Addo showed up three days late and had completely forgotten how to swim. I was fit to be tied and ready to terminate when I heard Hammond’s low rolling laugh. His story was of palm wine and celebrations and time. Time, it seems, is a construct of the western world. It is the celebrations that mark the soul. Palm wine, a sweet beverage fermented from a bamboo tap made in a living palm tree, binds the important events in the West African’s life. Religious and other festivals, marriages, deaths, leaders, and sorrow are all bound to the continuum through palm wine. Palm wine is also good medicine. Kofi and Addo stayed employed and learned to swim again.

Hammond believed that most of the strife between tribes was caused by oburoni lines on a map that kept the people from using their land properly. Still, he remembered the colonists fondly. His life was hard. He was grateful he grew up during the colonial times because he was never hungry and had been taught to read and write. As a youth he worked in the gold fields along the Ankobra and Pra rivers and their tributaries. He credited the hard, hard work in the gold fields with building his body and the western medicines with keeping him alive. He often spoke of the abject poverty and ignorance being forced on the younger generation by the Nkrumah government’s commitment to stamping out the tribal culture. This contributed to the sadness in his eyes, I think.

Hammond’s third wife, a younger woman, caused him fits. He outlived the first two wives. The Ghana I knew was a matriarchal society. Business was conducted by the women and men performed the work. Women in Hammond’s tribe stayed with their parents and the husbands came to visit. This wife was a pistol and he was forever considering the situation. Nice to know he was human.

When Michael died, Hammond was there to help me understand. Michael was a kid like me. Like me, he was sure of himself, and a bit arrogant. Like me Hammond had knocked some of the rough edges off of him. Hammond spoke of parasites and death. Parasites, he said, came because the people had forgotten how to prepare the medicines to cure them. Death, he said, came to give Michael another chance to learn.

One dark, moonless night, after my contract with Kaiser was completed and Kwame Nkrumah was out of power; I was driving a dilapidated old Land Rover up the road to the village where I worked with an old, Dutch bush doctor. I heard a thump on the front left panel and felt something. I stopped, in spite of the strict instructions I had been given. In the flashlight beam I found a woman with a child strapped to her front, and a basket full of stuff strewn everywhere. I felt the horror of believing I had hit someone. Then I felt terror as a silent crowd of people began closing in on me as one. Out of nowhere, Hammond appeared. He ordered me to drive away. I refused. He grabbed me and roughly threw me into the Land Rover, all the while shouting at these people in his language. I did as I was told. The next morning Hammond was there to explain the ruse. The woman hit the vehicle, probably with a stick, and pretended to be hurt when I stopped. Since I was carrying no money, I probably would have been beaten to death. These incidents were the sign of the times in Ghana. I was lucky and he probably saved my life. How did he know? Where did he come from? When I asked these questions, he looked down and smiled. Another of Hammond’s unsolved mysteries.

The last time I saw Hammond was at the celebration of my leaving Ghana. He was decked out in a magnificent kente cloth of golds, blues and reds. His skin was oiled and radiant in the sun. He looked radiant; more like a spirit than a man. We drank palm wine and laughed and cried. I heard the drums talk along the river for the first  and last time. They were heralding a visit from someone up north. I’ve long sense forgotten the details of the message and, now, recall only the sound and the thrill. He gave me a note of goodbye and gold lantern to keep his spirit with me always. I have them safely tucked away in a Burmese Black Lacquer box.

The late sixties were a remarkable time; the western world was upside down. The decade opened on a very changed U.S. landscape right in the middle of the heat of the Cold War (1947-1991). The population was less than half of what it is now and over twenty-five percent of the people were under the age of twenty. It is thought-provoking to consider the Arab world is currently at that same demographic checkpoint with over a quarter of the population under twenty years old and rushing headlong into the consequences of a baby boom. I totally missed the sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. I discovered West Africa, Hammond, talking drums, and the world. What a rite of passage it was.

