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Opinions of Sunday, 28 April 2002

Columnist: Adu-Asare, R. Y

Lost Opportunity at Conflict-resolution During Independence...

...Negotiations for Gold Coast/Ghana: Issues, Actors Re-examined

Process and outcomes of negotiations for Gold Coast independence had profound effect on inter-group relations, including political conflicts and even the nature of support for military coups, in post-independence Ghana, according to Prof. Donald Rothchild of University of California at Davis.

In giving introduction to a conference in Washington, DC, Friday, April 12, on “The Impact of Colonial Bargaining on Intergroup Relations in Africa,” Rothchild pointed out that throughout colonial Africa, “pre-independence negotiations had impact on inter-group relations” after independence had been won. He said, “The process structured the conditions that followed, including distribution of economic resources.”

According to Rothchild, the purpose of the Johns Hopkins University’s African Studies Department “Africa Day Conference” was to re-examine the issues and actors associated with independence negotiations and how they impacted post independence political conditions. A dominant question examined was: “In what circumstances did colonial negotiations perpetuate future inter-group relations? Primarily, the independence bargaining involved overlapping processes including “Two level game negotiations” between the colonized society and the Home Office of the colonizing power and then among domestic actors of the colonial territory.

In the presentation of his main subject-matter, “Colonial Bargaining As Tactics: The Ghana Experience, 1954-1957”, Rothchild identified the Ashanti-based National Liberation Movement, NLM and the Convention Peoples Party, CPP, led by Kwame Nkrumah, as the two principal domestic actors negotiating for independence from Britain. The common point of departure for the three parties in the negotiations was that they all were in favor of independence for the Gold Coast, according to Rothchild.

Rothchild indicated that the political points of contention between the domestic actors revolved around whether the emerging independent Gold Coast should have a unitary governmental structure or a federal arrangement. The powerful movement led by Nkrumah favored a unitary government as opposed to the Ashanti-based federalist party, according to Rothchild.

Nkrumah’s CPP won national elections in 1951 which paved the way for self government for the Gold Coast Colony and put him in charge of the Legislative Council under British tutelage. Having won the 1951 elections, Nkrumah preferred to dictate the political terms in the independence negotiations process, Rothchild pointed out.

Throughout the independence negotiations period, “Britain had control over the levers of political power” in the Gold Coast, Rothchild indicated. But according to him, Britain while serving as the mediator between the contending domestic actors, preferred the unitary government idea of Nkrumah; Britain saw the federalists as disruptive.

Even though Britain preferred the Westminster style unitary government based on simple majority rule at the polls, it pressured Nkrumah to make concessions to some NLM demands in the interest of moving the independence agenda forward.

Rothchild explained that intellectuals and traditional rulers led NLM, primarily from Ashanti. He pointed out that when a section of the NLM refused to accept Nkrumah’s concessions with respect to regional autonomy, fanatical elements of the movement resorted to violence. But Nkrumah was determined not to limit his executive power; “He saw federalism as tainted with tribalism and weak leadership”, Rothchild said.

When the political clash between the CPP and the ethnoregional actor NLM, led by Baffuor Osei Akoto, the chief linguist of the Asantehene (King of the Asante people) intensified, in 1954, the British Colonial Office sent an emissary in the person of Sir Frederick C. Bourne who had had some experience of a similar situation in India, to mediate. But according to Rothchild, Frederick Bourne arrived in the Gold Coast in 1955, with a limited sense of his role. In his prepared document, Rothchild writes: “It was evident from the outset that F. C. Bourne, who had been appointed as mediator by the British Colonial Secretary at the request of the Gold Coast government, was anything but a neutral or disinterested party. In this instance, the mediator’s preference for unitary government coincided with that of the colonial administration and the regime of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.”

Rothchild intimated that Bourne saw himself as an unrestricted free agent to mediate between two rivals. “Bourne preferred a strong center with regional powers for matters of local concerns,” Rothchild explained. He indicated that Nkrumah became suspicious of Bourne’s approach, “But Nkrumah’s government made some concessions – deferring certain rights to local authorities.”

