Colonial Rule in Ghana

Colonial Rule In Ghana

In several important ways, the British colonial system in West Africa differed from the neighbouring French pattern. Being contiguous, the entire French West Africa were placed under one administration, headed by a governor-general at the headquarters in Dakar. On the other hand, probably because her four territories in West Africa were each separated by non-British possession, Great Britain set up a colonial system in West Africa aimed at local self-determination, by instituting them as separate colonies, independent of one another. They were made to be self-supporting, subject, however, to the overall control of a minister in the British government in London.

At the head of the colonial administration in Ghana, as in other British colonial territories, was the governor appointed by and representing the British Crown and answerable to the metropolitan government through the Secretary of State for the Colonies. The governor administered the territory with the advice of two important arms of government, the executive council and the legislative council. The evolution of these two bodies was set out in constitutions drawn up from time to time.

In 1942, the country took the lead in British colonies in Africa and the Caribbean when, in response to incessant demands made by the people, the governor, Sir Alan Burns, appointed two distinguished Ghanaians to serve on the executive council. One was a traditional ruler, Nana Sir Ofori Atta I, a paramount chief of Akyem Abuakwa; the other unofficial member was a leading lawyer, Sir Arku Korsah who became the first Ghanaian Chief Justice after the country re-gained independence. In spite of this innovation, the people did not gain real effective participation on the executive council until 1951, when a new constitution made it possible for as many as eight Ghanaian members of the Convention People’s Party to three white top officials in the legislative assembly to be appointed as ministers of state; one of them, Kwame Nkrumah, became leader of Government Business and in the following year, 1952, became prime minister.

Local Administration
Throughout the colonial days, there were two types of local government. The first to be developed were town councils, which were followed by what was called native administration. A characteristic feature of the two types of local government was that while the traditional rulers or the chiefs played the leading role in the native authorities which the various ordinances created, the people’s own elected representatives together with some ex-offcio government officers managed the affairs of the town or municipal councils.

Town Councils
As early as 1858, an ordinance was promulgated setting up councils in Cape Coast, then headquarters of the British on the coast, and James Town, Accra. In 1894, the government enacted the Town Council Ordinance, creating municipal councils not only for Cape Coast and Accra as before, but also for Sekondi. Their main functions included conservancy and public health. While Accra and Sekondi town councils started to operate, the ordinance remained a dead letter in Cape Coast.
One objectionable aspect about membership on the town councils for many years was that not only did the nominated members on these councils form half of the total membership, but the presidents of the council were also the white district commissioners of the area concerned. An ordinance introduced by Governor Guggisberg in 1924 reducing the nominated membership from half to one-third and granting more autonomy to the councils had to be withdrawn in the face of strong protest against the stringent high voter’s qualification and the imposition of up to 20% rates.
Indirect Rule and the Native Authority
Before colonialism took firm roots in the country, the indigenous ruler occupied a unique position in his realm; he was accepted by his subjects as religious, political and judicial head of the kingdom, the spirit and embodiment of the nation, and the custodian of the people’s ancestral cultural heritage.
The British colonial system did not do away with the traditional role of kings, but made them the central figures for local administration. Considering these rulers as the body, which represented the public views and wishes, the colonial system granted the ‘commoners’ practically no place in the relationship between the indigenes and the colonial government or in the administration at the local level. This policy was backed by what was known in the colonial system as ‘indirect rule’, first introduced by Lord Lugard in Uganda, and then in Nigeria from 1914. in Ghana, indirect rule was introduced fully under Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg. The system of indirect rule in the country worked as follows. Within a traditional state, or a group of smaller states, the paramount chief, their leading sub-chiefs and important counsellors were constituted into a Native Administration, later named a native Authority, presided over by a paramount chief. The powers and functions of the Native Authority covered matters relating mainly to traditional and customary institutions and practices. These authorities operated under the general direction and control of the colonial district commissioner. An important feature of all these ordinances was that the chiefs were granted powers of controlling local tribunal, with limited jurisdiction relating to customary and testamentary matters, and to make by-laws which did not go counter to the British concept of law. In 1927, Governor Guggisberg promulgated the Native Administration Ordinance. Among other things, the new ordinance set out the processes of the election and disposal of chiefs and the hierarchy of traditional rulers in the country.

