Read Time: 6 minutes
By Ade Sawyerr
This was published in 2002
Thirty six years ago**, a civilian government in Ghana was subverted by military and police adventurers. These men had been aided by the US intelligence forces, who had nothing to offer our dear country Ghana. Their only interest was to destabilise a peaceful and democratically elected government and they did not really know what they were starting.
The reward, for us Ghanaians for this act of sabotage, was the start of a vicious pattern that we have found it very difficult to recover from. Thirty six years later we are back to the pre-colonial period in our development.
The vision of the greatest leader Africa has ever has was in tatters derailed by a foreign superpower using self seeking Ghanaian accomplices.
I was a young man then, studying for my GCE ‘O’ Levels, a member of the young pioneers movement and learning the basics of leadership and civics with the movement, looking forward to a political career in future where I would be in a position to serve my country.
History has shown us that the coup d’etat was unnecessary and devious. Those who were the willing tools of American imperialism were so myopic that they could even think through the train of events that they had unleashed. All they cared for was in wishing to be heads of states as events that unfolded revealed.
I wish to examine the effects of that coup today and to ask those who have judged Nkrumah so harshly in the past to reflect on the depths to which this dastardly act by cowards, hiding behind the gun, has plunged our nation today.
The once shining star of Africa has been turned into a country that has extended the begging bowl too many times for our comfort. Those who blame previous and the present governments for mortgaging the country to the hilt should realise that the seeds were sown the 1996 coup.
Let us all recall where Nkrumah was at the time of the coup. He was on his way as an international statesman of stature to intercede in the war in Vietnam. Let me ask, has any other president in Africa ever been seen to be so prominent on the international arena.
Those who justified the coup on the basis that it was meant to liberate us from a dictatorial democracy of centralist power should now review their position. Evidence abounds that the act was a political disaster. Several decades later we are still struggling to return the country to full parliamentary and multiparty democracy.
Nkrumah never subverted the constitution of Ghana; he changed it. He did not disregard the laws of the country; he used them against people who he felt had plotted to assassinate him. He used the law sometimes in a draconian way, but he used the law nevertheless. He was threatened by bomb attempts; he was scared that our country would degenerate into lawlessness. In a perverse sense he was right because the coup that overthrew him suspended the constitution and returned the country into one without the law.
Could we have imagined ever the acts of lawlessness that would be perpetrated under successive military juntas, regimes – revolting terms, that do not register in the English language.
I must admit that the notion of putting people in prison without trial goes against the principles of human justice, but if there were flaws within Nkrumah’s character these were exposed under the extremist threat to his leadership. People were bent on using routes to change in the country that were dangerous.
Once you justify one coup, you are stopped from condemning other coups. Recent events in the late Mobutus Zaire, the Yugoslavia and other countries have proved that the power of the people is the best way of removing dictators, that is, if Nkrumah can be classified as one.
Once the floodgates were opened, military dictators who saw an opportunity to throw the country into further strife and justified coup after coup. These set the country further and further back from democracy.
Countries that have taken the route of the gun, return to the gun again and again. These military regimes wielded absolute power. The absolute power delayed our democracy. Given the chance again one will come up and would no doubt be hailed by the people of Ghana and this is why Kufour must be vigilant
Indeed civilian governments have not fared any better, our Special Branches and BNIs have been used against the democratic loving people of Ghana who have dared to criticise a government. It is even now happening in our dear country.
Politically the 1966 coup has been a disaster that set the country back some 25 years and it is only now that we are finding our feet in instilling the message in the people of Ghana that no matter how bad a government is, the ballot box is the only legitimate way of changing that government.
Socially and culturally, we Ghanaians cannot hold our heads as high as we did pre 1966 in the newly independent Ghana when our people were courted everywhere they went and the Kente cloth revered anytime a Ghanaian wore it. And this was anywhere in the world including the same America that subverted our democracy and sacrificed on the altar of the cold war.
We who were the beacon of Africa are now having to reassert ourselves, we have been overtaken by Nigeria and south Africa. Would this have been possible if Kwame had not been overthrown – we are tarnished with the same brush of countries that have experimented with military dictatorship. We are part of that so called hopeless continent as the economist recently called Africa on its front page.
The coup did us no favours and we sell struggle to rehabilitate our stature in the world. If only we had not had that coup we would be used as the example of what is good in Africa.
In development terms we are only now re-rehabilitating our infrastructure. Nkrumah left us a fine infrastructure fitting those time. Those who were supposed to rehabilitate it in the late sixties did nothing. It was further destroyed by lack of investment. It has taken 36 years to return our infrastructure to what it was before the first coup in 1966.
Our telephones have only recently been modernised, our roads are being laid out and all these with borrowed more. But what have we done to our railways. We have abandoned our railways why?
I am ashamed to talk about physical planning. It is as if the whole country and its leadership does not know what planning is all about. This could not have happened during Nkrumah’s day. What ever you can say of the man, he liked beautiful things and was determined that our country would be beautiful.
Education is now a problem in Ghana. Our schools used to be the training ground for politicians in other African states. Ghanaian degrees have turned into Russian and American degrees needing validation in Britain. What a shame – this could not have happened during Nkrumah’s time. Look at the schools Nkrumah built was the money wasted, was this not the way to develop our country by investing in its people and giving them the education and skills that would have enabled us to get on that path of accelerated economic growth.
Our businessmen all need to be educated if they are to compete in the world, our farmers need to be educated if they are to understand the agricultural policies and exploit technological development. Our carpenters need to be able to read and write in order for them to be able to read the instructions making furniture, our factory workers need to be able to read the instructions and the plans. We should forget about economic growth if we cannot afford to invest in education it just will not happen. Kwame Nkrumah tried to make it happen for us. The coup stopped it. How many years did it take before a new university was built after he left office.
Economically – we are back with the begging bowl making connection not on our own terms but an terms that have conditionality that are inimical to our development. We have borrowed more than we can pay.
The vision of Nkrumah would have seen us through. Every government that comes to power talks of empty coffers and yet they succeed in emptying the coffers more.
Thirty six years after we overthrew Nkrumah we are still tottering on bankruptcy. Bankrupts are discharge after three years and are we saying that not even our liberators and redeemers and revolutionaries and defenders could lead us into the land of milk and honey.
Without the leadership of Nkrumah we lost our vision and have been roaming around not knowing where we are going. The begging bowl will only lead us into more debt as we are finding out.
What did the soldiers and policemen expect. That America would have bailed us out economically after they had overthrown Nkrumah, that they would have become presidents.
What naivety did they not show? What did their thirty pieces amount to?
Our country has been set back. There is still hope that we will go back to the basic principles of being an independent country and realise that America played a big trick on us and we were all gullible. What have we got from those who helped us plan our coup?
After thirty-six years we must judge Nkrumah less harshly.
We must now accept that coups are bad for our country and the first coup 24th February 1966 must mark our day pf shame.
We have gained nothing, politically, culturally, socially, economically form a coup planned by Americans for the heck of it and executed by naïve service people.
The spirit of our independence continues, the vision of Nkrumah is still alive; his name lives on in books and pamphlets perhaps more than any African head of state.
Nkrumah never dies!
Forward ever backward never
**This piece was written ten years ago for Ghanaweb and Modern Ghana