Nkrumah is Overthrown

February 24, 1966

On February 24, 1966, the Ghanaian Army and police overthrew Nkrumah’s regime. 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 of individual rights and liberties, his regime’s corrupt, oppressive, and dictatorial practices, and the rapidly deteriorating economy as the principal reasons for its action.

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19 Responses to “Nkrumah is Overthrown”


  1. 1965: Ghana Rejects IMF and World Bank Advance, Continues with Import Substitution Plan

    Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah rejects IMF and World Bank recommendations to implement a economic development strategy based on non-inflationary borrowing and reduced government spending. Ghana’s refusal to implement these reforms makes it ineligible to receive loans from the two institutions. Nkrumah continues with a policy aimed at diversifying the Ghanaian economy through import substituting industrialization (ISI). (BBC 11/4/1997; Boafo-Arthur 1999; Encyclopaedia Britannica 2004)


  2. (3.00pm-3:30pm) March 11, 1965: US Ambassador to Ghana and CIA Director Discuss Upcoming Coup Attempt in Ghana


  3. In Washington, D.C., US ambassador to Ghana William P. Mahoney meets with CIA Director John A. McCone and the deputy chief of the CIA’s Africa division [name unknown] to discuss a “Coup d’etat Plot” in Ghana. According to a CIA document summarizing the meeting, Mahoney says that he is uncertain whether the coup, being planned by Acting Police Commissioner Harlley and Generals “Otu” and “Ankrah,” will ever come to pass. Notwithstanding, he adds that he is confident that President Kwame Nkrumah will not make it another year, given his waning popularity and Ghana’s deteriorating economy. “In the interests of further weakening Nkrumah,” Mahoney recommends that the US deny Nkrumah’s forthcoming request for financial assistance, according to the CIA memo. He adds that by refusing the request it would make a “desirable impression on other countries in Africa,” the memo also says. In the event of a coup, Mahoney says a military junta would likely come to power. (Central Intelligence Agency 3/11/1965; Lee 6/7/2002)


  4. (3.00pm-3:30pm) March 22, 1965: President of Ghana Criticizes US in Speech

    In a public speech, Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah lashes out against US support for Moise Tshombe in the Congo and blames the US government and financiers for many of the problems in Africa. (US Department of State 4/2/1965; Lee 6/7/2002)


  5. (3.00pm-3:30pm) March 22, 1965: President of Ghana Suspects US Behind Assassination Attempts

    In a telegraph to the US Department of State, US ambassador to Ghana William P. Mahoney recounts a meeting he had that morning with President Kwame Nkrumah. He says he told the president that the US government resented the anti-US statements he had made in his March 22 speech (see (3.00pm-3:30pm) March 22, 1965), in which he had laid blame on the US for many of Africa’s problems. “I said I would never have believed that [a] man of his sophistication and refinement would use language like that against my country, and it shock[ed] [me] to hear him do so.” Mahoney says that Nkrumah conceded that the rhetoric in his speech was “loaded and slanted throughout,” but insisted that “he had special purpose in mind.” After Mahoney further criticized Nkrumah’s speech, defending US policy in Africa, he saw that the president was crying. “I looked up and I saw he was crying. With difficulty he said I could not understand [the] ordeal he had been through during [the] last month. [He [r]ecalled that there had been seven attempts on his life…]” In comments listed at the end of his telegraph, Mahoney says that Nkrumah seems “convinced as ever [that the] US is out to get him” and “still suspects US involvement” in the recent assassination attempts. He explains that Nkrumah appears to be a “badly frightened man” whose “emotional resources seem [to] be running out” and predicts that there will be “more hysterical outbursts” from Nkrumah against the US. (US Department of State 4/2/1965; Lee 6/7/2002)


  6. March 27, 1965: US Official Says Plans for Ghana Coup Look ‘Good’

    Robert W. Komer, a National Security Council staffer, says in a memorandum to McGeorge Bundy, President Johnson’s Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, that plans to overthrow the Ghanaian government are looking “good.” “[W]e may have a pro-Western coup in Ghana soon,” he states at the beginning of his memo. “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. The new OCAM (Francophone) group’s refusal to attend any OAU meeting in Accra (because of Nkrumah’s plotting) will further isolate him. All in all, looks good.” (National Security Council 5/27/1965; Lee 6/7/2002)


