Ghana: The Queen's Visit

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"I am not a film star," said the Queen of England to Prime Minister Harold Macmillan. "I am the head of the Commonwealth—and I am paid to face any risks that may be involved. Nor do I say this lightly. Do not forget that I have three children."

Thus Queen Elizabeth II agreed with Macmillan last week when he conveyed to her his Cabinet's advice that she should carry out her royal visit to Ghana, despite a spate of bombing incidents in Accra protesting the rule of Kwame Nkrumah. Fearful of the Queen's safety, Macmillan dispatched Commonwealth Relations Secretary Duncan Sandys once again to Ghana to see if the outbursts of violence warranted the cancellation of the visit. After satisfying himself that the Queen would be safe, Sandys flew back to London with the go-ahead signal.

Where It's Cooler. Assured that the Queen would finally make the visit originally scheduled for 1959, but canceled because of the imminent birth of Prince Andrew, Ghana prettied up and cleaned up. People driving into Accra who could not prove that they had been vaccinated were summarily jabbed with a smallpox injection. To reduce the threat of pickpocketing, the police rounded up all ex-convicts on parole, threw them into the cooler for the duration of the visit. Mothers were urged not to let their children run naked in the streets.

Outraged and embarrassed by the bombs, Osagyefo (the Redeemer) threw a number of his opponents into jail. Work crews feverishly tried to repair Nkrumah's bomb-blasted bronze statue in front of Parliament House. Supporters symbolically bandaged the statue's shattered feet, covered it with white powder, and threw a calico scarf over its right shoulder—Ghana's traditional symbol of victory. Others slaughtered a goat at the base of the statue to cleanse it of evil spirits.

The day of the Queen's arrival, cops kept back the crowds by charging enthusiastically with night sticks and by driving their motorcycles directly at them. On the airport tarmac sat 100 tribal chiefs surrounded by flunkies who held giant velvet umbrellas over them. Each chief was accompanied by a "linguist" (chiefs never speak directly to anyone save the linguists, who pass on the message) and by a small boy, who functions as the soul of the chief. (In the past, the boys were killed when the chief died.)

Guardian Spirit. As the Queen's plane touched the ground, a 21-gun salute boomed out. Wearing a cream-colored lace dress and a matching suede hat, the Queen shook hands warmly with a smiling, white-suited Nkrumah. A white-robed fetish priest then poured a tot of gin on the ground as a libation to the gods to ensure the Queen a safe visit. Said one onlooker: "Osagyefo needs that libation for safety more than Her Majesty does."

Next day, a national holiday in the Queen's honor, was parade day in Accra. Nkrumah accompanied Elizabeth and Prince Philip to an all-day march past in Black Star Square. Osagyefo ordered his army to keep its Soviet equipment under wraps, treated the Queen to an essentially British military show. At the national welcoming ceremony, more than 100,000 people jammed the square; only one other Ghanaian crowd had ever approached the strength of the throng—not for Osagyefo, but for Satchmo Louis Armstrong.

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