The independence of Ghana, appeared to be a mirage, until the United Gold Coast Convention was birthed on August 4, 1947 at Saltpond; thankfully, its formation became the springboard towards our attainment of Statehood. The independence of Ghana was not realized on a silver platter; as a matter of fact, it took years of struggle, pain, disappointment, betrayal, and even deaths before we were able to gain freedom from our colonial overlords—the British. The patriots, who sacrificed their energy, resources, and lives deserve commendation and must be celebrated.
Long before the attainment of independence, some of our patriotic forefathers in the Gold Coast decided to take a keen interest in the affairs of the country by ensuring that the interests and property of the people are protected. For instance, in 1897, the Aborigines Rights’ Protection Society (ARPS) was formed to protect the indigenes of their land right. Thus, when the colonial government introduced a Forest Ordinance in 1911, the Aborigines’ Society led the agitation to stop the foreign interference in the affairs of the people, which they considered to be the indivisible right of the indigenes. The Society was able to prevent the colonial administration from passing the ordinance until 1926. Although, the ARPS was not a political party, but a pressure group, its activities, especially the resistance to the passage of the Forest Ordinance was very important in the fight for self-determination.
In fact, before the First World War, it was hardly to find any African in the British Colonial Empire thinking or even dreaming of independence from their colonial masters. It was during and after the First World War that the consciousness of emancipation became alive among the people. The people had realized, though sadly, that their relationship with the British was one of servitude and not of dignity, and it was time they fought for their own destiny—one that will make them own their country and not ruled by aliens. According to Ofosu-Appiah (1974, p.23), the indigenes “began to realize very vividly that the relationship was a slave-master one which had replaced chattel slavery, and that, far from being British subjects, they were what I would call British objects! For the Britons were grade one citizens who, in emergencies, were called upon to exercise arbitrary authority over the natives.”
Another major determinant of the journey to freedom was the formation of the West African Conference in 1917, which later became the West African Congress in 1920. It was formed by J. E. Casely-Hayford, who hitherto, had accepted the certainty of colonial domination. The aim of the congress was to invite the West African colonies under the British to demand “self-determination” and “no taxation without representation.” Three of their most significant demands are that: self-government should be implemented to enable peoples of African descent to participate in the government of their own country, elective franchise should be granted, the system of nomination to the Legislative Council should be abolished because it is undemocratic (Ofosu-Appiah, 1974). Although the Congress disintegrated eventually, it should be stated emphatically that its formation and aims were very critical in the geopolitics at that time and contributed to the fight for freedom.
Again, the vibrancy of the media in the 1930s was a crucial landmark towards our attainment of independence. Upon returning from Britain after obtaining his B. A. Honours in Philosophy, LL. B, and Ph. D in Law and the Philosophy of the Mind, Dr. J. B. Danquah, established the first daily paper in the country in the 1900s. The paper was established in 1931 and was called the Times of West Africa. Due to the quality content of the paper, it was widely read across the colony, especially in Nigeria and Sierra Leone. By 1933, there were three papers in the country—The Times, The Spectator and The Gold Coast Independent. These papers provided the platform for intellectual discussions in the colony, and contributed to national consciousness or awakening among the people, especially the intelligentsia.
The vibrancy of the media within the period, led to K. A. B. Jones Quartey referring to that era as “The stormy Thirties of Gold Coast Journalism.” It must be noted that it was through the efforts of the journalists that enabled the people to demand that a delegation of chiefs and the people be sent to protest at the colonial office in London over the Criminal Code (Amendment) Ordinance, popularly referred to as the Sedition Bill, and the Water Works Ordinance of 1934. Dr. J. B. Danquah led the delegation as the secretary, and apart from the two demands stated above, they also, among others, wanted an increase in the number of Africans on the Legislative Council, the election of the provincial council members for the Eastern Province by the Whole Provincial Council, and non-chiefs becoming provincial members. Sadly, only the last request was granted.
