Sunday, November 16, 2008

Kwame Nkrumah and the fight for independence


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(10 December 1947 - 6 March 1957)

The fog-filtered African sun on 10 December, 1947, witnessed Kwame Nkrumah's return to the Gold Coast, disembarking at Takoradi after an absence of 12 years. He found a country still very much under British colonial domination, but was soon aware that demand for major political change was fermenting just beneath the surface. Wallace Johnson's communist West African Youth League had infiltrated from Nigeria in 1937 and had stirred the political pot throughout the Gold Coast.

Johnson's star waned when he was convicted of sedition and deported in 1938. However, he left behind the residue of discontent with colonialism and a growing but leaderless demand for self-rule. The colonial government moved quickly and decisively to suppress every contentious political movement. Chiefs who showed any inclination towards independence were quickly destooled. Anti-tax movements were rapidly suppressed. Suspect civil servants were sacked and, in some cases, detained. Any challenge to British rule was abruptly terminated.

It was into this period of suppression that Kwame Nkrumah arrived home. Within days, he returned to his home at Nkroful for a brief family reunion. Word spread quickly that Nkrumah was home and after a fortnight, he began a series of speaking engagements and meetings in order to sense the level of unrest that lay just beneath the surface throughout the country.

A series of meetings with the leadership of the United Gold Coast Convention, (UGCC), founded on 4 August, 1947, and lead by Dr. J. B. Danquah, resulted, on 20 January, 1948, in the appointment of Nkrumah as General Secretary of the Party. From that moment at Saltpond, the die was cast. The Gold Coast had its' leader and was on a fixed and determined course towards independence from Great Britain.

Nkrumah began an intense speaking tour throughout the country, and with his unique, impassioned rhetoric, soon had the entire country seething with Pan-African enthusiasm and demands for self-rule. Boycotts of European goods were initiated, labor strikes became common place and work slowdowns began in all areas of the Gold Coast's commerce and industry.

The 28th of February, 1948, was a landmark day in the nation's history. A large contingent of former servicemen who were tired of unfulfilled promises by the government, drafted a petition seeking redress of grievances for presentation to H.M's Governor, Sir Gerald Creasy. As they marched, unarmed and defenseless, they were set upon by government troops at Christianborg cross-roads. When the smoke cleared, sixty-three former loyal soldiers lay dead or badly wounded on the streets of Accra. Gold Coast would never be the same. Rioting and looting lasted for five days.

On 1 March, 1948, the Riot Act was read and Governor Creasy declared a state of emergency. Strict press censorship was imposed over the entire country. On 12 March, the Governor issued Removal Orders and police were dispatched to pick up and arrest the entire UGCC Central Executive. Kwame Nkrumah, Dr. Danquah, E. Akufo Addo, William Ofori Atta, E. Obelsebi Lamptey and E. Ako Adjei were arrested, detained and exiled to the Northern Territories.

On 14 March, 1948, Cape Coast students demonstrated, demanding the release of the Party leadership. Once again, the government responded with great force, leaving the dead and dying in its wake.

Meanwhile, the Colonial Office in London, greatly upset by events in the Gold Coast, appointed a Commission, chaired by Mr. A. K. Watson, Recorder of Bury St. Edmunds, with a mandate to investigate the reasons for the disturbances and to make recommendations for the continued governance of the colony. They began their in-country interviews and deliberations on 1 April, 1948.

With the country in chaos, Governor Creasy finally acceded to demands and on 12 April, 1948, the Party leadership was released from detention. On 19 April, he lifted the 1 ½ month press ban. These actions served to superficially quiet the country, but it did nothing to suppress the now flourishing and rampant demand for self-rule.

On 26 April, 1948, the Watson Commission concluded its deliberations and shortly thereafter, presented its report to H.M.G. The principal recommendation was that a Constitution be drafted as a possible prelude to eventual self-rule. To that end, an all African Constitutional Committee was appointed under the Chairmanship of an esteemed African jurist, Mr. Justice Henley Coussey of the Gold Coast High Court.

In the meantime, Nkrumah toured the country addressing huge crowds of every persuasion, every tribe, every religion and every class of society. "Self Government Now" echoed throughout the land. The strength of the three words grew at each speaking venue until it became the heartbeat of the country. With adult public opinion rapidly falling into line, Nkrumah next moved to mobilize the youth of the Gold Coast. On 26 February, 1949, he announced the formation of the Committee on Youth Organization (CYO) designed to bring young people actively into the political fray.

