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In 1958 in Accra, Ghana, the Hands Off Africa conference brought together the leading figures of African independence in a public show of political strength and purpose. Led by the charismatic Kwame Nkrumah, who had just won Ghana’s independence, his determined call for Pan-Africanism was heeded by young, idealistic leaders across the continent and by African Americans seeking civil rights at home. Yet, a moment that signified a new era of African freedom simultaneously marked a new era of foreign intervention and control.
In White Malice, Susan Williams unearths the covert operations pursued by the CIA from Ghana to the Congo to the UN in an effort to frustrate and deny Africa’s new generation of nationalist leaders. This dramatically upends the conventional belief that the African nations failed to establish effective, democratic states on their own accord. As the old European powers moved out, the US moved in.
Drawing on original research, recently declassified documents, and told through an engaging narrative, Williams introduces readers to idealistic African leaders and to the secret agents, ambassadors, and even presidents who deliberately worked against them, forever altering the future of a continent.
THE UNITED STATES OF AFRICA
Freedom at Midnight
THE HOURS OF THE DAY had been hot and charged with thunder. As darkness fell, the humid atmosphere in Accra felt explosive. Even so, the crowds had swelled along the coast, and the streets were heaving. Suddenly, the newly built Arch of Independence was floodlit against the blackness of the sea. The monument was inscribed with a short but powerful message: ‘Freedom and Justice. A.D. 1957’. It stood on the spot where three unarmed men had been shot dead nine years earlier, when a British police officer had ordered his men to fire at a peaceful deputation from the African Ex-Servicemen’s Union. Now, it marked the start of a new era. Fireworks soared into the sky above the arch.1
At the stroke of midnight, bells pealed loudly. Then the Union Jack flying above Parliament House was hauled down, and the new flag of Ghana was solemnly raised up, for the first time. As it reached the top of the pole, it fluttered slowly in the night air—red, gold and green, with the black lodestar of Africa at its centre. Cries of happiness rang out, and people danced and sang in jubilation. Over and over, people cheered and shouted out at the top of their voices: ‘Freedom! Ghana! Nkrumah!’
Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah was carried shoulder high to a dais in the Old Polo Ground, close to the roaring surf of the Atlantic Ocean. Under a flood of lights, Nkrumah’s open face and large, steady eyes looked out at the thousands in front of him. Forty-eight years old, he had spent much of his life working for this moment, as had so many others. He wore a cotton smock from the north of Ghana and a Gandhi-type prison cap, marked with the initials PG, standing for ‘prison graduate’. It was a badge of honour worn with pride by many Ghanaians, in remembrance of their unjust imprisonment by the British.
The noise of the crowd was deafening. Then Dr Nkrumah held out his arm to command attention, with solemn authority. He called for a minute’s silence to give thanks to God. Then he asked everyone to remove their hats, as the police band played the new national anthem, ‘Ghana Arise!’ Tears streamed down his face, and many in the crowds were sobbing. Unmistakably, on 6 March 1957, the people of Ghana were free. The British colony of the Gold Coast was no more, and Ghana had become the first Black-majority country to obtain independence from colonialism, blazing a trail for the African continent.
‘At long last’, proclaimed Nkrumah, ‘the battle has ended and Ghana, our beloved country, is free for ever’. Then, choked with emotion, he fell silent. It was an unforgettable moment for Cameron Duodu, a young cub reporter. ‘Just sixteen words—no more’, he wrote later. ‘But no-one who heard them would ever be able to forget them. The cheers that greeted those sixteen words were, of course, out of this world’.2 The iconography of Ghana’s independence ceremony followed the pattern set by India on 15 August 1947, ten years earlier. Then, too, the Union Jack had been lowered and replaced by the new Indian flag at midnight.
But Ghana was not copying India for dramatic effect. It was following India’s clear commitment to international nonalignment, led by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. This commitment had been a major theme of the Bandung Conference of African-Asian states in 1955, in which the Gold Coast participated. There, led by Nehru, Indonesia’s Sukarno, and Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser, twenty-nine emergent nations across Africa and Asia had sought to lay the foundations of a nonaligned ‘third force’, to resist the pressures from the West and from the East in the context of the Cold War.