The Pathway of Good Intentions

Ghana: A Case Study

Cold War (1947-1991) Lessons for Today’s World

An eighteen month contract in Ghana with Kaiser Engineers International, Inc. in 1966, marked the beginnings of my life-long quest for understanding. My 19 year old brain knew

Port at Tema, Ghana

Port at Tema, Ghana

only that Kaiser was building an aluminum plant at Tema, Ghana and I was going to live a tantalizing adventure.  While Sgt. Barry Sadler sang The Ballad of the Green Berets, The Righteous Brothers crooned You’re My Soul and Inspiration, The Monkees caught the Last Train to Clarksville, The Mama’s and The Papa’s harmonized to bring us Monday, Monday, Johnny Rivers lamented The Poor Side of Town, and Nancy Sinatra shared that her Boots Are Made for Walkin’, little did I know that I was running headlong and as fast I could to become a dust mote on the Cold War’s economic stage.

Kaiser had a cost plus contract, which I knew provided for my very important job, running PequodCutawaythe swimming pool, snooker room, bar and other recreational facilities for the ex-patriots who did the real work. In addition to U.S. citizens, Greeks, Germans, Indians, Lebanese, Scots from the Outer Hebrides, Canadians, and others filled the ranks of Kaiser, Chicago Bridge and Iron, and their subcontractors.  Moby Dick was fresh in my mind and I always referred to the ex-patriot compound as the Pequod; a microcosm of the ‘free’ world. Kaiser and the subcontractors were burning their foreign currency reserves from other jobs.  The Pequod provided an accelerated learning environment for a 19 year old discovering the adult geopolitical world, and the job provided the prototypical water cooler around which gossip spread. Perfect.

Eight Ghanaians headed by an old man named Hammond comprised my staff. Hammond was an amazing human being. He was a wise and honorable Juju man, a religious elder, from Ghana’s northern regions. Hammond was a devout Christian whose Christianity was integrated with the old ways of his people. He had worked in the goldfields and had watched his country transition from colony to nation. He folded me into his life and taught me. Eventually I would work in his village for an old Dutch bush doctor. Hammond could take the edge off my youthful arrogance with a word or a look. He forced introspective journeys through my soul; he took the circle of geopolitics and, magically, a sphere appeared in its place. Over the course of the next 47 years, the sphere within me would self-populate with ideas and changes, awakenings, understandings  and awareness.

Kwame Nkrumah was Ghana’s president in 1966 as I took the reins of the recreational facilitydefault in Tema in the hot steamy tropics that is June there.  Nkrumah was an engaging leader. He was a brilliant, charismatic orator who was educated in Great Britain and the United States. Had Nkrumah not chosen to worship in his own temple, he could have become Africa’s greatest leader.  By 1964, however, Nkrumah had gotten rid of the Supreme Court and created a one-party state. The chatter in the Kaiser Snooker room was that Kwame Nkrumah was playing the United States off against the Soviet Union. Rumors of Chinese military training camps in the north abounded. Being a mother, apple pie and flag American, I found this to be an enigma. Kwame Nkrumah had been educated in the U.S., right? How could he even think about engaging the Soviet Union? How could he allow a Chinese base? It agitated my core being, but Hammond said to keep the information in my heart and when the time was right, the answers would appear. And they did.

Kwame Nkrumah married a beautiful Egyptian lady, Fathia Rizk, at the height of his political power. He remains a part of the Ghanaian political landscape through his daughter, Samia

Henry J. Kaiser was featured as "Shipbuilder No. 1" in a 1943 Real Heroes comic book.

Henry J. Kaiser was featured as “Shipbuilder No. 1” in a 1943 Real Heroes comic book.

Yaba Christina Nkrumah, who is very active in the parliament. Nkrumah was well versed in Cold War economics and played the game to get a break-even hydroelectric dam built on the Volta River. He knew that Khushchev had provided funding for a similar project in Egypt, the Aswan Dam, as a gambit for Soviet penetration into the Arab world. President Nkrumah asked President Eisenhower for a favor[1] and another piece of the Volta dam deal was placed in the puzzle. President Eisenhower spoke with his friend, Henry Kaiser, who put together a consortium to deepen the Tema Harbor and build an aluminum plant as a primary customer for the Volta dam that would now be built. Neat and clean! President Kennedy inked the deal. There was nothing like a little Cold War economic competition between the U.S. and the Soviet Union to start the money spigot flowing.

Somewhere between the idealism of Cold War Economics and the ridiculous lies the truth.  In February 2008, Harvard’s Richard Cooper published the Economic Aspects of the Cold War, 1962-1975, which states that:

US objectives during the Cold War were to prevent Soviet attacks on the United States and its allies and to prevent the spread of communism as a political and economic system to other countries, whether by force or by threat, subversion, persuasion, or bribery.”

