Kwame Nkrumah. The Conakry Years

June Milne, ed. Kwame Nkrumah. The Conakry Years. His Life and Letters
June Milne, ed. Kwame Nkrumah. The Conakry Years. His Life and Letters

In his will Kwame Nkrumah designated June Milne as his literary executrix. But it took the Guinean authorities fourteen years (from 1972 to 1986) to relinquish Osagyefo’s papers to her.  I present here excerpts from Kwame Nkrumah  The Conakry Years. His Life and Letters, the book edited by Ms. Milne. She used primary sources generated by the late president. This publication includes only the Foreword and the Introduction. Yet, the challenges and dilemmas of life in exile in Conakry are clearly exposed. Likewise for the ways in which Ghana’s first president tried to overcome the predicaments of his downfall, or his stoic stance in the face of adversity.
The book’s limitations reflect the incompleteness of the material. The editor points to regrettable gaps and losses in collecting and preserving documents and artifacts. Nonetheless, June Milne’s work is informative and revealing. In addition, it gives context and weight to Victor Du Bois’ paper “The Death of Kwame Nkrumah.”
That said, for readability sake, I have partitioned the 17-page Introduction into eight subtitled segments.
Last, the book confuses two separate diplomatic incidents. They opposed Guinea, on the one hand, and Ghana and Ivory Coast, on the other. The first one involved PAN Am Airlines in 1966 in Accra. See André Lewin, Chapter 61. La chute et la fin de l’ami Nkrumah. On October 30th 1966 President Sekou Toure ordered the house arrest of Robinson McIlvaine, the US ambassador in Conakry. The restriction lasted less than 24 hours.… The second incident concerned KLM Airlines, in 1967 in Abidjan. It stemmed from the love-hate relationship and the cyclical feuds between Houphouët-Boigny (the master) and Sekou Toure (the disciple). Curiously, in both instances Lansana Beavogui, minister and futur prime minister, led the confined delegation.

See (a) Le résistible leadership d’Houphouët-Boigny, (b) Le “vide guinéen” selon Houphouët-Boigny, (c) My Errata about Guinée, les cailloux de la mémoire

Tierno S. Bah


June Milne, ed.
Kwame Nkrumah. The Conakry Years. His Life and Letters.
Panaf. 1990. 416 pages

Foreword

June Milne, ed. Kwame Nkrumah. The Conakry Years. His Life and Letters
June Milne, ed. Kwame Nkrumah. The Conakry Years.
His Life and Letters

President Kwame Nkrumah, who was the first person to lead a colony in Sub-Saharan Africa to independence, was forced into exile in Guinea Conakry following the coup in Ghana on 24 February 1966. He arrived in Guinea in March and was destined to remain there until August 1971 when ill health compelled him to seek medical treatment in Romania. He died in Bucharest on 27 April 1972.
During his stay in Conakry he wrote many books, and as his research assistant and publisher I was in close touch, making sixteen visits to Guinea and three to Bucharest. In his will he appointed me his literary executrix, and for years after his death I made attempts to recover his library, papers and files of correspondence which I knew were still in Villa Syli, his residence in Conakry.
However, it was not until August 1986 that I was finally able to visit Conakry and obtain these papers, the bulk of which I have now deposited in the Moorland-Spingarn Research Centre at Howard University, Washington DC.
As so little is known of Nkrumah’s life and work during the years he spent in Conakry, I have compiled this record from primary source material comprising the 43 Conakry files of correspondence, more than 350 letters and innumerable cables addressed to me, and from notebooks I kept during my visits to Conakry and Bucharest.
The excerpts from my notebooks are included since they were written at the time of my visits to see Nkrumah, and not with hindsight. However good one’s memory, remembered conversations and remarks are suspect, and have no place in this book.
It has only been possible to include a selection of the interesting letters and papers in the Conakry files. Nkrumah published in his book Dark Days in Ghana some of the letters and cables he received during the early years of his stay in Conakry. These are not reprinted here. Neither are there excerpts of his broadcasts to the Ghanaian people, nor other matter which has been published elsewhere.
There were many whose loyalty and friendship were expressed verbally and remain unrecorded, but who played an important role in helping to sustain Nkrumah during the Conakry years. Never to be forgotten was the unfailing devotion of members of his Ghanaian entourage, particularly the tender care of Quarm and Nyamikeh in Bucharest during the last months of his life; the steadfastness throughout of Camara Sana, the Guinean protocol officer at Villa Syli; the innumerable thoughtful little acts of the many Africans and others who visited Nkrumah in Conakry, and who talked with him, from young students such as Lamin who travelled from Gambia to be with him and whom Nkrumah tutored for several months, to freedom fighters of the stature of Amilcar Cabral, who was a frequent visitor and with whom Nkrumah had long discussions. Sadly, there are no records of these.
Similarly, there exist no written records of the visits of the many foreign envoys in Conakry, notably those from African countries, from Cuba, China, the USSR, North Vietnam and North Korea. President Fidel Castro supplied molasses and black beans through his embassy in Conakry. The Chinese ambassador brought books and silk shirts, personal gifts from the then prime minister Chou en-Lai. North Korean and Vietnamese diplomatic personnel regularly gave film shows for Nkrumah and his entourage at Villa Syli. During most of his stay in Guinea, a Vietnamese doctor attended to any medical problems at the Villa, while a Soviet dentist gave his services, bringing with him a portable dental chair for treatment to be carried out on the open seafront terrace adjoining Nkrumah’s office.
The scope of these and other examples of the continuing support received by Nkrumah after the 1966 coup may to some extent be realized from references in the letters and other written evidence here published. There are, for example, references to the work of Douglas Rogers, editor of the magazine Africa and the World, and of Ghanaians who kept alive the Overseas Branch of the Convention People’s Party (CPP), an organization still in existence today and which issues The Dawn, a journal founded by Nkrumah and the CPP Overseas Branch.
In a special category, but also largely unrecorded in the Conakry files, are Nkrumah’s friendship and shared Pan African objectives with President Sekou Toure, Madame Sekou Toure and the people of Guinea. Madame Sekou Toure on many occasions personally cooked meals for Nkrumah, delivering them by hand to him at Villa Syli. The visits of Guineans to the Villa, ·and the spontaneous cheering and waving of the ordinary people of Guinea whenever they saw Nkrumah, touched him deeply. As also, the special ovation from the huge crowds for himself and his entourage whenever they appeared at state functions in Conakry.
The letters written by Nkrumah to me, and much of the other correspondence and documents here reproduced, are edited, mainly for reasons of space, but also because to print them in full would not contribute significantly to the picture they give of Nkrumah’s life during the Conakry and Bucharest periods. The editing has simply involved the omitting of certain passages. Nothing has been added. I have not indicated where omissions have been made, in order that the text should not appear unnecessarily disjointed.
There have been many coups in Africa both before and after that of 1966 when Nkrumah ‘s government was overthrown—but none which has had greater impact on the course of Africa’s history. After a coup, little is usually heard of the deposed head of state. After the initial glare of media publicity the norm is for him to be of no further interest. With Nkrumah this was not the case. Far from sinking into obscurity, Nkrumah’s political stature grew, and continues to inspire Africans and people of African descent worldwide. The words inscribed in Guinea on his coffin provide a verdict on his life and work: “The Greatest African”.

Introduction

The  Coup

President Kwame Nkrumah was on his way to Hanoi with peace proposals for ending the war in Vietnam when the 24 February 1966 coup in Ghana overthrew his government. The constitution was suspended and a National Liberation Council (NLC) established. It consisted of six members of the army and six policemen, with General J.A. Ankrah as chairman, and Police Commissioner J.W.K. Harlley as deputy chairman.
Nkrumah had almost reached Peking, the furthest point of his journey, when the coup took place. He was informed of the news by the Chinese ambassador in Accra who had gone ahead to Peking to greet Nkrumah and to escort him during his stay in China. Nkrumah’s first reaction was to return immediately to Accra. If the VCIO of Ghana Airways had not been left behind in Rangoon, he would have embarked at once. “I knew that to avoid unnecessary bloodshed I would have to be back in Ghana within 24 hours, and this was clearly impossible. I decided, therefore, to make an immediate statement to the Ghanaian people, and to fight back on African soil just as soon as my hosts could make the necessary travel arrangements.” 1
At this time, many cables were sent by Nkrumah to heads of state, to Ghanaian diplomatic missions and to friends. Among the first was a cable to the Ghanaian embassy in Cairo:

Confirm Immediately That Ghana Airways Vcio En Route From Rangoon Has Been Instructed To Stand By In Cairo With Its Security Passengers Stop Send Your Message In Care Of Ghana Embassy Peking 2.

On the same day, 25 February, messages were sent to President Ahmed Sekou Toure of Guinea, President Modibo Keita of Mali and to President Nasser. The following message to President Sekou Toure is typical. It was in response to a message dated the day before from the Guinean president.

My dear Brother and President
I have been deeply touched by your message of solidarity and support I have received today. It is true, as you say, that this incident in Ghana is a plot by the imperialists, neo-colonialists and their agents in Africa 3. As these imperialist forces grow more militant and insidious, using traitors to the African cause against the freedom and independence of our people, we must strengthen our resolution and fight for the dignity of our people to the last man and for the unity of Africa. It is heartening to know that in this struggle we can count on the support and understanding of Africa’s well-tried leaders like yourself.
I know that our cause will triumph and that we can look forward to the day when Africa shall be really united and free from foreign interference and intrigues and saboteurs and puppets.
I am safe and well here in Peking and I have sent my special emissary who will deliver this message to you to let you know the plans I am making for my early return to Africa. I trust that you will give him every possible assistance for the fulfilment of his mission.
I shall visit you in Guinea soon 4.
With sincere and brotherly affection.
Kwame Nkrumah

With messages for Nkrumah pouring into Peking from Africa and many other parts of the world, and with all the work of acknowledging them, Nkrumah did not forget to cable those whom he knew would be anxious about him. Among cables and messages sent on 26 February were those to personal friends . The cable I received read: Take Heart I Am Well And Determined.
In Peking, the Chinese government went ahead with plans which had been made for Nkrumah’s visit, treating him as an honoured head of state. On the evening of the 24th a banquet was held in his honour, at which a leading government official, Liu Shao-chi, spoke of the operations of neo-colonialist forces in Africa, mentioning specifically the USA, and quoting from Nkrumah’s book Neo-colonia!ism. In his speech, Nkrumah attacked imperialism and neocolonialism and American aggression in Vietnam. “On 24 February 1966, Ghana was forced one step backward. We shall take two forward,” he said. Listening to him on that occasion were members of his government and other officials who had accompanied him on the peace mission. According to Nkrumah, “most of them were frightened… Their obvious dismay was in striking contrast to the calmness and courage of the 66 other personnel — the security officers and members of my personal secretariat.” 5
Nkrumah left Peking on 28 February in an aircraft provided by the Soviet Union. Flying by way of Irkutsk, he and his entourage arrived in Moscow on 1st March. He telephoned me shortly after his arrival. He told me that he was on his way to a destination which I would doubtless hear about on the radio in due course. He said that he had instructed his foreign minister, Alex Quaison-Sackey, to go to Addis Ababa to represent the constitutional government of Ghana at the OAU Council of Ministers meeting. I had heard, however, on the BBC World Service that very morning that Quaison-Sackey had not gone to Addis Ababa, but had travelled to Accra. I told Nkrumah. He seemed shocked. For a moment he said nothing. Then he abruptly changed the subject and asked if I had heard about the defection of J.E. Bossman, the Ghana High Commissioner in London, news of which had been conveyed to Nkrumah on his arrival in Moscow. A few minutes later the call ended with Nkrumah’s assurance that I would hear from him soon after he reached his “destination”.
A few of Nkrumah’s government colleagues had left Peking before him. Others travelled with him to Moscow. Kwesi Armah and other officials left Moscow to deal, as they said, with “urgent private matters”. The plan was for them to carry out their tasks and then to return to Moscow to join Nkrumah and travel with him to Guinea. But when Nkrumah learned of the defections of Bossman and Quaison-Sackey he delayed no longer, and decided to go to Conakry at once with members of his personal staff, security personnel and a number of Ghanaians who had been studying in the Soviet Union and who wished to join him.

