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Opinion | Feb 21, 2012

COMPLICITY OR CONSPIRACY THEORY- 1966 24th February Coup d'état

COMPLICITY OR CONSPIRACY THEORY- 1966 24th February Coup d'état

Nana Akwah-ex Warrant Officer Class One

Contemporary Ghanaian accusation about the 1966 24th February coup de tat has it that the United States helped to upstage Kwame Nkrumah and the CPP. The possibility of involvement cannot however be underestimated. In spite of it, I want readers to go along with me on memory lane, emphasis being with history.

The write up shall follow an impartial course. Also it is not a piece to alienate any ethnic group or groupings. For many years, there are those within our society who thinks the United States must be held absolutely for the coup de tat of 24th February 1966. However, this stand isn't wholly the truth. The past ten years, I have searched and researched for all possible facts that might have given cause for what befell the country. Five areas of possible grey areas immediately springs up. The piece will deal extensively on the causes and effects, highlighting the major issues and points in between segments.

Who is or was Kwame Nkrumah? Dr Kwame Nkrumah, it can be said is or was genuine Leader of diverse traits. Nkrumah was an embodiment of peoples' hope; trust and mistrust, a genuine person and or cunning person. A democrat or a despot; prudent in one stead or a profligate person in other stance! No matter how Nkrumah is viewed, he gave to the world a sense of self-awareness; a spirit that it was possible to achieve greatness against overwhelming odds. Nonetheless, there is something that he grossly lacked. The ability and the will to tolerate opposing views was his main handicap.

To say the least, anyone who fails to appreciate philosophy of others can not be a true leader no matter how good your intentions are.

This trait was grossly missing from Nkrumah, though his political opponents gave reason for actions or inactions, Nkrumah should have demonstrated a strong character toward his opponents in accommodating opposing views. However, he chose a course which went a long way to tarnish his reputation both at home and abroad. Nkrumah had a subtle purpose in when dealing with his political opponents and a spirit of elimination. Nkrumah usurped those who projected him. His unwilling attitude and ability to tolerate or space for others shortfall, were all and by intent that gave rise to his dark side.

An additional, other side of Nkrumah was his obsession for the United States of Africa. The idea was brilliant and welcome; however, his approach was by all intent sinister. Kwame Nkrumah's pursuit was clothed and cloaked under a spurious understanding of democracy. It is heartbreaking that Dr Kwame Nkrumah was said to be a democrat but he was not. Kwame Nkrumah as communist, that wasn't the case either. The best that can be said of him is that he was a fanatic of his own beliefs and lived through it.

Dr Nkrumah's woes started with Ewe nationalism. The Togoland Congress was one such regional party whose intent was geared toward Ewe re-unification. The other Ewe factor possibly was Komla Agbeli Gbedemah, a Minister of Finance.

Although, the coup de tat is usually attributed to the United States, a possible involvement of the Federal Germany must not be ruled out. Why the Germans involvement? The case against Federal Germany is more substantial. Ghana was as much attacked in the West German press as it was in the British. A German writer Dr Schatten has revealed in his book the German apprehensions. “Some observers he wrote 'have suggested ……that Ghana or Mali might ultimately play the role of ….. a Soviet bridgehead distribution centre for agitation and propaganda and for a base for infiltration in West Africa. Taking a long view, such apprehensions, though may seem exaggerated at the moment, are by no means without foundation'. To him it was unacceptable that actually Kwame Nkrumah had succeeded in flattening out…..regional, tribal and ethnic differences. It would seem that, indeed while he was prepared to indict Nkrumah with communism his real complaint against him was his attempt to organize the African against neo-colonialism.

Dr Schatten worry about Kwame Nkrumah had, he said, the replacing of the slogan “Workers of the World Unite” by the slogan “Peoples of Africa Unite”. This new catchphrase, he pointed out, 'include the people of all colonial territory. Drawing a distinction that, if the views of the head of the foreign department of the West German Broadcasting structure are of official thinking in the Foreign Office then the real danger with which Kwame Nkrumah personified was not as a leading light of Communism but as the opponent of the principles of the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885 when, on the initiative of Bismarck, Africa was partitioned among the countries of West Europe with the generous concurrence of the United States.

