Which Nation in West Africa Was the First to Receive Independence from British Rule? Essay

Which nation in West Africa was the first to receive independence from British rule? Describe the movement towards independence in that nation. How did this establish a pattern for the transition to independence in the rest of British West Africa? The relationship between Europeans and the people of Ghana has been a long and painful one. The Portuguese first landed on the coast of Ghana in the fifteenth century to trade for gold and ivory. They called the Coast “Mina” or “Gold Coast”.

The Dutch, Spanish, and English soon came, and forts were built all along the coast. In the seventeenth century, trading between Africa and the West shifted from gold and ivory to slaves. Europe needed a supply of cheap labour that could produce raw materials in the New World, and the indigenous peoples of the Americas had already been killed off. Over half of the Africans taken from the “Gold Coast” by force were taken by the British. The British stopped trading slaves in 1808.

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However, their exploitation of the land and the people of the “Gold Coast” through colonization were only just beginning. On March 6, 1844, the chiefs in the southern region of the “Gold Coast” signed a bond linking themselves and their people to the British crown. They agreed to follow British law in return for British protection from the Ashanti. This bond was the first document that gave the British political influence in the Gold Coast. (Gocking , 2005 ) As Europe industrialized under its capitalist system, it became imperative for nations to establish colonies.

Industrialized nations needed colonies as sources of raw materials, as markets for importing industrialized goods, and as points for military defense. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, European countries struggled to claim as much territory along the coast as they could. This struggle is known as the Scramble for Africa. Like other European countries, the British were desperate to claim as much territory in Africa as possible. After a battle with the Ashanti, the British finally laid claim to the southern region of the Gold Coast”.

On July 24, 1874, the British signed a peace bond with the Ashanti, giving them the right to rule the southern region. The British and the Ashanti continued to quarrel over the upper region, but, by 1922, the British colony known as the “Gold Coast” was clearly defined. ( Bournet , 1960 ) From the time that the peace bond was signed in 1874, resistance to colonization in the “Gold Coast” has been present. Joseph Samuel Appiah, a retired railways worker who was a leader in the independence movement of the 1940’s and ‘50’s, insists that people had been asking for independence all along.

He spoke of the Aborigines Rights Protection Society, which formed immediately after the bond was signed, as well as two delegations that were sent in the 1930’s to ask the British government for independence. (Appiah, November 1999). According to Dr. Esi Sutherland-Addy, Researcher Fellow at the University of Legon, resistance in the “Gold Coast” had its roots in the elite class. Around the turn of the century, an elite class emerged in the “Gold Coast”. There were no higher institutions of learning in the colony at the time, so members of the elite and merchant classes had to send their children overseas for higher education.

Studying overseas allowed these students to be exposed to what was going on all over the world. They learned about important movements and events such as the French Revolution, the Bolshevik Revolution, and the two World Wars. They were exposed to many ideas of freedom. Many of these students returned to Ghana to become lawyers and journalists and many of them spoke out in resistance to colonialism. It was this class of elite lawyers and journalists who would later form the first political party in the “Gold Coast” and begin the final struggle for independence.

Though there was evidence of resistance by certain groups in the “Gold Coast” throughout the colony’s history, the struggle for independence did not become a mass movement until the late 1940’s. As Sammy Tenkorang, senior lecturer in History at the University of Cape Coast, notes, “There was no sign that independence was coming before World War II, but after the war, anybody could have predicted it” (Tenkorang, November 1999). During the late 1940’s, the struggle for independence in the “Gold Coast” found backing in the masses, and one could not have overlooked the fervor with which colonialism was being resisted.

There are many factors and events that shaped the attitudes of the people that helped them decide that they were ready to fight for the right to govern themselves. Life under colonial rule was very difficult for the people of the “Gold Coast”. Empires maintain colonies for their own benefit. Colonization works to the advantage of the mother country and not to the benefit of those living in a colonized territory. Colonies are needed under capitalism as sources for raw materials and as markets for industrialized goods exports from the mother country. Therefore, colonies are often manipulated by the mother country.

