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19.01.2007 Feature Article

When Dancers Play Historians And Thinkers -Part 21

When Dancers Play Historians And Thinkers -Part 21
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In the preface to his quite literate narrative of the landmark coup d'état that ousted Ghanaian premier Kwame Nkrumah, titled A Myth Is Broken: An Account Of The Ghana Coup D'État Of February 1966 (Longmans, 1968), Major-General A. K. Ocran eloquently limns the surrealistically dismal Ghanaian political milieu in which the coup occurred: “Amongst the armies of British Commonwealth countries, with the exception of a few, the idea of a coup d'état is a taboo and I believe that, if following Ghana's Independence up to the early 1960's, anyone had told me that West African Commonwealth countries would be among the exceptions, I would have doubted not only his political wisdom[,] but also his familiarity with the traditions of armies of these countries. Events[,] however[,] changed. While Ghana, for example, was groping her way as a nation through the uncertainties of the future, her Government ignored the lessons of history and appeared determined not to profit by the experiences of other nations. Many and varied were the deeds, misdeeds and omissions that caused the dramatic change of Government, a change that was most welcome to the people of Ghana. Indeed to many, the change was delayed for too long; to a large number the timing was just right; none [that] I have talked with would have preferred a further delay. If the coup had not taken place at the time [that] it did[,] the popular opinion in Ghana was that there would have been a popular uprising which might have resulted in bloodshed on a large scale” (Myth Is Broken ix).

Thus, contrary to what fanatical Nkrumaists and Nkrumacrats would have their audiences of unsuspecting captives believe, by the eve of the African Show Boy's ouster, Ghanaians were poised on the verge of a civil war. In effect, had the Army and the Police not risen to the occasion, these major societally stabilizing institutions may yet have found themselves relegated to the margins of historical relevance, with its attendant vista of immitigable and irreparable disdain and outright disgust.

Indeed, regarding the much-remarked state of rank corruption that had taken full grips of the so-called revolutionary government of Nkrumah's Convention People's Party (CPP), this is what General Ocran has to say: “In Ghana itself at least, Nkrumah was guilty of all the ills that had in 1960-61 formed the basic fears of his then Chief of Defense Staff. Where he was not directly involved, for example, in rations and stores, his Ministers made certain that they acted for him, to the embarrassment of everyone. He and his Ministers had had their fill for many years since their accession to power in 1951. For did not he and his Ministers become wealthy, even millionaires, overnight, so to speak? There was evidence all around of this sudden acquisition of wealth[,] and among Ghanaians this was a common subject of conversation and disapproving comment. Yet the many revelations of maladministration and careless use of public funds that have come out since the coup have been enough to shock even those who suspected the worst; indeed, the revelations have been enough to shock all but those who themselves plundered the nation's treasury or directly or even indirectly benefited from the plunder” (Myth Is Broken 5-6).

In other words, hundreds of dissertations on the systematically cultivated culture of corruption on the part of the Nkrumah regime could hardly begin to provide an accurate portrait of the virtual state of decadence and sheer rot that were the essence of the 15-year tenure of the CPP. And for the intellectually inclined author and then-Chief of the Southern Command of the Ghana Armed Forces, the greatest stumbling block to Nkrumah's pontifical rhetoric on Pan-Africanism inheres in the double-irony of his intimate dealings with the very “blood-sucking white imperialist” whom the African Show Boy, nevertheless, found expedient in the service of his, admittedly, crucial nation-building efforts: “It will be recalled that in 1960, barely three years after Independence, the Government of Ghana dispatched troops, young, proud and efficient, to the Congo to help restore law and order in that country. One direct outcome of the venture was that Nkrumah was persuaded to do away prematurely with the British officers in the Ghana Army, to satisfy his friends as to his neutrality or policy of non-alignment. It was true[,] indeed[,] that whilst the Ghana Army was in the Congo[,] the Congolese and the other African troops present in the Congo were always pointing fingers at the white officers in the Ghana Army and wanting us to explain their presence in the ranks of the Ghana Forces, whilst the Congolese were being urged by Nkrumah to sack their Belgian officers; for they could hardly reconcile the presence of British officers in our Forces with his advice. I may say [that] this often caused us some [indeed, a lot of] embarrassment. It was this general suspicion of white officers by the Congolese that triggered off the Port Franque incident in which thirty Ghanaian soldiers were murdered by Congolese troops and their bodies thrown into the River Kasai” (Myth Is Broken 6-7).

