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Opinions of Wednesday, 28 March 2007

Columnist: Adu-Asare, Yaw

Missing Opportunity at Independence for Future Political Harmony

Ghana @ 50 in Retrospect: Missing Opportunity at Independence for Future Political Harmony

For the people of the Gold Coast/Ghana, the period 1947 to 1957 was epochal, full of events the outcomes of which influenced turning points in the historical process of the colonized territory with negative implications for its post-independence political dynamics and conditions.

In 1947, a 37-year old citizen, Kwame Nkrumah, who had studied in the United States for 10 years, returned to his native Gold Coast imbued with fire to free his people from British colonization. Ten years after Nkrumah’s return to his home country, the Gold Coast acquired political independence from Britain. The granting of independence to the Gold Coast was the culmination of intensive mass social agitation organized under the auspices of the Convention People’s Party, CPP that Nkrumah founded and led.

Political independence for the people of the Gold Coast on March 6, 1957, marked the death of the epoch of British colonization. The event saw the birth of a new epoch of political independence for the Gold Coast (soon to be called Ghana) in which the people regained the right to live in freedom and liberty on their own land, which Europeans had coveted since 1844. It is important to point out that independence for Ghana paved the way for preparation for political emancipation of the rest of the African continent from European colonization.

This article discusses dynamics associated with an opportunity the Gold Coast missed at the dawn of independence to negotiate for better understanding and consensus building between opposing principal local political actors, all of who had engaged in agitation against British colonization.

Fifty years after attaining political independence, relations in the political landscape of Ghana are ruled by partisan antagonism generated by differences over the fact that the new nation, when independence was within reach, opted for a unitary form of government, as opposed to one structured on regional autonomy or a federation.

The pre-independence dominant political party in the Gold Coast, Convention People’s Party, CPP, led by Kwame Nkrumah, preferred a unitary form of government, also favored by the British, for independent Ghana. The leading opposition party, National Liberation Movement, NLM, opted for a government based on regional autonomy or federation.

From 1951 to March 6, 1957, Kwame Nkrumah served as the Leader of Government Business, in the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly by virtue of the fact that the CPP had won national elections in 1951, 1954 and 1956, and had clear majority in the legislature. Upon attainment of independence, the Legislative Assembly rose in status to a parliament and Nkrumah was anointed Prime Minister.

On September 17, 1956, the Governor-General of the Gold Coast, Sir Charles Arden Clarke, representing the British government, informed Kwame Nkrumah of a firm date his government had selected as Independence Day for the people of the colonial territory. The following day, Sept.18, Nkrumah informed members of the Gold Coast legislature of the confirmed date, March 6, 1957, as the day for independence of their country, as relayed by a dispatch from the British government that he read.

September 19, 1956, Kwame Nkrumah addressed the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly, again, on the independence date announcement and the need for preparation by the government, the House and country as a whole, towards that end. Specifically, Nkrumah reminded the Assembly members of the need to produce a Constitution for the new nation, Ghana, and the role they (the lawmakers) had to play in the process.

More significantly, Nkrumah invited members of the opposition in the legislature to discuss contents of a proposed Constitution, “article by article,” outside of the Assembly, and to debate on disagreements when the motion was tabled on the matter in the House. The question of regional autonomy was foremost on Nkrumah’s mind when he extended the magnanimous invitation to the opposition for discussion of a proposed Constitution, in the interest of the new nation.

Following is part of what Nkrumah said in an address to the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly on Sept. 19, 1956, regarding the need for drafting a Constitution for the new Ghana: “The constitutional proposals only included very general provisions concerning the definition of Regions and the powers to be exercised by the Regional Assemblies, and because of the controversial nature of this particular matter, I felt that further time should be allowed for detailed consideration of what was required. Hence I decided not to introduce the necessary legislation until early in the New Year, [1957].”

