HIstory: first elections in Gold Coast

The Background
Economic crisis and changes in the colonial economy after the world war one drastically affected the colonial elite of lawyers and merchants, teachers and civil servants and made them aware more than before of the extent of the oppressive nature of the colonial system.
All over West Africa, there were sporadic riots and looting which were the effects of the social and political pressure for better wages. The African merchants were also seen to be protesting from the activities of AWAM that undermined their operations.
Pan African movements had taken a root and its effects were being felt. The activities of WEB Du Bois in collaboration with the metropolitan trained elite were just gaining ground. Pan Africanism strengthened the consciousness of blacks throughout the world that blacks could manage their own affairs and it was time to get out of being an oppressed and down trodden race and manage their own affairs
Like any new movements, the youth were the first to embrace it. In British West Africa, the ethnic unions and youth movements and associations held on to the Pan Africanist ideals. According to Adu Boahen, there were as many as fifty of such clubs and associations in the Gold Coast alone. All these clubs and associations were led either by missionary educated lawyers or young lawyers and business men – the elite and bourgeoisie.
In a time when the elitist were fighting for more African participation in the Legislative Council, these pressures didn’t augur well for the colonial government. Sitting on the Legislative Council were both ‘official’ members, ie senior European government officials who sat ex-officio and ‘unofficial’ members, representing local, but not necessarily indigenous interests. Unofficial seats were first introduced as a way of representing and protecting European settler or commercial interests, eventually African interests were recognized and given representation on the council although still represented by Europeans. In Ghana the first election to Legislative Council was in 1925 as against Nigeria in 1923 and Gambia in 1947.
Chiefs were the only native representatives on the Gold Coast Legislative Council and they were considered as figure heads because they couldn’t pass any laws. The first law passed by the chiefs was the Native Ordinance in 1927 and this and the Africanization of the civil service were spearheaded by the chiefs led by Nana Sir Ofori Atta.

The Elections
On the initiative of Gordon Guggisberg, then Governor of Gold Coast, a new Municipal Ordinance was passed which made provision for a Municipal Assembly to help with the running of the colony. This was to elect a mayor of Accra. It was also to be a trial run for elections in the Gold Coast. Invariably these youth groups will be influential in the process. In Accra, the youth movement led by Kojo Thompson, a barrister and Nnamdi Azikiwe participated in the municipal elections under the umbrella of the Manbii Party against the older and more conservatist nationalists lke Dr Nanka–Bruce and Dr Quartey-Papafio of the RatePayer’s Association .
The programs of these political parties were elections in colonial municipalities, development of higher education and compulsory education throughout West Africa, Africanization of the civil service, free and fair trade and equal treatment for African traders and producers.
Apart from newspaper campaigns and petitions, these youth movements took part in the local elections and also resorted to riots and strikes.
The dispute between the elite and the Manbii flared up following the introduction of Municipal Councils. The councils were seen as to be ineffective and voters took no interest. The Manbii Party viewed the ordinance as a threat because voting rights were contingent upon property qualifications and the new councils will certainly be controlled by the city’s elite thus letting the councils be invariably dominated by the elite.
Secondly, the new ordinance imposed a regressive house tax, rather than income tax which placed the heavy portion of tax burden on the city’s second tier income earners such as laborers, traders and market women. This ‘small’ Municipal elections had a rippling effect of even leading to de destoolment of the then Ga Mantse, who was in support of the Municipal Ordinance. But that is a story for another day.
In 1922, only 46 out of 1,117 registered actually voted in the municipal elections in Accra, none voted out of 717 in Cape Coast and only 2 out of 299 in Sekondi. Why? The youth groups threatened the populace that whoever went to vote was at risk and untold hardships will befall the people. Reports in the archives show that especially in Odododiodo near Jamestown, muscled men were put in place by the Manbii Party to guard the ballot boxes and this was no isolated incident. The official report is that voters took no interest in town council elections and this explains the massive boycott of the elections.


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