Letter: Rear Window: It all went so horribly wrong: A new democracy in Africa

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The Independent Online
LAST week in Pretoria, Nelson Mandela was sworn in as President of South Africa amid international joy and relief of a kind rarely seen. A page of history was being turned, and the world wished the country and its leader well.

It may be (let us hope it is) the only thing that Mr Mandela has in common with Kwame Nkrumah, but the first leader of the first independent black African country knew that feeling too.

When Ghanaians celebrated the end of British rule in March 1957, their prime minister was a figure of international stature, carrying the good wishes and hopes of liberal-minded and left-wing people the world over.

Particularly in Britain, Ghana was seen as a model for post-colonial Africa. The Queen's message spoke of a ''bright and happy future' while the British government congratulated Ghana on choosing 'the path of parliamentary democracy'. The new national anthem was written by a Labour MP, Hector Hughes.

With astonishing rapidity, it went horribly wrong. The very next year, Nkrumah replaced the Queen's face on the coinage with his own, starting a cult of personality that reached its climax a few years later with the erection of a statue of himself in front of the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute.

Soon a republic was declared, then a one-party state. Dissent was stifled, censorship imposed and opponents jailed. Assassination attempts only increased the paranoia of the 'Redeemer', as Nkrumah styled himself.

The economy, in principle soundly based on cocoa and gold, slid into chaos and by the end the government was begging handouts from Moscow and Peking.

The end came in 1966, when Nkrumah was visiting China and the army overthrew him in his absence. Ghanaians danced in the streets as 1,000 political prisoners - including a correspondent for Der Spiegel who had been sentenced to 40 years - were set free.

(Photograph omitted)