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07.04.2005 Feature Article

The Enduring Legacy Of Dr. J. B. Danquah – Part 5

The Enduring Legacy Of Dr. J. B. Danquah – Part 5
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This series has arisen in part because of the painful recognition of the fact that many youthful Ghanaians – particularly among those born after the country’s independence – who have, for various reasons, not availed themselves of the large corpus of literary and other documents regarding the stupendous achievements of the Doyen of Gold Coast and Ghanaian politics, tend to envisage Dr. Danquah in terms of the inexcusably chimerical or mythological.

Indeed, not quite long ago, one such non-initiate wrote to this writer imperiously insisting that the foremost and pioneering constitutional lawyer of the erstwhile Gold Coast and modern Ghana’s sole remarkable achievement was the founding of the Gold Coast Youth Conference in 1929, barely a year after Danquah returned from England, having distinguished himself as a sterling legal scholar and gold medalist in the Philosophy of the Mind. Even so, the critic further insisted that the Youth Conference was an “elitist” and “self-serving club” which engaged almost exclusively in intellectual speculation, rather than any consistent or systematic agitation for Ghana’s liberation from British colonial rule.

Needless to say, nothing could be further, or remoter, from the truth. For, indeed, as available documents regarding the seminal activities of the Gold Coast Youth Conference attest, the latter appears to have squarely aimed at the salutary expansion and development of the Gold Coast community of African intelligentsia, in anticipation of the inevitable re-assertion of the country’s sovereignty in the offing (see Comment on the Review of the Activities of the Gold Coast Youth Conference i). In sum, The Youth Conference, as it was widely and commonly known, was akin to the DuBoisian concept and ideology of the Talented Tenth, proposed at the turn of the twentieth century, as a means of accelerating the massive intellectual and cultural development of the African-American community as a salutary means of bridging the hitherto gaping cultural divide between Blacks and Whites, institutionalized by the latter during the course of some three-hundred-plus years of African-American proscription and enslavement in the United States of America. The Youth Conference’s agenda, therefore, encompassed the collective welfare of all the four Anglophone, British colonies in the West African sub-region; thus as its leader and general secretary, Danquah could be aptly characterized as a pragmatic Anglophone pan-Africanist, in much the same manner that J. E. Casely-Hayford’s work with the historic National Congress of British West Africa (NCBWA) may be envisaged.

In the main, the Youth Conference aimed its activities at the socioeconomic and political development of the Gold Coast, as an anonymous observer noted to Dr. Danquah in a personal letter: “The problems in colonial administration may be summarized under four categories: economic, administrative, political and idealistic./ Better methods of production and distribution of essential commodities are necessary, as well as the development of agriculture and fishing to achieve a higher degree of self-sufficiency. We need a finer control of the marketing of primary products in the welfare of the peasant producer, so that he may not be exploited and tied down to a low standard of living by international agreements after the war./ The small producer can only be protected by expert representation on produce control boards, and the farmer must be properly organized in a Produce association in order to appoint suitable representatives and to have an effective voice in world marketing” (Self-Help and Expansion ii).

The preceding, needless to say, eloquently debunks the myth, largely propagated and perpetuated by the anti-Danquah camp, that the Gold Coast Youth Conference primarily and exclusively concerned itself with the petty and otiose cares of the small community of the African intelligentsia. But perhaps even more significantly, the preceding highlights the fact that by mid-1947 when Nkrumah arrived in the Gold Coast and joined the Danquah-led United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), Danquah had fairly and firmly laid down the seminal groundwork – or blue-print – for the development of the Gold Coast as a modern economy. And needless to say, the preceding process had been operable, in various degrees of coherence, since Danquah’s arrival from England in 1928, and not 1931, as some Danquah detractors maintain. The latter date, however, is also quite a significant milestone in the Doyen’s professional development, for it was in 1931 that Danquah established his legal practice in the Gold Coast.

Also, contrary to what many a unidimensional and pro-Nkrumahist Ghanaian school curriculum has been promoting for most of the country’s half-century of post-colonial rule, such policies as free education, the massive expansion and extension of health services, as well as the imperative need to creating an economic milieu and climate conducive to individual wealth accumulation, in order to facilitate the auspicious development of a capitalist economy, were well in advance of Nkrumah’s arrival and active involvement in Gold Coast politics in mid-1947. To the preceding effect, his anonymous correspondent intimated to Danquah in April 1943, shortly after the sixth-annual assembly of the Youth Conference, a period which also marked the fourteenth anniversary of the founding of the Youth Conference: “The need is recognized of a comprehensive system of free compulsory education to provide equal opportunity for all./ Extensive health services are necessary to rid the people of the lethargy caused by parasites./ To broaden the basis of economic life, we need local industries and more business opportunities. This is tied up with the necessity for accumulated wealth. And this involves a thrift campaign for savings by all so that, with the further monies that the stool treasuries may allocate, funds may be established for education, co-operative stores, co-operative production and marketing of produce and essential services” (Self-Help and Expansion ii).