Co-president of Guinea

It was no surprise that Nkrumah chose to accept the invitation from Guinea. He would also have been welcome in Cairo because of his friendship with President Nasser. It was there that Nkrumah’s Egyptian wife, Madame Fathia (Rizk) and the three children, Gamal, Samia and Sekou, had taken refuge 6. But Guinea under the government of President Sekou Toure and the Guinean Democratic Party (PDG) had become a stronghold of the African Revolution. Sekou Toure and Nkrumah shared the same ideas on liberation, social justice and the unification of Africa.
In 1958, when Guinea made history by becoming the only state among France’s African colonies to give a decisive Non to General de Gaulle’s referendum about joining the French Community, Nkrumah’s government made £10 million available to the newly independent Guinean government to help it surmount some of its most pressing economic problems. Sekou Toure and the people of Guinea never forgot this generosity, and Nkrumah always received a tumultuous welcome whenever he visited the country. Then in 1961, Ghana and Guinea formed a Union, later extended to include Mali, which was intended to form a nucleus around which the African unification process could develop. A further factor which influenced Nkrumah’s decision to accept Sekou Toure’s invitation was the geographical consideration. Guinea was only some three hundred miles from Ghana. For Nkrumah was determined to return to Ghana to carry on the African revolutionary struggle, a resolve which never faltered during the whole of the time—more than five years—that he was destined to spend in Guinea.
The first I knew of Nkrumah’s arrival in Conakry was when I saw an Evening Standard placard on a news-stand in Piccadilly, London: “Nkrumah arrives in Guinea to a 21-gun salute”. It was a relief to know that he was safely on African soil again and among friends who shared his political ideals.
The aircraft carrying Nkrumah and his entourage had touched down briefly in Yugoslavia and Algeria, finally reaching Conakry during the afternoon of 2nd March. The following day, at a mass rally, Sekou Toure proclaimed Nkrumah head of state of Guinea. “The Ghanaian traitors have been mistaken in thinking that Nkrumah is simply a Ghanaian,” he declared, “he is a universal man.” It was an unprecedented expression of Pan Africanism. At the time, Nkrumah did not realize what Sekou Toure, speaking in French, had said. He thought the cheering of the crowd was in response to the Guinean president’s welcome to his distinguished guest. When later he learned the truth he was very moved but agreed only to become co-president of Guinea.

Settling down in Conakry

For the first few weeks, Nkrumah and his entourage were housed in Belle-Vue, a government guest compound situated on the coast a short distance from the centre of Conakry. During this time, at Nkrumah’s request, more modest accommodation was prepared for him at Villa Syli, an old colonial-style residence built on the seashore in the direction of the airport. It was a long, low white concrete building constructed on two levels, the lower part of which jutted out on to the beach. At high tide, the sea lapped against three sides of it. The upper part of the villa became the office area, while the lower level contained private and domestic quarters. To the rear was a secluded area shaded by mango and flamboyant trees. During the hottest months, Nkrumah would have a table and chairs carried out to “under the trees”, as he called it. But for the most part he spent his time in the office, a recessed room open at the front to the long verandah and the sea.
The speedy organizing and equipping of his office was made possible by Sekou Toure’s closure of the Ghanaian Embassy in Conakry immediately after the coup. An inventory was made of all property at the embassy and at the vacated Ghanaian envoy’s official residence. Everything was put at Nkrumah’s disposal. Tables, chairs, beds, cupboards, shelving, typewriters, stationery and so on, and also the envoy’s Mercedes Benz, were transferred to Villa Syli. Within days of moving in, Nkrumah was at his desk establishing an office routine, and dealing with the flood of letters, cables and messages which poured into the Conakry post office for him from all parts of the world.
Sekou Toure appointed Camara Sana, an experienced career diplomat who had served in Ghana and had a good knowledge of English, to act as Nkrumah’s protocol officer and interpreter. He was of great assistance to Nkrumah during the whole of the time he spent in Guinea. He supervised the administration of the villa, acted as liaison officer between Ghanaian and Guinean security personnel and undertook many other duties. Some of these were of a very confidential nature, concerned with attempts to restore Nkrumah to Accra. Sekou Toure and his ministers kept in close personal touch with Nkrumah, but it was Camara’s responsibility always to see that decisions were acted upon. I never knew him to have a holiday or even to take a day off. He would arrive early from his home some miles away and seldom return home before 10 or 11 p.m., after Nkrumah had retired to his room for the night.

During the early months of 1966 it was Camara who arranged for an electric generator to be installed in the compound so that the life of the villa could proceed despite the almost daily electricity cuts which the people of Conakry suffered.

Another priority which Nkrumah required was the setting up of an efficient radio station at the villa, and again it was Camara who arranged for the work to be done.

Down but not out

Throughout the years which Nkrumah spent in Guinea he was able to be kept informed of broadcasts from Ghana, and of confidential army and police messages. Each day, reports of these broadcasts and messages were placed on his desk by members of his entourage whose job it was to monitor them. In this way, Nkrumah was able to obtain insight into what was happening in Ghana, and did not have to rely solely on reports of Ghanaians and others who either travelled to Conakry to see him, or who wrote or sent messages.
Right from the start of his stay in Guinea, Ghanaians loyal to his government got in touch with him. For a time, one of them openly cabled news from the Foreign Affairs Department in Accra. Others, among them members of the staff of the Ghanaian Embassy in Freetown, Sierra Leone, sent him copies of reports and instructions received from the NLC in Accra. They signed themselves “Your secret agents”. While much of the information they sent was not of great significance, it was nevertheless a useful supplement to information from other sources.
Within six weeks of his arrival in Conakry, Nkrumah tried to organize a conference of the militant states of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), to meet in Bamako, Mali on 29 May. The idea for such a conference had first been mooted by Sekou Toure in a message to Nkrumah shortly after the coup, when Nkrumah was still in Peking. The Guinean president said that his government had decided “after a thorough analysis of the African situation following the seizure of power by the instruments of imperialism… to call on all progressive African countries to hold a special conference and take all adequate measures. We think that the time factor is vital here, since it is important to make a riposte without further delay, by every means.” 7
In Conakry, Nkrumah drafted a letter of invitation to be sent to the twelve heads of state considered at the time to be militant. They were Egypt, Guinea, Ghana (CPP government) 8, Mali, Somalia, Algeria, Uganda, Mauritania, Tanzania, Congo-Brazzaville, Sudan, Sierra Leone. The letters were to be signed by the three presidents of the Ghana-Guinea-Mali Union of 1961, Nkrumah, Sekou Toure and Modibo Keita. The invitations, dated 25 April 1966, were to be sent first to Modibo Keita requesting him to sign them and to return them to Conakry for the signatures of Nkrumah and Sekou Toure. There is no evidence among the files and papers which Nkrumah kept in Villa Syli that the conference ever took place. Such a conference so soon after the Ghana coup would surely have attracted media attention. There were no reports of it. However, Nkrumah, Sekou Toure and Modibo Keita kept in close touch and met frequently.
There was a time when Nkrumah considered moving to Bamako because of its proximity to Upper Volta (now Burkina Faso) and the latter’s common frontier with northern Ghana. An opposition politician from Burkina Faso, whom Nkrumah knew from pre-coup days, visited him in Conakry and led him to believe that there might soon be a political change in his country which would provide favourable conditions for cross-border contact between Nkrumah’s supporters outside Ghana and those within. A move to Bamako would make such a possibility easier to accomplish, Mali and Burkina Faso sharing a common frontier. The coup of 19 November 1968 which overthrew the government of Modibo Keita ended any chance of such a move.

For the first six months or so, Nkrumah was content to monitor events in Ghana without too much concern about the effect the coup in Ghana would have on the African revolutionary struggle. But as the months passed he became anxious about the time factor, fearing that irreparable damage might be done to Ghana’s infrastructure. It was not that he wanted a restoration of his pre-1966 political position, but that he found he could not pursue his Pan African objectives adequately from Guinea. He had to return to Ghana because the infrastructure was there. On his return, others could direct the domestic administration of the country, leaving him free to devote his whole attention to organizing the Pan African struggle for the total liberation and unification of the Continent. This was not a new idea he had dreamed up in Conakry. Some time before the coup Nkrumah was thinking along these lines, as Erica Powell, his private secretary from 1955 to 1964 has confirmed in her book. Nkrumah told her before she finally left Ghana in 1965 that “he wished he could resign the presidency and devote his time to African unity.” 9

After the coup, as he was no longer president of Ghana, the idea seemed possible to realize once he had returned and could make a fresh start. He intended to establish a freedom fighter headquarters, similar to something he had seen in China when visiting Chairman Mao Tse-Tung. It would be situated not far from Accra, hidden from aerial attack in the hilly forested area of Aburi. From there he would develop the military and political structures outlined in his book Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare: A Guide to the Armed Phase of the African Revolution 10. During one of my visits to Guinea, Nkrumah sketched in pencil a rough plan of the small building he would require. It consisted of two bedrooms with bathrooms, and a central room for meetings. He marked the position of doors, and the driveways leading to the entrance of the cave-like building, remembering to make a circular part where vehicles could turn.

Nkrumah’s firm belief that he would return to Ghana was strengthened by the flow of mail and messages of support he received. An indication of the extent and variety of these communications can be gathered from the files of correspondence and cables which he left behind in Villa Syli. Furthermore, throughout the Conakry years, there were numerous visits from Ghanaians and others who claimed to be organizing a counter-coup to restore him to Accra. Nkrumah suspected that some of those who claimed to be working for his return were dishonest opportunists. But lacking the intelligence facilities he had had in Ghana, he could never be sure of a person’s integrity. If it had not been for his determination to get back to the country in order to carry out his Pan African objectives, he would, I believe, have shown no interest in any scheme to accomplish his return by force. But as time passed, and the infrastructure in Ghana deteriorated, he became more vulnerable to those who approached him with so-called plans for his return. Several times he was told of an actual day when he could expect to hear good news. At other times he would be informed to expect action between certain dates. There was one occasion when the Guinean government itself was so sure of a particular plan that Nkrumah was persuaded to spend the night at Sekou Toure’s residence so that he could be ready to broadcast and to make a quick return to Accra.
Always, when the expected dates passed and nothing happened, excuses would be made that something or other had unexpectedly happened to necessitate a postponement.

Visitors

Camara became increasingly cynical. By the time Nkrumah had eventually to leave Conakry for medical treatment in 1971, Camara was prepared to believe that no Ghanaian could be trusted, except for those of the entourage whom he had come to know well. I sometimes wonder what Camara would think if he knew of the subsequent boasting of some of those who visited Nkrumah at the villa, claiming to have been constantly at the great man’s side, rendering him help in time of need, when in fact they let him down. Most of these braggarts were only briefly there. Others not at all.

