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.