24.02.2005 Feature Article

24th February--A Dark Day In Our National History

24th February--A Dark Day In Our National History
24.02.2005 LISTEN

February is here hence it is not surprising that important news items of our historical past have started dominating the news items both at home and on the web. First this month is declared across the globe as African heritage month, it is the month in which a holiday in memory of Martin Luther king is observed, it is the month in which the death of J. B Danquah is commemorated but sad of all it is the month in which Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown in the first coup d' tat in our country.

Since the Overthrow of Kwame, we have been treated with various theories to justify his removal from office; Kwame was accused of abusing human rights and undermining civil liberties of every Ghanaian. His economic and social policies were undoubtedly the best our country ever had yet every effort is made to discredit the man whose fame and popularity grows with every generation of Africans.

Ironically, the more Kwame opponents dead and alive try to discredit him, the more they endear him to young and growing Africans. For those of us who knew not this world at the times of Nkrumah but have come to admire him, it is because we have gone beyond the conspiracy theories in Ghana crafted purposely to undermine him in history, to search for alternative answers. Thankfully the real truth is now emerging. Gradually American declassification secret documents would lead to names being mentioned for our objective judgement.

Given that abuse of civil liberties is often cited as the main reason for the overthrow of Nkrumah as seen in among other documents, General Ankrah's declassified letter to Lyndon Johnson, it is proper to ask, why is Kwame Nkrumah who began as a democrat took such draconic measures to silence opposition to his government? To begin, we must acknowledge that abuse of civil liberties in whatever form is wrong and condemnable, however, it is equally important to understand the events in Ghana at the time, against the background that several attempts were made at Kwame Nkrumah's life by some power hungry individuals who eventually became the beneficiaries of his downfall. It cannot be denied that bombs were thrown at Nkrumah on more than one occasion, and there were both covert and overt plans to undermine his regime and national stability by forces within aided by forces without from the very moment Richard Nixon asked the famous question “will it work?'. Those who cherish their civil liberties as granted by the state, must know that national leaders who protect ours, also deserve to have their rights and liberties, which when threatened, the response could be catastrophic; this fact is often forgotten when the story of Kwame is told.

One is yet to see any government who failed to responds in like manner or who acted differently, when threatened. In the world today, George Bush who prides himself as the leader of the free world is going down in history as the American President who presided over the worse human right and civil liberty abuses in the world. Thousands of human beings are being held in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guatanamo bay near Cuba and in fact in the US itself, without any lawful trial as a response to the threats posed by Osama Bin Ladin and his cohorts. The patriot Act passed in the US in response to 9/11 is more draconic and dangerous than Kwame Nkrumah's Preventive Detention Act (PDA); both are simply unacceptable and inhuman. The Americans who masterminded the overthrow of Nkrumah certainly had motives other that Nkrumah's perceived or real dictatorship. Their motive was to destroy our young and industrialising nation, as well as demoralise the visions of all independent African states. This they succeeded in doing with the assistance of what Kwame himself called 'certain unpatriotic sons of Africa.' Reading the declassified letter General Ankrah wrote to Lyndon Johnson, one cannot help but bow his head in shame. In fact 24th February is our national day of shame. In the face of other declassified documents, it is apparent now that, that letter was written by CIA agent-- Howard Banes in Ghana for General Ankrah to sign in order to insulate America against future consequences of the coup.

In view of the publication of Ankrah's letter; president John Kufour's second inaugural comments on Richard Nixon's question to his British counterpart; continuing attempts to vilify Nkrumah by certain individuals and groups for political reasons; and calculated steps to project his opponents to near sainthood, it is proper that Ghanaians and Africans are told what other US declassified documents about the overthrow of Nkrumah contained. Much of this is published by the New African** which posited that “Ghana's attempt to lift itself from agrarian poverty to a shinning example of African industrialisation was frustrated and finally killed off. Nkrumah inaugurated the Akosombo Dam on 26 January 1966. A month later — on 24 February 1966 — he was overthrown in a military coup masterminded by America in collaboration with Britain and France (according to former CIA officers who have written books about it, and recent declassified American government documents). The documents, declassified at the end of 1999 but recently made public, show that the American government started talking about Nkrumah's overthrow as far back as 6 February 1964 — two full years before the actual event — when the then secretary of state Dean Rusk and the CIA Director John McCone met and picked the Ghanaian general, J.A. Ankrah, as the man to take over from Nkrumah.

