07.10.2021 Book Review

Book Review: An Eye To The Truth: The Story Of Ghana’s Independence by Kabral Blay-Amihere

By Napoleon Abdulai
Book Review: An Eye To The Truth: The Story Of Ghanas Independence by Kabral Blay-Amihere
07.10.2021 LISTEN


An Eye To The Truth


The Story Of Ghana’s Independence.

Kabral Blay-Amihere, DIGIBOOK, 2019. PP.302

This book is a timely study on the challenges the Gold Coast faced a decade to independence. It covers not only political developments but also a variety of colonial experiences and the key actors to the founding of modern Ghana. Ambassador Kabral Blay-Amihere is one of the few brave, courageous journalists who stood up against the PNDC dictatorship (1982-1992). It is a credit to Blay-Amihere’s breadth of knowledge that he can move across such a panorama in a little over 300 pages. His paper, The Independent was a source of courage to the pro-democracy movements.

On 6 March 2017, the President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo using the independence anniversary addressed the nation and quoted Joseph Boakye Danquah. "Love of freedom from foreign control has always been in our blood. 870 years ago, we struck against the attempt of the Arabs to impose a religious slavery upon us in Ghana (Empire). We left our homes in Ghana and came down here to build a new home". The President’s speech as expected on such a great day did not deal "with the complexities and complications of the struggle, the tension, disagreements and threats of secession that nearly scattered the creation of the unitary state Ghana is today." It is understandable, most commemorative speeches tend to be sketchy and poetic.

Hours after the speech, Ghanaians went on to either praise the President or condemn the speech. Some citizens stated it was only fair that Joseph Boakye Danquah, the doyen of Gold Coast politics is made the chief protagonist of the struggle. Whilst those opposed described the presidential speech as “an attempt to rewrite the history of the struggle for Ghana’s independence and make Danquah the chief protagonist of the struggle”.

The responses and debates drew Ambassador Kabral Blay-Amihere, to note the seminal question that excites intellectual curiosity: “Would there have been a Russian Revolution without Lenin?”(1917). The emphasis on the roles of individuals like Frederick the Great, Napoléon Bonaparte, Yaa Asantewa, Chairman Mao, Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Fidel Castro, Nelson Mandela is regarded as “bourgeois interpretation” of history since it does not take account of objective conditions.

Having followed the debate, the author concluded that political biases and prejudices, the “THEM VERSUS US” syndrome and sheer ignorance of the detailed facts was the major driving factors for the debate on Founding Father or Founding Fathers. It is to counter these myths that Blay-Amihere has written this marvellous book. His method is simple. The examination of the records between 1947 and 1957. What emerges is utterly informative. Blay-Amibere never gets dewy eyed.

This book answers the central question “What happened between 1947 and 1957?” What were the major events, milestones that determined the momentum to 6 March, 1957? Who did what and when? The old question, the great Russian philosopher Georgi Valentinouvich Plekhanov, founder of the social-democratic movement posed “The Place of the Individual in History” is used to explain the ‘Founding Fathers’ story.

The wealth of information is staggering. Ambassador Blay-Amihere explained that, first, there was the Big Four, namely George Alfred Grant a member of the Aborigine Rights Protection Society (ARS), Robert Samuel Blay an important Barrister, Dr. Joseph B. Danquah another important Barrister and Lawyer Francis Awoonor-Williams. These four gentlemen, "the quartet" had campaigned for more popular representation in the Legislative Council (LC) for the Gold Coast to take its destiny into its own hands through self-government. The idea of a better organised political party to fight for self-government came from the fertile mind of the timber merchant George Alfred Grant, a wealthy Sekondi businessman. Grant’s grandfather had been a member of the Fante Confederation of 1806-1824.

