The British colonial system in West Africa consisted of separate, independent colonies each ruled by a governor, who represented the British Crown and reported to the British government in London, through the secretary of state for colonies. The governor ruled the territory with an executive council and a legislative council under him. These councils changed with time to ultimately form the constitution. The local governance during the colonial period was carried out by the municipal council and the native council. Traditional chieftains dominated the native councils while elected persons and government representatives formed the municipal councils. It should be noted here that the British rule did not alienate the role of the traditional kings. The traditional king or head of the kingdom was people’s supreme leader in politics and religion; and the colonial system placed the local administration under these rulers. The British called this system as indirect rule, which was introduced in Ghana by Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg. However, the authority of the traditional rulers were nullified by a 1927 ordinance. By another ordinance passed in 1944, native authorities appointed by the government, took over the functions of the native rulers.
The United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) was the first nationalist movement formed in August 1947. The main aim of the organization was to achieve self-governance at the earliest possible time. The main founders were lawyers J.B. Danquah, R.A. Awoonor-Williams, Edward Akufo Addo and businessman A.G. Grant, who insisted that chiefs of Legislative Council should only be, educated people. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was requested to take the responsibility of the UGCC secretary. These reformers considered the traditional governance of indirect rule in the past, being similar to existing colonial interests. The UGCC was critical of the government’s method of handling unemployment, inflation and social unrest, subsequent to the war. It should however be emphasized here that the leaders of the UGCC did not adapt any radical change attitude. This was due to the fact that the leaders were educated and trained in Britain emphasizing on values and ethics in politics.
Kwame Nkrumah was born at Nzema in September 21,1909 and attended catholic schools at Assin and Achimota. After his teacher’s training, he attended the Lincoln University and University of Pennsylvania in the United States. It was here that he saw different forms of governance alternatives to the British traditional way and was alerted to race relations in politics. He enjoyed, and was in fact inspired by the black community he merged into. Studying philosophy and theology, he also preached in the black churches of New York and Philadelphia. Nkrumah then went to England for further studies in law, where he joined the West African student’s Union and the Pan African movement in London. The freedom from colonial rule achieved by countries like India, reinforced his vision of complete independence. The Manchester Congress of the Pan Africanist movement was held in 1945 in which very few Africans had attended; and Nkrumah was one of them. It was in Britain that he became associated with several outspoken critics of colonism like George Padmore and W.E.B Du Bois.
Nkrumah returned to Gold Coast after 12 years on 10th December 1947 among protests and mass movement demanding political sovereignty, directed by leftist, Wallace Johnson. Nkrumah played a crucial role in the demonstrations and was arrested with the other members of the UGCC, who were later released. Subsequent to the protests, UGCC leaders were invited to advice the Coussey Committee for reforms. The British put forth a new constitution offering universal franchise and participation of African ministers in the functioning of the government. Nkrumah refused to accept the constitution as he felt, it was way short of complete independence. However others in the UGCC accepted the constitution. Nkrumah started a UGCC youth group, which he called the Committee on Youth Organization (CYO), formed of young and educated people. The CYO accused the UGCC leadership of trying to protect their own interests, by not pressing for full and complete independence. The UGCC had decided to remove Nkrumah as its secretary. (Dodge).
In 1949, subsequent to his removal from the UGCC, Nkrumah started the Convention People’s Party (CPP) with the CYO serving as its base and himself as its life chairman. Nkrumah is probably the first Ghanaian politician who identified with the common man and simple living and was able to convince the common man that he fully understood their problems, as a result of which he successfully built his party. He had the support of small time women traders at the local level, which served as a communication channel for his propaganda. His style and promises of independence and prosperity appealed to the workers and youth. They saw him as a national leader who would surely deliver. The CPP was a well-organized party and it also included a tribunal of justice to address party disciplines. Distancing itself from UGCC’s ‘self-government in the shortest possible time’, Nkrumah and the CPP advocated for ‘self-government now’. The CPP organization can be attributed as a vital factor in its election victories. The basic unit was found in all towns and villages and in the wards constituting the city. These party units met every once a month to discuss party programs and matters of local interest. At this ground level the party unit had a chairman, vice chairman, secretary, assistant secretary, treasurer, propaganda secretary who was elected annually. At the next constituency level, the party had a chairman, vice chairman, finance secretary, treasurer and representatives from the unit levels. The party’s highest level was the Annual National Conference having six delegates elected by the Youth League. The ex-officio delegates included members of the National Executive Committee, the Central Committee and party members in the legislative assembly. The CPP also had a women’s league to organize women centered activities of the party.
