History of Ghana’s Independence

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 public 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. Nationalist agitation was suspended during the Second World War years of 1939 to 1945 but was resumed after 1945.  Indeed, the peoples of the Gold Coast actively supported the British war effort, contributing troops and funds to purchase a helicopter.  The 5th Pan African Congress held in Manchester in October 1945 inspired Nkrumah’s return home at the invitation of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) formed on 4 August 1947 to help free the Gold Coast from colonial rule “within the shortest possible time.


Nkrumah, who became a major driving force behind the UGCC, had been educated at Achimota College, Lincoln University and the University of Pennsylvania where he earned a Master of Science in Education and a Master of Arts Philosophy in 1942 and 1943 respectively. He then proceeded to the United Kingdom, in 1945, to study law at the University of London’s London School of Economics and Political Science.  At the time of his departure for the United Kingdom, Nkrumah had completed most of the requirements for the award of the degree of Ph.D. by the University of Pennsylvania but was constrained by poverty, ill-health and the desire to study law as a guarantee to an independent profession in the Gold Coast to leave the United States.


In 1948 demobilised Gold Coast soldiers a peaceful march to the Christianborg Castle to present a petition to the Governor about their plight, were shot at the Christianborg crossroads resulting in three casualties; Sergeant Cornelius Frederick Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey.  The riots that ensured led to the taking into custody, in remote parts of northern Gold Coast, six of the nationalist leaders of the UGCC, namely, Ako Adjei, Edward Akufo-Addo, Dr. Joseph Boakye Danquah, Emmanuel Odarkwei Obetsebi-Lamptey, William Ofori-Atta and Kwame Nkrumah and the setting up of a Commission of Enquiry under the chairmanship of Sir Aitkin Watson.  The detained nationalists have since then come to be known as the “Big Six.”  The outcome of Watson’s Commission was the Sir Henly Coussey Constitutional Committee set up in December 1949 to draw up a new Constitution for the country.  The recommendations of the Coussey Committee formed the basis of the 1951 Constitution, which marked a giant step forward towards independence.


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 People’s 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 from prison and appointed leader of government Business in a cabinet of three expatriate and eight African ministers. The governor however retained his reserve powers.


Under the independence constitution, Nkrumah as leader of the majority party in Parliament became the Prime Minister of Independent Ghana.  He was a Member of Parliament, head of the Cabinet and exercised executive powers.  The constitution also provided that all ministers should be appointed from among Members of Parliament. A governor general who would represent the monarch of the United Kingdom as ceremonial head of state and a leader of opposition appointed form the largest minority party in Parliament.

The first Governor General was Sir Charles Arden-Clarke who, as Governor of the Gold Coast helped steer the country to independence.  The Earl of Listowell, in 1957, placed Arden-Clarke as the last governor general of Ghana. The deterioration of relations between government and the opposition in the run up to independence was not helped by the passing of the Preventive Detention Act (PDA), in July 1958, to empower the governor-general upon being satisfied that it was in the interest of the state so to do, to cause the detention of a citizen.  Under the PDA, the opposition was hounded for suspected acts of subversion.

On 1 July 1960 Ghana became a republic and the Republican Constitution that provided that the monarch of United Kingdom ceased to be Ghana’s head of state and there should be an elected president who was at once the head of state, executive head of government and a Member of Parliament.  Nkrumah won the election for the first executive president of the Republic of Ghana with 1,016,076 votes representing 89.1% of. The total votes with Danquah of the United Party as the other contestant polling 124,623 votes representing 10.9%. The post independence period also witnessed tremendous social and economic achievements.  The CPP government continued to build on its successes in the field of education, the development of health care facilities and other forms of social infrastructure.

In 1961, for example, a Compulsory Free Education Act was passed and the University of Ghana and the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology became autonomous degree awarding universities. In 1962, the University College of Cape Coast was established as the third public university to train graduate teachers and it became a full university in its own right ten years later.  Similarly, infrastructural developments continued to witness vas expansion; in 1958 the Ghana Airways and the Black Star Shipping Line was established as national carriers followed by the building of Tema as the first fully planned residential and industrial which was subsequently   linked to Accra to west with city dual carriage, four lane motorway.  On 23 January 1966 the Hydro-Electric project also known as the Akosombo Dam was completed at the cost of US $140,000,000 to provided electricity for domestic and industrial consumption.

Politically, the CPP government made its greatest impact in foreign affairs.  On the day of independence Nkrumah declared that independence of Ghana was “meaningless unless” it was “linked up with the total liberation of.”  Consequently, the government invested considerable energy and resources to hasten the liberation of African countries still under colonial rule.  In practical terms the government established the Bureau of African Affairs to coordinate the government’s African programmes and to assist African liberation movements.

On 15 April 1958, a conference of independent African states, then numbering only eight, namely, Ethiopia, Ghana, Liberia, Libya, Morocco, The Sudan, Tunisia, Egypt (then known as the United Arab Republic) was convened in Accra to discuss the liberation of the rest of Africa from colonial rule an generally the development of Africa.  Again in December 1958, the All Africa, was convened in Accra. The period also witnessed the settlement in Ghana of several blacks in the Diaspora, prominent among the being Dr. Du Bois who commenced the Encyclopedia Africana Project and Padmore who was joint secretary with Nkrumah at the 1945 Pan African Congress in Manchester.—Businessghana.com

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