29.10.2002 Feature Article

Baffuor Akoto: Legendary National Figure but no Hero

Baffuor Akoto: Legendary National Figure but no Hero
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Baffuor Akoto: Chairman of Movement for Higher Cocoa Prices, Federalism, Anti-“Independence Now”, Legendary National Figure but no Hero In life, the late Baffuor Osei Yaw Akoto was a principled man who fought for what he believed in, damn the consequences. But in death, Baffuor Akoto should be remembered as a national figure who championed a cause that had negative and divisive impact on the social dynamics of the Gold Coast during the critical period of agitation for independence as well as the course of political relations in independent Ghana, and will continue to do so, into the unforeseeable future. In view of the latter instance, it is counter-productive to glorify Baffuor Akoto as a national hero. At the crest and apogee of his life, Baffuor Akoto was the chief spokesman (linguist) of the Asantehene Otumfuo Osei Agyemang Prempeh. Simultaneously, Baffuor Akoto served as chairman of the National Liberation Movement, NLM. At the same time, Asantehene was chairman of Asanteman Council, an eminent law making body of Asante paramount chiefs. In essence, Baffuor Akoto was the chief spokesman for Asanteman Council and the NLM. The implication here is that in the last days of pre-independence Ghana, when Baffuor Akoto spoke, he did so on behalf of the people of Asante, the Asante kingdom and the Ashanti territory. On November 25, 1956, that is, approximately three months before the Gold Coast Colony was to be politically independent, after 113 years of formal colonization by the British, Baffuor Akoto mounted the platform for an NLM rally and dropped a bombshell, so to speak. Speaking in his native Asante language, Baffuor Akoto told rally listeners, NLM supporters, people of the Gold Coast and the world, “…from today, Ashanti and the North are one and have seceded from the Colony,” quoted by Prof. Donald Rothchild of University of California at Davis. Yes, Baffuor Akoto was the lead advocate and chief spokesman for Asante secessionist tendency in pre-independence Gold Coast/Ghana. When Baffuor Akoto made the declaration of Asante's secession, he did not do so out of the blue skies or in a vacuum. In actuality, Baffuor Akoto was following up on a decision that had been made earlier by the Asanteman Council. On Nov. 20, 1956, the Asanteman Council passed a resolution at an emergency meeting, “The resolution stated that secession had become necessary and the Asantehene and his two delegates should reject the government's invitations to attend the independence celebrations in Accra,” according to Prof. Rothchild, during presentation of a paper, “Colonial Bargaining As Tactics: The Ghana Experience, 1954-1957”, at Johns Hopkins University in Washington, DC, Friday, April 12, 2002. As important as it is to recognize that Baffuor Akoto was not acting alone in making the secessionist announcement, much it is important to know that the NLM had not arrived at the point of aligning itself with secessionism by happenstance. Rather, since its inception, NLM had progressively upgraded and updated its original mission from demand for higher cocoa prices for farmers to secessionism; in between, it had asked for a regional autonomy for Asante as well as called for a federal system of government for post-independence Ghana. At the 11th hour before the March 6, 1957 independence day for Ghana, the NLM supported Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia's overseas campaign pressuring the British government to postpone the date and the process. Rothchild identified the Ashanti-based NLM and the Convention Peoples Party, CPP, led by Kwame Nkrumah, as the two principal domestic actors negotiating for independence from Britain. Nkrumah's CPP won national elections in 1951 and 1954 which paved the way for self government for the Gold Coast Colony and put him in charge of the Legislative Council under British tutelage. Having won the 1951 elections, Nkrumah preferred to control the political terms in the independence negotiations process, Rothchild pointed out. Rothchild indicated that the political points of contention between the domestic actors revolved around whether the emerging independent Gold Coast should have a unitary governmental structure or a federal arrangement. The powerful movement led by Nkrumah favored a unitary government as opposed to the Ashanti-based NLM federalist party. Even though Britain preferred the Westminster style unitary government based on simple majority rule at the polls, it pressured Nkrumah to make concessions to some NLM demands, in the interest of moving the independence agenda forward. When a section of NLM leaders and supporters refused to accept Nkrumah's concessions with respect to regional autonomy, fanatical elements of the movement resorted to violence, Rothchild pointed out. As noted by Rothchild, Nkrumah was determined not to limit his executive power as leader of the political party that had won two general elections in a row. “He [Nkrumah] saw federalism as tainted with tribalism and weak leadership”, Rothchild said. When the political clash between