Since Germany lost her African properties as long ago as 1918 it is hard to get hold of that there still exists in Germany a strong feeling that if she can no longer hope for African Colonies she has a right through her long relationship with the continent to be among the foremost of its neo-colonial principals. It is, at least, as it should be that, in Mr. Szamuly's preface to Afrifa's book, he should compare the military conspirators who overthrew Kwame Nkrumah's government with the military conspiracy against Hitler and grieve over its failure in Germany. The old German army was in his view 'the only body capable of fostering resistance to tyranny'. Grounds this line of reasoning he went on, 'the events of the 24th February 1966 have once again expose the thread bareness of the many liberal shibboleth of government by politicians being per se morally superior to government by the military. This belief…..has, alas, in our century shown itself to be a dangerous fallacy in many parts of the world'.

In short, Mr. Szamuly tried to portray that the military governments are equally capable and must be supported. However, in the western world it is an abomination.

Added to his instinctive preference by such political thinkers for military regimes, there was still a thoughtful concern in Federal Germany for their old West Africa colonies and Ghana contained just about one half of the former German Togoland. When the other half of their former colony (which became in 1920 a French mandate and after the Second World War a French Trust Territory) happened to be independent, the West German Government had sent, to head their delegation at the celebrations, the aged German Governor who had been driven out by the Gold Coast Forces in 1914 in the first allied victory secured by British arms in the 1914-1918 war. He proved to be, by far, the most admired of the visiting dignitaries. To the Ewe people longing for unity but split by the artificial frontiers which had partitioned their territory between France and Britain after the First World War, the German era seemed like a golden age. When immediately after independence there was an organized insurgency among the Ewes in Ghana, the plotters had written to each other in German.

Viewing all these facts, if Ewe nationalism was employed by any outside power to create a state of confusion and a rebellion the West German Government would be the most likely to be involved. Nevertheless, when all the possibilities of foreign intervention are reviewed, it is still indistinctive to make a convinced judgment.

However, applying the type of investigation the creative detective work is normally portrayed as using when he or she sets out midway through the book to make an inventory of certain facts which can be said to be established, various points can at least be noted. How far was the coup inspired from abroad? It may be asked!

In a two-column centre-page article as long previously as 21st June 1961, the African reporter of the London Times had seen the coming of the revolt. The removal of K. A. Gbedemah from the Ministry of Finance to that of Health had, it was said, 'to have made investors become despondent'. According to the reporter the army was, even at that date, on the verge of mutiny against Ghana's foreign policy and was already thinking in terms of 'martial freedom'. And also, he saw already a tribal conspiracy being organized and harnessed. An area of concern was the military.

The Ghana Army from its perspective felt mortified by President Nkrumah's policy in the Congo. The army was thus suspicious of the President's designs on its own Command. Now fuel has been added by the relocation of Mr. Gbedemah, who like many of the army's officers and men, is of the Ewe tribe. Quoting from London Times of 21st June 1961 still, it states 'there were people in Accra who weep for Ghana and are putting their hope in Mr. Gbedemah and the army – a growing power in the land'.

The Ghana Coup authored by A.A. Afrifa gives an exhaustive insight of the Ewe conspiracy that was employed in the ousting of Dr Nkrumah from power. The article written by the African reporter of the London Times would not have been written as he did, I am sure, without some basic knowledge and, in the light of latter events, his remarks are of considerable interest, since the Ewes were not in way a dominant group in the army in terms of hierarchy at the period. It has been suggested their strength, if anywhere, lay in the police. If, in 1961, Ewe conspiracy be within reach the Ewes most able to forward it would have been John Harlley, at the time the head of the Special Branch, and Anthony Deku at the time his assistant. However, when the coup materialized some four and half years later the leader was an unknown Colonel who was not only Ewe, but had been accused by General Barwah of putting his tribal interests before his military duties. The success of the coup depended upon the police planning, yet after it had taken place Harlley conceded, and there is no reason to suppose that he was not telling the truth, that only he and Deku among the police were in the plot. General Ankrah was only brought in after the coup had been successful. The only other senior military officer drawn in was Lt Colonel A.K. Ocran, who at first was unable to make up his mind to join the conspiracy or commit his troops until he was certain of its success. From the foregoing, those who subsequently came together in the 24th February 1966 military government the only non-Ewe who had earlier knowledge of what was to take place was Major A.A. Afrifa and it would seem probable he took no objective part in its planning, but merely acted as Colonel Kotoka's Staff Officer, BM (Brigade Major).

