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Was Kwame Nkrumah a bad President? Why did Ghana's first coup happen?

The Ghanaian government was led by the National Liberation Council from 24th February 1966 to 1st October 1969. The group emerged from a CIA-supported coup d'etat which was Ghana's first against the civilian government led by Kwame Nkrumah.

The Ghana Police Service and Ghana Armed Forces carried out the coup jointly, with collaboration from the Ghana Civil Service. The plotters were well connected with the governments of Britain under PM Harold Wilson and the United States then under Lyndon B. Johnson, who some believe approved of the coup because of Nkrumah's pro-communist foreign policy.

From 1951 to 1966, Ghana was controlled by the Convention People's Party and Kwame Nkrumah was the founder. During the 1950s, the CPP sponsored different popular economic projects and in the process created a large foreign debt for the country.

In 1960, the CPP moved to nationalize the Ghanaian economy and heavily tightened its control in areas such as currency and taxation. By 1963, the public was suffering from shortages and price gouging. Fewer and fewer businesses benefited from party membership.

Amidst growing unpopularity and the state of the country, the Party increased its repression of political opponents. It used the Preventive Detention Act to jail its opponents without trial for up to five years.

In 1964, Nkrumah won a heavily rigged referendum that made the CPP the sole legal party, with himself as president for life of both nation and party. Press freedom reached a low ebb, as evidenced in an October 1965 statement by the Ghanaian Times: "Our socialist society cannot, and would not, tolerate the publication of any newspaper in Ghana which departs from the ideology and loyalties demanded from the press in socialist and Nkrumaist Ghana." General Afrifa later commented, regarding Radio Ghana: "From early morning till late at night there poured forth a sickening stream of Stalinist adulation and abject flattery. News was so often distorted or suppressed that Ghanaians stopped believing what they heard."

The Party acted as a political monolith, with functional control over powerful civil organizations such as the Ghana Trades Union Congress and Ghana Muslim Council. Thus, the CPP had centralized political and economic power in order to pursue rapid industrialization under national control. Behind the scenes was an elite group of economic planners which stood to advance its agenda under military rule.These people within the government found common grounds with the military and police in their disdain for the mass politics of the Convention People's Party. One of the people was B. A. Bentum, former Secretary-General of the Agricultural Workers Union and subsequently the Minister of Forestry under the CPP.

Bentum disapproved of the country's socialist tendencies and collaborated with the plotters by supplying them with information, the information included details about secret Chinese training camps, being used to train revolutionaries from other African countries. Kojo Botsio, chairman of the State Planning Commission, was similarly disposed if not as closely involved.

Nkrumah became a tyrant that the police and military were offended. Nkrumah faulted the police for allowing an attempted bombing against him in 1962. When on 2 January 1964, a police officer shot at Nkrumah and killed his bodyguard, the Police Force was reorganized from above, eight top officers were dismissed, and the rank and file were disarmed. Subsequently, in April 1965, the Police Service Act gave Nkrumah direct authority to hire and fire police. Nkrumah also removed the "Special Branch" intelligence service from the police force and brought it under civilian control. Police Commissioner John Harlley and his second-in-command Anthony Deku had long aspired to take control of the government. Harlley had compiled a large dossier on corruption within the CPP and used these files to gain legitimacy for his cause. 

To take over the country, however, the Police Force had to work with the military—not only because they had been disarmed, but also because, as the primary executors of repression and brutality under the CPP, they did not enjoy a good reputation with the general public. Coup planners from the military identified mistreatment of the armed forces, and preferential treatment of the President's Own Guard Regiment, as sources of their dissatisfaction. The salaries of soldiers and officers, set in 1957, had lost much of their value amidst general inflation, and the army did not have money for new uniforms and equipment.

Some key figures of the coup had come into personal conflict with Nkrumah. Otu, the Chief of Defense Staff, and Ankrah, the Deputy Chief, had been fired in August 1965 and replaced with officers considered more loyal. The generals later claimed that actions such as these represented an overreach of civilian power over the military. Afrifa was facing a court-martial for insubordination, to begin on 25 February 1966. Harlley and Deku were accused of involvement in a newly exposed scheme to illicitly sell diamonds to a European dealer—according to rumour, Nkrumah would have arrested them upon return to the country.

Ethnic loyalties may also have influenced some of the coup planners. A significant number came from the Ewe group, which had been divided by the border with Togo and felt it had received unfair treatment under Nkrumah and the CPP. The Ewe officers, who formed the inner circle of the coup, all grew up in the same area, and Harlley and Kotoka (the most prominent members from each of the forces) both attended Anloga Presbyterian School.

Do you believe this was enough grounds for Ghana's first coup? Did this coup d'etat bring about more harm than good?

Let us know in the comment section, was Nkrumah the best president for Ghana or the coup was the best choice for Ghana.

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CPP Ghana Ghana Armed Forces Ghanaian Kwame Nkrumah


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