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POLITICAL PARTY ACTIVITY IN GHANA—1947 TO 1957

By Solace Esi Amankwa

 

Ghana is the first black African nation to become independent from British Colonial rule on the 6th of March, 1957. Ghana was declared independent by Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah.

 

 

However, prior to this declaration, there were some major political parties that had made invaluable contributions to Ghana's struggle for independence.  The contributions of political parties to the country's multiparty democracy were so enormous that it would not be out of place to describe them as the heartbeat of the political system in Ghana.   The parties also served as an umbilical cord between society and the state, ordinary citizens and social groups on one hand, and the organs of government on the other.

 

The United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) was the first mass political party formed in the Gold Coast to spearhead social agitations for independence.

 

The UGCC which initially started as a social group of mostly the merchants and educated elite was formed at Saltpond in August 1947. Its slogan was “Self-Government within the shortest possible time”. The chairman of the party was George Grant, better known as Paa Grant, a wealthy businessman who was also the financier of the party.

 

Other leading lights of the party included Ernest Ako Adjei, Edward Akufo-Addo, Emmanuel Obetsebi Lamptey, William Ofori-Atta, and Dr. Joseph Boakye Danquah.

 

The UGCC quickly attracted a large following, particularly among the elites, chiefs and farmers;   but the speed with which the party attracted members created administrative difficulties for the leaders who were mostly professionals and, therefore, only part-time politicians.

 

With time, a member of the UGCC Executive, Ako Adjei, proposed the employment of an energetic young man he had met in England, Kwame Nkrumah, as General Secretary of the party, whose return to the Gold Coast costing ₤100 was paid for by Paa Grant.

 

As a full time worker, Kwame Nkrumah was able to devote his full attention to mobilising support across the country. The young Nkrumah arrived at the end of 1947 and soon got down to work. He established structures in towns and cities to ensure that the party could function effectively.

 

In February 1948, barely two months after he took office, Kwame Nkrumah and five leaders of the UGCC – Edward Akufo-Addo, Emmanuel Obetsebi Lamptey, William Ofori-Atta, Ernest Ako Adjei and Dr. Joseph Boakye Danquah – were arrested for the rioting and looting that occurred as a result of the killing of some ex-servicemen who were on a protest march.

 

The ex-servicemen, Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey, were fired at and killed and many others injured when they ignored an order to halt at the Osu-Castle crossroads.

 

The incident sparked off further riots and looting of the Europeans and the Syrians as well as the Lebanese who owned stores in many of the towns in the Gold Coast. By the end of the day, the death toll had reached 29 with 237 injured and property damaged to the tune of ₤2 million.

 

Although it was not the UGCC that had organized the march, political responsibility for what had happened was laid at the doorstep of the Party. The six leaders who have been nicknamed the “Big Six” in the nation’s political history were arrested and sent to prisons across the country.

 

After their release, Nkrumah linked up with political youth groups and formed the Committee on Youth Organization (CYO) and established a Newspaper called “The Evening News” which he used to great advantage to canvass more support for the UGCC.

 

Conflict over strategy, however, soon developed between Kwame Nkrumah and other leaders of the UGCC who felt Nkrumah was pursuing a personal agenda rather than that of the party that employed him.

 

Nkrumah broke away from the UGCC and formed the Convention People’s Party (CPP) on the 12th of June, 1949 carrying with him most of the young people he had so successfully mobilised. The break away party of Nkrumah sought to rival the UGCC on many fronts.

 

To that end the CPP was also formed at Saltpond and had as its slogan “Self Government Now”, more or less an abridged form of the UGCC’s slogan. That naturally, resulted in serious rivalry between the leadership of the two parties. The bad blood between the leaders of the two parties manifested in the Evening News attacks on the leaders of the UGCC, especially Dr Danquah, in the form of allegations of bribe-taking and other dubious practices against the leadership of the UGCC, worsening, thereby,  the relationship between the two parties.

 

Nkrumah was imprisoned for sedition in early 1950s after a campaign of "positive action" intended to instigate widespread strikes and non-violent resistance. This act on the part of the colonial administration catapulted the status of Kwame Nkrumah as a leader and hero, building him popular support, which enabled him to win, while still in jail, the first elections for the Legislative Assembly under the new Constitution in 1951. Nkrumah won a seat and the CPP won two-thirds majority.

 

Consequently, Nkrumah was released from jail and invited to form a government as "Leader of Government Business" —a position similar to that of Prime Minister.