One of the worst aspects of the dreary process of deception and disappointment was financial. For, so often, those who visited Nkrumah claiming to be working for his reinstatement in Ghana asked for cash, ostensibly to buy arms and support. The limited funds supplied initially by friendly Eastern bloc and African governments were soon exhausted. Much against his inclination, Nkrumah had to seek further financial help. He loathed the very notion of asking for support, and found it extremely distasteful to hand out cash to dubious characters whom he would not have tolerated for a moment in his presence had he not been in such a critical position, with, as he thought, the future of the African Revolution at stake.
He was not prepared to let slip any opportunity which might have resulted in a return to Accra. Each time he was approached he faced the dilemma of wondering whether, if he failed to give help, he might be jeopardizing the one real chance of success. He said that all would be thoroughly investigated when he got back to Ghana. Those who had deliberately deceived him would have to explain themselves to the people, because it was the people, and not him personally, they had betrayed.

Doubtless, some of those who sought to take advantage of him in this situation had been taken in by Western media reports at the time of the coup that Nkrumah had vast sums of money deposited in Swiss banks. Even those who were skeptical about this knew that Sekou Toure strongly supported Nkrumah and was anxious to see him return to Ghana. The Guinea government could be expected to provide funds if need be. There was even speculation that Sekou Toure had repaid Nkrumah the £10 million which the Ghana government had lent to Guinea in 1958. The air around those who intended to exploit Nkrumah’s predicament was filled with rumour and innuendo. The fact is that, apart from the small royalty account in London and the funds supplied occasionally by friendly governments, Nkrumah had no money on which he could draw 11. He used to keep a certain amount of cash, mainly dollars and pounds, in a suitcase in his bedroom, some of this having been brought into Guinea in diplomatic bags. It was probably reports of the availability of cash from this supply which encouraged unscrupulous individuals to dream up ways to obtain some of it. This is not to suggest that all those who got in touch with Nkrumah in Conakry with plans to organise his return to Ghana were self-seekers, though many undoubtedly were.
Within weeks of his arrival in Guinea, Nkrumah was hearing from men and women, some of whom had worked in Ghana before the coup, who had either chosen to leave or been forced to go. Among them were people he knew. Others he had never met or heard of. There was also mail from acquaintances and from organizations whose connections with Nkrumah dated back to his student days in America.
Often pseudonyms were agreed between Nkrumah and those with whom he kept in touch. All mail and cables had to be sent through the main Conakry post office which, in spite of precautions, was not proof against security risks. Several times during the early days of the Conakry period, the envelopes of letters exchanged between him and myself bore unmistakable signs of having been opened and clumsily resealed.
Time and again, Camara was sent to try to find out whether the mail was being interfered with in Conakry. It was impossible to discover. It was agreed that I should address envelopes to “Camara Sana” and use the PO Box number 834. On each of my visits to Guinea we used to decide new code names and phrases, in what must have seemed to any professional intelligence organization a very amateurish attempt to establish some degree of confidentiality in our letters and cables. Though there was nothing secret about what we said, we usually sealed our letters with red or green wax. I possessed two silver rings, decoratively engraved. We used one each to stamp the wax. In this way we thought we would know if the seal had been broken. In cables to me, Nkrumah would sign himself “Sana” if no reply was needed, and “Sophie”, the name of Camara’s wife, if he wanted me to reply. Sometimes in cables he would use printing or publishing terms. For example, “Galleys corrected” meant that he had received encouraging news about a counter-coup. In confidential cables with Ghanaians and others, he frequently used pseudonyms such as “Saidou” or “Amadou”. In cables to me during the last months of his life he used the name “Diallo”.
However, in most of Nkrumah’s correspondence and cables no use was made of coded phrases or pseudonyms. He was addressed usually as Osagyefo 12 or Dr Nkrumah, and on rare occasions, Francis 13. Nkrumah usually in his replies signed himself Osagyefo or Kwame Nkrumah.
A prolific writer was Julie Medlock. She had been director of an organization called “The Accra Assembly: the World Without the Bomb”. She was one of those who had been compelled to leave Ghana after the coup. She asked for Nkrumah’s advice and help in establishing a new headquarters for the Accra Assembly. As late as 22 April 1971 she was writing “My dearest Osagyefo… the Accra Assembly is still alive.” 14
There were many long letters from Shirley Du Bois, widow of the celebrated Afro-American campaigner W.E.B. Du Bois 15. For a time after the coup, Shirley lived in Cairo, where her son David worked as a journalist and radio commentator. Later, Nkrumah arranged for Shirley to work in Peking with the Afro-Asian Writers Bureau. She visited Conakry on more than one occasion.
Another who wrote at length to Nkrumah during the first few years of exile was Pat Sloan. He had been in Ghana at the time of the coup and had had to leave soon after. He wrote a detailed account of what happened at the Winneba Ideological Institute, where he had worked as senior lecturer in the Political Science faculty. The students, he said, seemed utterly confused. During the course of a protracted correspondence, Pat Sloan suggested changes in the curriculum at Winneba which should be made when Nkrumah returned to Ghana. In England, he kept Nkrumah informed of the activities and opinions of Ghanaians in London, making particular reference to the activities of the CPP Overseas and the Committee for the Defence of the Revolution 16 headed by Ekow Eshun, who before the coup had worked in the Ghana High Commission in London.

Writing and publishing

The centre of CPP Overseas activity in London at this time was the 89 Fleet Street office of the magazine Africa and the World, edited by Douglas Rogers 17. Before the coup the magazine, first published in 1964, had been financed primarily by the Ghana Government through the Bureau of African Affairs in Accra, and later by the Publicity Secretariat. The magazine’s printer was John Marshment, and the accountant and auditor was Roland (‘Roley’) Davenish Randall 18, who was instrumental in forming Panaf Publications Ltd. to publish the magazine. It was Nkrumah’s idea to have a magazine published and distributed from London, the main purpose being to publicize African affairs (and in particular the policies of the Ghanaian Government) to the world and to the large African community in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. By the time of the 1966 coup, the magazine had become well known and respected for its progressive reporting and its support for the CPP government’s radical and Pan African policies. Not surprisingly therefore, after the coup the NLC ended the funding of the magazine, and the company’s account with the Ghana Commercial Bank in London was frozen. As a result of quick action by Roley Randall, the company’s funds were rapidly switched to another bank, and the magazine carried on for a time, without missing an issue, assisted by funds from Nkrumah 19.
Randall played a significant part in the success of Panaf Publications Ltd., the company which was formed for Africa and the World, and in the company Panaf Books Ltd. 20, founded in 1968 to publish the books written by Nkrumah in Conakry. On several occasions when a crisis of one kind or another occurred, his expert advice and experience resolved the difficulty.
Initially when Panaf Books was formed, I worked at 89 Fleet Street in the room occupied by John Marshment, who allowed me to use part of his desk. Later, Douglas Rogers arranged for space to be made available for me in the large room at the top of the building where his secretary sat and from where Africa and the World was packaged and despatched.
Rogers and Marshment were among the first to visit Nkrumah in Villa Syli. They went there in April 1966 to discuss the future of the magazine and to arrange other ways in which they could assist him to get his voice heard in Ghana. It was not long before the team of Africa and the World were publishing posters and “minimag” editions of the magazine which could be secretly infiltrated into Ghana. It was during this visit also, that on 12 April Nkrumah gave the one and only press interview of his entire stay in Conakry. Rogers’ questions and Nkrumah’s answers were published in the May 1966 issue of the magazine. There had at this time been rumours that Guinea might intervene militarily to restore Nkrumah to power in Ghana. Rogers put the question:
— “Are you planning an invasion of Ghana?” The reply was:
— “No. I appreciate the feelings of my brother and Comrade Sekou Toure, and I know the people of Guinea are in a militant mood about the events in Ghana. They feel, quite rightly, that this is part of a general assault upon the peace, unity and independence of Africa, and that a halt must be called to it. We have had a series of military usurpations of power, and constant international intrigue against governments which are trying to give some real economic meaning to their political independence.”
He went on to say that while he understood the reaction of Guineans to the coup, he nevertheless believed it was a problem that must be resolved by Ghanaians. Nevertheless the NLC took the possibility of military intervention from Guinea seriously, raising the matter at the United Nations.
During the first few years, Nkrumah was constantly being asked to receive newspaper reporters and radio and TV representatives. He refused all requests from Western media sources. He was not prepared, he said, to waste time answering questions from those who had gloated over his government’s overthrow. His political record was known. If they wanted to question him about his thinking in Guinea, they could read his books. Apart from the visits of those who had positive, constructive reasons for seeing him, and a few personal friends, no one from outside Guinea had access to Nkrumah. Both Guinean and Ghanaian security screening was very thorough. I recall what happened when a group of Afro-Americans connected with the Black Power movement arrived uninvited from Algiers and without the required entry documents. The Guinean authorities, who were suspicious of their intentions, refused permission for them to see Nkrumah. They were promptly obliged to leave in the private jet which had brought them.
But in April 1966 when Flight Captain Hanna Reitsch, the well-known flying ace who had established a flying school in Ghana at Afienya, arrived unexpectedly at Conakry airport she was permitted a short visit. The Guinean authorities were uneasy about admitting a German who had achieved great distinction as a test pilot in the Second World War, and whom they regarded as a Nazi. But they gave permission when her true identity and the purpose of her visit were checked with Ghanaian security men of Nkrumah’s entourage. The hesitation of the Guinean officials was understandable, since Hanna had flown to Conakry in disguise, wearing a wig and using a false name. Hanna had been at Afienya when the coup took place, and she wanted to tell Nkrumah what had happened there, and to offer him any help she could provide.
Hanna told me when I first met her in Frankfurt in 1968, that when the coup occurred she feared that Nkrumah might try to return to Ghana immediately. In which case she was convinced he would direct the pilot of his aircraft to land on the airstrip at Afienya, counting on her still being in control there, whereas the coup-makers had in fact compelled her to leave.
In Conakry, Hanna warned Nkrumah against contemplating an early return to Accra, giving him lurid descriptions of the “jubilation” of Ghanaians at his overthrow. She had been horrified at what she regarded as spontaneous demonstrations against Nkrumah and the CPP government. Accounts of what she had seen at Afienya and in Accra before she left Ghana exasperated Nkrumah and members of his entourage, since they seemed to imply that she believed the people of Ghana as a whole supported the coup, whereas in fact the ordinary people took no part in it. Hanna was no diplomat. Nor did she have a great deal of political knowledge. She did not appear to allow for the external and domestic underlying causes of the coup, and the organizing of it. If she was convinced of anything, however, Hanna would vehemently and repeatedly express her views, which could be tiring as well as irritating. But when she committed herself to any person or to any project, her loyalty and courage were limitless. If Nkrumah had asked her to fly him to Accra when she visited him in Conakry, she would gladly have faced the extreme danger. As her friend Erica Powell once said to me: “If I was stranded at the North Pole, Hanna would come and get me out.”
Hanna only visited Conakry once. She wanted to return, but was told that the Guinean authorities would not readmit her, because of her former association with Nazi Germany. This explanation failed to convince Hanna or her close friends, one of whom, Father Volkmar, later wrote to Nkrumah expressing Hanna’s dismay at not being allowed to visit Guinea again, and her disappointment that Nkrumah made no mention of her 1966 visit in his book Dark Days in Ghana . While the Guinean authorities strictly controlled the entry of all visitors to their country and were particularly protective of Nkrumah, it was unlikely they would have refused entry permission to anyone he invited.
Throughout the Conakry years, Hanna and Nkrumah wrote to each other. In addition, Hanna sent many food parcels. It was she who sent the rose bushes which bloomed in the large concrete pots lining the verandah at Villa Syli. It was typical of Hanna to think of sending rose bushes knowing the pleasure Nkrumah had derived from his rose garden at Flagstaff House in Accra. Although to some, Hanna might have seemed a severe woman, obsessed with duty and discipline, she was I believe at heart a romantic.
Unfortunately, the Conakry correspondence files contain only one letter and a postcard written by Hanna to Nkrumah during the Conakry period, and no copies of the letters which Nkrumah wrote to her. After Hanna’s death in 1979, her brother, Commander Kurt Reitsch, informed me that not one was found among Hanna’s papers in her Frankfurt apartment. Yet less than a year before she died, Hanna had shown me a pile of them, handwritten on the familiar blue airmail paper Nkrumah used in Conakry. I can only surmise that she destroyed the letters herself, or arranged for them to be destroyed after her death, probably by her faithful housekeeper and secretary Fraulein Walter.
I was not surprised to find in the Conakry files so little evidence of Hanna’s lengthy correspondence with Nkrumah. For Nkrumah kept personal letters himself, and from time to time burned them. He destroyed all but a few of the hundreds of letters which I wrote to him in Conakry. The few he retained he kept along with other papers in the small steel deed box which he stored, locked, in his bedroom. All my letters to him were handwritten and I did not keep copies. But I retained every one of the hundreds of handwritten ones he wrote to me. He asked me once if I was keeping them, and when I replied “Yes”, he smiled.
He was amused on many occasions at my reluctance to part with anything which might one day be of interest to students of African history. Sometimes when Nkrumah had been working on a typescript, and his secretary, Sarfo, had typed an amended version, Nkrumah would tear up the original and throw the scraps of paper into the waste paper basket. When I protested and said that the hand-altered original should be preserved because one day students would be interested to see the changes he had made, he explained that he had learned from hard experience not to keep unnecessary papers. On the occasions when he had been arrested in the years before political success, police had seized all his personal papers. At the time of the coup, his office in Flagstaff House had also been ransacked and some very confidential papers taken. Like a freedom fighter in the forest he had learned to travel light.

