During our visit to Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Park in Accra on Wednesday (7/27) we also encountered this headless statue of the first President of the Republic of Ghana, a stark reminder of the violent coup that led to his overthrow and exile in February 1966. The coup was engineered by dissident elements within his military and police with the assistance of the CIA and the involvement of other western governments including the UK and France.
The economic problems and other internal issues that led to Nkrumah’s overthrow were fueled by his transformation of Ghana’s fledgling democracy into a single-party state with himself as President-for-Life. This action followed a series of other legislative acts that restricted various freedoms of the Ghanaian people.
The CIA’s involvement in his coup had been rumored for years until incontrovertible evidence was found in several sources including declassified State Department documents (see below). The US and its Western allies placed him squarely in their crosshairs due to his calls for Pan African unity; his alliances with Nasser in Egypt, Mao in China, and Sekou Toure in Guinea; and the fact he was building a modern military for his country. Of equal concern to those foreign governments was Nkrumah’s military support of the rebels seeking to overthrow the “white” regime led by Ian Smith that ruled the southern African nation of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). These events unfolded during the height of the Cold War when the US sought to eliminate leaders across the globe whose policies it viewed as threats to American power and interests.
Nkrumah was making official state visits to North Vietnam and China when the coup began. Unable to return to Ghana, he lived in exile in Guinea where he was made honorary co-president by President Sekou Toure. He spent his final years troubled by illness and the fear of assassination at the hands of his enemies. He died of skin cancer in 1972 in Bucharest, Romania where he had gone to receive medical treatment. Despite his serious mistakes and failures as a leader, his role as a founding member of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) and his philosophy and agenda for establishing a united Africa remain significant mileposts in the struggles against colonialism, imperialism, and racism.
The statue that appears in the photo above once stood in front of the Old Parliament House in Accra. It was vandalized during the coup in 1966 at which time the head disappeared. In 2009, forty-three years after it had vanished, the government called upon the people of Ghana to provide information as to its whereabouts. A woman who had rescued and protected it for over four decades came forth and presented it. It now sits on a pedestal next to the statue.
CIA involvement in the coup has been been verified by several sources in recent years including the two sets of memos provided below, which also outline the broader features and goals of US policies in Africa in the 1960s. The following quote documents the neo-colonial US political philosophy of using foreign aid as a blunt weapon of foreign policy
1. AID … should be used as a political weapon with more aid going to our friends than to our critics and a minimal aid presence in all African political units;