How CIA planned to wear blackface during Nkrumah’s overthrow to attack Chinese Embassy in Ghana

Dr kwame Nkrumah speaks in Addis Ababa in 1963 at a meeting of thirty two (32) African Heads of State and Government.

It’s been 53 years since the first president of an independent country in sub-Saharan Africa, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, was overthrown in a coup d’etat on February 24, 1966. He was out of Ghana on a peace mission to Hanoi aimed at bringing an end to the United States intervention in Vietnam.

In 24 hours, lower-ranking military officers and police officials led by Colonel E. K. Kotoka, Major A. A. Afrifa and the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. J. W. K. Harley carried out the coup.

They announced the overthrow on state radio and made their reasons clear: To end Nkrumah’s alleged alliance with the Soviet Union and China, alleged corruption, dictatorial practices, oppression; and the introduction of the unpopular preventive detention laws.

Nkrumah was reportedly in disbelief after he was informed of the coup by the leader of the People’s Republic of China, Premier Chou En-lai, during a stop-over in Peking for consultations.

Immediately, the deposed president and supporters accused the United States of complicity in the coup as the Western power had already expressed anger at Nkrumah’s close ties to the Soviet Union and China during the Cold War.

American media, including The New York Times, had also tagged Nkrumah as a “despot”, “tyrant”, “devious”, “ruthless”, “narcissist” and of “megalomaniacal excesses”.

Meanwhile, there was no comment from America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) until 1978, six years after Nkrumah’s death, when first‐hand intelligence sources made available to The New York Times the role of the CIA in the coup.

The intelligence was disclosed immediately after former CIA operative, John Stockwell, briefly described it in a footnote to his book, “In Search of Enemies.”

Lobby of CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, on August 14, 2008. AFP PHOTO/SAUL LOEB

The sources said a high‐level interagency group that monitors the CIA’s clandestine activities in Washington, known in 1966 as the 303 Committee, had rejected a previous request from the CIA to plot against Nkrumah.

“At one stage before the overthrow of Mr. Nkrumah, the sources said, the C.I.A.’s station chief in Accra, Ghana’s capital, requested approval from higher headquarters for the deployment of a small squad of paramilitary experts, members of the agency’s Special Operations Group.

“Those men, the sources said, were to wear blackface and attack the Chinese Embassy during the coup, killing everyone there and destroying the building. The men also were to steal as much material as possible from the Embassy’s code room,” reported The New York Times in 1978.

It added that Howard T. Banes, the station chief in Accra at the time and other operatives were enraged by the rejection of their proposal to raid the Chinese Embassy, at the time the Peking Government’s only embassy in Africa.

Meanwhile, the Accra station led by Banes was permitted to purchase some Soviet intelligence materials that had been confiscated by Ghanaian Army troops during the coup.

“After a payment of at least $100,000, the sources said, a special secret airplane flight was arranged and the Soviet materials—including a cigarette lighter that also functioned as a camera—were transferred to C.I.A. headquarters,” reported The New York Times.

Major Afrifa cheering his men after the coup.

The sources said the role of the CIA in Accra resulted in the addition of as many as 10 undercover operatives in Ghana and Banes was quickly promoted to a senior position and eventually transferred to Washington where he became chief of operations for the African desk.

Stockwell’s book also noted that the CIA station in Accra got wind of the coup before it was hatched and was “nevertheless encouraged by headquarters to maintain contact with dissidents of the Ghanaian army for the purpose of maintaining intelligence on their activities.”

He added that the CIA gave the coup plotters a “generous budget” and maintained “intimate contact” that enabled it to coordinate the recovery of some classified Soviet military equipment as the coup took place.

However, one plan that was aborted by the CIA after it was proposed by the Accra station was for “a squad be on hand at the moment of the coup to storm the Chinese Embassy, kill everyone inside, steal their secret records, and blow up the building to cover the act,” writes Stockwell.

Despite the disapproval, he added, “the Accra station was given full, if unofficial credit for the eventual coup. None of this was adequately reflected in the agency’s written records.”

Also, not all of the CIA’s covert operations were brought to the attention of the high‐level review group, 40 Committee, set up by the Nixon administration to authenticate some of the CIA’s sensitive operations.

