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Opinions of Wednesday, 6 March 2002

Columnist: Asare, Kwaku S.

Evaluating the Place of Nkrumah in Ghana's Political History - An Anti-Nkrumah Perspective

The United Gold Coast Convention [UGCC] was formed in August 1947 as a movement to seek political reforms in the then Gold Coast. There was consensus among political activists at the time that a more viable movement was needed to carry on the work of the Aborigines Rights Protection Society, the Youth Movements and the various political cells that had mushroomed in the country as far back as the beginning of the century.

The founding fathers of the UGCC included Akuffo Addo, J. B. Danquah, R. S. Blay, R. A. Awoonor Williams, George Grant and Ako Adjei. The UGCC was an immediate hit and it became apparent that they needed a full time person to coordinate its activities. At this time, most of the founding fathers were too busy with their own professional lives and, on Ako Adjei's recommendation, the Reverend Kwame Nkrumah was invited, from London, to become its full time secretary in December 1947.

One of Nkrumah's jobs was to spread the UGCC's message to the rest of Gold Coast. Prior to his arrival the UGCC was entrenched only in what was then called the Colony and Nkrumah quickly extended the UGC into Ashanti as well as the then northern territories. Nkrumah was an instant hit with the masses who had become wary of the ‘conservative and elitist’ approach of the founding members of the UGCC.

A crucial event occurred in 1948 when Major Imray ordered his men to shoot at several unarmed ex-servicemen who were going to present a petition to the Governor at the castle. Sergeant Adjetey and Attipoe died instantly culminating in the famous February 1948 riots and looting.

The destruction to property and life was so intense that the British appointed a commission (headed by Watson) to investigate. The Watson commission called for political reforms and advocated for a constitution prepared by Ghanaians. The British Government acceded and appointed the Coussey constitutional committee. Coussey's constitutional report became the basis of the 1951 elections.

The Birth of the Convention People’s Party

The membership of the Coussey commission included all leading members of the UGCC except Nkrumah. At the same time, in August 1948 Nkrumah had been demoted by the UGCC to treasurer because of his radical ideas and affiliation to some socialist groups.

In June 1949, a committee headed by William Ofori Atta convened in Saltpond to try and settle the differences between Nkrumah and the other members of the UGCC. However, the youth wings (then called CYO) that had become increasingly frustrated insisted that Nkrumah not be reconciled to the intelligentsia. Under the threats of abandoning him, Nkrumah sided with the CYOs and broke up from the UGCC. The next day he announced the formation of the CPP with an aim to attain self government NOW.

In view of his exclusion from Coussey, the Osagyefo simply declared the Coussey constitution as fraudulent and bogus. The CPP went on the offensive attacking both the colonial government and the UGCC. The colonial government fought back imprisoning many CPP members including Gbedemah, Amegbe and ultimately Nkrumah himself.

In spite of these imprisonments, the CPP won the 1951 elections and went on to win the second elections in 1954.

The birth of the National Liberation Movement

Few political movements have been misunderstood or misrepresented as the NLM. The NLM, which was launched in Kumasi in September 1954, arose out of 4 clear concerns:

1. The reneging of the campaign promise to raise the price of cocoa. During the electioneering campaign, Nkrumah had promised to raise the cocoa price to 5 pounds per load. The CPP even indicated the new ?5 bill was issued for that purpose. However on winning, the CPP decided to peg the price at 3 pound 12 shillings. This infuriated the farmers who felt used.

2. Several youth members of the CPP from the Asante state (Ghana had 4 States then -- Gold coast colony, Asante, northern territories and the British Togoland) were disillusioned with the activities of the party. They, in particular, hated the creeping dictatorial tendencies and centralization of power at the national headquarters. Before the 1954 election, national headquarters had imposed candidates on the constituencies and the 81 members who refused to cooperate were all dismissed. Several of these former CPP members, including Osei Asibey Mensah, were the later spirit of the NLM.

3. The local government system introduced in the first legislative assembly (1951) under the CPP had weakened the chieftaincy institution considerably. Matters that were previously vested in them were transferred to elected local councillors. Naturally, the chiefs disliked this development and wanted a means to oppose the CPP. No wonder the leader of the NLM was Baffuor Osei Akoto, a linguist.