Life at Villa Syli

The organization and the general atmosphere prevailing at Villa Syli, especially during the first few years, seemed to me to resemble that of a freedom fighter base. It was a spartan, disciplined, all-male environment. Uniformed and armed Guinean soldiers and militiamen guarded the gates of the villa and patrolled the grounds and seashore. For a time, sentries were stationed on the verandah leading to Nkrumah’s office, as well as at other strategic points inside the villa. The impression given was of great activity and purpose, as though there was an imminent battle to be won. Each member of Nkrumah’s entourage had specific duties to perform according to their training and skills. They formed committees to organize and oversee the various activities within the villa. During 1966 the 13-member Political Committee examined the 24 February coup in Ghana and the external and internal factors relating to it. A report was drawn up, typed and bound, and presented to Nkrumah. This project was only one among many which kept Nkrumah’s Ghanaian entourage busy while in Conakry.

Soon all, including Nkrumah, had undergone military training with members of the Guinean militia.

Throughout his stay in Conakry, Nkrumah kept to an ascetic, strict routine. A typical day in his life is described in the biography Kwame Nkrumah 21.
He would rise early and spend an hour or so doing yoga-type exercises in his room. Breakfast consisted of a grapefruit and perhaps a little cereal and honey, or an egg. He would usually be at his office desk by 9 o’clock and would often work through until about 2 p.m., with only a fruit drink to sustain him, or a cup of herbal tea. There would sometimes follow a game of chess with a member of his entourage… Then would come the main meal of the day, a simple two course meal of meat, chicken or fish followed always by fruit salad. His favourite food was the traditional stew and foufou of Ghana, and in Conakry this was cooked for him on certain days of the week by members of his entourage. After lunch, if there were no more visitors to see, or any more office work to attend to, he would retire to his bedroom for a short rest. He would read, and sometimes sleep for a little while, but often his rest was interrupted by the arrival of one or other of his staff with a cable, letters or a message. The evening meal was little more than a snack, and afterwards Nkrumah would talk with Sekou Toure or his ministers, or with some other visitor to the villa. Members of the various political organisations of Guinea were frequent visitors, as were the ambassadors of socialist embassies in Conakry. Then there were the visits from members of the liberation movements … Before retiring for the night Nkrumah would take his final exercise. This was usually a walk round and round the compound, sometimes ten or more times at a blistering speed which often left anyone accompanying him breathless trying to keep up.

Amilcar Cabral

Amilcar Cabral, president of the African Party for the Independence of Guinea and the Cape Verde Islands (PAIGC), was a frequent visitor. Whenever the sentries at the gates of Villa Syli recognized Cabral’s jeep approaching, they quickly flung the gates open so that the driver would scarcely need to slow down before sweeping up the drive to the doorway of the villa. Cabral made a point of calling to see Nkrumah whenever he was about to leave Conakry for the war zone 22 or for travel to seek support for the PAIGC liberation struggle. On his return to his Conakry headquarters he would promptly visit Nkrumah again. They used to talk in the privacy of Nkrumah’s office sometimes for an hour or more.
Nkrumah was particularly interested in what Cabral told him of PAIGC administration of the liberated areas of Guinea-Bissau, since this would form the pattern for the government of the whole country when it had been liberated from Portuguese rule. It would, Nkrumah believed, be the kind of society based on socialist principles and committed to African unification, which he had been working to build in Ghana. Most probably, Nkrumah discussed with Cabral the Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare on which he was working. Nkrumah, when writing a book, discussed it whenever possible with anyone whose opinion he valued, or whom he thought might be able to provide additional material. He would give them sections of his manuscript to read and comment upon. Knowing his high regard for Cabral as a freedom fighter engaged in precisely the kind of armed liberation struggle about which he was writing, it would have been entirely out of character for Nkrumah not to have discussed the book with him.

See also Piero Gleijeses. First Ambassadors: Cuba’s Role in Guinea-Bissau’s War of Independence

Notable among many others who visited Nkrumah in Villa Syli in 1966 were Julia Wright and Henri Herve. They had been working in Ghana when the CPP government was overthrown. At that time, Henri, a Frenchman, was editor of Etincelle, the French edition of The Spark 23; while Julia, the daughter of the eminent Afro-American writer Richard Wright, was assisting me in establishing Nkrumah’s research office in Accra. This was located in the bungalow which had been the home of Dorothy Padmore, widow of George Padmore. Julia and Henri, after considerable harassment, managed to leave Ghana after the coup and travelled to Conakry where they hoped to be of help to Nkrumah. Henri joined Nkrumah’s entourage at the villa for a short time. Julia helped with office work. One of her tasks was to go through Guinean periodicals and newspapers, selecting items which she thought would interest Nkrumah. She translated them from French into English, abridging where necessary, and afterwards presented Nkrumah with a well-ordered set of clippings. In addition, Julia was sometimes called upon to translate letters and messages sent to Nkrumah in French. However, not long after his arrival in Guinea, Nkrumah arranged to have French lessons from a Conakry teacher. Her instruction, supplemented by a Lingua phone French course, soon resulted in Nkrumah becoming quite proficient in the language, though I never heard him speak French fluently.
Henri for a time had, I believe, connections with those trying to organize a counter-coup in Ghana. During one of my visits to Conakry in 1966 he left on what I understood to be a secret mission inside Ghana. Knowing the danger he faced, Julia was proud of him at that time. Nevertheless, some months later, it was clear that Nkrumah had lost confidence in him. Henri had never been very popular with Ghanaians of Nkrumah’s entourage. He now incurred the mistrust of Camara. It was decided that Henri should not return to Conakry. Nkrumah therefore advised Julia that her duty lay in returning to Paris to look after her young daughter Ama, who had been put in the care of Henri’s mother. Nkrumah was sorry to lose Julia, but as long as Julia remained in Guinea it would have been difficult to deny Henri permission to return to be with his wife. Julia, and occasionally Henri, continued from time to time to communicate with Nkrumah while he was in Conakry. But they never saw him again, though both attended his funeral in Conakry in May 1972.

First visit

On 10 June 1966 I set out on my first visit to Conakry. There were three main reasons for going.
The first was to finalize corrections to the galleys of Challenge of the Congo; the second to discuss arrangements for a Freedom Fighters’ Edition of Axioms; and the third to achieve a final text of the new preface which Nkrumah had been preparing for Challenge of the Congo.
He considered a new preface necessary in view of the coup in Ghana. As far as Axioms was concerned, Nkrumah was disappointed at the size and expensive format of the Nelson edition. He had envisaged a cheaply produced, pocket-sized book. Furthermore, he wished to make changes in a Freedom Fighters‘ edition. For example, he decided to omit the section on Non-Alignment, and to add six new sections on Black Power, People’s Militia, Revolutionary War, Propaganda, The Role of Women and “Third World”. He added axioms to the sections on Imperialism, Independence, Nationalism, Neo-colonialism, People and Racialism. The Freedom Fighters’ Edition of Axioms, first published by PanafBooks in 1968, was a small plastic-covered book which could easily be fitted into a pocket. As subsequent editions of the Panaf edition were published, quotations were added from the books Nkrumah wrote in Conakry. The Nelson edition of Axioms, apart from its format, had the disadvantage of only containing quotations from writings and speeches up to 1966. It did not sell well, specially after the Panaf Freedom Fighters’ Edition was published. Nelson remaindered the book and sold their stock to Panaf Books.
Travelling by way of Amsterdam and Las Palmas, Peter 24 and I arrived at Conakry airport during the evening of the 10th of June. We were met by Ghanaians of Nkrumah’s entourage and taken to the nearby Gbessia airport hotel. The following morning a car was sent to convey us to Villa Syli. It was almost six months since I had seen Nkrumah, shortly before he left Accra on the peace mission to Hanoi. I noticed no change in him. Wearing a short-sleeved white 25 collarless drill suit, he looked extremely fit and was in his usual high spirits. He told us that arrangements had been made for us to stay in a government guest bungalow in the diplomatic quarter of Conakry, where we would be private and more comfortable.
There followed a busy twelve days spent working with Nkrumah on the galleys of Challenge of the Congo and arranging the Freedom Fighters’ Edition of Axioms. We worked usually until about 2 p.m., when a table on the verandah would be prepared for lunch, Camara always joining us for the meal.

It was during this visit that I first met President Sekou Toure. It was in the grounds of Belle Vue, where Nkrumah had invited Peter and myself to meet him late one afternoon, the time when Nkrumah sometimes took exercise. On this particular day, he was having a driving lesson in the grounds of Belle Vue. When he drove up to greet us, Nkrumah had only had a few lessons, and did not seem very confident. He quickly alighted from the car and suggested we walk round the extensive grounds of Belle Vue. We had not gone far when Sekou Toure drove up at the wheel of his black Citroen. He stopped for a few minutes while Peter and I were introduced to him.
On this my first visit to Conakry, I made only short entries in the notebook I took with me. These were mainly remarks made by Nkrumah which I wished to remember. I would jot them down as soon as I could, while I remembered the actual words. I also wrote brief impressions of life at the Villa, and noted down items which Nkrumah wished me to send him on my return to London. Later, as time passed and it became clear that Nkrumah might be in Conakry for some years, I felt a responsibility to record in more detail in my notebooks.

