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17.12.2004 Feature Article

It’s all sour grapes

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In an editorial titled “It's all sour grapes”, The Ghanaian Chronicle (Online edition), Volume: 13 Edition No: 67, Monday, December 13, 2004; provides a misleading account of Ghana's political history in the 1950's; and thereby mis-educates the public on the events of that era.

I commend the Chronicle's effort in cautioning a fellow practioner of your profession for what you cite as the 'cheap journalism' by some newspapers to inject tribalism into the outcome of the just-ended elections. It is the unique role that journalist play in society that made the Scottish historian Thomas Carlyle ascribe the term "Fourth Estate" to the press's role in guiding political discourse and in advocating causes. One hopes that our journalist will play that honoured role, rather than descending into the abyss of yellow journalism. To this end I support your condemnation of the National Democrat newspaper's article titled “Fantes Stab Mills in the back”, which sought to tarnish the image of the Fante people.

However, in trying to provide a historical context to the 'wisdom of national-based, non-tribal politics', the editorial does fatal damage to a recounting of Ghana's political history in the era of the 1950's.

You write: “When the British colonists prepared to hand over political power to the people of the Gold Coast in the 1950s, one of the cardinal principles they insisted on was that the political party that would be most appropriate to lead us into independence should be NATIONAL in character, not ethnic-based.”

Furthermore: “They (i.e the British), vehemently frowned upon tribal-based political parties, arguing that only a broad-based and non-tribal party could steer affairs in what was to be the first black African colony to be granted independence by the colonial masters.”

From the above flawed historical presentation, you then conclude that it was due to this nudging by the British that made political parties such as, “the Ashanti-dominated United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), to come together to form the United Party (UP) to fight the elections that ushered in our independence.”

Even a cursory reading of the political history of the era would indicate the very opposite of what the Chronicle writes in its editorial. Like all colonial powers, the British relied on divide and rule to maintain and perpetuate their colonial rule. And in the era of decolonization they were less inclined as to what political party attained power in the independence era, as long as that party would be amenable to British national interest!

The editorial's further claim that the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), was “Ashanti-dominated” is as preposterous as it is ahistorical!! The claim that Asantes dominated UGCC is perhaps part of an urban legend that is neither borne out by facts nor realty. The fact is, there was hardly any Asante of note in the UGCC hierarchy.

The UGCC grew out of a need to unite the various Youth Movements and political cells such as the National League of the Gold Coast founded by Edward A. Akuffo Addo, and later supported by Dr. J.B. Danquah, and George (Pa) Grant, both of whom formed a cell of the League in Sekondi in early 1947. Again, it was Pa Grant who sent J.B. Danquah to lobby the leadership of the various organizations to merge into one potent political party. These discussions led finally to the formation of the UGCC at Saltpond on August 4, 1947. The UGCC was Ghana's first modern political party.

It is a well known fact that it was financed by Pa Grant, a wealthy Sekondi shipping magnate of the era, was an Nzema. The most influential leaders of the UGCC were: Pa Grant (Chairman); Dr. J.B. Danquah(Vice-Chairman); Edward Akuffo Addo; William Ofori Atta (Paa Willie); J.W. de graft Johnson; Obtsebi Lamptey; R.S. Blay; R.A. Awoonor Williams; and Ako Adjei. Dr. Kwame Nkrumah would later become the General Secretary of the UGCC. None of these were Asantes, though some had 'Asante-sounding' names!!! The UGCC therefore was not 'Ashanti-dominated'. Indeed the leaders and the majority of its members hailed from what was then called 'the colony'; as separate from then Asante and the Northern Territories.

The story of Nkrumah's disenchantment with the UGCC, and his formation of the Convention People's Party (CPP), is well-known to be repeated here. Suffice it to note that upon losing the 1951 elections, the UGCC imploded; and its short political life was ended.

Further, the formation of a national party was neither a 'major plank' of British decolonization policy; nor did the British 'vehemently' frown upon the formation of 'tribal-based political parties'. While the British may have welcomed a national-based political party; they did nothing to promote one, nor prevent the formation of ethnic and religious based political parties. The credit for the banning of tribal and religious-based political parties is due to policies of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, in the immediate post-independence era. And it is to him, that credit must be given.

