Dr. Nkrumah and Arden-Clarke
The road to independence
By: Matilda Tettey
Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, the last Governor of the Gold Coast, awoke up on the morning of 9th February 1951, at his headquarters at Christiansborg Castle- a seventeenth century slaving fort, from where British governors had ruled the Gold coast for fifty years, to be confronted by the most difficult decision of his career.
His problem concerned a 41-year-old prisoner in James Fort in Accra serving a three –year sentence for subversive activities. In the eyes of the colonial authorities, Kwame Nkrumah was a dangerous trouble maker. Official reports referred to him as “a thorough-going Communist”. He had launched his own political party Convention People’s Party (CPP), in June 1949, under the banner of demanding “Self-Government Now” and threatened to wreck Britain’s carefully laid plan fro constitutional reform if it was not granted.
Dr. Joseph B. Danquah, a senior member of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) party, brought the young, enthusiastic, energetic and dynamic Kwame Nkrumah on board the UGCC upon recommendation to become the General Secretary. Meanwhile, Dr. Danquah had introduced and articulated the slogan: “self-government in the shortest possible time.” Nkrumah, later upon joining the UGCC, adopted ‘Self –government now’. It was an abridged version both in quantum of letters and time frame.
Even as General Secretary, Nkrumah was visibly seen moving away from the course the Convention had charted. He was a man in hurry. Nkrumah’s impatient years started in Manchester, England in 1945, when his passion for African emancipation was fuelled by the support of his cronies in the Pan-African Congress.
Nkrumah, with his left-winged views and ambitious nature, moved away from the UGCC and threw himself into the task of turning the CPP into a modern political machine, organizing youth groups, using flags, banners and slogans as well as setting up newspapers which vilified the colonial authorities at every opportunity. In fiery speeches across the country, he promised that “Self-Government Now” would solve all the grievances and hardships inflicted by colonial rule and bring a new world of opportunity and prosperity. His flamboyant manner and winning smiles earned him the nickname ‘show boy’.
To the young, the homeless ‘verandah boys’ who slept on the verandah’s of the wealthy, he became an idol, indeed a political magician whose performances generated a sense of excitement of hope and of expectation.
His radical appeal spread to trade unionists, ex-servicemen, clerks, petty traders, primary school teachers, indeed, to a generation, which is frustrated and impatient, looking for a better standard of living.
Nkrumah become a ‘Junior Jesus’ to especially those without position, money , and property with his clarion call and cry of freedom as well as his biblical quotation, “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all others shall be added unto you”.
Dr. Nkrumah gave the British hell by denouncing its plan for constitutional reform and announced the positive action’ campaign which was filled with agitation, strikes, boycotts and propaganda. These agitations were all manifestations to twist the arm of Britain to agree on immediate self-government.
Governor Arden-Clarke, forced by these agitations, declared a state of emergency, imposed curfews and ordered the arrest of Nkrumah and other party leaders.
Nkrumah was brought before a criminal court and convicted on three charges of incitement and sedition. According to Governor Arden-Clarke, the CPP militants’ actions were to seize power for themselves by creating chaos. Nkrumah was sentenced to three years imprisonment by a colonial court.
1951 General Elections and Aftermath
Governor Arden-Clarke once described Nkrumah and his cronies as ‘local Hitler and his putsch’.
Meanwhile in Prison, Nkrumah managed to register to contest for the February 1951 elections, because he discovered that under the law, any prisoner sentenced to a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year was still entitled to be registered on the electoral roll.
Though his total sentence amounted to period of three years, it consisted of three separate terms of imprisonment of one year each to run concurrently.
Bold Nkrumah managed to get his name on electoral roll, announcing to the prison authorities about his intention to stand as a candidate for election.
The election results indicated that Nkrumah won 20,780 votes out of the total of 23,122. This news was broken to him by the prison authorities on 9th February.
Now Arden-Clarke was faced with how to go about releasing Nkrumah because there was no precedent releasing Nkrumah on political grounds. Above all, there was also the issue of convicted Nkrumah’s threat of disruptive action unless the Gold Coast was granted immediate self government.
Nkrumah was a raw meat which had stuck in the throat. He could neither be thrown out nor swallowed. He constituted a threat if set free and if kept locked up.
The agitation going on at that time made it obvious that the CPP would refuse to cooperate in working with the Constitution without their leader. Nkrumah and his party had the mass of the people behind them and there was no other party with appreciable public support to which one could turn.
Without him the Constitution would be still-born and if nothing was done, all hopes, aspirations and concrete proposals for a greater measure of self-government, there would no longer be any faith in the good intentions of the British government and the Gold Coast would plunged into disorder , violence and bloodshed .
Nkrumah released from prison Arden Clarke released Nkrumah, describing it as ‘an act of grace’ after fourteen months’ imprisonment on the 12th February to be welcomed by his supporters and an invitation to pay a call on the Governor the next morning at the Christianborg Castle.
The two leaders were suspicious and wary of each other on their first physical encounter. Arden- Clarke recalled ‘we knew each other only by reputation, and my reputation was, I think, as obnoxious to him as his was to me.’ Their meeting was of mutual suspicion and mistrust, cynically comparable to two dogs sniffing around each other.
The writer is an officer with the Information Services Department
The Spectator Page: 37 Saturday, March 5, 2011