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Opinions of Sunday, 11 February 2007

Columnist: Asante Fordjour

The New Independence

A Review of The New Gold Coast, by Sir Reginald Saloway
(International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944- ),
Vol. 31, No. 4 (Oct. 1955), pp. 469-476 ((July 1955))

How Successful Was The British Colonial Rule in The Gold Coast?
[The Indirect Rule: Gold Coast and India Compared]

PART I INTRODUCTION

Having adopted this heading- The New Independence, we attempt to argue that Ghanaians are yet to achieve their collective self-determination, which evaded them on their march to self-rule. For almost six decades, it could be conceded that Gold Coast and for that matter Ghana, is painfully poled apart by two ideological parallels, drawn on the beliefs of Drs J.B. Danquah and Kwame Nkrumah. But then this over half-a-century unresolved historical myth perceived as the hallmark of our political impropriety could still be seen as one of our numerous woes.

The debate as to what constitutes an independent state or who is or was a heroic patriot towards the road to self-rule is of less importance to this paper. What is of weight is to find out why and how Dr Nkrumah won the post-1948 riots election of 1952. And to enquire whether Dr Nkrumah, indeed did rule united Gold Coast and for that matter, Ghana, at independence. Given that the then leader of Government Business and later elected Prime Minister, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, until then, had had no direct dealings with any British official.

PART II

ABSTRACT: THE INVISIBLE BONDS

In a debate between H.L.A. Hart and Patrick Devlin about tolerance and intolerance- the legal enforcement of moral values [((Duncan J. Richter, “Social Integrity and Private ‘Immorality’, The Hart-Devlin Debate Reconsidered”, Humboldt State University, 2001)) (1)], on the issue of whether or not the proposed repeal of the British law prohibiting the promotion of homosexuality (a law known as Section 28) “could destroy Scottish society,” Mazhar Malik of Glasgow’s Ethnic Community Resource Centre, echoing Devlin’s concern from the 1960s is quoted as saying that a couple can continue to live together and function cooperatively even after having drifted apart emotionally, no longer thinking of themselves as a unit for the sake of which at least some of their individual actions are done, and for which purely individual interests might be sacrificed. Similarly, it is argued that a society can, in the words of Delvin, disintegrate if its members “merely live in interactive proximity to one another but do not understand themselves to be members of that society in any more distinctive sense…

For society, as Delvin submits, is not something that is kept together physically; but rather, it is fastened as one by the invisible bonds of common thought. If the bonds were too far relaxed the members would indeed, drift apart. Thus if men and women try to create a society in which there is no fundamental agreement about good and evil they will fail. But if, having based it on common accord and the agreement fades out, the society, he says, will likely disintegrate. In that a common morality, Delvin says, is part of the bondage and the bondage, is part of the price of society; and mankind, which needs society, must pay its price. This formulation reflects indeed an urgent inquiry: that is, what “glues” us together as Ghanaians?

PART III

THE NEW GOLD COAST

In what appears to be an expression of disappointment about what had already been told about Gold Coast and her indigenous peoples Sir Saloway evokes his situation report like this: “Before I went to the Gold Coast in 1947 I was assured that it was regarded as a model colony where everything was going according to plan. I arrived there to find political and racial feeling as tense as I had ever known in India, and in February 1948 there were violent riots in the course of which damage estimated at over one million pounds was done in Accra alone.”

Indeed the Colonial Secretary, who was originally taken from the developing job, is not referring to what David Gilmour makes its clear in his book that: ‘The British were not in India to be treated like Untouchables’ in that the Indians were hostile too. Hard to socialise with people, wash their hands and change their clothes after meeting their guests and refuse either to eat with the British or invite them to their houses. Sexual relations between them as Gilmour puts it, petered out too, less because of racial prejudice than because the British tended to bring their wives (The Ruling Caste: The Imperial Live in The Victorian Raj, ISBN 07619555345). Therefore, Sir Saloway must not be misconstrued as he meant something else.

The most distributing thing per the former India Civil Service Officer was about the 1948 riots where the government had virtually no effective support among the people and the forces of law and order were utterly inadequate to control the situation. “This was quite unlike India where, apart from the acquiescence of the masses in British rule, there was, right up to the end, a considerable body of people who were prepared to support the British Raj,” he laments.

