When I first saw the book on our bookshelf at home, honestly, nothing moved me to pick it up and read. I had read “Dark Days in Ghana” by Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah and the dark picture I got about coup d’états was too much for me to handle. So another book on a coup d’état was a no go area for me.Little did I know I was missing out on what rather turned out to be an adventure in the days of yore intertwined with nuggets of wisdom and valuable lessons not to miss.
My husband recommended that I read the book after he had finished reading. That was when I remembered I had seen this book on the shelf before. We have a goal of reading at least fifty books this year so immediately he recommended, I booked a date with the author.
I started reading this 318-page book on Thursday night and finished on Saturday morning. I could have finished on Friday night but for the “disturbance” from my roommate. Even before I finished reading, I was convinced this was my best book yet.
“My First Coup D’état”, written by the former President of the Republic of Ghana, His Excellency John Dramani Mahama, tells of his childhood days and his experience with the first coup d’état which happened in Ghana on 24th February, 1966. The book also journeys the reader through the writer’s teenage years, his family life, his first love, his youthful days andlife experiences that plays with the reader’s emotions but leaves them with lessons and wisdom that are worth being bound around one’s neck and reflected upon, day and night.
The cover page of the book has the photograph of little Dramani Mahama (who later got the name John from his brothers). He dedicates the book to the memory of his father which is not surprising because of the immense role his father played in his life. His father was his pillar. His father knew his son held a lot of promise hence the decisions he made concerning little Dramani’s education.
He quotes a saying by Ben Okri, a Nigerian poet and novelist, on a fresh page which reads to illustrate the twists and turns his education and career took:
“We plan our lives according to a dream that came to us in our childhood, and we find that life alters our plans. And yes, at the end, from a rare height, we also see that our dream was our fate. It’s just that providence had other ideas as to how we would get there. Destiny plans a different route, or turns the dream around, as if it were a riddle, and fulfils the dream in ways we couldn’t have expected.”
This is a perfect description of the Ex-president’s life. One gets from the book that he always wanted to be a great person. From being able to stand alone and face Ezra the bully back in the boarding school,Achimota Primary School, to wanting to become a game warden because of their valiant personalities, there is no shadow of doubt that John Dramani Mahama had in him a personality that would later spur him onto greatness even if the road to his destiny was not clearly defined.
The seventeen-chapter book begins with an introduction that compares the African then to Africa today. It talks about the “lost decades” of Africa: a description that speaks to the dismal post-independence performance of African countries during the 1970s and 1980s into the early parts of the 1990s.
The writer describes that moment as a time when Africa experienced what he calls a “brain drain”, that is, a mass exodus that found a great deal of artists, professionals, intellectuals, and politicians living abroad in either a forced or a self-imposed exile. Because of this what happened in those times in Ghana are not well-documented.
The writer, however, is among the few who stayed in Ghana during the “lost decades” to tell the story later in this book: the story of the privileged moments of being a minister of state’s son, the story of the pain and unspoken trauma of having a father in detention for over a year, the rollercoaster of being chauffeured in the latest cars, and flying to Accra often in the 1960s, to being driven in the bucket of a cargo truck loaded with jute sacks, President Mahama tells them all.
The first chapter also represents the title of the book, “My First Coup D’état.” The writer was only seven years old when this happened on the 24th day of February,1966. He was a student of Achimota primary school, then an elite boarding school of Accra.
He tells the sad story of how he waited for his father to pick him up on the day school vacated but he never showed up. Little Dramani had to sleep at school all by himself as a child. Unbeknownst to him, his father had been detained as a prisoner of politics the day after the coup. The heart wrenching part of the story is where his school guardian takes him to his father’s residence only to be met by a heavy presence of soldiers and policemen at his father’s residence. One of the soldiers tells the school guardian that Mr. E.A. Mahama, the writer’s father, no longer lives in that house.
One can imagine the confusion that will set in the mind of a seven-year old. He, however, tells his readers of how he did not cry that day, but later couldn’t hold back his tears in the days, weeks and months to come. Alas, a child can never battle tears no matter how hard he fights. They have to fall eventually.
The writer has many interesting stories he shares in his book. The stories that can make you laugh so hard that you keep going back to read those pages. A unique thing however in his writing is that as he makes you laugh, he places a seed of wisdom in your heart that will grow to help your situation if you nurture it well.
