WHO TOPPLED NKRUMAH? – Documents Expose U.S. Role in Nkrumah Overthrow

Declassified National Security Council (NSC) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) 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 February 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 organizations, ” 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.”

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.

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.”

By Paul Lee

(First published on 7 March 2001)

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1 thought on “WHO TOPPLED NKRUMAH? – Documents Expose U.S. Role in Nkrumah Overthrow

  1. As a matter of fact, (no disrespect) but the modus operandi of the CIA old long since has not been one i would like to side with. I may not have been aged enough to discredit or critically analyze the Agency but one thing I have come to realize from the few i have read is that most of the heinous crimes in history were all perpetrated by it. To gain a strong hold on economies over the world, they side with those running a course that seems to be in their direction. eg. Anti-socialist groups. All they want is to rule the world one way or the other, subduing others under their power. To realy succeed as a good economist and run a course worth writing home about, one should pay very little attention if any at all to the CIA and its subsidiaries.

    If only Nkrumah had been given a little more time to materialize his dreams for Ghana, not only will we be in the fore-front of African affairs but we will also be at the helm of affairs in the management of African resources. The slogan ‘African is not poor, it’s just poorly managed’ will be a thing of the past.

    It’s time we sat in the drivers seat, took hold of the wheels and steered it towards a Pan-African destination. If i may seal this with a quote from the Bible; Hebrews 12:1 says, “Therefore let us also, seeing we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.”

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