The Big Six
The Idea to form a political party was conceived by J. B. Danquah and Mr. George Alfred Grant, who was a wealthy businessman living in Sekondi. In February 1947, J. B. Danquah visited him to pay his respects whilst attending High Court. Mr. Grant was not happy about the socio-economic problems at the time and said to Dr. Danquah, “Danquah, the country is slipping down the hill, and what are you doing about it?” Dr. J. B. Danquah replied, “I am in your hands, Sir.” This interaction led to a meeting among Dr. Danquah, Mr. F. Awoonor-Williams, Mr. R. S. Blay, and Mr. Grant. It was at this meeting that Mr. Grant revealed that he had had discussions with the leadership of the Aborigines Rights Protection Society—Mr. W. E. G. Sekyi, Mr. George Moore, and Mr. R. S. Wood, about the formation of a national movement. At the meeting which was held at Saltpond in April 1947, it was agreed that the Gold Coast People’s Party would be formed at Saltpond in August 1947.
However, on August 4, 1947, the United Gold Coast Convention was finally adopted as the name of the party. This day, unarguably, represents the most important step towards the attainment of independence in the Gold Coast. At the inauguration, Mr. Grant was elected the chairman for the occasion, and Dr. J. B. Danquah delivered the inaugural address. The address was so potent to the extent that it was able to create a national awareness, and a soul, yearning for freedom. After the speech, which was greeted with applause, Mrs. J. B. Eyeson mounted the podium and indicated, “Dr. Danquah, we had in the past given enthusiastic support to the cause of the Church. Today it is the cause of the nation. Women of the country are behind you.” (Ofosu-Appiah, 1974, p.52, 53).
It must be said without any equivocation, that the advent of the UGCC prepared the grounds for our independence. As the first political party in the country, their intentions and subsequent activities brought the attainment of independence within reach. It was the executive committee of the UGCC, upon the recommendation by Mr. Arko-Adjei that led to the invitation of Kwame Nkrumah to become the secretary of the convention. They paid his passage, and he arrived in the country on December 10, 1947. Again, he was the only person among the executive committee who was put on monthly salary. The decision to bring Dr. Nkrumah to help in the emancipation process underscores the significant role of the UGCC towards our independence.
After the 1948 riots—that led to the death of Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Atipoe, and Private Odartey Lamptey, J. B. Danquah, a member of the executive committee of the UGCC wrote a long telegraph message to the Secretary of State for the colonies in the United Kingdom demanding the recall of Governor Creasy, the dispatch of a special Commissioner, the establishment of an interim government to be run by the UGCC, and a Constituent Assembly. Excerpt of the telegraph message states, “Unless Colonial Government is changed and new government of the people and their Chiefs installed at centre immediately outraged 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.”
Of a truth, the arrest and detention of the big six (J. B. Danquah, Edward Akufo-Addo, Ako-Adjei, E. Obetsebi-Lamptey, William Ofori-Atta and Kwame Nkrumah) made the Convention a nationalistic one with popular support across the country. Although, the objective of the Convention was the attainment of self-rule in the shortest possible time, it was steadily moving in that direction until Kwame Nkrumah broke away to form the Convention People’s Party—which had formed the government when independence was attained on 6th March, 1957.
From the above, it is clear that the independence struggle was both a process and struggle; it took patriotic Ghanaians to fight to win us the battle of freedom from colonial domination. Those persons who led the charge, especially the leadership of the UGCC deserve our commendation and respect. But, for patriots like Mr. Alfred Grant and Dr. J. B. Danquah, who came together to form a political movement to salvage the country from economic quagmire, and push for her eventual independence, and their invitation of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah to be part of the preparation towards independence, probably, 6th March, 1957 wouldn’t have become a reality.
The birth of UGCC is significant in our lives even today. It offers us the opportunity to live their dream—a dream of selflessness, patriotism, respect for the rule of law and personal liberties, freedom of speech and association, self-determination, and love for our country. We don’t have any other choice than to live this dream; it is a noble one, that when pursued, will lead to the progress of our nation. Our forebears laid the foundation, we have to build and make them proud in their grave. On the occasion of the 70th year anniversary of the UGCC, I join the numerous patriots of our time to applaud their memories, and never dying souls. God bless Ghana!