However this may be it, is unlikely that the Ewes would have acted on their own without a promise of support from someone else. As a tribal grouping they tended to be distrusted and isolated from the Akans and the Northern tribes who together made up the bulk of the population.

Afrifa's book contains one inquiring and inquisitive passage which states, “We had planned a full-scale military operation lasting for a considerable period and Colonel Kotoka had made all the necessary contacts and arrangements intended to ensure the success of the operation”. Afrifa makes it clear that the only Ghanaians who knew of the plot in addition to himself and Colonel Kotoka were the two Ewe police officers; hence other arrangement that could be possible was outside the territory of Ghana can easily be conjectured.

What might have given rise to outside assistance, if been the case, was that, the main conspirators were Ewes and did not represent major tribal feeling, is at least a pointer to the outside utilization of minority nationalist feeling. Furthermore, it was generally a known fact, that Western powers had already gotten involved against other African regimes by force, either to do away with left wing governments or to avert the overthrow of right wing one.

Another interesting factor was the intelligence services like the CIA or the Secret Service of other developed states were quite experienced of acting without help of the government they nominally served. To end with the way in which the 24th February 1966 was greeted and the regime subsequently assisted by Western powers in general, at least showed that they welcome the change. The Ghana intervention by and large had a facial expression and each to a large extent is explore. I have tried to bring readers along, about likely German connection and involvement. The answer or answers still remains elusive and shrouded in a mystery.

I will proceed to cross-question, possible involvement of the following countries: Britain, France and the United States.

Can the French be cited for complicity in the 24th February 1966 coup de tat? The following may attempt to give probable and possible answers.

France no doubt had old scores to pay off against Ghana. When, immediately after Sekou Toure of Guinea had declared its independence, France was in a financial position to strangle at birth the new state. The Ghana loan of ten million pounds (£10,000,000) not only made it possible for Guinea to maintain its freedom but started off the process by other French territories in Africa demanded sovereign status. Ghana is bordered on all her land frontiers by states susceptible to French influence and their head of state were in consequence opposed to Kwame Nkrumah. France sincerely did welcome the change of regime in Ghana. Can it be said that, the French by this old score instigated the coup plot? There are no substantial facts to implicate the French, but it is a food for thought.

Britain, Ghana's colonial master had trained every single one, the police and army officers that carried out the coup. The last British Commander, Major General H.T. Alexander of the Ghana Army in fact gave an interview to the British press in which he sympathized with the regime change. The police officers concerned were who, had closest bond with the British security services and, after the coup d'état, the Commonwealth Office, it would seem, let it be grasped that they approve of what had happened. In spite of that was there anything in this British change of attitude which could not be attributed to the spontaneous effect and a hidden reaction of the British Establishment? The position taken by Britain originates from the breaking off diplomatic relations over the Rhodesia (Zimbabwe). Added to it, was a hostile and antagonistic press and liberals who helped championed the independence struggle of Ghana, both in the United States and Britain 'felt betrayed by the actions of Kwame Nkrumah'. I will treat the topic later in detail under Kwame Nkrumah in another article.

Is there a possible indictment on the United States of involvement? It is said in legal language that, proof in so far as it exists consist in the main of what would be admitted in criminal trial as 'evidence of system'. In order to give you an idea about an individual, say, murdered his new bride in a farm, it is permissible to call witnesses to establish that his two previous wives has been killed in their farm though in both cases it had been previously assumed that the similarity of their deaths was coincidental and that the two events were in no way responsible.

