Forty-three ago, a civilian government in Ghana was subverted by military and police adventurers aided by the foreign intelligence forces who were increasingly uncomfortable with Ghana’s non-aligned stance in the cold war, our opposition to the Vietnam War and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s undisputed leadership of the African liberation cause. Ghana was the victim of what former US President Bill Clinton described as a policy of dealing with “countries in Africa and in other parts of the world based more on how they stood in the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union than how they stood in the struggle for their own people’s aspirations to live up to the fullest of their God-given abilities.”
The architects of the coup, however, sought to present things differently and justified their treachery on the spurious grounds of gross economic mismanagement, corruption and detention of political opponents. In a letter to the US President Lyndon B. Johnson dated 24th March 1966, Lt. General J.A. Ankrah who was Chairman of the National Liberation Council (NLC) wrote: “[w]e plan to re-educate the youth of Ghana and wean them from the pernicious ideologies with which their minds have been tainted. …….When National Liberation Council took over the administration of the country, the economy was in a very chaotic state, mainly as the result of gross mismanagement and unbridled spending of public funds on prestige projects of doubtful value.”
The unviable projects incidentally included, Silos For Food and crop preservation; Tomato Processing Factory, Wenchi; Match Factory, Kade; Pwalugu Tomato Factory; Ghana Glass Factory, Aboso and Tarkwa; Akasanoma Radio Factory; Gold Processing Factory, Prestea; Meat Processing Factory, Bolgatanga; Dairy Farm At Amrahia and Avatime; Paper Processing Factory, Takoradi; Pomadze Poultry Farm; Ghana Cement Factory, Takoradi; Ghana Household Utilities Manufacture, Sekondi-Efiekuma; Volta Aluminium Company (Valco); Tema Steel Company; Nsawam Fruit Cannery; State Hotels (Star, Meridian , Ambassador Continental, Atlantic , City Hotel Catering Rest Houses); Ghana Black Star Line; Ghana Distilleries, Accra; Ghana Shoe Factory Kumasi; Ghana Jute Factory, Kumasi; Tema Food Complex; Ghana Film Industries Accra; Ghana Airways Corporation; Ghana National Trading Corporation; National Investment Banks; Ghana Commercial Bank; Agricultural Credit and Cooperative Bank (later, Agricultural Development Bank); Ghana Textile Corporation; Rattan Factory at Asamankese and five factories at Nkawkaw, Enyiresi, Oppon Valley , Asanwinso and Bobikuma planned to go into operation later in 1966; two coir fibre factories with a total capacity each of 990,000 lb. of Coir Fibre and over 1000 lb. of door and floor mats; a factory at Axim with laboratory facilities planned as training centre for rattan, bamboo, coir and wood projects; bamboo factories being established as in January 1966 at Manso-Amenfi, Assin Foso and Axim to manufacture bamboo cups and trays; Sugar Factory at Akuse; Television Assembly Plant at Tema (jointly established by the Government of Ghana and Sanyo planned to be opened in March, 1966) and the Accra-Tema Motorway.
They also failed to mention that after 100 years of British rule (in the colony at least) by the time the first All-African government led by Nkrumah assumed office in 1951 only some 235,000 pupils were enrolled in primary schools but by1965 over 1.2 million children were enrolled. The story is no different in secondary education with enrolment shooting up from a mere 3,559 in 1951 to 32,9721 pupils in the 1964-65 school year. In fact in the 1964-65 year there were 9,988 primary and middle schools with an enrolment of 1,286,486 (nearly 1.3 million). There were 89 secondary schools with 32,9721 pupils; 47 teacher training colleges with an enrolment of 10,168; 11 technical schools and 3 universities.
Education is now a problem in Ghana. Our schools used to be the training ground for politicians in other African states but no more. Over 50 percent of our children fail to go beyond the junior secondary school. Officially we have a literacy rate of under 60 percent, below the average for Sub-Saharan Africa (65 percent) and low income countries (61 percent); our primary enrolment rate of 80 percent is below the average for Sub-Saharan African (95 percent) and low income countries (94 percent); and our secondary enrolment is a paltry 30 percent.