4. The Asante state was pissed by the work of the Van Lare commission which redrew the electoral map in 1953. The Van Lare commission ignored population and arbitrarily redrew the map in a way that disadvantaged the Asante state. The seats of the north were increased from 19 to 26. The colony from 37 to 44; trans Volta from 8 to 13; and Asante from 19 to 21. In spite of significant protestations by the Asante state, their appeals were turned down. The Asante state concluded that the British had never forgotten her stance in the colonial times and were in collusion with the CPP to punish them.

The NLM had not participated in the elections of 1954 and it won the argument for new elections prior to granting independence. The elections which were slated for 1956 was clearly won by the CPP. The CPP won 71 out of the 104 seats. Nevertheless, it was clear that the CPP had won because the NLM did not have time to coordinate with the 7 other opposition parties that run against the CPP. Nkrumah had become very unpopular and the election results revealed significant weaknesses in Asante, Volta and the northern territories.

The parties that contested those elections included: Ghana Congress Party (GCP); Northern Peoples' Party (NPP); Muslim Association Party (MAP); Togoland Congress (TC); Anlo Youth Association (AYO); Ghana National party (GNP); and the Ghana Action Party (GAP).

On 9th October 1955, Twumasi Ankrah, regional propaganda secretary of the CPP murdered E. Y. Baffo, the chief propaganda secretary of the NLM. Though Twumasi Ankrah (like Amartey Kwei in 1982) was arrested, tried and subsequently hanged, there remained a lingering concern that the Osagyefo and the CPP outfit had engineered this cold blooded murder (just as some think JJR knew about the murder committed by Kwei).

This incident, more than any other, explains the deep suspicion that Characterized the relationship between the CPP and the NLM. The incident also accounts for the violent clashes, shootings, burning of cars and houses, breaking up of rallies, etc.

At this time, Nkrumah was serving a second term under the recently amended Coussey constitution. But he was largely ineffective in containing the violence. Indeed, no CPP minister could enter Kumasi for the next three years.

Therefore, contrary to myths, it was not only the NLM that was opposed to the creeping dictatorial tendencies of Osagyefo. In Accra, there was significant tension between the CPP and the Ga people culminating in the formation of the Ga Shifimokpee (Ga Standfast Association). It was worse in southern Togoland where the people were in open rebellion and even boycotted the independence celebrations in 1957.

Nkrumah & Independence

Nkrumah's responses, soon after independence, was what cemented the culture of violence that had been initiated by Twumasi Ankrah.
    1. He suspended the NLM dominated Kumasi city council and ordered the probing of its activities, to break the hold of the NLM in Kumasi. This was in clear violation of the constitution.

    2. In spite of the protections that had been emplaced in the constitution to preserve local control, he appointed CPP Politicians as chief regional commissioners in the regions.

    3. In July 1957, a deportation act was passed and used to deport Amadu Baba and Alhaji Lalemi, two leading NLM members, and a number of anti-CPP Syrians and Lebanese.

    4. Government withdrew recognition of Nana Ofori Atta as Omanhene of Akyem Abuakwa and set up a commission to probe the Akyem Abuakwa state council. His offence was that he was a strong NLM supporter but the main aim of this was to send a message to other chiefs.

    5. In December 1957, almost all opposition parties were made illegal by the passage of the so-called "Avoidance of Discrimination Act." This act banned organizations, parties and societies that were confined to particular tribal groups and which were used for political purposes. So the Northern Peoples Party, Muslim Association Party, Togoland Congress, Anlo Youth Organization, Ga Shifimokpee, etc. all became illegal. Several of these parties had been around and contested the 1951, 1954 and 1956 elections.

    6. The emergency powers act was introduced and applied in January 1958 to introduce martial law in Kumasi.

    7. Ashanti was split into two --- creating the Ashanti and B/A regions. Several pro CPP chiefs were installed in Ashanti and Volta as paramount chiefs to the consternation and disapproval of the local people.

    8. The regional councils, entrenched in the constitution, were abolished.

    9. The controversial PDA was introduced as a bill in parliament on 14th July 1958 and passed by 16th July 1958. This act empowered the government to arrest and detain for 5 years anybody suspected of or found acting in a manner prejudicial to the defence of Ghana, to her relations with other states and to state security.

Political violence, which was started in 1955 by Twumasi of the CPP, had been consolidated by the Osagyefo!

The Birth of the United Party

As discussed, the "Avoidance of Discrimination Act" passed in December 1957 made all the opposition parties illegal. In response to this act, the opposition parties --- NPP, MAP, NLM, WYA, AYA, the Ga Shifimokpee - united to form the United Party (UP) under the leadership of Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia. Within a short time the UP's message and popularity had spread through the country. The PDA's ugly teeth devoured the meat of this New Popular Party (NPP), a party that has now reincarnated as the NPP.