In 2001, the United States government released declassified CIA documents that proved the involvement of the intelligence agency in the overthrow of Ghana’s first president Dr Kwame Nkrumah. However, it failed to indicate any official backing.

Among the documents released includes a memorandum from the Acting Special Assistant for National Security Affairs, Robert W. Komer, to the 36th U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, handwritten on March 12, 1966.

President Lyndon B. Johnson confers with Gen. Creighton Abrams, CIA Chief Richard Helms

The memo explains the U.S. stance on the coup and its plans to maintain relations with the coup makers for America’s benefit.

Washington, March 12, 1966, 10:30 a.m.

The coup in Ghana is another example of a fortuitous windfall. Nkrumah was doing more to undermine our interests than any other black African. In reaction to his strongly pro-Communist leanings, the new military regime is almost pathetically pro-Western.

The point of this memo is that we ought to follow through skillfully and consolidate such successes. A few thousand tons of surplus wheat or rice, given now when the new regimes are quite uncertain as to their future relations with us, could have a psychological significance out of all proportion to the cost of the gesture. I am not arguing for lavish gifts to these regimes—indeed, giving them a little only whets their appetites, and enables us to use the prospect of more as leverage.

But my experience is that the bureaucracy will err on the side of caution rather than initiative; hence my suggestion that, in expressing your pleasure to SecState and others over the Indonesia and Ghana coups, you [Page 458]make clear that we ought to exploit such successes as quickly and as skillfully as possible. You have no idea how important a word from you can be in setting the tone for the bureaucracy. And in this case I strongly suspect that my own suggestion is quite in accord with your own political instinct.

If you prefer, I would pass this word to Rusk and Bell; but at the moment there is simply no substitute for direct word from you.

R.W. Komer

This article by Ismail Akwei was first published on

How Malcolm X became a serious threat to the U.S. after his Africa visit

Malcolm X in Nigeria

Malcolm X was one of the most influential black people in the history of the United States and a strong advocate for Pan-Africanism. Malcolm X became a serious threat to the U.S. after his Africa visit

Pan-Africanism – the global movement encouraging the bond of solidarity between people of African descent – gave birth to the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) which inspired Malcolm X during his visit to Africa in 1964.

He had had prior visits to the continent with his first in 1959 when he touched down in the United Arab Republic (a short-lived political union between Egypt and Syria), Sudan, Nigeria, and Ghana to make arrangements for a tour by Elijah Muhammad.

He also visited Africa after his pilgrimage to Mecca in 1964 and conducted interviews and gave speeches in Egypt, Ethiopia, Tanganyika, Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, Sudan, Senegal, Liberia, Algeria, and Morocco after meeting their leaders.

He earned the Yoruba name Omowale – which means the son who has come home – in Nigeria after he spoke at the University of Ibadan.

Malcolm was enlightened by Pan-African leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and Ahmed Ben Bella of Algeria who were stalwarts of African unity and wanted him to work with them.

The impressed Malcolm X returned to the United States in May and formed the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) to fight for the human rights of Black Americans and foster unity with Africans and all people of African descent.

He announced the establishment at a public meeting in New York’s Audubon Ballroom on June 28, 1964, after writing the group’s charter with other Pan-Africanists including John Henrik Clarke, Albert Cleage, Jesse Gray, and Gloria Richardson.

Two months later, he returned to Egypt for the second Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting as a representative of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU).

Ahead of his trip to Africa, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover wrote in a memo dated July 2, 1964, that the OAAU was a threat to the national security of the United States.

The FBI had wanted to convict Malcolm under the Logan Act, which forbids “negotiat[ing] with foreign governments having a dispute with the United States.” The memo accused Malcolm of meeting Communist China in Africa.

Malcolm X returned to the United States and started laying a solid foundation for the OAAU under the four pillars of Restoration, Reorientation, Education and Economic Security of Black people.

He was killed on February 21, 1965, by three men suspected to be members of the Nation of Islam while preparing to address the OAAU in Manhattan’s Audubon Ballroom. Malcolm had 21 gunshot wounds to the chest, left shoulder, arms and legs.

