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Nkrumah Coup - 1966

The National Liberation Council (NLC) overthrew Nkrumah's government in a military coup on February 24, 1966. At the time, Nkrumah was in China. He took up asylum in Guinea, where he remained until he died in 1972. Some Africans quickly cited US aid as evidence that "the CIA overthrew Nkrumah" - but it was apparent to many Africans that it was an insult to Ghanasians to say that a hungry and politically oppressed African needed some American agent to tell him he is unhappy.

After independence, the government under Kwame Nkrumah sought to develop Ghana as amodern, semi-industrialized, unitary socialist state. Nkrumah was leading Ghana towards what he calls African Socialism which is, in fact, a personal dictatorship. Nkrumah remains the pivotal factor in Ghana. Considering himself the messianic deliverer of his country, he has used authoritarian means to reinforce his personal control at home and continues political adventures abroad to promote his claim to be Pan-Africa's leading figure.

He was impelled by his own proclivities as well as personal fear resulting from his two close call assassination attempts. He suspects almost everybody, even the CIA. This affects his actions domestically and his attitude towards the US. He was driven on by his own conceit, blaming others, internally or foreign, for his own failures. The effect was that he had assumed more and more power into his own hands, leans more and more on a small group of leftists who applaud this trend, and cut himself off from those who oppose. He developed a one-party political system, in itself not uncommon in Africa, but in Ghana this meant imprisoning many of his opponents, controlling the press, and the courts.

By 1961 the Sino-Soviet Bloc had been assiduous in cultivating Nkrumah, recognizing in him an invaluable instrument for furthering its ambitions in Africa. Assistance in the way of credits, barter agreements, offers of training, etc., has already been supplied. Nkrumah and the extreme radicals among his followers are attracted by the apparent success of the Communists in promoting rapid economic development, and their avowed anticolonialism.

Nkrumah himself repeatedly stated that foreign private capital is essential to Ghana’s development. He realizes also that foreign private capital is in short supply to meet the needs of the developing nations and therefore must be catered to. His speech outlining the new seven year plan proposed development of a mixed economy with agriculture largely in private hands and “for some time to come” the need for large foreign private investments to develop industry. All of this trend may project an eventual Tito type dictatorship, with the State assuming all political and economic direction or ownership.

By early March 1965, US Ambassador to Ghana, William P. Mahoney felt that popular opinion was running strongly against Nkrumah and the economy of the country was in a precarious state he was not convinced that the coup d’etat, now being planned by Acting Police Commissioner Harlley and Generals Otu and Ankrah, would necessarily take place. He did feel, however, that one way or another Nkrumah would be out within a year.

A Memorandum From Robert W. Komer of the National Security Council Staff to the President’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs (Bundy), May 27, 1965, noted "FYI, we may have a pro-Western coup in Ghana soon. Certain key military and police figures have been planning one for some time, and Ghana’s deteriorating economic condition may provide the spark.The plotters are keeping us briefed, and State thinks we’re more on the inside than the British. While we’re not directly involved (I’m told), we and other Western countries (including France) have been helping to set up the situation by ignoring Nkrumah’s pleas for economic aid."

During the spring and early summer of 1965 a group of senior military and police officers continued to develop coup plots, to discuss tentative dates and occasions for overthrowing Nkrumah, and to vacillate about carrying out their plans. Younger, middle-grade officers were chafing over the failure of top military leaders to act.

A CIA report of 19 June 1965 stated “Disaffected military and police leaders could well move against the regime soon, possibly during Nkrumah’s current trip abroad (for the Commonwealth Conference) .… Many military leaders have long been unhappy over Nkrumah’s leadership. A conviction that their personal interests are now at stake could finally overcome their reluctance to move . …The Otus (two brothers who held high military posts) have also recently been in close touch with pro-Western Police Commissioner Harlley, who is said to be thoroughly fed up with the regime and to have aligned himself with them.”

On 24 February 1966, a coup occurred in Ghana while President Nkrumah was en route to Peking. Nkrumah and all his ministers were dismissed, the CPP and National Assembly were dissolved, and the constitution was suspended. The new regime cited Nkrumah's flagrant abuse ofindividual rights and liberties, his regime's corrupt, oppressive, and dictatorial practices, and the rapidly deteriorating economy as the principal reasons for its action.

Over the past year, US Government reporting had noted persistent military dissatisfaction with the regime and pointed to a group of army and police officers who were plotting against Nkrumah. Because of government countermeasures and indecisiveness on the part of the plotters, the coup was apparently postponed several times. US classified internal publications pointed out that the officers involved favored making their move either while Nkrumah was out of the country or when they could take advantage of an outburst of popular discontent.

In a February 25 letter to Bill Moyers, Ambassador Williams stated that the successful coup had been “extremely fortunate,” that the new leaders were “strong friends of ours,” and that they had acted with noble motives, to “rid the country of (oppressive)… conditions.”

The leaders of the February 24 coup established the new government around the NationalLiberation Council (NLC) and pledged an early return to a duly constituted civiliangovernment. Members of the judiciary and civil service remained at their posts and committees of civil servants were established to handle the administration of the country.

John Stockwell, a CIA renegade, revealed in 1978 that agents within the Ghana military and Police were bribed to execute the coup, which overthrew Nkrumah and subsequently led to his demise. Seymour Hersh reported 09 May 1978 that "The Central Intelligence Agency advised and supported group of dissident army officers who overthrew the regime of President Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana in February 1966, first-hand intelligence sources said yesterday. The agency's role in the coup d'état was carried out without prior approval from the high-level interagency group in Washington that monitors C.I.A. clandestine activities, these sources said. That group, known in 1966 as the 303 Committee, had specifically rejected a previous C.I.A. request seeking authority to plot against Mr. Nkrumah... Details of the agency's purported role in the overthrow of Mr. Nkrumah became available after John Stockwell, a former C.I.A. operative, briefly described it in a footnote to his newly published book, “In Search of Enemies”.... many C.I.A. operatives in Africa considered the agency's role in the overthrow of Mr. Nkrumah to have been pivotal. At least some officials in Washington headquarters apparently agreed..." The CIA was said to have played a vital role in the coup (Howard T. Banes, the station chief in Accra at the time, was quickry promoted to a senior position in the agency and given a medal) and was rewarded by the Ghanaians by being permitted (for a fee of at least $100,000) to fly sensitive Soviet military equipment to the US.

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Page last modified: 11-04-2017 18:48:41 ZULU