Although political organisations had existed in the British colony, the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) was the first nationalist movement with the aim of self-government ” in the shortest possible time”. Founded in August 1947 by educated Africans such as J.B. Danquah, A.G. Grant, R.A. Awoonor-Williams, Edward Akufo Addo (all lawyers except for Grant, who was a wealthy businessman), and others, the leadership of the organisation called for the replacement of Chiefs on the Legislative Council with educated persons. For these political leaders, traditional governance, exercised largely via indirect rule, was identified with colonial interests and the past. They believed that it was their responsibility to lead their country into a new age. They also demanded that, given their education, the colonial administration should respect them and accord them positions of responsibility. As one writer on the period reported, “The symbols of progress, science, freedom, youth, all became cues which the new leadership evoked and reinforced”. In particular, the UGCC leadership criticised the government for its failure to solve the problems of unemployment, inflation, and the disturbances that had come to characterise the society at the end of the war.
Their opposition to the colonial administration notwithstanding, UGCC members were conservative in the sense that their leadership did not seek drastic or revolutionary change. This was probably a result of their training in the British way of doing things. The gentlemanly manner in which politics were then conducted was to change after Kwame Nkrumah created his Convention People’s Party (CPP) in June 1949.
Nkrumah was born at Nkroful in the Nzema area and educated in Catholic schools at Half Assin and Achimota. He received further training in the United States at Lincoln University and at the University of Pennsylvania. Later, in London, Nkrumah became active in the West African Students’ Union and the Pan-African Congress. He was one of the few Africans who participated in the Manchester Congress of 1945 of the Pan-Africanist movement. During his time in Britain, Nkrumah came to know such outspoken anti-colonialists and intellectuals as the West Indian, George Padmore, and the African- American, W.E.B. Du Bois. In 1947 when the UGCC was created in the Gold Coast to oppose colonial rule, Nkrumah was invited from London to become the movement’s general secretary.
Nkrumah’s tenure with the UGCC was a stormy one. In March 1948, he was arrested and detained with other leaders of the UGCC for political activism. Later, after the other members of the UGCC were invited to make recommendations to the Coussey Committee, which was advising the governor on the path to independence, Nkrumah broke with the UGCC and founded the CPP. Unlike the UGCC call for self- government ” in the shortest possible time”, Nkrumah and the CPP asked for “self-government now”. The party leadership, made up of Nkrumah, Kojo Botsio, Komla A. Gbedemah, and a group of mostly young political professionals known as the “Verandah Boys”, identified itself more with ordinary working people than with the UGCC and its intelligentsia.
Nkrumah’s style and the promises he made appealed directly to the majority of workers, farmers, and youths who heard him; he seemed to be the national leader on whom they could focus their hopes. He also won the support, among others, of influential market women who, through their domination of small-scale trade, served as effective channels of communication at the local level.
The majority of the politicized population, stirred in the postwar years by outspoken newspapers, was separated from both the tribal chiefs and the Anglophile elite nearly as much as from the British by economic, social, and educational factors. This majority consisted primarily of ex-servicemen, literate persons who had some primary schooling, journalists, and elementary school teachers, all of whom had developed a taste for populist conceptions of democracy. A growing number of uneducated but urbanized industrial workers also formed part of the support group. Nkrumah was able to appeal to them on their own terms. By June 1949, when the CPP was formed with the avowed purpose of seeking immediate self-governance, Nkrumah had a mass following.
The constitution of 1951 resulted from the report of the Coussey Committee, created because of disturbances in Accra and other cities in 1948. In addition to giving the Executive Council a large majority of African ministers, it created an assembly, half the elected members of which were to come from the towns and rural districts and half from the traditional councils, including, for the first time, the Northern Territories. Although it was an enormous step forward, the new constitution still fell far short of the CPP’s call for full self-government. Executive power remained in British hands, and the legislature was tailored to permit control by traditionalist interests.
With increasing popular backing, the CPP in early 1950 initiated a campaign of “positive action”, intended to instigate widespread strikes and nonviolent resistance. When some violent disorders occurred, Nkrumah, along with his principal lieutenants, was promptly arrested and imprisoned for sedition. But this merely increased his prestige as leader and hero of the cause and gave him the status of martyr. In February 1951, the first elections were held for the Legislative Assembly under the new constitution. Nkrumah, still in jail, won a seat, and the CPP won an impressive victory with a two-thirds majority of the 104 seats.
The governor, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, released Nkrumah and invited him to form a government as “leader of government business”, a position similar to that of prime minister. Nkrumah accepted. A major milestone had been passed on the road to independence and self-government. Nonetheless, although the CPP agreed to work within the new constitutional order, the structure of government that existed in 1951 was certainly not what the CPP preferred. The ministries of defense, external affairs, finance, and justice were still controlled by British officials who were not responsible to the legislature. Also, by providing for a sizable representation of traditional tribal chiefs in the Legislative Assembly, the constitution accentuated the cleavage between the modern political leaders and the traditional authorities of the councils of chiefs.
The start of Nkrumah’s first term as “leader of government business” was marked by cordiality and cooperation with the British Governor. During the next few years, the government was gradually transformed into a full parliamentary system. The changes were opposed by the more traditionalist African elements, particularly in Asante and the Northern Territories. This opposition, however, proved ineffective in the face of continuing and growing popular support for a single overriding concept of independence at an early date.
In 1952 the position of prime minister was created and the Executive Council became the cabinet. The prime minister was made responsible to the assembly, which duly elected Nkrumah prime minister. The constitution of 1954 ended the election of assembly members by the tribal councils. The Legislative Assembly increased in size, and all members were chosen by direct election from equal, single-member constituencies. Only defense and foreign policy remained in the hands of the governor; the elected assembly was given control of virtually all internal affairs of the colony.
The CPP pursued a policy of political centralisation, which encounted serious opposition. Shortly after the 1954 election, a new party, the Asante-based National Liberation Movement (NLM), was formed. The NLM advocated a federal form of government, with increased powers for the various regions. NLM leaders criticized the CPP for perceived dictatorial tendencies. The new party worked in cooperation with another regionalist group, the Northern People’s Party. When these two regional parties walked out of discussions on a new constitution, the CPP feared that London might consider such disunity an indication that the colony was not yet ready for the next phase of self-government.
The British constitutional adviser, however, backed the CPP position. The governor dissolved the assembly in order to test popular support for the CPP demand for immediate independence. The crown agreed to grant independence if so requested by a two-thirds majority of the new legislature. New elections were held in July 1956. In keenly contested elections, the CPP won 57 percent of the votes cast, but the fragmentation of the opposition gave the CPP every seat in the south as well as enough seats in Asante, the Northern Territories, and the Trans-Volta Region to hold a two-thirds majority of the 104 seats.
Prior to the July 1956 general elections in the Gold Coast, a plebiscite was conducted under United Nations (UN) auspices to decide the future disposition of British Togoland and French Togoland. The British trusteeship, the western portion of the former German colony, had been linked to the Gold Coast since 1919 and was represented in its parliament. The dominant ethnic group, the Ewe, were divided between the Gold Coast proper and the two Togos. A clear majority of British Togoland inhabitants voted in favor of union with their western neighbors, and the area was absorbed into the Gold Coast. There was, however, vocal opposition to the incorporation from some of the Ewe in southern British Togoland.