The British had the power to manipulate prices of raw materials being produced in the “Gold Coast”, and having no industries of their own, the people of the Gold Coast” were dependent on goods imported from the mother country. Also, the British did not invest in providing education for the people of the ‘Gold Coast”. They only needed a few educated people to fill lower-level civil-service jobs, and they educated a few people only for the purposes of filing these roles. Though the people of the ‘Gold Coast” had been enduring these conditions for some time, their unhappiness with the situation became more evident after World War II.

Many groups of people within the society began to express their discontent with colonial rule. One major group that expressed unhappiness was the soldiers returning from World War II. Ghana sent 65,000 soldiers to fight in the war in Burma and India, and these men were promised to be given a pension, a gratuity, and jobs when they returned. But, in 1946 when the troops were demobilized, they returned home to find that they were going to be given almost nothing. Many of them could not find work; they were only allotted one shilling and six pence a day.

This is equivalent to about two hundred cedis, and as Duncan notes, “It is not sufficient to look after yourself or your wife” (Duncan, November 1999). Many of the soldiers returning from World War II had fathers who fought in the First World War and had returned to live in poverty. They did not want this fate to be theirs (Tenkorang, November 1999). The financial hardship that these men endured was the cause of discontent in a large portion of the population because these men had many family members who were dependent on them. Fighting in the war itself also had an impact on the attitudes of the Soldiers.

These men were fed the philosophy of freedom and democracy that the West was pushing and it made them question their own circumstances of living under foreign rule at home (Duncan, November 1999). During the war, black and white soldiers fought along-side one another. Interacting with whites in such an intimate way helped the African soldiers to gain confidence in their own abilities. Ghanaian Seth Anthony rose to the position of major in Burma, and he later became an ambassador to the US. The soldiers saw first-hand that they were equal to whites in every respect, and they began to challenge their own internalized feelings of inferiority.

These soldiers grew angry when they returned home to find that, while the British X-servicemen were treated well, the Ghanaian soldiers were all but forgotten by the British government (Duncan, November 1999). The plight of the soldiers returning from the war was not the only cause of unrest in the “Gold Coast”. Farmers were also suffering under colonial rule and were ready to take action. Farmers were unhappy because the prices of their crops on the world market were extraordinarily low. Also, the colonial government, in trying to rule over a land that was foreign to them, made some mistakes that angered farmers.

For example, the cocoa crop was being negatively affected by the swollen shoot disease that is caused by an insect. The farmers asked for some spray to kill off the insect, but the colonial government insisted that the way to stop the spreading of the disease was to cut down the infected trees. But, this method was useless because the insects would simply jump from the dead tree to a living one. Despite complaints from farmers who were actually working the land, the British government sent in agricultural labourers to chop down the infected trees (Tenkoran November 1999).

Virtually everyone in the colony was deeply affected by the economic recession. Great Britain was in debt after the war, and they hoped to use profits from their colonies to rehabilitate the nation (Tenkorang, November 1999). Not only were cocoa and other crops selling for nothing, but the prices of goods imported from Britain were extraordinarily high and continued to rise. In the wake of this growing unrest in the colony, a group of lawyers and journalists decided to form a political party to push for independence.

These elite had traveled overseas to receive higher education, and they had returned to the Gold Coast to find themselves silenced by the colonial government. The British government preferred to work with chiefs because they were illiterate and easy to manipulate, and the government allowed the chiefs access to a certain amount of power within the colony. The elites of the Gold Coast could see that the British Empire was crumbling, and they wanted to insure that they would be given power once the colony was made independent (Tenkorang, November 1999).

In 1947, they formed the United Gold Coast Convention whose stated goal was to bring about “independence in the shortest possible time. ” These men had asked Arko Adjei to be their secretary and to organize the party, but Adjei told them he knew of someone who could do a better job. He told them about Kwame Nkrumah, a man with whom he had attended college in the United States. He told the others that, “When this man is brought into the United Gold Coast Convention, self-government will be achieved” (Duncan, November 1999). Kwame Nkrumah was the most dynamic leader of the independence movement in the Gold Coast.

