John Dramani Mahama became President of Ghana following the death of his successor, John Atta Mills, in office. I believe his ascension came at about the same time as the release of a series of stories exploring his formative years. ‘My First Coup d’Etat’ has little to do with the DC in Africa theme, but it is a GREAT book and as I am so often critical, I want to briefly sing its praise (I may go hear the Foreign Minister of Burkina Faso speak at the Wilson Center on Friday and I’m sure I will bash him).
Mahama was born just after Ghana achieved independence, the first President of the country who was not born under British colonialism. The book starts when Mahama is quite young and the government of Ghana’s founding father, Kwame Nkrumah, has been overthrown. His father was a prominent minister in this government and was imprisoned for about a year following the military coup. Although quite young, Mahama was attending boarding school in the capital. When his term ended shortly after the coup, no one came to pick him up and a school employee had to tramp through Ghana to find his next closest relative, who ironically was married to a military man and lived in a barracks.
Few serving prominent politicians, especially those in America (although Sam Nujoma’s autobiography – he was President of Namibia is a notable example of a useless book from an African leader) write memoirs that reveal anything of substance. Although Mahama is obviously writing for a western audience, his candor is admirable. He speaks about his experiences with girls, missionaries, bullies, a flirtation with socialism, rural African life, and I’ve only reached the stage of his life where he enrolls at the University of Ghana.
Although he is Christian, unlike most in the region, Mahama grew up in Tamale in the northern part of Ghana. While Tamale was the major city in the north, I would have imagined it in the 1970s to be an extreme backwater. Instead, Tamale is where Mahama is exposed to socialist principles, goes clubbing, listens to the Jackson 5, wear bell bottom trousers and grows an afro. He paints a picture of someone highly influenced by black American culture.
He was also a student of history, as was I, which may explain my affinity for the book. The work is extremely readable and I highly recommend it.