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Opinions of Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Columnist: AR Gomda

JB’s missive to Nkrumah 22nd September 1962 (1)

Dr. J.B, Danquah did not fold his arms about matters he thought required correction by President Kwame Nkrumah as evidenced by a number of letters he wrote to him. These letters did not however helped matters as they appeared to have unnerved an already suspicious President who went ahead to have him arrested and detained.

In subsequent editions I would present some of these correspondences with a view to having us consider same in our assessment of the conditions which led the President to regard Dr. J.B Danquah as a man whose freedom did not inure to the interest of his government and the state.

The following letter dated as in the headline is as interesting as it is revealing.

Dear Dr. Nkrumah,

I have been wanting to write to you about the falsification of certain facts of our country’s history in certain sections of our newspaper press, but the repetition of the bomb explosion, followed by the natural upsurge of public indignation, compelled me to restrain my hands from a belief that you and your staff might be undergoing a severe strain, either of labour or of emotion, and that you must be spared the extra expenditure of energy to look into such matters closely’.

Judging, however, from the strong terms of the demarche issued by the President’s Office “following recent complaints by Embassies and other organisations regarding articles appearing in some Ghanaian newspapers and commentaries on the Ghana Radio”, and following also the emphatic statement of the view that the Ghana Government does not control the day-to-day operations of publicity media, “whose freedom to publicise their views is recognised as a fundamental corner-stone of the people’s liberty”, it has become clear to me that your Office and Staff are likely to be interested in, and, indeed, concerned with, any of such newspaper articles which tend to jeopardise the national interest, or to infringe the sacred boundaries of the facts constituting our nation’s history.

The accompanying letter dated 4th September, 1962, and addressed to Your Excellency, is now being signed and dispatched because I have come across a repetition of the same kind of objectionable and disturbing matter in the Ghanaian Times of September 21, 1962, in which this time those insulted ‘are not the special national leaders of our past, and the people in general, but our farmers in particular.

The person responsible for the article, who writes on the subject, “Period of Bliss under the Leader”, signs it with the name “Willie Donkor”.

At page 9 of the said newspaper, Willie Donkor writes: “Ghana’s independence has been a relief to our farmers, for before then, the farmers were cheated most of all . It was our colonial ‘masters’ who decided what price they wanted to pay for their crops. The poor farmers had no mouth to protest against the offer even if the price was meager, for there was no second person to compete with the ‘masters.’ It was a trade monopoly in the strictest sense.

What do we see now? The nation has established a centralised corporation which handles all crops in the country and fixes reasonable prices for the respective crops.”

This statement not only falsified our country’s proud history of successive achievements from the early course taken by the national intelligence to shape our liberation from economic and other forms of imperialism, but it actually makes it appear as if until independence, no one in Ghana, or the Gold Coast as it was then, had any guts(or mouth) to meet and resist oppression or economic deprivation.

What, however, are the facts? One instance of what the facts are in respect of the cocoa hold up and boycott of European goods,is succinctly set forth at pages 70 to 72 of Dr F.M. Bourret’s outstanding monograph on our country entitled The Gold Coast, published in 1949 by the Stanford University Press and a second edition of which has since been issued.

African accused him of favouring the opposite side, (rootnote .1..0; J. D. Danquah, Liberty of the Subject, pages 9-24. This pamphlet gives an interesting account of the holdup by an African writer)”.

It is common place knowledge to any assiduous student of Ghanaian history (at least I thought so) that this great incident of the third decade of the century led eventually to the appointment of the Nowell Commission, and the Commission’s Report led to the establishment of the Cocoa Marketing Board in its original form, namely, with a right in the farmers to appoint their own representatives on the Board and to help fix the buying price.

The establishment of the Board led to a steady improvement in the methods of marketing cocoa and it led also to a rise in the price from what it was in 1937 (£44 a ton) to what it became in 1951-52, namely £4 per head-load of 60 lb. or £149 6s. 8d. per ton “the highest paid since the institution of the Gold Coast Marketing Board in 1947?. (My italics: ECONOMIC SURVEY 1952, page 15 paragraph 52).

I do not dwell at length on the other political consequences of the decision taken by the farmers at that important meeting which was held at Suhum to “reject” the Pool Agreement, but it is a fact that but for the revolutionary action of the farmers in 1937, backed by the Chiefs and the intelligentsia, there would not have been nearly enough money saved in Ghana’s national finances at home and abroad for the independence of the country to have been launched on a buoyant financial basis 20 years later in 1957, or on the assumption of self-government in 1951.