the CPP and the ethnoregional actor NLM, led by Baffuor Osei Akoto, intensified in 1954, Nkrumah made a request to the British Colonial Office for an official mediator to help resolve contending issues. The British sent an emissary in the person of Sir Frederick C. Bourne who had had some experience of a similar situation in India and Pakistan, to mediate. But according to Rothchild, Frederick Bourne arrived in the Gold Coast in 1955, with a limited sense of his role. In his prepared document, Rothchild writes: “It was evident from the outset that F. C. Bourne, who had been appointed as mediator by the British Colonial Secretary at the request of the Gold Coast government, was anything but a neutral or disinterested party. In this instance, the mediator's preference for unitary government coincided with that of the colonial administration and the regime of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.” Given the mentality of resource envy within the ethnoclass of the ethnoregional movement, NLM, it is no wonder that as the prospect for independence became more and more a reality with Nkrumah firmly in control of the bargaining cards, “militant Opposition elements concluded they could not achieve their objectives through the political system, they called for secession from the Gold Coast,” Rothchild noted. By 1956, the NLM, made up of Asante intellectuals and traditional rulers, had been allied with certain public institutions to bolster its political base. Besides the Asanteman Council, the NLM was allied with the Joint Provincial Council, the Northern Territories Territorial Council, and the Northern Peoples Party. But at the same time, Rothchild writes, “The intensity of feelings among the NLM and its allied organizations …led to a relatively high level of violence and intimidation in Ashanti Region.” With NLM's secessionist declaration, its “deep-rooted and almost fanatical” supporters “viewed violence as the most effective means of securing their separatist agenda,” according to Rothchild's findings. While the NLM pursued its separatist agenda, the British administration feared that Nkrumah was going to accede to the call by his supporters to declare independence for the Gold Coast, unilaterally. But Nkrumah resisted that entreaty from his supporters preferring instead to hold on to the majoritarian advantage in the legislative assembly. To resolve the issue of federalism, the Colonial Secretary pressured Nkrumah to hold another general election, in 1956, “to seek the views of the people … in the hope that this would produce a really decisive result,” before the granting of independence. The idea for a general election did not sit well with Nkrumah precisely because he and his party had the mandate to rule the Gold Coast till 1958, on the strength of winning the 1954 election. “Nkrumah recognized the decisive power in his hands, as a result of his majority support in the legislature” and “viewed as repugnant any attempts by the Opposition or British authorities to use federalism, bicameral legislatures, or a rigid amendment clause to limit the capacity of the majority for effective rule,” Rothchild stated. “At British insistence, the government did hold another general election in July 1956. Again, Nkrumah's CPP won a decisive victory. At the national level, CPP candidates polled 397,941 votes out of a total of 698,908 and won a disproportional 72 out of 104 seats in the legislature,” Rothchild stated. In the light of post-independence political conflicts Prof. Rothchild who taught for a while at the University of Ghana, was correct when he noted that when the British pulled out, Gold Coast/Ghana was left without pre-determined process for political conflict-resolution. He concluded that the independence negotiations process was a lost opportunity; “Hence, post-colonial conflicts and military coups.” With majority power in Nkrumah's hand, the NLM became no match for the CPP after independence and the British had pulled out. With majority in the Gold Coast legislature, the CPP government quickly abolished Regional Assemblies. The abolition was made easy when the Opposition mistakenly walked out of parliament during a debate to amend the bill that instituted the Regional Assemblies. Since the fateful dissolution of the Regional Assemblies in 1957, the ethnoregional opposition movement which has changed names several times, has never seen eye to eye with Nkrumah's CPP, to the present. Through political socialization of the worse variety, overwhelming number of Asante people hardly acknowledge any contribution by Nkrumah towards the building of the Gold Coast/Ghana. Likewise die-hard CPP supporters and Nkrumahists have never forgiven NLM for being disruptive during the fight for independence. In a lot ways, the role played by Asante exclusivity which Baffuor Osei Akoto championed, has tended to divide Ghanaians along the lines of ethnic-based partisan politics than anything else and it will take another social revolution to bring about change.

For real CPP supporters, the NLM/UP/PP/NPP had access to power only as a result of the Afrifa-Kotoka coup d'etat of 1966, which amortized the CPP and resurrected the NLM.

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