Title: My First Coup D’Etat
Author: John Dramani Mahama
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA; 1 edition (July 3, 2012)
Mahama, begins his autobiographical novel of his memories of the Lost Decades of Africa with this quote by Ben Okri:
“We plan our lives according to a dream that came to us in our childhood, and we find that life alters our plans. And yet, at the end, from a rare height, we also see that our dream was our fate. It’s just that providence had other ideas as to how we would get there. Destiny plans a different route, or turns the dream around, as if it were a riddle, and fulfills the dream in ways we couldn’t have expected.” -Ben Okri
My First Coup D’Etat is a narration of events in the life of the author, Mahama, that have shaped who he is today. The title refers to the 1966 coup in Ghana that overthrew Dr. Nkrumah. As a young boy, with virtually no understanding of what was happening; it took him a while to understand what was happening. His father’s detention and ban from public office, give emphasis to Okri’s quote at the beginning of the novel. Like the detention, a number of other misfortunes would subsequently set a different path for him than he planned.
The book is a collection of stories, which include My First Coup D’Etat, The District Commissioner’s Hat, How I got My English Name, Teenagers in Tamale, Ghana Must Go. I would love to be able to list all the stories here and a brief summary of each but that’ll make this unnecessarily long. (A friend of mine made some brief notes on each chapter: Read Here). Through these stories, he is able to provide a clear context and a brief history of the times in which these events occurred. To me, one of the best things about the book is how he is able to weave in his experiences, the bigger picture of things happening in Ghana, Africa or elsewhere and the lessons to be learnt on both levels. The book is well researched, and gives insight to topics like colonisation, Northern Ghana, family systems, past leaders, diaspora relations, and the post-lost-decades era to economic growth and stability.
My First Coup D’Etat is a decent publication. The writing is clear but I cannot describe it as stellar. He’s nothing like an Achebe, Soyinka or Adichie. But it has it’s strengths. Chinua Achebe was accurate in describing it as “a much welcome work of immense relevance”. It’s relevant, conscious literature and I guess that’s it. I had a few issues with the book though. Throughout he portrayed himself as the perfect son, student, boy or man in a way that sounded
too political, too good to be true. I’m tempted to say it casts doubts on his ability to make clear, objective judgments because, aside his character being almost without flaw, his father’s character is perhaps more perfect. Twice his father made terrible mistakes, signing contracts without careful considerations, which cost him one of his sons and business, yet he glared over them as though they were pardonable errors. Perhaps I’m being harsh on E A Mahama’s character. Perhaps it’s a son’s admiration of his father. Hopefully, a lot more consideration and fair analysis goes into our state of the nation’s addresses.
As a president, revealing the hustles and stories of his past (getting shot, finding a girlfriend, his nightlife, etc.), I find this novel humanizing. I made it a point not to touch on the controversies, especially regarding the title in this review. I feel what ever claims people make are just mere coincidences. There are a lot of lessons to be learnt from this novel, and I encourage anyone who can, to read it. Even if you’re not concerned about Mahama, there’s a lot to learn about Ghana in it. I’ll end here, with one lesson I took from the book. In a letter his father wrote to General Acheampong, he wrote, “Remember to leave, when the applause is loudest.”