In 1947, from his base in Sekondi, Paa Grant invited his fellow Nzema Robert Samuel Blay to play an important role in inviting his colleague and friend during his studies in the United Kingdom Dr. Joseph B. Danquah to work with him (Grant) to establish a political movement to realise self-government. On 20 March, 1947 following several meetings with Blay, Francis Awoonor-Williams and Dr. Joseph Boakye Danquah, Grant invited some of the elite including Edward Akufo-Addo, Obetsebi-Lamptey, Ernest Ako-Adjei “to a meeting on 4 August, 1947 where the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) was formed with the objective of “we want to look after ourselves”. Grant also stated “The time has come now for "Positive Action”. It was at this launch that J. B. Danquah delivered the clarion call for the Gold Coast’s independence which President Nana Addo Danquah Akufo-Addo quoted at length during the 2017 independence celebrations leading to the huge debate about ‘Founder’ or ‘Founders’ of modern Ghana.

At 69, Paa Grant was a ceremonial President, a fatherly and respected Gold Coaster who used his experience to unite the leadership. Other top leaders were lawyers with busy chambers and therefore had little time for full-scale political work that the UGCC needed to achieve its political goal.

Learning from the failure of the earlier nationalist organisations such as the Aborigines Rights Protection Society (ARPS), the UGCC leadership agreed to have a full time Secretary-General. Lawyer Ernest Ako-Adjei younger than the top leadership was the natural choice. He “declined the offer in order to establish himself and recommended a friend and fellow student at Lincoln University, Francis Nusia Kwame Nkrumah for the post”. This is how the history of the Gold Coast’s story to independence was changed from an elitist leadership to an egalitarian one.

Ambassador Blay-Amihere insists that, apart from Ernest Ako-Adjei none in the leadership of the UGCC knew much about Kwame Nkrumah who Joe Appiah in his ‘Autobiography of an African Patriot’ states that Nkrumah was “a very hard worker who enjoyed hard labour and needed very little or no rest”. Appiah knew Nkrumah from the historic 5th Pan-African Congress of 1945, held in Manchester, England. Nkrumah was employed as full time General Secretary without an interview or background checks. Nkrumah’s 12 years abroad, Ambassador Blay-Amihere noted "included impressive academic achievements including professorship at his alma mater and had a clear political view".

The author follows the political dilemmas, conflicts, debates that led to differences in the approach to the independence struggle. Kwame Nkrumah was cautious in accepting the UGCC job despite the fact that he had asked Ernest Ako-Adjei to find him a job. George Padmore from the Caribbean, Joe Appiah, Kamkam Boadu and an Oxford lecturer Tony Maclean convinced him to accept the job. Dr. J. B. Danquah was the main link to Nkrumah after his acceptance. On December 16, 1947 Nkrumah and his friend Kojo Botsio arrived in Takoradi. The author notes that finally, the UGCC had the Secretary-General to drive the organisation to achieve its objective. Little, according to Ambassador Blay-Amihere that Nkurmah was to take over the helm of the anti-colonial struggle from the gentlemen, who had been in the struggle for long such as J. B. Danquah. By 1952 the UGCC that had invited Nkrumah was dead and was walking in the shadow of the Aborigines Rights Protection Society (ARPS) formed in 1897.

The author in search for answers to the debate asked: What could the fate of the UGCC be, if Nkrumah had not arrived in December 1947? Who would have been the leader? Would the country’s independence have come earlier, in five, ten or fifteen years if Nkrumah had not appeared in December 1947? If Nkrumah had not been invited would there be a unitary state or a federal state? Would the Trans-Volta Togoland be part of modern day Ghana?

The British Colonial administration was clear on the future development of the Gold Coast following the arrival of Nkrumah. In an accompanying minutes to the Secretary of State, K. G. Bradley wrote on 29 December 1947 "….. From the accounts given here, its General Secretary designate (Mr. Kwame Nkrumah) seems most likely to emerge as the real leader of this body."

To encourage his return to Ghana, the UGCC offered him a monthly salary of a hundred UK pounds (£100.00) and a car. Upon arrival Nkrumah was told the UGCC had no such resources. Nkrumah was not materialistic. All he possessed consisted of two suites, two pairs of shoes, a few shirts and some underwears and no savings – to his name –. Nkrumah decided to work for free on condition that his boarding and lodging be paid by his employers – UGCC. After discussion, Nkrumah was paid Twenty-five pounds a month and an old rickety car.