In sum, for the author of A Myth Is Broken, no major leader on the African continent, in 1960, appeared to be as full of bluster and abject hypocrisy as the ousted Ghanaian premier. Consequently, Nkrumah's stentorian pronouncements on a supposedly unique phenomenon called “The African Personality” kept his equally fervent counterparts elsewhere on the continent wondering whether the proverbial African “Man of Destiny” was not strung up on some hallucinogenic drugs. And for those rapidly thinning, ardent Nkrumah apologists, such as M. N. Tetteh, author of The Ghana Young Pioneer Movement, who would at the drop of a pin go to the greatest lengths in defending every patently and flagrantly undemocratic act of the African Show Boy, in the dubious name of the rule of law and constitutionality, General Ocran vehemently begs to differ. Thus, regarding the insufferable exercising of extortionate executive powers by the CPP chieftain, the seminal member of the National Liberation Council observes: “Nkrumah was dictatorial to the extreme. Under the guise of strengthening the Party[,] he strengthened his personal control throughout the country. Apart from him there existed no center, no source of power. If satisfied that an order was necessary to prevent a person from acting in a manner prejudicial to the security of the State, almost anyone in the Party hierarchy could order that citizen into detention. Consequently, to put away a boy in order to have access to his girlfriend was easy – a resort to the Preventive Detention Act was all that was needed. A schoolboy of 14 years was among the more than one thousand people detained until rescued by us after the coup; for no apparent reason he had spent more than four years in preventive detention. Nkrumah could give direction by legislative instrument; he felt free to ride roughshod over Acts of Parliament or even over the Constitution which was the fundamental law of Ghana. He could raise additional army units at will.

Nkrumah became power-drunk and forgot his God – it is authoritatively reported that he still [as of 1968 when Ocran's A Myth Is Broken was published] consults Kankan Nyame, the fetish, to help him [get] back to power. There is also no doubt that he became highly immoral; he took increasingly to sleeping with women, and it is widely believed that even the wives of his own Ministers were not spared. This was common knowledge among Ghanaians, although the delicacy of this subject compelled most Ghanaians to be reticent about it, especially in the presence of non-Ghanaians. Non-Ghanaians were therefore undoubtedly ignorant of this aspect of Nkrumah's degeneration. But, combined with his political extravagances, it filled Ghanaians with increasing contempt for the man. Inevitably[,] the feeling grew that he was not worth his position. In order to protect himself[,] he established a wide security service under the general umbrella of the Security Act, 1963. The Act provided that no proceedings could be instituted against the State in any court in respect of anything done in accordance with the provisions of the Act and the rules made there-under. The field was thus [made] clear for him. He had created the backbone of his political machine; the whip of a tyrant had been fashioned. By 1965 control of all the principal pressure points in the State and society had been transferred to him. He was the 'Font of Honor,' the 'Father of the Nation,' the 'Founder,' the 'Leader,' 'Osagyefo,' 'His Messianic Dedication,' 'Nkrumah of Africa,' 'Show Boy,' and other extravagant titles. The Party Leader must have been aware of the total lack of legitimacy of the Party; but he heard himself called the 'Messiah' and all the other names so often that he probably believed it in the end” (Myth Is Broken 17-19).

Contrary to widely held and received CPP mantra that Africa's “Man of Destiny” was a selfless patriot who owned virtually nothing and, in fact, sacrificed his phenomenal fortunes for the progress and development of Ghana and his Pan-Africanist agenda, the former NLC member responsible for the Ministries of Works and Housing as well as Communications, tersely writes: “Over the years and by devious means[,] including [rank] corruption, extortion and acceptance of questionable gifts, Nkrumah extracted from various sources enough private wealth to make him a millionaire. Estimates show him as being worth two and half million pounds” (Myth Is Broken 20).