In fact, some say that independence would not have come to the colony for many years later if Nkrumah had not emerged as the leader. Because Nkrumah and his political consciousness became such an important part of the movement, it is valuable to examine the life of Nkrumah and how his political consciousness was shaped. Kwame Nkrumah was born on September 21, 1909 in Nkrofo, a village with a population of about two thousand located in the Western Region of Ghana. Nkrumah attended a Roman Catholic school near where his father worked.

There was no school in Nkrofo at the time, so if Nkrumah had stayed in Nkrofo, he would not have had the chance to receive an education (Aduku, November 1999). According to Aduku, Nkrumah was always the brightest student in his classes. The Fathers at the Catholic school gave the young Nkrumah much praise and attention, and these men had a big impact on his life. Nkrumah’s cousin remembers him as a smart and noticeably well-behaved child (Aduku, November1999). Nkrumah spent ten years in Halfacini where he completed his elementary education. He was awarded a government scholarship to attend Achimota Secondary School in Accra.

This was one of the top schools in the colony, and his scholarship recognized him as one of the brightest pupils in the Western Region (Aduku, November 1999). Nkrumah was thrilled at the chance to attend this school. In 1935, Nkrumah left for the United States. He attended Lincoln University in Pennsylvania where he earned a combined Bachelor’s Degree in Sociology and Economics and later another degree in Theology. It was during his time at Lincoln that his political consciousness began to form. While at Lincoln, Nkrumah was exposed to the philosophy of Marcus Garvey and was greatly influenced by his writings.

Nkrumah helped to organize the union of African students at Lincoln, and Robert Lee, an African-American who attended school with Nkrumah, says that he cannot remember Nkrumah ever talking about anything but the evils of colonialism (Lee, November 1999). Nkrumah earned his Master’s Degree in Education from the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1935, he traveled to the United Kingdom to begin his Doctorate. While he was in the United States, Nkrumah concentrated mostly on his studies. It was when he moved to the U. K. that he became heavily involved in political activities.

He organized the Fifty Pan-African Congress along with George Padmore of the Caribbean. They brought together over two hundred delegates from all over Africa and the Diaspora. During his conference, these delegates articulated their quest for the liberation of the continent and the means by which it could be achieved. After the Fifth Pan-African Congress, W. E. B. Dubois formed a working committee whose goal was to see that the ideas formulated at the conference were put into practice. Nkrumah as an instrumental part of this committee, he organized two West African conferences and published a newsletter called “The New African”.

He and a few other students who were deeply committed to the liberation of Africa formed a highly secretive group known as “The Circle,” and they mapped out plans for revolution in the colonies. In 1947, Nkrumah received word that a political party was forming in the Gold Coast and that they wanted him to come and be their Secretary General. Nkrumah was in the middle of defending his thesis. He also carried many leadership responsibilities in his work with Dubois. However, he decided that this was a golden opportunity for him to make real changes in the colonized world.

He left both his unfinished thesis and his work with Dubois to assume the role of Secretary General of the United Gold Coast Convention. (Dodoo, November 1999) Kwame Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast at a time when the people’s unhappiness was heightening. During the Fifth Pan-African Congress, delegates had articulated the importance of building a mass following in the struggle for liberation, and when Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast, he put this commitment into action. As a representative of the UGCC, he traveled all over the colony, organizing rallies and explaining to people about the nature of colonialism.

According to Leslie Dodoo, “He articulated what the people themselves wanted to say” (November 1999). Nkrumah was well-liked by the people. The other leaders in the UGCC were seen as untouchable elites, but Nkrumah was approachable. He had charisma, and he was also a new face in the scene, which sparked people’s interests (Appiah, November 1999). Though he was organizing the masses on behalf of the UGCC, Nkrumah inevitably build a large following for himself. The members of the UGCC began to campaign hard to build support for independence, but they needed a platform.