So, who was the British ‘Raj’ that the Acting-Governor is referring? Under the heading: “Servants who were masters,” a review of Gilmour’s book- “The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in The Victorian Raj”, Jane Ridley writes: “It is a remarkable but little known fact that in 1901 the entire Indian subcontinent with a population totalling 300 million was administered by a British ruling elite which consisted of no more than 1,000 men… their rule rested neither on military force nor on terror or corruption. On the contrary, the rulers of the British Raj were renowned for being impartial, high-minded conscientious and incorruptible. Yet this astonishing British success story has been largely ignored (The Spectator Mag., UK, Sept 05).

Many of these families, Gilmour is quoted as saying, originated as poor Scots gentry, such as the Macnabbs, who served in India for five generations, returning at last to Perthshire, where they morphed into clan chieftains and became The Macnab of Macnab. It is said that when competitive examinations were introduced in the 1850s, the social mix broadened slightly, but the old names still recurred. “These were young civilians who fresh from home, found themselves in lonely, isolated postings, living in unfurnished bungalows where bathwater ran out of a hole in the wall covered by an iron grating to stop snakes infiltration,” Gilmour says. The lucky one, he explains, could be promoted to be a District Officer, in charge of a million people and 4,000 square miles- administering everything from justice to sanitary conditions.

This is vast in contrast to Gold Coast, in West Africa, where Sir Reginald Saloway while admitting that generally, Chieftaincy is an inherent in its structure and conceding that a place ought to be reserved for traditional powers, hints that Chiefs must surely bow out of politics. This position could be best understood if we consider the reasons given to the causes of these state of affairs in the Gold Coast which unlike in India, ignited immediate policy realignment?

“In my view the 1948 riots mainly resulted from the ineffectiveness of ‘indirect’. I doubt whether this system of government was ever suitable for the Gold Coast and the situation arising out of the riots convinced me that it had failed. There had been a large measure of detribalization, especially in the south. We had tried to make Chiefs who were liable to destoolment by their people into the agents of an alien government. Such agents were powerless against nationalist agitators who stirred up the militant young men among whom respect for traditional authority was already waning,” The Crown Representative confesses.

But how easily could Kings or Chiefs who had been in politics ever since Nana Kwamina Ansah thumb-printed that 1844 Bond which legal gurus, in modern times, can describe as undue influence or primitively put, duress, be kept out of politics as the former ICS Officer is suggesting? Why must this not be interpreted as a shift in allegiance in times of difficulties?

“Nkrumah, breaking away from Dr Danquah’s United Gold Coast Convention to become the leader of the Convention People’s Party- whose aim was immediate self-government… thus set the Gold Coast for social and political revolution which the riots showed that the government… was largely without effective support and therefore, demanded for immediate and effective steps to strengthen and improve the efficiency… which hitherto had been sadly lacking and to put some confidence into the Chiefs and those who following the 1948 uprising were sitting on the fence,” comments Sir Reginald Saloway, who as an Acting Governor, largely guided by what he terms as Indian experience, examines the riots in the Gold Coast as an events, seen through the eyes of a former member of that elite Indian Civil Service (ICS).

The ICS, according to Gilmour, derives from the East Indian Company’s civil as opposed to its military servants- effectively formed a hereditary caste. Until the coming of railways and telegraphs which allowed the central Secretariat to exercise greater control over distant District Officers, they sleep under canvas, travelling with a caravan of bullock carts dispensing what Gilmour features as rough-and-ready justice in shirt sleeves all day and shooting a brace of snipe for dinner.

However, in the A Passage to India, E. M. Forster, per Ridley, pilloried or caricatured so mercilessly the ICS as dull, blinkered social climbers which is usually blamed for the deterioration in relations with the Indians which took place after the Mutiny of 1857. Thus, with many coincidences in the history of the UGCC and the CPP, readers must not be swayed wrongly in their divergent explanations to an event seen through the eyes of a former member of ICS. At least not where the “Peoples Party”, as the Colonial Secretary calls it, were growing in strength and working up for a show-down with a government with which, and with whose officials, in his own words, apart from the police- they had indeed no contact.

It worth noting that Sir Saloway, whose government still dealt with the people through their Chiefs; and the CPP then regarded as a rabble, saw constitutional bargain as the only acceptable bid. “The official view was that it would undermine the authority of the Chiefs to meet the CPP leaders and try to come to a working arrangement with them… it had to be admitted that Nkrumah was a quite capable of plunging the country into disorder which would be difficult to suppress without the assistance of British troops,” the Secretary confesses in secret. So when the storm was about to break, with the full approval of the Governor but to what he mirrors as dismay of the ‘Old Guard’, both British and African- he sent for Nkrumah

“I told him that if he put his plan for ‘Positive Action’ into operation he would impede constitutional reform. Violence was bound to ensue- his countrymen were not of the stuff of which Satyagrahis are made…They would follow him as a nationalist leader but not into violence... that he was going to lose if he started ‘Positive Action’. I was equally sure that if he followed the constitutional road which would be opened by the forth-coming reforms he would win at the election. I strongly urged him to take this road and guaranteed him square deal at the polls with no interference from the government,” the Colonial Secretary submitted.

