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14.06.2007 General News

How Fathia and her children escaped 1966 coup

By myjoyonline

Ghanaians Tuesday had the rare opportunity of hearing at first hand how the late Madam Fathia Nkrumah and her three children escaped from the Flagstaff House as the 1966 coup unfolded.

Making the narration in a tribute he read on behalf of his siblings at the state burial of their late mother, Gamel Nkrumah, Fathia's first son, recalled vividly how they were rudely woken from sleep by the rattling sound of gunfire on that fateful day.

It did not dawn them at the time that the country's first coup d'etat was being enacted.

As Gamel rightfully pointed out, the unfolding takeover was destined to change the course of Ghana's history.

He eulogised his late mother's resilience and strength even in the face of the sound of rifles and machine guns as the enemy forces were engaged by Nkrumah's loyal Presidential Guards in the confines of the Flagstaff House on that fateful 24th February, 1966.

He recalled that at the time the enemy forces struck, his father was away on a special mediation mission which took him to China en route to Hanoi, Vietnam.

The late Madam Fathia, he said, told her three children not to be afraid when they rushed into her bedroom, terrified and confused at the rattling sound of gunfire.

The children overheard their mother speaking to the Egyptian Embassy, after which she turned to them to announce reassuringly, "It will be well, the Egyptians will help us."

She asked the kids to pray, to which they knelt down and asked for God's intervention. With the prayers done, she uttered the words, "Even if they fire at you, the bullets would not hurt you. Nothing will harm you".

These words, Gamel said, have remained permanent in the memories of her kids.

The words, at a time he, Gamel had not yet turned seven, dampened the grip of fear and distress in which they were at the time.

That day, he recalled, "cannot erase from our memory; it radically altered our personal lives and changed the course of Ghanaian history."

Not far away from their residence, their father's lions roared, perhaps to foreshadow the upcoming event.

Their mother, though troubled but mustering courage, he said, called the Egyptian Ambassador to contact Presi¬dent Gamel Abdul Nasser and inform him about the unfolding event.

Hardly had she finished talking with the Embassy than the telephone lines were cut by the mutinous soldiers.

Her call to the Egyptian Embassy was however propitious because President Nasser dispatched an aircraft to lift the trapped Nkrumah family to the safety of Cairo.

The battle for control of the Flagstaff House, then the seat of government and presidential residence, intensified as the two opposing forces continued the fire fight, Gamel said.

Eventually though, the Presidential Guards, under the command of Colonel Gbon Zanlerigu surrendered when the mutinous soldiers threatened to blow up the Flagstaff House.

Upon their entry into the Flagstaff House, the occupants of the place, including the first president's mother, the late Madam Nyaneba, were evacuated, Gamel recalled.

His mother, he said, collected a few personal belongings, but these, including family photographs, souvenirs and letters, were confiscated at a roadblock mounted on the way as they made for the airport en route to Cairo.

The late Madam Fathia, dauntless as she was, reproached the soldiers at the checkpoint over what she described as their ingratitude.

The Nkrumah family, he said, stopped over at the Egyptian Embassy where Madam Fathia borrowed a coat from the Ambassador's wife and jackets for her children.

The journey to the airport was not without hitches as the Nkrumah family was taken to the Police Headquarters for interrogation before being given the all-clear to proceed.

Ghana, which attained independence on 6th March 1957, witnessed its first successful coup on 24th February 1966 when President Kwame Nkrumah was away in Hanoi.

The coup saw the foisting of a National Liberation Council (NLC) upon the country. The NLC was headed by General E.K. Ankrah.

Dr. Nkrumah, who remained in exile in Guinea until his death on 28th April, 1972, was buried first at Nkroful, his birthplace and later at the mausoleum erected in his memory in Accra.

Culled from Daily Guide