As the general secretary of the Danquah-led United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), Kwame Nkrumah had liberal access to the preceding document and, as a self-admitted avid reader, most likely availed himself of its contents. Thus, while he cannot be honestly begrudged his phenomenal achievements, as a transitional premier and subsequently substantive premier of independent Ghana, in the fundamental areas of education, health and agriculture, nevertheless, it bears emphasizing that such achievements, at least in their theoretical form, were not the exclusive brainchild of the breakaway Convention People’s Party (CPP). Rather, many of the policies implemented by the CPP appear to have been ideological carryovers from the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the original Convention Party. It may, however, be legitimately debated regarding whether had the UGCC, rather than Nkrumah’s CPP, ushered the Gold Coast into its glorious era of sovereignty, the implementation of the preceding policies might have been accorded the same urgency in deployment afforded by the Nkrumah government.

It is also significant to observe and acknowledge the massive contribution of King Ofori-Atta I, Omanhene (or Paramount King) of Akyem-Abuakwa to the development of Ghanaian colonial education. For not only was the elder brother of Dr. Danquah, and this writer’s paternal great-granduncle, instrumental in the conception and establishment of Achimota College, the finest of its kind in the so-called British West Africa, but equally importantly, the reference to “stool treasuries” – in the above abstract – allocating funds for the establishment and development of educational institutions is, unmistakably, an oblique acknowledgment of the massive contribution of Osagyefo Nana Sir Ofori-Atta I to the general education of the proverbial Colony. And here also, it is quite of moment to add that Akyem-Abuakwa, during the period under discussion, was at once the wealthiest and most powerful of the traditional polities of southern Ghana which constituted the Colony. And so, in essence, Nana Ofori-Atta Panyin could readily splurge, where his counterparts, elsewhere in the Colony, could barely eke a decent livelihood, much less remarkably contribute to the development of public education. Thus if, indeed, King Ofori-Atta I was considered to be “the most hated junior partner of the British colonial regime,” as some Danquah detractors maintain, in all likelihood such resentment largely stemmed from the putatively most enlightened traditional Ghanaian ruler’s unrivaled influence in the colonial government, vis-à-vis his African peers, rather than any tendency towards the dogged pursuit of regressive policies on his part.

Also, the rather quizzical notion that Danquah was far less eager in his struggle for Ghana’s sovereignty than Nkrumah reeks of the patently absurd. Indeed, in his response to the critical comments of his anonymous correspondent – identified only as “Senior Barrister” – regarding the future ideological thrust of the Gold Coast Youth Conference, Danquah noted: “Whatever we do in an expansionist world, we must accept the principle that no control by another is ever as good as self-control” (Self-Help and Expansion iv). Danquah’s concern, in reality, was the fact that up to 1943, when he published his review of the activities of the Gold Coast Youth Conference, the British colonial administration had not initiated any serious measures aimed at transforming the multinational Ghanaian polity into an organic or unified modern state capable of effectively undertaking diplomatic activities with the larger international community: “Actually what I imagine would happen if Colonial status were abolished is something like this: Each ex-colony would feel constrained to choose its representative-country in world affairs, for the new autonomous ex-colonial countries would be singularly unprepared to meet any of the great nations on anything like equal terms – (To start with, they would have no diplomatic corps, and that sort of thing!) What more natural than that we in the Gold Coast should choose Britain, many of whose traditions and institutions have long influenced our own ideals and development” (Self-Help and Expansion v).

