Feature: August 4 1947: A requiem for the UGCC (1)

Today, 4th August 2022, we celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the first political party in the Gold Coast (Ghana), founded in 1947 to seek for independence and self-government, by constitutional means in the shortest possible time.

The founder and operational leader was J. B.Danquah. The principal financier of the party was George Alfred “Paa” Grant, known as the “father” of Gold Coast politics.There were others too: a combination of chiefs, academics and lawyers, including Robert S. Blay, R. A. Awoonor-Williams, Edward Akufo-Addo, and Emmanuel Obetsebi-Lamptey.

Necessarily, history compels us to pause and reflect on the experience and consciousness of a self-styled, right-leaning political organisation surviving internal and external contradictions, post-independence tyranny  and, more importantly, withstanding the internal socialist offensive which has to a large degree annihilated free market thinking in this country.

Before the UGCC, Conservative movements drove Ghanaian politics — the Aborigines Rights Protection Society, which was formed in 1897 by Mr. John Mensah Sarbah to protest a land bill that threatened traditional land tenure; the Gold Coast Youth Conference and many others.

The period after the formation of the ARPS also saw the formation of large number of elitist clubs, societies and religious groupings, among them the Sekondi Optimists Literary Society, the Accra Young People’s Club, the Moonlight Literary and Social Club, the Anum Improvement Society, the Ewe League, the Asante Kotoko Society, and similar groups.

The UGCC was able to bring most of these social groups and two moribund political parties, the Gold Coast People’s League and the Gold Coast National Party, under one umbrella, to form the UGCC.

The vision and mission: “liberating the energies of the people for the growth of a property owning democracy in this land, with right to life, freedom and justice, as the principles to which the government and the laws of the land should be dedicated in order specifically to enrich life, property and liberty of each and every citizen”

No doubt,the formation of these movements, contributed in laying the foundation for political actions that ultimately led to independence. However, these movements were not political parties, as some would want us to believe.

Neither were they radical nor militant, and their objectives were not to overthrow the colonial mercantilist system, but rather its improvement and above all for an increase and meaningful role of individual Ghanaians in the colonial economic and administrative system.

In the beginning of the UGCC lay its end: four months after the formation of the party, Kwame Nkrumah returned to the Gold Coast (Ghana) when he accepted JB Danquah’s invitation to become the General Secretary of the UGCC.Danquah and Nkrumah subsequently disagreed over the direction of the independence movement and parted ways after two years.

Nkrumah went on to form the Convention People’s Party (CPP) in 1949 and eventually became the first president of independent Ghana in 1957.

The struggle between the UGCC and the CPP was a struggle for the soul of a nation. Dr, Kwame Nkrumah, after independence argued that Ghana, and for that matter, no African country was strong enough to defeat neo-colonialism, and therefore propounded the idea of scientific socialism.

The essential idea of his Marxist’s philosophy is a utopian state in which whole sectors of the Ghanaian economy will be under the direction and control of the state. Nkrumah saw the state as a catalyst for solving most individual problems.

The period immediately after March 6th 1957 was a time of conclusive failure for Ghana’s internal reforms of the colonial structure of the Ghanaian economy. It also became the moment at which Ghana’s ‘veranda boys’ emerged as an important social force in class warfare, tribal baiting and personal attacks, which were used to disguise the truth with the overriding aim of gaining political power.

Of course, the CPP maintained a self-reinforcing alliance with the Trade Union Congress (TUC) as a political bloc. Beyond that alliance were church leaders, NGO officials and a section of the intellectual community.

Local business people and crony capitalists soon realised that CPP rule is broadly favourable to their interests and provided tacit support for the growth of the state, the continuous appropriation of individual and community property and the political interference in the rule of law, without understanding the implications.

We should note the operative words in Danquah’s view: Life, Property and Liberty. His aim was that at independence, Ghana would be a country in which the individual’s rights to life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness would be recognized and protected.

Danquah knew that the free man was the person who is so independent that he could deal with everyone and the institutions of state on equal terms.

That unleashing a country’s potential requires removing the economic road-blocks that inhibits people.

That the truly free individual was not merely a person with political power represented by a vote and someone in political office

Danquah had good reason to be suspicious of government claims to be capable of running or directing the economy, managing its commanding heights or the other more deceptive versions Public Private Partnership (PPP). History has proven that more than other developing African countries, Ghana with all her endowments has suffered from the repeated and astonishing incompetence, decline and misery to which state initiatives always lead.

Danquah’s view was that local economic development and control by private citizens was preferable than intervention by the central government. He, optimistically, believed that tribal intolerance would buckle under economic and societal pressure, not by state engineering.

The UGCC and Danquah were arch-apostles of small government. Much of their platform would have eliminated the ruinous “entitlement” legislations that trap people in poverty from ever being enacted. They were in favour of decentralisation and frequently spoke on eliminating government interference in the personal lives of citizens. For this, members of the organisation were often accused of tribalism because they opposed unhinged centralisation in favour of local economic interests.

This is the time to refute the claims and assertions of those who believe in the big government state interference and appropriation of our properties in the name of the collective, and ensure the protection of the founding principles and values of the UGCC — justice,rule of law, property rights, democracy and equality of all the people. These values continue to be under attack from so-called progressives who have the most to gain by ensuring that the vast majority of Ghanaians are kept uninformed and uneducated.

The 75th anniversary of the UGCC should be more a commemoration than celebrated as an anniversary. The remnants should continue to insist that democracy should not by-pass the rural poor.

Indeed, all Ghanaians should enjoy and participate in our democracy and have their dignity restored through the recognition of the right to their properties. Moving towards the centenary of the founding, values of humility, selflessness, inclusiveness and transparency should be the guiding principles.

By Kwadwo Afari


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