A CONCISE HISTORY OF GHANA’S INDEPENDENCE, written by Gideon Ofori Arthur

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Nationalism in Africa took a new face after World War II. Unlike the proto-nationalist movements, after the war nationalist movements became very radical and started agitating for the total independence of their respective countries. The leaders of the movements had also been introduced to Pan-Africanism due to their encounter with such Pan-Africanists as Henry Sylvester Williams, W.W. B. Du Bois and Marcus Garvey inter alia.

One major political development witnessed in Africa after World War II was the formation of political parties. In Ghana, due to the political, economic and social injustices inherent in the colonial system, the first political party, the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) was formed in August 1947. It constituted the elitist (mostly, lawyers) group of society. Notable amongst them were George Grant (Chairman), J.B Danquah and R.S Blay (Vice Chairmen). Other leading members were William Ofori Atta, J. W de Graft-Johnson and Dr. Kwame Nkrumah who became the party’s secretary in November 1947 upon his invitation. The main aim of the UGCC was to ensure by all legitimate and constitutional means, that the direction and control of government should pass into the hands of the people and their chiefs in “the shortest possible time”. It was also to protest against the 1946, Burns constitution. One major event that expanded the popularity sphere of the UGCC was the 1948 riot. On February 28, 1948, a group of unarmed former soldiers were marching to present their petition to the British government. Unfortunately, the government police (led by Superintendent Imray) shot into the group and killed three officers namely Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey (several others were also wounded). As a result of the event, six of the leaders of the UGCC were arrested and detained and became popularly known as the “Big Six.” They were J.B Danquah, Ako Adjei, Edward Akuffo Addo, William Ofori Atta, Obetsebi Lamptey and Kwame Nkrumah. The effects of the riot were that, first it made the UGCC gain nation-wide support. Also, a new development storming from the event was the formation of the Watson commission in January 1949 under Andrew Aiken Watson to inquire into the event. The recommendations of the commission were incorporated into the 1951 constitution which granted self-government internally to the country.

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The immediate event that followed the 1948 riot was the formation of the Convention People’s Party (CPP) by Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. Nkrumah who was relatively radical and prepared to use non-constitutional means to achieve self-government for the country broke away from the UGCC due to their conservatism and many other reasons and formed the CPP in June 1949. Unlike the UGCC, the CPP opened its doors and embraced all classes of people. It was therefore referred to as the party of “the masses.” Other party stalwarts who supported Nkrumah were inter alia Kojo Botsio, K. A Gbedemah, Krobo Edusei and Kofi Baako. It must be emphasized that the aim of the CPP was to achieve Self-Government immediately for the people of Gold Coast.  Everything showed that Nkrumah was ready to fight for the independence of the country. When the Coussey commission submitted its report, the CPP rejected the report because the hopes in it was shrouded in uncertainty and insisted on “self-government now”. The strength of the CPP was demonstrated when 9th January 1950, Nkrumah called upon all workers in the country to embark on a sit-down strike to back their demand to the end of colonial rule.  This action was dubbed “Positive Action.” Consequently, Nkrumah and most of his leading members were arrested and detained. However, instead of tarnishing the image of the CPP, this “persecution” rather strengthened the party. On release from prison, they called themselves “Prison Graduates” and glided with shoulders high.

Based on the recommendations of the Coussey committee, a new constitution was introduced on December 22, 1950 which provided for an Executive Council of three ex-officio members and eight African (Gold Coast) ministers and a single Legislative Assembly of which 75 seats were to be occupied by Gold Coasters. In 1951, a new election was held under the new constitution. Even though Nkrumah was imprisoned, the new British governor, Arden Clarke allowed him to contest for the election. At the election, the CPP won massively by accumulating 34 out of 38 elected seats. The UGCC won three and there was one independent member. This was the first election held in Africa under the universal suffrage. Following the success of the CPP, Nkrumah was released from the prison and made the ‘Leader of Government Business’ and in 1952, he was made a ‘Prime Minister’. It must be well noted that, Nkrumah and his CPP government were not pleased with the 1950 constitution. The reason being that, there were three European ex-officio ministers heading three important ministries and also thirty-seven members of the Assembly elected to represent the traditional Native Authority. That notwithstanding, the CPP worked tirelessly and made rapid socio-economic progress until June 1954 when another election was held after his demands had given birth to a new constitution. The 1954 constitution meant that the country was to advance towards the status of internal self-government. The colonial government still had some reserved powers. Under the new constitution, an election was held which the CPP won 72 out of 104 seats. It is known that, two major events actually delayed the independence of Ghana. First was the activities of the National Liberation Movement (NLM) – formed later that same year – and then, the Togoland question. The NLM was a purely Asante based party which grew very quickly. The growth of the NLM raised two main questions. First, what system of government should the country adopt at independence (federal or unitary)? Secondly, is the CPP still popular amongst the people?

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The NLM, agitated for a federal constitution while the CPP maintained that it should be unitary. It also recommended a fresh election to test the real popularity of the two parties. The result of this was that, in 1955, Sir Frederick Bourne was sent as a constitutional adviser.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, Bourne advised against a federation on the grounds that Gold was too small. However, the British government declared that fresh elections should be held in July 1956. At the elections, the CPP won 71 out of 104 seats in totality while the NLM won 12 out of 76 contested seats. In August 1956, Nkrumah tabled a motion for independence in the new parliament. Interestingly, the British government accepted the motion and later announced that independence would be granted to the Gold Coast on March 6, 1957.

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The other major problem was the status of Togoland which was a trust territory. There were two opposing views held in specific areas of the trust territory. One view favoured integration with independent Gold Coast while the other was that British Togoland should be separated from Gold Coast. As a result, a plebiscite was held on May 9, 1956, producing a majority in favour of the integration. The Ghana Independence Act received the Royal Assent on 7th February 1957 and on 6th March 1957, the country was proclaimed an independent state.

The new nation, formerly known as Gold Coast adopted the name “Ghana” after the first glorious empire in the Western Sudan in the early days. Ghana thus became the first tropical colonial territory both in Africa and the Caribbean in modern times to regain independence from colonial rule. It is important to note that, the independence of Ghana gave inspirations to the rest of the colonial world still fighting for their own independence.

Authored by: Gideon Ofori Arthur

Department of History Education

University of Education, Winneba

(Editor: Adu Kofi Patrick)

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