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Colonial Ghana and the struggle for independence

This week we’ll continue taking a closer look at Ghana’s history by looking into the transformation from being a British colony to an independent state.



By the 19th century, the British became one of the only European traders left in Ghana and by 1874, Britain made Ghana a British colony. During this period, the British were involved in struggles over power and territory, especially with the Ashanti. The Ashanti and Fante conflicts further aided the growth of British influence on the Gold Coast. For example, in 1844 the Fante signed a bond with the British due to their concerns about the Ashanti presence on the coast. This bond allowed the British to usurp judicial authority from them and allowed the British to exercise expanding judicial powers over the coast, whilst keeping those in the coast under British control. By 1874, the British were able to claim land extending to the edge of the Ashanti territory. In 1896 they were able to invade Ashanti territory and overthrow the Asantehene, Prempeh I and exiled him. At this point, the British Gold Coast colony then extended to cover the Ashanti territory. The British also became interested in territories north of the Ashanti Empire, whose trade had been controlled by the Ashanti. By 1902, the Northern territories were also a part of the Gold Coast, which at this point included the coastal regions, Northern territories and the Ashanti. However, the borders of modern-day Ghana were not finalised until 1956.


As the Gold Coast, there was a system of indirect rule from the British, and although the traditional chiefs maintained their power, they were given instructions by the British. During the colonial era in the early 20th century, there were significant social, economic and educational progress. The communication system improved, and railways were put in place. New crops were introduced too, such as the Cacao tree, which resulted in the production of cocoa and introduced cocoa farming to Ghana. Gold continued to be one of the biggest exports in the region and it increased the revenue available to finance improvements in infrastructure.


In 1925, a constitution was made public, which created provincial councils of paramount chiefs. These councils were allowed to elect six chiefs as unofficial members of the Legislative Council, but they were given a lack of power and merely had an advisory role. This constitution appeared to recognise local sentiments; however, British interests were still a priority. Although Ghanaians were given a voice within central government, this was limited. As such, a wedge was driven because elections were limited to chiefs and their educated subjects couldn’t be elected. Due to this, intellects believed that the chiefs had allowed the provincial councils to fall under control of the government in return for British support.


As such, by the 1930s, the desire for greater national representation grew. To make matters worse, the British viewed the Gold Coast and other colonies as a source of materials that could help strengthen Britain’s economy, especially following the war. As a colony, the Gold Coast aided Britain during both WWI and WWII. These efforts, which are still overlooked and not greatly acknowledged today, played a role in the growing sentiment of nationalism and hopes of independence.




Giving power to Ghanaian’s wasn’t a priority for the British, until 1948, when there was rioting and looting in Accra and other cities. The most significant were the rioting that took place following the events of 28th February 1948. This rioting and looting started after there was a protest march by ex-servicemen who were unarmed. These men were veterans of WWII who fought alongside British troops and were promised jobs and pensions after the war, but when they returned there were no jobs and were never given their pensions. As such, they marched on the 28th Feb 1948 to peacefully bring a petition to the Governor of the Gold Coast to seek their pensions and compensation for their war efforts. Unfortunately, as they marched, they were stopped by the colonial police and three former soldiers were shot and killed. Aside from the deaths of Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey, 60 other ex-servicemen were wounded. In response to this, there were 5 days of rioting and looting of European businesses.


The aftermath of this increased the desire for Ghana to achieve independence. Immediately after the riots, members of ‘the Big Six’ and leading members of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) party, including Kwame Nkrumah, Edward Akufo-Addo and J.B. Danquah, were held responsible for orchestrating those disturbances. Their arrest, however, raised the profile of their party and they were viewed as heroes across Ghana.


Later, Kwame Nkrumah broke away from the UGCC and formed his own Convention People’s Party in 1949, as he pushed for self-governance in Ghana, something that ordinary Ghanaians were able to identify with more. On the 10th of March, a new position of Prime Minister was created, and Nkrumah was elected. On the 3rd of August 1956, the new assembly passed a motion to authorise the government to request independence within the British Commonwealth and this motion was accepted. Thus, on the 18th of September 1956, the British set the 6th of March 1957 (this date was significant as it marked the 113th anniversary of the 1844 Bond) as the date the colony of the Gold Coast was to become an independent state known as Ghana.


Since gaining independence, Ghana has continued to experience change and growth over the years and it is now a nation that is viewed as one of the most stable in Africa.


(Sources: Raw Africa and Black Past)