My First Coup d’État and Other True Stories From the Lost Decades of Africa

In This Review

My First Coup d'Etat: And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa
by John Dramani Mahama
Bloomsbury, 2012
336 pp. $25.00

When Ghanaian President John Atta Mills died suddenly in July, his vice president, Mahama, succeeded him. In this affecting and revealing memoir, Mahama crafts an evocative portrait of Ghana’s privileged classes in the 1960s and 1970s. The son of a prominent northerner who served in the country’s first government, Mahama was introduced to Afrobeat and American rock ’n’ roll by some of his 19 siblings, to Charles Dickens by a series of elite Anglophone boarding schools, and to Marxism by the University of Ghana, in Legon. The book intersperses sentimental personal reminiscences with descriptions of the country’s ineluctable economic and political decline, from independence in 1956 through the repeated military coups of the next two decades, during which Ghana went from being one of Africa’s richest countries to being an economic basket case. Ghanaian readers might see this memoir by a current officeholder as a political instrument; others will mainly enjoy the well-crafted anecdotes and images of an Africa that no longer exists.