  7. October 1965: President of Ghana Publishes Book Claiming World Powers Will Continue Meddling in Africa

    Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah publishes his famous work, Neo-Colonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, in which he predicts, quite accurately, that Africa will suffer persistent meddling by the intelligence agencies of foreign governments, particularly the CIA and KGB. He accuses American intelligence of being behind several of the crises being experienced by the Third World. His book introduces the term “neo-colonialism,” whereby a state is theoretically independent, but in reality, has its economic system and political policies directed from outside. He again calls on Africans to be united against imperialism and global capitalism. (Nkrumah 1996; BBC 11/4/1997; Ismi 10/2002) The US government quickly informs Nkrumah that it opposes the ideas presented in the book and cancels $35 million in aid to Ghana. (Ismi 10/2002)


  8. February 24, 1966: President of Ghana Toppled in CIA-Backed Coup

    The Ghanaian army stages a coup, overthrowing the pan-Africanist government of Kwame Nkrumah—who is in Burma at the start of a grand tour aimed at resolving the conflict in Vietnam. (Stockwell 1978; BBC 11/4/1997; Yergin and Stanislaw 1998) A weak economy (see 1961-Early 1966), exacerbated by the deliberate actions of Western governments to destabilize the country (see (3.00pm-3:30pm) March 11, 1965) (see March 27, 1965), had severely damaged the president’s popularity among the masses. Additionally, the military was upset with Nkrumah’s cuts to the defense budget and the declining real wage of army officers. The coup itself was supported by the CIA, which had maintained intimate contact with the plotters for at least a year (see (3.00pm-3:30pm) March 11, 1965). The CIA’s involvement in the plot was so close that it managed to recover some classified Soviet military equipment as the coup was happening. (Stockwell 1978; Hersh 1980; Lee 6/7/2002 Sources: Howard T. Banes)


  9. Documents Expose U.S. Role in Nkrumah Overthrow
    By Paul Lee
Special to SeeingBlack.com

    Declassified National Security Council and Central Intelligence Agency documents provide compelling, new evidence of United States government involvement in the 1966 overthrow of Ghanaian President Kwame Nkrumah.
    The coup d’etat, organized by dissident army officers, toppled the Nkrumah government on Feb. 24, 1966 and was promptly hailed by Western governments, including the U.S.
    The documents appear in a collection of diplomatic and intelligence memos, telegrams, and reports on Africa in Foreign Relations of the United States, the government’s ongoing official history of American foreign policy.
    Prepared by the State Department’s Office of the Historian, the latest volumes reflect the overt diplomacy and covert actions of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration from 1964-68. Though published in November 1999, what they reveal about U.S. complicity in the Ghana coup was only recently noted.
    Allegations of American involvement in the putsche arose almost immediately because of the well-known hostility of the U.S. to Nkrumah’s socialist orientation and pan-African activism.
    Nkrumah, himself, implicated the U.S. in his overthrow, and warned other African nations about what he saw as an emerging pattern.
    “An all-out offensive is being waged against the progressive, independent states,” he wrote in Dark Days in Ghana, his 1969 account of the Ghana coup. “All that has been needed was a small force of disciplined men to seize the key points of the capital city and to arrest the existing political leadership.”
    “It has been one of the tasks of the C.I.A. and other similar organisations,” he noted, “to discover these potential quislings and traitors in our midst, and to encourage them, by bribery and the promise of political power, to destroy the constitutional government of their countries.”



