Friday, March 2, 2007
(Down Memory Lane)
Some events that led to Ghana’s independence
By: K.G. BAIDEN
ON March 6, 1957, that is 50 years ago, Ghana became the first African country, south of the Sahara, to gain freedom from colonial domination. One should not jump to conclusion however, that our independence was handed over to us on a silver platter.
On the contrary, it was achieved through years of persistent struggles, relentless perseverance, dedication and commitment.
As aptly stated in his book, “Africa Must Unite”, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah said “Freedom is not a commodity which is given to the enslaved upon demand; it is precious reward, the shining trophy of struggle and sacrifice”.
Due to lack of space, it will not be possible to give a detailed account of the various stages of the pre-independence developments. A few historical facts leading to this great event will however be worth mentioning.
The political agitation of this country started with the signing of the Bond of 1844 in Cape Coast on March 6, 1844. The Bond was of mutual co-operation between the British Government and several coastal chiefs in the Gold Coast (now Ghana). It had considerable influence on the future of the country.
Later, an organized African nationalist pressure group known as the Aborigines Rights Protection Society (ARPS) which was formed in 1897, put pressure on the British government for self-rule by the people of the country but to no avail. The original leading members of the ARPS were J.W. de Graft Johnson, J.W. Sey, J.P. Brown, J. Casely-Hayford and John Mensah Sarbah.
The British Government made changes in the constitution of the country, but still the main governing body consisted of the executive and legislative councils with both having British majorities. In 1946, a new constitution popularly known as the “Burns Constitution” named after the Governor, Sir Alan Burns, was introduced. It gave the Governor the power of Veto.
Though the constitution seemed to be the greater advancement made by the colonialists, loopholes and anomalies were later found in it by the political agitators of this country.
Discontent with colonial rule later came to a head, leading to the formation of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) led by Dr. J.B. Danquah on 4th August, 1947. Other founding members were Paa Grant, R.S. Blay, Awoonor Williams, Williams Ofori Atta, E.A. Akuffo Addo and E.O. Obetsebi-Lamptey, all deceased.
In December, 1947, Nkrumah joined the Convention as its General Secretary through the instrumentality of Dr. Ako Adjei. The UGCC managed to mobilize the educated elites to intensify African nationalism after the Second World War, thereby giving the way for more political parties to be formed. The UGCC offered a platform whereby the grievances of the Africans in the Gold Coast were given response.
In fact, the UGCC awakened fervent national consciousness in the Gold Coast. The UGCC was what might be described as a liberal group with its slogan of Self-Government within the ‘shortest possible time’. Dr. J.B. Danquah said: “Love of freedom from foreign control has always been in our blood”. This attitude did not please Nkrumah, who wanted “Self-Government Now”, and added that “we prefer self-government with danger to servitude in tranquility”.
Also, following disagreement of ideologies, Kwame Nkrumah left the UGCC and formed a more radical and nationalist organization, the Convention People’s Party (CPP) on June 12, 1949. Fashioning his party to appeal to the people under the banner of “Self-Government Now”, he pitched himself against the colonial power and attracted a lot of followers.
Very important historical events took place during the period between the formation of the UGCC and CPP, namely the 1948 boycott campaign against imported goods and the 28th February, 1948 shooting of some three ex-servicemen. The facts are that in 1948, Nii Kwabena Bonne III, Osu Alata Mantse, an Accra Chief and a man of business acumen, organized a campaign countrywide to boycott European, Lebanese and Asian goods which were considered to be too exorbitant.
On January 25, 1948 the boycott was put into effect and became successful due to its drastic enforcement by the people. This went on for about six weeks. The chief therefore earned the accolade “BOYCOTTHENE”, the boycott Chief.
The day that the boycott was called off following promises made by an alarmed government, coincided with the day that the Ex-servicemen’s Union, also smarting under postwar grievances, held a meeting at the Palladium Cinema in Accra at which there were speeches made by Nkrumah, Dr. Danquah and Ako Adjei.
Later, a procession of members of the union who marched to the Christiansborg Castle to present a petition to the Governor, Sir Gerald Cresy, were shot at by a British Policy Officer, Superintendent C.H. Imray, at the Crossroads near the Osu Castle now known as the Freedom Arch. Three of the ex-servicemen, namely, Sgt. Adjetey, Cpl. Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey died. This came to be known as February 28 Christiansborg Crossroad Shooting Incident.
This tragic event sparked off a serious riot in Accra. Hell really broke loose. Confusion reigned; there was pandemonium everywhere. There was looting and burning of shops owned by European, Lebanese and Asians. The situation got completely out of hand.
The government blamed the leaders of the UGCC for stirring up the trouble. Consequently, Dr. Nkrumah, Dr. Danquah, Obetsebi Lamptey, Akuffo Addo, William Ofori Atta and Ako Adjei, known as the BIG SIX, all members of the UGCC, were arrested on March 12, 1948 and detained for their suspected instigation of the complicity in the looting and rioting.
Consequent upon the riots, a Commission of Enquiry known as the Watson Commission was appointed to look into their causes. The Commission was able to list an impressive number of local causes of the disturbances and made a number of proposals for a constitution and political reforms, recommending that steps be taken to develop a form of government for the gold Coast, similar to that of the United Kingdom.
The failure of the Commission to recommend the introduction of direct election to both local authorities and Legislative Assembly left much to be desired. In 1950, Nkrumah and several other leading CPP members, including Botsio and Gbedemah, were imprisoned at the James Fort, Accra, on charges arising from pursuing what was termed as “Positive Action” against the government.
Later, the government appointment an all African Committee under the Chairmanship of Sir Henry Coussey to study the Watson Report. The Coussey Committee made a number of proposals which became the basis for the 1951, the pace was set for general elections which was overwhelmingly won by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah who was then in jail with his party (CPP) dominating both the Legislative Assembly and Executive Council. Mr. K.A. Gbedemah who had then been released from jail a few months earlier, acted as the chairman of the CPP at the time and organized the victorious election.
Dr. Nkrumah was immediately released to become the Leader of Government Business in the British colony’s first African government and later, by a constitutional amendment, became Prime Minister.
On July 10, 1953, Dr. Nkrumah tabled a motion which later came to be described as “The Motion of Destiny” in the Legislative Assembly asking for constitutional reforms and the introduction of an Act of Independence by the United Kingdom House of Commons to pave the way for an All African Cabinet from an enlarged legislature chosen by direct election by direct election.
The motion received the overwhelming support of the Assembly including the parliamentary opposition led by Prof. K.A. Busia and though the Act of independence was still withheld, a new constitution was introduced in April 1954 making the country virtually self-governing. A general election followed in June 1954 from which the CPP again emerged victorious thus paving the way for the next step.
In 1956, another election was held in response to a pledge by the British Secretary of State for the Colonies that if the newly elected legislature, by a reasonable majority, passed a resolution calling for independence, a form date for the change-over would be announced.
Elections were held contested by six parties and out of the 104, contested seats, the CPP won – 72, the Northern People’s Party – 15, the National Liberation Movement – 12, the Togolese Congress Party – 2, Moslem Association Party 1, and Independence -1.
From this general elections emerged a strong and fierce well organized parliamentary opposition, led by Prof. Kofi Abrefa Busia. This action opened the way for Ghana’s Independence because the British Government was convinced that there would be a dynamic multi-party democracy with a responsible opposition in the country.
- The writer is a Research Consultant in Accra
The Ghanaian Times - Friday, March 2, 2007 Page: 8