Speaking the truth to power

 I do not like to speak about disputes I’ve had with pow­erful people, because – they are usually not in a position to answer back!

But I was recently asked at a webnar held by the Graphic Media Group of my experiences in this regard, and as I am committed to telling the truth, as I know it, on any subject I know anything about. At the webnar, the questioner elicited from me, the fact that when I became the editor of the Daily Graphicin 1970, the chairman of my board of directors was the then director of the Special branch! Imagine an outspoken journalist working under the direct authority of the boss of the Secret Police! That I lasted in the job for almost a year was a minor miracle. But as historians of Ghanaian journalism will note, I got the boot after about eight months.

When i got to the graphic, I was well prepared for expecting displea­sure from powerful people. My first baptism of fire occurred whilst I was working as a Sub-Editor in the news section of the Ghana Broad­casting Corporation.

I was only 23 years old. I was enthused over the African policy of the President of Ghana, Dr Kwame Nkrumah. He had brought to Ghana, only a few months earlier, people I had been reading about in the copy of foreign news agencies – Patrick Lumumba of the Congo; Tom Mboya of Kenya; Kenneth Kaunda of “Northern Rhodesia”; Joshua Nkomo of “Southern Rho­desia” and so on.

He had started off his Pan-Afri­can project by announcing a union between Ghana, Guinea and Mali. This involved making financial sacrifices of which some of his fellow countrymen did not approve. He was volubly opposing French nuclear tests in the Sahara. Idealistic youth as I was, I identified with the guy 110 percent!

Then the Congo became inde­pendent on 30 June 1960. Almost immediately, a stupid, insensitive remark by General Emile Janssens, the Belgian commander of the Congolese army (Force Publique) that “the situation after indepen­dence was the same as before independence” (as far as Congolese members of the Force Publique were concerned) sparked a revolt within the Force. They looted shops, vandalised Belgian homes and raped Belgian women.

The Congo was on fire. Had Janssens being an agent provoca­teur? Yes!

For the Belgian Government, as if deliberately waiting for such a breakdown of law and order, flew thousands of well-armed Belgian paratroopers into the Congo “to restore order”. President Kwame Nkrumah and other African leaders realised that the Belgians were taking advantage of the situation to reimpose colonialism on the Congo.

Ghana sent in troops through the United Nations. So did Tunisia and other African countries. Ghana’s diplomatic mission in Leopoldville was then under Mr N A Welbeck, who had been a first-class pro­paganda Secretary of Nkrumah’s Convention People’s Party but was a hopeless administrator, and a bit of a dipsomaniac on top.

Now, the Congo was being ruled by a coalition government formed by Lumumba (Prime Minister) and Joseph Kasavubu (President). It had been a shotgun marriage, with the Belgians trying to rule the Congo through Kasavabu (with the assistance of a CIA agent in the Congolese army called Col. Joseph Mobutu!) whilst President Nkrumah and the Africans were solidly behind Lumumba.

So, Leopoldville (now Kinshasa) was a diplomatic minefield. But Welbeck, instead of adopting a low profile, was opening his mouth wide and plying Congolese soldiers and political wannabes with drink and money.

The Belgians used his indis­cretions to persuade Kasavubu to declare Welbeck persona non grata! Kasavubu did so, over Leopoldville Radio, without first telling Lumumba!

I remember it was 14 No­vember 1960 – a quiet Sunday afternoon in our newsroom in Accra. I was editor on duty. A woman from our section that monitored foreign radio sta­tions, burst into the newsroom, very excited.

She handed me a bit of paper. On it was the verbatim report of a statement made over Radio Leopoldville, “expelling” the Ghana Charge D’affaires, Mr N.A.Welbeck, from the Congo!

Now, this was very grave news. As Ghana had, not only a contingent of troops in the Congo numbering just under 2,500, but also, policemen and artisans of all types, if news reached the Gha­naian public that the Congo was expelling our Charge D’affaires, panic would break out..

I had a brain-wave and called – President Kwame Nkrumah’s of­fice! I told the guy who answered the phone that I was sending a driver from GBC to deliver some important news to the President.

About an hour afterwards, I had a telephone call from the GBC receptionist. A “Mr Impraim” from Flagstaff House was waiting downstairs for me!

Mr Impraim turned out to be an elderly gentleman.

“Mr Cameron Duodu?” he asked.

“Yes sir.”

I was quite uneasy as I was driven to Flagstaff House, for it had a very bad reputation!

Whilst waiting, I noticed that there was a small “trap-door” at the top of the wooden panel that separated where I sat from the President’s office. I caught Kwame Nkrumah secretly staring at me! It was eerie!

I was soon called in. The President asked me: “Why did you send this piece of news here, to me?”

I said: “Sir, we have a monitoring service that has a direct link to Radio Leopoldville. So we get the same news from Leopoldville as the Con­golese people do. It occurred to me that today being a Sunday, you might not receive the news until it was too late…..”

Dr Nkrumah then pulled out a letter from his desk and showed it to his man at GBC, Kodwo Addison (who had joined us). He said, “This is Welbeck’s last letter to me. He said everything was all right.!”

After talking to Addison for a bit in Nzema, President Nkrumah said to me: “Don’t send such news here again. This is not a news agency!”

I said, “Sorry, sir! I just thought you might want to know of this development as soon as possible”. He waved me aside and I drove to Broadcasting House with Kodwo Addison.

Inside, I was relieved but boiling. His office was not a “news agency”? That was all he could say after the initiative I’d taken?

A few days after the incident, it was widely reported that Welbeck had been forcefully ejected from the embassy in Leopoldville, by Congo­lese troops! He had been forced to hide in a deep freezer for dear life, the reports said!

My encounter with the man who succeeded Nkrumah as Ghana’s head of state, Lieutenant-General Joseph Ankrah, was no less fraught. In April 1967, General Emmanuel Kotoka, who had led the coup that overthrew President Nkrumah on 24 February 1966, had been killed in an abortive coup led by a Lieutenant S. B. Arthur.

Ankrah held an international press conference when things had settled down.

I asked him the one question on everyone’s mind: would another sol­dier be nominated to take Kotoka’s place?

Ankrah exploded: “You are the people spreading rumours! When we made the coup, did we say that we would replace a soldier with a soldier if one got killed?”

This caused some merriment, for Ankrah had had no hand in the execution of the 1966 coup! Power often leads people to stop thinking!

By Cameron Duodu

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