In November 1958, 39 people were detained under the PDA. All 39 were UP members. 9 of the 12 detained in 1959 were prominent UP members in the Asante region. All 16 detained by July 1960 were UP members in the Volta region.

The opposition parties had virtually been killed under the PDA (see Birth of the UP). By 1960, 3 of the opposition MPs had been detained; 1 was in exile; and 12 had crossed to the government's side. An alien's compliance order had been instituted to harass and deport opposition "foreigners." Both the Ashanti and Akyem Abuakwa councils had been probed and politics had been injected into chieftaincy. A culture of silence and political recession was born.

One has to keep in mind that Nkrumah had been elected as prime minister in 1951 and in 1954. While the British were around, politics and political debate flourished. Sadly, once the British departed on 6th March 1957, Osagyefo single-handedly launched the country into an unprecedented political recession from which we are still recovering.

Thus Reverend Nkrumah was responsible for Ghana's first political recession.

The Economic Mess

In 1947, the Osagyefo published "Towards Colonial Freedom." In this treatise, he advocated economic planning, abolition of poverty and economic exploitation and a control of the means of the production by the people. The CPP 1951 constitution, introduced the party as a nationalist, democratic socialist movement. On the eve of independence, the Osagyefo in an address to parliament, asserted that the citizens of Ghana must play a far bigger role than at present.

Ghana's economy was so much dominated by foreigners at independence that any measures at all would have led to some progress. Over 90% of the import trade, timber concessions and mineral concessions were in the hands of foreigners.

But the Osagyefo fell asleep during the first three years after independence. W. A. Wiafe's pleas for him to restrict retail trade and introduce import license preferences to Ghanaians fell on deaf ears. Indeed, the Syrian and Lebanese influence in retail increased by 1960. To add insult to injury and to spite Wiafe, the Osagyefo gave a large loan to Anastasias Leventis, a Greek, to enable him to extend his trading activities to Ghana. Similar calls to include Ghanaians in mining fell on deaf ears. Rather, grants and interest free loans were given to failing expatriate mining companies to allow them to continue in operations.

In construction, government establish the GNCC in partnership with an Israeli firm but the industry continued to be controlled by expatriates. The same is true of insurance and manufacturing where cosmetic changes were made. manufacturing industries where government had equal or minority shares was 6 at 1957 and 6 in 1960.

The only exceptions were cocoa purchasing and Banking. In cocoa purchasing, the Ghana Farmers Marketing Cooperative and Ghana Cooperative Marketing association were by 1960 purchasing 50% of the total crop thru local agents. The Central Bank was established in 1957 and the Ghana Commercial Bank, established in 1952, had about 50 percent of the deposit.

Thus, in the economic realm nothing of substance happened between 1957 and 1960 even though we had 200 million pounds to make things happen. Worse, there were no policies on transfer of profits abroad allowing huge profits to be repatriated rather than reinvested in Ghana.

The First Republic

I outlined some of the callous political measures that were emplaced by the Reverend Kwame Nkrumah during the period between 1957 and 1960. While those measures effectively created a political recession, they pale in comparison to the political moves of the Showboy in the period from 1960 to 1966. The first move in the pre-1960 era was a plebiscite under which Ghana was to became a republic. The plebiscite was a colossal waste of resources as the outcome was already foregone. The new constitution abolished the post of the Governor-General and the showboy became the Head of State under the new title of President. The new constitution itself had several controversial articles:
Article 55 gave the President powers to rule by decree or legislative instrument. Interestingly, this article was not in the draft constitution that was adopted under the rigged plebiscite. It was smuggled into the constitution by the CPP constituent assembly set up to pass the constitution (similar to how the certain clauses of the transitional provisions were smuggled into the 1992 constitution --- I will get to that someday).

Then there was an article which empowered the president to appoint and dismiss the chief justice. Further, the president could appoint, transfer fire, probate and discipline all members of the Public Service, which includes the civil service, the judicial service, police service, the local government service, military service and any service as may be provided by law. Finally, the President was given the power to give assent to any bill from parliament - he could accept, reject, modify or do whatever he pleases with the bill.

The coup de grace was the plebiscite of 1964 to determine whether Ghana will become a one party state and whether the president could dismiss high court judges without cause. Of course, the one party state proposition won with 2,773,920 votes to 2,452. Ashanti was reported to have voted 100% for a one party state!

