Joseph Boakye Danquah has been described as the doyen of Ghanaian politics. This accolade was given to him by that Watson Commission of 1948 which was set up following the riots in the Gold Coast. Danquah and Busia belonged to the Dombo or Matemeho conservative and federalist school of thought in Ghana’s political history. J.B. Danquah was an Akyem from the royal family of Kyebi (Kibi).
In 1921, he was sponsored by the Abuakwa State to go and read law in the UK. Before then he had completed and passed his standard seven examination. He was apprenticed to a renowned lawyer in Accra, where he worked for some time before being assigned to the Supreme Court, and later to the Eastern Regional House of Chiefs. In the UK, he earned his first degree from the University of London and upon passing with flying colours, he went on to earn his Phd in Moral Philosophy and Logic, the first West African to do so.
Danquah was a maternal uncle of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo Addo. When Nkrumah was invited by Ako Adjei from the UK to become the Secretary General of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the UGCC was led by stalwarts like J.B. Danquah, Paa Willie or William Ofori Atta, Pa Grant and others like Casely Hayford. Those were among the intelligentsia in the then Gold Coast. UGCC was founded in 1947 by J.B. Danquah, George Alfred Grant (timber merchant), Robert Benjamin Blay and Awoonor Williams, a Sekondi Barrister.
Danquah’s private life was full of romance. While in London from 1921 to 1927, he fathered two sons and two daughters from two women, none of whom he married. When he got back to the Gold Coast, he got married to the daughter of a prominent lawyer. The lass’ name was Mable Dove. Later, he married his second wife, Elizabeth Vardon. Who in Danquah’s position in those days would not have fallen for the ladies, or rather the ladies would not have fallen for him?
On his return to the Gold Coast in 1927, he was offered the post of master at Achimota College to succeed no less a person than James Emmanuel Kwegyir Aggrey. He declined the offer and set up his own private law practice. In those days, private chambers run by blacks were uncommon, and I guess Danquah was an enterprising entrepreneur, who saw opportunities galore or a market gap to exploit. Danquah was born on 21st December, 1895 at Bempong-Kwahu to Emmanuel Yaw Boakye, and Madam Lydia Okum Korantewaa. Danquah’s father was chief drummer at the palace of Nana Amoako Atta III, Omanhene of Akyem Abuakwa.
Danquah’s elder sibling from another mother, who was 14 years older, later became Nana Sir Ofori Atta. It was he who sponsored Danquah to go and study in the UK. On his return from London, he set up an influential newspaper known as the Times of West Africa. He served as the Secretary of a delegation to London in 1934 which was to petition the Colonial Office against the introduction of the obnoxious Sedition Bill and the Water Bill.
Those bills were meant to restrict the rights and freedoms of our people. Danquah served as Secretary General of the Gold Coast Youth Conference (GCYC) from 1937 to 1947. GCYC was founded in 1929 by Casely Hayford. GCYC was the forerunner of the UGCC. He was elected to the Legislative Council in 1946, under the Burn’s Constitution. He fought relentlessly to bring about constitutional reforms. He championed the cause of farmers so much so that he was awarded a citation by the farmers, who called him Akuafo Kanea (The Light of the farmers). Danquah helped to found the United Gold Coast Convention, which demanded self government for the Gold Coast. The UGCC was founded on 4th August 1947 at Saltpond.
On 13th March 1948, he was arrested with the Big Six following the 1948 riots which had earlier on culminated in the shooting at the Crossroads, on 28th February 1948, of Sergeant Adjetey, near the Christianborg Castle. The ex-servicemen were on their way to the Castle to present their petition when one colonial police officer called Imray, ordered their shooting. One Ga Chief, Nii Kwabena Bonne III, Osu Atala Mantse, organized a boycott of all European shops and there was looting and pillaging of shops across the length and breadth of the Gold Coast Colony.
The Colony was ungovernable, and the Governor had to call in troops from Nigeria to quell the riot. Danquah used his influence and tenacity to convince the Asante (Ashanti) to become part of the coastal colony. He fiercely fought to have the indigenization of the civil service, and dominance of the legislative assembly by African representatives. Indeed, Danquah was a true and real patriot. His 1943 constitutional memorandum formed the basis of the 1945 Burn’s Constitution.
In 1951, he was again elected to the Legislative Council, which was a very much privileged position in those colonial days. He failed to be elected in the 1954 and 1956 elections. When he lost, he claimed the elections were rigged. In 1960, Danquah contested the presidential elections against Nkrumah in the Presidential elections but he received only 10% of the votes cast. In 1961, he was imprisoned under the Preventive Detention Act (PDA) and was released in 1962. He became the President of the Ghana Bar Association. He was rearrested in 1964 and sent to the condemned cells at the infamous Nsawam Maximum Security Prison, where he died of a heart attack on 4th February, 1962, aged 69 years.