“The NLM, formed in part to express Asante frustrations over perceived subregional inequities and fears of loss of political influence after independence,” expanded its demands to include “both ethnic and class grievances,” to paraphrase Rothchild. “In terms of nationwide developmental indicators, Ashanti Region placed about average, disadvantaged by comparison with Greater Accra and advantaged by comparison with Northern and Upper Regions,” Rothchild wrote. For example, Greater Accra had more hospital beds per person, greater access to public supply of water and electricity than Ashanti.

Besides the political differences, the NLM rallied its supporters around its opposition to the price paid for cocoa beans by the self-governing administration of the Gold Coast headed by Nkrumah. Ashanti was (and remains) the hub of cocoa production in the Gold Coast/Ghana. “The basis for a sense of ethnoclass economic grievances lay in the dissatisfactions that the Ashanti cocoa farmers had over distributional issues – in particular, the price paid for cocoa, the determination of loans, and the distribution of scholarships,” Rothchild wrote.

“In 1954, the Nkrumah government raised cocoa export duties generally, paying farmers at a rate that was roughly half the world market price at that time. The cocoa farmer’s resentment over what they perceived as a hidden tax was unmistakable,” Rothchild wrote.

Given the mentality of resource envy within the ethnoclass of the ethnoregional movement, NLM, it is no wonder that as the prospect for independence became more and more a reality with Nkrumah firmly in control of the bargaining cards, “militant Opposition elements concluded they could not achieve their objectives through the political system, they called for secession from the Gold Coast,” Rothchild noted. He wrote: “The intensity of feelings among the NLM and its allied organizations (such as the Asanteman Council [the Council of Paramount Chiefs of Ashanti], the Joint Provincial Council, the Northern Territories Territorial Council, and the Northern Peoples Party) led to a relatively high level of violence and intimidation in Ashanti Region.”

At an emergency meeting, Nov. 20, 1956, the Asanteman Council passed a resolution calling for the secession of Ashanti and Northern Territories from the Gold Coast and advised the Asantehene and two delegates not to honor invitation to independence celebrations in Accra, Rothchild explained. He wrote, NLM leader Baffuor Akoto declared at a rally on November 25 that “from today Ashanti and the North are one and have seceded from the Colony.”

With NLM’s secessionist declaration, its “deep-rooted and almost fanatical” supporters “viewed violence as the most effective means of securing their separatist agenda,” according to Rothchild’s findings.

While the NLM pursued its separatist agenda, the British administration feared that Nkrumah was going to accede to the call by his supporters to declare independence for the Gold Coast, unilaterally. But Nkrumah resisted that entreaty from his supporters preferring instead to hold on to the majoritarian advantage in the legislative assembly.

In the interim, Nkrumah’s government had set up an inquiry into the practices of the Cocoa Purchasing Company into the complaints by the NLM with regard to award of scholarships and so on. “Hence, the main NLM demand became the limitation of central government power through the adoption of a federal system,” Rothchild wrote.

To resolve the issue of federalism, the Colonial Secretary pressured Nkrumah to hold a general election, “to seek the views of the people … in the hope that this would produce a really decisive result,” before the granting of independence. The British idea for a general election did not sit well with Nkrumah precisely because he and his party had the mandate to rule the Gold Coast till 1958. “Nkrumah recognized the decisive power in his hands, as the result of his majority support in the legislature” and “viewed as repugnant any attempts by the Opposition or British authorities to use federalism, bicameral legislatures, or a rigid amendment clause to limit the capacity of the majority for effective rule,” Rothchild stated.

To drive home the need for a general election as a means to settle the sensitive issue of NLM demand for federalism, “The Colonial Secretary wrote Nkrumah that a two-thirds majority was not necessary. The majority principle was never in doubt. The British government, the Colonial Secretary declared, would not have “second thoughts” about granting independence if the Nkrumah government achieved a majority of 10 or 20 votes in the legislature, and even a smaller number might suffice,” Rothchild wrote.

