Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Verandah Boys versus Reactionary Lawyers: Nationalist Activism in Ghana, 1946-1956

Academic journal article The International Journal of African Historical Studies

Verandah Boys versus Reactionary Lawyers: Nationalist Activism in Ghana, 1946-1956

Article excerpt

Introduction

Despite the historical importance of political participation in Ghana, there has been no serious attempt to analyze political party activism as an overall process in the preindependence period. Yet, the nature of party activism and the activists that were at the forefront of party mobilization is important for understanding the history of political activism in Ghana. To be sure, Dennis Austin's Politics in Ghana, 1946-1960 stands out as one of the most detailed and thorough account of political participation in Ghana, spanning the late colonial and the immediate post-colonial periods.* 1 Many other excellent publications examine the origins, nature, and the growth of nationalist or protest movements after the Second World War.2 Furthermore, a few case studies of localized political themes have broadened our knowledge of how local grievances necessitated the emergence of such protest movements. And then there are the few personal memories of political activists.3 Political participation is a very broad concept, but it can be defined as "those actions of private citizens by which they seek to influence or to support government and politics."4 In Ghana, pre-independence nationalist activism was aimed at freeing the nation from foreign domination. The objective of this article is to present an understanding of the culture of party activism in the 1950s. The type of political activism discussed in this article was of two kinds: microand macro-level activism,5 and urban and rural activism. Although the emphasis in this article is on micro-level political behavior, some attention is given to macro characteristics as well. Most analyses of Ghanaian political behavior discussed the formal aspects of the political system. As yet, there has been no serious attempt to analyze the variables that defined party activism in the pre-independence period. This article hopes to open discussion on political activists; men and women who dominated party politics particularly at the grassroots levels at the dawn of independence.

The United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the first party to be formed by the southern Gold Coast elites had the avowed aim of ending colonial rule through legal and constitutional means. Its leadership consisted of persons from the legal profession. The UGCC mobilized the disgruntled colonial subjects in the urban centers, and for a period of less than five years was the foremost political organization in the southern Gold Coast towns of Saltpond, Cape Coast, Sekondi-Takoradi, Accra, Koforidua and Kumasi. The party enjoyed urban support and could count on the goodwill of upper-class Gold Coasters, especially the so-called natural rulers and the merchant class. Its popularity was, however, short-lived as another political party-the more progressive Convention People's Party (CPP)-emerged and completely overshadowed the UGCC. The CPP was dominated by commoners who called themselves verandah boys. Two different political traditions with somewhat loose ideologies were now competing to end British colonial rule in Ghana. The CPP's verandah boys were competing against the UGCC's "reactionary lawyers" on different platforms. The CPP's verandah boys were devoted and inspirational. Above all, they were disciplined and their organizational skills exceptional. According to Kofi Baako, "[t]he term verandah boys does not mean a person who sleeps on the verandah. All it means is that the leaders and members of the CPP, notwithstanding how wealthy they may be, do and will continue to associate themselves with the man [or woman] on the lowest rung of the social ladder."6 While the "reactionary lawyers" were mostly Middle Temple trained barristers-at-law and successful merchants, the verandah boys were mostly Standard VII graduates and many were unemployed or informally employed.7 This article applies the concept party activists to cover all party members who sought elected office, fund-raised or campaigned for their various parties, their mode of involvement (intraor inter-party) and with the colonial system constituted political activism. …

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