The Coussey Committee resulted in the formation of the 1951 constitution. The new constitution was in several ways forward looking, but short of CPP’s self-government. The CPP called for a nonviolent resistance in early 1950, which however turned violent leading to the arrests of Nkrumah and his supporters. In the February 1951 elections that followed, CPP won two-thirds majority in the 104 seat legislative assembly. Nkrumah who was in jail had also won a seat. Although the CPP had won the elections within a short span of two years since its inception, and Nkrumah became the ‘Leader of Government Business”, his focus on independence was not altered. To him, autonomy or self-rule cannot fetch the benefits of independence, as independence was the essence of growth. His slogan “Seek ye first the political kingdom, and all else shall be added unto you….” became popular and vibrated across Africa. He soon announced his first cabinet consisting of seven Africans and four Europeans.
Nkrumah’s government worked in close cooperation with the British Governor. The government gradually moved to the parliamentary system, and in 1952 created the position of the prime minister. Nkrumah was elected as the prime minister and the executive council was called the cabinet. The government put forward certain proposals for the grant of full independence, which the British government agreed to consider. In June 1953, the British government issued a white paper detailing limited transitional powers, for the administration to be prepared. These were approved by the legislative assembly. Under this constitution of 1954, the governor ceased to be a member of the cabinet and was made responsible to the assembly. The Attorney General also ceased to be a minister and his discharge of duties and obligations was made part of the constitution. The legislative assembly consisted of the speaker and 104 members. The legislative had the right to pass laws relating to the privileges of the assembly, but these were not allowed to exceed privileges enjoyed by the British House of Commons. The legislative assembly also had substantial control over finance.
The CPP soon began facing problems with the development of opposition and resentments. As the colonial rule was losing its grips, many people felt encouraged to seek a share in the power benefits of the new self-rule. The availability of status, positions and material benefits in the CPP and the government was limited, while there were too many aspirants. The CPP was not in a position to absorb all aspirants to the various levels of the party or the government. Formation of fragmented opposition took place with developing of ethnic and regional parties. As prime minister, Nkrumah took several initiatives for the development of Ghana. Backed by the Pan-Africanist ideology of self-development, he improved infrastructure, medical services etc., most of which being very expensive projects. Self-help schemes were promoted to build schools, irrigation systems and roads. His government regulated the marketing and trading of agricultural products to ensure that farmers were not affected by price fluctuations. Several cash crops are introduced on the export market, to get rid of the dependency on cocoa.
In the 1954 General election, the CPP was the only nationally organized party in the country. Between 1951 and 1954 atleast 8 political parties and several other independents had sprung up. This was perhaps the most contested election before independence. The main challenge to CPP came at the end of 1954, with the National Liberation Movement (NLM). The NLM gained its strength by cutting into CPP’s strength in Ashanti. The CPP managed to win 72 seats losing considerably in the Ashanti and the Northern territories, while the NLM managed to get 12. Among the main reasons attributed for people moving away from the CPP is the government’s cocoa pricing policy, which was protested by the farmers. The CPP election rebels and their supporters in Ashanti constituting about 25% of the Ashanti vote, also joined the NLM. The NLM favored a federal type of government with increased powers for the constituent provinces and criticized the CPP for its dictatorship attitude. Nkrumah opposed the idea of a federal constitution as he felt the country was very small to need a federal functioning (Ward). The NLM together with another regional party, the Northern People’s Party (NPP) walked out of discussions on the new constitution.
In early 1956, the Ghana government published a white paper proposing an independent constitution. In May 1956, the House of Commons was informed by the Secretary of State for colonies that the British government would be willing to accept a motion demanding independence, provided it is passed by a newly elected legislature and with two third majority. Subsequently new elections conducted in July 1956. The British crown had agreed to grant independence if it was requested by two thirds of the new legislature. The CPP won 57 percent of the votes polled, thanks to the fragmented opposition and the CPP held on to a two third majority. Nkrumah outlined the basic principles, which he said; he expected to be the basis for the country’s future constitution. He maintained equality emphasizing that all citizens of Ghana would have equal rights. He also guaranteed minority rights, individual freedom and free speech (Minogue and Molloy).
Although Nkrumah’s proposals on independence were not acceptable to the opposition, nonetheless it was submitted in the assembly on 15 November 1956 and passed by a majority of 70 against 25. The NLM and NPP sent a joint resolution to the Secretary of State for colonies in London indicating its intention to secede from the new state of Ghana. The Secretary of State Lennox Boyd, in his farewell speech to the leaders of the parties expressed optimism that their differences would soon be sorted out to form a strong and independent nation. The Ghana Independence Act 1957 received the royalty assent in 7th February 1957 and became effective on 6th March 1957.
