Title: My First Coup D’ Etat (Memories from the Lost Decades of Africa)
Author: John Dramani Mahama
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, UK
Publication Date: 2012
Reason for reading: For my African reads and from TBR. Had wanted to review this for the Ghanaian Literature Week but could not meet the deadline.
It is not everyday that the President of a country writes a book and a non-fiction at that while in power. Granted that when this book was written John Dramani Mahama, the author, was then the Vice-President of Ghana, it is still a novelty. But I would hesitate to conclude that therein lies the appeal. The appeal lies in the contents and freshness of his style.
John Mahama was about seven years old in 1966 when Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana was overthrown in a coup. His father who was then a Minister in the government was imprisoned for over a year. And life for the privileged Mahama changed in ways that never suggested that he would one day lead Ghana.
In poignantly engaging, warm and seamless narrative style, My First Coup d’Etat, a collection of personal reminiscences, takes the reader through a journey from the first coup d’etat, successive governments and coups, woven expertly with his childhood and coming of age, funny exploits in the secondary school, lively escapades with his numerous siblings, University days in Ghana, stint in Nigeria finding himself and later a postgraduate programme in Russia.
My First Coup D’Etat works on many levels; as history, cultural and political analysis. It also offers a look at the country that has long been considered Africa’s success story. In his review, the late Chinua Achebe says:
“With crisp, yet sweeping prose, John Mahama’s memoir, My first Coup D’Etat, provides insights into Ghana’s and by extension, Africa’s struggle to weather its historical burden and engage with a world much removed from her dilemma. Without sentimentality or condescension, he exposes homegrown African pathologies and helps us understand several contradictions of our post-colonial condition. His is a much welcome work of immense relevance to African studies and deserves serious critical attention.”
And yet for me, the relevance in the context above is seen in the author’s intellectual ability to separate partisan politics from the pages of the book. Having been born around the first coup, I lived through the periods and events described, though I was too young to remember a few. So the events described refreshed my memory in more ways than one. Reading My First Coup D’Etat has also made me to gain a better understanding of the man John Mahama and not the politician. (is that possible?)
What I gather though is that in his narrative, it seems as if the author is at pains to downplay the relevance of his privileged background to whom he is today. That his father E. A. Mahama had a huge influence in his life is without doubt. Did that influence unconsciously lead to his position today? I look forward to reading his second book!
My First Coup D’Etat is highly recommended for those who like non-fiction and interested in knowing about Ghana.
Been meaning to read this for the longest! I expect that his privileged background had an enormous impact on who he is today. And I would rather he not distance himself. Perhaps he could have interrogated privilege a bit. Yeah right, who does that? But a key question: can see the man in the politician who rules Ghana now?
Thanks for the review!
You are welcome, Kinna. Hmm,but you’ve really asked a question oo Kinna. I get disheartened day in and day out just following all that! Just look at this GYEEDA business! It’s sad, really and so sickening!!
Hurry up and read this book; I should love to read your thoughts!
This sounds very interesting. I must add it to my list. Good review – thanks!
You are so welcome, Naomi. I’m sure you would love it; the historical aspect will tell you so much about Ghana and Africa. Glad you stopped by. 🙂
Jean @ Howling Frog said:
That sounds fascinating. I’ll be putting it on my wish list. Thanks!
You are welcome, Jean. I should be glad to read your thoughts on it sometime 🙂
Nana Prah said:
Great review, Celestine. It’s great that you could connect with the book.
Well I do love non-fiction, Nana. And it is a fine book!
Mary Okeke said:
Afua, I love reading your reviews. Wish you’ll review often. I have added this one to my TBR list. Thanks.
Oh Mary my reading has become rusty that is why the reviews are less; but I shall try and rectify that soon! 🙂
I agree with Naomi sounds very interesting.
Thank you Kim 🙂
Adding this to my list. Great review, Celestine.
Thanks Heather. 🙂 Will love to read your thoughts!
My First Coup D’ Etat By John Dramani Mahama, is a fantastic read if one looks at it within the context of the political-historical development of Ghana. I read this book in less than three days. I guess, just like any other Ghanaian interested in learning something about a Ghanaian public figure, I was curious to know who JDM is. Thus for me, a book authored by him would produce nothing less than an insight into the man, his political ideology and his philosophy as a leader. Unfortunately, My First Coup D’ Etat, falls short in that regard. The expose tells us nothing about JDM, rather it provides interesting accounts of his family (mainly his father) and very little about himself (at a point, I thought the title of the book should be changed to ‘Walking in my father’s shadows’). Do not get me wrong, his family; especially his father had a huge influence on his childhood, upbringing and growing up. The question really is how did his father’s huge presence in his life influence who he is today? How did the events of his time, experiencing his first coup d’état in Ghana, vicissitude of life shape his thoughts and vision for Ghana? Unfortunately, I am left wondering who JDM is after reading the book!
Yolanda, so good to see you on my blog. You can’t begin to know how tickled I am. 🙂
Agreed that JDM’s father had a huge influence on his life, but reading the book it looks like he is at pains to hide that or is not willing to credit his going into politics to his father. Then again, JDM says little about his involvement with the NDC. Like I said in the review, he did a good job separating politics from the narrative, at least NDC politics.
For me, reading his book, I see a humane person, gentle in his approach yet smooth in his dealings. Does this reflect in his brand of politics a a leader? Maybe and maybe not. Looking at the corruption coming out and the fluctuating economy, only posterity will judge that.
Thanks a million for coming by dear friend! I miss you so 🙂
Seyi sandra said:
Would add it to my ‘to-read’ list. Sounds interesting!
It is a fun read as well, Sandra, written with some touch of gentleness that is so visible in the writer! :-).
i enjoyed your review, and now you will know…i did not know who he was or that he is the president of Ghana! so sad, my poor state of mind, but just reading your reflections and some of the comments, it sounds like the author has set it up nicely for a followup – hopefully on himself. thanks for the history lesson, Celestine.
Sun, you can get the best history lesson when you read the book. It is full of information on farming systems of Ghana as well. Thanks dear friend,as always 🙂
Great review. Historically, I know nothing about Ghana. We Americans take things for granted and forget that in these winds you poetically describe of Africa, had come many changes.
Yes, most if not all African countries have come along way and are still struggling based on the whims of the western economic powers. But we also have to take some of the blame you know.