 

During his first term, Kwame Nkrumah accorded full co-operation to the British Governor and the government was, subsequently, gradually transformed into a full Parliamentary system.

 

The changes were opposed by the more traditionalist African elements, though opposition proved ineffective in the face of popular support for independence at an early date.

 

In 1952, the position of Prime Minister was created and the Executive Council became the Cabinet. The Prime Minister was made responsible to the Assembly, which duly elected Nkrumah as Prime Minister.

 

The Constitution of 1954 ended the election of Assembly Members by the tribal councils and the Legislative Assembly increased in size, while and all members were chosen by direct election from equal, single-member constituencies.

 

Except for the defence and foreign policies which remained in the hands of the Governor, the elected Assembly was given control of virtually all internal affairs of the colony.

 

Shortly after the 1954 election, a new party, the Asante-based National Liberation Movement (NLM) was formed. The NLM advocated a federal form of government, with increased powers for the various regions.

 

Several regional and religious parties were also formed, all in the effort to attain independence for the country.

 

The NLM leaders criticized the CPP for perceived dictatorial tendencies and worked in co-operation with other regionalist groups— the Northern People's Party, Muslim Association Party and the Anlo Youth Organization.

 

When these regional parties walked out of discussions on a new constitution, the CPP feared that the British might consider such disunity as an indication that the colony was not yet ready for the next phase of self-government.

 

The British Constitutional Adviser, Sir Frederick Bourne, however, backed the CPP position and dissolved the Assembly in order to test popular support for the CPP demand for immediate independence.

 

The crown agreed to grant independence if so requested by a two-thirds majority of the new legislature. New elections were held in July 1956 and in a keenly-contested election, the CPP won 57 per cent of the votes cast, and the fragmentation of the opposition gave the CPP every seat in the south as well as enough seats in Asante, the Northern Territories, and the Trans-Volta Region to hold a two-thirds majority of the 104 seats.

 

The Anlo Youth Organisation (AYO) was also formed by Modesto Apaloo which operated in the south-eastern corner of the Gold Coast where the Anlos, a sub-group of the Ewes found in Ghana and Togo,  are located and lived as a German protectorate before World War I.  AYO also won one seat in the 1954 election.

 

In 1952, the British merged the south-eastern part of the Gold Coast which was part of the Eastern Province with the southern part of Trans-Volta Togoland, the British Togoland. This left the Ewe divided with one half under British rule and the other half under French rule.

 

The party campaigned to have the British Togoland join Gold Coast at independence to form Ghana while the Togoland Congress preferred the UN Trust Territory to be rejoined with French Togoland.

 

The Ga Shifimo Kpee was another political party born in Accra in 1954 under the leadership of Attoh Quarshie. Its birth was a reaction to social and economic developments occasioned by the elevation of Accra as the capital of the Gold Coast.

 

As a result of rapid urbanization and the need to provide social services in the national capital of Accra, large tracts of Ga land were acquired by the government for public purposes. The people who were rendered homeless by the 1939 earthquake in Accra were also not resettled. In addition, there was an influx of people from other parts of the country into Accra, thus putting pressure on the rest of the land. This created a measure of landlessness among the Ga people.

 

They also felt with the presence of many “foreigners” in Accra, they were being swamped as their cultural influence was being diminished in their own homeland and their very existence as a people was threatened.

 

With the slogans “Ga mei shikpon, Ga mei anoni” (Ga lands are for Ga people) and “Gboi mli ngbe wo” (Foreigners are killing us) they sought to draw attention to their plight.

 

Although the Association had a large following, there were two main groups within the Association, the “Zenith Seven” and the “Tokyo Joes” made up mostly of young men who often engaged in acts of violence   which brought them into direct conflict with the government of the CPP. Eventually, the Ga Shifimo Kpee joined other political groups to form the United Party.

 

Despite the merger, it was believed that members of the Association continued to carry out acts of violence and was eventually dealt a death-blow by the mass detention of its members when the Preventive Detention Act (PDA) was passed in 1958.

 

Thus, at independence there was one strong party – the CPP – and several others of varying strengths, all of whom were in a relationship of antagonism against the ruling party. All these parties merged to form the United Party when, in 1957, the Government passed the Avoidance of Discrimination Act which prohibited the existence of any political grouping that was based on ethnic or religious affiliation.

T

he writer is an officer of the Information Services Department.