His death marked the end of the Organization of Afro-American Unity (OAAU) despite his half-sister, Ella Little-Collins’ assumption of leadership. Membership dwindled due to Malcolm X’s absence and the organization eventually collapsed.

Below is the FBI memo on Malcolm X:

This article by Ismail Akwei was first published on

The earliest shipment of slaves to the Americas and the men behind the horror

Transatlantic slave trade

The transatlantic slave trade that existed between the 16th and the 19th centuries is considered the largest enslavement of black Africans captured from central and western Africa and cruelly transported mainly to the Americas.

Slave trade in general, was already a thriving venture among the Arabs who had been trading in black slaves centuries before the European voyage to Africa. They even sold their human “merchandise” to European sailors who sent them to their countries of origin to serve as domestic workers before sending them to the Caribbean to work in the gold mines and sugar plantations.

Prior to the transatlantic slave trade, Indians and other locals were enslaved in the Americas and the Caribbean which were already colonies of European powerhouses including Spain, Portugal, France, the Netherlands and Britain.

The number of enslaved Indians reduced drastically due to poor health and smallpox epidemic that had gripped the New World. It is widely believed that the Portuguese were the first to replace the Indian workers with African slaves who were stronger, cheaper and highly resistant to diseases. It is recorded that the first Portuguese transatlantic slave voyage occurred in 1526 to Brazil before other European countries followed suit.

However, new discoveries prove that the King of Spain, Charles V, issued a charter authorising the international transportation of slaves directly from Africa to the Americas on August 18, 1518 (August 28, 1518, on the modern Gregorian calendar).

Portrait of Charles V (Don Carlos V) of Spain, ruler of the Holy Roman Empire (Wikimedia)

The charter, discovered some 100 years ago, proved the genesis of the trade some 500 years ago that saw at least 10.7 million black Africans transported between the two continents and a further 1.8 million dying en route. Meanwhile, it was only until recently that historians knew that the authorised voyages had ever taken place.

The yet-to-be-published discovery made from Spanish archives by two historians – Dr Wheat, of Michigan State University, and Dr Marc Eagle, of Western Kentucky University – over the past three years showed that the August 1518 charter was put into operation and the earliest transatlantic slave trade occurred in 1519, 1520, May 1521 and October 1521.

The royal document which launched the Africa to Americas transatlantic slave trade exactly 500 years ago. Issued by the Spanish King, Charles V, its horrific consequences lasted for 350 years (Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Government of Spain/Archivo General de Indias)

“The discoveries we’ve made are transforming our understanding of the very beginnings of the transatlantic slave trade. Remarkably, up till now, it’s been a shockingly understudied area,” Professor David Wheat was quoted by the Independent as saying.

The charter by the Spanish King introduced a licence called the Asiento which enables the supply of a given number of slaves. The Spanish authorities sold the Asiento to the highest bidder, and the money went to the Spanish king and queen. Anyone who buys the licence could buy slaves in Africa and sell them in the Spanish Americas.

The Portuguese dominated the trade and were later joined by the Dutch. Britain successfully signed a contract in 1713 to gain a monopoly on supplying slaves to the Spanish colonies.

The first four voyages sanctioned by the Spanish King were from a Portuguese trading station called Arguim (present-day northern Mauritania) to Puerto Rico in the Caribbean. The first three carried at least 60, 54 and 79 slaves respectively with a likelihood of other voyages to Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic).

It is also likely that the first two voyages were by a Portuguese or Spanish caravel called the Santa Maria de la Luz, captained by a mariner called Francisco (or Fernando) de Rosa. The third voyage was by another caravel, the San Miguel, captained by a (probably Basque) sailor called Martin de Urquica, the researchers noted.

Research also showed that direct slave trade from Africa to the Africas occurred in 1522 from the island of Sao Tome off the northwest coast of central Africa and Puerto Rico and probably other Caribbean ports.

“Academic research shows that this 1522 voyage carried no fewer than 139 slaves. Another voyage in 1524, discovered in 2016, carried just 18 – plus lots of other non-human merchandise. But other most recently discovered voyages in 1527, 1529 and 1530 carried 257, 248 and 231 slaves respectively,” the report added.

