Visiting the burial site and memorial to Kwame Nkrumah, our tour guide said something that managed to reach beyond the colorless mental images of young Ghana breaking from colonial rule and strike home in the vibrant reality of the here and now. Thanks to an extensive tour of the memorial, I can now confidently inform unaware readers that Nkrumah was the first president of Ghana, who shook off the colonial chains of Britain in 1957. He led Ghana on the earliest leg of its journey following independence until 1966. During this time, and while on a trip to Vietnam to speak in favor of an end to the war, Nkrumah’s regime was toppled in a coup d’état.
Our guide points to an image of Nkrumah speaking to a crowd in Vietnam, saying, “this was his last speech given as president, in favor of peace, before his presidency was ended back home in his absence.”
A slight grin cracks across our guide’s face, like a child leading a friend to some secret surprise. His finger drops a couple feet to the next image, Nkrumah and another an engaged in a close discussion. “I love Americans, WE love Americans here in Ghana,” he begins. “But the coup was backed by America and your CIA, did you know that?” He is met with our group’s quiet, unsurprised acknowledgement of ignorance. “America did not like his connections with communism and China. They soon after killed his friend from the Congo here,” indicating Nkrumah’s pictured friend, whose name is thrown up into the air and wisked away in the jet-lagged confusion of information overload. “Did you know this?” Nothing. His grin breaks into near laughter as he watches us register new information with blank faces.
“You are all American, and you don’t even know who your country kills.”
While I recognized the possible bias in this statement, it nonetheless brought the reality of the U.S. Citizens’ perceived ignorance into a new light. From previous travels I had gathered that we are perceived as ignorant. While in Europe in 2006 I was the butt of many sharp-edged jokes. “Your president is Bush, who is ours?” said smiling strangers in Amsterdam or Berlin or Paris. I could have argued that, for better or worse, the U.S. is an indisputable world power, demanding the attention of global citizens in a way unlike the majority of the world’s nations, but the correct assumption of my unawareness caught me off guard. I’ve got it, I thought at the time, we’re wrapped up in U.S. affairs.
However, the guide proved even this to be an ignorant statement. To some, U.S. citizens can perhaps be perceived as selfishly ignorant of everything that doesn’t impact themselves or their immediate communities. How many people back home will instantly recognize the name “Kwame Nkrumah” when reading this? Furthermore, how many will immediately respond, “oh yes, that fellow we ousted back in ‘66″?
Later personal research showed the CIA’s direct involvement in Nkrumah’s demise to be difficult to prove. Still, the fact remains that an international debate about the USA’s covert intervention is taking place, with hardly any Americans participating who wouldn’t be directly responsible.
It’s strange to be told new information about what your tax money has done, especially as you’re standing next to the grave of the man your money targeted.