Today marks exactly 53 years when the former president of Ghana Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was unconstitutionally ousted from office through a military and police coup de’tat on February 24th, 1966.
Undoubtedly the most important indication of Nkrumah’s lasting impact is how much better he has done in retrospect than those who overthrew and succeeded him.
He left a stamp on Ghanaian history that continues, long after his death, to fascinate and inspire many people all over the world, especially of African descent.
Till this day, Ghanaians continue to “render homage” to his “immortal memory,” even to the point that his weakness and failures have been largely forgotten.
The Coup and its aftermath
Col. E.K. Kotoka, Major A.A. Afrifa and the then Inspector-General of Police, Mr J.W.K. Harley staged the revolution at the dawn of February 24, 1966, while Nkrumah was still on a peace mission in Asia.
They had announced on the state radio that “Kwame Nkrumah is overthrown, and the myth surrounding him is broken.”
Apparently, Dr Nkrumah was seen as an ally of the then Soviet Union and Eastern Europe during the ‘Cold War’. But the pan-Africanist leader denied any of such accusations.
Several other charges levelled were on the grounds of introducing the Preventive Detection Act, corruption, dictatorial practices, oppression and lastly forcing into retirement the army’s most senior officers which according to the sources was the principal reason for the uprising
It was this action more than any other, according to then Major A. A. Afrifa, that led to the military-police coup which overthrew Nkrumah on February 24, 1966.
Nkrumah had welcomed the military coup that took place in Nigeria a few weeks before and had tried to strengthen the position of the more radical members of the military government that took power. Little did he realize how soon his own demise was to come at the hands of his own military?
The coup itself was welcomed in Ghana with far more enthusiasm than had been the case for independence. Only the Presidential Guard put up a brief resistance, and within 24 hours the coup was over. Nkrumah’s statue outside Parliament House, which proclaimed him the founder of the nation, was battered to the ground and smashed into pieces.
Following the night after the coup, there were demonstrations of support for the new rulers, who styled themselves the National Liberation Council (NLC). Even members of the 74-man delegation that had accompanied Nkrumah to China at a time the coup happened deserted their former leader.
Foreign Minister Quaison-Sackey, who Nkrumah had sent to protest the seating of the new Ghanaian government’s mission at the OAU meeting in Addis Ababa, flew instead to Accra, where he pledged his loyalty to the new military government.
The prisons emptied of Nkrumah’s detainees and began to fill with new political prisoners. The CPP, with its 2-million strong membership and 500,000 militants, offered no resistance, and the party allowed itself to be disbanded by a single radio announcement.
As for Nkrumah, his friend and sometimes rival President Sekou Toure offered him refuge and made him the honorary co-president of Guinea.
He was to spend five years in his new home engaged in writing projects and cultivating roses while waiting for the people of Ghana to call him back. Eventually, stricken with cancer, he was flown to a clinic in Bucharest, where he died on April 27, 1972.
To a larger extent, Nkrumah’s ‘violent’ removal from office, unfortunately, brought Ghana in line with what was emerging as the trend in Africa. That is the military intervention into politics.