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The roots of Ghanaian nationalism go back to the early decades of the 20th century.  It owed much to the influences of the Pan African Movement of W.W.B. Du Bois, Sylvester Williams, Edward  Blyden and Marcus Garvey among others and the West African Students Union based in the United Kingdom. Dr Du Bois’ first Pan-African Congress was held in Paris in 1919; and within a year of that meeting, Casely Hayford convened the inaugural meeting of the National Congress of British West Africa, (NCBWA), in Accra. 

The NCBWA was intended as a platform for the intelligentsia of British West Africa to bring “before the Government the wants and aspirations of the people” for attention.  In the longer term, the Congress aimed at the attainment of self-government for British West Africans by constitutional means.  Among the specific demands of NCBWA were the election of African representation to both the Legislative and Municipal Councils; cessation of the exercise of judicial functions by untrained pubic servants; the opening up of the Civil Service to Africans; establishment of a British West African University and  compulsory education.
Following the death of Casely Hayford in 1930 the NCBWA became moribund; and in the mid 1930s national politics became radicalized as a result of the activities of the Sierra Leonean, Isaac Wallace Johnson, then based in the Gold Coast, and his West African Youth League.  The colonial Government and the chiefs, who were seen as their collaborators came under increasing pressure as a result.
Nationalist agitation was suspended during the Second World War years of 1939 to 1945 but was resumed after 1945.  Indeed, the peoples of the Gold Coast actively supported the British war effort, contributing troops and funds to purchase a helicopter.  The 5th Pan African Congress held in Manchester in October 1945 inspired Nkrumah returned home at the invitation of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) formed on 4 August 1947 to help free the Gold Coast from colonial rule “within the shortest possible time.
Nkrumah who became a major driving force behind the UGCC, had been educated at Achimota College, Lincoln University and the University of Pennsylvania where he earned a Master of Science in Education and a Master of Arts Philosophy in 1942 and 1943 respectively. He then proceeded to the United Kingdom, in 1945, to study law at the University of London’s London School of Economics and Political Science.  At the time of his departure for the United Kingdom, Nkrumah had completed most of the requirements for the award of the degree of Ph.D. by the University of Pennsylvania but was constrained by poverty, ill health and the desire to study law as a guarantee to an independent profession in the Gold Coast to leave the United States.
In 1948 demobilized Gold Coast soldiers a peaceful march to the Christianborg Castle to present a petition to the Governor about their plight, were shot at the Christianborg crossroads resulting in three casualties; Sergeant Cornelius Frederick Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey.  The riots that ensured led to the taking into custody, in remote parts of northern Gold Coast, six of the nationalist leaders of the UGCC, namely,  Ako Adjei, Edward Akufo-Addo, Dr Joseph Boakye Danquah, Emmanuel Odarkwei Obetsebi-Lamptey, William Ofori-Atta and Kwame Nkrumah and the setting up of a Commission of Enquiry under the chairmanship of Sir Aitkin Watson.  The detained nationalists have since then come to be known as the “Big Six”.  The  outcome of Watson’s Commission was the Sir Henly Coussey Constitutional Committee set up in December 1949 to draw up a new Constitution for the country.  The  recommendations of the Coussey  Committee formed the basis of the 1951 Constitution, which marked a giant step forward towards independence.
On 12 June 1949 Nkrumah parted ways with the leadership of the UGCC and formed the first political party in the history of Gold Coast, namely, the Convention Peopless’ Party (CPP), to fight for “Self-Government Now”.  Initially the CPP opposed the Coussey Constitution and on 8 January 1950 declared “positive action” that urged a strike and non-cooperation with the colonial Government.  Nkrumah and his associates were arrested, tried and imprisoned for instigating a strike.  However, notwithstanding CPP’s opposition to the Coussey Constitution it soon changed its mind and contested the first General Elections in the history of the Gold Coast scheduled for 8 February 1951.  The CPP won the General Elections securing 34 out of the 38 popularly elected seats in the 84-member Legislative Assembly with Nkrumah himself winning the seat for the Central Accra Constituency obtaining 22,780 votes out of a possible 23,122.  On 12 February 1951 Nkrumah was released form prison and appointed Leader of Government Business in a cabinet of three expatriate and eight African ministers. The Governor, however retained his reserve powers.

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