Blay-Amihere shows the many challenges that Nkrumah identified upon assumption of office. These included lacked of a Bank account, no programme, no flag and no serious membership drive. Members concentrated along the coast where the leaders lived. UGCC had only 13 branches on paper and yet in the space of six months upon assumption of office the number rose to 500 branches according to Nkrumah. Joe Appiah in his autobiography disputes this figure and puts it at 209.

Another source of disagreement between the founders and Nkrumah was Nkrumah using Ten Pounds (£10) of his Twenty-five Pounds salary to establish Ghana National College in Cape Coast on 20 July 1948 for students dismissed by the colonial authorities for demonstrating against the detention of the Big Six.

One other important source of disagreement between the UGCC founders and their Secretary-General was the establishment of a Youth Study Group later renamed the Committee on Youth Organisation (CYO) under the Chairmanship of Komla Agbeli Gbedemah, a businessman and the chief strategist of the CPP during the 1951, 1954 and 1956 elections. Without Gbedemah’s leadership, there would not be an Nkrumah as Leader of Government Business and subsequently Prime Minister.

J. B. Danquah, the doyen of Gold Coast politics played the key role in introducing Nkrumah to other prominent personalities including Asantehene Sir Osei Agyeman Prempeh II. The two worked friendly and addressed several meetings together. On 20 February 1948 J. B. Danquah the effective leader of the UGCC speaking at the Palladium Cinema, Accra noted: “If all of us fail you, Nkrumah will never fail you”.

The 1948 boycott of European and Syrian businesses and the 28 February shooting of ex-service men were not organised by the UGCC. But, the leaders cashed on and issued a statement demanding the removal of the Governor Sir Gerald Hallen Creasy. The Governor ordered the immediate arrest on 12 March of J. B. Danquah, Akufo-Addo, Obetsebi-Lamptey, Ernest Ako-Adjei, William Ofori-Atta and Kwame Nkrumah. This is how Ghana got the Big Six of which three (3) are relatives of President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo.

The author provides interestingly information on the break-up of the UGCC. Nkrumah in his autobiography published in 1957 singled out William Ofori Atta as possible the only one who appeared to have some idea of the political, social and economic needs of the country among the founders of the UGCC. However to the author, who is a historian, a diplomat and an admirer of Nkrumah, Kwame Nkrumah was unfair to Paa Grant and J. B. Danquah. Both had demonstrated courage and leadership in the formation of the UGCC and the fight for independence.

The struggle for the independence of Ghana took a radical turn on 12 June 1949 when Nkrumah announced the formation of the Convention Peoples Party (CPP) on behalf of “the CYO, in the name of the Chiefs, the labour movement, Sergeant Adjetey, among others.

According to Ambassador Blay-Amihere, the UGCC leadership argued that “the formation of a new party at this juncture was inimical to the interests of the country”. A conflict management process was initiated by the clergy from the Methodist and Zion missions to reconcile Nkrumah and the UGCC. The Working Committee, and Paa Grant backed the reconciliation. Two Chiefs from Saltpond also attempted, Nkrumah accepted only to change his mind after “pressure from his colleagues”.

Major events in 1949 included the arrival of Sir Charles Arden-Clarke as Governor. “A flexible mind an awareness of complex issues and immense and cheerful self-confidence” and with experience from Central Nigeria, Bechuanaland and Sarawak. He, accordingly to Ambassador Blay-Amihere was to play an influential role thus becoming part of the Founders of modern Ghana.