  10. A Spook’s Story
    While charges of U.S. involvement are not new, support for them was lacking until 1978, when anecdotal evidence was provided from an unlikely source—a former CIA case officer, John Stockwell, who reported first-hand testimony in his memoir, In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story.
    “The inside story came to me,” Stockwell wrote, “from an egotistical friend, who had been chief of the [CIA] station in Accra [Ghana] at the time.” (Stockwell was stationed one country away in the Ivory Coast.)
    Subsequent investigations by The New York Times and Covert Action Information Bulletin identified the station chief as Howard T. Banes, who operated undercover as a political officer in the U.S. Embassy.
    This is how the ouster of Nkrumah was handled as Stockwell related. The Accra station was encouraged by headquarters to maintain contact with dissidents of the Ghanaian army for the purpose of gathering intelligence on their activities. It was given a generous budget, and maintained intimate contact with the plotters as a coup was hatched. So close was the station’s involvement that it was able to coordinate the recovery of some classified Soviet military equipment by the United States as the coup took place.
    According to Stockwell, Banes’ sense of initiative knew no bounds. The station even proposed to headquarters through back channels that a squad be on hand at the moment of the coup to storm the [Communist] Chinese embassy, kill everyone inside, steal their secret records, and blow up the building to cover the facts.
    Though the proposal was quashed, inside the CIA headquarters the Accra station was given full, if unofficial credit for the eventual coup, in which eight Soviet advisors were killed. None of this was adequately reflected in the agency’s records, Stockwell wrote. 



  11. Confirmation and Revelation
    While the newly-released documents, written by a National Security Council staffer and unnamed CIA officers, confirm the essential outlines set forth by Nkrumah and Stockwell, they also provide additional, and chilling, details about what the U.S. government knew about the plot, when, and what it was prepared to do and did do to assist it.
    On March 11, 1965, almost a year before the coup, William P. Mahoney, the U.S. ambassador to Ghana, participated in a candid discussion in Washington, D.C., with CIA Director John A. McCone and the deputy chief of the CIA’s Africa division, whose name has been withheld.
    Significantly, the Africa division was part of the CIA’s directorate of plans, or dirty tricks component, through which the government pursued its covert policies.
    According to the record of their meeting (Document 251), topic one was the “Coup d’etat Plot, Ghana.” While Mahoney was satisfied 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.
    Nevertheless, he confidently—and accurately, as it turned out—predicted that one way or another Nkrumah would be out within a year. Revealing the depth of embassy knowledge of the plot, Mahoney referred to a recent report which mentioned that the top coup conspirators were scheduled to meet on 10 March at which time they would determine the timing of the coup.
    However, he warned, because of a tendency to procrastinate, any specific date they set should be accepted with reservations. In a reversal of what some would assume were the traditional roles of an ambassador and the CIA director, McCone asked Mahoney who would most likely succeed Nkrumah in the event of a coup.
    Mahoney again correctly forecast the future: Ambassador Mahoney stated that initially, at least, a military junta would take over. 



  12. Making it Happen
    But Mahoney was not a prophet. Rather, he represented the commitment of the U.S. government, in coordination with other Western governments, to bring about Nkrumah’s downfall.
    Firstly, Mahoney recommended denying Ghana’s forthcoming aid request in the interests of further weakening Nkrumah. He felt that there was little chance that either the Chinese Communists or the Soviets would in adequate measure come to Nkrumah’s financial rescue and the British would continue to adopt a hard nose attitude toward providing further assistance to Ghana.
    At the same time, it appears that Mahoney encouraged Nkrumah in the mistaken belief that both the U.S. and the U.K. would come to his financial rescue and proposed maintaining current U.S. aid levels and programs because they will endure and be remembered long after Nkrumah goes.
    Secondly, Mahoney seems to have assumed the responsibility of increasing the pressure on Nkrumah and exploiting the probable results. This can be seen in his 50-minute meeting with Nkrumah three weeks later.
    According to Mahoney’s account of their April 2 discussion (Document 252), “at one point Nkrumah, who had been holding face in hands, looked up and I saw he was crying. With difficulty he said I could not understand the ordeal he had been through during last month. Recalling that there had been seven attempts on his life.”
    Mahoney did not attempt to discourage Nkrumah’s fears, nor did he characterize them as unfounded in his report to his superiors.
    “While Nkrumah apparently continues to have personal affection for me,” he noted, “he seems as convinced as ever that the US is out to get him. From what he said about assassination attempts in March, it appears he still suspects US involvement.”
    Of course, the U.S. was out to get him. Moreover, Nkrumah was keenly aware of a recent African precedent that made the notion of a U.S.-organized or sanctioned assassination plot plausible—namely, the fate of the Congo and its first prime minister, his friend Patrice Lumumba.
    Nkrumah believed that the destabilization of the Congolese government in 1960 and Lumumba’s assassination in 1961 were the work of the “Invisible Government of the U.S.,” as he wrote in Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, later in 1965.
    When Lumumba’s murder was announced, Nkrumah told students at the inauguration of an ideological institute that bore his name that this brutal murder should teach them the diabolical depths of degradation to which these twin-monsters of imperialism and colonialism can descend.
    In his conclusion, Mahoney observed: “Nkrumah gave me the impression of being a badly frightened man. His emotional resources seem be running out. As pressures increase, we may expect more hysterical outbursts, many directed against US.”
    It was not necessary to add that he was helping to apply the pressure, nor that any hysterical outbursts by Nkrumah played into the West’s projection of him as an unstable dictator, thus justifying his removal.


