The Martyrs of our independence – 28th February 1948

The Martyrs of our independence – 28th February 1948

Lift high the flag of Ghana,
The gay star shining in the sky,
Bright with the souls of our fathers,
Beneath whose shade we’ll live and die!
Red for the blood of the heroes in the fight,
Green for the precious¹ farms of our birth-right,
And linked with these the shining golden band
That marks the richness of our Fatherland.

The words of our first National Anthem, abandoned after 1966 explains that the red in the flag signifies the blood that was shed by heroes in the fight for our independence.  But who are these heroes adn how have we honoured them.  Have we so soon forgotten Sgt Adjetey, Lance Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey, who unlike our politicians who led us to independence paid with their lives so that we should be free?

The 28th February Road that leads to Christiansborg Castle at Osu, was the seat of government in 1948 as it is now.  The actions of that day triggered a series of events that led to our independence and we should learn to honour the heroes and others who played a significant role in those events.

The non violent march by ex-service men was meant to present a petition to the government about the decision not to pay them the normal gratuity that had been paid to their British colleagues who served with them in the previous world wars.  This non payment had left some of them destitute and others had to sell their guns before they could eat.  These marchers felt that the British government had not treated them fairly and were protesting about the non recognition.

The Police Chief panicked when he say the protesters at the cross roads to the castle and without warning gave the order for live ammunition to be used on the protesters.  Three men fell that day: Sergeant Adjetey, Lance Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey-Lamptey were shot dead.

The killings coincided with another event, the boycott by Mr Theodore Taylor, best known as Nii Kwabena Bonney, Osu Alata Mantse, an African merchant prince of shops belonging to the Association of West African Merchants; AWAM, made up of British shop owners, whose price fixing cartel disadvantaged African merchants.

The news of the slaughter and the confusion after the events led the youth to loot the AWAM shops on a massive scale.  These were the events that led to a declaration of martial law, the jailing of the Big Six and the setting up of the Watson Commission that delivered a constitution for our independence.

But whilst we continue to honour and celebrate the Big Six for their role in our independence we have not accorded the same status to those who actually shed their lives as heroes of our independence.  Where is the monument to their memory?

Very few know the graves of these heroes, though one of my elder friends, Numo Nortse Amartey has pictures of how he has rehabilitated the grave of Sgt Adjetey and reminds me of the yearly pilgrimage he pays to lay a wreath at his grave.

Is it not ironic that these people who were protesting about the neglect of the colonial government should continue to be neglected by the successive governments though their blood paid for our independence?

On this anniversary of their passing, i call on the government of Ghana to honour Sgt Adjetey, Lance Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey with a fitting monument and celebration of the day on which they laid their lives in the service of our independence.

I also call on the government to rename the International Airport in honour of Nii Kwabena Bonney.

Let us learn to honour all our heroes especially those who fought for our independence

Ade Sawyerr is partner in Equinox Consulting, a management consultancy that provides consultancy, training and research that focuses on formulating strategies for black and ethnic minority, disadvantaged and socially excluded communities. He also comments on social, political and development issues. He can be contacted by email on or his blog at

4 thoughts on “The Martyrs of our independence – 28th February 1948

  1. Ade,

    All self-respecting Ghanaians ought to be aware of the supreme sacrifice made by Sgt. Adjetey and his fellow patriots Attipoe and Lamptey, towards the nation’s escape from the clutches of formal imperialist servitude. The least we can do as a people, is to erect a fitting monument to their memory and it is most decent of you to advocate this as forcefully as you do in your piece. Until we learn to fully honour those who really helped us on our journey out of bondage towards true nationhood, we will continue to fall prey to the false prophets who keep coming out of the woodworks, spouting slick slogans which turn out to be just as meaningless to our national aspirations, as they have been to the vast majority of people in the west,fro whence the con emanates. Speaking of monuments, I still haven’t figured out why it is that, to this day, Ghanaians continue to tolerate the statue of that traitor, Kotoka, together with his name, on the pre-eminent gateway to our country! Would it not send a better signal to ensuing generations of Ghanaians to have the airport named after Sgt Adjetey and his co-victims, instead of the one that says, as long as you usurp power successfully, you will be held in high esteem? What are your thoughts on this ? Perhaps we can start a campaign of some sort!

