On This Day

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Associated Press
Kwame Nkrumah

On This Day: Ghana Achieves Independence From Britain

March 06, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On March 6, 1957, British colony the Gold Coast united with neighboring territories to form Ghana, the first sub-Saharan country to escape colonialism.

Ghana Is Born

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Since Portuguese traders landed in present-day Ghana in the 15th century, European powers had vied for control of the area to mine gold and trade slaves. Britain emerged as the dominant force in the 19th century and made the Gold Coast a protectorate in 1896.

The peaceful and profitable Gold Coast was a “model colony,” says the BBC’s Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, but a growing nationalist movement developed into an independence movement after World War II when tens of thousands of Gold Coast veterans became dissatisfied with living conditions when they returned home.

Kwame Nkrumah, head of the Convention People’s Party, led the independence movement, organizing workers and farmers into pro-independence strikes. Imprisoned in 1950 for encouraging civil disobedience, Nkrumah won a parliamentary seat from prison in 1951. He was elected premier on April 29, 1954, after the passing of a draft constitution.   

The British government promised in 1956 that it would agree to independence if the territory’s legislature showed its support. On Aug. 3, 1956, after Nkrumah’s party won almost two-thirds of the seats in the General Assembly, a motion passed authorizing independence.

The British agreed to cede control of the Gold Coast and the colonial territories of Ashanti, Northern Territories Protectorate, and British Togoland. The four areas were combined to form the new country of Ghana.

At long last, the battle has ended!” Nkrumah told a cheering crowd in Accra, Ghana’s capital, on the eve of independence. “And thus Ghana, your beloved country is free forever.”

Ghana was the first black African country to become independent. Within three years, 17 other countries would break free from colonial rule. Nkrumah preached pan-African unity as part of the Ghanaian nationalist movement. “Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa,” he pronounced.

Ghana Since Independence

In the years after independence, Nkrumah sought to consolidate his power, first through legalizing detention of political opponents without trial and then changing the constitution to create the position of an authoritative president. By 1964, he had changed Ghana into a one-party state.

Nkrumah was overthrown in a military coup in 1966. Ghana would suffer through numerous other coups until 1992, when the military government was overthrown and replaced with a parliamentary democracy that is still in place today.

Though Ghana has had political and economic difficulties in its five decades since independence, it is a relatively stable and prosperous country compared to its neighbors. According to the World Bank, Ghana is now “one of the best-performing economies in Africa.” Inflation and interest rates are nearly in the single digits, and real growth in GDP has been around 6 percent since 2005.

Reflecting on Ghana’s history in 2007, the 50th anniversary of independence, President John Kufuor said, “Perhaps it is an endless journey to pursue the dreams of people. The objective with which we entered independence was to become viable and prosperous. But since independence we've had a chequered history... it has taken us a while to come back to the original aspirations.”

Biography: Kwame Nkrumah

Kwame Nkrumah attended Lincoln University in the United States and the London School of Economics, returning to the Gold Coast in 1949. Because of his resistance to colonial rule and commitment to pan-African unity, Nkrumah is considered by some “the Gandhi of Africa.”

In 1961, Nkrumah helped organize the Union of African States. He later built alliances with the Soviet Union and China, and critics accused him of autocratic rule. In February 1966, he was deposed by a military coup. Nkrumah died in 1972 in Guinea, where he was granted asylum and named co-chief of state.

Reference: Ghana

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