Minutes after I left home on 24th February 2023 for my morning walk, I saw two cocks fighting around a nearby pre-school compound. They reminded me of a similar cock-fight close to my home in Kampala, Uganda in 2009 early in the morning as I went for my walk.
For the world, 24th February 2022 will the remembered as the day Russia started its “special military operation” when it attacked Ukraine. 24th February 2023 therefore was the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. From what Russia expected to be a quick surgical strike against Ukraine lasting only a few weeks, the war has seen a first anniversary with tens of thousands of casualties on both sides, with no end in sight. The West (NATO), China, India and others including South Africa have all been sucked in, in varying degrees. The rest of the world has been affected badly as wheat, oil, machinery etc exports from Russia and Ukraine have dipped drastically because of the war.
For us in Ghana however, 24th February 1966 will always be remembered in our history as the day when Ghana’s confident and optimistic quick-march into the future as a beacon of Africa was halted with the overthrow of Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s First Republic.
When I came out of my gated-community in the suburb of Ntinda, Kampala early that morning of 24th February 2009 for my walk, I saw two cocks engaged in what I reckoned was a temporary duel. So, with the few stones I threw at them, I thought I had brought an end to their fight, and continued with my walk. On my return an hour later, I was surprised to see them still fighting and bleeding from their injuries. Once again, I separated them with stones I threw at them. As I drove out to my office around 8am, I saw them still fighting. This time, I chased them away. With my peacekeeping role over as I thought, I left for the office.
To my utter surprise when I returned home that evening, the two cocks were still fighting. This time, it was like two heavyweight boxers in the twelfth round of a world title fight. Both were exhausted and bleeding profusely, but continued to fight with the little energy left in them. It was a clear case of “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak!” The following morning, when I got to the matadorial arena they had converted the school football-field into, both cocks were lying next to each other, dead!
I asked myself, what would cocks whose ultimate destination is the soup-pot, be so angry about, as to fight bitterly to death?
Ghana -24th February 1966
In Term Two of our first year in secondary school on the morning of 24th February 1966, our teachers broke the news to us that, there had been a “coup d’état” in Ghana (Accra). Even though coups were not the common phenomenon they subsequently became in Africa, the bloody Nigerian coup of 15th January 1966 only a month earlier had taught us that, coups were violent and deadly.
The 1966 Nigerian coup d'état happened on 15 January 1966, when mutinous soldiers led by Maj Chukwuma Nzeogwu killed 22 people including the Prime Minister of Nigeria Alhaji Sir Tafawa Balewa, the Premier of the Northern Region the Sardauna of Sokoto Sir Ahmadu Bello, and the Prime Minister of the Western Region Chief Akintola. Many senior politicians, and senior Army officers and their wives as well as their guards were also killed. This coup provided the spark for the Biafran War in 1967.
Earlier, West Africa’s first coup took place in Togo. On 13th January 1963, President Sylvanus Olympio was overthrown by Sgt Eyadema who led a group of old Togolese soldiers demobilized by France after service in French Indo-China in World War 2. Eyadema subsequently made himself Togo’s President and ruled till 2005 when he died. He was succeeded by his son Fuare Gnassingbe.
On 24th February 1966, Ghana experienced her first coup. Led by then Col EK Kotoka, Commander 2 Infantry Brigade Group and his Brigade Major, Maj AA Afrifa, Police Commissioners JWK Harlley and AK Deku were the main local architects. Declassified documents showed the input of foreign powers in masterminding the overthrow of Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah for his Pan-Africanist stance. He was on his way to Hanoi, North Vietnam ostensibly to broker peace for the Vietnam War between the Vietnamese and the US.
The coupists are said to have cold-bloodedly murdered the Army Commander Maj Gen Charles Mohammed Barwah for not co-operating them. The nine soldiers guarding the General at his home in Burma Camp were also killed. Significantly, in a counter-coup on 17th April 1967, Gen Kotoka was also killed.
Stranded outside Ghana, President Nkrumah was granted asylum in Guinea by his friend President Sekou Toure. President Toure made Osagyefo co-President of Guinea until his death in Romania on 27th April 1972, aged 62.
The military government which replaced Osagyefo’s government, the National Liberation Council then appointed Lt Gen JA Ankrah (Rtd) as the Head-of-State.
Some dates like 13th January and 24th February appear to have had a few significant happenings in recent history. While Sgt Eyadema’s coup in Togo took place on 13th January 1963, Gen Acheampong’s coup in Ghana took place on 13th January 1972.
The first fight between two cocks I saw was in Uganda on 24th February 2009. So, when again, I saw two cocks fighting on 24th February 2023, I just could not help laughing at the coincidence!
Again, while Ghana’s first coup happened on 24th February 1966, the Russian invasion of Ukraine started on 24th February 2022.
An observation as discussed above is the fact that, perhaps with the exception of Gen Acheampong’s 13th January 1972 coup, all others have been bloody. Having accused the governments they overthrew as corrupt, Sgt Eyadema, Maj Nzeogwu, Col Kotoka all killed in their coups.
Perhaps one of the bloodiest has been the coup of 4th June 1979 in Ghana when Generals were executed by young revolutionaries after for allegedly, corruptly taking banks loans which they were servicing for three bedroom houses! Again, in a replay of the killing of the Army Commander Maj Gen Barwah on 24th February 1966, Maj Gen NA Odartey-Wellington, the Army Commander on 4th June 1979, was also killed as he fought the coupists.
On 30th June 1982, three High Court judges, one a lactating mother, and a retired Army Major were murdered and found semi-burnt at a military range thirty kilometers east of Accra after rain had doused the intended flames of incineration.
For the younger generation now who think violence solves problem, please be reminded that, some of your parents shouted “let the blood flow” loudest in 1979 and 1982. Ask them how clean they are and how well they sleep at night! But, has my generation not given the young ones cause for despair by our actions, inactions and disrespect?
Let us not add more to dates like 13th January, 24th February and 4th June! Perhaps, without them, Ghana would have been a developed country, given our human and material endowment! Let us treat each other with respect and not behave like the two Ugandan cocks.
Remember Shakespeare’s quote, “the evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones!”
Fellow Ghanaians, WAKE UP!
The writer is a former CEO, African Peace Support Trainers Association, Nairobi, Kenya and Council Chairman, Family Health University College, Accra