    1. i have been trying to grapple this name change for the airport. there are those who claim that it was not a reward to Kotoka to name the airport after him, but that was where he fell when he was killed in the Guitar Boy counter coup attempt and as a fallen soldier this was a fitting tribute. What we are searching for is the process for renaming the airport before a proper campaign to change the name can be started. A friend has promised to visit the library at the University of Exeter to check this out.
      My views on coups remain constant, i do not believe in them. fortunately a lot more people are coming round to accept that coups are an illegality.
      i will find the proceedings of the challenge made by the NPP some years back on the celebration of 31st December and send it to you be email. i am sure that you will find the judgement interesting.

  2. This is the first I have heard of this particular account of the rationale behind naming the airport after Kotoka. I have to say you really are an incredibly fecund wellspring of the most interesting pieces of information about our country. We must find a viable way of designating you a national resource. I trust you have catalogued and preserved all your papers for I think they will make an invaluable contribution to any future accounting of where we have come from, and hopefully, where we need to go.

    Like you, I will have no truck with any coup. Not only are they unlawful, but they never deliver what they promise and invariably, the country ends up in a far worse state than it was before the coup. It is a mark of the complete failure of imagination, that the ’66 coup makers should suggest that because one of their number fell at the airport, that entitled them to saddle the country with the fact of his treachery for all time. Yet they accuse Nkrumah of self-aggrandisement!

    Nothing I have read from the past 40+ years since that miserable coup, has served to disuade me of the utter vacuosness of the Danquah/Busia conspiracy that has dogged the country from its early nascence to the present. I have read some of the material you have written in the past about the continued efforts to denigrate Nkrumah’s name and legacy and kudos to you. What these people have yet to realise is that, Nkrumah’s reputation stands on its own merit. That is why, notwithstanding decades of concerted propaganda campaign from the CIA, the Brits, most western interests and of course, themselves, they haven’t succeeded in their objective of removing the Nkrumah name from history. If anything, the man’s reputation has grown even stronger especially amongst the most thoughtful of the succeeding generations.

    I would like to write a complementary piece to your article in the near future, settiing out my thoughts as to why Nkrumah, for all his faults, was not only the best thing that could have happened to Ghana through the struggle to escape colonial bondage and early nationhood, but that he was a far greater intellect than either Danquah or Busia. That latter point will of course rub the Danquah/Busia lot the wrong way, for one of the fallacies they have always peddled is that, the towering intellects of their ‘heroes’, would have delivered us into nirvana had Nkrumah not ‘usurped’ the position that had been pre-ordained for them. Or something to that effect. Never mind that neither of them could win a fair election, not even with the assistance of the British colonial government. I don’t know about you but I have trawled through the literature and haven’t yet found a meaningful publication by either of them. Unless you want to count some obscure tract about the laws of the ‘Abuakwa nation.’

    If any one is looking for an insight into the intellectual heft of Nkrumah, let them read a book he wrote nearly 50 years ago, ‘Neo-colonialism, the Last Stage of Imperiliasm’. I would just ask them to ignore his overuse of certain words like, ‘socialism’ and ‘monopolist’ – not because they weren’t relevant, but because they sometimes tended to detract from the absolutely fascinating detail of his exposure of our exploitation. What comes across is that this was a man with not just exceptional intellectaul gifts, but that the extent of his application, his attention to detail, his grasp of the facts and their implication, projected to the foreseeable future, was just phenomenal. And still yet, he managed to write as well as he did, while presiding over the complexities of a newborn nation, including countless attempts on his life by those who just could not play fair! If ever I was asked to nominate an African polymath, I assure you, it would not be the physician writer Franz Fannon, nor the noble poet Sedor Senghor, worthy candidates both, it would be the man who helped us navigate away from the curse of tribalism which bedevils the rest of Africa! Kwame Nkrumah!! To think that was the least he did for us. Keep up the good work.

