Kwame Nkrumah and five of his "Verandah Boys"
on Ghana's Independence Eve, 5th March, 1957.
ATTENTION: NANA AKYEA MENSAH AT WORK! This is an on-line draft of the article on the subject. It is not the final draft. I am requesting inputs and comments by other comrades and critics alike, before the final publication! The final drafts are published in Nana Akyea Mensah's Corner.
Thanks and cheers!
Nana Akyea Mensah
|The Debate on the BIG SIX in Ghana's Political History|
|by Courage Ofori-Afriyie,|
You have done a very good job in opening up this debate. I am afraid however that you only succeeded in putting your finger at the source of this confusion or myth about the existence of any "big six" within the leadership of the UGCC at that time, or at any other time for that matter! In reality the first time the "big six" was used was as a result of a Removal Order which was issued by the Colonial Governor of the day, Sir Gerald Creasy for the arrest of the six leaders of the UGCC. It is very instructive to note that the Colonial Secretary realised the error of blaming particularly the other five of the "big six" for these riots! In this article I intend to justify my humble contention that the very history of the formation UGCC itself, and the motivations of the founders, eloquently speak to the travails of little men with a colonialist and elitist mentality whose primary concern was how to strategically insert themselves in the colonialist exploitation of the population in order to take maximum advantage out of the situation for themselves, had Nkrumah not appeared on the horizon in the boat that brought him to Takoradi on that fateful day of 10 December, 1947.
Within three months of his arrival, an enduring myth would be born in a vain attempt to cloud this man's remarkable achievements in the struggle against colonial rule vis-a-vis the subservient and surrogate roles played by the founders of the Busia-Danquah neo-colonialist tradition.
The "Big Six" A Myth That Is Based On A Mistake
It is also very important to note that the Colonial government released them after realising their mistake of blaming them for the riots:
As Kosi Dedey puts it:
"In February 1948 police fired upon a protest by African ex-servicemen who were protesting the rapidly rising cost of living. The shooting spurred a series of riots in Accra, Kumasi and elsewhere. The government suspected the UGCC was behind the protests and therefore arrested Nkrumah and other leading members of the party. Realizing their error, the British soon released the convention leaders. After his imprisonment by the colonial government, he emerged as the leader of the youth movement in 1948."
"Suffice to say the report of the Watson commission clearly showed that the other men blamed Kwame Nkrumah for the agitation and denied approval or knowledge of the organizational plan that Kwame Nkrumah as General Secretary had presented to the UGCC on 20th January 1948. This programme called for organized strikes, demonstrations and boycotts. The question then is, are these acts of denial, and blaming of Nkrumah by the other gentlemen worthy to be termed as distinguished acts of bravery or behaviours worthy of admiration?Our history tells us clearly that the colonialist stooges of the epoch who later founded the UGCC were completely overtaken by events after the war, and were merely taking steps to usurp the people's authority and to abuse it as it is usual and expected from them. With inflation running high, cost of living becoming unbearable, the people of the Gold Coast were becoming very restive. This mood was reinforced by the returning ex-servicemen who became centres of attraction throughout the country with their tales of conquests which unmasked white supremacist superstitions, helped to remove colonialist inferiority and dependency complexes, and created a powder keg for the anti-colonialist struggle waiting to be ignited by Kwame Nkrumah.
On March 8th 1948 some teachers and students demonstrated against the detention of the “Big Six” and were immediately dismissed from their schools. Nkrumah upon release from prison proposed the setting up of a school for the dismissed teachers and students. The other members of the “Big Six” however disagreed with this idea and vehemently opposed Kwame Nkrumah on this matter. Kwame Nkrumah however disagreed and went ahead to set-up a school (Ghana National College) for the dismissed Students and Teachers. Worthy of mention is the fact that the seed money for the school was donated by Kwame Nkrumah from his monthly salary of twenty-five (25) pounds per month. Was this disapproval by the other members also another act of bravery or behaviour worthy of admiration?" (See Ghanaweb Archives, Feature Article of Thursday, 8 March 2007, Columnist: Dedey, Kosi, The "Big Six", Myth or Reality?)
