The Politics of the Independence Movements [Images]
Although political organisations had existed in the British colony,
the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) was the first nationalist
movement with the aim of self-government " in the shortest possible
time". Founded in August 1947 by educated Africans such as J.B.
Danquah, A.G. Grant, R.A. Awoonor-Williams, Edward Akufo Addo (all
lawyers except for Grant, who was a wealthy businessman), and others,
the leadership of the organisation called for the replacement of Chiefs
on the Legislative Council with educated persons. For these political
leaders, traditional governance, exercised largely via indirect rule,
was identified with colonial interests and the past. They believed
that it was their responsibility to lead their country into a new
age. They also demanded that, given their education, the colonial
administration should respect them and accord them positions of responsibility.
As one writer on the period reported, "The symbols of progress,
science, freedom, youth, all became cues which the new leadership
evoked and reinforced". In particular, the UGCC leadership criticised
the government for its failure to solve the problems of unemployment,
inflation, and the disturbances that had come to characterise the
society at the end of the war.
Their opposition to the colonial administration notwithstanding, UGCC
members were conservative in the sense that their leadership did not
seek drastic or revolutionary change. This was probably a result of
their training in the British way of doing things. The gentlemanly
manner in which politics were then conducted was to change after Kwame
Nkrumah created his Convention People's Party (CPP) in June 1949.
Nkrumah was born at Nkroful in the Nzema area and educated in Catholic
schools at Half Assin and Achimota. He received further training in
the United States at Lincoln University and at the University of Pennsylvania.
Later, in London, Nkrumah became active in the West African Students'
Union and the Pan-African Congress. He was one of the few Africans
who participated in the Manchester Congress of 1945 of the Pan-Africanist
movement. During his time in Britain, Nkrumah came to know such outspoken
anti-colonialists and intellectuals as the West Indian, George Padmore,
and the African- American, W.E.B. Du Bois. In 1947 when the UGCC was
created in the Gold Coast to oppose colonial rule, Nkrumah was invited
from London to become the movement's general secretary.
Nkrumah's tenure with the UGCC was a stormy one. In March 1948, he
was arrested and detained with other leaders of the UGCC for political
activism. Later, after the other members of the UGCC were invited
to make recommendations to the Coussey Committee, which was advising
the governor on the path to independence, Nkrumah broke with the UGCC
and founded the CPP. Unlike the UGCC call for self- government "
in the shortest possible time", Nkrumah and the CPP asked for
"self-government now". The party leadership, made up of
Nkrumah, Kojo Botsio, Komla A. Gbedemah, and a group of mostly young
political professionals known as the "Verandah Boys", identified
itself more with ordinary working people than with the UGCC and its
Nkrumah's style and the promises he made appealed directly to the
majority of workers, farmers, and youths who heard him; he seemed
to be the national leader on whom they could focus their hopes. He
also won the support, among others, of influential market women who,
through their domination of small-scale trade, served as effective
channels of communication at the local level.
The majority of the politicized population, stirred in the postwar
years by outspoken newspapers, was separated from both the tribal
chiefs and the Anglophile elite nearly as much as from the British
by economic, social, and educational factors. This majority consisted
primarily of ex-servicemen, literate persons who had some primary
schooling, journalists, and elementary school teachers, all of whom
had developed a taste for populist conceptions of democracy. A growing
number of uneducated but urbanized industrial workers also formed
part of the support group. Nkrumah was able to appeal to them on their
own terms. By June 1949, when the CPP was formed with the avowed purpose
of seeking immediate self-governance, Nkrumah had a mass following.
The constitution of 1951 resulted from the report of the Coussey Committee,
created because of disturbances in Accra and other cities in 1948.
In addition to giving the Executive Council a large majority of African
ministers, it created an assembly, half the elected members of which
were to come from the towns and rural districts and half from the
traditional councils, including, for the first time, the Northern
Territories. Although it was an enormous step forward, the new constitution
still fell far short of the CPP's call for full self-government. Executive
power remained in British hands, and the legislature was tailored
to permit control by traditionalist interests.
With increasing popular backing, the CPP in early 1950 initiated a
campaign of "positive action", intended to instigate widespread
strikes and nonviolent resistance. When some violent disorders occurred,
Nkrumah, along with his principal lieutenants, was promptly arrested
and imprisoned for sedition. But this merely increased his prestige
as leader and hero of the cause and gave him the status of martyr.
In February 1951, the first elections were held for the Legislative
Assembly under the new constitution. Nkrumah, still in jail, won a
seat, and the CPP won an impressive victory with a two-thirds majority
of the 104 seats.
The governor, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, released Nkrumah and invited
him to form a government as "leader of government business",
a position similar to that of prime minister. Nkrumah accepted. A
major milestone had been passed on the road to independence and self-government.
Nonetheless, although the CPP agreed to work within the new constitutional
order, the structure of government that existed in 1951 was certainly
not what the CPP preferred. The ministries of defense, external affairs,
finance, and justice were still controlled by British officials who
were not responsible to the legislature. Also, by providing for a
sizable representation of traditional tribal chiefs in the Legislative
Assembly, the constitution accentuated the cleavage between the modern
political leaders and the traditional authorities of the councils
The start of Nkrumah's first term as "leader of government business"
was marked by cordiality and cooperation with the British Governor.
During the next few years, the government was gradually transformed
into a full parliamentary system. The changes were opposed by the
more traditionalist African elements, particularly in Asante and the
Northern Territories. This opposition, however, proved ineffective
in the face of continuing and growing popular support for a single
overriding concept of independence at an early date.
In 1952 the position of prime minister was created and the Executive
Council became the cabinet. The prime minister was made responsible
to the assembly, which duly elected Nkrumah prime minister. The constitution
of 1954 ended the election of assembly members by the tribal councils.
The Legislative Assembly increased in size, and all members were chosen
by direct election from equal, single-member constituencies. Only
defense and foreign policy remained in the hands of the governor;
the elected assembly was given control of virtually all internal affairs
of the colony.
The CPP pursued a policy of political centralisation, which encounted
serious opposition. Shortly after the 1954 election, a new party,
the Asante-based National Liberation Movement (NLM), was formed. The
NLM advocated a federal form of government, with increased powers
for the various regions. NLM leaders criticized the CPP for perceived
dictatorial tendencies. The new party worked in cooperation with another
regionalist group, the Northern People's Party. When these two regional
parties walked out of discussions on a new constitution, the CPP feared
that London might consider such disunity an indication that the colony
was not yet ready for the next phase of self-government.
The British constitutional adviser, however, backed the CPP position.
The governor dissolved the assembly in order to test popular support
for the CPP demand for immediate independence. The crown agreed to
grant independence if so requested by a two-thirds majority of the
new legislature. New elections were held in July 1956. In keenly contested
elections, the CPP won 57 percent of the votes cast, but the fragmentation
of the opposition gave the CPP every seat in the south as well as
enough seats in Asante, the Northern Territories, and the Trans-Volta
Region to hold a two-thirds majority of the 104 seats.
Prior to the July 1956 general elections in the Gold Coast, a plebiscite
was conducted under United Nations (UN) auspices to decide the future
disposition of British Togoland and French Togoland. The British trusteeship,
the western portion of the former German colony, had been linked to
the Gold Coast since 1919 and was represented in its parliament. The
dominant ethnic group, the Ewe, were divided between the Gold Coast
proper and the two Togos. A clear majority of British Togoland inhabitants
voted in favor of union with their western neighbors, and the area
was absorbed into the Gold Coast. There was, however, vocal opposition
to the incorporation from some of the Ewe in southern British Togoland.