Each level of authority had courts, and the final court of appeal within the area was that of the Native Administration headed by the paramount chief.

The 1924 Ordinance also established the Joint-Provincial Council comprising elected representatives of the three provincial councils created in 1925 for southern Ghana, which met at Dodowa. In 1935, having restored the occupant of the Golden Stool, Nana Sir Agyeman Prempe II, as the paramount ruler of the entire Asante kingdom, a body similar to the Joint-Provincial Council of Chiefs in the south named the Asanteman Council was established; it comprised all the paramount chiefs of Asante and present day Bono Ahafo.

These councils of chiefs were, in theory at least, set up as super traditional authorities through which the people’s views on government policy were sounded and consulted.

A new Native Authority Ordinance passed in 1944 introduced a revolution in respect of the position of the traditional rulers. Native Authorities were to be appointed by the government, and members remained in office at the pleasure of the governor. Furthermore, actions taken by the native Authorities could be nullified by the government; the governor could also direct the local administration to initiate actions they had not thought of or even opposed to.


Governor Guggisberg and Ghana

During his eight years of administration from 1919-1927, Governor Guggisberg introduced some disappointing measures that left a greater mark on the economic, social and political developments of the country than any other period of Ghana’s colonial history. Consequently, it was fitting that any aspect of colonial rule in Ghana should conclude with an outline appraisal of the policies and work of this extraordinary governor

Born in Canada in 1869, Guggisberg was taken to England, aged ten, by his mother who remarried an English Admiral after the death of her first husband. He entered the army and was commissioned in 1889. After Guggisberg completed his service in Singapore with the Royal Engineers and returned to Britain and became an instructor in his former college, the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich.

In 1902 Gordon Guggisberg’s association with Ghana started as an engineer he was seconded to the Colonial Service and sent out as assistant director to Ghana, to conduct an extensive survey of the country, particularly the concessions. Upon returning to England in 1908 he had gained very valuable experience of Ghana and the people, and was next sent to southern Nigeria as Director of Surveys.

Armed with his background and his own rich experience as a distinguished soldier-engineer, Guggisberg set in motion what, in the colonial history of Britain, was a revolution. Almost two months after assuming office as governor, he summed up, in legislative council, the main goals of his administration in the following words:

Whatever decision I may be called upon to make, I promise the people of Gold Coast (Ghana) that I would be guided by the fact that I am an engineer, sent out here to superintend the construction of a broad Highway of Progress along which the races of the Gold Coast may advance……… to those far-off Cities of Promise – the Cities of Final Development, Wealth and Happiness.

In pursuit of his strong belief in the role of the traditional rulers in the colonial system, unlike his predecessors, accepted the plea of the Asante and other personalities in the south, including Nana Sir Ofori Atta I of Akyem Abuakwa, and secured the approval of the British government which made it possible for Prempeh I and his followers, who had been in exile since 1896, to return to Kumase in 1924 and be-installed as Kumasehene two years later.

After Guggisberg had thus prepared the way, the Asanteman came into its own again, when in 1935 Nana Sir Agyeman Prempeh II, occupier of the Golden Stool, was restored as ruler of the entire Asante Kingdom. But perhaps the most outstanding achievements of Guggisberg’s administration were in the era of economic and social developments. As an engineer, Guggisberg began his career as governor with a programme of the first ever ten-year development plan for Ghana.

Guggisberg had by 1923 linked the existing railway at New Tafo and Kumase, mainly to boost the cocoa and timber production in the Eastern Region and Asante. Before his departure from Ghana in 1927, he had nearly completed another important rail route, the Central Province Railway from Huni-Valley on the Sekondi-Kumase line to Kade.