And to fully appreciate the damnable extent of abject misprision – or official – corruption among the ranks of the CPP government and its indistinguishable party apparatchiks, or machinists, General Ocran recalls, in part, the following extract from Nkrumah's infamous Dawn Broadcast on April 8, 1961: “I have recently been alarmed at the amount of traveling abroad which is undertaken by Ministers, Ambassadors, Ministerial Secretaries and civil servants of all ranks. In many cases[,] it is clear that approval is sought from no one before the journeys concerned are made. In future, traveling abroad, unless approved by the Cabinet, will not be paid for by the Government. The cost of any journeys which are undertaken without this [such?] approval will be surcharged to the persons concerned. I have also directed that instructions should be given to the heads of all public boards and corporations, to ensure that no officers of these boards and corporations travel outside Ghana at Government expense without any specific approval or that of the Cabinet. Ghanaian Ambassadors take their children with them when they proceed to their stations, at the expense of the Government. I am taking steps to discourage this practice, for it seems to me that on psychological and other grounds, it is better for these young children to begin their education at home. At any rate[,] this practice cannot be justified on financial grounds. In future, Ambassadors and foreign service officers will not be allowed to take their children abroad[,] unless such children are below the age of five years. The procedure will apply equally to civil servants and other Ghanaian public functionaries serving abroad” (Myth Is Broken 22-23).

Further, the author of A Myth Is Broken observes: “But even his most determined critics little thought that he could bring himself to acquire, inside the country alone, as much wealth as two and a half million pounds. He controlled in addition[,] all the 5-10 percent commissions and bribes which he used to control the political machine; some he deposited abroad as a form of political insurance against [possible] loss of power – [almost] as if he knew what was to come. Substantial sums found their way into the pockets of party officials and functionaries – whose only aim in associating themselves with the Government and Party was to get rich quick. It is sad to recall that these numbers later embraced eminent scholars and professors who became openly involved in this shameless political deterioration and corruption…. He was in many ways a political fraud because, whether he liked it or not, he managed to confuse a whole population of seven million people in his [dogged] pursuit of political dreams. To this end also[,] he made friends with foreigners, many of whom were of dubious backgrounds and characters and political leanings, and who advised him and wielded a considerable degree of influence in Ghana. The group of advisers was most responsible for the gigantic plans into which Nkrumah plunged concerning Pan-African affairs long before the Ghana[ian] base had been secured. His attention and energies were directed increasingly away from his own home base and he could do justice neither to his domestic nor his adopted continental constituency. Whilst propagating African Unity his domestic politics had been based on the principle of permanent disunity in Africa. He was instrumental in the splitting up of the West African Cocoa Research Institute, the West African Currency Board, West African Airways, the West African School of Infantry and Education – all in the name of African Unity?” (Myth Is Broken 24-25).

And regarding the morally imperative need for Nkrumah to be forcibly removed by the eve of February 1966 putsch, General Ocran recalls: “By 1965 it had become apparent that there was no means of going to the polls in a General Election. A system of 'election by nomination' had already been instituted whereby the Central Committee of the Party and Nkrumah approved candidates nominated for the Regions. Of course, there were no opposing candidates and those names agreed upon were announced as having been elected unopposed. It was thus impossible to resort to the ballot box to effect a change of Government. In any case, elections in Ghana in those days when school children, young pioneers and Party members could be ordered to fill ballot boxes with already marked ballot papers could not be properly described as elections. Nkrumah's overthrow was necessary if Ghana was to regain her lost prestige; if she was to return to sanity; if she was not to become a base [for] communists; if Ghanaians were not to go hungry; if the country was not to collapse morally and financially; in sum, if the country was not to commit national suicide. The economic reason for his overthrow was particularly compelling. The so-called Seven-Year Development Plan collapsed even before it started” (Myth Is Broken 26).

And still further, the author of A Myth Is Broken quotes this eerily prophetic pronouncement from the African Show Boy in peremptory justification of the February 1966 Ghanaian Revolution: “Nkrumah himself admitted in his speech delivered at the State House on 11 February, 1966 when he was commenting on the overthrow of the late Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa of Nigeria that the Armed Forces could take over Government when it was in the national interest to do so. I quote from paragraph four of the speech: 'If the national interest compels the Armed Forces to intervene, then immediately after the intervention the Army must hand over to a new civil Government.' We took over in the national interest and we have to hand over again in the national interest” (Myth Is Broken 27).

And so it does appear that Nkrumah had seen the proverbial handwriting on the wall. But just like any leader incurably afflicted with the mortal cancer of “God-Complex,” Nkrumah simply refused to accept the stark fact of the handwriting being about himself. With his tragi(c)-heroic blinders on, Africa's “Man of Destiny” took a look at the proverbial mirror but could only recognize the ugly and dour faces of his continental arch-political enemies.

