Ghana, West Africa, is a fascinating country with an intriguing history that stretches way back to ancient times. When I worked there, I learned a lot about the ancient Ashanti heritage and culture. However, the momentous events of the mid-1960s were the basis I chose for my novel ‘Drumbeats’, the first in the trilogy because they were arguably one of the major turning points for the country’s history and relatively recent, that is, within living memory.
I’ve tried to represent the momentous political events which happened in Ghana in 1966 as accurately as feasible, bearing in mind that these are written here as they are perceived by the character of Jess and in the light of a writer’s license to create drama and consistency of plot. But I wanted to show the effect of a sudden coup d’état on my main character who was already experiencing turbulence in her life.
So here is the run-down of those events, albeit a brief outline. President Nkrumah was deposed as president of Ghana on 24th February 1966 and at 7 o’ clock the announcement was made that “the armed forces, in cooperation with the police, have felt it necessary to take over the reins of power and dismiss the former President, Kwame Nkrumah, the Presidential Commission and all Ministers and to suspend the Constitution and to dissolve Parliament. This act has been necessitated by the political and economic situation in the country.” The report continued to declare that “the country is on the brink of national bankruptcy.” Only three days before, Nkrumah had passed through parliament his “socialist budget” which the announcement claimed “increases the economic burdens and hardships of the population.”
K.A.Bediako (in The Downfall of Kwame Nkrumah) says: “it is hard to believe that such a take-over could happen in Ghana at a time when any whisper of complaint on the policies of the government was risky and could mean imprisonment without trial in a country in which security men and women maintained a band of secrecy around their identity …” (1966).
Nkrumah had led Ghana to independence from British colonial rule nearly ten years before, in 1957, and became the country’s first prime minister and president. He established many huge and acclaimed projects in Ghana, including Akasombo Dam on the Volta River which was opened in January 1966.
But he was on a state visit to China in February 1966 when his government was overthrown in a military coup d’état led by General Kotoka and the National Liberation Council. He later hinted at a possible American complicity in ‘Dark Days in Ghana’ (1969). Some argue that this suspicion was based on false evidence originating from the Russian KGB; others claimed that CIA documents provided evidence of the involvement of the US in the overthrow. Myths and accusations were rife. Conspiracy theories were in abundance, as they are today with regard to many world events. Whatever the truth, what really happened is still unclear.
I’ve tried to reflect many of these events in my novel, Drumbeats. But whatever is the truth, Nkrumah never returned to Ghana and was exiled in Conakry, Guinea, where he died of prostate cancer in 1972. He was buried at the village of Nkroful, where he had been born, but his remains were subsequently re-interred in a national memorial tomb in the capital, Accra. And to complete the turn-around, in 2000, he was named “Africa’s man of the millennium” by listeners of the BBC World Service and the “hero of independence”. And then in 2009, President John Atta Mills of Ghana declared 21st September to be Founder’s Day, an annual holiday celebrating the legacy of Kwame Nkrumah and glorifying his presidency.
Who knows the truth and why we change our views on famous figures? History and who writes it, is an interesting thing to reflect upon, isn’t it?