Great strides were also made in health. In 1955, there was one medical doctor per 25,000 inhabitants of the Gold Coast. Today, according to the World Bank, there are 1.5 physicians to 10,000 patients even though the population has quadrupled since independence. This is thanks to the establishment of a local medical school by Nkrumah’s post-colonial government only fifty years ago, when all of Ghana’s 150 doctors were trained abroad.
Forty-three years on, the very people who plotted and justified their putsch in 1966 on the basis of “unbridled spending of public funds on prestige projects of doubtful value” have spent in excess of US$100m building a presidential palace and US$70m on a big party and scam ostensibly to celebrate Ghana’s 50th independence anniversary.
Having justified their coup on the opposition to preventive detention, they introduced the Protective Custody Decree 1966 (N.L.C.D. 2) which only differed in two respects from the PDA that preceded it: detainees could make no appeal and there was no requirement to inform them as to why they were being arrested. Not only were political opponents arrested en-masse, they inserted into the 1969 Constitution Article 71 which proscribed the C.P.P. and disenfranchised our members for over a generation.
Worse the coup ushered in almost three decades of corrupt and incompetent military governments whose effects still reverberate in all aspects of our national life. Once the floodgates were opened, military dictators who saw an opportunity to throw the country into further strife and justified coup after coup all of which set the country further back from democracy.
In 1965 Nkrumah rejected IMF and World Bank recommendations to implement an economic development strategy based on non-inflationary borrowing and reduced government spending. As a consequence, Ghana became ineligible for loans from both institutions. Still Nkrumah pursued his policy of economic diversification through import substituting industrialization which was brought to an abrupt end a year later through the 19666 coup.
In General Ankrah’s letter to President Johnson he signaled a reversal of this policy and initiated what resulted in four generations of economic dependency on foreign donor institutions. He wrote: “The Economic Committee of the National Liberation Council is formulating realistic plans to stabilize the economy. This calls for a drastic re-examination of several projects with a view to eliminating those that are not economically viable. The Committee is also making contacts with friendly countries from the West, the United Nations, the Economic Commission for Africa and the International Monetary Fund for assistance”.
The IMF and World resumed business in Ghana under the military junta because they were ready to acquiesce with terms unacceptable to Nkrumah but in the end did not avert the huge external deficit which neither the institutions nor their so-called friends in the West were ready to help with. Devaluation became inevitable and with it another coup in January 1972 that truncated another attempt of democratic civilian governance.
The culture of dependency on international donor institutions signaled in General Ankrah’s letter is with us today where critical economic decisions with massive social consequences have been surrendered to the dictates of foreign governments and their proxies at the World Bank/IMF. Today, our country, the once shining star of Africa has been turned into a country that has extended the begging bowl too many times for our comfort but the seeds for this were sown by the 1966 coup.
As the world economy nosedives, and the international donor community on which we have become dependent struggle with stimulating their own economies, the brutal truncation of the agricultural, industrial and manufacturing base which Nkrumah sought to establish and dismissed whimsically as “prestige[ious] projects of doubtful value” by the plotters of the 1966 coup, may come back to bite us. We can only hope that we escape the consequences of what many experts describe as perhaps the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
Nkrumah said, “We shall measure our progress by the improvement in the health of our people; by the number of children in school, and electricity in our towns and villages and by the happiness which our people take in being able to manage their own affairs. The welfare of our people is our chief pride, and it is by this that my Government will ask to be judged.”
What of the plotters of the 1966 coup? How shall they be judged? Well, they set our country back some 40 years. 24th February 1966 was indeed, Ghana’s day of shame.
Ekow Nelson, Ade Sawyerr, Dr. Michael Gyamerah, Dr. Kojo Arthur, Kweku Manful
24th Feb 2009