Not only in Ghana’s capital Accra, but also in Kumasi, Tamale, Sekondi-Takoradi, and Cape Coast, similar ceremonies took place, where the Union Jack was replaced with the new flag. Families in the churches and the mosques sent prayers to God. In the nightclubs, exuberant throngs danced to the ‘Highlife’—a popular fusion of Ghanaian musical traditions with Western instruments.3
The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr and his wife, Coretta Scott King, who had come from America to celebrate Ghana’s freedom, were a part of the crowd in Accra. These young civil rights campaigners—Dr King was just twenty-eight years old—were profoundly moved. ‘Before I knew it’, declared Dr King in a sermon the following month to his congregation in Montgomery, Alabama, ‘I started weeping. I was crying for joy. And I knew about all of the struggles, and all of the pain, and all of the agony that these people had gone through for this moment’.4
AT THE OPENING OF the first session of the Parliament of Ghana, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke was sworn in as governor general, as the representative of the British crown; before independence, he had been the governor, representing not only Queen Elizabeth II but the powers of the British government in its colonial territory. He made a brief personal statement, in which he declared his ‘unqualified pride at his association with “colonialism”’ and referred to the ‘continuity of purpose of British colonial policy’. Britain’s high commissioner, who attended the session, reported to London that he delivered this statement with a smile which evoked ‘an appreciative response’ from members of Parliament.5 No doubt Ghana’s MPs felt obliged to be polite to their guest. But it was a strange thing to say, since the struggle against colonialism had been fierce—against, as Nkrumah put it, ‘the limitations on our freedom, the crimes against our dignity as human beings’.6
It was true that in comparison with many other territories in Africa occupied by European powers, Ghana had escaped the large invasions of white settlers, which had wrecked the lives of so many millions of people in territories such as Kenya, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Mozambique, and South Africa.
But there were profound and brutal forms of injustice in Ghana under British rule. Seven hospitals in the country catered for fewer than three thousand ‘Europeans’—the colonisers’ word for any person with white skin—leaving thirty-six hospitals for about four million Ghanaians.7 This inequity based on skin colour was mirrored in all public services, including education. It was also manifest in the crude physical segregation of people. ‘When I first went to the Gold Coast’, recalled Erica Powell, who went to work for Sir Charles Arden-Clarke as his private secretary in 1952, ‘there existed between the so-called elite of the Europeans and the Africans in whose country they lived a racial barrier as apparent as the Mason-Dixon Line’. She was shocked at the racism of most whites, who ‘were unanimous in declaring that the Africans were nowhere near being capable of taking over the government of the country’.8
Powell was among those impressed by Nkrumah’s charisma and magnetism. They slowly became friends, and she learnt from him a different way of looking at colonisation, which challenged her assumption that British rule was benevolent and had brought some kind of superior civilisation. One day, when she expressed ignorance of what self-government meant, Nkrumah spent more than two hours explaining it to her. ‘I was held spellbound—at times horrified—by what he had to say’, wrote Powell years later. It was ‘not a sob story’, she said, but a lesson in colonial history, politics and economics, which ‘shattered into tiny little pieces my schoolgirl illusions about Britain’s big-hearted give-all-and-take-naught attitude towards her colonies’. At the end, she could find nothing worthwhile to justify Britain’s presence in Africa.9
Because of her friendship with Nkrumah, Powell was ostracised by the British community and was asked by the governor to leave the colony. Instead, she left the colonial service. In 1955, she became Nkrumah’s devoted and loyal private secretary, who was as much concerned by what he ate—and didn’t eat—as by his files and appointments.10 A hard-working and conscientious woman, who wore plain clothes and a tidy hairstyle, she was thoroughly professional in her affect. Nonetheless, many of the British expatriate community regarded her as the Jezebel of Accra; they spread prurient rumours that reflected their loathing of interracial relationships. There was no evidence to suggest that Powell and Nkrumah were having a sexual relationship. Nkrumah had a number of friendships with women, rooted in shared intellectual and political interests, as well as companionship.