Two major events that took place in the colony in 1948 helped to increase the pressure for independence. The first was a nationwide boycott of imported goods. This boycott was organized by a popular chief of Osu, Nii Bonne, and was provoked by the rising prices of imported goods (Tenkorang, November 1999). The boycott rapidly became a nation-wide practice, and even Bonne was surprised at its success. According to Tenkorang, the UGCC attempted to take over the organization of the boycott to further their political cause. He claims that Danquah, one of the leaders in the UGCC came to Bonne and asked him to turn over the boycott to their party.

Danquah promised to make Bonne a minister in the government if independence was achieved. However, Bonne was not happy with this offer and brought the story to the press. (Tenkorang, November 1999). Another major event that brought the movement into full swing took place on February 28, 1948. This was the famous soldiers’ demonstration in which three soldiers were killed. Many X-soldiers had attended a rally organized by Kwame Nkrumah, and he had inspired them to organize to present a petition to the colonial government, asking for independence as well as better living conditions.

The leaders of the X-servicemen’s union agreed to round up the X-soldiers in each of their regions and bring them to Accra on the 28 of February. They planned to meet at Polo Ground, which is now Independence Square, and then walk to Christen Borg Castle to present a petition to the governor. According to Duncan, the soldiers’ petition asked for “Independence as we fought for you” as well as good-paying jobs and shelter (Duncan, November 1999). Duncan and the other leaders of the union brought soldiers by the thousands so participate in the peaceful demonstration, and Duncan recalls that even civilians joined in the march.

But, when they reached the crossroads on the way to the castle, they were stopped by British police. Sergeant Emory who was in command of the British officers, told the demonstrators to “halt”, he told them that they could send their representatives to present the petition, but that they all could not march to the castle. The demonstrators, however, insisted that they would all march to the castle to present the petition. As they attempted to move forward, Emory commanded the police to fire upon them.

The three leaders of the demonstration; Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Atippoe, and Private Lamptey, were fired upon and killed Tenkorang, November 1999). When the soldiers were shot, the unarmed demonstrators rushed the police officers and beat them. The crowd then made its way into the city. Starting at the Kings Way Supermarket, they began burning and looting. The riot was so out-of-hand that the British police could not control it. The rioting lasted into the following day and even spread to other regions of the country (Tenkorang, November 1999). Duncan remembers, “We burned indiscriminately.

We were on the rampage. We didn’t care whether you belonged to us or not” (Duncan, November 1999). According to Tenkorang, members of the UGCC “hijacked” the February 28 incident to promote their own cause (Tenkorang, November 1999). Nkrumah and Danquah sent telegrams to the British government, claiming that the colonial government in the Gold Coast had broken down. They demanded that the colonial government give itself over to the UGCC. When the British government inquired into the situation and found out that the Gold Coast government had not, in fact, broken down, they ordered the Big Six to be arrested.

The leaders of the UGCC spend six weeks in jail (Tenkorang, November 1999). Some of the leaders of the UGCC felt that Nkrumah was pushing too hard for independence. They wanted independence, but they wanted to work more cooperatively with the colonial government to bring about independence in a reasonable amount of time. Nkrumah, however, insisted that they should push for “Self Government Now”. Due to this difference in philosophy, Nkrumah broke away from the UGCC. In 1949, he formed his own political party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), which advocated for “Self Government Now” (Nkrumah).

The masses of people that Nkrumah has persuaded while working for the UGCC transferred their loyalties to the CPP. While the UGCC was made up of lawyers and other elites, the CPP was comprised of students, farmers, labourers, and teachers. Nkrumah’s message spoke to ordinary people, and they gave him their loyalty. In 1950, Nkrumah’s party began what they termed, “Positive Action” This was a combination of strikes, demonstrations, and rallies held all over the country that was designed to put pressure on the colonial government (Appiah, November 1999).

This strategy of non-violent non- cooperation was based on the philosophy and practices that Ghandi had used to fight for independence in India. Nkrumah and the other delegates of the Fifth Pan-African Congress had committed themselves to using these strategies in their struggles for the liberation of their countries. The strikes began in the town of Sekondi where both the harbor and the railway headquarters were located. The railway workers of Sekondi were in a unique position to see quite clearly what colonialism was doing to the people of the Gold Coast.

