The Missing Dialogue

The Author, Dr. Kofi Dankyi Beeko, MD.

For many years after the military coup d’état that overthrew Dr. Nkrumah in 1966, and the unsuccessful insurgence by the young Army Officer Attah and his colleagues in 1968, Ghanaian students had sat in the club-houses of their dormitories (mostly overseas), and discussed matters of military takeovers in Africa, at the time an innovation in Africa, but arousing interest beyond what words could describe.

The number of such events too accelerated at a pace, you were always behind if you wanted to keep track. The portion of the Globe designated “the Third World” (whose coinage?) at the time was “not discernible”, politically looked at. The third world did not refer at any rate to only Africa, but included Latin America, the Middle East, and the Far East.

It looked as though “some portion” of the world was saying, “we have been down-trodden for too long. It is our turn now!

But for what?”  In the case of the coup in Ghana in 1966, it was the work of the military in co-operating with the police force. But it was old and young officers in unison. Its parallel in Nigeria, almost identical, but preceding the same event in Ghana, was carried out by young military officers, trained at the Military Academy in Sandhurst, S.E. of Gt. Britain.

We, (then students), sat in front of lecture halls or café’s in Europe and elsewhere, and watched on television screens, for example, events in Uganda, as in the very early seventies, Idi Dada Amin, snatched political power.

At the time, the repercussions in Uganda, about which several books have since been written and filmed, could neither be foreseen, nor counted on.

In Korea, Thailand and Laos, similar events had taken place. In Europe and America, these Third World countries were “a matter for ridicule”, or “we told you so!”  Reasons why the takeovers had to be so rampant sounded infantile at times.

Not to forget, was the reality that, “following World War II, the Colonial Masters, one after the other, had found reasons to let go the strangleholds they had held on Africa, especially, for centuries, most of them during the infamous “Trans-Atlantic Slave-Trade.”

The most worrying inferno took place in a huge enclave in “Central Africa”, taken as a colony by the Belgian King, Leopold II, early in the 19th Century. The world knew it then as the “Belgian Congo.”  There was ivory, not to forget human beings to be taken as slaves, but for sale by the captors.

This enclave alone, bigger in area than the whole of Western Europe, made it possible for the Belgian King to build the City Of Brussels, as a show-case.

Victims in the mid-Twentieth Century were Patrice Lumumba (the first Prime Minister, after the sham pronouncement of independence by the then King of Belgium). Kwame Nkrumah, guiding (and to some extent, guarding his “younger brother” Lumumba), was miserably outplayed by the world powers. Lumumba, and his associate, Antoine Gizenga, Lumumba’s Foreign Minister, were murdered by a native rival, supported by the superpowers, who, initially called Kasavubu, had his name changed to “Sese Sekou Mobutu”, who subsequently, reigned in his country until he was overthrown by the late Laurent Kabilla, only some fifteen years ago, and Kabila, in turn,  assassinated by insurgents around him. Kabila’s son now rules the same country, but renamed, “Democratic Republic of Congo,” or DRC.

The United Nations Secretary General at the time, the Diplomat from Denmark, Dag Hammarskjöld, was killed in a mysterious aircraft disaster over the Congo, alongside many United Nations staff.

The world registered this laughable, but damnable event as the “Congo Crisis.”  The year was 1960. Nobody knew exactly what the super-powers wanted with the plethora of ”natural- resources-rich” third countries.”

The Belgian Congo, for example, was rich in Uranium, and this was the mineral from which the superpowers, (The Soviet Union, and The United States of America), needed badly, to produce Nuclear bombs.  Each of the two nations wanted to rule the world, and the rest of the world could guess who would.

Something must have been running through the minds of the young military officers, who in their countries, for example, in West Africa, Nigeria and Ghana, must have had their heads turning around.

These brilliant young men had passed various examinations, with which they could enter universities to read Law or Accountancy. But, the military offered alternatives. It was their mates who had entered Medical Schools (in Ghana, a brand new Medical Institution) supported by the ebullient “show-boy”, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. One could go out there and read Law and/or accountancy.

The “shiny well-fitting khaki uniform, in all types of styles”, plus an Opel Cadet vehicle “West German-make”, and a bungalow, where cooks and garden boys stood in readiness to make the young officers feel like kings, must have just been very much irresistible. The pay was not bad either.

