Saturday, July 22, 2017

Upset in Accra (1958)

From the January 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard

Colonel Pewter is a cartoon-strip Edwardian pukka-sahib who daily amuses readers of the News Chronicle. In his latest adventure he uses an Injun stick, which magically compels its victims to tell the truth in order to upset the party propaganda in a by-election. The whole joke, of course, is that nobody ever expects a politician to describe himself as other than a selfless, devoted slave to the voters’ interests.

Perhaps that is why so many eyebrows were raised when Mr. Krobo Edusei, Minister of the Interior in the new African State of Ghana, was reported as saying that he loved power. Had the man gone mad? Or was he just telling the truth? Worse, this outburst was only one of several newsworthy actions by the Ghanaian Government. Journalists and political opponents have been deported, opposition leaders have said that they are under threat of imprisonment and death, and it has been reported (and later denied) that ministers would in future carry revolvers. Mr. Fenner Brockway, the Labour M.P., who can usually be relied on to support nationalist movements in ex-colonial territories, has publicly expressed regret and protest at these actions. He put it all down to an evil genius at the ear of Ghana’s Prime Minister, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. But that is too easy; we must look a little more deeply into the history and the background of it.

The Modem Story
The first explorers of Africa named parts of the coast by the wealth they found there. There was the Grain Coast, the Slave Coast and, roughly bordering the area which is now Ghana, the Gold Coast. The modern story begins in the 15th century, when European traders, coming from countries which were desperately short of gold, found the precious stuff in common use among the Gold Coast natives. (Three hundred years later William Bosman, who worked for the Dutch West India Company, could still write of the natives of Dinkira, “They are possessed of vast Treasures of Gold, besides what their own mines supply them with;”). At first the Portuguese dominated the trade, but soon the Danes. Dutch, French and Germans came, and in 1553 Thomas Windham led the first English party. None of the expeditions tried to penetrate the interior; they only wanted to establish trading forts along the coast. Gold was not the only attraction, for there were plenty of slaves to be branded and shipped to the Americas and to the Middle East. This last journey was terrible indeed, involving a trek across the Sahara desert And there was every incentive to mutilate the slaves, to satisfy the great demand for eunuchs in the Middle Eastern palaces. The slave traders thought that Allah was being kind if ten out of a hundred survived the operation.

The English settlements date from 1651, when the English Trading Company built the first of several ports. In 1672 the Royal African Company commenced operations, building other trading stations, and later the African Company of Merchants carried on trade in gold and slaves until they were crippled by the abolition of slavery in 1807. Life in these settlements was a precarious business— Bosman has described the "excessive tippling and sorry feeding" among the Europeans, which made “most of the Garrison look as if they were hag-ridden.", and the "odious Mixture of noisome Stenches" from the coastal villages.

Inter-Tribal Wars
As the mercantile adventurers of the 16th and 17th centuries grew bolder, sailing out to America and the Far East, European interest in Africa declined and most of the trading settlements along the Gold Coast were left to decay. It was not until the American War of Independence had been won and lost and Great Britain was established in India and Australia, that Africa, lying between England and her Far Eastern possessions, regained its importance. The 18th and 19th centuries were years of inter-tribal wars, mostly between the Fante and the Ashanti. Great Britain kept a traders’ neutrality, which did not preclude the occasional double-cross. After one famous betrayal, which caused some native chiefs to be tortured and killed, the torturing chief remarked that he thenceforth took the English for his friends, ". . .  because I saw their object was trade only, and they did not care for the people." The chaos of these wars almost caused the British Government to withdraw from the territory, but the commercial interests prevailed on them to stay put, to unify the command of the trading forts, stamp out the slave trade and develop the Gold Coast’s mineral and agricultural possibilities. Thus, in 1821 the British Government took over the operations of the African Company of Merchants and in 1844 signed a Bond with several local chiefs, which recognised Queen Victoria’s jurisdiction and laid it down that ". . . the first objects of law are the protection of individuals and property." In 1850 they winkled out the Danes and in 1871 the Dutch. Thus also, any missionary who undertook to spread the word of Christianity and British "law and order" among the natives of the interior was assured of the benevolent protection of English arms. They did not leave it all to the missionaries; right up to 1900 British soldiers were fighting against the natives in the interior in defence of the commercial and strategic interests along the coast