The final two years

The presence of Nkrumah in Guinea was thought by Camara, and other Guineans with whom I spoke, to strengthen Sekou Toure’s position, since they considered it unlikely any coup could succeed against him while Nkrumah lived in Conakry. Their optimism proved to be well founded. The few attempts at destabilization which took place during Nkrumah’s stay in Guinea failed.
It was not until the Portuguese-led invasion of the country in November 1970 that Sekou Toure’s government was for a few days seriously threatened.
However, by the time Nkrumah arrived in Conakry in March 1966, the socialist policies of Sekou Toure’s government, and the support given to the PAIGC, had already aroused the hostility of internal and external forces which Nkrumah’s presence further exacerbated. Nkrumah, far from lying low, right from the start of the Conakry period made it clear that he intended to continue the African revolutionary struggle as best he could from Guinea.
Within a few days of his arrival he was broadcasting to the Ghanaian people on Radio Guinea’s “Voice of the Revolution”. This first broadcast was made on 6 March, the ninth anniversary of Ghana’s independence.
Between March and December 1966, Nkrumah made fifteen broadcasts to Ghana, his purpose being to expose the true nature of the coup and to encourage resistance.
In addition, he quickly set to work on writing books and pamphlets, all of which were designed to project his African liberation and unification policies. Far from being silenced, he was showing every sign of continuing to be a thorn in the flesh of the same forces, domestic and international, which had combined to overthrow his government. For them, Nkrumah and Sekou Toure were a formidable combination.

In Ghana, the NLC did not underestimate the challenge. The Ghanaian security men at Villa Syli, and Guinean military and security forces, were constantly alert for any attempt to harm Nkrumah, or to kidnap him. Naval patrols guarded the foreshore, stopping and searching any vessel which aroused their suspicion. On more than one occasion, a fishing boat with Ghanaian crew members was escorted into Conakry harbour for thorough investigation.

On 29 November 1966, the Daily Graphic, a Ghana newspaper, printed on its front page the headline “Nkrumah And Three Others Wanted For Murder” 26. A reward of £10,000 was advertised for their return to Ghana “dead or alive”. In a letter to me dated 4 December 1966, Nkrumah wrote: “What fools they are… they are at their wits’ end and in such a panic.”

In November 1966 the NLC had detained in Accra a Guinean delegation en route to an OAU meeting in Addis Ababa, during what was intended to have been a brief stop-over. The Dutch KLM aircraft had been scheduled to land in Abidjan, but had been diverted to Accra “because of bad weather”.

The NLC in detaining the Guinean delegation declared that they were being held because Ghanaians of Nkrumah’s entourage were being kept in Guinea against their will. After much diplomatic wrangling, the OAU was asked to send a mission to Conakry to discover whether in fact the Ghanaians were being forced to stay in Guinea. The OAU mission was greeted at Conakry’s Gbessia airport by demonstrating Ghanaians carrying placards expressing their loyalty to Nkrumah. During the visit, each member of the entourage was interviewed separately and the OAU delegation left Guinea to report that there was no truth in the NLC allegation. The NLC then released the Guineans held in Accra. They returned to Conakry to a heroes’ welcome. Meanwhile, Sekou Toure had refused to attend the OAU meeting, and had openly accused the USA of masterminding the kidnapping of his delegation.

The US ambassador in Guinea was put under house arrest, as were other Americans living in Guinea. They were only released after the NLC freed the Guinean delegation. All members of the Peace Corps were ordered to leave Guinea. As a result of Sekou Toure’s anti-American actions, Pan Am removed Conakry from their flight schedules.

It was shortly after these events that I travelled to Conakry for the third time in 1966. I took with me advance copies of Challenge of the Congo. But the main purpose of my visit was the two books which Nkrumah was working on at that time,Dark Days in Ghana and the Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare. Notes for the Handbook which had been prepared before the coup, had been left behind in Ghana when Nkrumah departed for Hanoi. They were among documents which he said were handed over by the NLC to Western intelligence organizations. In Conakry, Nkrumah set to work on a new manual for African freedom fighters, and it was this new Handbook which was published by Panaf Books in 1968.

Notes
1. Dark Days in Ghana, Panaf Books, London, 1968, p. 10.
2. Conakry File 26.
3. Involvement of the CIA in the 24 February 1966 coup in Ghana is now generally accepted. See In Search of Enemies by John Stockwell (New York 1978) in which this former CIA officer discloses (p .201, note) that the CIA station in Accra “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.” Stockwell continues: “inside CIA headquarters the Accra station was given full, if unofficial, credit for the eventual coup.”
After the coup the CIA station chief in Accra, Howard T. Bane, was promoted to a senior position in the Agency, (New York Times, 9 May 1978). See also pp. 223-225 The CIA: A Forgotten History by William Blum (Zed Books, 1986), Chapter 32, Ghana 1966: Kwame Nkrumah Steps out of Line.
4. This sentence was handwritten after the message had been typed, indicating the strict security measures adopted in Peking, and the need to protect himself from further betrayal by keeping his plans secret. ( Conakry File 43)
5. Dark Days in Ghana, op. cit., p. I I.
6. Nkrumah’s son Gamal Gorkeh Nkrumah, then aged seven, remembers every detail of that traumatic day. Before the fighting at Flagstaff House began, he had been woken early by the roaring of unfed lions in the zoo a short distance from the house. Soon, the whole family was awake. Gunfire from the direction of the airport was heard, and then the broadcast of the coup leader, Colonel E.T. Kotoka announcing the coup. Fathia at once phoned the Egyptian Embassy telling them to contact Nasser to ask him to send an aircraft at once to Accra to rescue them. Her call was just in time. Minutes later, the telephone was cut off. The family took refuge in the Egyptian Embassy until the afternoon when the aircraft sent by Nasser arrived. On the drive to Accra airport their car was stopped by tanks and troops at an army road block. Fathia and her three young children were ordered out of the car at gunpoint. Fathia showed no fear, declaring her anger at the treatment of her husband who had done so much for them and for Ghana. Clearly taken by surprise at being confronted with Nkrumah’s family, the officer in charge was at a loss to know what action to take. With loaded guns still pointed at them, Fathia and the children waited at the roadside while the officer radioed for instructions. Eventually, the family was allowed to continue to the airport, and finally make their escape to Cairo. The family remained in Cairo and were never to see Nkrumah again though they kept in touch using diplomatic channels.
7. Dark Days in Ghana, op. cit., p. 15.
8. Convention People’s Party, led by Kwame Nkrumah.
9. Private Secretary (Female) Gold Coast, Christopher Hurst, London. 1984, p. 219.
10. Dedicated “To the African Guerrilla,” this book was published by Panaf Books m 1968.
11. His account in an Accra bank, into which his salary as president had been paid, had been frozen by the NLC.
12. An Akan name meaning “victorious leader”. The title was conferred on him by the CPP in recognition of his winning of independence for Ghana.
13. The name by which Nkrumah was known during his student days in the USA. and which some of his Afro-American friends continued to use.
14. Conakry File 6.
15. One of the most outstanding of the Afro-American civil rights leaders at the beginning of the 20th century. Went to live in Ghana at Kwame’s invitation in 1961. Elected a Fellow of the Ghana Academy of Arts in 1961, and awarded a doctorate in Literature by the same university in 1963. Died in Accra on 29 August 1963 where he had become a Ghanaian citizen.
16. A CPP support organization set up in London after the coup.
17. A journalist and editor who had worked in Ghana at the Guinea Press. From 1964 to 1971 he was Editor of the magazine Africa and the World.
18. Marshment and R. D. Randall had both worked in Ghana at the Guinea Press, the former as general manager, the latter as accountant and auditor. Nkrumah often referred to Marshment by the pseudonym “Max”.
19. Nkrumah had no private means to draw upon, apart from modest funds in his royalty account at the Bank of Scotland in London, which his publishers, Thomas Nelson and Sons, opened for him after the coup.
20. It had become necessary to form a company to publish the books Nkrumah wrote in Conakry, and to keep the ones he had written before the coup in print, because neither of his previous publishers, Thomas Nelson and Sons and Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., were prepared to publish them after the fall of his government. The only exceptions were two books published by Nelson in 1967 which were contracted before the coup. These were Challenge of the Congo and Axioms. PanafBooks Ltd. was active until 1987. In that year the Nkrumah copyright was leased to Zed Press Ltd., who took over the responsibility of keeping all the books written by Nkrumah in print.
21. Panaf Great Lives Series. Panaf Books. London. 1974. pp. 221-2.
22. In Guinea Bissau, where the PAIGC was engaged in a liberation war to end Portuguese colonial rule.
23. A radical newspaper published in Ghana during the period of the CPP government.
24. My son, then aged 21.
25. Throughout the years Nkrumah spent in Conakry he always wore white.
26. The others were Ambrose Yankey Sr., M. A. Mensah and Boye Moses.

Slavery: Carson, Trump, and the Misuse of American History

Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary, Housing and Urban Development
Dr. Ben Carson, Secretary, Housing and Urban Development

I am re-posting here Jelani Cobb’s article (The New Yorker) written around the blunder of Housing and Urban Development Secretary, Dr. Ben Carson, whereby he compared African slaves to immigrants. This is the same person who, out of the blue, claimed in 2013 that: “Obamacare is really … the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery.” The +20 million people who got insurance thanks to the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) would beg to differ.
Anyhow, Dr. Carson will, most likely, not become president of the United States. The world will thus be probably a better place. Because despite his  acknowledged skills as a neurosurgeon, Carson is a mediocre student of history. Should he want to remedy that self-inflicted intellectual handicap, he would have to rethink slavery. And first of all, he must admit that the Slave Trade is “America’s Original Sin.” Consequently, it was not some migratory itch or urge that uprooted millions of Africans and dumped them on the shores of the “New World.” On the contrary, they were taken out and across the Atlantic Ocean in chains. Upon landing, and as Edward E. Baptist put it best, they toiled, from dawn to dusk and in sweat, tears and blood, for the “Making of American Capitalism.”

Tierno S. Bah


In referring to slaves as “immigrants,” Ben Carson followed a long-standing American tradition of eliding the ugliness that is part of the country’s history.

Earlier this week, Ben Carson, the somnolent surgeon dispatched to oversee the Department of Housing and Urban Development on behalf of the Trump Administration, created a stir when he referred to enslaved black people—stolen, trafficked, and sold into that status—as “immigrants” and spoke of their dreams for their children and grandchildren. In the ensuing hail of criticism, Carson doubled down, saying that it was possible for someone to be an involuntary immigrant. Carson’s defenses centered upon strict adherence to the definition of the word “immigrant” as a person who leaves one country to take up residence in another. This is roughly akin to arguing that it is technically possible to refer to a kidnapping victim as a “house guest,” presuming the latter term refers to a temporary visitor to one’s home. Carson had already displayed a propensity for gaffes during his maladroit Presidential candidacy, and it might be easy to dismiss his latest one as the least concerning element of having a neurosurgeon with no relevant experience in charge of housing policy were it not a stand-in for a broader set of concerns about the Trump Administration.

A week earlier, Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education, had described historically black colleges and universities as pioneers in school choice—a view that can only co-exist with reality if we airbrush segregation into a kind of level playing field in which ex-slaves opted to attend all-black institutions rather than being driven to them as a result of efforts to preserve the supposed sanctity of white ones. The Trump Administration is not alone in proffering this rosy view of American racial history. Last week, in a story about changes being made at Thomas Jefferson‘s estate, Monticello, the Washington Post referred to Sally Hemings, the enslaved black woman who bore several of Jefferson’s children, as his “mistress”—a term that implies far more autonomy and consent than is possible when a woman is a man’s legal property. Last fall, the textbook publisher McGraw-Hill faced criticism for a section of a history book that stated, “The Atlantic Slave Trade between the 1500s and 1800s brought millions of workers from Africa to the southern United States to work on agricultural plantations.” The word “worker” typically carries the connotation of remuneration rather than lifelong forced labor and chattel slavery.

