The British Empire Library

Private Secretary (Female)/Gold Coast

by Erica Powell

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by Anthony Kirk-Greene (N Nigeria 1950-66)
This is a significant memoir on at least two counts. First, it is revealing on the twin levels of biography. Here it sensitively and successfully combines the autobiographical reflections of Kwame Nkrumah's private secretary (fem.) from 1955 to 1966 (and for three years before that Miss Powell had been personal secretary to the Governor of the Gold Coast. Sir Charles Arden-Clarke) with numerous genuinely informative biographical insights into the modus vivendi of the Ghanaian President himself. Secondly, it is a further contribution - and if these have been scarce in the past, they are now gathering the momentum of a tropical hail-storm - to that important genre of Colonial Service writing whose absence we have noticed in earlier reviews in these pages, namely the story of Colonial Service experience as viewed and written from the woman's angle.

There is much to enjoy in every chapter. Towards the end. however, one begins to sense and share the real perils inherent in what Paul Scott has subsequently categorised as "Staying On". There is a sense of cumulative doom, almost of relentless and unpropitiatable Furies, as Miss Powell is unwillingly. unwittingly and quite unjustifiably sucked into the maelstrom of suspicion and intrigue which built up around the latter Nkrumah culminating in the paralvsing shock of the President receiving a report from the Security Service accusing her - of all loyalists! - of possibly being a paid foreign intelligence agent, in post-colonial Africa, one must be doubly careful not to outstay one's welcome. However rapturous and reassuring it may initially seem to be.

Erica Powell's book is the unusual memoir of an unusual woman in a very unusual post at an unrepeatable moment in history, namely of being private secretary and confidante to that supremely lonely man (cf. p. 30). the first - and the most charismatic - President of Ghana. She is conscientious, too. over personal names, so critical in any worthwhile autobiography, with one understandably discreet silence over a district commissioner who apparently fell from grace (p. 35) and. less explicably over her noble hostess 'the wife of the Establishment Officer' (p. 5). While her earlier part in helping to ghost Kwame Nkrumah's so-called autobiography and to make sure that it saw the light of day in time for its launching on 6 March 1957 has long been suspected, here is the real autobiography which many have long been waiting for. But for Nkrumah's vain anxieties about the tone of earlier drafts, we would have had this memoir a decade or more ago. Professional historians of the Gold Coast and the transfer of power as well as general readers will be grateful to author and publisher alike that we do at least have it available. It is to be hoped, too, that one day Miss Powell's unique correspondence with Kwame Nkrumah will be safely deposited for posterity to benefit from.

British Empire Book
Erica Powell
C Hurst & Co Publishers Ltd


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