The Coup that Destroyed Ghana and Africa’s Destiny
By Charles Quist-Adade, PhD
Fifty-Six years ago today, February 24, 1966, the Government of the Ghana led by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown by a bloody coup d’état. The coup, led by disgruntled army and police officers and hitmen of Western governments, was to be the greatest blow to Africa. As the first African country, south of the Sahara to have wrestled independence from a colonial power, Ghana under Nkrumah demonstrated in practical terms the pathway to building a modern state in post-colonial Africa. Ghana became a beacon of hope to legions of Africans and People of African Descent everywhere.
In his book, Dark Days in Ghana, Nkrumah revealed that the coup was the handiwork of the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A) of United States of America. His detractors quickly dismissed his claim as delusional and an excuse for his mismanagement of the country through his dictatorial leadership.
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 its allies, including Britain had financed, masterminded, and tele-guided the coup. Other Western governments, including Canada had played more subtle, indirect roles in the ouster of Nkrumah. Recent research conducted by Yves Engler shows that the Canadian government played a major role in this conspiracy. Engler writes:
“As the 1960s wore on Nkrumah’s government became increasingly critical of London and Washington’s support for the white minority in southern Africa. Ottawa had little sympathy for Nkrumah’s pan-African ideals and so it made little sense to continue training the Ghanaian Army if it was, in Kilford’s words, to “be used to further Nkrumah’s political aims”. Kilford continued his thought, stating: “that is unless the Canadian government believed that in time a well-trained, professional Ghana Army might soon remove Nkrumah.”
The trans-Atlantic unity to manipulate public opinion both in the West and in Africa in order to unseat Nkrumah was apparent. As New African reports, on February 6, 1964 when the coup against Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was being planned in Washington, William C. Trimble, then director of the State Department’s West African Desk, wrote a memo to his bosses entitled “Proposed Action Program for Ghana”, which said in part” which said in part:
“Although Nkrumah’s leftward progress cannot be checked or reversed, it could be slowed down by a well-conceived and executed action program. Measures which we might take against Nkrumah would have to be carefully selected in order not to weaken pro-Western elements in Ghana or adversely affect our prestige and influence elsewhere on the continent. US pressure, if appropriately applied, could induce a chain reaction, eventually leading to Nkrumah’s downfall. Chances of success could be greatly enhanced if the British could be induced to act in concert with us.”
Baffour goes on to note:
“Intensive efforts should be made through psychological warfare and other means to diminish support for Nkrumah within Ghana and nurture the conviction among the Ghanaian people that their country’s welfare and independence necessitates his removal. A year later, the policy had worked so well that the American Ambassador in Ghana, William Mahoney, was able to tell the CIA director, John McCone, at a meeting in McCone’s office on March 11, 1965. “Popular opinion is running strongly against Nkrumah, and the economy is in a precarious state”
Prior to the declassification, John Stockwell, a C.I.A. officer in Africa had recounted the plot to undermine Nkrumah’s government and to sow anti-Nkrumah sentiments among Ghanaians.
“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 did not 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 tires, to canned fruits, vegetables, and beef; to glass, to radio and TV; to books, to steel, to educated manpower, virtually everything!
Nkrumah wanted to industrialize Ghana within a generation, and everything was on course until the Americans and their British cousins (according to their own declassified documents), used some disgruntled and self-serving Ghanaian soldiers, staged that terrible coup on 24 February 1966 that truncated Ghana’s progress. It was a major setback, not only for Ghana but the whole of Africa!
As Baffour rightly observes: “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 at 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 industrialization programme. And they did! And, as a reward, some of them got airports named after them! Today, 56 years after the coup, almost every Ghanaian (except those still suffering from acute blindness and amnesia) now realize our great loss.
More than a century and a decade ago, in the small village of Nkroful in the Western region of Ghana, a child was born. The event passed, as in the case of many children, as an ordinary event. And, as in many African families, the parents of this child did not even take note of the date on which he was born.
In his autobiography, he was to state that it was with some difficulty that he could pinpoint his birthday; September 21, 1909. 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 hypnotized, rendered 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 seemed 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 year 2060, that people would read about his works and wonder to themselves why such a man should have lived at such a time. Finally, Nkruamh, was not a paragon of political virtues. He committed mistakes, including his allowing bootlickers and sycophants in his party to make a tin god out of him and to tear him away from the ordinary people.