It also mocks subtly how religion takes advantage of the gullibility of its followers. He tells of his visits to Busunu, his maternal grandparents’ village, with his mother and brother, Alfred. The people of Busunu had a belief that once in a year on a particular night, their gods came down from their sacred places of abode to visit the village folks.
As tradition demanded, the indigenes were to kill their best goat or fowl and then use it to make a lavish meal for the gods. Being some kind gods, they allowed the people in the household to eat some of the food they prepared for the gods, but they had to leave the juiciest and the most desirable parts of the animal for the gods.
The people had to leave these food offerings outside their compounds and were supposed to remain indoors all night. The belief was that the gods wielded whips and would cane anybody who was caught outside.
On the nights the gods came, you could hear them walking through the streets and singing about how the spirits have whipped people who defied the orders of the land as they waved their whips.
Curious as he and his brother are, they decide on one of these occasions to be recalcitrant. They decide not to sleep but rather witness the gods’ procession through their grandmother’s window. Both attempting to see clearly, Dramani pushes his brother Alfred into a piece of furniture and that makes a loud sound. This draws the gods to their window to find out the source of that sound.
The two brothers crawl quietly into their bed and pull the covers over their heads. Then the gods at the window begin to talk to each other about the noise. The author and his brother recognise their uncle’s voice. He must be one of the gods. They confirm their suspicion when they visit their uncle the next day to find him and other elders sitting around and feasting on foods from bowls he and his brothers saw at people’s doorsteps the evening before.
The brothers finally conclude that this supposed festival is actually a conspiracy by the elders to loot animals and food from the villagers one day every year. From this incident, the writer learns about how religion and spirituality had power over people and how others could easily use that to encourage trust and devotion or to control and engender fear.
President John Dramani Mahama is known for his “tika taka gangale” story, which he told at the 2012 NDC campaign launch at MantseAgbona to illustrate the need for unity in the party. One discovers from his book that the story was first told to him and his brothers by Salifu,the watchman in their father’s house in Tamale.
During their stay in Tamale, John falls in love for the first time. Let’s call it the teenage love affair. He falls in love at first sight with Alice, the girl next door. The love for Alice sparks up the writing skills in John. Alice’s younger brother Thomas, who is John’s friend and a brother to Alice plays the “betweener”.
John writes a letter to express his feelings, steals his stepmother’s perfume and douse the paper with the perfume, perhaps conveying a message of intense passion for her via the perfume. Moonstruck, John hopes and prays the whole night that he is not bounced by Alice.
Apparently also enamoured of John, Alice replies John’s letter telling him how much she also likes him. Afa! As Ghanaians would say. Soon, John abandons his friend Thomas, and is always seen with Alice in the garden on Alice’s compound chatting heartily. School reopens and they have to part for a while.
But “Romeo and Juliet” make a promise to each other to always keep in touch. They exchange letters whilst in school as a way of keeping the love burning.
As fate would have it, Alice’s father is transferred to another region for work. John the Romeo is filled with misery. Will the relationship work out between them?
The book, however, ends leaving readers disappointed. The death of E.A., Mahama and how his son ended up joining the party of the man who forced his father into exile in Cote d’Ivoire, Nigeria and later to the United Kingdom are not discussed. A reader who wants to know the transition from John Mahama’s return from the Soviet Union into politics is also disappointed.
The reader is not told how he met his current wife, Lordina, and also about his current family. He again does not tell us whether he and Alice crossed paths in their adult lives. As a woman at my age who still believes in Venice city of love and romanticism, I expected to read how John met Lordina and how she reminded him of what butterflies felt like.
It is indicated in his book that John Dramani is working on his second book but that is a cruel way of keeping the readers in suspense.
I can best describe His Excellency John Dramani Mahama as a raconteur who knows how get readers glued to his stories. As a historian, he has a rich style of telling the past in a professional yet exciting way that makes one yearn to read further to gain insight and understanding of issues.
I recommend this great book to students of politics, history and above all to the Ghanaian who would love to know about the untold stories of the past.
The writer, Rebecca Eduafo-Abraham, is a student at the Ghana School of Law. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.