Mr. Andrew Tully in his history of the CIA acknowledged that the toppling of Patrice Lumumba's Government had the backing of Central Intelligence Agency. How accurate his account on African affairs was is an area of interest for debate, however, he claims his source of facts was from a credible source. He begins his book by showing his indebtedness to a former White House Press Secretary, Pierre Solinger, to the Head of the CIA from 1953-1961, Allen W. Dulles, Colonel Grogan, a staff of the CIA and McGeorge Bundy.

It was a common knowledge that Joseph Kasavubu, President, of then Congo Leopoldville, had the support of the United States, nonetheless, he had not the ability to handle Lumumba. The CIA came with the person the Americans thought was credible, Joseph Mobutu.

The CIA had a record of intervening, meddling or protecting their interest and surrogating regimes. The CIA had effectively intervened in Guatemala, Jordan and Iran. If the United States by way of its secret services had intervened in other countries so successfully then, it comes to reason that involvement in Ghana could not be wished away. There are widespread assumptions of which the CIA is cited for having the penchant to meddle in the internal affairs of other countries. Kwame Nkrumah has been cited by Americans as “Red –oriented” and the Ghana Army as “Red-loving. The significance of such statements depicts a coloration of Ghana's tilt to Communism. The CIA had a distasteful dislike for the Communist, as such anyone thought of as aligning was to be rid off. The puzzle of complicity still remains unanswered! On the other hand, the United State can to a degree be cited for a hand in the conspiracy.

Was there Ewe conspiracy and complicity? Was there an internal conspiracy that was used in the planning and execution of the 24th February 1966 coup de tat in Ghana? It can be easily speculated that there was a significant degree of conspiracy that can be attributed to the Ewes for the overthrow of the CPP and Dr Nkrumah's government. As mentioned in earlier paragraphs, the Ewes were not in any way a dominant group at the time in the Army. In terms of numerical strength it was from the North. However, if any it was in the police in 1961. The conspiracy thought might have simmered on for a long time, in the minds of John Harlley at that time head of the Special Branch and Anthony Deku his assistant at the time.

Notwithstanding, when the coup materialized some four-and-half years later, in fact its leader was an unheard of Colonel, who was not only Ewe, but according to A. A. Afrifa, had been accused by General Charles Barwah of putting his ethnic or tribal interest before his military duties. It had been acclaimed that the success of 24th February 1966 coup had depended entirely upon police planning, even so, after it had taken place, Harlley stated and there is no reason to disbelieve that he was not stating the facts, that only he and Deku among the police were in the plot. The other senior military officer who was involved was Lt Colonel AK Ocran, it is clear from Afrifa's book, hesitated to join the conspiracy. It can be fairly appreciated from Afrifa's book, that those who came together in the military government the only non-Ewe who had prior knowledge of what was to take place was Afrifa. The reason being that he was then a Brigade Major (BM) and does appear he took no independent part in the planning, only acting as a subordinate to Colonel Kotoka, the Brigade Commander.

The portfolio change of Komla Agbeli Gbedemah from the Ministry of Finance to that of Health were the outpouring that propel the mutinying or the insurrection that took place in 1966. On 21st June 1961, the African reporter of the London Times had predicted the insurrection. The Army as of the time was cited for planning a rebellion against Ghana's foreign policy. President Nkrumah's policy in the Congo had been a humiliation to the army and had given considerable rise of suspicious designs on its command. Given the back-drop of the suspicion, Kwame Nkrumah added fuel to the simmering discontentment that was brewing in the army, with the transfer of Komla Agbeli Gbedemah, who, like many in the army's officers and men, is of the Ewe tribe. There were many people in Ghana at that time who had hoped in Mr. Gbedemah and the army as an alternate growing power in the land.