With the UGCC moribund, some of its leaders such as J.B. Danquah; Edward Akuffo Addo; and Obtsebi Lamptey; joined by men like Kwesi Lamptey; Henry P. Nyemitei; Ashie Nikoi; Nii Amaa Ollenu; and Dr. K.A. Busia, to form a new party called Ghana Congress Party (GCP) in 1952. Busia; Ollenu; and Kwesi Lamptey were elected Chairman, vice-Chairman, and Secretary, respectively.

Divisions quickly set in the GCP. Obtsebi Lamptey broke away to form the Ghana National Party; quickly followed by another member Ansah Koi who formed Ghana Action Party. Like their parent GCP, these two parties were even more provincial and parochial in outlook. Meanwhile in what is today the Northern; Upper West; Upper East regions, there emerged parties based entirely on ethnicity and religion. The Northern People's Party, and the Muslim Association Party were two examples. Their reach extended to only the North, and Zongo communities elsewhere. The leaders included Chief S.D. Dombo; Mumuni Bawumia; B.K. Adama; and Jato Kaleo. Not to be outdone, the Togoland Congress and the Anlo Youth Association were formed in the present Volta Region to champion local interests and agenda.

It was this assemblage of political parties (some of which were able to field only one candidate– the leader!), that contested the 1954 elections. Kwame Nkrumah's CPP remained the only truly national party in the 1954 elections; and it won the elections.

As Professor Adu Boahen has famously pointed out in his book “Ghana: Evolution and Change in the 19th and 20th Century”, apart from the CPP, all the other parties, 'were regionally and ethnically based, badly organised, ill-equipped, and plagued with internal squabbles'! The GCP led by Busia won only one seat, Busia's at Wenchi; the others won seats only in their various localities!! All these political brinkmanship took place under the very noses of the British colonial authorities. But we were not done, yet!

Feeling completely left out, and again, with the GCP (successor to UGCC in tatters following its 1954 electoral debacle), Asantes and their cocoa farming allies formed the National Liberation Movement ostensibly to seek a federal style government for Ghana. It was a political stunt to get a seat at the political table. The NLM formed alliances with all the other regional/ethnic/religious-based political parties to contest the 1956 elections. Again, the CPP won; and Ghana (then Gold Coast) became an independent nation on March 6, 1957. The issue of federalism has since not been raised by any credible politician in Ghana.

Hence, when the Chronicle editorialized regarding a mythical British insistence on 'formation of national parties', and then concludes that; “It was this major plank (i.e. British insistence on national parties), that compelled the Northern People''s Congress (NPC), the Ga Shifimo Kpee, as well as the Ashanti-dominated United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), to come together to form the United Party (UP) to fight the elections that ushered in our independence;” the paper does major damage to historical stuides, as well as denying the political legacy of Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah.

In the case of the Ga Shifimo Kpee (GSK) 'Accra Standfat', it was formed in July 1957, months after Ghana's independence. The British had left town when GSP came into being.

Nkrumah finally dealt a fatal blow to ethnic/regional/religious-based parties in December 1957 when his government passed the Avoidance of Discrimination Act, which banned parties that were formed and organized for parochial purposes. Faced with imminent proscription, all the opposition parties in parliament coalesced into a single (national) party called the United Party (UP). The UP was eventually proscribed when Ghana became a one-party state under Nkrumah.

I hope this helps to set the record straight; just a little research would have provided the correct historical context. The lesson, as the Chronicle points out, and the history confirms, political parties in Ghana that cater to ethnic, religious, and other backward parochial interest are usually left in the sand. The strength of a political party that articulates a national agenda, and is not seen as being beholden to destructive interests, cannot therefore be over-emphasized, thanks to Kwame Nkrumah. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Kofi Ellison
Kofi Ellison, © 2004

The author has 60 publications published on Modern Ghana.Column: KofiEllison

Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author(s) and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana. Modern Ghana will not be responsible or liable for any inaccurate or incorrect statements contained in this article."

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