Kwame Nkrumah was deposed from office as president of the Republic of Ghana on February 24, 1966. The signature of western support was evident in the coup orchestrated by the National Liberation Council. But to date, it remains a mystery how Nkrumah attracted the wrath of the West – who greatly admired his courage and leadership qualities.
Why would the erstwhile West support a coup to remove Nkrumah from office barely five years after he had been able to get Queen Elizabeth II to visit Ghana in 1961? He even danced with the Queen of England to highlife music by Ghanaian musicians.
Also, Lord Mountbatten, a well-celebrated hero of the First and Second World Wars and then Britain’s chief of defense staff, visited Ghana at Nkrumah’s invitation. Among other things, this was a clear indication that during that period, Nkrumah was held in high regard by the powers that controlled the West.
So, what could have transpired within 5 years that turned the hearts of the West against Nkrumah to the extent that they ensured to use everything in their power to remove him from office?
What Caused the 1966 Coup in Ghana?
Contrary to widespread claims and counterclaims, the 1966 coup that ousted Kwame Nkrumah from office was not a result of ethnic or class differences. Yes, these challenges existed, but they did not play a major role in the overthrow of Nkrumah and the demise of his Convention People’s Party (CPP) government.
According to the National Liberation Council, the coup was a result of the country’s continuing economic difficulties. Ghana, which enjoyed immeasurable wealth and development in the early years after independence, was bleeding from high foreign debts and internal problems resulting from what critics termed ‘Nkrumah’s politics of one party government.’
The National Liberation Council claimed that Nkrumah led an authoritarian regime in Ghana, as he repressed political opposition and conducted elections that were not free and fair. In 1964, a constitutional amendment made Ghana a one-party state, with Nkrumah as president for the life of both the nation and its party. Those who support Nkrumah said the move was necessary to protect Ghana from foreign interference and control through the comprador bourgeoisie.
But the real question remains why did the West withdraw its support for Nkrumah and ally with the opposition to dispose of Nkrumah when in fact, they could have played a key role in mediation to protect the sovereignty and government of a newly independent Ghana?
Well, it appears that the answers to these questions are not far-fetched because before the coup, Nkrumah had already fallen out of order with the West – and this was the reason the West supported the coup to oust him from power.
The Actions by Kwame Nkrumah that Moved Britain to Betray Him
At the time of Ghana’s independence on 6 March 1957, Britain did not fear the worst. They believed that by maintaining a close relationship with Ghana and Nkrumah, all their former colonies would remain under their control – through Nkrumah’s influence.
During the early years, they played an important role in supporting Ghana’s economic growth and giving Nkrumah good international integration. But it appeared Nkrumah had a plan of his own and was not interested in entertaining foreign interference not only in Ghana but in Africa as a whole.
In 1961, he established the Ghana Nuclear Reactor Project. He created the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission in 1963 and carried out the groundbreaking ceremony for an Atomic Energy Facility in Ghana in 1964. These moves were not welcomed by the West as it would improve Africa’s internal security and reduce foreign threats drastically.
He would also move to foster regional African political and military integration within the continent through the creation of an All African Trade Union, and a Conference for African Women, and even withdrew Ghana from colonial organizations like the West Africa Airways Corporation, West Africa Currency Board, and West African Court of Appeal.
It was only a matter of time before other African countries would follow suit – especially as he moved the negotiation of the creation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) in 1963. So this was a big concern for the former colonial masters.
He wanted to maintain a good relationship, but he didn’t want any direct involvement, especially in the area of governance and military. This was a problem for Britain as it was not what they had expected – or intended. So, at that point, they had to do everything to kick Nkrumah out of power, and the only way was to withdraw all support – which was channeled to the opposition.
The Final Action by Kwame Nkrumah that Prompted Britain to Take Action
In the book – “The History of Ghana“, Roger S. Gocking perhaps gave one of the best descriptions of the events that led to the decision by the West to dispose of him as president of Ghana.
Gocking writes that “Ghana took a leading role in criticizing Britain for not preventing this seizure of power by the white minority. Nkrumah called for military intervention, and with the example of the Congo in 1960 still fresh, he hoped that Ghanaian forces would play a prominent role. Eventually, Ghana was forced to break diplomatic relations with Great Britain.”
Nkrumah was becoming a strong force in the African continent, and the colonial masters feared that it would be a matter of time before he succeeded in turning the continent against their erstwhile colonial masters.
When Nkrumah insisted on visiting China, in what he said was a diplomatic bid to end the war in Vietnam. The West knew that there was more to that visit, and for any other purpose, it was Nkrumah’s aim to gain the support of Asia to tackle the problems which Ghana faced. Indeed, Nkrumah’s decision to cut ties with the West affected the country’s economy.
So, they took advantage of Ghana’s economic issues and bankruptcy to support a coup that ousted Nkrumah from power while he was in China. His departure to China would be the last time he stepped foot in his beloved Ghana, as he would go to Guinea, where he was welcomed by his friend, President Toure – until his death on 27 April 1972 in a Romanian hospital.