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Opinions of Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Columnist: Abugri, George Sydney

Kwame Nkrumah’s Miraculous Escapes

Source: George Sydney Abugri

By George Sydney Abugri

IT was all lather and biosterous chatter in the school laundry as we washed our clothes on one of the most memorable days in Ghana's political history, with the news coming on the radio: President Kwame Nkrumah had been overthrown in a military coup!

There were a few stupefied expressions all right; otherwise the jubilation was somewhat spontaneous: Many students raced across the campus, jumping over hedges, doing somersaults, and screaming anti-Nkrumah slogans.

It did not occur to me at the time that most of us did not understand the full implications of what had just happened and that we were only reacting with understandable naivety to the sudden fall of a man who had been so demonized by his opponents, that many had actually come to believe Nkrumah was really Lucifer in kente and jumper, a Ghanaian traditional attire.

Looking back, it is now obvious that it had to come to that as a matter of course: There had been too many attempts to kill Nkrumah for something not to eventually give. The arbitrariness of English language English language, grammar and expressions is legendary but even the English will be amused by the idea of bombing a man. It would make sense to talk about bombing a city, an installation or a building, but a man!

Yet Nkrumah had the singular distinction of being a fairly regular target of bomb attacks by opposition elements. There were at least seven attempts to assassinate him during his presidency. When he was not being bombed, he was being shot at. He was bombed in the vicinity of his office, at home, and while addressing political rallies.

What appears to have been the first bomb attack occurred on 10 November 1958. President Nkrumah had a severe cold and was resting--no, working--at home. He had his secretary and several aides around. Suddenly a powerful explosion rocked the house--from floor to rafters. It was the work of unidentified political opponents! There were minor injuries; thankfully no-one was killed. Thereafter, the assassination attempts picked up steam.

On New Year's Day, working in collaboration with the political opposition, senior officers of the Police Force in charge of Nkrumah's security at Flagstaff House where the president had his office, placed a policeman called Seth Ametewe on guard duty at the house, and assigned him to kill Nkrumah.

Constable Ametewe took up position near the car park at Flagstaff House and waited for the president. As Nkrumah walked from his office towards the car park at lunchtime, Ametewe fired at him several times with a rifle, missing his target each time as Nkrumah hastened away.

Nkrumah himself recounted the incident in chilling detail in some of his books and memoirs: "It was 1.00 pm in the garden of Flagstaff House. I was leaving the office to go for lunch when four shots were fired at me by one of the policemen on guard duty. He was no marksman, though his fifth shot succeeded in killing Salifu Dagarti, a loyal security officer who had run after the would-be assassin, as soon as he spotted him among the trees.

"The policeman then rushed at me trying to hit me with the rifle butt. I wrestled with him and managed to wrestle him to the ground and hold him there on his back until help came, but not before he had bitten me on the neck."

I (this writer) am a native of Bawku in Ghana's Upper East Region, and by a twist of fate and circumstance, I was not in too distant proximity with the scene of what was the deadliest bomb attack on Nkrumah at Kulugungu near Bawku in August 1962. I was among a welcome party of flag-waving pupils who had lined up to welcome Nkrumah as he passed through the town on his way to meet with the then president of Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso), Maurice Yameogo, at the border town of Tenkoudougou. Nkrumah, dressed in resplendent jumper and kente, waved at us from the back seat of a saloon car with a white handkerchief, and I recall noting what a handsome man he was.

After meeting with President Yameogo, Nkrumah stopped at Kulugungu on his way back. He had descended from his car to receive a bouquet from a schoolgirl when a bomb was hurled at him. We were still standing around in Gingande (a suburb of Bawku) with our national flags waiting for his return, when the dispatch riders raced back shouting in Twi, that Nkrumah was dead. I recall the lead rider standing straight up on the pedals of his motorbike and trying to scream the sky down in Twi: "Nkrumah ewn-oo! Nkrumah ewu-oo! Womo ato bomb!" [meaning, "Nkrumah is dead, Nkrumah is dead; they've bombed him!"]. This caused us to flee in a million directions. {PICTURE ILLUSTRATION OMMITTED}

The casualty tally at Kulugungu was actually two dead and 55 injured, including Nkrumah. The dead included a police-man and the schoolgirl. "I believe it was his injuries from the attack which later killed my father. Some of the shrapnel from the bombing was never removed from Nkrumah's body," Samia Nkrumah, the president's daughter, who is now an MP in Ghana, said in Accra during the centenary celebration of Nkrumah's birthday on 21 September 2009.

Two other bomb explosions occurred on the same day, on 7 July 1961. One wrecked Nkrumah's statue outside Parliament House. A further two bomb attacks in August and September 1961 failed to kill Nkrumah. Yet another bomb exploded in a crowd outside Flagstaff House on 2 September 1962, killing one person and injuring 63 others, as Nkrumah's enemies persisted with the attempts to kill him.

In another attack, one person was killed and many injured when a bomb was set off at Flagstaff House while the Young Pioneers Orchestra Band was entertaining Nkrumah and his guests. There was also a plan to shoot him at Accra airport as he arrived from an official visit to India. The plan was uncovered and aborted.

The attacks on Nkrumah were recorded by the Convention Peoples Party (CPP ), Nkrumah himself, and leading Ghanaian scholars like Kwame Botwe Asamoah and Dr Peter T. Omari. In Kwame Nkrumah: The anatomy of an African dictatorship, Dr Omari recalls that after some of the bombings, "feelings ran high for revenge against former Nkrumah aides, Tawiah Adamafio, Ako Adjei and Cofie Crabbe who, in collusion with the opposition, were believed to be behind some of the attempts on Nkrumah's life."

According to Dr Omari, Krobo Edusei, the minister of agriculture, told a CPP rally that the party was giving Nkrumah one month to use his authority "to bring the arch traitors to Accra's Black Star Square to be shot". Edusei warned that if Nkrumah failed to comply, "the whole of Ghana would march together to the prisons and tear the traitors to pieces".

In apparent desperation, Nkrumah used the infamous "Protective Detention Act" (PDA) to arrest and detain elements suspected of trying to kill or overthrow him. The PDA had been promulgated at the request of the Police Force in response to terrorist acts in Accra by a Ga "nationalist" group, Ga Shinpo Kpee, that wanted to drive out non-Gas from Accra, their so-called "local" area. The police wanted a law that empowered them to hold suspects for more than 48 hours to help them in their investigations.

The PDA only went to strengthen opposition charges that Nkrumah was a repressive despot. That and Nkrumah's declaration of a one-party state increased the resolve of his opponents to overthrow him, an exercise which was eventually executed by America's CIA :

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{First published in New African Magazine, December, 2009}.