One part of the issue here is the eliding of the ugliness of the slave past in this country. This phenomenon is neither novel nor particularly surprising. The unwillingness to confront this narrative is tied not simply to the miasma of race but to something more subtle and, in the current atmosphere, more potentially treacherous: the reluctance to countenance anything that runs contrary to the habitual optimism and self-anointed sense of the exceptionalism of American life. It is this state-sanctioned sunniness from which the view of the present as a middle ground between an admirable past and a halcyon future springs. But the only way to sustain that sort of optimism is by not looking too closely at the past. And thus the past can serve only as an imperfect guide to the troubles of the present.

In his 1948 essay “The Gangster as Tragic Hero,” Robert Warshow wrote about the mid-century efforts to pressure studios to stop producing their profitable gangster movies. The concerns focussed partly upon the violence of the films but more directly upon the fear that these films offered a fundamentally pessimistic view of life and were therefore un-American. There is a neat through-line from those critics to Ronald Reagan’s “Morning in America” idealism to the shopworn rhetoric of nearly every aspirant to even local public office that the nation’s “best days are ahead of us.” We are largely adherents of the state religion of optimism—and not of a particularly mature version of it, either. This was part of the reason Donald Trump’s sermons of doom were seen as so discordant throughout last year’s campaign. He offered followers a diet of catastrophe, all of it looming immediately if not already under way. He told an entire nation, in the most transparently demagogic of his statements, that he was the only one who could save it from imminent peril. And he was nonetheless elected President of the United States.

Strangely enough, many of us opted to respond to Trump’s weapons-grade pessimism in the most optimistic way possible, conjuring best-case scenarios in which he would simply be a modern version of Richard Nixon, or perhaps of Andrew Jackson. But he is neither of these. Last summer, as his rallies tipped toward violence and the rhetoric seemed increasingly jarring, it was common to hear alarmed commentators speak of us all being in “uncharted waters.” This was naïve, and, often enough, self-serving. For many of us, particularly those who reckon with the history of race, the true fear was not that we were on some unmapped terrain but that we were passing landmarks that were disconcertingly familiar. In response to the increasingly authoritarian tones of the executive branch, we plumbed the history of Europe in the twentieth century for clues and turned to the writings of Czeslaw Milosz and George Orwell. We might well have turned to the writings of W. E. B. Du Bois and James Baldwin for the more direct, domestic version of this question but looked abroad, at least in part, as a result of our tacit consensus that tragedy is a foreign locale. It has been selectively forgotten that traits of authoritarianism neatly overlap with traits of racism visible in the recent American past.

The habitual tendency to excise the most tragic elements of history creates a void in our collective understanding of what has happened in the past and, therefore, our understanding of the potential for tragedy in the present. In 1935, when Sinclair Lewis wrote “It Can’t Happen Here,” it already was happening here, and had been since the end of Reconstruction. In 1942, the N.A.A.C.P. declared a “Double V” campaign—an attempt to defeat Fascism abroad and its domestic corollary of American racism.

Similarly, it was common in the days immediately following September 11th to hear it referred to as the nation’s first large-scale experience with terrorism—or at least the worst since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, staged by Timothy McVeigh. But the nation’s first anti-terrorism law was the Ku Klux Klan Act of 1871, designed to stall the attempts to terrorize emancipated slaves out of political participation. McVeigh’s bombing, which claimed the lives of a hundred and sixty-eight people, was not the worst act of terrorism in the United States at that point—it was not even the worst act of terrorism in the history of Oklahoma. Seventy-four years earlier, in what became known as the Tulsa Race Riot, the city’s black population was attacked and aerially bombed; at least three hundred people were killed. Such myopia thrives in the present and confounds the reasoning of the director of the FBI, James Comey, who refused to declare Dylann Roof’s murder of nine black congregants in a South Carolina church, done in hopes of sparking a race war, as an act of terrorism—a designation he did not withhold from Omar Mateen’s murderous actions in the Pulse night club, in Orlando.

The American capacity for tragedy is much broader and far more robust than Americans—most of us, anyway—recognize. Our sense of ourselves as exceptional, of our country as a place where we habitually avert the worst-case scenario, is therefore a profound liability in times like the present. The result is a failure to recognize the parameters of human behavior and, consequently, the signs of danger as they become apparent to others who are not crippled by such optimism. A belief that we are exempt from the true horrors of human behavior and the accompanying false sense of security have led to nearly risible responses to Trumpism.

It has become a cliché of each February to present the argument that “black history is American history,” yet that shopworn ideal has new relevance. A society with a fuller sense of history and its own capacity for tragedy would have spotted Trump’s zero-sum hustle from many miles in the distance. Without it, though, it’s easy to mistake the overblown tribulations he sold his followers for candor, not a con. The sense of history as a chart of increasing bounties enabled tremendous progress but has left Americans—most of us, anyway—uniquely unsuited to look at ourselves as we truly are and at history for what it is. Our failure to reckon with this past and the centrality of race within it has led us to broadly mistake the clichés of history for novelties of current events.

Jelani Cobb
The New Yorker

White Nationalism: Conversation, No Dialog

John Hope Franklin & Alfred A. Moss Jr. From Slavery to Freedom A History of African Americans
John Hope Franklin & Alfred A. Moss Jr. From Slavery to Freedom A History of African Americans. McGraw-Hill; 9th edition, 2010. 736 pages
President Barack Obama and Pr. John Hope Franklin
President Barack Obama and Pr. John Hope Franklin

From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans stands as the magisterial study of the American black experience by the late Pr. John Hope Franklin (1915-2009) and Pr. Alfred A. Moss Jr. It was a revelation when it appeared in 1947. He followed up with several and many articles on Reconstruction, the martial culture of the antebellum South, runaway slaves and other subjects. Each one is a model of graceful prose, meticulously documented and free of bias or cant. The quality of Mr. Franklin’s writings made him the first black chairman of a history department at a predominantly white institution, Brooklyn College, in 1956. Later came appointments at the University of Chicago and Duke, and teaching assignments at Howard and Cambridge universities and elsewhere. Along the way he assisted Thurgood Marshall’s legal team in Brown v. Board of Education, served in government and accumulated more academic honors than we have space to mention. In 1995, President Bill Clinton awarded him the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

 I am reacting here briefly to the transcript of the interview called “A Frank Conversation with a White Nationalist.” Although not not an empty talk the exchange reads like a polite but vague conversation. It fails to turn into an articulate and meaningful dialog. Its flaw lays in its weakness and even lack of historical perspective.

It is true that the journalist, Al Letson, and his interlocutor, Richard Spencer, met the day after the Republican candidate’s shocking Electoral College victory that made Donald Trump president-elect of the USA.
However, the atmosphere of the electoral upset, it was incumbent on them to acknowledge and explore better the complexities of such loaded topics as identity, race, ethnicity, nationalism, etc. Instead, they went for clichés, wrong assumptions, and somewhat shallow personal stories.

For instance, the two interlocutors agree —not surprisingly— on the contribution of Blacks in the making of American culture. Unfortunately, and due to its entertainment undertones —not to forget the association with sports—, this recognition is nothing but a stereotype. Because we know that real power is not in music and athletic achievement; it is in economics, finances, banking, science, and technology.
So what do I see as hits and misses by Al Letson and Richard Spencer respectively?

Capturing Fugitive Slaves in California, ca. 1856
Capturing Fugitive Slaves in California, ca. 1856

Al Letson

As an investigative journalist, Mr. Letson did not bring up the stronger arguments. Instead, he limited himself in reminding Richard Spencer of the Ku Klux-Klan and its terrorist lynching raids. Oddly, a word search of the interview show that Al fails to mention Slavery altogether. Yet, African bondage has been often and appropriately called America’s original sin, by President Obama. Is it merely coincidental that it was during his stewardship that such movies as 12 Years a Slave, The Butler, Selma, etc., were produced and realized? Probably not. And it was obviously not serendipity but rather a fitting reunion when former President G.W. Bush joined Obama in the inauguration of the African-American Museum of History and Culture back in September The latter finished the project that the former had started.
Therefore, African-American media professionals like Al Letson ought to study as hard as they can African-American history, sociology, economy, political science, linguistics, etc. Such an activity nurtures the mind and helps—among other things—to debunk the myths of white supremacy. They  prepare and empower African-American scholars, journalists and artists as they seek to engage and refute the views of the likes of Richard Spencer.

The other Achille’s heel  in Al Letson argumentation is that he does not draw Richard Spencer’s attention that oppression engenders  resistance and rebellion. And that African-Americans stood up against slavery. They fought heroically to end it during the Civil War. They challenged Jim Crow. Under the leadership of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X and others, they defeated legal segregation in 1964 (Civil Rights Act) and in 1965 (Voting Rights Act). Incidentally, Richard Spencer refers to the 1964 legislation as Immigration. That’s a mistake.
The bottom line is that, through and through, Blacks were neither submissive nor passive. Strong personalities and fearless leaders emerged and blazed the trail of no-surrender, insurrection and entrepreneurship right in Antebellum America. Among them Toussaint-Louverture (Haiti), Abdul-Rahman (from my native Fuuta-Jalon), Nat Turner, Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad, and so many others.Their successors fought for the end of the abomination of slavery and to assert their humanity. And Whites and Jews showed solidarity all along. Quakers, intellectuals, politicians joined the anti-slavery movement, which peaked with John Brown, Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln.…

Richard Spencer

 Mr. Spencer’s intellectual handicap and judgemental predicaments are many. I list here some of them.

First, he suffers from the delusion that Whites, Blacks, Asians, etc. constitute separate races. Never mind that such a prejudice is deep-seated. Genomics has dispelled it  thoroughly. There is only one species, and that’s Humans, aka Homo sapiens? Even it still applies in culture, politics and in administration, it does not hold water in nature and in biological sciences.

Second, Richard has the illusion that Whites are homogeneous. But history belies that wrong premise. The elites, rulers and states of Germanic, Latin and Slavs peoples and countries have fought many a battle for political and   economic power, as well as for cultural dominance. Three examples:

  • Napoleon’s disastrous invasion of Russia in 1812
  • His battle against Wellington in Waterloo (1815)
  • Hiter’s occupation of Poland, France, and Nazi partition of the latter in two territories during World War II
  • …………………………………………………

Richard Spencer does not seem to know that without African —slave and colonial—labor, neither Europe nor America would have gained such prosperity. He ought to read Edward Baptiste’s The Half Has Never Been Told. Slavery and the Making of American Capitalism. And  Thomas Piketty. Capital in the 21st Century.

Third, Richard Spencer idealizes and idolizes the history of Europe. He is entitled to his opinion, but not to the facts. Before it spread its tentacles on the Southern Hemisphere of the Globe, capitalism began to wreak havoc at home. Again Richard should read the masterpieces of Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Emile Zola, and other works that depict the miseries brought upon Europe by the rise of capitalism. Writing in the 20th century, historian Eric Hobsbawn has laid bare the lows and highs of the Industrial Revolution.

Fourth, for all its scientific and cultural achievements Europe was the matrix of the first (1914-1918) and the second (1939-1945) World Wars. The horrors of WWI led European artists, writers and poets to express their rejection of Western civilization and to seek inspiration elsewhere. Their quest was fulfilled by the so-called primitive arts of Africa and Oceania. Thus was born surrealism, dadaism. Then the Harlem Renaissance flourished. It carried on and elevated centuries of blacks’ struggled against racism and exclusion in the United States of America. Young African and Caribbean scholars in Paris followed suit with the Négritude movement, a trailblazer of the emancipation of Africa from colonial rule.… In essence, the Surrealism—Harlem Renaissance—Négritude chain underscores how  societies and people  are interrelated and interdependent, irrespective of skin color or “racial” background… And, in particular, it illustrates the ties that bind the intelligentsia, as well as literary, artistic and scientific trends and currents, in time and space.
That said, on January 20, 2017 Mr. Trump will have executive control of the world’s largest and most sophisticated nuclear arsenal. Should that lethal armory be—accidentally or willfully—unleashed and retaliated against, it will wipe human life off the planet, sparing no one, including the advocates of racial supremacy or ethnic superiority.