This new railway line helped to tap the rich resources of cocoa, timber and diamonds found in the Central and parts of the Eastern Regions. As a surveyor and an engineer, Guggisberg also saw the need to reroute and regauge the Sekondi-Kuamse rail-line he had inherited to avoid the many bends and gradients, which disturbed the fast and smooth running of trains.

Finally, Guggisberg laid out plans to extend the railways further north of Kumase to northern Ghana. However, mainly because of financial limitations, this project could not be executed before he left the country, nor has it been take in hand since his administration. He also introduced the tarring of some roads.


Other major accomplishments for which Guggisberg is remembered were the establishment of the Achimota College and the building of the Korle Bu Hospital, both in Accra. Before Sir Gordon’s time, formal education was run mainly by the Christian churches, with little government participation to the missionaries.

Upon assuming office, the Governor outlined and attempted to implement what became known as the Guggisberg’s Fifteen Principles of Education which included the reduction of the size of classes, the introduction of co-education, the expansion of facilities for training adequate number of teachers, more emphasis in the school system on the teaching of local history and culture and of character training. In addition to Achimota College, Guggisberg opened four trade schools to provide technical and vocational education; one at Asuansi, near Cape Coast, one at Kyebi in the Eastern Province, a third at Mampon in Asante, and the fourth in the North, first in Yendi and later transferred to Tamale, the provincial capital.

Long before him the churches were, for instance, promoting some technical and vocational education, and had pioneered the development and teaching of vernacular and culture in the Christian schools. Guggisberg’s provision for regular inspection of schools and his insistence on a minimum monthly salary of £5 for teachers, including those in mission schools, in the abstract, were new ventures and quite laudable.

But these measures resulted in the closure of many mission schools, as the churches did not have financial resources, and the government did not give them adequate grants-in-aid to meet the new requirements. If Guggisberg had accepted that the mission education institutions were, like Achimota, equally serving towards progress of the country, and had granted to institutions like Mfantsipim, St. Nicholas Grammar School (now Adisadel College) and the Akropon Training College, even half the amount of money he spent on the government college, he would have fully deserved the tribute often paid to him as a promoter of education in Ghana.

Before Guggisberg, the few hospitals in the country were located in the bigger towns having substantial European populations. Indeed, some of these were built exclusively for European patients, and right up to the eve of Ghana’s independence were referred to as ‘European Hospitals’. Guggisberg extended the medical service to other areas to cater for the indigenous population, but his greatest achievement in the medical service was the Korle Bu Hospital, whose first phase he completed in 1923. The hospital was to be extended into a medical school, but this plan was implemented only after the country’s independence.

Korle Bu became the ‘general’ and model hospital for the entire nation, to which very serious cases needing skilled, specialist treatment were referred. It brought so much relief to the sick that for many years the people expressed their appreciation in this improvised song in Ga:

Korle Bu, Korle Bu, Korle Bu, Oyiwala donn

meaning, ‘Korle Bu, Korle Bu, Korle Bu, how grateful I am to you!’

Despite the above observations, there is no doubt that Guggisberg’s eight years administration from 1919 to 1927 was the most revolutionary in the development of the country in the colonial days. True to the proverbial sense of gratitude of the people, two memorials were erected by the chiefs, expressing in a concrete form the debt which Ghana owed to Sir Frederick Gordon Guggisberg: an assembly hall at Dodowa, near Accra, where the Joint-Provincial Council of Chiefs met, and a headstone in marble on the Governor’s grave at Bexhill in England.

The growth of Nationalism and the end of Colonial Rule

As the country developed economically, the focus of government power gradually shifted from the hands of the Governor and his officials into those of Ghanaians. The changes resulted from the gradual development of a strong spirit of nationalism and were to result eventually in independence. The development of national consciousness accelerated quickly after World War II, when, in addition to ex-servicemen, a substantial group of urban African workers and traders emerged to lend mass support to the aspirations of a small educated minority. Once the movement had begun, events moved rapidly but not always fast enough to satisfy the nationalist leaders, but still at a pace that surprised not only the colonial government but many of the more conservative African elements as well.
Data as of November 1994.



About Starrfm

Leave a Reply