  13. Smoking Gun
    On May 27, 1965, Robert W. Komer, a National Security Council staffer, briefed his boss, McGeorge Bundy, President Johnson’s special assistant for national security affairs, on the anti-Nkrumah campaign (Document 253).
    Komer, who first joined the White House as a member of President Kennedy’s NSC staff, had worked as a CIA analyst for 15 years. In 1967, Johnson tapped him to head his hearts-and-minds pacification program in Vietnam.
    Komer’s report establishes that the effort was not only interagency, sanctioned by the White House and supervised by the State Department and CIA, but also intergovernmental, being supported by America’s Western allies.
    “FYI,” he advised, “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,” he noted, “and the State Department 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. All in all, it looks good.”
    Komer’s reference to not being told if the U.S. was directly involved in the coup plot is revealing and quite likely a wry nod to his CIA past.
    Among the most deeply ingrained aspects of intelligence tradecraft and culture is plausible deniability, the habit of mind and practice designed to insulate the U.S., and particularly the president, from responsibility for particularly sensitive covert operations.
    Komer would have known that orders such as the overthrow of Nkrumah would have been communicated in a deliberately vague, opaque, allusive, and indirect fashion, as Thomas Powers noted in The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA.
    It would be unreasonable to argue that the U.S. was not directly involved when it created or exacerbated the conditions that favored a coup, and did so for the express purpose of bringing one about. 



  14. Truth and Consequences
    As it turned out, the coup did not occur for another nine months. After it did, Komer, now acting special assistant for national security affairs, wrote a congratulatory assessment to the President on March 12, 1966 (Document 260). His assessment of Nkrumah and his successors was telling.
    “The coup in Ghana,” he crowed, “is another example of a fortuitous windfall. Nkrumah was doing more to undermine our interests than any other black African. In reaction to his strongly pro-Communist leanings, the new military regime is almost pathetically pro-Western.”
    In this, Komer and Nkrumah were in agreement. “Where the more subtle methods of economic pressure and political subversion have failed to achieve the desired result,” Nkrumah wrote from exile in Guinea three years later, “there has been resort to violence in order to promote a change of regime and prepare the way for the establishment of a puppet government.”


  15. First Republic
    On 1st July 1960 Ghana became a Republic
    In 1966, the Ghana Armed Forces and Police led by Lt. Col. E. K. Kotoka and Maj. A. A. Afrifa overthrew Nkrumah’s administration and the first Republican Constitution of Ghana. A National Liberation Council (NLC) took office, headed by a retired army officer, General J. A. Ankrah. Lt. General A. A. Afrifa, in 1969, succeeded General Ankrah as the Chairman of the NLC.

  16. Nii Hammond Says:

    Where can I get the first radio speech/announcement by Gen Ankrah that formed the NLC on February 24 1966?

  17. abdul hamidu Says:

    why was the coup led by Kotoka and Afrifa but the office was headed by Ankrah?

  18. John Karim Says:

    weeping as i read this cold facts.what the NPP is doing today draws its inspirations from the early 1950’s,we know them by their fruits,God bless Nkrumah and GHANA.

  19. Asiamah Benedicta Says:

    what happened to Nkrumah and his government after e overthrow


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