Indeed, for a self-proclaimed anti-neocolonialist spearhead, Nkrumah, once in power, proved himself to be a no better alternative to the departed “European Imperialists,” as he quickly resorted to the strict and hermetic maintenance of administrative perks written into British colonial government protocol, in order to cushion up the widely perceived harsh realities of a metropolitan European citizen working in one of the legion imperial outposts dotted across the globe: “Nkrumah, after squandering millions of Ghana's hard-earned pounds, was hard put to it to find money to run the country and he therefore resorted to squeezing all [that] he could out of the pittance paid to the [ordinary Ghanaian] worker. Every year the people had to pull their belts tighter while Nkrumah, in his desire to find money for his own pocket, his grandiose schemes, and his many ever-demanding girlfriends and political hangers-on, ordered the immediate withdrawal or curtailment of the small amenities and benefits enjoyed by civil and public servants, including members of the Forces. Free passages abroad for children were cancelled[,] even though his Ministers managed to send their families, including maid servants and girlfriends, abroad at public expense; traveling allowances were reduced to such a low level that Government [civil?] servants could not afford to use their [own] cars for duty [official?] journeys; rent was increased for all overnight, and out-of-station allowances were stopped” (Myth Is Broken 41-42).

In sum, public funds were indiscriminately lavished on CPP government officials and Party hacks, almost as if these indigenous Ghanaian government operatives had volunteered for expatriate service in their own country. The keen student of postcolonial Ghanaian politics also learns soon enough that the institutionalization of a “National Defense Council,” as pertained to the Rawlings-led so-called Provisional National Defense Council, was originally a Ghanaian military apparatus created solely to negotiate generous conditions of service for the men and women constituting the Ghana Armed Forces. Consequently, it begins to make a quite perfect sense that the ten-protracted-year tenure of the PNDC should witness the Ghana Armed Forces feeding fat on the skeletal remains of the proverbial, average Ghanaian worker (Myth Is Broken 41).

It is, however, quite curious that even while General Ocran emphatically claims that the landmark February 1966 Revolution had been undertaken purely on a sacrificial basis, the author should also claim, rather resentfully, that in cutting privileges across the board for both civil servants and members of the Ghana Armed Forces, the latter institution had been profoundly slighted – or shortchanged – in a manner that, by and large, required a rapid retaliatory response: “These cancellations were almost invariably made by publication in the general routine orders or in special circulars and were to apply to all civil and public servants, including the Armed Forces. This way of doing things was, of course, contrary to the terms of employment of Forces personnel. These terms could be amended only by the NDC and not by Nkrumah or anyone else acting alone or in collusion [?] with others. When these circulars and routine orders had been made to apply to us in the Forces[,] we could seek a revocation or exemption from them only through the NDC which had ceased to function. We had [a] very good reason for protesting against these circulars but were not allowed the opportunity to do so. The result was that like the civil servants, we had to suffer a loss in pay and of certain amenities while the cost of living rose astronomically….. By late 1965, the going was getting tough for the most senior officers. The salaries introduced in 1957 meant little in 1965; they were worth only a third of their value. If almost every officer was in the 'red'[,] the plight of the rank and file [members of the Forces] could well be imagined. It was when I took command of a battalion that I saw more clearly the damage that Nkrumah had done to the country and more particularly, to the Army. Without knowing the precise extent of ruin and corruption in the country at large, I could tell from the state of things in the Army that all was not well” (Myth Is Broken 42-43).

Still, one cannot readily concur with General Ocran's assertion that: “It takes a man of boundless courage to initiate a coup d'état,” for it all depends on the nature of the particular coup d'état in question and, perhaps even more significantly, the agglomeration of circumstances rendering such putsch an absolute necessity or lack thereof. Nonetheless, one cannot but unreservedly agree with the author's glowing tribute to the putative spearhead of the February 1966 Revolution: “Ghanaians owe their deliverance to Col. Kotoka, later Lt.-Gen. Kotoka, General Officer Commanding, Ghana Armed Forces, who in his characteristic, forceful, seemingly possessed mood immediately prior to 22nd February dictated the pace for the others to follow. But for him, the coup would not have taken place on 24th February, 1966; it would have taken place all the same, but on a different date and perhaps under different conditions and circumstances. It takes a man of boundless courage to initiate a coup d'état; and he was a man of boundless courage. I believe that in the initial stages of planning he was reluctant to let me into the secret for fear that I was one of those in the good books of the ex-President by virtue of my appointment to Flagstaff House in 1961 as a Military Assistant for a period of three months. Again, my appointment in 1965 as One Brigade Commander, in preference to him who was my senior, might have given him grounds for his uncertainty as to my relationship with Nkrumah. I knew Nkrumah as every Ghanaian did, but I doubt if he knows me by sight” (Myth Is Broken 85).