In the end, Al Letson does not introduce Richard Spencer adequately to the audience of his podcast. We are only told that he was born in Massachusetts, grew up in Texas, and that he likes mountain biking! That’s not enough to profile the carrier of a hostile ideology. The interview could have disclosed further information about the white nationalist’s education, profession, intellectual background and political connections.

But since Al Leston and Richard Spencer remain in touch, let’s hope to learn more about this supporter of president-elect Donald Trump .

Tierno S. Bah

Foreman Vs Ali: The Rumble in the Jungle

Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)
Muhammad Ali (1942-2016)
Muhammad Ali defeats George Foreman
Muhammad Ali defeats George Foreman, Kinshasa, Congo, October 1974

George Foreman vs Muhammad Ali

The Rumble in the Jungle. The Fight.
October 30, 1974.
Kinshasa, Zaire (Democratic Republic of Congo)

A peak of the late Muhammadi Ali‘s boxing career was his fight against George Foreman in Kinshasa, then Zaire, under the rule of dictator Mobutu Sese Seko.

See the video above.
Readings:
The Outsized Life of Muhammad Ali
American Hunger
Blood Brothers: The Fatal Friendship Between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X
– The bridge : the life and rise of Barack Obama

However, The Champ’s actually fulfilled his life  outside the realm of sports: as convert to the Nation of Islam, a conscientious objector to the Vietnam war, a proud African American, an ambassador for peace, and a world icon.

Initially an admirer of Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali’s broke up with his mentor after Malcolm left Elijah Muhammad and the Nation of Islam in 1964. He went to create the Organization of Afro-American Unity. When he spoke at the  University of Ibadan in 1965, the Nigerian Muslim Students Association bestowed on him the honorary Yoruba name Omowale (“the son who has come home”).

In All God’s Children Need Traveling Shoes, Maya Angelou’s recounts the encounter between Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X in Accra:

« We  were all laughing with pleasure when we heard the familiar sounds of Black American speech. We turned around and saw Muhammad Ali coming out of the hotel with a large retinue of Black men. They were all talking and joking among themselves. One minute after we saw them, they saw Malcolm.
The moment froze, as if caught on a daguerreotype, and the next minutes moved as a slow montage. Muhammad stopped, then turned and spoke to a companion. His friends looked at him. Then they looked back at Malcolm. Malcolm also stopped, but he didn’t speak to us, nor did any of us have the presence of mind to say anything to him. Malcolm had told us that after he severed ties to the Nation of Islam, many of his former friends had become hostile.
Muhammad and his group were the first to turn away. They started walking toward a row of parked cars. Malcolm, with a rush, left us and headed toward the departing men. We followed Malcolm. He shouted:
— Brother Muhammad. Brother Muhammad.
Muhammad and his companions stopped and turned to face Malcolm.
— Brother, I still love you, and you are still the greatest. Malcolm smiled a sad little smile. Muhammad looked hard at Malcolm, and shook his head.
— You left the Honorable Elijah Muhammad. That was the wrong thing to do, Brother Malcolm.
His face and voice were also sad. Malcolm had been his supporter and hero. Disappointment and hurt lay on Muhammad’s face like dust. Abruptly, he turned and walked away. His coterie followed. After a few steps they began talking again, loudly.
Malcolm’s shoulders sagged and his face was suddenly gloomy.
— I’ve lost a lot. A lot. Almost too much. »

Yet, Ali would join mourners in paying homage to Malcolm as his body laid in rest in New York City in October 1965. Today, these two great Muslims and sons of Africa have left us. May Allah grant them Eternal Peace!

Tierno S. Bah

Maryse Condé. “Nous préférons la pauvreté dans la liberté, à l’opulence dans l’esclavage”

Maryse Condé. La vie sans fards.
Première Partie
Chapitre 5. — « Nous préférons la pauvreté dans la liberté, à l’opulence dans l’esclavage »
Sékou Touré

Maryse Condé
Maryse Condé

Tout se passa très vite. Grâce à Sékou Kaba, que mon état et le tour que prenait ma vie comblaient de joie, je fus nommée professeur de français au Collège de Filles de Bellevue. Le collège était sis dans un joli bâtiment colonial niché dans un fouillis de verdure à la périphérie de Conakry. Il était dirigé par une charmante Martiniquaise, Mme Batchily, car en Guinée comme en Côte d’Ivoire, les Antillais se retrouvaient à tous les niveaux de l’enseignement.
Cependant, ceux qui se pressaient en Guinée n’avaient rien de commun avec ceux qui travaillaient en Côte d’Ivoire. Ils ne formaient pas une communauté bon enfant, surtout soucieuse de fabriquer du boudin et des aceras. Hautement politisés, marxistes  bien évidemment, ils avaient traversé l’océan pour aider de leur compétence le jeune Etat qui en avait grand besoin. Quand ils se réunissaient chez l’un ou chez l’autre, autour d’une tasse de quinquéliba (décidément ce thé possédait toutes les vertus !) ils discutaient de la pensée de Gramsci ou de celle de Marx et Hegel. Je ne sais pourquoi je me rendis à une de ces assemblées. Elle se tenait dans la villa d’un Guadeloupéen nommé Mac Farlane, professeur de philosophie, marié à une fort jolie Française.
— Il paraît que vous êtes une Boucolon ! me glissa-t-il courtoisement à ma vive surprise. J’ai grandi à deux pas de chez vous, rue Dugommier. J’ai bien connu Auguste.
Auguste était mon frère, mon aîné de vingt-cinq ans, avec lequel je n’avais jamais eu grand contact. Il était l’orgueil de la famille, car il était le premier agrégé ès lettres de la Guadeloupe. Malheureusement, il ne professa jamais aucune ambition politique et vécut toute sa vie à Asnières dans le total anonymat d’un pavillon de banlieue. On comprend si le rapprochement avec lui me terrifia ! Il me semblait que quoi que je fasse, j’étais percée à jour. Si je n’y prenais garde, les « grands nègres » risquaient de me rattraper.
— Votre mari est à Paris ? poursuivit-il.
Je bredouillai qu’il y terminait ses études.
— De quoi?
— Il veut être comédien et suit les cours du Conservatoire de la rue Blanche.
A l’expression de son visage, je sus le peu de cas qu’il faisait de ce genre de vocation. D’ailleurs, il s’éloigna et nous infligea pendant une heure sa lecture de je ne sais plus quel essai politique de je ne sais plus qui.

Désormais, j’évitai soigneusement ces cercles de cuistres de gauche et décidai de vivre sans lien avec ma communauté d’origine. Je ne tins pas entièrement parole et fis une exception. Des deux soeurs de Mme Batchily qui lui avaient emboîté le pas en Guinée, l’une d’entre elles, Yolande Joseph-Noëlle, belle et distinguée, était agrégée d’histoire et enseignait au lycée de Donka. Elle étaie aussi la présidence de l’association des professeurs d’Histoire de Guinée. Malgré tous ses titres, nous devînmes crès proches. Comme plusieurs autres compatriotes, nous étions logées à la résidence Boulbinet, deux tours de dix étages, anachroniquement modernes, qui s’élevaient, inattendues, face à la mer, dans un modeste quartier de pêcheurs. L’ascenseur ne fonctionnant pas, Yolande s’arrêtait chez moi au premier étage avant de commencer l’escalade jusqu’au dixième où elle habitait.

Louis Sénainon Béhanzin
Louis Sénainon Béhanzin

Elle vivait avec Louis, authentique prince Béninois, descendant direct du roi Gbéhanzin, grand résistant à la colonisation francaise. Il fut exilé à Fort-de-France en Martinique avant de mourir à Blida en Algérie. Louis possédait un véritable musée d’objets ayant appartenu à son ailleul : pipe, tabatière, ciseaux à ongles. Il possédait surtout d’innombrables photos du vieux souverain. Ce visage à la fois intelligent et déterminé me faisait rêver. A rna surprise il s’imposa à moi des années plus tard et me conduisit à écrire mon roman Les derniers rois mages. J’imaginai son exil à la Martinique, les railleries des gens : « Un roi africain ? Ka sa yé sa ? »
J’imaginai surtout sa terreur devant la violence de nos orages et le déchaînement de nos cyclones auxquels il n’était pas habitué. Je lui donnai une descendance antillaise en la personne de Spero et je me plus à lui prêter un journal.
Louis Gbéhanzin était un homme extrêmement intelligent, professeur [d’histoire] de mathématiques lui aussi, au lycée de Donka. Il avait l’oreille de Sékou Touré et était le grand artisan de la réforme de l’enseignement, oeuvre colossale qui, en fin de compte, ne fut jamais menée à terme. Bien que l’idée ne m’effleura jamais de m’ouvrir à Yolande, j’éprouvais pour elle une profonde admiration et une réelle amitié. Son franc-parler me faisait du bien. Car elle me tançait souvent vertement :
— Comment pouvez-vous mener une vie pareillement
végétative alors que vous êtes si intelligente ?
Etais-je encore intelligente ?

Personne ne pouvait deviner combien j’étais malheureuse, au point souvent de souhaiter la mort. Yolande et Louis, par exemple, attribuaient ma morosité et ma passivité à l’absence de mon mari. En effet, Condé était retourné à Paris pour sa dernière année au conservatoire de la rue Blanche. Il avait accueilli avec fatalisme l’annonce de ma grossesse.
— Cette fois, ce sera un garçon ! avait-il assuré comme si cela rendait la pilule moins amère. Et nous l’appellerons Alexandre.
— Alexandre ! m’étonnais-je en me rappelant les foudres qu’avait causées mon choix du prénom occidental de Sylvie-Anne ! Mais, ce n’est pas Malenké.
— Qu’importe ! rétorqua-t-il. C’est un prénom de conquérant et mon fils sera un conquérant.
Nous ne devions pas avoir de fils ensemble alors qu’il en eut deux ou trois d’une seconde épouse.

Quand Eddy m’écrivit que Condé avait pour maîtresse une comédienne martiniquaise, je dois avouer que cela me laissa totalement indifférente, car je ne pensais qu’à Jacques, me désespérant encore et encore de l’absurdité de ma conduite. Pourquoi l’avais-je quitté ? Je ne me comprenais plus.

La veille de la rentrée au collège de Bellevue, Mme Batchily réunit les enseignants dans la salle des professeurs. C’était tous des « expatriés ». On comptait un fort contingent de Français communistes, des réfugiés politiques de l’Afrique subsaharienne ou du Maghreb et deux Malgaches. Devant un gobelet d’ersatz de café, tout en grignotant des gâteaux ultra-secs, elle nous expliqua que nos élèves appartenaient à des familles où les filles n’avaient jamais reçu d’instruction secondaire. Parfois, leurs mères avaient suivi une ou deux années d’école primaire et savaient tout au plus signer leur nom. Elles se sentaient par conséquent mal à l’aise sur les bancs d’un collège et auraient préféré se trouver à la cuisine ou sur le marché à vendre de la pacotille. Il fallait donc redoubler de soin, d’attention pour les intéresser à notre enseignement.

