257. Memorandum for the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence (Helms)1

SUBJECT

  • Recent OCI Reporting on Ghana

Summary

On 24 February, a coup occurred in Ghana while President Nkrumah was en route to Peking. Over the past year, OCI reporting has noted persistent military dissatisfaction with the regime and pointed to a group of army and police officers who were plotting against Nkrumah. Because of government countermeasures and indecisiveness on the part of the plotters, the coup was apparently postponed several times. OCI publications have pointed out that the officers involved favored making their move either while Nkrumah was out of the country or when they could take advantage of an outburst of popular discontent. On 23 February, the day before the coup, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] reported that the commanders of the army’s two brigades and the commissioner of police might be engineering a move to oust Nkrumah during his Asian tour.

1.
[2–1/2 lines of source text not declassified] The embassy also has reported periodic build-ups of coup rumors, especially at times of economic tension.

On 10 February 1965, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] noted “plotting is actively underway to oust Nkrumah in the very near future. Plans are incomplete, and this, like previous plots, may collapse before execution.”

The CIB of 26 February 1965 commented that “any move to oust Nkrumah would require the support of the army, one of the few power groups not yet under party control.”

2.
During the spring and early summer of 1965 a group of senior military and police officers continued to develop coup plots, to discuss tentative dates and occasions for overthrowing Nkrumah, and to vacillate about carrying out their plans. Younger, middle-grade officers were chafing over the failure of top military leaders to act. OCI reporting followed [Page 454]the ups and downs of the conspiracy, as indicated in the following examples.

[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] 1 May 1965 noted “some of the steam appears to have gone out of the group of senior military and police officers plotting Nkrumah’s overthrow. They are now said to have only vague plans to act sometime in June or July. Public resentment against Nkrumah’s domestic policies remains high, however.”

The CIWR of 4 June 1965 indicated that “anti-regime elements of the military and police might try to take advantage of any outburst of discontent to try to oust Nkrumah. Last month some younger officers were reported chafing over the failure of top military leaders to move against him.”

The CIB of 19 June 1965 stated “Disaffected military and police leaders could well move against the regime soon, possibly during Nkrumah’s current trip abroad (for the Commonwealth Conference) .… Many military leaders have long been unhappy over Nkrumah’s leadership. A conviction that their personal interests are now at stake could finally overcome their reluctance to move . …The Otus (two brothers who held high military posts) have also recently been in close touch with pro-Western Police Commissioner Harlley, who is said to be thoroughly fed up with the regime and to have aligned himself with them.”

3.
As the plotters continued to delay putting their plans into operation, Nkrumah took countermeasures in July which apparently put a stop to the plotting for the time being.

[less than 1 line of source text not declassified] 28 July 1965 said “Nkrumah’s sudden move today in retiring Ghana’s defense chief (Otu) and his deputy (Ankrah) effectively neutralizes the two as potential coup leaders. Both had been involved in coup plotting for several months but vacillated too long and gave Nkrumah the chance to act first.”

4.
The series of recent successful military coups elsewhere in West Africa apparently gave new encouragement to the Ghanaian plotters.

This development was reported [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] on 15 January 1966, which noted that “The rash of army coups in western Africa has sparked new plotting against Nkrumah. Last spring and summer, restless military officers were reportedly set to move, but they procrastinated too long and Nkrumah was able to defuse the plot.”

On 17 February 1966, [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] stated that “There is another plot afoot to kill Nkrumah and take over the government. A clandestine source [less than 1 line source text not declassified] reports that a number of important military and police officers were involved.”

The latest report, which tied the coup plans to Nkrumah’s trip abroad, was printed [less than 1 line of source text not declassified] on 23 February 1966.

  1. Source: Johnson Library, National Security File, Country File, Ghana, Vol. II, Cables, 3/64–2/66. Secret; No Foreign Dissem; Controlled Dissem; Background Use Only. Prepared in the Central Intelligence Agency. The source text is filed with an undated handwritten note from Helms to Bundy, apparently sent on February 28, noting that Bundy had expressed an interest in the subject when they talked on Friday (February 25) and adding, “I am particularly pleased to send you a favorable report on your last day.”