When John Dramani Mahama, who until July 24 was the vice president of the Republic of Ghana, was in class three at an elite boarding school in the late 1960s, he experienced an unforgettable encounter with a bully named Ezra. After slyly gaining the trust of his peers, Ezra, muscular and bold for his age, managed to create a system that required all students in the school to donate their mid-afternoon snacks to his private food collection, one that he would dive into after-hours without sharing. Ezra instilled so much fear in his classmates that no matter how unfair it was, everyone obliged.
Eventually, young Mahama grew tired of the snack confiscation system. He and his friends set out to plan a peaceful revolt. They would scarf down their snacks just before the time came to turn them over to Ezra. They would deliver a thoughtful speech — something about how their fathers pay their school fees, and thus, pay for their snacks. They would stand up for themselves and await the consequences.
Out of fear, his two friends dropped out at the last minute. Still, Mahama didn’t waver in his plan to defect. He ate his cake.
“Ezra released his punishment in one fell swoop. I barely felt the blow, but it landed me on the floor,” he wrote in a chapter of his new memoir, My First Coup d’Etat: And Other True Stories From the Lost Decades of Africa. “He kneed me; he gave me knocks on my head. He really maltreated me, but I did not die. I did not die.”
It was his experience with Ezra that Mahama called a true “microcosm of what was happening all throughout Africa.” From the late 1960s until the 1980s, just after Africa freed itself from the grip of European colonialism, dictators sprouted up as often as new national flags. War and poverty ravished the…
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