The coup that set Africa back 50 years


In his book, “Dark Days in Ghana,” Ghana’s pioneer president Kwame Nkrumah revealed that the coup was the handiwork of America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). His detractors quickly dismissed his claim as delusional and an excuse for his mismanagement of the country through his dictatorial leadership.

But in 1999, Nkrumah’s claim was borne out when the U.S. government declassified the Western-orchestrated plot to get rid of the man who was “doing more to undermine our interests than any other Black African.”

The U.S. was determined to depose Nkrumah before he managed to unite Africa under a united African government. As it turned out, the U.S. and its allies, including Britain, had financed, masterminded, and tele-guided the coup.

Prior to the declassification, John Stockwell, a CIA officer in Africa, had recounted the plot to undermine Nkrumah’s government and to sow anti-Nkrumah sentiments among Ghanaians.

Stockwell wrote:
“Howard Bane, who was the CIA station chief in Accra, engineered the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah. Inside the CIA it was quite clear. Howard Bane got a double promotion, and was awarded the Intelligence Star for the overthrow of Kwame. The magic of it was that Howard Bane had enough imagination and drive to run this operation without ever documenting what he was doing and there wasn’t one shred of paper that was generated that would name the CIA hierarchy as being responsible.”

Africa’s ‘Black star’
In 1957, Nkrumah’s Ghana became a trailblazer for African liberation. From the CIA headquarters in faraway Virginia, eyes were trailing what was happening in Ghana. Just nine months into independence, the CIA issued a report on Ghana in December 1957, which was distributed within the American government and intelligence community.

“The fortunes of Ghana – the first Tropical African country to gain independence –will have a huge impact on the evolution of Africa and Western interests there.”

It didn’t take long for that prediction to come true.

Within 10 years of Ghana’s independence, 31 other African countries had gained their own independence. And Nkrumah’s Ghana had had a huge role in liberating Africa. He set up training camps in Ghana for African freedom fighters, and through financial, political and other support, Nkrumah’s Ghana kept the African liberation torch burning very brightly.

Nkrumah firmly believed that political independence was meaningless without economic independence. Thus, by the time he was overthrown in the CIA-inspired coup, Ghana had 68 sprawling state-owned factories producing every need of the population – shoes, textiles, furniture, lorry tires, canned fruits, vegetables and beef, glass, radio and TV, books, steel, virtually everything – including educated manpower!

Making progress
Nkrumah wanted to industrialize Ghana within a generation. Everything was on course until the Americans and their British cousins (according to their own declassified documents) used some disgruntled and self-serving Ghanaian soldiers, to staged a terrible coup on February 24, 1966 that truncated Ghana’s progress. It was a major setback for Ghana and all of Africa.

“If Nkrumah had been allowed to complete his industrialization plan, Ghana would today have been another Malaysia on the west coast of Africa, and the modern doomsayers who now mock Ghana by showing us the bright lights in Kuala Lumpur, would not dare show their warped tongues!” according to writer Baffour Ankomah.

We are now left with nostalgia and what might have been. After the coup, the International Monetary Fund rubbed salt into our injuries by sending a delegation to Accra to tell the military junta to discontinue Nkrumah’s industrialization program. And they did! As a reward, some of them got airports named after them!

Fifty years after the coup, almost every Ghanaian (except those still suffering from acute blindness and amnesia) now realizes our great loss.

It has taken the country half a century of blood and tears to hang on to the straws that have barely kept us afloat through five turbulent decades to arrive at the current political and economic stability achieved, since 1992, under six terms of constitutional rule – first under President Jerry Rawlings’ NDC (1992-2000), President John Kufuor’s NPP (2000-2008), John Atta Mills and then John Mahama’s NDC (2009 to date).

Ghana has learnt its lessons the hard way.

The Pan-Africanist prophet
When Nkrumah wrote that long after he was dead and gone, the torch he had lit in Africa would continue to be held aloft to give light and hope to his people, his detractors called him a self-delusional megalomaniac.

But testimonies since his death bear him out. How so true the old saw: “a prophet is not unknown, except in his own country.”

Kwame Nkrumah, the visionary Pan-Africanist who dreamt of a united, prosperous Africa, was a man of foresight. He had a noble vision for Africa and the Black race. He saw the metropolises of Africa becoming the headquarters of science, technology, and medicine. He saw in Africa a hypnotized giant, made dormant by years of foreign tutelage and exploitation, and he sought to awaken this giant.

But time and his contemporaries were not on his side. As celebrated British historian Basil Davidson put it: “Nkrumah lived far ahead of his time. It is in the years ahead that people would read about his works and wonder to themselves why such a man should have lived at such a time.”

Nkrumah’s and, indeed, Africa’s tragedy was that he came to power at the wrong time, in the “heat” of the Cold War, a period when the bipolar East-West ideological confrontation made leaders like Nkrumah sacrificial lambs on the alter of superpower chauvinism. Cold War politics brooked no homegrown nationalists and patriots; it did not forgive leaders who refused to worship the gods of Soviet communism or American capitalism.

It’s our fault
We Africans have ourselves to blame if we continue to plough our narrow furrows instead pooling our efforts, human and material resources in order to compete in the globalized 21st century. If we fail to take up the challenge of continental unity now, the continent will inevitably be gobbled up by the colossus of capitalist globalism this century, just as in the last century it was enslaved, balkanized, and exploited of its human and natural resources through the trilogy of slavery, colonialism, and neo-colonialism.

Listen to what Nkrumah said on that score: “If we do not formulate plans for unity and take active steps to form a political union, we will be fighting and warring among ourselves with the imperialists and colonialists standing by behind the screen and pulling vicious wires, to make us cut each other’s throats for the sake of their diabolical purposes in Africa.”

How prophetic!

Charles Quist-Adade, Ph.D, is the past immediate chair of the sociology department at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.  Contact him at This article previously appeared in Pambazuka News.


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