The reason why Nkrumah identified “… the definition of Regions and the powers to be exercised by the Regional Assemblies” in the proposed Constitution as a matter of “controversial nature” was because of the behavior of the opposition NLM regarding its demand for a government based on regionalism or federalism.

Starting in 1954, 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. Nkrumah used his executive and political power to thwart the desperate move by NLM towards federalism because of its association with ethnocentrism and unelected leadership.

Baffuor Osei Akoto, the chief linguist of the Asantehene (King of the Asante people of Ghana), was the principal leader of the Ashanti-based NLM.

Because of intensified violent opposition to the idea of a unitary form of government for the Gold Coast, the CPP government, under pressure from the British administration, organized general elections in 1956, for the voters to make determination of a clear majority party, going into independence. The CPP won the 1956 elections for the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly, gaining 72 out of 104 seats of the House.

For Nkrumah and the CPP government, the landslide victory at the 1956 polls was manifestation of possession of the voters’ mandate to exercise majority rule, including the power to choose a unitary form of government for independent Gold Coast. Interestingly, the CPP had won national elections to the Gold Coast legislature in 1954, with a mandate to rule for four years.

“The Opposition expressed their satisfaction at the opportunity offered for discussion of the constitution outside the Assembly and hoped that they would be able to come to some kind of an agreement,” Nkrumah commented in his autobiography, with respect to the announcement of invitation to the opposition in the Legislative Assembly to participate in discussion of proposed constitution for independent Gold Coast.

Suffice it to say that in spite of the positive response from the Opposition members to the CPP government’s magnanimous invitation in the Gold Coast legislature, they failed or refused to be present for the scheduled Roundtable Conference held at Achimota College in Accra, the capital city. The implications of the outcomes of the Achimota Conference, in the absence of representation from the opposition, have been the sore point around which have revolved partisan antagonism in the politics of post-independence Ghana. What if the Opposition had participated in the Achimota Constitutional Conference?

Refusal by NLM leadership to attend the national roundtable conference arranged by Nkrumah’s government to discuss independence constitution for the Gold Coast highlighted the movement’s 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.

In spite of the absence of NLM at the Achimota Conference, the literature indicates that it took decisions to allay the fears of the Opposition, including “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.”

With majority seats in the legislature, the CPP government abolished the Regional Assemblies after independence in 1957, and the British had pulled out. The abolition was easy for the CPP government because 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, leaders and supporters of the ethno-regional opposition movement, never saw 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 the NLM for being disruptive, especially with respect to the Afrifa-Kotoka coup d’etat of 1966 which paved the way for its (NLM) ascendancy to power in 1969, with Dr. K. A. Busia at the helm.

Given the evidence of resource envy mentality within the ethno-class of the ethno-regional movement, NLM, it was 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,” observed Prof. Rothchild of University of California at Davis at conference in Washington, DC.

Rothchild who taught political science for a while at the University of Ghana wrote in a paper delivered at the Washington conference: “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. It is important to note that in 1901, the British annexed the Gold Coast Colony with the Ashanti and the Northern Territories to formalize its colonial rule over the territory.

At a rally in Kumasi on Nov. 25, 1956, NLM leader Baffuor Osei Akoto, declared that “from today Ashanti and the North are one and have seceded from the Colony.”

After declaration of secession by the NLM, its “deep-rooted and almost fanatical” supporters “viewed violence as the most effective means of securing their separatist agenda,” according to Rothchild.

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.

Rotchchild noted that 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.”

Yes, under the perverse circumstances detailed above, the British Colonial Office left behind a political landscape of independent Ghana, full of bitterness between the Convention People’s Party, CPP, political stream and that of the NLM. What if the opposition had participated in the debate in parliament to amend the Bill that provided for establishment of the Regional Assemblies?

By Yaw Adu-Asare
Woodbridge, Virginia; March 2, 2007
The writer, Yaw Adu-Asare is the author of “Ghana, In Search of Illusive Positive Change: A Performance Review of the First Kufuor Administration

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.