On the last day of 1957, Nkrumah married Fathia Halim Ritzk, a twenty-five-year old Egyptian.11 Ritzk, a former student at the University of Cairo, was a quiet and dignified woman with dark eyes and a bright smile. When she agreed to the marriage, she had not met Nkrumah; nor had she been to Ghana. She had been identified as a possible wife by a friend of Nkrumah’s, and they were shown photographs of each other.
President Nasser met with Ritzk before the marriage. He was not against the plan, he said, but wanted her to be aware of the challenges ahead. Her response was adamant: ‘I would like to go and marry this anti-colonial leader. I read his autobiography, I know of his trials and tribulations, of his struggles during his student days in America and Britain, and of his spearheading the anti-colonial struggle upon his return to his homeland’.
For Ritzk, Nkrumah was an anticolonial hero, like Nasser. She wished to make her own contribution to Africa’s struggle for freedom.
Their first child, born in 1959, was named Gamal, after Nasser. ‘It was not meant to be a marriage made in heaven’, commented Gamal Nkrumah when an adult. ‘It was a political union between Mediterranean-oriented North Africa and the rest of the continent’.12
THE YEARS LEADING UP to Ghana’s independence were a time of suffering and oppression. The killing in 1948 of three men of the African Ex-Servicemen’s Union had triggered bitter and widespread violence, which transformed the political scene of the colony. The situation became so tense that in 1950, Governor Arden-Clarke declared a state of emergency and imposed a curfew, during which Nkrumah was arrested on the charge of inciting an unofficial strike. In 1951, large-scale elections to the Legislative Assembly took place. This produced a victory for the Convention People’s Party (CPP), led by Nkrumah, which forced the colonial government to release him from prison. He was driven among cheering crowds to party headquarters, and the next day he was invited by the governor to form a government.
For the first time, Ghanaians had a majority in the Assembly and in the Executive Council. But the ex-officio members nominated by Arden-Clarke held the real reins of power, through their control of defence, external affairs, finance and justice. This was ‘a Government largely in name’, argued Nkrumah, ‘with ultimate power residing in the Governor of the Gold Coast, who really represented the Colonial Office on the spot’.13
It was not until 1956 that a popular election was held in order to deliver a national government, in which a majority of the seats were won by the Convention People’s Party.
AS THE OUTGOING POWER in 1957, the British selected many of the official guests to the independence celebrations of Ghana. President Nasser, president of the United Arab Republic, a political union of Egypt and Syria that had been formed in 1958, was not invited, because of the rupture in diplomatic relations between the UK and Egypt following the fiasco of the Suez crisis in 1956.
The most important guest from the point of view of the British government was Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent, who came as the representative of Queen Elizabeth II. She presided over a busy royal programme, including a meeting at the race course—a popular event in colonial circles. Reports sent to London by British officials praised the duchess’s warm engagement with the celebrations, as well as her haute couture and glittering jewels.14
More than fifty foreign governments were invited and sent special representatives; some two hundred members of the press and media came too.15 In the words of one press officer, ‘The world had come to Accra’.16
The largest delegations came from the USSR, the US, and the People’s Republic of China, which sent parties of twenty or more, creating logistical challenges for the new nation. The Ambassador Hotel, specially built for independence to offer modern and luxurious accommodation, was not very large and had to house all the important guests.
The American delegation, led by Vice President Richard M Nixon and his wife, Pat, and accompanied by a second plane packed with American newsmen, were put up in the Ambassador Hotel, along with the Soviets. One headline in the US noted, ‘ACCRA BILLETS NIXON WITH REDS’.17
At a state banquet, ‘all was pomp and protocol’—except that the seating plan had been drawn up alphabetically. This meant that the leader of the Soviet delegation, the handsome I A Benedictov, minister of state farming, sat at the top table, and Vice President Nixon, because his name began with the letter ‘N’, was placed farther down the room. Nixon was furious. Headlines in the US the following day made the most of it: ‘NIXON SLIGHTED AS COMMIE HEADS TABLE; NIXON SLIGHTED ON TRIP, AIDES MIFFED; NIXON SNUB SHOWS HOW LITTLE PRESTIGE US BILLIONS HAVE BOUGHT’.18
A British official working for the colonial public relations service enjoyed his contact with the Russian journalists. At the airport, he found ‘two solemn men standing smoking silently’. The correspondent from Pravda gave him a Russian cigarette and introduced him to the cameraman. Back at the hotel, he recorded, ‘the two Russians became our politest guests. They sat in the lounge at night, dispensing Russian cigarettes and occasional shots of vodka that they had with them, and refused to be rattled by the political questions thrown at them by the other correspondents’. The official observed with wry amusement that they filed long stories on the social and economic aspects of life in Ghana, ‘but seemed only slightly interested in what the Duchess of Kent was doing’.19
Visiting African dignitaries included leaders such as Habib Bourguiba, the president of Tunisia, which had achieved independence from France in 1956; William Tolbert, the vice president of Liberia; Sylvanus Olympio from Togo; and the son of Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia. From France came the minister of justice, François Mitterrand, and from the Vatican, Archbishop Know.