I think, Sir, that we in this country often neglected to count our blessings and we abuse our ex-oppressors, the imperialists, much more than we praise our own ancestors for the good they did for us.

I personally do not think we do ourselves any good to let our young people believe that for centuries our own people were incapable of helping themselves in any way, while the so-called imperialists were capable of “fooling” or “cheating” them all the time.

The painful thing is that these facts about the cocoa hold-up must be known to the Editor of the Ghanaian Times and his intelligent and able staff, some of whom, such as Mr. R. B. Wuta Ofei, played a worthy part with the newspaper campaign of the time for the farmers and against the Pool. It seems to me that with such staff and advisers available, the nation ought to be spared these grating upsets of the country’s mile-posts in history by writers who would not care to verify their facts.

However, the reason by which I write to you about Mr. Willie Donkor’s article is not to pray that Your Excellency may take any particular step in the matter. I mention it here to fortify my hands in bringing Mr. Cecil Forde’s article in an earlier issue of the same paper to your Excellency’s particular notice, because, in regard to that, I believe that really effective action can only be taken at the highest national level, namely, by the President of Ghana calling upon Mr Forde, his employee, to apologise to the nation for the insults he offers to our country and to the builders of our nation’s history.

In another part of the same issue of the Ghanaian Times, actually in the editorial of September 21, 1962, a similar false picture is given of our nation’s history to the effect that “In the mining areas and in other trading stores, offices and establishments throughout the country, wages were as low as 9d., Is. 3d. and Is. 6d. a day, for the toiling and intimidated masses who suffered a ruthless exploitation from the colonialist vampires”.

The Editor suggests that this was the position when you, Sir, came to power as the government of the land. The same tale is given classic statement at page 11, paragraph 40 of Work and Happiness, a document issued under the signature of the Party in power, the Convention People’s Party, but printed by the Government’s Press. It is stated categorically in the Party’s Draft Programme that “When the Party (i.e. the Convention People’s Party) came into power (in February 1951) wages were as low as 9d. per day”.

The truth, of course, is that quite apart from the general rise in salary scales brought about by the Revised Conditions of Service for the Civil Service, (Sessional Paper No. 1 of 1947), the Korsah Committee, composed of Mr. Justice (now Sir) K. A. Korsah, Mr. L. A. Northcroft and Nana Kwame Fori II, did in Sessional Paper No.5 of 1947, raised wages generally from Is. 4d. to 2s. 9d. in Accra, Sekondi-Takoradi, Kumasi and Railway centres; and from Is. to 2s. 6d. in the Southern Section, and from 6d. to 2s. in the Northern Section.

In the same year, by reason of claims by the Trade Union for higher wages in the mines, the William Gorman Arbitration was appointed on which men like G. E. Moore and W. E. G. Sekyi and O’Neil Cromwell served.

The Gorman Award, issued in 1947, was very nearly in accord with the demands made by Mr. J. N. Same, General President of the Gold Coast Mines Employees Union. .

The wages awarded ranged from 2s. minimum, 2s. 6d. maximum for miscellaneous surface labourers, 2s. 6d. minimum and 3s. maximum for mines labourers; for carpenters, masons, painters and blacksmiths 4s. minimum’! and 6s. 6d. maximum; and for stenographers 6s. 6d. minimum, 10s. maximum- per day.

I am not saying that these wages were high. They may have been adequate. in relation to the cost of living at the time. What I am saying is that it is historically inaccurate and misleading for the Editor of a newspaper, or the writer of a responsible or serious Party publication, to state that wages in force in 1951 were 9d., or Is. 3d. or Is. 6d. a day, when the public evidence of the actual position in the matter is something quite the contrary.

I think, Sir, that we in Ghana have a big job of work to do, and that if we build our foundations on the basis of facts or truth we are likely to go far, but we will encounter enormous difficulties and misplaced repercussions if the new generation of young and adolescent people are not led to see matters in their true colours.

With this said, I stop here, to direct your specific attention to my letter written early this month, and which I now have the honour to submit to you for most serious consideration to save the nation’s name and our ancestors’ record from undue blemishes.”

With my warm regard and best wishes for your safety I remain,

Yours very sincerely,