Hitherto, the only available leadership to the Gold Coast population were principally composed of individual members of the ruling Gold Coast elite, seeking their personal advancement in the representation of their class in the colonial legislative and executive structures. They were not per se against colonialism. They were against being excluded from the booty. Their highest political ambition was not independence, but to share political power, albeit in a very subordinate position with their colonial masters maintaining the power of veto. Initially, they were very satisfied with this arrangement. It was the self-mobilisation of the people, ably assisted by the full-time General Secretary of the UGCC? Mr. Kwame Nkrumah. For example, the highest political ambition of Dr. Joseph Boakye Danquah, the doyen of proto-nationalism in the Gold Coast, was to be a Colonial Secretary. His dream of the Gold Coast independence was no different from the cynicism that the Foreign Office staff greeted the UN Declaration of Self-Determination by Colonised Peoples.
Of course, it is true that President Roosevelt had managed to secure Britain on board with the UN declaration supporting self-determination, as Sir Brian Urquhart, who was a member of the staff involved in the setting-up of the United Nations in 1945, and has advised every Secretary-General of the United Nations since its inception recounts, the achievement of Kwame Nkrumah, even though the British committed themselves openly to self-determination for the colonial territories, most people at the foreign office involved in these affairs really thought this was going to be a matter of hundred or hundred and fifty years after the declaration. This is why they were very comfortable with the slogan: "Self-government within the shortest possible time". Many of them were thus rudely upset by "Self-Government Now!" Thus it was, that instead of the 150 years that the colonialists were dreaming of, "It took twenty years!"
"When I first joined the UN in 1945 I was astonished particularly by the Foreign Office people would say "Well, Decolonisation, small matter, hundred years, hundred and fifty years maybe. Well, actually it took twenty." - Sir Brian Urquhart
From this interview, it was clear that the very slogan, "self-government within the shortest possible time", was music to their colonialist ears! After years of intensive indoctrination, the colonialist investments in the education of the natives was paying off. They even went as far as to create first class and second class citizens. Those with landed property would have the right to vote, whilst those who had nothing, became commoners without even the right to vote!
Danquah is credited to have also been instrumental in bringing the Ashanti Kingdom under the framework of the Burns Constitution of 1946. Even though his influence was waning rapidly after he was found steeped to the neck in a Kyebi murder case involving human sacrifice. This notwithstanding, JB managed to agree with the British to disenfranchise a good majority of Ghanaians! The calls for universal adult suffrage by Nkrumah for all Ghanaians of legal age was greeted by howls of "communist!" from no other person than JB Danquah!
The significance of the 1948 riots
"On 12 June 1949 Nkrumah parted ways with the leadership of the UGCC and formed the first political party in the history of Gold Coast, namely, the Convention Peopless’ Party (CPP), to fight for “Self-Government Now”. Initially the CPP opposed the Coussey Constitution and on 8 January 1950 declared “positive action” that urged a strike and non-cooperation with the colonial Government. Nkrumah and his associates were arrested, tried and imprisoned for instigating a strike. However, notwithstanding CPP’s opposition to the Coussey Constitution it soon changed its mind and contested the first General Elections in the history of the Gold Coast scheduled for 8 February 1951. The CPP won the General Elections securing 34 out of the 38 popularly elected seats in the 84-member Legislative Assembly with Nkrumah himself winning the seat for the Central Accra Constituency obtaining 22,780 votes out of a possible 23,122. On 12 February 1951 Nkrumah was released form prison and appointed Leader of Government Business in a cabinet of three expatriate and eight African ministers. The Governor, however retained his reserve powers." (Very accurate information from History of Ghana » Independence, www.businessghana.com)
The significance of the 1948 riots lies in the fact that it came about without the involvement of the so-called "big six". It is a sign of mass mobilisation of the people through unexpected heroism of individuals such as Nii Kwebena Bonne III, the chief of Osu Alata, a suburb of Accra. It is very important to keep the background to this in perspective. The bookrags.com/wiki background is the kind I am comfortable to identify with:
"Background: AWAM boycott
A chief of the Ga people of Osu, a suburb of Accra, the Osu Alata Mantse, Nii Kwabena Bonne III (nicknamed Boycotthene meaning Boycott King), organized a boycott of European imports in January 1948. The aim was to get the foreign traders known as the Association of West African Merchants (AWAM) to reduce the prices of their goods. This was followed by a series of riots in early February 1948. The boycotts were scheduled to end on February 28, 1948, a day that has become significant in the history of Ghana. AWAM has become a term synonymous with cheating or profiteering in Ghana."
