The Forgotten Tale: How Racial Abuse Led to US Financing Ghana’s Akosombo Dam

November 26, 2023


Komla Gbedemah (1st from the left) with the then US president and vice president

The Akosombo Dam, a cornerstone of Ghana’s electricity production, stands as a testament to the legacy of Ghana’s first president, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. However, the story behind how the United States government came to finance the construction of this vital infrastructure is less known, and it’s a tale that revolves around racial abuse suffered by Ghana’s first Minister of Finance, Komla Gbedemah.

As reports, the turning point occurred when Gbedemah and his secretary sought refreshments at Howard Johnson restaurant in Dover, Delaware, USA. Shockingly, they were told that “coloured people are not allowed to eat in here” by the waitress, even after Gbedemah identified himself as the finance minister of Ghana. The restaurant manager, in a disturbing display of racial discrimination, supported the waitress’s stance.

Incensed by the incident, Gbedemah declared, “The [white] people here are of a lower social status than I am, but they can drink here, and we can’t. You can keep the orange juice and the change [from a dollar bill], but this is not the last you have heard of this.”

The racial abuse suffered by Gbedemah gained national attention in the US media, leading to an official apology from the State Department and condemnation of the incident as “an exceptional and isolated incident” by US Ambassador to Ghana, Wilson Flake.

In an effort to mend relations, then-US President Dwight Eisenhower invited Gbedemah for a breakfast meeting at the White House, where he personally apologized to the finance minister. Importantly, during this meeting, the US agreed to finance Ghana’s plan to build the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River.

The report also highlighted a significant outcome of the meeting: the Howard Johnson restaurant revised its policy, ensuring it would serve anyone who walked through its doors, marking a small but impactful victory against racial discrimination.

This untold chapter in history sheds light on the intersection of racial equality, diplomacy, and infrastructure development, demonstrating the power of resilience in the face of injustice and the ability to turn adversity into progress.

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