In 1965, elections were to take place under the one party state constitution. That too was not to be as the Reverend simply went on radio and announced who the new MPs will be. It was a joke as MPs were appointed who had no knowledge of where their constituencies were located. Elsewhere, I wrote about how the Messiah used the PDA between 1957 to 1960. In those 3 years, 70 people were detained. But things were to heat up. Ghanaians, having fought the British for centuries, were not about to be intimidated by one of their own. So the more Nkrumah intimidated them with his PDA, the more they resisted and the more they resisted the more the Osagyefo played the PDA card.

Between July and December 1960, about 175 people were detained under the PDA. The number was over 300 in 1961 and about 250 in 1962. By 1963, 586 were in detention under the PDA. Of course, not only anti-CPP stalwarts were detained. For instance, the roll call of detainees in 1961 included Danquah, Victor Owusu, Joe Appiah but also W. A. Wiafe, P. K. K. Quaidoo who were CPP MPs at the time. A few lucky ones, like Busia and Gbedemah (Nkrumah's closest associate) were able to escape into exile.

Of course, not only politicians were detained. Anyone at all who was reported by spies who had now filled every corner of the country was a candidate for detention. If a spy reported you, you were picked up. Nobody in Ghana felt secure after 1961.

But it was not the number of detained or exiled people or the spies that galled Ghanaians. It was the manner in which the detainees were treated that really spoke to the Osagyefo's political callousness and that really pricked the political and human conscience of Ghanaians. There were several reports of death, untreated illness, forced medication and inoculation. When it was announced in 1965 that Danquah and Obetsebi Lamptey had both died in preventive detention, Ghanaians of all walks of life were now talking about the extra-constitutional options available to overthrow this demon that they had inherited.


The Apaloo asset commission, which was set up by the NLC to investigate Nkrumah' assets concluded: "in view of the findings we have made as to how he acquired the bulk of his property which he controlled as a Trustee of the people of this country and his proved duplicity in many matters, we find it impossible to resist the observation that Nkrumah thoroughly unfitted himself for the high office of the President of Ghana."


The Fountain of Honour, as they called him, started politics as a penniless politician. He came from very humble beginnings and at one time was a reverend. The Apaloo commission found that the Showboy was worth 250,000 pounds in cash and marketable securities by 1961. This had increased to 2 million pounds by 1966. Curiously, his lawful earnings in this period was computed at 134,000 pounds. What account for this good fortune? Put bluntly, corruption. The classic example of this is the 1 million pound that the cabinet set aside as a "Trust for the Advancement of Ghana." The Osagyefo simply appropriated 750,000 pounds from this for his personal use. Several instances of bribery, commissions, etc. were also documented by the Apaloo commission.


At 0500 hours on 24th February, 1966, Afrifa's convoy arrived at the Flagstaff house. They met resistance and came under heavy machine gun-fire from the entrance of the flagstaff house. Colonel led the resistance Zanlerigu. But Afrifa, a Sandhurst trained soldier who had recently seen action in Katanga, was not to be denied.

He continued his advance toward GBC and by 0525 hours, Radio Ghana had fallen to his control. Akwasi Afrifa then went on air and asked a now awakened, unsuspecting Ghanaians to stand by their radios for an important announcement at 6am. A few minutes before 6am, his commander, Colonel Kotoka arrived at the radio station. He shook his hands and said "well done, Akwasi." With the following words, what started as a test exercise for a Rhodesian Operation, liberated Ghana from the ugly grips of Osagyefo Reverend Kwame Showboy Nkrumah.

"Fellow citizens of Ghana, I have come to inform you that the military, in co-operation with the Ghana Police, have taken over the government of Ghana today. The MYTH surrounding Nkrumah had been broken. Parliament is dissolved and Kwame Nkrumah is dismissed from office. All ministers are also dismissed. The CPP is disbanded with effect from now. It will be illegal for any person to belong to it. We appeal to you to be calm and co-operative; all persons in detention will be released in due course. Please stay by your radios and await further details."

Ghana was freed but not before the famous Ashanti New Town reminder. Soon after Kotoka's announcement, 1000s of people gathered at a bar celebrating With early morning agboto beer. Then a wise old man said, " You do not know Nkrumah. This is one of his wicked plans to test the loyalty of the masses." In less than 2 minutes, the bar was emptied and was as quiet again as a cemetery. Such was the fear that the Osagyefo put in us.