    In my quest to decipher the truth behind the claim that the 24th February 1966 Nkrumah over throw was aided by CIA, Brits and the French, I took time to review cases and theories and to my dismay found these intriguing revelations.
    Allegations of American involvement in the putsche arose almost immediately because of the well-known hostility of the U.S. to Nkrumah’s socialist orientation and pan-African activism.
    Nkrumah, himself, implicated the U.S. in his overthrow, and warned other African nations about what he saw as an emerging pattern.
    “An all-out offensive is being waged against the progressive, independent states,” he wrote in Dark Days in Ghana, his 1969 account of the Ghana coup. “All that has been needed was a small force of disciplined men to seize the key points of the capital city and to arrest the existing political leadership.”
    “It has been one of the tasks of the C.I.A. and other similar organisations,” he noted, “to discover these potential quislings and traitors in our midst, and to encourage them, by bribery and the promise of political power, to destroy the constitutional government of their countries.”
    A Spook’s Story
    While charges of U.S. involvement are not new, support for them was lacking until 1978, when anecdotal evidence was provided from an unlikely source—a former CIA case officer, John Stockwell, who reported first-hand testimony in his memoir, In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story.
    “The inside story came to me,” Stockwell wrote, “from an egotistical friend, who had been chief of the [CIA] station in Accra [Ghana] at the time.” (Stockwell was stationed one country away in the Ivory Coast.)
    Subsequent investigations by The New York Times and Covert Action Information Bulletin identified the station chief as Howard T. Banes, who operated undercover as a political officer in the U.S. Embassy.
    This is how the ouster of Nkrumah was handled as Stockwell related. The Accra station was encouraged by headquarters to maintain contact with dissidents of the Ghanaian army for the purpose of gathering intelligence on their activities. It was given a generous budget, and maintained intimate contact with the plotters as a coup was hatched. So close was the station’s involvement that it was able to coordinate the recovery of some classified Soviet military equipment by the United States as the coup took place.
    According to Stockwell, Banes’ sense of initiative knew no bounds. The station even proposed to headquarters through back channels that a squad be on hand at the moment of the coup to storm the [Communist] Chinese embassy, kill everyone inside, steal their secret records, and blow up the building to cover the facts.
    Though the proposal was quashed, inside the CIA headquarters the Accra station was given full, if unofficial credit for the eventual coup, in which eight Soviet advisors were killed. None of this was adequately reflected in the agency’s records, Stockwell wrote.
    Confirmation and Revelation
    While the newly-released documents, written by a National Security Council staffer and unnamed CIA officers, confirm the essential outlines set forth by Nkrumah and Stockwell, they also provide additional, and chilling, details about what the U.S. government knew about the plot, when, and what it was prepared to do and did do to assist it.
    On March 11, 1965, almost a year before the coup, William P. Mahoney, the U.S. ambassador to Ghana, participated in a candid discussion in Washington, D.C., with CIA Director John A. McCone and the deputy chief of the CIA’s Africa division, whose name has been withheld.
    Significantly, the Africa division was part of the CIA’s directorate of plans, or dirty tricks component, through which the government pursued its covert policies.
    According to the record of their meeting (Document 251), topic one was the “Coup d’etat Plot, Ghana.” While Mahoney was satisfied that popular opinion was running strongly against Nkrumah and the economy of the country was in a precarious state, he was not convinced that the coup d’etat, now being planned by Acting Police Commissioner Harlley and Generals Otu and Ankrah, would necessarily take place.
