Decolonization Case Study: Ghana/Gold Coast The Gold Coast progressed gradually towards independence with a series of constitutional revisions that granted increasing local authority. The British claimed that this was done in recognition of the Ghanaians increasing ability to rule themselves, while Kwame Nkrumah claimed that it was the result of increasing pressure brought to bear on the British by the Convention People's Party (CPP).
Prior to independence, the Gold Coast was divided socially between the more traditional, Muslim, agrarian Northern Territories (Tamale, Mali cattle & fish trade, kola), and the wealthier central region (Asante, Kumasi, gold) and the more industrialized coastal region (Accra, Sekondi-Takoradi, railroads). In the coastal towns of Accra and Sekondi- Takoradi, African labor unions controlled the ports and railroads of the colony.
Immediately after WWII, under the governorship of Sir Gerald Creasy (1948-1949), the British encouraged local lawyers and traditional elites to run for seats in the Gold Coast Legislative Council, an advisory body to the colonial governor. However, the Gold Coast had changed as a result of the war, and pre-war methods of indirect rule were no longer successful. Wartime inflation had hurt the westernized sector, which was larger in the Gold Coast (thanks to mining) than elsewhere in West Africa. 30,000 Ghanaians had served with the British in Burma, fighting against the Japanese (veterans).
At the end of February 1948, the "Christianborg riots" broke out in Accra after a British policeman fired on an African veteran's protest march. Trading company stores were looted (United Africa Company & Union Trading Company), foreigners assaulted, and 29 Africans killed, with 237 wounded. Strikes and demonstrations by youth and social organizations followed.
Kwame Nkrumah (1908-1972) was the main leader. He returned to the Gold Coast in December 1947 after 12 years in the US where he received degrees in education, sociology and theology at Lincoln University and University of Pennsylvania. Nkrumah went to London in 1945 and attended the 6th Pan-African Congress. There, he encountered the political themes that became the basis for his program: positive action, anti-communism, anti-imperialism, non-alignment.
In 1948 Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast. After initially joining the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), he formed his own party, the Convention People's Party (CPP) on June 12, 1949 in Accra, at the largest popular assembly in Ghana's history (60,000). Its plans differed from those of the UGCC mainly in the timing of independence, "shortest possible time" versus "now." The CPP urged the population to prepare for "positive action."
On January 6, 1950, the Gold Coast Trade Unions Council declared a general strike. The government arrested all of the union and CPP leaders on January 21, 1950. The strike failed and Nkrumah served a year in jail, but the CPP dominated local elections two months later. The British assisted Nkrumah to run for colonial office while he was still in prison, and in the 1951 election, the CCP won a majority and formed a legislative council under the Coussey constitution. Nkrumah won almost all the votes in Accra Central.
Although the CPP controlled the colonial legislature, the British controlled economic affairs through the Cocoa Marketing Board, established in 1948, and the oligarchy of 13 British companies, led by the UAC (Unilever), that controlled Ghana's export trade. They left only the smallest sectors of trade to Ghanaian businessmen, and transportation of the cocoa crop to the coast to Ghanaian transport entrepreneurs.
Control over the marketing board became the central issue in colonial politics. Africans opposed to the CPP organized the Ghana Congress Party (wealthy cocoa planters) and the National Liberation Front (NLM, based in Asanti), both of which opposed the CPP's use of the marketing board to finance other endeavors with cocoa profits (world prices soared in the 1950s). The other parties claimed that the CPP was communist while the CPP charged the other parties with representing tribal interests at the expense of national unity.
The CPP narrowly won the 1956 election. Less than a month later, the Legislative Assembly called for political independence. On March 4, 1957, Britain granted independence to the Gold Coast, following riots by groups opposed to the CPP. For the next year, the CPP passed laws that strengthened the state in order to suppress its political opposition.
Ghana's independence, the first in sub-Saharan Africa, inspired Africans throughout the continent. Residents of western Togo, the former German colony (by then, a UN Mandate under French control) voted to join the Gold Coast in 1957. On March 13, 1966, Nkrumah was overthrown by an army coup.