Indeed, what makes General Ocran's book, A Myth Is Broken, a memorable and quite significant narrative, even one verging on a classic, is the fact that the author deftly details both the momentous and the mundane. Thus, for instance, regarding the spontaneous public reaction which greeted the February 1966 revolutionary putsch, he writes: “From the Guard Room[,] I went to Police Headquarters[,] where the Liberation Council had been operating. Even at that time I had great difficulty in wading through the crowds of jubilating civilians all along the route. In town[,] Ghanaians poured out in their thousands to breathe the air of freedom just released to [on?] them; women of all sizes, the big bosomed and the small, the thin and the plump, the beautiful and ugly; thousands of people, the young and the old, even the crippled, all blended to lend their cheers to the soldiers and the police – to the end of 15 years of oppression and tyranny. A myth had been broken” (Ocran 84).

Finally, in an urbane retrospective, General Ocran recalls: “It must come as no surprise[,] therefore[,] if the casualty figure(s) at the end of the encounter stood at fourteen killed[,] including four civilians, and thirty-one wounded. With all the firing[,] only one member of the Guard Regiment was among the dead. He happened to be at the gate when the attackers arrived there. The rest of the casualties belonged to the attackers. The civilian casualties were caused through [by?] indiscriminate firing by the Guard Regiment across the road in front of Flagstaff House on anything that moved. The coup had been almost bloodless indeed. The streets of Accra were not littered with corpses, as some people would want the world to believe. The late General Barwah had been told on the telephone that an officer had been kidnapped and had told [asked?] me to investigate; he had then made certain telephone calls to people alerting them whilst he himself remained at his residence. The arrest party detailed for him eventually arrived at his residence and having captured the guard [i.e. put the guard under arrest?][,] went [in] and knocked at his door. The leader [of the arresting party] told him [that] he had a message for him. Down came General Barwah, pistol in hand. By then firing had not started, and he could not have suspected a coup d'état; [alas] he fired on the arrest[ing] party as he opened his door. He was shot and wounded. He died later in hospital. It can only be assumed that having heard of the arrest of Col. Hassan[,] he was prepared and ready to resist any attempt to arrest him too…. If Nkrumah had been present[,] we would have captured him, but with emotions running as high as they were on that day[,] it would have been hard to tell his fate. As it is, thinking back[,] I can only say that the aim to remove him from office had been achieved. My only observation is that for as long as he lives[,] he will make attempts to subvert Ghana. I am certain [that] he is glad that someone else is clearing up the mess he created that was about to blow up in his face. I have no regrets. In my view[,] Africa is not poorer for Nkrumah's overthrow. It is much safer. The idea of African Unity will continue all the same and be pursued by successive Ghanaian governments. The Organization of African Unity should be better off without an intriguing and selfish propagandist like Nkrumah. I think [that] with the discoveries of the dishonesty and great [wanton?] immorality which the inquiries have produced, it is inconceivable that Nkrumah can still be held in honorable estimation by right[-]thinking African rulers of Africa today. They must be sent copies of the various reports to read for themselves. It is a pity that some Africans have taken a hostile stand against Ghana's NLC; this rather selfish attitude is understandable because with the fall of Nkrumah[,] they have ceased to have free access to the Ghanaian taxpayers' money which Nkrumah dished out to them. But what really matters is that it is the people of Ghana who have rejected Nkrumah; Ghana is free, and happy that he is no more the President” (Myth Is Broken 90-93).

[/]Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., teaches English and Journalism at Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City. He is the author of nine volumes of poetry and three anthologies of essays, including “Dr. J. B. Danquah: Architect of Modern Ghana” (, 2005). E-mail: [email protected]

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