Silence and Solidarity in 1968 Ghana

In My First Coup d'Etat, the country's vice president compares his school bully to dictators in 1960s Africa.

Bloomsbury; AFP/Getty Images
Bloomsbury; AFP/Getty Images

(Special to The Root) — In this excerpt from Vice-President John Dramani Mahama’s book, My First Coup d’Etat: And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa, he tells the story of a boarding-school bully, Ezra, who bore striking resemblance to the dictators popping up across Africa in the 1960s.

One day Ezra issued an edict. He called us all together and announced that, effective immediately, when we went for our afternoon snacks we were to bring them directly to him and he would decide what should be done with them. We were gobsmacked. Ordering us about was one thing, but now Ezra wanted us to give him our snacks! What next? How far would this situation go?

“Understood?” Ezra asked after he’d finished giving us our orders. We all nodded …

The day after the edict was issued, we all queued at the dining hall for our afternoon snacks. We looked at each other knowingly as we took our portion of fried plantain. My stomach growled in anger. I was unable to bring myself to look at the snack for fear that I would eat it and then have to face the wrath of Ezra. All nine of us marched with our snacks to the dormitory, where Ezra was sitting in state. One of the students had been ordered to collect Ezra’s snack for him so he wouldn’t even have to leave the dormitory.

He sprang up as we entered, craning his neck to see what the day’s delight was. Once he saw that it was plantain, he smiled. Ezra loved plantain. One by one we walked up and stood before him, as though he were a priest offering a communion wafer — except we were the ones giving the offering.

He took each of our snacks and divided them imperfectly in half. He kept the bigger “half” for himself and left us with the other “half ” to eat. That’s how it was from then on. We would bring him our snacks and he would take what he pleased, then send us away. He would eat some of the snacks he’d taken from us right away; the rest, he would wrap and keep under his bed. He would enjoy his loot before siesta or in the night while the rest of us were readying ourselves to go to sleep. It frustrated and angered us, but still we told no one of Ezra’s bullying. We quietly let him have his way.

My two very close friends, David and Agyeman, and I began to conspire on the playground. We would huddle in a corner and list all the reasons why it was unfair for us to give Ezra our afternoon snack. This was oppression, plain and simple. We would wonder aloud how it was that we’d found ourselves in such a situation. “Why should he be the boss of us?” we would emphatically ask each other. Those sessions seemed to steel us for the inevitable. We would have to confront Ezra. 

The three of us would meet, and we would complain and brainstorm and plan. We devised a Plan A and a Plan B; we even had a Plan C and a Plan D. We predicted every possible reaction that Ezra might have to our actions. This was serious business, and we treated it as such. We had to rid our lives of him, the ruthless dictator in our dormitory.