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. Continue reading