Dr Ralph Bunche, senior advisor to Dag Hammarskjöld, the UN secretary general, was also present. Bunche, an American, had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his mediating role in the Arab-Israeli war of 1948–1949 and was the first Black person ever to be honoured in this way. At the time of Ghana’s independence, Bunche was embroiled in the ongoing Suez problem and, exhausted by the pace and by constant bouts of dysentery, welcomed the respite offered by the visit to Ghana. He brought a special message from Hammarskjöld, congratulating Ghana on becoming the eighty-first member of the UN.20
A large number of guests came at the personal invitation of Prime Minister Nkrumah. At the top of his list were George Padmore, the Trinidadian Pan-Africanist, and his wife, Dorothy Pizer, firm friends of Nkrumah from his days in the UK. Their vision of the future of Africa meshed perfectly with his: not only free of colonial rule, but also not aligned to either the East or the West. ‘We do not’, stated Padmore firmly, ‘intend to be like Russia, the United States, or anyone else’.21
With open arms, Nkrumah invited freedom fighters from all over the world, such as Cheddi Jagan from British Guiana and Norman Manley from British-ruled Jamaica. From South Africa came the Reverend Michael Scott, an Anglican priest, and the peace activist Homer Jack.
From Kenya came Mbiyu Koinange, a prominent member of the Kenya African Union and the brother-in-law of Jomo Kenyatta, its leader, who was in prison serving a seven-year sentence handed down by the British colonial administration for the alleged organisation of the Land and Freedom Movement, dubbed ‘Mau Mau’ by the colonisers. The British government were responsible in the 1950s for a terrible campaign of systematic and brutal torture and abuse—killing, castration and rape—of Kenyan freedom fighters.
From the US came civil rights campaigners such as Dr Martin Luther King, Mrs Coretta Scott King, Asa Philip Randolph and Adam Clayton Powell. Shirley Graham came without her eighty-nine-year-old husband, the renowned African American scholar and founding father of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Dr W E B Du Bois. He had been blocked from travelling abroad by the US government. Also from the US came distinguished academics, including Horace Mann Bond, the president of Lincoln University. Nkrumah had spent ten years studying in the US, first at Lincoln University and then at the University of Pennsylvania.
Nkrumah’s landlady in London, Mrs Florence Manley, came with her daughter.22 Mrs Manley had supported Nkrumah’s political work in London and had been mentioned in intelligence reports on Nkrumah by the spies and informers of the UK’s Special Branch and MI5, who speculated, wrongly, that Nkrumah and Mrs Manley were on intimate terms and planning to marry.23 Rumours about their alleged relationship were spread by the colonial government in 1948 in a deliberate effort to discredit him.24 They, too, were strange, prurient imaginings.
ERICA POWELL WAS CONCERNED that Nkrumah barely slept during the week of the independence celebrations. ‘When he wasn’t attending official functions or receiving foreign guests in private audience’, she recorded, ‘he was sought after by his own ministers, his party colleagues and the masses of ordinary men and women’. But her concern was unfounded: for no matter at what hour he met his guests, ‘he was fresh, alert, dynamic, listening avidly to what each had to say and handling any subject with equal ability and enthusiasm’.25
But one challenge almost defeated him. When told he was expected to lead the dancing at the state ball, he was appalled, saying that he knew only the Highlife.