The personality of Gbedemah was so huge for it to be wished away. Komla Agbeli Gbedemah was Dr Nkrumah's choice of Minister of Finance, in the pre-independence cabinet. Komla Agbeli Gbedemah, Ewe, had been born in Nigeria. He had run the Convention Peoples' Party when Kwame Nkrumah was in prison and established himself a first class organizer. He spoke most Ghanaian languages perfectly and was a cultured and knowledgeable diplomat in English. He had been sand and stone merchant, a science master in a secondary school and also managed the CPP party newspapers. There was no question of his ability but his reasoning to financial and budgetary issues in Kwame Nkrumah's view was orthodox in the extreme and in practice he followed the old system that was of his British predecessor. This was to be a continual source of disagreement between President Nkrumah and him and to lead to his removal from the Ministry of Finance six years later.

Though, it would be erroneous to hold Gbedemah solely for all the subsequent economic problems which befell Ghana but certainly the failure of his Ministry to initiate efficient exchange control legislation or to do away with the sterling exchange system earlier and its monetary and taxation policy generally were, on the Ghanaian side, the main reasons for the financial difficulties which later arose. After 1961, Gbedemah was to leave Ghana, settle in Federal Republic of Germany and from Hamburg to conduct, in alliance with Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia, an unrelenting propaganda campaign against the policies pursued after 1961 by the Ghanaian Government. The hard feelings that might have given rise to the conspiracy can be viewed from two perspectives. Gbedemah and Kojo Botsio had traditionally been the most powerfully figure in the CPP after Kwame Nkrumah, and in the light of his standing, he would not accept this transfer from Ministry of Finance to Health.

The Ewe it has been said has an inclination of a subtle compulsion for power and will do everything to usurp any person that he thinks will derail such ambition.

In the period in between, the CPP, by and large was becoming a bundle of nerves over the noticeable corruption and obvious high living of some Ministers and Party Officials. In April 1961 President Nkrumah speaking on the radio at dawn, the usual hour when the President made many of his solemn pronouncement, unleashed a blistering wholesale attack upon it. A Committee of Inquiry was setup to look into the assets of Ministers, Party functionaries and Members of Parliament. The Committee recommended that Ministers and Officials shown to have large amounts of property should be asked to leave their job. Based upon the recommendation to the President, Dr Nkrumah agreed. Both Kojo Botsio and Komla Agbeli Gbedemah who were staunched human resources of Nkrumah were forced from office.

Botsio and Gbedemah had long been rivals to the succession. Botsio was Kwame Nkrumah's oldest and most trusted political associate. He had been with him in London and had been one of the organizers of the West African National Secretariat. He and Kwame Nkrumah had returned to Ghana together. Gbedemah on the other hand was considered as the architect of victory. Apart from Archie Casely Hayford, Mr. Gbedemah was the only prominent leader of the CPP at liberty in the period before 1951 election and he had organized the Party at that time for the greatest of all the victories.

Similar to present Ewe loyalty, Gbedemah, throughout the country at the time and particular among the Ewes of the then Eastern Ghana, he had a powerful personal following. The usual known Ewe solidarity of nationalism played a role.

In the National Liberation Council's first radio broadcast on assuming power, Colonel EK Kotoka announced 'the myth surrounding Nkrumah is shattered'. Did Kwame Nkrumah epitomize a myth? A close analysis reveals an underpinning dislike or hate for Nkrumah. This dislike stems from nothing but, the removal of ethnic icon from governance. The only course open to this minority grouping was to foster governance which many Ghanaians abhorred.

Can many Ewes be trusted outside its own tribe? Very unlikely! As a tribal grouping they tended to be distrusted and isolated from the Akans and the Northern tribes who together make up the bulk of the population.

In concluding, if the United States, France, Britain and Federal Germany are cited for their involvement in the 24th February 1966 coup in Ghana, it be can conjectured, they only seized the opportunity which the minority conspirators offered. Some forty years on this minority nationalism is still active. We must not allow a revisit to past. Ghanaians be mindful and vigilant.

Nana Akwah
Nana Akwah, © 2012

This author has authored 140 publications on Modern Ghana.
Author column: NanaAkwah

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