Of course it is very true that both Dr. Danquah and Mr. Nkrumah "met and addressed second world war veterans who had been agitating for their end of service benefits following World War II at the Palladium Cinema. They gave their support and encouraged the veterans in their protest over their post-war neglect. Later on February 28, what became known as the "Christiansborg Cross-Roads shooting" occurred. Some second world war veterans marched to the Christiansborg Castle, the seat of the colonial government. They intended submitting a petition to the Governor, Sir Gerald Creasy about their poor conditions and neglect. Police Superintendent Colin Imray, a white police officer, either ordered or opened fire on the unarmed soldiers killing three of them, namely Sergeant Cornelius Frederick Adjetey, Private Odartey Lamptey and Corporal Attipoe. This led to another round of riots and looting in Accra during which foreign (European and Asian) stores were looted. This went on for five days. "
Hence they could be somewhat connected to the riots, except that one must study the contents of what each of them said at the time very carefully before rushing into judgement! (I am still looking for sources and would be pleased to receive links for my readers!) What is known in our history books however is that when the British realised their mistake, they released all the members of the so-called "big six" with the singular exception of one of them: Kwame Nkrumah. This was confirmed later before the Watson Commission which subsequently investigated into the disturbances, as five of the so-called "big six" heaped all the blame on the shoulders of Mr. Kwame Nkrumah.
Arrest of the Big SixOn the same day, following these disturbances, the UGCC leaders sent a cable to the Secretary of State in London.
"...unless Colonial Government is changed and a new Government of the people and their Chiefs installed at the centre immediately, the conduct of masses now completely out of control with strikes threatened in Police quarters, and rank and file Police indifferent to orders of Officers, will continue and result in worse violent and irresponsible acts by uncontrolled people.
"Working Committee United Gold Coast Convention declare they are prepared and ready to take over interim Government. We ask in name of oppressed, inarticulate, misruled and misgoverned people and their Chiefs that Special Commissioner be sent out immediately to hand over Government to interim Government of Chief and People and to witness immediate calling of Constituent Assembly"They also blamed Sir Creasy whom they called "Crazy Creasy" for the riots due to his handling of the country's problems. The Riot Act was read on March 1, 1948. A Removal Order was issued by Sir Creasy for the arrest of the six leaders of the UGCC. They were held in the remote northern part of the Gold Coast following their arrests. A commission of enquiry chaired by Mr. Aiken Watson, was set up to look into the riots. Other members of the Watson commission were Dr. Keith Murray, Mr. Andrew Dalgleish and Mr. E. G. Hanrott. Following their incarceration, the nationalists have become known as the Big Six. Their popularity also increased. On March 8, 1948 some teachers and students demonstrated against the detention of the Big Six. The demonstrators were dismissed. On his release, Dr. Nkrumah set up a secondary school, Ghana National College, for the dismissed staff and students."
The Colonial Government realised that their list of the so-called "big six" to be arrested was a mistake! I am of the impression that if the members of the UGCC who were later bitterly disappointed in Nkrumah, had bothered to read the following Resolution drafted by Nkrumah at the 5th Pan-African Congress, they would have saved themselves the trouble of bringing him down. Nkrumah was not after a Liberian-style independence where the colonial powers hand over power to the local elites, who in their turn lord it over the rest of the population. For the colonialists, naturally anxious to save and maintain their interests, this is a most convenient arrangement since it does not fundamentally alter the status quo. Thus the alliance between the Gold Coast aristocrats and the colonialists was a natural one, and politically organic.