He was rescued by Lucille Armstrong, who taught him the basic steps of the waltz, foxtrot and quickstep.26 He had met Mrs Armstrong the year before, when she had come to Ghana with her husband, Louis Armstrong, the famous American jazz trumpeter.
Armstrong was unable to go back to Ghana to celebrate independence, but Lucille flew there with a copy of Satchmo the Great, a new US Information Service film of Armstrong’s earlier visit. The film showed Armstrong dedicating to Prime Minister Nkrumah the protest anthem from the 1920s ‘(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue’, composed by the jazz musician Fats Waller. The last lines of the song—painfully and powerfully—convey the injustice of discrimination against Black people because of the colour of skin. ‘My only sin’, goes the song, ‘is in my skin’. One of its most heart-wrenching lines includes the words ‘wished I was dead’. It asks, ‘How would it end?’ Satchmo the Great captured Nkrumah’s emotional response to the song, as he listened intently to the words.27
The state ball during the independence celebrations was a far more formal affair than the jazz concerts the previous year. One of the guests was Genoveva Marais, a South African woman in her twenties who had arrived in Ghana the month before to work as an Inspector of Schools. She was excited to be a fully fledged Black citizen in Ghana and no longer a victim of apartheid in her own country. Her father had felt great happiness at the independence of Ghana, and ‘the thrill he felt’, she wrote later in a memoir, ‘was translated to me’.
When the invitation to the ball arrived, Marais was ‘in the heights of delight’. Beautiful, vivacious and sophisticated, she was quickly noticed by Nkrumah, who sent an officer to request her company at his table. She had noticed Nkrumah’s ‘easy air’ as he walked around the room chatting with different people, but all the same she felt ‘dizzy and nervous’.
Her unease swiftly disappeared as they joked and laughed together. They had much in common: Marais, like Nkrumah, had studied in the US—at Columbia University in New York—after her education at Fort Hare and Rhodes University in South Africa. She quickly sensed that Nkrumah was physically attracted to her, which was confirmed when the prime minister invited her to State House the following morning.
Before long, he asked her to marry him, but she refused. She noted with approval that Nkrumah ‘created a new dimension for African womanhood. There were even female Members of Parliament and a judge!’ But, she said, ‘I was not ready for marriage and I was far too critical and independent’.
This did not prevent the development of their relationship. ‘Veva’, as Nkrumah called Marais, believed that she learnt ‘to know and understand Kwame Nkrumah as no one else ever could’.28 They became close companions, and it was widely rumoured that she was his lover.29
AS THE REVEREND MARTIN Luther King witnessed the birth of Ghana, he realised its wider significance. ‘This event’, he believed, ‘will give impetus to oppressed peoples all over the world. I think it will have worldwide implications and repercussions—not only for Asia and Africa, but also for America’. It renewed his conviction, he said in a radio interview in Accra, ‘in the ultimate triumph of justice. And it seems to me that this is fit testimony to the fact that eventually the forces of justice triumph in the universe, and somehow the universe itself is on the side of freedom and justice. So that this gives new hope to me in the struggle for freedom’.30
The independence celebrations led King to compare African liberation with African American civil rights struggles. ‘At bottom’, commented King, ‘both segregation in America and colonialism in Africa are based on the same thing—white supremacy and contempt for life’.31
King also met Vice President Nixon for the first time in Ghana. Back in America, Nixon, along with the US president, Dwight D Eisenhower, had been asked by African Americans living in the southern states to visit them, to see for themselves the ugliness of Jim Crow and the laws enforcing racial segregation. The vice president had managed to evade those requests. But soon after arriving in Accra, King attended a reception where he encountered Nixon. He used it as an opportunity to press him to visit the South. ‘Mr Vice President, I’m very glad to meet you here’, King told Nixon, ‘but I want you to come visit us down in Alabama where we are seeking the same kind of freedom the Gold Coast is celebrating’.32
Generally, Nixon was in his element on the trip. When he was met at the airport by a group of ministers, he cut away from the official party and headed for the airport fence. He had spotted a crowd lining the rails and, followed by his wife, he shook hands with everybody and patted heads. According to a press officer, ‘He smiled, smiled all the time’. The Ghanaian ministers, ‘themselves experienced politicians, watched Nixon’s technique admiringly’, while an American reporter commented dryly that Nixon was ‘campaigning already’ for the forthcoming US election.33