This book is meticulously researched and provides interesting detailed information on the Big Six, namely, Danquah, Nkrumah, Obetsebi-Lamptey, Ako Adjei, William Ofori Atta and Edward Akufo-Addo. According to the author they were not or did not contribute to the organisation of the 1948 boycott. They simply became famous, because they were arrested and detained for six weeks. Blay-Amihere writes “Of the Six, only Danquah had had a distinguished political career earning the accolade, ‘Doyen of Gold Coast Politics’. Nkrumah arrived in December 1947 after 12 years abroad and would not have attracted that much attention if he had not been arrested ………”. William Ofori-Atta had as a tutor at Achimota School had put up a bold stance against discrimination when he refuted to quit his bungalow for a fellow white teacher. That did not make him famous nationwide his detention for six weeks did. Edward Akufo-Addo, Ako Adjei and Obetsebi Lamptey had their place in history as founding members of the UGCC. Edward Akufo-Addo and Obetsebi-Lamptey had their own socio-political clubs. Detention made them instant household names.

Paa-Grant, R. S. Blay and Francis Awoonor Williams were not celebrated then and now because they were not arrested and detained despite playing leading roles in the struggle. Gbedemah, the first CPP leader to be tried and imprisoned in October 1949 and who made capital of those imprisoned is not celebrated.

1951 saw real power shift from the elite to the ‘Verandah Boys’ party the CPP. Nkrumah who was in prison needed a reliable, intelligent, mobiliser and a strategist to keep the party riddled with internal squabbles from falling apart. That task went to the acting Chairman K. A. Gbedemah. For example, Ambassador Blay-Amihere noted that local politics also fuelled the crises facing the Party. “The Candidature of Casely-Hayford in Kumasi, which should not have been without dispute for his role as the ‘Defender of the Verandah Boys’. Casely-Hayford was a Fante while his main challenger J. E. Jantuah was an indigene. The CPP national leadership sent Jantuah to the rural Kumasi North Constituency.

The author aware of the injustice done to K. A. Gbedemah, the master strategist gives him prominence in this book. Gbedemah is denied in our political history. It was his brilliance, loyalty and dedication to Nkrumah and the CPP that made Nkrumah to win the Accra Central seat now Odododiodioo in the 1951 election from prison Gbedemah got Nkrumah to be registered as a voter “without any hindrance from the authorities who did not fathom out the rationale behind that move”. A total failure in intelligence.

After the registration of Nkrumah as a candidate, Gbedemah, the ever loyal assistant to Nkrumah billed as the candidate for Accra Central now had to drive at the speed of a Formula One driver to Keta, where the CPP was not popular to file his nomination papers. Gbedemah’s relative had to step down for him in an area where Ewe nationalism and the formation of autonomous nation made up of Ewes in the Gold Coast and Togoland was the dominant political trend. A risk Gbedemah took.

24 hours after his release Nkrumah had instructions to form a government. Accordingly, “by a twist of history his arrival had changed the status quo. It became the nemesis of the UGCC. Destiny would choose Nkrumah over Danquah, and the founders of the UGCC to lead Gold Coast to independence. Nkrumah could not believe what the CPP had achieved and thought he “would soon wake-up and find myself squatting on the prison floor eating a bowl of maize porridge”.

Despite differences with Nkrumah, J. B. Danquah, a gentleman did write “You fought the good flight and triumphed for the justice of our cause. Your imprisonment and your release are symbolic of the conquest over imperialism. You have made mistakes as even the greatest do …… we started with a United Gold Coast. Let us complete the work for a united motherland. Since October last the course of events had been clear to me and your election and release had been my desire”.

1952 saw the appearance of the Ghana Congress Party (GCP) founded by Kofi Abrefa Busia. The allegations of corruption and excessive adulation of Nkrumah led to CPP members including Joe Appiah, Victor Owusu, R. R. Amposah, Kurankyi Taylor joining the opposition in August 1954. With this, Kumasi became the seat of opposition and the battle for a federal state began.

