Seventy years ago today, February 28, 1948, a group of ex-servicemen were on a peaceful parade at the crossroads near the Governor’s office in the Gold Coast (now Ghana) to present a petition to him about unpaid wages and broken promises after their fight for the British in the second World War.
The police rather opened fire on them, killing three ex-servicemen instantly. This resulted in a series of riots and protests and eventually marked the beginning of the process of independence for the Gold Coast – the first colony in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve independence.
The event also paved a way for the independence of other African colonies. Ghanaians are commemorating the 70th anniversary of the shooting of the three ex-servicemen today and Face2face Africa takes you back to what transpired before and after the shooting.
In January 1948, Nii Kwabena Bonne II, the Ga chief organized a boycott of all European goods in response to their high prices which was having a toll on the living conditions of people in the Gold Coast. The campaign to boycott European imports became part of the preparation towards independence.
On the last day of the boycott, African ex-servicemen began a march from Accra to the British Governor at the Osu Castle to present a petition. They were stopped by the police. These ex-servicemen were veterans of the World War II and members of the Gold Coast Regiment who were part of the African soldiers fighting alongside British troops in Burma.
Before the war, they were promised pension and jobs. But, when they returned to their homes from the war, those entitlements were not met. They could not find jobs and their pensions were never given to them. Their march was, therefore, to petition the Governor of the Gold Coast to demand that pensions and compensations promised them for their gallant roles in the war be paid.
As they marched towards the Governor’s residence at the Christianborg Castle in Osu, the colonial police stopped them. The British head of police, Superintendent Imray, ordered his officers to shoot at the protesters, but they shot in the air. Imray, who was getting frustrated, grabbed a gun from one of the officers and shot into the crowd, killing three of the ex-servicemen – Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey. Some other protesters suffered varying degrees of injuries.
What happened next?
The news of their shooting spread like wildfire to Accra and other major towns and cities in the country. Law and order broke down; Accra went through days of rioting, with Asian and European-owned stores and businesses getting looted. This period was referred to as the 1948 disturbances.
The Governor subsequently declared a state of emergency and a new Riot Act was put in place. Anti-colonial movements also demanded the British government to institute a committee to investigate the killings and riots that occurred after. The Watson Commission was eventually set up by the British colonial government. It looked into the events which resulted in the riots and eventually opened doors for constitutional changes which resulted in Ghana’s independence.
Nkrumah and the CPP
Following the 1948 riots, the “Big Six”, that is the leading members of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) – Kwame Nkrumah, J.B, Danquah, Edward Akufo-Addo, Ebenezer Ako-Adjei, William Ofori Atta and Obetsebi Lamptey, were arrested on March 12, 1948, for being behind the disturbances. They were detained but released a month later.
A year later, Kwame Nkrumah broke away from the UGCC and formed his own party – the Convention People’s Party (CPP). With the party’s motto of “self-government now” and other activities, the party won the admiration of many voters. In 1952, Nkrumah became prime minister. In 1960, Ghanaians approved a new constitution and elected Nkrumah president after the country gained independence from the British on March 6, 1957.