During the dual rule period between 1951 and 1957, when both the British and the CPP had been sharing responsibilities, the country made significant developments in many fields. Vast plans with huge investments were executed in agriculture and social services, with the plans giving little details of how the funds are to be got. Within a few years, situation went from bad to worse, with the capital expenditure shooting to unimaginable levels. The people were finding it difficult for food and clothing and the Bank of Ghana was not in a position to pay the foreign exchange on the import bill (Pedler).
African visionaries were influenced by Pan-Africanism, which was a philosophy promoting African awareness and worked for the upliftment of all Africans. They were of the opinion that decolonization would help people to regain their lost power and status and preserve whatever is left of their culture. Nkrumah’s was immensely dedicated to the liberation of Africa from imperialism, even after the independence of Ghana. Nkrumah was inspired by Marcus Garvey, a black nationalist and wanted to systematically free Africa from the clutches of colonialism. He had a vision for Africa and saw African unity as the key, not only in resisting the exploitation by Europe but also as a basis for the economic development of the continent. When Guinea was separated from France in 1958, Nkrumah offered a financial aid of 10 million pounds to the country. He also granted a long-term loan to Mali when it split from Senegal. During the 1960-61 crises of Congo, Nkrumah supported Patrice Lumumba and called upon several African states for the creation of a common central agency to provide relief to those states facing crises, as that in Congo. His speeches implied that all colonial governments in Africa and everywhere had a hidden agenda of raw materials. He maintained that Britain, France, Belgium and other powers looked to their dependent territories for raw materials to their industrial plants. The ultimate aim of African unity is emphasized in the Article 2 of the constitution, which empowers the parliament to surrender sovereignty if African unity is reached.
Nkrumah’s association with socialism is perhaps a complicated one with several ups and down. Most Africans were not confident of capitalism and free market, given the fact that colonization of Africa was hand in hand with racism and ignorance of education, health or infrastructure. New African leaders preferred socialism which they believed could blend growth with traditional values. Nkrumah argued that capitalism was too complicated for new independent countries, for which only socialism would be suitable. To prevent corruption and illegal siphoning of public funds, Nkrumah wanted no businessman in parliament. His association with communist leaders was becoming more prominent, despite communism being attacked and becoming more despised by the west. He emphasized that Ghana has ventured on a socialist path to achieve prosperity and expected to see employment, good housing, and education at the highest level for all Ghanaians.
Nkrumah’s however gradually took to authoritarian politics after naming himself the Chairman of his party and life president of the republic. Many consider Nkrumah as following an increasingly dictator style rule with time, even rigging elections. The independent constitution was subjected to several amendments before the inauguration of the republic. The Regional Assemblies Act of 1958, intended to take care of regional interests and formed in response to opposition demands, was repealed by an amendment. All the regional assemblies were thus dissolved (Sharon) and further elections to these were stopped. But before the abolition of the regional assemblies, these were used to put forth a bill to remove restrictions on amending the constitution. He had adopted several unpopular measures and his popularity kept dropping. The Deportation Act passed in1947 gave the governor general and the head of state to expel persons whose presence was not considered good for the country. This law was mainly to be applied to non-Ghanaians, but several victims of this law later claimed to be citizens. Similarly, the Preventive Detention Act of 1958 gave the prime minister the power to detain people for up to five years without any trial. This law was amended in 1959 and in 1962 and many considered it to be a violation of individual freedom and human rights. Several opponents of the law were silenced by this law, prominent among them being J.B. Danquah, one of the founders of UGCC who died in prison in 1965. Some opposition leaders went into hiding in London to escape imprisonment, while those members in the country joined the ruling party. Nkrumah’s supporters held out that confronting politicians hindered the quick growth of the country and such laws were required in the interests of the country. They also stated that the penal laws of treason and sedition are required due to the inadequacy of the currently existing laws (Omari).
Nkrumah is one of those leaders whose popularity and dedication to the cause was at its best during the struggle against colonism, but faded out when he had taken over it. It is highly unfortunate that his earlier determination and struggle against the colonial rulers is eclipsed by his own high handedness. However his contribution for Ghana and the African continent would be remembered.
Dorothy Dodge; African Politics in Perspective Van Nostrand Reinhold Company, 1966, New York pp 4-7
Minogue Martin and Molloy Judith (eds); African Aims and Attitude, Cambridge University Publisher; pp 21-2
W.E.F. Ward; Government in West Africa; Oxford University Press; pp 196-197
Frederick Pedler, Main Currents of West African History, 1940-1978, Oxford University Press p130
Peter T. Omari; Kwame Nkrumah; The Anatomy of an African Dictatorship; C. Hurst & Co. pp 51-4
P.Sharan; Government and Politics of select African Countries; Metropolitan Book Co; New Delhi pp26