There were also records of at least six early slave voyages from the Cape Verde Islands to the Caribbean between 1518 and 1530. The slaves were acquired by Cape Verdean slave traders from African rulers and traders in Senegal, Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, Guinea and Sierra Leone.

Those behind the early transatlantic slave trade besides the King of Spain Charles V as reported by the Independent were:

Laurent de Gouvenot (Lorenzo de Gorrevod in Spanish) – a Flemish aristocrat and member of the Spanish king’s council of state (Flanders, predominantly the northern part of modern Belgium, was part of the Burgundian Netherlands, ruled by Charles). He was awarded the slave trade charter and it served as a licence for him to make money.

Gouvenot subcontracted the operations to Juan Lopez de Recalde, the treasurer of the Spanish government agency with responsibility for all Caribbean matters.

Recalde, in turn, sold the rights to transport 3,000 of the 4,000 slaves to a Seville-based Genoese merchant, Agostin de Vivaldi, and his Castilian colleague, Fernando Vazquez, and the right to carry the remaining thousand slaves to another Genoese merchant, Domingo de Fornari.

Vivaldi and Vazquez then (at a profit) resold the rights to transport their 3,000 slaves to two well-connected Castilian merchants, Juan de la Torre and Juan Fernandez de Castro, and to a famous Seville-based Genoese banker, Gaspar Centurion, who, along with Fornari, subcontracted the work directly or indirectly to various ships’ captains.

As the world commemorates the International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, it is equally important to remember how it all began.

This article by Ismail Akwei was first published on

The rise and fall of Britain’s forgotten Black Panther movement

British Black Panthers (BBP) protest in Brixton. Photo: Neil Kenlock

The rise and fall of Britain’s forgotten Black Panther movement. e forgotten Black Panther movement of Britain was created during the peak of the revolutionary African American Black Panther Party (BPP) founded to challenge police brutality against the black community.

Going by the name British Black Panthers (BBP), the movement existed from 1968 to 1972 and was founded by Darcus Howe, Linton Kwesi Johnson and the late Olive Morris to educate British black people about their history.

Unlike the Black Panther Party in the U.S. that carried shotguns and preached militancy, the British Black Panthers based in Brixton, south London took the path of education to give black Britons a voice to speak out against injustice and discrimination.  

Little was known about them until 2013 when a member and photographer Neil Kenlock who had captured the activities of the group offered his photographs of meetings, campaigns and marches to a group of young activists for an exhibition at a gallery in Brixton.

They also displayed contemporary photos, interviews and a documentary film about the activism of the secret group that inspired many young black Britons.

The photographer Neil Kenlock told Vice contributor Bruno Bayley that the British Black Panthers were made up of students from Commonwealth countries and they wanted equal opportunities like the British middle class while they fought bills aimed at repatriating black people to Africa.

The British Black Panthers, in my opinion, came into being as a result of the discrimination that many students from the Commonwealth faced. Back then, the best students from the Commonwealth were sent to Britain to be educated. Many of those who associated with the Panthers were those sorts of people; they had never encountered discrimination in their own countries, where they were the sons or daughters of the middle classes. So when they got here for university, they discovered this inequality and decided to fight against that, but they needed support in our communities, so they came to Brixton and met people like me who shared these challenges, and we worked together.

“At the time, they were trying to repatriate us. It was outrageous – you can’t take us from Africa, enslave us, and after we’ve built the country up after the war, tell us to go back. No. That’s not on,” he added.

Neil Kenlock outlined the achievements of the group which he says many do not attribute to them because of their secretive nature.

Lots of the students returned to their countries – in many cases to positions of leadership. We were left with lots of the things we’d been campaigning for actually being achieved. The repatriation bill was quashed, the idea of deportation was gone and the movement just dissolved – not in an organised way, but people just stopped coming around and stopped doing things.

He explained that the group dissolved because they had achieved what they were fighting for and those who were mainly students from the Commonwealth had returned home to take up leadership roles in politics, government and law.

Here are some photos shot by Neil Kenlock of the British Black Panthers during their activism days between 1968 and 1972:

This article by Ismail Akwei was first published on

1800s anti-lynching journalist honoured with a street named after her in Chicago

Ida B. Wells Street in Chicago

Chicago has honoured the unsung hero and 1800s investigative journalist, Ida B. Wells, who campaigned against racist lynching of black men and pushed for women’s right to vote.