Needless to say, Danquah made the preceding, admittedly quite curious and unpalatable, observation because as an astute Constitutional Lawyer and a practiced or tested statesman, he understood something about the institutional requirements of a modern nation-state in ways that the much younger and relatively inexperienced Nkrumah did not. And so while Danquah fundamentally believed in the equally inalienable humanity of the Ghanaian and African as a citizen, the reality of many an African colony not having been adequately prepared for the highly sophisticated culture of modern politics, presented a formidable challenge that could not be seriously ignored by the astute and clairvoyant statesman. It was, however, rather unfortunate for the Doyen to have anticipated that British imperialism would take upon itself the noble and altruistic mission of elevating Ghana to the enviable status of a diplomatic coequal. Consequently, Danquah was understandably caught off-guard when he was confronted with the practical realities of independence: “But the important fact is that we shall be choosing England as ‘free agents’ and shall be in a position to discuss or dictate the terms of Indenture or Treaty between the two countries in a way that a Gold Coast man can walk the Gold Coast soil and earth and feel that he is walking on air. What I am not prepared to accept is any suggestion that we are congenitally or otherwise incapable of bearing independence if thrust upon us. I am unable to admit that either the Liberians or Egyptians in Africa, or the Australians or New Zealanders in the Pacific have some qualities which we in the Gold Coast haven’t got”(Self-Help and Expansion v).

Indeed, anybody who studiously followed the painful manner in which President Nkrumah pathetically bungled the administrative apparatus which he inherited from the British colonial administration, cannot but unreservedly admire Danquah’s courage and honesty in acknowledging the embarrassing fact that even on the eve of Ghana’s independence, 14 years after his momentous review of the activities of the Gold Coast Youth Conference, Ghana had still not been adequately prepared for the complex culture of a modern nation-state. Nkrumah’s hasty and massive dismissal of erstwhile British colonial civil servants and administrators, long before the requisite bureaucratic skills had been transferred to indigenous Ghanaians, continues to be hotly debated beneath the august portals of many a political science department in post-colonial Africa. And, indeed, anyone who has seriously read Nkrumah’s political and ideological classic Challenge of the Congo (1967) understands something regarding the blistering failure of the new Ghanaian premier to coordinate the crucial activities of the Ghanaian military personnel dispatched, under a bilateral agreement, to protect the unfortunate Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. In sum, President Nkrumah flagrantly demonstrated his political inexperience by appointing Gen. Alexander, a British commander of the Ghanaian army who preferred to take field commands from Number Ten Downing Street and Buckingham Palace, rather than from The Castle in the Ghanaian capital of Accra.

The preceding, however, has a paradoxical twist, which is that Nkrumah ought to have religiously pursued his policy of immediate Africanization or indigenization of the British colonial bureaucratic apparatus by promptly relieving Gen. Aleaxander of his post. The preceding move, in all likelihood, would not have remarkably altered matters, since Nkrumah has also been widely criticized – both by supporters and detractors alike – for prematurely dismissing or expelling far too many adept colonial administrative personnel. And so in a remarkable sense, even if one concedes that Nkrumah appears to have been the more progressive of the two titans of twentieth-century Ghanaian politics, it also has to be equally conceded that Dr. Danquah was indubitably the more perspicuous, even if also rather too staid for the highly charged political pulse of the times.

Even so, it strikingly appears that Danquah’s vigorous advocacy for the systematic and rapid industrialization of colonial Ghana, anticipates Nkrumah’s industrial agenda, as actualized in the development of Tema township and port and other installations and establishments around the country in the post-independence era (see Danquah’s Self-Help and Expansion: A Review of the Work and Aims of the Youth Conference vi). Indeed, it was the Youth Conference that vigorously prodded a largely reluctant Gold Coast colonial government to resuscitate the Essiama rice mill (Self-Help and Expansion vii). In sum, both the Doyen and his national network of Youth Conferences were about more than scholastic speculation. What is more, in order to expedite the modernization and development of the Gold Coast, at this time operated as three distinctive polities – namely, The Colony, Asante and the Northern Territories – Danquah suggested the establishment of an inter-state (or rather more appositely, an inter-confederal) Trust Fund “for the purpose of advancing the educational and industrial purposes set forth in the constitution of a ‘Board’ previously approved by the Governor” (Self-Help and Expansion viii). On this score, not only did the Doyen impeccably establish his unbested statemanship, but perhaps more significantly, at every step of the process of Ghana’s inevitable modernization and socioeconomic and cultural viability, Danquah demonstrated the deliberate flair and genius of a forward-looking pioneer. But that the aims, objectives and policies of the Gold Coast Youth Conference constituted a veritable blue-print for Ghana’s industrial development, will be further examined in the next segment of this series. *Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr., Ph.D., is on a Sabbatical Leave from Nassau Community College of the State University of New York, Garden City, where he teaches English and Journalism. He has been a reporter and book review editor and critic for the New York Amsterdam News (1987-2002). He is also the author of AMA SEFA: UNREQUITED LOVE (, a volume of romantic poetry.

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