For Rothchild, the fact that both the majority government of Kwame Nkrumah and leaders of the NLM Opposition and their supporters were unwilling to adjust their thinking to accommodate each other, coupled with insufficient skill on the part of Frederick Bourne to change minds and hearts, did not augur well for pre-independence conflict resolution in the Gold Coast. He wrote thus: “A skilled third-party intermediary might have encouraged sensitivity on the part of the majority party regarding the uncertainties of the minority communities and the need for broad confidence-building measures. Sir Frederick Bourne, the constitutional advisor, might have risen more forcefully to this role, but he inclined toward a narrow interpretation of his mandate. In retrospect, such a restricted view of the mediator’s assignment represented a lost opportunity.”

To mollify the British, Nkrumah offered several concessions to accommodate the opposition, to no avail. “Thus to the very end, the NLM and its allies resisted inclusion in the transition process on Nkrumah’s terms,” Rothchild pointed out. Under the perverse circumstances, British Colonial Office said “good-bye to any hope of reducing the present bitterness between the two sides here and to the reasonable treatment of minorities by the CPP government after independence….”

Refusal by NLM leadership to attend a national roundtable conference arranged by Nkrumah’s government to discuss independence constitution for the Gold Coast highlighted its intransigence. The Achimota Constitutional Conference of 1956 went on without NLM representation and the decisions thereof were implemented with the blessing of the national legislature.

According to Rothchild, the Achimota Conference took decisions to allay the fears of the Opposition: “These included provision for a House of Chiefs whenever a Regional Assembly was established; the appointment of the president of the House of Chiefs in each sub-region as the president of the Regional Assembly; and the “obligatory” transfer of limited responsibilities in such fields as agriculture, education, communications, health, public works, housing, and town and country planning.”

“At British insistence, the government did hold another general election in July 1956. Again, Nkrumah’s CPP won a decisive victory. At the national level, CPP candidates polled 397,941 votes out of a total of 698,908 and won a disproportional 72 out of 104 seats in the legislature,” Rothchild stated.

In the light of post-independence political conflicts Prof. Rothchild who taught for a while at the political science department of the University of Ghana, was correct when he concluded that when the British pulled out, Gold Coast/Ghana was left without pre-determined process for political conflict-resolution. He pointed out that the independence negotiations process was a lost opportunity; “Hence, post-colonial conflicts and military coups.”

With majority power in hand, the NLM became no match for Nkrumah and the CPP after independence in 1957 and the British had pulled out. With majority in the Gold Coast legislature, the CPP government quickly abolished the Regional Assemblies. The abolition was easy when the Opposition made a mistake and walked out of parliament during a debate to amend the bill that instituted the Regional Assemblies.

Since the fateful dissolution of the Regional Assemblies in 1957, the ethnoregional opposition movement which has changed names several times, has never seen eye to eye with Nkrumah’s CPP, up to date. Through political socialization, overwhelming number of Asante people have hardly acknowledged any contribution by Nkrumah towards the building of the Gold Coast/Ghana; likewise, die-hard CPP supporters have never forgiven NLM for being disruptive, especially with respect to Afrifa-Kotoka coup of 1966 which paved the way for its (NLM) ascendancy to power with Dr. K. A. Busia at the helm.

Given the traditional existence of two political streams – the CPP and NLM/UP/PP/NPP – it is defensible to suggest that the NDC, led by Jerry Rawlings, is an historical aberration in the politics of Ghana in that it is made up of people whose roots are planted in either the CPP or NLM traditions. That some of these people jumped unto the NDC band-wagon was because they saw a vacuum and had the appetite for power and fame. To name a few well-known names: Senior Minister J. H. Mensah was onetime Nkrumah’s chief economist; Prof. Kofi Awoonor worked for Nkrumah as a writer and later served as advisor to John Tettegah, General Secretary of Ghana Trade Union Congress, TUC, which, to all intents and purposes, was a wing of the CPP; Capt. Kojo Tsikata (Rtd.) was Nkrumah’s emissary to Angola at the time of the 1966 coup; the name Spio Garbrah was synonymous with the CPP in the days of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah. So, what have you?