Six Decades Of Independence – Six Champions Of Freedom

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Taken from newsghana.com

Today marks the 60th year of Ghana’s independence from the United Kingdom. While Ghana’s champions of freedom have their faces adorn the national currency, outside of Ghana, all but one enjoys anything resembling international recognition. I’m not much of a fan of “Great Man” theories – narratives of history that surround a single t cheaindividual. Of course, it’d be a bit cheap and cheeky to mention that I’ve only expanded it to six. But in my view, not expanding the role of independence as a team effort of resistance – a united front in the mission of self-governance does them a great disservice. These men were: J.B. Danquah, Edward Akufo-Addo, Emmanuel Obetsebi-Lamptey, Ebenezer Ako-Adjei, William Ofori-Atta, and Kwame Nkrumah. They were six of the leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention. But collectively within Ghana after their arrest by the colonial authorities in 1948: They became known as “The Big Six”.

An assembly of nascent lawyers, civil servants and clerks, they founded the UGCC in 1947 with the mission of self-governance through “that by all legitimate and constitutional means, the direction and control of government should pass into the hands of the people and their Chiefs in the shortest possible time”. Nkrumah himself was a relatively late addition to the party, after fellow student-cum friend Ako-Adjei during their time spent in the historically black university Lincoln University persuaded him to accept the invitation of heading the party upon returning to the Gold Coast. After much consideration, Nkrumah took the offer and returned home. Their first major challenge was taking on the Association of West African Merchants (AWAM) and organising a mass boycott of their products until they became affordable. They later campaigned for the worker rights of World War II veterans,  who were kept out of receiving war benefits for their service. This is turn, snowballed into a series of riots in Accra – and then, their subsequent arrest as the principal agitators. Their imprisonment in Kumasi had  only encouraged their infamy, and they were split up. It was from there, the title “The Big Six” emerged, even after the group experienced internal disagreements, pertaining to the direction of the party. Of particular note was Nkrumah himself, who was something of a maverick within the UGCC. In spite of Dr Danquah being dubbed “the doyen of Gold Coast politics”, it was Nkrumah who gained based on his radical fervour, gained an increasing influence – more so after founding the Ghana National College and the Accra Evening News after their release from prison.

The other members were concerned with Nkrumah’s actions interpreted as party policy. The members were however, reluctant to remove him, and so repositioned him as honorary treasurer. The concessions of the colonial government towards the Gold Coast’s autonomy were not enough for Nkrumah, and amongst the disagreements with Danquah over the direction of the Gold Coast’s future and mounting pressure of his own supporters, Nkrumah finally broke off with the UGCC to form the Convention People’s Party in April 1949. Its populist sloganeering was broadcast via speakers attached to red-and-green vans, led to a landslide victory during the first universal suffrage in the Gold Coast for CPP against the UGCC, even with Nkrumah imprisoned by the colonial authorities for the riots that occurred during his calls for direct action protests for a constitutional assembly. Nkrumah was shortly released from prison, The UGCC dissolved after its defeat. Yet all of its members would still become involved within Ghanaian politics and the judicial system. Though, only Ako-Adjei joined the CPP in 1957.

After the 1956 elections the independence parties clinched a clear majority, the Gold Coast was granted its independence by the British Government, and so on the 6th March 1957, it was renamed Ghana, based on Danquah and Nkrumah’s suggestion, after the ancient empire of Ghana. The relative obscurity of the other five members, one of whom became President of Ghana from 1970-1972 can at least in part be attributed to the lasting influence of Nkrumah on the region both home and abroad, often negatively, as the rest for one reason or another fell afoul of Nkrumah, half of them were incarcerated as Nkrumah’s government became authoritarian. Despite the tragedy of the Big Six’s relationship on a professional and personal level, today Ghana is led the one of the children of these great nationalists – Nana Akufo-Addo, ensuring a continuity of a proud legacy. Ghana – the black star of Africa rejoices in its sixty years of freedom, with the image of five of its heroes, all of whom democrats rehabilitated. It is only fair that the tale of their struggle and recognition be mentioned alongside the person who became Ghana’s first president.

 

 

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#african-history, #colonialism, #ghana, #history-of-ghana, #independence-day

They Went To War Over A Stool – A History Of Ghana – The Ashanti vs The British

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I remember hearing in church over ten years ago a rather disparaging account of the Ashanti’s devotion to a golden stool that they went as far as to go to war over. I guess that the purpose was to ridicule the allure of ‘idol worship’ that Ghanaian culture had before our colonial masters showed us the light and emancipated us from such primitive beliefs in favour of their god, for the price of our labour and material wealth. Even then, I wondered why following Christianity – True Christianity, meant that an ancient object of national heritage had to be denounced. It was only later that I realised that the younger Abrahamic religions, at least in the fundamentalist interpretations, demand that other spiritual traditions, and even some cultural ones be demonized in favour of the righteous path. From the Pentecostal outlook – the whole affair was a matter of foolishness – specifically when it came to the worship of gold. Of course, the colonizers, for all their preaching, worshipped gold as well. Or at least, the influence it brought. The fact that inspired the name the Gold Coast testifies to this.

