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.
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 seemed to 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.