Class Struggle In Pre-Independence Gold Coast
"The roots of Ghanaian nationalism go back to the early decades of the 20th century. It owed much to the influences of the Pan African Movement of W.W.B. Du Bois, Sylvester Williams, Edward Blyden and Marcus Garvey among others and the West African Students Union based in the United Kingdom. Dr Du Bois’ first Pan-African Congress was held in Paris in 1919; and within a year of that meeting, Casely Hayford convened the inaugural meeting of the National Congress of British West Africa, (NCBWA), in Accra.
The NCBWA was intended as a platform for the intelligentsia of British West Africa to bring “before the Government the wants and aspirations of the people” for attention. In the longer term, the Congress aimed at the attainment of self-government for British West Africans by constitutional means. Among the specific demands of NCBWA were the election of African representation to both the Legislative and Municipal Councils; cessation of the exercise of judicial functions by untrained pubic servants; the opening up of the Civil Service to Africans; establishment of a British West African University and compulsory education.
Following the death of Casely Hayford in 1930 the NCBWA became moribund; and in the mid 1930s national politics became radicalized as a result of the activities of the Sierra Leonean, Isaac Wallace Johnson, then based in the Gold Coast, and his West African Youth League. The colonial Government and the chiefs, who were seen as their collaborators came under increasing pressure as a result."
After the war, with the return of the ex-servicemen, a new social and political class was injected into the system which caused the urban elites to sit up and to get their act together and steer the rising tide of nationalism onto their aristocratic dreams and emerge as the natural rulers of the land. We saw brisk movement that led to the formation of the United Gold Coast Convention on the 4th of August, 1948. Overwhelmed by their own daily routines and unwilling to sacrifice any time for the liberation of their country they fell for the easy option of paying a professional full-time secretary to carry on with the mundane affairs of party organisation and administrative work.
It is clear from the very beginning that the elites of Ghana was making a grievous mistake in inviting someone whose sensibilities were diametrically opposed to theirs. All they needed to do was a thirty munite reading of Nkrumah's draft resolution for the 5th Pan African Conference, just two years before the invitation. If they had read it, Nkrumah's "calls on the workers and farmers of the Colonies to organise effectively.", "Colonial workers must be in the front of the battle against Imperialism." "the struggle for political power by Colonial and subject peoples is the first step tow towards, and the necessary prerequisite to, complete social, economic and political emancipation.", ... all these should have sounded the alarm bells that Kwame Nkrumah was exactly the wrong guy to do business with!
The reason why I believe that Ghana is blessed is because of the miracle of the nemesis the UGCC found in Nkrumah. Nemesis has been defined as "righteous infliction of retribution manifested by an appropriate agent". Whilst scheming to collaborate with the colonialists and give the poor people of Ghana a raw deal, a certain young man stepped down from a boat at Takoradi Harbour, and within a twinkle of an eye the whole nation was ablaze with mass agitations for freedom.
Whilst the ruling elites were looking forward to constitutional reforms that take care of their sensibilities and special privileges, such as "wage and property requirements made the basis for suffrage," in order that the rich may vote and the poor may not. Nkrumah was very clear in his head the task he faced, having just drafted the following for the 5th Pan-African Congress, held in Manchester, United Kingdom in October 1945:
"The delegates of the Fifth Pan-African Congress believe in the right of all peoples to govern themselves. We affirm the right of all Colonial peoples to control their own destiny. All Colonies must be free From foreign imperialist control, whether political or economic. The peoples of the Colonies must have the right to elect their own governments, without restrictions from foreign powers. We say to the peoples of the Colonies that they must fight for these ends by all the means at their disposal.Kwame Nkrumah Versus The "Big Five"
The object of imperialist powers is to exploit. By granting the right to Colonial peoples to govern themselves that object is defeated. Therefore, the struggle for political power by Colonial and subject peoples is the first step tow towards, and the necessary prerequisite to, complete social, economic and political emancipation.
The Fifth Pan-African Congress therefore calls on the workers and farmers of the Colonies to organise effectively. Colonial workers must be in the front of the battle against Imperialism. Your weapons-the Strike and the Boycott-are invincible.