As time went by in 2019 the debate over the makers of Ghana continued with Professor Mike Ocquaye, Speaker of Parliament fuelled the controversy at a public lecture where the former political science Professor repeated that Nkrumah’s role has been exaggerated and noted the declaration of Nkrumah as ‘Founder of Ghana’ was political propaganda. Blay-Amihere noted in Chapter 11 that Nelson Mandela is celebrated more than any South African despite the fact that Mandela did not start the anti-apartheid struggle. So did Mahatma Gandhi of India, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman of Bangladesh and George Washington. The author notes that Nkrumah may have played similar roles that "Others played to acquire their bigger-than-others status". Professor Ocquaye’s emphasis on political propaganda means he ignored major events from December 1947 to March 1957. Which had major impact on the story of Ghana’s independence.

The inspiration for this detailed but readable book, the political dilemmas in the making of Ghana, who did what? who were the key players? What role did the UGCC and the Big Six do play for which reason generations born and unborn owe them so much are captured. And the seminal question: Whether the Russian or the Bolshevik revolution of 1917 would have happened without Lenin? Quoting C.L.R. James the author notes that the social forces that made the Ghana revolution (independence) were namely workers, market women, youth who "had not been subjected to the influence of British education".

Blay-Amihere notes that there are different levels of contributions. Hence in Ghana’s history one cannot place the role of Nii Kwabena Bonney III on the same pedestal with Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Odartey and Private Attipor, the 150 students and four (4) teachers dismissed in Cape Coast for their demonstrations against the arrest and detention of the Big Six in 1948.

Neither can one equate the strategic role of Gbedemah who successfully led three massive electoral victories of the CPP (1951, 1954, 1961) to the role of Joe Appiah, or Krobo Edusei. How can one associate Antor, Afeke, Dumuga, leaders of the Togoland Congress who rejected the Ghana idea by campaigning to decouple Trans Volta Togoland to be part of French Togoland? Blay-Amihere states that one can’t place the contributions of Mohammed Ali in boxing, Viv Richards in Cricket, Lionel Messi and Christiano Ronaldo in football in the same class with lesser known sports men and women. It is a fact of life that within any organisation, some individuals give more than others towards the achievement of common goals.

The debates on renaming the Gold Coast Ghana expose the tactics of some politicians in delaying the independence of Ghana. Blay-Amihere notes that Rev. W. T. Balmer’s book: A History of the Akan People of the Gold Coast trace their root to the Ghana Empire (C.300 c1100), otherwise known as Wagadou with its capital Koumbi Saleh in present day Mauritania. Similar conclusion by Lady Lugard in her book: A Tropical Dependency the linkage between Ashanti and other tribes to the Ghana Empire. J. B. Danquah in 1936 wrote a poem ‘The Woman I love’ with the last stanza mentioning Ghana. He also suggested renaming the God Coast Ghana at the Watson Commission sitting on April 15 1948.

But it is Kwame Nkrumah to his credit who popularized and operationalized the name Ghana. He named the school he started in Cape Coast Ghana National College nine years before independence and also, had the Ghana Evening News.

According to the British Colonial Officers "Even Mr. Nkrumah’s axial fantasy-Ghanaland-has been cribbed from Danquah. Danquah demonstrated some time ago that the Gold Coast is the ancient state of Ghana. This was enthusiastically received and much elaborated by local bards, but it was Mr. Nkrumah who transformed it into political conception.

A short coming of this rather fascinating book is, its stand alone chapter on the role of women in Ghana’s independence story. It is the standard today to include gender/ women issues in all aspects. Another shortcoming is the non-inclusion of any woman in the founders of Ghana by the author despite the critical roles of Akua Ayisi Asabea, Mable Dove Danquah, ex-wife of J. B. Danquah, (First elected member of the Legislative Assembly –Ga Rural), Hannah Cudjoe among others. Despite this, the book is powerful, moving and worth reading.

This is not a cheap book. So you might want to have it on your birthday list or send as a christmas or new year gift. It is recommended for all, particularly political party leaders, MPs, the media, pan-african activists and anyone interested in understanding the struggle for Ghana. Ambassador Blay-Amihere's book represents the best analytical story of the 1947-1957 decade.