27 AUGUST 1948, Page 11



TT is not possible in a short article to discuss the Report of 1, the Commission of Enquiry into the disturbances in the Gold Coast in all its aspects, but the chapter on Constitutional and Political Reforms will be read with interest (and some alarm) by all Africans and Europeans who have the Gold Coast at heart.

Two years ago in 1946 the Gold Coast was accorded some pro- minence as being the first West African colony to be granted an unofficial majority in the Legislative Council. In February of this year the colony jumped into the headlines, when a few disaffected Africans who called themselves the leaders of the United Gold Coast Convention, emboldened by indescribable acts of lawlessness by a hooligan section of the inhabitants of Accra, attempted to seize administrative control, and suggested in a telegram to the Secretary of State that they should take over the reins of government as the constituted authority had broken down. It was unfortunate that these demands for self-government, if demands there were to be, should not have been voiced rather by those who have for many years represented sane African interests, and who have already helped in some way in the government of their country, than` by a small band of agitators headed by one Nkrumah, an African gentleman with Communistic tendencies, who when the riots took place had been in the Gold Coast for less than three months after an absence from the colony of over fourteen years. .

Be that as it may, the Commissioners went into the question of a change of constitution with some thoroughness—presumably after listening to the evidence of the leaders of the Convention only, for I can find nothing in the Report to indicate that any African Chief and member of the Legislative Council ever gave evidence or even had

discussions with the Commission—and made recommendations of far-reaching consequence. Now the Gold Coast, like many another colony, has for many years been suffering from growing pains, and during the last ten years these pains have become more acute. It was in 1916, in the time of the late Sir Hugh Clifford, that the Legislative Council really began to become a body of some import- ance and authority. To this Council African Chiefs, and one or two African professional men, were nominated by the Governor. It was during this period that the late Sir Ofori Atta made such a name for himself, both as administrator and orator. Education, social advance of the people and a greater share for Africans in the higher posts of government was his continual thought. At the same time he was the staunchest of loyal subjects to the British Crown.

In 1927, under Sir Gordon Guggisberg, yet a further advance was made. Chiefs were elected by their people to become members of the Legislative Council, and the Gold Coast proper (as opposed to Ashanti and the Northern Territories) became fully represented from the African standpoint. Town councils, commerce, shipping and mining also had their members. In 1946 the Legislative Council was granted an unofficial majority. None of the changes in the Constitution, it should be added, took place as the result of the clamorous demands of an African public awaking to political con- sciousness. Rather were the changes initiated and carried out by the Governors of the time, and only after careful thought and study in close contact with African public opinion. For this reason it is to be hoped that the Gold Coast Government will not agree to be jockeyed into any form of a new Constitution until all sections of African thought and politics have been consulted. It must be realised that not more than to per cent, of the population of the Gold Coast is really literate, and it is easy for the illiterate majority to be exploited intolerably unless Government maintains a proper control.

Now at what stage should self-government be granted and for what reasons, and after what preparation for so far-reaching a decision ? Certainly not when a few persons discontented with their lot decide that the time has arrived for them to take a hand in things. No ; there must be a general advance in the social field to justify such an important step. To advance the political side of development and neglect a similar step in social and economic pro- gress can only breed frustration, and it is the impetus of social progress rather than the ebullitions of political thought which must decide the speed of the advance.

And on what foundations must self-government be built ? The Commissioners imply, if they do not specifically say, that the old regime and power and authority of the Chiefs must go. That to my mind would be a disastrous mistake, from which the country would never recover. It cannot be denied that some native authori- ties have become effete, and made no advance over long periods of years ; but it must be possible to develop from the fabric already in existence some form of government which follows closely in the steps of local administration through the trained African admini- strator, skilled in the management of local affairs. Closely woven into the scheme of things must be the class of African who is attracted by and interested in the social advance of his country, men of education and intelligence and endowed with high principles. These two elements, the native authority and the intelligentsia, are very neces- sary to the successful prosecution of affairs. At the moment the danger is that these elements are being dissociated, for the slower step of the indigenous native authority is unable to keep up with the rapid advance which education brings.

But in a convoy of ships the speed of the convoy is that of the slowest ship, and the aspirant to political power who can no doubt outpace his illiterate brother jogging along at an easy trot would do well to remember this. At this stage in the history of social advance in the Gold Coast it is quite impossible for the one to try to succeed without the other's help. But a strong combination of this type, built up on the foundations of tradition and custom, should be able to withstand all the storms and buffetings which a modern civilisation may bring.