From that meeting, the action snowballed into America recruiting Britain and France to help break the back of Ghana's economy by manipulating it from afar, in order to create disaffection among the Ghanaian people and hasten Nkrumah's downfall. The declassified American documents show that on 6 February 1964, William C. Trimble, the then director of the State Department's West African desk, wrote a memo entitled “Proposed Action Programme for Ghana” to the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, G. Mennen Williams, saying: Although Nkrumah's leftward progress cannot be checked or reversed, it could be slowed down by a well conceived and executed action programme. 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.” Trimble continued: “US pressure, if appropriately applied, could induce a chain reaction, eventually leading to Nkrumah's downfall. Chances of success would be greatly enhanced if the British could be induced to act in concert with us.

“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 necessitate his removal.” On 12 February 1964, a high-powered American-British meeting on Nkrumah was held at the White House, attended by (on the American side) President Lynden Johnson, Secretary of State Dean Rusk, Under-Secretary of State Harriman, and Special Assistant to the President on National Security Affairs, McGeorge Bundy. On the British side were Prime Minister Douglas-Home and Foreign Secretary Butler. “One could not be sure how long Nkrumah would last,” Butler said at the meeting, according to the minutes recently released with the declassified American documents. On 26 February 1964, another meeting on Nkrumah was held at the White House. Present this time were the CIA director McCone, his close friend Edgar Kaiser (the same man working with Nkrumah on the Volta River Project), and William P. Mahoney, the US ambassador in Accra. The declassified documents record McCone as saying at the meeting: “I asked Ambassador Mahoney if he felt that the CIA was operating independently of his office [in Accra]… Mahoney answered absolutely and positively no.” Mahoney returned to Accra after the meeting and went to see Nkrumah on 2 March 1964. According to the declassified documents, he reported back to Washington, thus: “I said [told Nkrumah] that I am in full control of all US government activities in Ghana. I could assure him without hesitation that during my incumbency absolutely nothing has been done by any US agency, which could be construed in any way as being directed against him or his government. Nkrumah replied with words to the effect: 'I will take your word for it” Mahoney continued: “I repeated that there had been no conceivable activity on our part to subvert or overthrow him. I pointed out how inconsistent our entire aid effort, aimed at assisting and strengthening his government is, with wild accusations in [the] Ghanaian press that the US [is] acting against him. “I added that, speaking frankly, our main intelligence effort is to keep an eye on his Soviet and Chinese friends, whose activities are really large scale… [Al beginning has been made in effort to dispel some of Nkrumah's misconstructions on [the] role of CIA, [but] pressure should be kept up.” On 23 March 1964, Mahoney again sent a telegram to Washington, saying: “I believe someone has to keep hammering him [meaning Nkrumah].” On 9 April 1964, acting on Mahoney's advice, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs, G. Mennem Williams, wrote an action memo to the under-secretary of state, Harriman, saying the US should “keep continuing pressure on [Nkrumah] to maintain his relations with the US on a tolerable basis… We shall consult with the British in the next few days to discuss what contribution they may be able to make in this area.”

On 11 March 1965, the CIA director McCone and others, including Ambassador Mahoney met in McCone's office to take the “Nkrumah project” a step further. According to the declassified documents, the topic was: “Coup d'etat plot, Ghana”. The minutes of that meeting show Mahoney telling McCone that Western pressure was working against Nkrumah. “Popular opinion was running strongly against Nkrumah,” Mahoney said, “and the economy of the country was in a precarious state.” However, Mahoney was “not convinced that the coup d'état now being planned by Acting Police Commissioner J.W.K. Harlley, and Generals Otu and Ankrah would necessarily take place”. Yet, he (Mahoney) was sure that “one way or another, Nkrumah would be out within a year”. According to the minutes, McCone asked Mahoney: “Who would most likely succeed Nkrumah in the event of a coup?” The answer: “Ambassador Mahoney stated that initially, at least, a military junta would take over.”

Mahoney was supported by Robert W. Komer who had replaced McGeorge Bundy as President Johnson's assistant for national security affairs. An old CIA hand, Komer, according to the declassified documents, advised his bosses, thus: “We may have a pro-Western coup in Ghana soon. Certain key military and police figures have been planning one for some time, and Ghana's deteriorating economic condition may provide the spark. “The plotters are keeping us briefed, and State [Department] thinks we're more on the inside than the British. While we're not directly involved, (I'm told) we and other Western countries (including France) have been helping to set up the situation by ignoring Nkrumah's pleas for economic aid… All in all, looks good.” Soon after the New Year 1966, having finished his job of softening the ground, Ambassador William Mahoney was recalled home. In his place, Washington sent an African-American: Ambassador Franklin H. Williams, who was Nkrumah's mate at Lincoln University (the Class of 1941).