We also call upon the intellectuals and professional classes of the Colonies to awaken to their responsibilities. By fighting for trade union rights, the right to form cooperatives, freedom of the press, assembly, demonstration and strike, freedom to print and read the literature which is necessary for the education of the masses, you will be using the only means by which your liberties will be won and maintained. Today there is only one road to. effective action-the organisation of the masses. And in that organisation the educated Colonials must join. Colonial and Subject Peoples of the World-Unite!"
Fast forward to 1949, four years later and you have Kwame Nkrumah, whose objectives and strategies against imperialism is far advanced, in the same room with a petty bourgeois lawyer who does not seek to rock the boat by focusing his campaign strictly among the elites, such as fellow lawyers, members of other professional bodies such as medical officers, accountants etc., rich merchants and members of the royal families. So far as J. B. Danquah was concerned he saw nothing wrong with the such elitist practice. Indeed, Reuters reported:
"Local African Chiefs have sent ultimatum to Extremist Home-Rule Leader Kwame Nkrumah demanding undertaking by next Wednesday not to cause trouble when Coussey Report on Constitutional Advancement is published next week. He has also been told to promise Loyal co-operation of his Convention People's Party. If he refuses African Authority with 'Forcibly Eject' him from Accra to his native village of Nzima about 250 miles inland. All Political Leaders Promised co-operation in keeping peace except Dr. Nkrumah who said he had 'No Guns to Fight' but would resort to Boycott, Strikes and Spiritual Force to carry on struggle. Coussey Commission was set up last January to examine Proposals for Constitutional and Political Reforms in Gold Coast."
Nkrumah himself recounts this experience as follows: in "What I Mean by Positive Action"
"Before I proceed to my proper topic, I must take this opportunity to dispel the wild rumour, that the Ga Manche said at the meeting that the Convention People's Party should be suppressed and that I should be deported from Accra. Nothing of the sort was ever suggested by teh Ga Manche even though some of the speakers tried to convey such idea but the Ga Manche promptly overruled that. And at this point allow me to protest vehemently against the diabolically false Reuters' news which no doubt must have been sent by their correspondent in this country."
"Boycott, Strikes and Spiritual Force"? I never noticed "Spiritual Force", he must have scared the hell out of them! Kwesi Pratt, Jnr. writes in Nkruamah and Pan-Africanism: 'The British, who were making moves towards self-government for the Gold Coast, called for the drafting of a New Constitution that would grant local authorities some responsibility for policy decisions. The new constitution, which was drawn up under the influence of the Ghanaian national bourgeoisie, made wage and property requirements were the basis for suffrage. In opposition to this Nkrumah brought together his own “People’s Assembly” composed of representatives of party members, youth organizations, trade unions, farmers, and veterans. In contrast to the new bourgeoisie constitution, their proposals called for universal suffrage without property qualifications, a separate house of chiefs, and self-governing status under the Statute of Westminster. These amendments, known as the Constitutional Proposals of October 1949, were rejected by the colonial administration.
The colonial administration’s rejection of the People’s Assembly’s recommendations led directly to Nkrumah’s call for “Positive Action” in January 1950. His idea of Positive Action included civil disobedience, non-cooperation, boycotts, and strikes. In response the imperialist administration again arrested Nkrumah and many of his supporters in the CPP. Nkrumah was sentenced to three years in prison.
Under the ever increasing weight of both international protests and internal resistance, the British decided to pull out of the Gold Coast. They organized the first general election to be held in Africa under universal franchise; it was held on 5-10 February, 1951. Though in jail, Nkrumah won the election by a landslide, with the CPP taking 34 out of 38 elected seats in the Legislative Assembly." It is enough to listen to the clear and resounding verdict of their contemporaries, understand the basis of the positions they took, in order to understand the survival of a myth based entirely on a wrong accusation by a Colonial Governor in a self-imposed state of emergency in a panick response to the Gold Coast riots. The myth of the so-called "Big Six" is that last opportunistic bastion to cling on to unmerited laurels and acolades in history of the liberation of the Gold Coast. It is an attempt to swindle the people once more. This is why it must be resisted.
Nkrumah: "The Gold Coast Leader"
"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." (See: Source: GUYANA UNDER SIEGE)