Ghana Arise
The two world wars sharply emphasised the importance of Africa strategically and as a source of vital raw materials—in particular the last war saw a tremendous development of the Gold Coast's airfields, harbours and internal communications. The need for self-sufficiency caused independent local industries to be built up. This, with the war’s expanded social intercourse, promoted the Gold Coast’s political development and the inevitable demand for independence from British rule. In 1951 the Gold Coast legislature for the first time represented all the territory's inhabitants, voting in secret ballot. The elections of 1951 and 1954 were won by the Convention People’s Party (CPP), whose leader, Dr. Nkrumah was brought from jail to fill the newly-created post of Prime Minister. The CPP stood on a programme of independence from British rule and when they won a third overwhelming victory in the 1956 elections, Whitehall agreed to the inevitable. At midnight on 5th March, 1957, the Gold Coast ceased to exist and the State of Ghana took its place. A new national anthem—Ghana Arise, by Hector Hughes, a British Labour M.P.—was substituted for God Save the Queen.

The country which Dr. Nkrumah took over has a population of 4½ millions, most of them Africans and pagans. The economy is heavily dependent on cocoa farming, which, said Finance Minister Gbedemah, dusting off a cliché, is ". . .  the life-blood of this country." (Ghana turns out 30 per cent. of the world crop.) The Government are uneasy about this dependence on a primary produce industry, so vulnerable to world economic changes. There is a heavy tax on cocoa farming, which is invested in other fields; there is also a tax relief for those who finance "pioneer" industries. So far these measures have not had much effect and Ghana's prosperity still varies with the price which Cadbury and Fry, Ltd., the United Africa Company, and the like, have to pay for cocoa on the world market.

Betrayed Hopes
Ghana also has substantial deposits of gold, diamonds, manganese and bauxite. Most of the gold and diamonds, mined by companies incorporated in the United Kingdom, are sent to London. The manganese deposits, as an ingredient to steel production, are becoming increasingly important. Bauxite is mined by the British Aluminium Company, who are interested in the prospect of damming the Volta River to generate electricity for smelting the bauxite into aluminium. Although Great Britain takes nearly one-half of her exports, Ghana is anxious to attract any foreign investment. Because of this the Government will take no sides in current Great Power conflicts; Dr. Nkrumah had said,". . .  Ghana . . .  should not be aligned with any group of Powers or political blocs."

The first signs that Ghana was going to betray the hopes of its friends came when Dr. Nkrumah appeared to be fostering his own little personality cult by having his head stamped on the new coinage and going to live in Christiansborg Castle which, as the old residence of Danish and British governors, is heavy with unpleasant memories. Then came the expulsions and a Special Bill to allow Mr. Edusei to deport two men without the right of appeal. The municipal councils of Accra and Kumasi were suspended and so was the chief of the 300,000 Akim Abuakwa tribe. Several members of the opposition were kidnapped and from the other side, a plot to assassinate Dr. Nkrumah was alleged. In this hysterical atmosphere, it seemed, Africa’s immaculate embryo democracy had been born a deformed dictatorship.

The truth of the matter is that last March saw the end of Nkrumah’s days of agitation and faced him with the realities of power over a country which is trying to make its way in the capitalist world. The first reality was a staggering fall in the price of cocoa, so that the first budget was chillingly austere and the Ghanaian workers were told that it would be unpatriotic to ask for higher wages. They had expected better than this from Nkrumah; a national transport strike was called and rioting broke out in Accra. Another difficulty is that Nkrumah is struggling to establish government on modern capitalist lines and to stamp out the old system of tribal rule. These stresses have caused quarrelling within the government. To clean the matter up a strong-arm policy has been tried, with Mr. Edusei, known in Ghana as the Minister of Noise, to apply it.

Settling Down
It seems that things are now settling down. The cases against the journalists have been dropped and the Emergency Powers Bill, published at the beginning of November, was much easier than expected. The government was probably getting worried about reactions in the countries which would supply the necessary development loans and of the old-established foreign firms, who have kept their interests in Ghana. The opposition groups, formerly diverse, have united and almost certainly will emerge as an alternative administration. These are all strong checks upon extreme government action. In any case, there is no good reason why Nkrumah’s misdeeds should cause such a fuss in quarters which accepted, among other things, the deportations from Cyprus and Uganda and the deposing of the popularly elected government of British Guiana. Nor does it end in London. America has recently altered the constitution of the occupied island of Okinawa to get rid of a troublesome Mayor. Dr. Nkrumah’s is only one of a number of distasteful policies and should be seen in its perspective. It will be forgotten long before the world stops remembering the French in Algeria and the Russians in Hungary.

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