We may be puzzling what is meant by the phrase ‘guaranteed him square deal’. Per the Secretary, the Osagyefo, who had never previously had any dealings with a British official, first said that with the whole country behind him ‘Positive Action’ would achieve its object in a few days, and that in any case it was impossible for him to believe that he would be given a fair chance to capture the electorate; and that all kinds of obstacles would be put in his way. The CPP had no faith in the British Government’s motives and in the Coussey Committee (2)

“But after some hours of discussion the Committee agreed to follow constitutional methods… So Nkrumah publicly called off the general strike but the TUC no longer had any control over the wild men. Dr Danquah taunted Nkrumah with having sold himself to the Colonial Secretary and thus infuriated the rank and file of the CPP who forced Nkrumah to retract. Even so, ‘Positive Action’ and the general strike went off at half cock,” Sir Saloway, mocks.

Thus the situation was dealt with firmly without a shot. The Osagyefo and his comrades were publicly tried and sentenced. “The CPP learned that it did not pay to try to overthrow the government by force and it was fortunately not a very bitter lesson. While condemning the new constitution and adhering to the slogan ‘self-government now’, they concentrated on the elections which they won with Nkrumah still in gaol; the traditional authorities and the nationalist intelligentsia had both been leapfrogged. There was no alternative government to the CPP- none of whom had any training or experience in public affairs. We had to build anew with what was then a crowd of agitators as our material. It was a time for quick decisions…” it is sadly disclosed in a country where colonial rule had existed over a century.

Besides this which might have occasioned as a consequence of power-shift from the hands of the traditional authorities and the national intelligentsias, who might have been groomed for future political leadership, were other unexpected initial problems. “The…. resignation of the then Minister of Communications and Works, Mr J. A. Braimah, caused grave concern both in the Gold Coast and in the United Kingdom…The commission found that allegations of corruption in high places were unfounded but that one ministerial secretary… the Chief Whip of the CPP, had shown himself quite unfit for public office. He was dismissed… on the advice of the PM. There was…endorsement of Mr Braimah’s statement that he had taken money from a contractor whom he had not advantaged…,” Acting Governor Reginald Saloway said.

Then is the threshold of self-government which the Gold Coast was said to have found herself in a different situation from such countries as India and Ceylon at a similar stage in their constitutional development. “Those countries had, when they achieved independence, developed an indigenous civil service capable of carrying on the administration of government. Despite the rapid increase in the pace of Africanization in recent years, it is not an exaggeration to say that the machinery of government in the Gold Coast would break down if there was a sudden exodus of British officers on a large scale, the Governor forewarned.

There were other future worries that seemed insoluble and even irresistible now. Sir Saloway was fast a prophet when he spoke: “The mention of local government provokes me to say something about the allegations which are occasionally heard to the effect that Nkrumah… wish to establish a dictatorship from the centre and is out to crush the Chiefs and any kind of independence in local affairs. I do not think that these allegations are fair. Apart from the fact that the Gold Coast is divided into three distinct regions- the Colony, Ashanti, and the Northern Territories, not to mention Togoland- it is made up of a whole conglomeration of separate tribes. As Nkrumah once said to me, his first task is to weld these into one Gold Coast nation… In fact, the problem is to check local vested interests and parochialism.”

But the Governor who submits that the Gold Coast public man is prepared to see political control exchanged for economic domination as evidenced in the Legislative Assembly on the Volta River scheme where members of every shade of political opinion prefer sacrifice it rather than have any suspicion of economic domination said that it would be disastrous if the Gold Coast, a country of some five million inhabitants only, went the same way as Nigeria.

“Although recent events in Ashanti have strengthened my belief that regional organizations as recommended by the Coussey Committee will have to come, there is no doubt that firm control from the centre is necessary to hold the country together. Local loyalties are strong and would in any case make the task of a dictator extremely difficult. Nkrumah will need all his statesmanship and political acumen in dealing with Ashanti and Togoland under UK trusteeship… Unless he can secure the incorporation of the latter, there will be all kinds of complications in connexion with the scheme; and the Ashantis- always distrustful of the south- are at present in a difficult mood,” the Governor who had pledged the Osagyefo “fair deal” assures with reservation, the U K of good commercial future in the Gold Coast, alleged.

