Excerpt from My First Coup d'Etat by John Mahama, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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My First Coup d'Etat

And Other True Stories from the Lost Decades of Africa

by John Mahama

My First Coup d'Etat
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  • First Published:
    Jul 2012, 336 pages
    May 2013, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Beverly Melven

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Print Excerpt


It was with much consternation that we came to realize that the brand-new member of our class 3 group was a bona fide bully. It took a while, at least the first few weeks of the term, for that truth to come to light because initially he tried to blend in. I think it was his way of studying us, taking note of our individual constitution and our collective consciousness, so that when he was ready, he would know how far he could go — because people will push you only as far and as hard as you allow them to. Feigning kindness and friendship was his due diligence.

The boy's name was Ezra, and despite his best efforts to fit in, it was apparent from the start that it would be a most difficult task. There were ten of us in our dormitory, and Ezra was the tallest. He was a couple of years older than us, and even though I'm sure the other kids were curious as to why he was even in our class, nobody asked. It would be impolite and in poor taste. And it would make no difference. After all, whatever the reasons, Ezra was in our class, wasn't he?

Something else that made Ezra stand out was that he was very muscular, which was quite strange for a child. His physique resembled those of the men we sometimes saw on the campus grounds clearing the underbrush with long, slightly curved cutlasses. Their skin, which was blacker even than a starless sky at midnight, would be glistening with sweat.

The rest of us were of average size. We weren't weaklings, nor did we look as though we had kwashiorkor, though standing next to Ezra, you might be inclined to wonder. I wasn't at all surprised to learn that his father was a farmer, though I would have guessed that it was an animal farm and not a cocoa farm, because Ezra looked as though he had been born, raised, and fed in much the same way as livestock.

His father, though uneducated, had made a lot of money for himself. He wanted his son to attend Achimota, the school where the doctors, lawyers, politicians, and other members of the upper echelon sent their kids. With good reason: Ezra was a bush boy; he was tactless and uncouth. Little by little as the days and weeks wore on, he revealed more of his true nature.

I believe that little children view difference as a motivation to be more inclusive, though as we grow older and become adults we begin to see it as the opposite, a reason to exclude. Since most of us in our group had been boarding together since we were six, we all got along wonderfully. We wanted Ezra to fit in and not feel like the odd one out.

We went out of our way to be nice to him. We would invite him to play with us. We would let him stand at the front of the queue in the dining hall. We did all of this to welcome him into our circle. It was a show of our hospitality. Ezra saw it as a deficiency, his invitation to crown himself king of us all.

Achimota's school motto is Ut Omnes Unum Sint, "That All May Be One." It fell in line with the statement of unity that the founders were trying to make. They wanted Achimota to be a leader in the practice of breaking down the walls that divided by gender, by race, by ethnic group, by religion, by political persuasion. By the mid-1920s, women in the United States had only just won their battle for suffrage. And women all across the world, from China to Guatemala to Great Britain, were waging their own battles for equality in matters of suffrage, ownership of property, and education. The idea of a school like Achimota, one that embraced and even advocated gender equality, was extremely revolutionary — especially in West Africa. The student population at Achimota seemed to be evenly divided between girls and boys, though some years there might be a few more of one than the other. Our dormitories were segregated by gender, but other than that, the boys and girls attended classes and did most everything else together.

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Excerpted from My First Coup D'Etat by John Dramani Mahama. Copyright 2012 by John Dramani Mahama. Excerpted by permission of Bloomsbury.

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