Ghana Gains Independence
The 6th of March 1957 AD
At midday on March 6 1957 Ghana, previously the Gold Coast, was declared independent of the British Commonwealth, the first stirring of what then Prime Minister Harold Macmillan later called ‘the wind of change’.
The greatest driving force in Ghana’s post- WWII surge to independence was Kwame Nkrumah, a radical politician who studied in the USA and at the London School of Economics before joining the United Gold Coast Convention political movement in 1947. Nkrumah in 1949 formed his own party, the Convention People’s Party, dedicated to winning independence, using non-violent means to progress that cause - for which its leader and others were gaoled. Nevertheless Nkrumah triumphed in elections in 1951, and by 1952 was effectively Prime Minister. Over the next five years there was an inevitable drift towards true self-government.
The country that Nkrumah led in 1957 had increased in size, taking in British Togo in 1956, adopting the highly symbolic name of Ghana though the ancient empire of that name had been hundreds of miles away. Colonial history – in 1874 the coastal strip was made a British colony, control extending in 1902 with the addition of the Ashanti Kingdom – meant that many different peoples were included within the new country, bringing difficult baggage of rivalries and grudges.
Sadly for Africa, the opportunity to set a democratic model for post-colonial Africa was squandered. Nkrumah did push through social and educational developments. But rather than focussing fully on solving local problems he hoped that as the first sub-Saharan state to gain independence from its colonial rulers Ghana would herald a pan-African union; and instead of creating the conditions under which the vital agricultural sector could flourish he became involved in grandiose schemes and political indoctrination. As early as 1958 he took powers to detain opponents without trial; 1960 saw him become President, the remaining constitution sidelined by 1964 when he was appointed President for life. Two years later, with the country’s economy failing, the leader once hailed as Africa’s Gandhi was ousted in a bloodless coup.
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