Monday, March 5, 2007
The road to Independence
IT was independence which brought this multitude of illustrious persons to Ghana.
But what brought independence itself to Ghana?
The story of the Gold Coast’s journey to freedom is an epic and, for centuries, its outcome seemed unpredictable.
The Portuguese traders who landed on the coast of Elmina during the late C15th in search of gold could not be expected to foresee the golden scenes of March 6, 1957. Nor could the slave traders of the C18th who shipped 20 million slaves from West Africa be expected to believe that in less than 300 years the sons of the Gold Coast would be Cabinet Ministers, not slaves.
But what is remarkable, and perhaps unique, in the records of human emancipation is that even as late as 1950-1951, few would have dated to predict that a man who was at that time languishing inside one of His Majesty’s prisons would, within seven breathless years, be welcoming Her Majesty’s special representative, in his capacity as Prime Minister of the first independent African State within the Commonwealth.
Yet this is not a political fairy tale fitted with a happy ending. This is history, with a happy ending, which had to be fought for and won. The struggle for independence had to be lived forwards by successive generations of the peoples of the Gold Coast. But the struggle can perhaps be best understood it is traced backwards.
Independence came on March 6, 1957. The fact that this was to be the day of days had been learned by most of the population from a broadcast on September 18, 1956. On that day, the announcer read a dispatch from the Secretary of State for the Colonies to the Governor of the Gold Coast. The message had been read a few hours previously to the Legislative Assembly by Dr. Nkrumah, the Prime Minster.
He Majesty’s Government will, at the first available opportunity, introduce into the United Kingdom Parliament a bill to accord independence to the Gold Coast and subject to parliamentary approval, Her Majesty’s Government intended that independence should come about on the 6th March, 1957.
The people’s reaction to this epoch-making, matter-of-fact message was described by a writer in the magazine, Drum:
From a moment, until the words registered in people’s minds, there was a deafening silence. Then came the earthquake of emotion that made the sea hesitate from breaking on the beach. That, some say, brought a rain of coconuts tumbling from the trees. That made the very lizards scurry for cover. That, some mothers will tell you, made their unborn babies kick with joy in their wombs.
They will tell you the cheers could be heard a 100 miles off. I doubt that. But, apart from the earthquake of 1939, it was without question the most giant explosion of natural or human noise which our ancient and had over heard.
The Colonial Secretary’s dispatch, which released this national ecstasy on September 18, 1956, was itself a direct answer to a formal and explicit request made by the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly, some six weeks earlier, in a motion introduced by the Prime Minister, which requested Her Majesty’s Government in the united Kingdom, as soon as practicable this year, to procure the enactment by the United Kingdom Parliament of on Act to provide for the independence of the Gold Coast as a sovereign and independent state within the Commonwealth under the name of Ghana.
The moral authority of the Gold Coast Government to make such a request had been re-confirmed by the elections, which had been held the previous month in July 1956.
These had resulted in an over-whelming victory for the Convention People’s Party which won all 44 seats in the Colony area; eight out of 21 in Ashanti, where it was opposed by the National Liberation Movement (NLM) which secured 12 seats; eight out of 13 in Trans-Volta Togoland and 11 out of 26 in the Northern Territories, where the remaining seats were won by the Northern People’s Party. This gave the government, with Dr. Nkrumah as Prime Minister, the support of 72 out of 104 members of the Legislative Assembly.
These results underlined the popular verdict of the 1954 elections, which had introduced an all-African assembly and it proved once again that the verdict of the astonishing elections of 1951 had been due to no emotional or transitory whim on the part of the electorate.
During the 1951 election, Dr. Nkrumah was still serving the prison sentence imposed on him for his part in the ‘Positive Action’ campaign of January 1950 and for promoting an ‘illegal strike’. But, as a candidate in absentia, Dr. Nkrumah obtained 22,780 votes for the 23,122 voters in Accra Central and his party won 34 out of the 38 election seats in the new assembly.
When the results of that election became known, the Governor, Sir Charles Noble Arden-Clarke, took one of those decisions which are the very stuff of history: He summoned Dr. Nkrumah straight from prison to the Christiansborg Castle where he proposed to him that he should form the first Government of African Ministers in the Gold Coast.
Then began the patient process of the healing of the wounds which had opened in 1948. On February 28 pets had broken out in Accra and two million pounds on damage had been done by looting – following an effective six-week boycott of all imported goods and the death from police rifle fire at the Christiansborg Cross-roads of Sergeant Adjetey, who was leading a procession of ex-policemen marching to Government House. As a result of the rioting, Dr. Nkrumah and five of his associates had been removed to the Northern Territories.
Yet, out of all this anguish some good came. A Royal Commission, set in as a result of the disturbances, under the chairmanship of Mr. Antken Watson, recommended the forming of an All-African Commission to draft a more progressive constitution. Thanks to the work of the latter commission, which was presided over by Mr. Justice Coussey (Sir Henley Coussey), the Gold Coast obtained a wider franchise, an enlarged Legislature and a Ministerial System of Government.
Popular pressure for these forward steps had been stimulated by the return to the Gold Coast of Dr. Nkrumah in 1947. He had been away for 12 years – 10 of them spent at the Lincoln University, USA, first as a student, then as a lecture. The past two years he had spent in London University, from where stories of his fanatical single-mindedness had seeped through to Accra.
As a consequence, Dr. Nkrumah was invited to come back to the Gold Coast and help in organizing the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) which was in the process of being founded by the late George Alfred Grant – popularly known as ‘Paa Grant’. To 38-year-old Nkrumah, that body soon appeared to be too intellectualised, too lacking in mass support for the job in hand.
So, in June 1949, Nkrumah and his-closet associates initiated the Convention People’s Party (CPP) with the conscious aim of mobilizing the people and making the pace to independence. Nothing like that had over happed before in Africa. Throughout the war years and during the 1930s history had moved slowly in the Gold Coast.
During the 1920s, pressure for early self-government had been maintained by the West African National Congress, under the inspiration of Joseph Casely Hayford. Through the effects of that congress the Gold Coast gained, in 1925, the right to have nine unofficial elected legislators in the Legislative Council.
Nothing like that had ever
happened before in Africa.
During the years 1900 – 1920 there was no important political activity. The administration was gradually built up and Ashanti and the Northern Territories, which had been proclaimed British in 1901, were firmly integrated into the Gold Coast Colony.
The Gold Coast has been claimed as a British Colony in 1850, six years after the signing, at Cape Coast in 1844, of the bond between Britain and the coastal chiefs which introduced the principles of British law and justice.
The earlier history of Ghana is written all over the country’s coastline. You can read it in the line of torts which are strung, like a necklace of hedgehogs, along the seashore. These were the fortified terminals through which the early traders came in and the slaves went out. The forts faced both ways – against poachers from the sea and against raiders from the hinterland.
The Elmina Castle is a history book in itself and a slave market and male and female dungeons are living chapters in the cautionary story of all time.
But time has marched on – and marched quickly to independence if you consider it was only in 1807 that the slave trade was ‘deemed illegal’ by the British Government.
So today, in the rooms where the slaves were sold in the fort at Anomabu, African members of the King George Youth Centre now hold lively symposiums on the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency.
And, if you want to see at a glance how far the Gold Coast has traveled in the last 150 years, examine the drawing of the slave ship ‘seating plan’ below and then turn over to the next page and contrast the pictures of Ghana’s Independence.
Daily Graphic - Monday, March 5, 2007 Pages: 24 & 28