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The military overthrow of Dr Kwame Nkrumah; a military adventure that set Ghana back 100 years



Anniversaries are nostalgic events; they are occasions when we take stock of the past, learn from our missteps and strive to do better in future.

So, it was that last week, Ghanaians observed with heavy hearts, the fiftieth anniversary of an occasion that continues to live in infamy.

Half a century ago, on February 24th, 1966, a ragtag team of soldiers led by the late General Akwasi Afrifa stormed the seat of government in Accra and inexplicably toppled one of Africa’s political trailblazers, a political giant Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.

It was a momentous occasion, one that reverberated across the nation and beyond. I vividly recollect the day of the military takeover; I was a skinny, runny-nose kid in Yendi the morning of that surreal event.

Throngs of people around the country took to the streets to celebrate. Yendi was no exception. The town throbbed with excitement and anticipation.

Naively, I joined the jubilant crowd on the then paved streets of Yendi and we danced and waved tree branches and other banners, visibly intoxicated with excitement but blissfully ignorant of the impending disastrous direction/trajectory the coup would thrust/take the nation.

The ill-advised, CIA financed coup, unfortunately set the stage for a series of subsequent military forays into governance, adventures that for most part, failed miserably.

Our first democratic experiment, our very nascent attempt at democratizing our society after 100 years of colonial rule was shaken to its foundation, abruptly dismantled and crudely discarded.

A military junta deceptively named the National Liberation Council, a collection of army and police officers began ruling the country by military fiat. Thus began the nation’s slow descent into mismanagement, corruption and poor governance.

The reasons advanced for the forceful removal of Nkrumah were as preposterous as they were misleading. Nkrumah had become entrenched, dictatorial and was rapidly consolidating power with his draconian policies, the coup makers rationalized.

Human rights abuses by Nkrumah were alleged and his Prevention Detention Act, they argued, was the ultimate symbol of the  tyranny that had gripped the country. So to stop him from further putting Ghanaians under the yoke, and leading the country into the unknown, they had to act.

Was Nkrumah a dictator and did that justify his unceremonious removal from power? Well, these are questions best left for historians to figure out. But even if Nkrumah was a dictator, look at the circumstances under which he inherited the country from the British, a newly independent black nation with scant resources and few international connections and a forest load of challenges and problems?

From the outset, Nkrumah was tasked to transform the country from a traditional, conservative society into a modern, progressive one. It was not an easy undertaking, made all the more difficult by an obstructive opposition quick to criticize every policy but slow to  offer alternatives.

Despite his perceived shortcomings, our first president had some unmistakable qualities; he was a progressive, ambitious and determined to put our newly minted nation on the world map.

That his lofty dreams were cut short by a military he had nurtured, was profoundly unjust and his removal would ultimately detrimental for the nation’s development. Thankfully, military coups are relics of the past; they don’t belong to the modern world where democracy continues to be universally embraced and accepted.

All said, the 1966 coup was uncalled for; it was staged largely to pacify a world power and not to free Ghanaians from the clutches of an alleged dictator. The coup was an unnecessary intrusion into the nation’s young political life and the consequences it left in its wake are still being felt today.


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