Correction: An earlier version of this review incorrectly refered to the author, John Dramani Mahama, as the vice president of Ghana. He became the country’s president soon after the book was published. This version has been corrected.
MY FIRST COUP D’ETAT
And Other True Stories From the Lost Decades of Africa
By John Dramani Mahama Bloomsbury. 318 pp. $25
Ghana was the first African nation to break free from European colonialism. Formerly known as the Gold Coast, it won its freedom from Great Britain in 1957, inspiring a wave of independence across the African continent that promised an end to centuries of oppression and persecution. That promise, of course, was never kept: In the mid-1960s, the continent descended into political unrest and, by the 1970s, into abject poverty. Ghana was the harbinger of change, sinking into Africa’s “lost decades” after the 1966 coup d’etat that deposed its first president, Kwame Nkrumah.
Understandably, those “lost decades,” from the 1970s to the early ’90s, are seldom discussed, a time that many would rather leave forgotten. Not John Dramani Mahama, now Ghana’s president. In “My First Coup d’Etat,” a graceful memoir and striking literary debut (especially for a politician), he tells three coming-of-age stories: Africa’s in the wake of independence, Ghana’s after the coup and, finally, his own. Mahama was just 7 years old in 1966, a student at an elite boarding school. “When I look back on my life,” he writes, “it’s clear to me that this moment marked the awakening of my consciousness. It changed my life and influenced all the moments that followed.” In a collection of remarkable vignettes that blend a historian’s sensibility with a novelist’s prose, Mahama captures the evolution of that consciousness and, with it, glimpses of a nation’s recovered soul.