Had he lived, he would have hit the ripe old age of 113 years on 21 September 2022. But as fate would have it, Kwame Nkrumah, the man his admirers called “Osagyefo,” the redeemer, left our shores to join the ancestors when he succumbed to cancer on a cold Romanian hospital bed in 1972.
Born into a humble smith’s family in Nkroful in the western region of the then-British colony of the Gold Coast (now Ghana), Nkrumah was to become one of the most illustrious makers of modern Africa and perhaps the most ardent and consistent advocate of the unity of the Black race after Marcus Garvey. His single-minded desire to make Africa the proud home of all People of African Descent dispersed around the world brought him to work with many leaders and architects of the Pan-Africanist movement, including W.E.B Du Bois of the United States, George Padmore of Trinidad, and Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria. He was one of the organizers of the historic 5th Pan-Africanist Congress in Manchester, England, more than half a century and-a-half ago, a congress which proved decisive in the struggle against foreign rule in Africa and against racial oppression in the West and which demonstrated a remarkable unity between continental Africans and Africans in the Diaspora.
Not only did he bring Pan-Africanism to its natural home when he returned to the Gold Coast after his sojourn in America and England to lead the independence movement, he also established and sustained until the end of his regime a link between the continent and the Diaspora. He borrowed many brilliant ideas from his inspirer and admirer Marcus Garvey, including the Black Star as a national symbol (displayed in the center of Ghana’s flag as well as taken as the names of the country’s shipping line and soccer team). He made Padmore his adviser and invited the grand old man of Pan-Africanism, Du Bois to live out his last days in Ghana. In Africa, Nkrumah attempted to form the kernel of his pet dream—the United States of Africa—with Sekou Toure of Giunea, Modibo Kieta of Mali, and Patrice Lumumba of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Without doubt, Nkrumah ranks among the greatest political figures of the 20th century. An indefatigable champion of world peace, advocate and spokesman of the Non-Aligned Movement, it was ironic that his government was overthrown in a violent CIA-masterminded coup while he was on his way to Hanoi to negotiate a peaceful settlement to the US war in Vietnam.
His courageous and tactical leadership (Gandhian passive non-resistance or what he termed “positive action” leadership led to the wresting of the political independence of his country from Britain, the first such achievement in sub-Saharan Africa. Ghana’s independence not only became the power-keg that ignited a continental revolution against European imperialism, Nkrumah also consciously made his newly liberated country the powerhouse of the African revolution.
Nkrumah’s revolutionary and pan-Africanist ideas swept across the entire continent, from Casablanca to Cape Town. Consistent with his independence-day declaration that the independence of Ghana was meaningless unless it was linked with the total liberation of the entire African continent, Nkrumah trained African liberation fighters, financed their movements, and encouraged them to dislodge colonial rule from their territories.
It was no wonder that in less than a decade after Ghana’s independence in 1957, over 90 per cent of African countries had attained their own independence.
All of Nkrumah’s adult life was devoted to one and only one passion—the liberation and unity of the African race. He lived, dreamed, and died for this ideal. His passion and quest for a continental union government prompted his enemies to brand him dreamer, a megalomaniac, an African Don Quixote. But judging from the parlous state of the continent’s desperate, dispirited, non-viable 54 countries today, Nkrumah’s call for the formation of a United States of Africa government was a wise one, if brazen at the time. The largely ineffective African Union is a testimony to Nkrumah’s warning that only a continental government of political and economic unity could save the continent from the encircling gloom spawned by enraging internecine civil wars, civil strife, famine, and disease.
Nkrumah argued forcefully that only a federal state of Africa based on a common market, a common currency, a unified army (a African High Command), and a common foreign policy could provide the launching pad for not only a massive reconstruction and modernization of the continent, but also could optimize Africa’s efforts to find its rightful place in the international arena and so effectively checkmate internal conflicts, fend off superpower interference, and predatory and imperialistic wars.
This article is an abbreviated version one that was first published in the Covert Action Magazine