    Nevertheless, he confidently—and accurately, as it turned out—predicted that one way or another Nkrumah would be out within a year. Revealing the depth of embassy knowledge of the plot, Mahoney referred to a recent report which mentioned that the top coup conspirators were scheduled to meet on 10 March at which time they would determine the timing of the coup.
    However, he warned, because of a tendency to procrastinate, any specific date they set should be accepted with reservations. In a reversal of what some would assume were the traditional roles of an ambassador and the CIA director, McCone asked Mahoney who would most likely succeed Nkrumah in the event of a coup.
    Mahoney again correctly forecast the future: Ambassador Mahoney stated that initially, at least, a military junta would take over.
    Making it Happen
    But Mahoney was not a prophet. Rather, he represented the commitment of the U.S. government, in coordination with other Western governments, to bring about Nkrumah’s downfall.
    Firstly, Mahoney recommended denying Ghana’s forthcoming aid request in the interests of further weakening Nkrumah. He felt that there was little chance that either the Chinese Communists or the Soviets would in adequate measure come to Nkrumah’s financial rescue and the British would continue to adopt a hard nose attitude toward providing further assistance to Ghana.
    At the same time, it appears that Mahoney encouraged Nkrumah in the mistaken belief that both the U.S. and the U.K. would come to his financial rescue and proposed maintaining current U.S. aid levels and programs because they will endure and be remembered long after Nkrumah goes.
    Secondly, Mahoney seems to have assumed the responsibility of increasing the pressure on Nkrumah and exploiting the probable results. This can be seen in his 50-minute meeting with Nkrumah three weeks later.
    According to Mahoney’s account of their April 2 discussion (Document 252), “at one point Nkrumah, who had been holding face in hands, looked up and I saw he was crying. With difficulty he said I could not understand the ordeal he had been through during last month. Recalling that there had been seven attempts on his life.”
    Mahoney did not attempt to discourage Nkrumah’s fears, nor did he characterize them as unfounded in his report to his superiors.
    “While Nkrumah apparently continues to have personal affection for me,” he noted, “he seems as convinced as ever that the US is out to get him. From what he said about assassination attempts in March, it appears he still suspects US involvement.”
    Of course, the U.S. was out to get him. Moreover, Nkrumah was keenly aware of a recent African precedent that made the notion of a U.S.-organized or sanctioned assassination plot plausible—namely, the fate of the Congo and its first prime minister, his friend Patrice Lumumba.
    Nkrumah believed that the destabilization of the Congolese government in 1960 and Lumumba’s assassination in 1961 were the work of the “Invisible Government of the U.S.,” as he wrote in Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism, later in 1965.
    When Lumumba’s murder was announced, Nkrumah told students at the inauguration of an ideological institute that bore his name that this brutal murder should teach them the diabolical depths of degradation to which these twin-monsters of imperialism and colonialism can descend.
    In his conclusion, Mahoney observed: “Nkrumah gave me the impression of being a badly frightened man. His emotional resources seem be running out. As pressures increase, we may expect more hysterical outbursts, many directed against US.”
    It was not necessary to add that he was helping to apply the pressure, nor that any hysterical outbursts by Nkrumah played into the West’s projection of him as an unstable dictator, thus justifying his removal.