Vu l’état d’esprit dans lequel je me trouvais, ces propos n’eurent aucun effet sur moi. Alors que je devais, dans les années qui suivirent, porter tant d’attention aux jeunes, je ne m’intéressai pas du tout à mes élèves que je jugeais amorphes et sottes. Mes cours devinrent vite une ennuyeuse corvée. Mon enseignement se réduisait à des exercices d’élocution, d’orthographe et de grammaire. Au mieux, j’expliquais quelques extraits d’ouvrages choisis par de mystérieux « Comités de l’Éducation et de la Culture » qui dans le cadre de la réforme décidaient de tout. En français, leur sélection était basée non sur la valeur littéraire des textes, mais sur leur contenu sociologique. C’est ainsi qu’à ma surprise, La prière d’un petit enfant nègre du poète guadeloupéen Guy Tirolien figurait dans tous les manuels « révisés ». Quand je n’étais pas au collège, je ne lisais pas, les signes dansant sur la page devant mes yeux. Je n’écoutais pas la radio, ne supportant plus les sempiternelles vociférations des griots. Tout doucement, je prenais le pays en grippe. J’attendais les rêves de la nuit qui me ramèneraient vers Jacques.

Seuls Denis et Sylvie me tenaient en vie. C’était des enfants adorables. Ils couvraient de baisers mon visage, toujours triste, tellement fermé (c’est de cette époque que j’ai désappris le sourire) et que leurs caresses assombrissaient encore.

De la terrasse de mon appartement de Boulbinet, j’assistais chaque jour à un spectacle étonnant. A 17h30, le président Sékou Touré, tête nue, beau comme un astre dans ses grands boubous blancs, passait sur le front de mer, conduisant lui-même sa Mercedes 280 SL décapotée. Il était acclamé par les pêcheurs, abandonnant leurs filets sur le sable pour se bousculer au bord de la route.

Apparemment, j’étais la seule à trouver navrant le
contraste entre cet homme tout-puissant et les pauvres hères faméliques et haillonneux, ses sujets, qui l’applaudissaient.

— Quel bel exemple de démocratie ! me répétaient
à l’envi Yolande et Louis.
— Il n’a pas de gardes du corps ! surenchérissait
Sékou Kaba.

On le sait, la Guinée était le seul pays d’Afrique francophone à se vanter de sa révolution socialiste. Les nantis ne roulaient plus en voitures françaises, mais en Skoda tchèques ou en Volga russes. Les chanceux qui partaient en vacances à l’étranger s’envolaient dans
des Ilyouchine 18 ou des Tupolev.

Dans chaque quartier s’élevait un magasin d’État où l’on devait obligatoirement faire ses achats, puisque le commerce privé avait été aboli. Ces magasins d’État étaient toujours insuffisamment ravitaillés. Aussi, le troc était-il la seule arme dont nous disposions pour lutter contre les rationnements et les incessantes pénuries. Les précieuses denrées alimentaires s’échangeaient sous le manteau parce que la pratique du troc était interdite soi-disant pour décourager le marché noir. Il y avait partout des inspecteurs, des contrôleurs que tout le monde redoutait.

J’appris à éviter le lait concentré tchèque, qui donnait des diarrhées mortelles aux enfants (l’une d’entre elles avait failli emporter Sylvie) ; à me méfier du sucre russe qui ne fondait pas, même dans des liquides bouillants. Le fromage, la farine et les matières grasses étaient pratiquement introuvables.

J’ai souvent raconté comment m’est venu le titre de mon premier roman, largement inspiré par ma vie en Guinée. Heremakhonon, expression malenké qui signifie « Attends le bonheur ». C’était le nom du magasin d’état situé dans le quartier de Boulbinet. Il était toujours vide. Toutes les réponses des vendeuses commençaient par « demain », comme un espoir jamais réalisé.

« Demain, il y aura l’huile ! »
« Demain, il y aura la tomate ! »
« Demain, il y aura la sardine ! »
« Demain, il y aura le riz ! »

Le souvenir de deux évènements se dispute ma mémoire en ce début de l’année 1961, évènements dissemblables qui prouvent que le coeur ne sait pas hiérarchiser. Il place au même niveau l’universel et le particulier. Le 4 janvier, Jiman que, grâce à Sékou Kaba, j’avais fait venir de la Côte Ivoire, repartit chez lui après quelques mois en Guinée. Il ne supportait pas les pénuries qui affectaient son travail de cuisinier.
— Un pays qui n’a pas l’huile ! répétait-il, outré.
Sans doute n’avait-il pas suffisamment médité la belle et célèbre phrase de Sékou Touré :

« Nous préférons la pauvreté dans la liberté à l’opulence dans les fers. »

En tous cas, peu m’importe qu’il soit sans nul doute un vil « contre-révolutionnaire » selon l’expression consacrée ! Sur les quais, au pied du paquebot qui le ramenait vers la sujétion dorée de son pays, je versai un flot de larmes en me retenant de le supplier de ne pas m’abandonner lui aussi.

Le 17 du même mois, Patrice Lumumba fut assassiné au Congo. A cette occasion, la Guinée décréta un deuil national de quatre jours. J’aimerais écrire que je fus bouleversée par cet évènement. Hélas non ! J’ai déjà dit le peu d’intérêt que j’avais porté aux premières convulsions du Congo ex-belge. Le nom de Lumumba ne signifiait pas grand-chose pour moi.

Président Sékou Touré accueille le Premier ministre du Congo-Léopoldville, Patrice Lumumba, à Conakry en août 1960
Président Sékou Touré accueille le Premier ministre du Congo-Léopoldville, Patrice Lumumba, à Conakry en août 1960

Je me rendis néanmoins à la Place des Martyrs où avait lieu une cérémonie d’hommage au disparu. Je me glissai dans la foule compacte maintenue par des barrières et des hommes en armes à bonne distance de l’estrade où prenaient place les officiels. On aurait cru assister à un concours d’élégance. Les ministres, sous-ministres et dignitaires du régime étaient accompagnés de leurs épouses drapées dans des pagnes de prix. Certaines étaient coiffées de volumineux mouchoirs de tête. D’autres exhibaient des coiffures compliquées : tresses en rosace ou en triangle. Cette impression d’assister à un spectacle était renforcée par les applaudissements et les acclamations de la foule à chaque fois qu’un couple de notables descendait de sa voiture et se dirigeait vers l’estrade. Sous un dais d’apparat, Sékou Touré, vêtu de ses boubous blancs si seyants, fit un discours qui dura des heures. Il tira les leçons de la tragédie congolaise, répétant avec emphase les mots de Capitalisme et d’Oppression.

Cependant je ne sais pourquoi, ces paroles sonnaient le creux. Je me demandais où était cette révolution guinéenne dont il parlait.

Lire l’article de Victor Du Bois “Guinea: Estrangement Between the Leaders and the People”. — T.S. Bah

Je dus attendre la médiation de la littérature, la parution d’Une Saison au Congo d’Aimé Césaire en 1965 pour m’émouvoir vraiment de ce drame et en comprendre la portée.
Je n’étais pas encore suffisamment « politisée» sans doute.

Les privations qui assombrissaient notre existence, je les aurais supportées si elles avaient affecté l’ensemble de la société dans un effort collectif de construire une nation libre. Cela aurait même pu être exaltant. Or ce n’était visiblement pas le cas. Chaque jour davantage, la société se divisait en deux groupes, séparés par une mer infranchissable de préjugés. Alors que nous bringuebalions dans des autobus bondés et prêts à rendre l’âme, de rutilantes Mercedes à fanions nous dépassaient transportant des femmes harnachées, couvertes de bijoux, des hommes fumant avec ostentation des havanes bagués à leurs initiales. Alors que nous faisions la queue dans nos magasins d’Etat pour nous procurer quelques kilos de riz, dans des boutiques où tout se payait en devises, des privilégiés s’offraient du caviar, du foie gras, et des vins fins.

Un jour, Sékou Kaba parvint fièrement à obtenir une invitation à un concert privé à la Présidence. C’était la première fois que j’allais me mêler au monde des privilégiés. J’empruntai à Gnalengbè un boubou afin de cacher mon ventre et suspendis autour de mon cou mon collier grenn dô. Ainsi fagotée, j’allai écouter « l’Ensemble de Musique Traditionnelle de la République ». En vedette, se produisait Kouyate Sory Kandia. Kouyate Sory Kandia était surnommé « L’Étoile du Mandé» et méritait pleinement cette hyperbole.

Sory Kandia Kouyaté
Sory Kandia Kouyaté

Aucune voix ne pouvait se comparer à la sienne. Il était entouré d’autres griots et de plus d’une trentaine de musiciens qui jouaient de la kora, du balafon, de la guitare africaine, du tambour d’aisselle. Je n’avais jamais assisté à pareil spectacle. C’était éblouissant, inoubliable, incomparable. A l’entracte, les spectateurs refluèrent vers le bar. Je fus profondément choquée de voir ces musulmans en grands boubous se gorger de champagne rosé et fumer avec ostentation des havanes.

“Massane Cissé” Album La Voix de La Révolution par Sory Kandia Kouyaté.

Timidement, Sékou Kaba me conduisit vers un groupe et me présenta au Président, à son frère Ismaël, éminence grise du régime qu’entouraient quelques ministres. Ces derniers ne m’accordèrent aucune attention. Seul, le président feignit de s’intéresser à moi. Sékou Touré était encore plus beau de près que de loin avec ses yeux obliques et ce sourire charmeur des hommes à femmes. Quand Sékou Kaba eut fait les présentations, il murmura :
— Ainsi, vous venez de la Guadeloupe ! Vous êtes donc une petite soeur que l’Afrique avait perdue et qu’elle retrouve.
]’ai rapporté cette conversation dans Heremakhonon quand le dictateur Malimwana entre dans la classe de Veronica et s’entretient avec elle. Mais je ne possédais pas l’aplomb de cette dernière qui osa remplacer le mot « perdue » par le mot « vendue » et je me bornai à grimacer un sourire complaisant.

Sékou Touré s’écarta de nous et continua sa route vers d’autres invités. L’adulation dont on l’ entourait était palpable. On lui baisait les mains. Certains ployaient le genou devant lui et il les aidait à se relever avec affabilité. On entendait en arrière-plan les récitations des griots qui s’enflaient par instant comme un choeur d’opéra. Une sonnerie annonça la fin de l’entracte et nous reprîmes place dans la salle de concert.

A suivre. Chapître 6 : « Tu enfanteras dans la douleur » »

Du même auteur :

Aux Éditions Robert Laffont

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  • Ségou, vol. 1, Les Murailles de terre, 1984
  • Ségou, vol. 2, La terre en miettes, 1985
  • La vie scélérate, 1987, Prix de l’Académie française
  • En attendant le bonheur : Heremakhonon, 1988
  • La colonie du Nouveau Monde, 1993
  • La migration des coeurs, 1995
  • Pays mêlé, 1997
  • Désirada, 1997. Prix Carbet de la Caraïbe
  • En attendant le bonheur : Heremakhonon, 1997
  • Le coeur à rire et à pleurer : contes vrais, 1999. Réédition. Prix Marguerite Yourcenar
  • Célanire cou-coupé, 2000

Aux Éditions du Mercure de France

  • Moi, Tituba, sorcière noire de Salem, 1986. Grand Prix
    Littéraire de la femme
  • Pension Les Alizés, 1988
  • Traversée de la mangrove, 1989
  • Les derniers rois mages, 1992
  • La belle créole, 2001
  • Histoire de la femme cannibale, 2003
  • Victoire, les saveurs et les mots : récit, 2006. Prix Tropiques
  • Les belles ténébreuses, 2008

Aux Éditions Jean-Claude Lattès

  • En attendant la montée des eaux, 2010. Grand Prix du Roman Métis