The United States used a carrot and stick approach with economics. The U.S. government sent a goodly amount of money and support to governments that behaved appropriately for its purposes and quickly engaged economic sanctions when they did not do as the government wanted. This approach impressed the leadership of other countries with its get rich quick opportunities, which suited one objective of the aid: to promote the short-term political and strategic interests of the U.S. It was a standing joke while I was in Ghana that the African leaders’ bank accounts matched well with the World Bank funding for their respective countries. Unfortunately the policies did little to help the Ghanaian people. The aid failed miserably in promoting long-term growth and reducing poverty in Ghana, or anywhere else. The idea was engaging. It seemed a no brainer that if poor countries grew economically strong, U.S. economic and political security would benefit.  It is always ridiculous when governments think they can conduct effective, hard-nosed business. It simply never works and it is clear that the federal government remains conflicted about its economic acumen and role.

In the beginning, it all seemed so logical. Kwame Nkrumah would be a hit at home once his aluminum plant was processing bauxite from his mineral rich provinces using cheap

Akosombo Dam

Akosombo Dam

electricity from his Volta River hydo project. The Ghanaian people would be productive, busy, and living well and his role as Ghana’s savior would be solidified. The U.S. government was happy that one more country was firmly, so they thought, on their side of the Cold War ledger sheet. Henry Kaiser was happy, too. He had negotiated a sweet deal that included up to fifty years of cheap electricity, great tax benefits, and lots of money. Kaiser put up $32 million for his aluminum plant and the Export-Import Bank and the Agency for International Development (USAID) put up $140 million. USAID is We, The People, the taxpayers.

What about the Ghanaian people? Well, they did not fare so well. The Ghanaian government now owns the aluminum plant through a company called Valco. Valco was originally a joint venture with Alcoa but Ghana bought out most of Alcoa’s stake in Valco in 2004 and bought the last 10% for $2 million in 2008. The Jun 23, 2008 published statement by the presidency revealed the Ghanaian government’s vision. “The Government has proposed a concept of an integrated aluminium industry in which the country’s bauxite will be mined, refined and processed to near-end or end products here in Ghana.[2]

The up to fifty years of cheap power was re-negotiated not so favorably in 1985, about twenty years after the plant was commissioned.  Valco closed the plant completely in 2003, partly because of low water conditions at the Volta River dam. The plant did re-open in 2006 then was closed from 2007 through 2010. Since its re-opening in 2011, it produces a paltry 20% of its 200,000 metric ton capacity. The hydroelectric dam on the Volta River resulted in a stagnant lake, which increased the pain and suffering of the people through disease. The dam was built at the right place. Proper siting of dams is very important and must be done by scientists and engineers experienced in such things, not by politicians.

So, what is the tally? Kwame Nkrumah was ousted by his people and died in Bucharest, Romania in 1972. The people are not substantively better off. One could make the case that for all the U.S. money injected, the suffering of the Ghanaian people increased.

Once, in frustration I asked Hammond, “Why, why won’t you change?” He just looked at me, foreign-aid-definition-wiley1smiled and calmly said “Because, young one, you will leave and I will still be here.” The idea of foreign aid in all of its many cloaks grew out of the reconstruction of Europe after WWII. In the U.S., it expanded as a political weapon used during the Cold War. Most of the recipients of foreign aid are worse off rather than better off; Africa is much worse off. But we insanely continue the program. Asia grew its infrastructure mostly without the benefit of such aid and has continued to develop to become our equals and better in the world marketplace. Perhaps the time is right to openly debate whether or not free and open markets make more sense than a dole that ends up in the hands of dictators and cronies. The stated objectives of foreign aid are filled with good intentions. As Hammond would say, “Good intentions, my young friend, take you straight to hell.”


[1] The Volta River Project in Ghana, West Africa: SAN JOSÉ STATE UNIVERSITY ECONOMICS DEPARTMENT: Thayer Watkins http://www.sjsu.edu/faculty/watkins/volta.htm

[2] New bauxite mine and alumina refinery for Ghana as it buys Alcoa stake in VALCO http://www.mineprocessing.com/News/detail-a11-b0-c-d-e-f.html