    Smoking Gun
    On May 27, 1965, Robert W. Komer, a National Security Council staffer, briefed his boss, McGeorge Bundy, President Johnson’s special assistant for national security affairs, on the anti-Nkrumah campaign (Document 253).
    Komer, who first joined the White House as a member of President Kennedy’s NSC staff, had worked as a CIA analyst for 15 years. In 1967, Johnson tapped him to head his hearts-and-minds pacification program in Vietnam.
    Komer’s report establishes that the effort was not only interagency, sanctioned by the White House and supervised by the State Department and CIA, but also intergovernmental, being supported by America’s Western allies.
    “FYI,” he advised, “we may have a pro-Western coup in Ghana soon. Certain key military and police figures have been planning one for some time, and Ghana’s deteriorating economic condition may provide the spark.”
    “The plotters are keeping us briefed,” he noted, “and the State Department thinks we’re more on the inside than the British. While we’re not directly involved (I’m told), we and other Western countries (including France) have been helping to set up the situation by ignoring Nkrumah’s pleas for economic aid. All in all, it looks good.”
    Komer’s reference to not being told if the U.S. was directly involved in the coup plot is revealing and quite likely a wry nod to his CIA past.
    Among the most deeply ingrained aspects of intelligence tradecraft and culture is plausible deniability, the habit of mind and practice designed to insulate the U.S., and particularly the president, from responsibility for particularly sensitive covert operations.
    Komer would have known that orders such as the overthrow of Nkrumah would have been communicated in a deliberately vague, opaque, allusive, and indirect fashion, as Thomas Powers noted in The Man Who Kept the Secrets: Richard Helms and the CIA.
    It would be unreasonable to argue that the U.S. was not directly involved when it created or exacerbated the conditions that favored a coup, and did so for the express purpose of bringing one about.
    Truth and Consequences
    As it turned out, the coup did not occur for another nine months. After it did, Komer, now acting special assistant for national security affairs, wrote a congratulatory assessment to the President on March 12, 1966 (Document 260). His assessment of Nkrumah and his successors was telling.
    “The coup in Ghana,” he crowed, “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.”
    In this, Komer and Nkrumah were in agreement. “Where the more subtle methods of economic pressure and political subversion have failed to achieve the desired result,” Nkrumah wrote from exile in Guinea three years later, “there has been resort to violence in order to promote a change of regime and prepare the way for the establishment of a puppet government.”
    The west destroy the Country and left it in the hands of a person who can write good English as General Ankrah is reported to have said in a declassified letter to Lyndon Johnson, it reads “one cannot help but bow his head in shame. In fact 24 February is our national day of shame”. In the face of other declassified documents, it is apparent now that, that letter was written by CIA agent—Howard Banes in Ghana for General Ankrah to sign in order to insulate America against future consequences of the coup.
    Notwithstanding the concerted effort to lampoon, malign and denigrate Nkrumah, He remains Africa’s Man of the Century and this cheap propaganda has been rubbished by deep and rational thinkers to the thrush. My little search on African Spiritualism has proven that Kwame Nkrumah’s soul is not happy to be resting in Ghana. The fact that he never returned to Ghana after the news of his overthrow was communicated to him far away in Hanoi. He again became careful of human being and trust few people to the extent that when his cook died, he feared that someone would poison him, and began hoarding food in his room. He suspected that foreign agents were going through his mail, and lived in constant fear of abduction and assassination. In failing health, he flew to Bucharest, Romania, for medical treatment in August 1971. He died of skin cancer in April 1972 at the age of 62.
    Let’s revisit his work and we will be safe since they are in conformity with reality and modernity.
    He specifically addresses these issues and his politics in a 1967 essay entitled “African Socialism Revisited”: “We know that the traditional African society was founded on principles of egalitarianism. In its actual workings, however, it had various shortcomings. Its humanist impulse, nevertheless, is something that continues to urge us towards our all-African socialist reconstruction. We postulate each man to be an end in himself, not merely a means; and we accept the necessity of guaranteeing each man equal opportunities for his development. The implications of this for socio-political practice have to be worked out scientifically, and the necessary social and economic policies pursued with resolution. Any meaningful humanism must begin from egalitarianism and must lead to objectively chosen policies for safeguarding and sustaining egalitarianism. Hence, socialism. Hence, also, scientific socialism”.

    • Myself
    • Pau Lee, Best Efforts, Inc.
    • Stockwell, John (June 1984 (Reprint)). In Search of Enemies: A CIA Story. W W Norton & Co Inc. ISBN 0-393-00926-2.
    • Zimmerman, Jonathan (2008-10-23). “The ghost of Kwame Nkrumah”. International Herald Tribune. Retrieved 2008-10-23.
    • Voice From Conakry (1967) ISBN 90-17-87027-3
    • Dark Days in Ghana (1968) ISBN 0-7178-0046-6

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