Major downtown Chicago thoroughfare, Congress Parkway, was renamed Ida B. Wells Drive on Monday making it the first major street in the city named after a black woman.

Dozens of dignitaries including award-winning journalists, activists and residents celebrated the already installed bright green street sign bearing her name, months after the City Council approved it.

The city leaders gathered at the Harold Washington Library for the ceremony said it was an opportunity to honour her in a more dignified and glorified way and shed light on her extraordinary life.

Ida B. Wells

“This woman … was not just an inspiration to me, as a black woman in politics, but one who endured so much so that we could all stand here today in service to our communities,” said Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton who was quoted by the Chicago Tribune.

“She had such a strong sense of morality. She was going to tell the truth even if it came to her own detriment. Can you imagine a black woman at that time, going into territory where a black man or woman had literally been strung up and lynched and asking questions about why this was and what happened?” said New York Times journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones.

“She was the most famous black woman in the world. And yet it takes until 2019 to get a street named in her honor in the city where she is buried. I think that speaks to the way we have always erased the contributions of black women in this country. It is Ida’s time,” he added.

The New York Times published her obituary last year as one of the iconic people it failed to acknowledge after their death.

The overlooked Ida B. Wells, who changed her name to Ida B. Wells-Barnett after her marriage to Ferdinand L. Barnett in 1895, is receiving a lot of national attention now and her contributions to the improvement of the economic and social status of African-Americans are being highlighted.

Her great-grandaughter, Michelle Duster, said the moment was overwhelming, especially after the family’s quest of raising $300,000 toward a monument in her honour.

“When I was walking over here and I saw the sign, I just had to take a moment and just stare. We actually did this. … We actually managed to stick with the idea of having an African-American woman honored in such a prominent way, in such a large city. It’s just a really, really big achievement,” she said.

Ida B. Wells helped in the creation of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Association for Colored Women. She mentored W.E.B. DuBois and was close friends with abolitionist and freedom fighter Frederick Douglass.

Wells, according to history, was the most famous black woman in the United States during her lifetime. She was living in Memphis and working as an editor of a local newspaper when she started the campaign against lynching through her articles.

In 1892, three black men were attacked and arrested after they fought back. A white mob later dragged them out of jail and lynched them. This infuriated Wells, and through that, she began investigating and reporting lynchings in America.

She travelled for months alone in the south, researching and conducting interviews on approximately 700 lynchings from previous years. Her aim was to question the narrative at the time that said that black men were lynched because they raped white women.

Her findings revealed that rape was never the case, instead, there had been a consensual interracial relationship. Wells realized that lynching was used as an excuse to do away with black people who were acquiring property and wealth and to sow fear into them.

She published these findings in several editorials in the newspaper she co-owned and edited, The Memphis Free Speech and Headlight.

Her stories were widely accepted by the public.

Black people lynched

Wells was born into slavery in 1862 in Holly Springs, Mississippi, during the civil war. Her parents, as well as, her younger brother died from a yellow fever epidemic in 1878 when she was 16.

Wells found work as a teacher to support the rest of her siblings while completing her education at night and on weekends. She later moved to Memphis, where she became a journalist and civil rights activist.

When she was 21, she had a heated confrontation with a white train conductor who forced her off a train car reserved for white women. She sued the railroad but lost on appeal. She subsequently urged African-Americans to avoid the train.

At age 25, Wells was the co-owner and editor of the Free Speech and Headlight, the local black newspaper she used for her campaigns. Her printing press in Memphis was, however, destroyed when she left town. This was followed by threats to kill her if she returned.

Wells had to stay away from the south but still toured the US and UK while speaking on public platforms to increase awareness about her campaigns.

Ida B.Wells

In 1895, she married Ferdinand L.Barnett, a lawyer and civil rights activist from Chicago. She published a pamphlet, the Red Record, the first statistical record of the history of American lynchings.

Wells later contested the Illinois State Senate but did not win. She worked for several years as a probation officer, before she passed away of kidney disease on March 25, 1931, at 68.

This article by Ismail Akwei was first published on