The Gold Coast Nationalist Reaction to the Controversy over Higher Education in Anglophone West Africa and Its Impact on Decision Making in the Colonial Office, 1945-47

Article excerpt

It has been widely assumed that African nationalism had no significant impact on educational policy making by the British Colonial Office until very late inthe colonial period. The present articla refutes this generalistic and rather Eucoventric assumption, deriving its evidence largely from declassified primary official records. It demonstrates that nationalist pressure, especially from the Gold Coast (Ghana), was the crucial force behind the Colonial Office's decision to further higher education in Anglophone West Africa. Moreover, it reveals that the issue of establishing universities in Afriva was conceded within a wider context of the evolving colonial policy of planned neocolonialism.

INTRODUCTION

Passionately advocated by pan-Africanists as early as the 1870s and increasingly after the first World War, proposed by the National Congress of British West Africa in 1920, and championed by such revolutionary nationalists as Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, the idea of a West African university was generally resisted by colonial governors, who saw an educated African elite as a threat to European control. Eventually, however, the upheavals of the late 1930s and World War II forced Britain, which was then led by the Conservative Party, to reconsider its alliances with supposedly traditional African authorities and turn instead to the task of creating a Western-oriented buffer class to which administrative and political power could be incrementally transferred. As a result, institutions of higher education in West Africa became a possibility and a reality only within a strategy of decolonization-or, as Kwame Nkrumah (1968) has called it, neocolonialism.

Moreover, the divergent reports of the Colonial Office's (hereafter CO) Elliot Commission sparked an acute two-year controversy between 1945 and 1947 over the future of higher education in Anglophone West Africa. That Commission's Majority Report, backed by three African and five British commissioners, called for the establishment of university colleges at Ibadan in Nigeria and Achimota in the Gold Coast (the nation presently known as Ghana) and for the reorganization of Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone. The Commission's Minority Report, backed by the opposition Labour Party's colonial expert, Arthur Creech-Jones, and four other commissioners, proposed the establishment of a single university college at Ibadan, along with the creation of territorial colleges that would serve as extramural centers in Nigeria, the Gold Coast, and Sierra Leone. Nevertheless, as this article argues, the system of higher education that was eventually established in this region reflected, in important aspects, the wishes and interests of the West African elite, especially those of the Gold Coast.

Historians of West African education have generally ignored the role of nationalist pressure upon colonial education policy and have tended to concetrate on other British universities, concentrates more on the phenomenon of educational adaptation fron one culture to another than on the political aspects of the subject. Hence, the relegates the nationalist events between 1945 and 1947 to a mere footnote. Other scholars illuminate the panAfricanist roots of the agitation for a West African university but neglect events between 1945 and 1947, when agitation became a matter of practical politics (King, 1971; Langley, 1973). Ajayi and Tamuno (1973) focus on the divelopment of the University of Ibadan after its founding in 1947, peripherizing the influence of the West African elite to a brief section titled "The Anecedents." Eluwa's (1967) unpublished doctoral dissertatioin is closely related to the theme of the present study, but it does not go beyond 1930.

Howard (1982) attempts to deal with the critical events between 1945 and 1947. He analyzes the impact of African educational models introduced by Africans returning from America, especially Nnamdi Azikiwe (1937-1969, 1961, 1970), whose radical journalism in the 1930s and 1940s sheds light on West African nationalism during its maturation stages. …