“It is difficult to over-emphasize the extent of the social and political revolution which has taken place in the Gold Coast. That it has not produced chaos but has achieved some remarkable results is due to the mutual good will and confidence which has been built up between the Gold Coast leaders and their British advisers. If the existing good will can be fostered and maintained, then in my view the future is assured. And good will, I would remark in a final parenthesis, is also a business asset… The weaknesses and dangers inherent in the present situation are too obvious to require mention… with the greatly increased tempo of events, Rome cannot be built in a day; and it was not so long ago that the Gold Coast was regarded as just man’s grave… it is now the hub of Africa. Much has been achieved…”

It is hard to measure the enormity of this concern brushed aside to appease frustrated youths at the time that we may surely term as a “generational curse”. Perhaps, the following passages might offer some clues to those genuinely seeking definition to The New Independence.

“From the speech broadcast by Nkrumah on 30 December 1954 on the constitutional affairs of the country, which was with particular reference to Ashanti, to tackle this question of localities in a statesmanlike manner, and I for one would endorse his concluding words which reads: “At this momentous period of our history, with our country at the threshold of independence, we must maintain a united front and solve our differences peacefully and constitutionally as evidence of our desire to uphold parliamentary democracy in this country.”

Indeed the Acting Governor is right in suggesting that ‘the countries’ are united in the ‘struggle’ to oust alien rule. It is also true that once it is over, local feelings start to manifest themselves and internal stresses and strains begin to appear. It is true that Osagyefo is up against a situation which so often arises once self-government ceases to be a political issue.

“Minorities wake up to the fact that they are about to exchange alien but imperial rule for rule by the elected majority of their own countrymen. Old rivalries, kept quiescent under British rule, flare up again, resulting in internal strife…that is what is happening now in the Gold Coast. The problem is a difficult one. But I think that it is important that we should not give sectional interests any encouragement but should impress upon them that the country must settle its internal differences by democratic processes. They must not be given any grounds for believing that by staging a riot in Kumasi they will secure intervention to their advantage of the British Government,” Acting Governor insisted on the British Government.

PART IV

OBSERVATIONS

This is indeed an emergency hand-brake applied without gear and clutch on less-busy cross-road traffic. For it has already been pressed upon us that we can’t trek on Nigerian route.

With the unfolding attempt by our Northern cousins- seeking declaration of “said denied historical rights” and the re-emergence preoccupations of our traditional rulers, perhaps, some of us would agree today that our Independence of 1957, shrouded in national flag, anthem, political emblems and in a bouquet of State Sovereignty as established in the Peace Treaty of Westphalia (1648) between the Holy Roman Empire and the European Monarchies and most recently, Self-determination and Non-interference (1945) calls for true redefinition. Consider, for example, debates about terrorism, humanitarian law, human rights, regime change and the role of UN (Ch. VII) since 1989 and Security Council Resolution 1373 of September 2001.

Indeed The New Gold Coast, hedged and grassed with Britain’s future economic interests, it must be admitted, evokes the colonial government’s genuine pledge to future united Ghana under its new-found ally- the Osagyefo. It is a privilege to read. Sir Saloway is fair and balanced in his briefing which sparks combined personal experiences and authoritative prose. It advances somehow flippantly, amuses as much as it instructs vis-à-vis some of his crucial decisions which, most readers might have observed, were interim measures to soothe what we might term in our modern times as political foot-soldiers, demanding their share of the cake.

Yes, Fordjour must neither be seen as an Irish Catholic blaming the British for the potato famine nor Irish Protestant shouting, “We are up to our knees in Fenian blood,” in reference to William of Orange- “King Billy,” for masterminding the Protestant feat in 1690 at the Battle of the Boyne, but rather as a conformist “Welsh of indeed, ancient Scottish parentage”.

PART V CONCLUSION

Thus, what we seek is devolution of our national parliament- making it more of a skeleton, whose rotational representatives, are chosen on the basis of devotion and skills from amongst the strong regional lawmakers across the country to deal with more complex and pressing national issues. Fair and real competition, Economist Adams Smith once observed, increases efficiency and output that benefits not only manufacturers and producers but also we the final consumers- who seem just able in flag-waving and singing of national anthem with one voice.



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