During the training, they must have learned “enough of group-leadership, and the group could be a nation, mind you! So, the military history which they started to read at the Academy in Teshie, but continued overseas, had brought them to such expressions as “Crossing the Rubicon.”

Many, if not all, would have read from Nicolo Machiavelli, “The Prince.” Hitler too, had attempted a military take-over in Germany, not quite forty years earlier. Sese Sekou Mobutu is said to have read Hitler’s book, “Mein Kampf” from cover to cover. Examples of takeovers had been learned about from Pakistan and Syria in recent times.

No doubt, civilian, as well as military leaders must have had in them equivalent elements of patriotism. It was the package in which to best offer it, which must have been a problem, but not quite.

When you had a loaded revolver, you could “sell anything to anybody”. Or time was to tell what the reality would be. In essence, the developed nations, among who had been former “colonial masters”, would dispense development aid in the form of some scholarships for education, technical assistance, and cash, in a manner similar to the “Marshall Plan” to rebuild Germany, and the rest of Europe, following World War II.

In this regard, there appeared a scene of competition between, what was clearly two groups palpable, even by the least sensitive leaders (or would be leaders). There was the “Communist Block”, led by the Soviet Union, and the Capitalist Block, for which the economic giant, the USA, was the “boss.” And so it happened that the two giants could not help, but wield influence in the developing countries (called third World, please, be reminded), or if politeness was not so necessary, “under-developed nations.” Indirectly, power-structures in the “new nations” were shaped as to whether one nation was predominantly supported by the USA, or by the Soviet Union, THE OTHER SUPERPOWER!

Consequently, a type of dictatorship reigned in all the third world countries, whereby, in Africa South of the Sahara, this was “particularly conspicuous.”  Irrespective of whether the country was ruled by an “America-friendly regime,” or a Soviet-courted one”, elections were banned.  For a change to surface, a ruling regime had to be overthrown by another from within. The word “coup” was so ingrained in the substance of people’s brains, that it became part of their biology.
In a family, according to one saga, a child learning to talk brought out “coup” as her very first word. There was hardly a change without violence of a sort.  The changes on June 4th, 1979, and then again, in 1981, must have been of special interest and significance, with regards to the politico-dynamics of our Republic. But, how significant?

The society seemed to have absorbed the events of 1966 and 1968, and hearing it from almost everywhere in Africa, and other third world countries, it seemed “a new world order.” But, the association with economic deprivation was an adjunct that was so unpalatable.

There was silent dissent, and silent, because, there was fear. People knew that there existed other worlds where there was plenty, and they were called England or Germany. Hong Kong was on the tongues of traders who ventured thus far. Experimentation with the civilian transformation in 1979 seemed a risk worth taking. It was also unique, because it took place all the same, in spite of a military regime that was intercalated into a planned transfer.  Another new era was ushered in amidst confusion, but at the same time, with an inkling of hope. First, among the proletariat, but in the end, among the elite too. It was from this that, for some reason, not that odd, there must have first been interest, followed by pressure from the West for a change. Nkrumah’s initial thrust, that left so many Ghanaians into “the overseas”, and the drift of those who studied in the Eastern bloc that came home to begin with, but had a second exodus, stayed put in the West this time around. It was interesting how among even Europeans living under capitalism, many would discuss mixed economies like Sweden, and at the time, the “young Israeli State.” As it turned out, Ghana too, under a military regime, headed by Flt. Lt. J.J. Rawlings, the road was not any longer towards Bucharest, but also to Washington too!  After eleven years of a “non-voting political system”, electioneering was introduced to the bewilderment of even his detractors. Next to that was the opposition winning “an election”, which observers branded as “free and fair.” Then, unlike the situation in Burma, Mr. Rawlings “gave in to the people’s will.” That gave him, and the people of Ghana, a standing of great “élan” among democrats around the world, which some Ghanaians don’t find easy words to describe. The “Truth and Reconciliation Committee”, which was to heal the nation, seemed to have done the work, but a work that was not fully understood to begin with. Trying to explain what “understanding” means, and why we probably did not “heal” to the extent that we would have wished, one would like to look at the “disadvantage due to illiteracy.” South Africa was in a more fortunate situation, because, in spite of the long-standing wear and tear of “Apartheid”, they don’t have 60% of illiteracy.  So, the road towards understanding the “recent past”, which we won’t be able to just wide-off, but we must absorb, is not uniformly easy to walk, by all of us. … […to be continued].

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