Williams was barely two months in Accra when the coup happened, on 24 February 1966 while Nkrumah was en route to Hanoi via Beijing on a peace mission (sanctioned by President Lynden Johnson himself) to stop the Vietnam War. Nkrumah never forgave Ambassador Williams — his mate at university and a fellow black man. In his book, Dark Days In Ghana, Nkrumah said Ambassador Williams' “treachery provides a sharp reminder of the insidious ways in which the enemies of Africa can operate. In the US, the 'Uncle Tom' figure is well known. We have mercifully seen less of him in Africa.” On 21 July 1969, Dr Marvin Wachmann who was about to leave as president of Lincoln University, wrote to Nkrumah then in exile in Guinea, saying: “As I prepare to leave, I would like to write a word on behalf of Franklin H. Williams of the Class of 1941… Mr Williams is a very bouncy and vigorous individual, and I have never seen him so crushed as he has been, concerning your feelings that he was involved in some way in the episodes in Ghana. He has assured me, personally, that he had no knowledge of the coup.” Not very amused, Nkrumah told June Milne, his research assistant for 15 years and later publisher: “It is extremely unlikely that Williams did not know what was going on in the embassy with CIA officers operating from there.”

Nkrumah's viewpoint was supported by the former Ivorian president, Felix Houphouet Boigny, in an interview with Paris-based magazine, Jeune Afrique, published on 4 February 1981. He told the magazine: “Destablisation is not a new thing. Did you know why Idi Amin made his coup in 1972? It was not he who did it, but the British. He did not even know what he wanted himself. It was the same in Ghana when the military overthrew Nkrumah. They [the Ghanaian coupmakers] came to see me. I asked them why. They replied: 'All is not well any more.' Is that all? [I asked them]. I also asked them what they were going to do; they did not know. People outside knew it for them.” On 12 March 1966, less then three weeks after the Ghana coup, Robert W. Komer, the then special assistant to President Johnson on national security, wrote a congratulatory assessment to the president, saying: “The coup in Ghana is another example of a fortuitous windfall. Nkrumah was doing more to undermine our interests than any other black African. In reaction to his strongly pro-Communist leanings, the new military regime [in Accra] is almost pathetically pro-Western.”

After the coup, Western journalists descended on Accra to mock Nkrumah. The BBC “Black Power” documentary picks up the story from here… Howard Banes who was the CIA station chief in Accra engineered the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah. Now, obviously, you can look at it in different ways. A Ghanaian might say I thought we did it. Inside the CIA, though, it was quite clear. Howard Banes had a double promotion and an Intelligence Star for having overthrown Kwame Nkrumah in Ghana. The magic of it, what made it so exciting for the CIA, was that Howard Banes had had enough imagination and drive to run the operation without ever documenting what he was doing, and to sweep along his bosses in such a way, that they never knew what he was doing, tacitly they approved, but there wasn't one shred of paper that he generated that would nail the CIA hierarchy as being responsible. In the late 1960s, Western journalists travelled to Ghana to pick up the bones of Nkrumah's industrial experiment. Their contentious reports seemed to confirm to the West a new myth of Africa, a continent unable to handle the complex pressures of industrialisation.” Immediately following the coup both western journalist and their local agents treated Ghanaians and the world to various theories explaining the Nkrumah's overthrow. Ghanaians and the world was made to understand that the Kwame wasted our national resources and money on irrelevant national projects like the 12 miles Accra-Tema motorway, the Black Star Square, the Akosombo Dam and the State House among others. Unfortunately, many Ghanaians including our own president, J A. Kufour bought into this theory. It is ironic and sad to see President Kufour stand on the grounds of the very Black Star Square considered as one of Nkrumah's waste projects, and repeat his adherence to the Nkrumah-Waste Theory; when he claimed Ghana was rich at independence but all the money was wasted. Mr. President, I beg to defer, as New African** puts it, “even the most strident opponent of Nkrumah agrees that the Tema Motorway, the State House (or Job 600), and the Black Star Square were no “white elephants”. They were a necessary part of the national infrastructure that had to be built at one point or another. Today, all parades, big national events and presidential inaugurations, including those of Presidents Hilla Limann (1979), Jerry Rawlings (1992 & 1996), and John Kufuor (2001), are held at the Black Star Square. The Tema Motorway, serving the country's main in-bound port, is still the best piece of road in the country. Without it, the Tema port will be useless. Today, Kaiser's smelter at Tema still operates on cheap electricity from the Akosombo Dam. Almost all the 68 state-owned factories in existence at Nkrumah's overthrow have now been sold off to private operators, mostly Westerners and Asians from the Far-East, as part of the IMF/World Bank structural adjustment programme. And the country has been declared an HIPC — Highly Indebted Poor Country” Perhaps Nkrumah would also divest these state-owned institutions to private hands under today's circumstances but certainly not to foreign hands. His believe in the Ghanaian and African people; would have given our privatization an indigenous outlook.