- “A deeply distressing history of CIA involvement in plots to eliminate certain regimes in Africa, particularly in the Congo and Ghana, just as the countries shook off European colonial rule in the mid-20th century… Rigorous reporting reveals “America’s role in the deliberate violation of democracy” in newly independent African nations.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
- “Beautifully written and carefully researched. It is an important contribution to the history of Africa in the context of the Cold War, when the USA and the Soviet Union were locked in a struggle for African influence and control.”—Martin Plaut, former Africa Editor, BBC World Service News and author of Understanding South Africa
- “In this masterpiece of historical analysis on the dirty tricks of the CIA in Africa during the 1960s, Susan Williams delivers her magnum opus. This richly documented narrative is based on outstanding scholarly research comprising archival sources from eight countries and the United Nations, plus numerous other written and oral sources … it could not be timelier in throwing light on the institutionalized racism and hypocrisy of Western powers.” —Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja Professor of African and Global Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
- “This meticulously researched book provides a compelling account of decolonisation and the forces that sought to thwart that chaotic, protracted, but ultimately liberating process. An informative read which, in examining the death throes of the rapacious colonial project, lays bare the profound injustice imperialism inflicted on Africa and beyond.”—Shashi Tharoor, Indian MP and author of Inglorious Empire
- “[White Malice] overflows with fascinating information, original research, and bold ideas.”—NPR.org
- “A revelatory, meticulous new book.”—Unherd
- “White Malice is a triumph of archival research, and its best moments come when Williams allows the actors on both sides to speak for themselves.”—Africa is a Country
- “Williams does a nice line in intrigue. There is a John le Carré quality to many of the episodes.”—Financial Times
- “A new book from historian and academic Dr Susan Williams is always an eagerly awaited event – and White Malice: The CIA and the Neocolonialisation of Africa is no exception. Williams has woven together many of the themes of previous studies to present a searing indictment of how Western powers interfered with, plundered and sabotaged the interests of newly independent African nations and their leaders.”—African Business
- “[A] devastating, superbly researched account.”—Daily Maverick
- “This thoroughly-researched account of CIA interference in two newly independent African nations makes for sobering reading.”—The Scotsman
- “This is a book that every prospective leader in Africa must read."—Africa Briefing
- “This gripping book meticulously uncovers the role of covert western interference in two countries.”—Labour Hub
- “Her thesis threatens to disappear amid a forest of historical detail, but readers interested, especially, in Ghana and Congo will find her book absorbing.”—Boston Globe
- “...[T]he author merits our heartfelt thanks for her indefatigable labor that has rescued a history that needs to be better known and will be instrumental in the final defeat of U.S. imperialism on the beleaguered continent.”—CovertAction
- “Williams takes great care to provide evidence of just how far the CIA’s reach went, the organizations it funded, the many different ways it tried to gain access and the willingness to use violence to achieve their goal of a compliant and capitalist Africa…This book is essential reading.”—Spring Magazine
- “Williams provides a vivid account of significant aspects of the [CIA] activity, informed by declassified material and rendered eminently readable by telling and energetically related anecdotes.”—Survival: Global Politics and Strategy
- “Susan Williams chronicles imperial legacies with a forensic eye, a historical mind, and a decolonial sensibility for African agency; her findings are as stunning as they are transformative.” —The Windham-Campbell Prize Committee
- “This is a sweeping book. Williams is a careful scholar who extensively details her sources and the evidentiary bases of her findings, and is unwilling to make claims she cannot support… To Williams, I give the highest compliment I can give: I wish I had written this book!” —CounterCurrents
- “What emerges from these testimonies is not a picture of tragedy, romance or against-the-odds heroism, but a sober assessment of the tough and sometimes impossible choices facing left-wing anti-colonial activists who were under pressure from foreign enemies and foreign allies alike.” —The London Review of Books
- On Sale
- Aug 10, 2021
- Page Count
- 688 pages