They saw first-hand that they were paid less and treated with less respect than the British employees. Also, they experienced a kind of apartheid in their town. There were certain places in the town of Sekondi where only whites could go, and black people were not even allowed to swim in the ocean when white people were in the water. The railway union was the most organized union of laborers in the country, having committed members and dynamic leaders. The railway laborers had already been struggling for better working conditions in the colony.

They had gone on strike in 1941, 1944 and 1947, asking for better wages and working conditions. Also, the railways were an important lifeline for the colony, and that gave these laborers an important weapon to use against the colonial government. For these reasons, the railways workers played a vital role in the Positive Action. Nkrumah declared Positive Action on January 8, 1950. However, he was in the process of negotiating with British officials at the time and was hesitant to embark on the action. It was the laborers in Sekondi who pressured Nkrumah into declaring Positive Action.

The British government declared a state of emergency and imposed a 6:00 to 6:00 curfew on the people and Nkrumah was arrested and thrown into prison for sedition. After the riots of 1948, the British government established a commission of inquiry, known as the Watson Commission, to evaluate why there was so much unrest in the colony and what could be done to ease the tension. The commission issued a report suggesting that the people of the colony needed a voice in government. As a result of the Watson Report, the colonial government called for the first elections of the Gold Coast.

Nkrumah ran for the Accra Central seat in Parliament while he was in prison. Even though he had no opportunity to campaign, he was elected by a landslide. Nkrumah had to be released from prison after serving only thirteen months of a three-year sentence so that he could fulfill his role in Parliament. His party was the majority in Parliament, and Nkrumah became Leader of Government Business. Nkrumah and the other members of his party were reelected in 54, again by a landslide. The colonial government gave Nkrumah the title of Prime Minister.

Though his power in this position was limited, Nkrumah used what power he had to move the colony towards autonomy. In 1956, he made the famous Motion of Destiny before Parliament, asking the British government to release the colony. British leaders asked how they could know that the colony was ready for independence, and Nkrumah told them to go to the people and let them decide. So the colonial government called for more elections, and when the CPP won by a landslide yet again, they agreed that the time had come to release the colony (Dodoo, November 1999).

On March 6, 1957, the Gold Coast became the Republic of Ghana, and Kwame Nkrumah became its first President. Nkrumah chose March 6 as the date for independence because it was a ceremonial release from the March 6, 1844 bond that first gave the British influence over the country. Ghana was the first country south of the Sahara to gain idependence. Conclusion The movement for independence in the Gold Coast was inextricably linked to both the liberation movements in Africa and to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States.

Ghana’s victory in 1957 served as a source of inspiration for liberation movements all over the world. As Appiah explains, “When you see another country that is no longer ruled by the whites, you also want to rule yourself” Though the fever for freedom played a major role in liberating Africa, other political factors made their struggles somewhat easier. After World War II, the US and the USSR emerged as Super Powers. As the war drew to an end, leaders of these countries began to put pressure on Europeans nations to release their colonies.

The US and the USSR were not allowed to trade directly with the colonies, but instead were forced to trade through the mother countries. The two powers wanted to able to trade directly with these colonies, and they began to put pressure on European nations to free their colonies (Tenkorang, November 1999). After the war, it was obvious that the European empires were going to crumble. Bibliography Aduku, Joseph. Interview. November 15, 1999: Nkrofo Appiah, Joseph Samuel. Interview. November 18, 1999: Sekondi Dodo, Leslie.

Museum Curator, Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Mausoleum. Interview. November 8, 1999. Accra. Duncan, Cameron Abongo. Interview. November 18, 1999. Sekondi Lee, Robert. Interview. November 23, 1999. Accra Sutherland-Addy, Esi. PhD. Research Fellow, University of Legon. Interview. November 8, 1999. Accra. Tenkorang, Sammy. PhD. Senior Lecturer, University of Cape Coast. Interview. November 10, 1999. Cape Coast. F. M, B. (1960). Ghana: The Road to Independence, 1919- 1957 . New York : Oxford University Press. Gocking, R. (2005 ). The History of Ghana. USA: Greenwood.