Ankrah sounded in his letter dated 24 March 1966, (exactly one month after the Kotoka Coup) to Lynden Johnson, as if Johnson knew nothing about Ghana's coup. As you can deduce from this piece, Ankrah is not only a hypocrite here, but was also used to serve American interest. In any case why did Ankrah find it necessary to write and explain the circumstances to Johnson? Who do they think they were fooling? But Ankrah is only a small fish among bigger ones. With time, the names of those individuals who were on the CIA payroll to subvert our national pride, would all be made public, then we shall examine the sincerity of all those who claim to be acting on our behalf when they helped throw bombs at Kwame. It was naïve for General Ankrah and his men to think that US was helping them fight a just cause when at the time the US itself was paying lip-services to the civil liberties and rights of African-Americans, segregating against blacks in public places. When shall we learn? When shall we allow the common good of all to supersede individual interest? Didn't the US assassinate or if you like stage a coup to topple John F. Kennedy (JFK) for his overt desire to grant civil liberties to African-Americans? It is not surprising that Lynden Johnson, who succeeded JFK, after the American coup, presided over the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah as can be deduced from Ankrah's letter published earlier by Ghanaweb: It is already established that nothing can erase the memory of Kwame Nkrumah from the annals of Ghana and Africa. At the close of last millennium, then almost 30 years after his death, he was voted the greatest African of the melinninum by a BBC survey and opinon poll. At the moment he is not surpassed as the most prolific writer and author of all African leaders past and present. In addition, no African leader has as yet matched the continuing research and publications devoted to studying the visions, ideas and philosophy of Nkrumah. There are thousands of websites devoted to studying and spreading the ideals of Nkrumah by scholars and students of various persuasions cross the globe. It is about time Ghanaians are treated with the truth about Nkrumah; for the more remnants of his detractors try to vilify him, the more he is deified by present generations of Africa. If Kwame Nkrumah continues to receive such great admiration and reverence from people of all walks of life against the background that when he was overthrown, his statues were demolished, his party was banned, and his books and other publications were removed from shelves in libraries and bookstores and destroyed, then, we must ask; what has endeared him to growing generations of Ghanaians like myself and other Africans? We must acknowledge Kwame as our hero, and the symbol of our national unity and nationhood. Many colleague African students I have met in North America have always wished that Kwame was of their nationality. Jama Mohamed Ghalib, a Kenyan commenting on Kwame Nkrumah as the greatest son of Africa in September 2004 No. 19 edition of the New African had this to say “most Africans acknowledged Nkrumah as unequalled inspiring genius and political thinker. He deserves to be remembered as the true son of Africa—the only country where opinion may still be divided about him is Ghana itself.”*** Isn't it sad that others perceive us this way?

Certainly not every Ghanaian would have the opportunity to do as much as Nkrumah did for our part of the world. By the dictates of our democratic system, only few will chance upon that moment. Currently president Kufour has that opportunity to prove to all Ghanaians that given eight years, he can do more than Kwame did in nine years. Instead of spending your good time on casting insinuation at Nkrumah, Mr. President, focus on what is most important to the Ghanaian people and never forget that history will also judge you. If you have any concerns about Nkrumah, it must be how to surpass his great achievements and not casting slur on his personality and period. Irrespective of what you think of Kwame, you cannot change his place is history. And please be remaindered that those who live in glass houses must not through stones. If you are happy to be the Ghanaian president that will preside over the 50 years independence celebrations in Ghana, you must be thankful to Kwame. Mr. President, your comments in more recent times at certain public gatherings are unlike you. Power could sometimes make you forget your true self and the principles you aspire to in life. Just never lose your consciousness and sense of good judgment. In additional you must learn a few lessons from events of the 1966 coup and let your actions, and particularly your dealing with the Americans be guided by the interest of Ghanaians. America is capable of undermining your good intentions and influencing your government even against our national interest. Above all, know that thirty years from now, America will declassify all your communications and dealing with them, then we and our children and their children will pass a historical judgment of your government. You have a lot to learn from the on-going declassification of secret American documents on events relating to our country's past. Now that Eyadema is also dead, let us hope France will begin to declassify, then we shall put all the pieces together to form the whole. Ankrah's hypocrisy, Kotoka's naivety are stabs in our hearts; let us resolve never again to allow deceit, lies and self interest override our collective good. ** New African, Feb2002 Issue 404, p20, 6p, 5bw *** New African, September 2004 No. 19 Michael Whyte Kpessa, Ontario, Canada