At the UGCC Easter Convention at Saltpond, Nkrumah rebuked the membership claiming that they were not working hard enough, that they did not fully understand and support his vision of self-rule. In a highly tense and acrimonious exchange, Nkrumah tendered his resignation as General Secretary of the party. On 12 June, 1949, at a CYO rally in Accra, Nkrumah announced the formation of the Convention Peoples Party (CPP), calling for political unity and a nationwide unified demand for self-rule. "If the Coussey Committee does not find for self-rule now, we will shut this country down, we will strike, strike, strike!"

On 7 November, 1949, the Coussey Committee Report was published. Contained therein, were a number of mechanisms for inclusion of Africans in government, but it stopped short of advocating or even suggesting self-rule.

While the Coussey report was comprehensive and generally accepted by political moderates, Nkrumah was furious because of its self-rule shortcomings. He announced formation of the Ghana Representative Council (GRC) as the principal body to initiate appeal against the report. Plans were announced for a nationwide Positive Action strike to begin 1 January, 1950. He renewed his nationwide tour, calling on "all men of goodwill, organize, organize, organize. We prefer self-government in danger, to servitude in tranquillity. Forward ever, backward never". The chant "Self-government now" was taken up in every corner of the country.

New Years Day, 1950, dawned with labor shutdowns in every industrial and commercial facility. Government responded immediately with a State of Emergency announced by the Governor. Flying squads of the Gold Coast Constabulary swooped down and arrested more than 200 CPP and CYO leaders, including Nkrumah.

Arrests and detentions did not stop the movement. Enough people stepped into the leadership void to perpetuate the movement. The "Gold Coast Leader" was initiated, first as a sub-rosa broadsheet and within a month, as a widely distributed CPP propaganda newspaper.

In the meantime, the government accepted the Coussey Committee report and began implementing its recommendations, beginning with municipal elections in Accra on 8 April, 1950, Cape Coast on 12 June, 1950 and Kumasi on 4 November, 1950. CPP won in a landslide, to the shock and chagrin of H. M. G. Although still in prison, Nkrumah recorded an extraordinary plurality of 22,780 votes out of 23,122 votes cast.

On 19 February, 1951, the new Governor, Sir Noble Arden-Clarke, signed the Bill of Release freeing Nkrumah and others from prison after 13 months of detention. An invitation to State House on the day of his release resulted in Nkrumah being asked to form a government and become Leader of Government Business in the first African dominated government of the Gold Coast and the National Assembly. Nkrumah accepted, but he warned the Governor that he considered the Coussey generated Constitution to be "bogus, fraudulent and unacceptable, as it does not fully meet the aspirations of the people of the Gold Coast". He added that he would not rest "until full self-government within the Commonwealth was achieved". With that statement, he announced his first cabinet of 4 Europeans and 7 Africans. The die was now cast. The sun would soon rise on a new nation, Ghana.

For the next year, Nkrumah focused his effort on the development of an equitable constitution and creation of massive nationwide self-help schemes. Work was begun on the enormous Volta River hydroelectric project and others of national importance.

On 5 March, 1952, Nkrumah was made Prime Minister. Work continued on a new Constitution. The country's first Five Year Development Plan was published and through its implementation, 9 Teacher Training Colleges, 18 Secondary Schools and 31 Primary and Middle schools were built. In the Northern Territories, 10 new hospitals were built. Major roads were constructed linking Accra and Cape Coast and Kumasi and from Tamale to Bolgatanga.

Nkrumah stepped up his pressure for negotiations for full Independence. Finally on 18 September, 1956, the Secretary of State for the Colonies announced a firm date for Gold Coast Independence, 6 March, 1957. On 12 November, 1956, a new Constitution was approved along with the nation's renewed name, Ghana, after the ancient traditional Ghana Empire, the oldest known state of West Africa, which flourished from the third to the seventeenth century.

On the appointed day, 6 March, 1957, the new nation was born. At midnight at Accra's Polo Grounds, Prime Minister Nkrumah announced that "the long battle is over and our beloved country Ghana is free forever". Always the Pan-Africanist, mindful of the rest of Africa, he said: "We again re-dedicate ourselves in the struggle to emancipate other countries in Africa, for our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent

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