Danquah was a prolife writer. He wrote two great books namely, Akan Laws and Customs (1928) and Akan Doctrine of God (1944). His works are still consulted by students of sociology, law, cultural studies, among others. While a student in London from 1921 to 1927, he became the Editor-President of the West African Students Union (WASU), to which Nkrumah also belonged during his brief stay in the UK from the USA.
In 1934, while on a petition delegation to London, he researched at the British Museum and came up with the name Ghana for the then Gold Coast. He researched and discovered that Ghanaians are descended from the ancient empire of Ghana which flourished between the fourth and twelve centuries at the Niger bend, near present day Timbucktoo. The name Ghana must have come from the Guan name Gyan or Djan. Out of the name Gyan, we have anglicized versions like Ghunney, Ghansah, Ghartey, among others. In 1954, after he lost elections massively to the CPP, while running on the ticket of the UGCC, he was invited to New York by the UN to receive the Bryony Mumford Writing Fellowship, which had tenure of 3 months.
When he arrived back in the country, he was conferred with the title of Twafohene by the Abuakwa State, with the stool name of Barima Kwame Kyeretwie Dankwa. Among his illustrious accomplishments was his unyielding fight to have the University of Ghana established in 1948. The British had proposed the establishment of only one university for the whole of West Africa but Danquah refused. I wonder why we have no Danquah Hall at Legon. I was there at Legon Hall from 1975 to 1978.
It was Danquah who fought for the establishment of the Cocoa Marketing Board (CMB) in 1947. It was Danquah who vigorously canvassed the people of Asante and the then Northern Territories to join the Gold Coast Colony to become what we know today as modern Ghana. Of course, Nkrumah also did his bit by using the 1956 Plebiscite to annex Trans Volta Togoland to become modern day Volta Region of Ghana. Nkrumah was vehemently opposed by secessionists such as Dr R.G. Armattoe and Kofi Anton. Danquah believed strongly in liberal democracy, hence his idea of federalism and a ministerial system of government for Ghana.
However, Nkrumah was diametrically opposed to the idea of federation as he felt a unitary state was best for Ghana. At a point in time, Danquah felt that his dream had been stolen by the radical Nkrumah, hence his implacable and fierce resistance to Nkrumah. Danquah joined the National Liberation Movement (NLM) and later the Ghana Congress Party (GCP). The NLM was dubbed a federalist or Matemeho party because their political tactics were sometimes based on violence, hence the offshoot of the ‘All die be die’ of Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo of the current NPP. Danquah worked with people like Sir Arku Korsah (first Ghanaian Chief Justice) and Kojo Thompson to produce a 400 page draft constitution for the Gold Coast. It is proper and befitting for us to honour our illustrious leaders and pioneers.
Today, we have Danquah Circle in Accra, and the annual Danquah Memorial Lectures at the University Of Cape Coast. At one time, our distinguished son of the soil, Busumbrum Kofi Annan, offered the opinion that Nkrumah’s brash radicalism cost Ghana a lot. Perhaps, Kofi Annan would have loved Ghana to have gone the way of Botswana where Sir Seretse Khama worked steadily and closely with the former colonial master till the country attained independence in 1966. Botswana then was a very poor desert country. It was much later when diamonds were discovered by the De Beers Group from South Africa. Today, Botswana’s success story in Africa is well documented. At the time of Ghana’s indepence, it was estimated that a princely sum of 270 million pounds was left in the state coffers. Who would doubt that Nkrumah did not manage our economy prudently? Well, posterity is the judge.
However, had Ghana followed Danquah’s conservative and constitutional step-by-step process, Ghana’s independence could have delayed by 10 years or more. Danquah was British trained while Nkrumah was American trained. Thus, Nkrumah evinced the American traits of good salesmanship, marketing, theatrics, radicalism and love for adventure. On the other hand, Danquah wanted everything to be negotiated and processed through the court procedure of due process, or through formalized channels. Thus, we can now understand the diametrically opposed strategies and natures of Danquah and Nkrumah. If the two had collaborated, Ghana’s history would have taken quite a different trajectory. However, what is writ is writ and fate cannot be changed.
As I write this article, E.T Mensah’s highlife tune rings in my ears, giving me nostalgic feelings of those politically stormy days when we used to chant as children, the words, ‘PP obeko Assembly, Dombo Krakye, Orennko Assembly’ ,or ‘Odombo, Odombo, Dombo-soo me’. E.T Mensah sang, ‘Am for you, Titi, Am for you, I dey waiting Mama, I dey waiting Papa, Am for you. Am for you, Titi am for you. Look out for the next tribute to Osagyefo Kantamanto Oseeadeayo Kwame Nkrumah.