 

In any case, being a second-generation immigrant here, I do wonder if this view of “The War Of the Golden Stool” is quite widespread in my parent’s homeland. It would certainly be quite interesting to investigate in future. But to me, it does smack of an ignorance largely through a lens of colonialism. It is not simply a stool: It’s the symbol of a nation’s continuity and legitimacy.  The war was a literal resistance to white supremacy.

By 1900, the Ashanti had at least three wars with the British, who at that point controlled most of the territories of what was to become Ghana. Four years prior, the Ashanti king Prempeh I was exiled to the Seychelles, when the threat of a massacre or the capture of the Golden Stool became a reality. Yet on the 25th March 1900, Governor Frederick Mithcell Hodgson arrived in Kumasi, greeted with honours as the face of the British monarchy. Yet unsatisfied, he demanded the Golden Stool so that he many sit on it as a show of power. A lot has been made over whether Governor Hodgson understood the full significance of him, a foreigner, sitting on the stool meant. The Golden Stool is believed to house the souls of the Ashanti people – living, dead, or yet to be born, and so constituted an absolute sacrilege. Indeed, the stool itself isn’t even meant to touch the ground, and is held upwards over a purple cloth, and only allowed to handled by the Ashanti king. Nevertheless, in all likelihood, Governor Marshall demanded he be seated on it to symbolise that they answer to a British authority now. The Ashanti leaders who attended were infuriated, and it lead to a secret meeting with the aim of securing the release of Prempeh I. One such representative, Yaa Asantewaa, the Queen Mother of the Ejisu, called upon the leaders not to take the Governor’s disrespect lying down.

Now I have seen that some of you fear to go forward to fight for our king. If it were the brave days of Osei Tutu, Okomfo Anokye and Opuki Ware, chiefs would not sit down to see their king taken without firing a shot. No white man could have dared to speak to the Chief of Asante in the way the governor spoke to you chiefs this morning. Is it true that the bravery of Asante is no more? I cannot believe it. It cannot be! I must say this: if you, the men of Asante, will not go forward, then we will. I shall call upon my fellow women. We will fight the white men. We will fight till the last of us falls on the battlefield.

Soon afterwards, Yaa Asantewaa was appointed as war-leader of the Ashanti forces, and the rebellion went underway. Locals angered by what had taken place became volunteers for the forces against the British. The latter’s search for the stool was stymied by the Ashanti as they forced them into retreat towards their bases in Kumasi, and began a long siege – cutting off wires and entrapping them within the city so that there would be no escape. Governor Hodgson and his men did eventually make a break for it, and made it to the coastline, as reinforcements arrived – bringing with them Yoruba soldiers from  Nigeria. In September of 1900, the Ashanti had been driven back, and Yaa Asantewaa, along with several other leaders were captured and exiled to the Seychelles, where she remained until her death in 1921.

The war was the last of the British-Ashanti conflicts and ended with the British and allies receiving over 1,000 fatalities and the Ashanti over 2,000. The Ashanti Empire was annexed as part of the Gold Coast. Several more leaders including Yaa Asantewaa herself met the same fate as their king, and unlike the latter never survived to return to their land. However, the Golden Stool was never taken by the British even as they spent the following decades in search of it. In that respect, the Ashanti were successful in their aim to preserve the sanctity of the stool, and thereby the spirit of their people. The autonomy in which they governed themselves even after annexation reflected this. The stool, however was later found by a team of labourers in 1921, and they stripped the stool of most of the gold it was adorned with. The British intervened, and although mindful of another war breaking out petitioned the Ashanti leaders to be content with their exile, instead of their initial judgement – that they be put to death. The tribe leaders agreed.  Prempeh I returned to his homeland in 1926, and in 1935, the kingdom attained self-rule again. On 6 March, 1957, The former Gold Coast achieved independence, the newly named Ghana. The Ashanti Kingdom was unified into the new state, and today exists as a protected substate within Ghana.

So there you have it. The War of the Golden Stool was a war to preserve national independence and an identity. And to be honest, symbols of cultural and anthropological significance could only be serious business even without putting the situation of colonialism into it. The stool is a throne. I live in a country that has torn itself apart over cushy seats itself several times. Here and abroad, you can be arrested for burning the national flag, which is far more reproducible than the Golden Stool. I guess the lens of Eurocentrism is so overbearing people succumb to it without even realising it.

#african-history, #ashanti, #colonialism, #eurocentrism, #ghana, #golden-stool, #history, #history-of-ghana, #imperialism, #resistance, #war