THE government returned to power in the Gold Coast after the general elections being held in June 1954 cannot fail to be something of a test case for the whole of Africa. In the entire continent, it is the third independent government composed entirely of Africans. Otherwise only Ethiopia and Liberia enjoy that status. It is the first independent African administration to be set up in an area once ruled by a European colonial Power. These factors alone would give the experiment some special significance. Since, however, the crucial question throughout Africa is now and will be for decades to come whether or to what degree the African can take responsibility for his own destiny, the Gold Coast experiment has more than the simple interest of novelty. It will inevitably be watched by Africans and by non-Africans as the proving ground of African maturity.

The comparisons made are, it is true, likely to be misleading and the judgments not always soundly based. In Africa, one region varies from other regions as greatly as in any other continent. But since in such crucial areas as South Africa or--to a lesser extent--in Central Africa, the issue has been fixed so firmly on a White-Black basis, local differences tend to be left to one side. The Gold Coast has become a symbol. Achievements and failures will be judged in this strong and often misleading light.

The present government is the successor to the government elected in 1950 as a result of the first general elections conducted under adult suffrage in the Gold Coast. The successful party, the Convention People's Party, came to power under somewhat unexpected circumstances. Its leader, Dr. Nkrumah, had been called back to the Gold Coast from his studies abroad--in the United States and Britain--to act as Secretary to the solidly established middle-class African nationalist party, the United Gold Coast Convention. This group contained most of the colony's educated and politically conscious leaders, men who confidently expected at some point to be given a measure of responsibility by the British. But for younger men such as Dr. Nkrumah, the tempo of progress seemed intolerably slow. They determined to put greater pressure on the British. When the older organization hesitated before their impatience, they split the U. G. C. C., formed their own Convention People's Party and began to work for mass support among the people. In 1948 and 1949, they organized boycotts and strikes which resulted in some violence. It was settled British policy to extend the area of self-government in the colony. The disorders, if anything, speeded up the process of transferring a measure of power. A constitution introducing elective government was introduced, and at the elections the C.P.P. swept the country. Dr. Nkrumah, serving at that moment a prison sentence for his part in the disorders, was released and placed at the head of the new government. In his cabinet three ministers were still British--those for Finance, for Justice and for Defense and External Affairs--and the Governor presided at cabinet meetings; yet it became clear that the British Government intended--and the Governor, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, was determined--to secure a genuine transfer of responsibility. The African Ministers learnt that the decisions would be theirs. From the first they were compelled to exercise power.

They began their task of government under the normal contradictions and varied conditions of national well-being. Their country is, by comparison with other underdeveloped areas, extremely wealthy. Its annual budget of some $112,000,000 for a population of under 5,000,000 can be measured against neighboring Nigeria where a population six times as large produces roughly the same scale of national revenue and outlay. The core of this wealth is African-owned and African-produced. An African introduced the cocoa bean into the Gold Coast and the entire farming of the crop is in the hands of peasant farmers. They sell their beans to an African-controlled Cocoa Marketing Board which negotiates as a single sales agency with chocolate producers overseas. World demand, sustained by Britain's sweet tooth and America's lively birth rate, has steadily exceeded supply since the war. An average prewar price of cocoa of about $160 a ton has risen to a postwar figure fluctuating somewhere between $500 and $850 a ton. Forward sales early in 1954 even reached the phenomenal figure of over $1,100 a ton. Since cocoa production varies each year between 210,000 tons and 240,000 tons, the Gold Coast has received for some years past an export income of about $165,000,000 from cocoa alone. Add to this figure the proceeds from exports of gold, manganese, diamonds and lumber, and the annual export figure is nearer $200,000,000.

This degree of wealth is undoubtedly an effective cushion to the possible shocks of political and social experiment. Yet, as other wealthy producers of primary products have discovered, wealth alone is not enough. The Gold Coast is not the only underdeveloped area to profit by the postwar boom in primary prices. Some Latin American and Southeast Asian countries have known comparable affluence. The oil revenues of many Middle Eastern countries resemble to a certain extent the high financial returns earned by the Gold Coast. Yet it cannot be said that Persia, say, or Cuba or Malaya has drawn unequivocal benefits from its riches. Of the Gold Coast on the contrary it can be said that it has.

The reason lies not so much in the fact of wealth as in its distribution and in the financial policy with which it has been managed. The Gold Coast Government has avoided the two most common weaknesses to be found among primary producing countries. Unlike the ruling governments of Persia or Cuba, it has succeeded in distributing the gains from booming world prices among a very wide section of the population--among the small farmers of the Gold Coast who with their families make up over half the population. It has also prevented the rise in export income from translating itself into strong internal inflation. In this achievement it is perhaps unique. Not even an old-established democratic government such as Australia's was able to overcome the inflationary tendencies of the doubling in world wool prices after Korea.

Of these two achievements, the first, the wide distribution of income, is the African government's good fortune. When African ministers first began to have the decisive say in Gold Coast policies--after the elections of 1950--they inherited a society without European plantations and large white estates and one in which the land itself was still nominally owned by tribal groups and farmed by individual families. No land had been alienated to foreign settlement, as in French North Africa or Central Eastern Africa. No large Asiatic minority had come in to take over petty commerce and block an important line of advancement to the African. The reason for this absence of foreign infiltration certainly cannot be counted among West Africa's assets. The climate is hot, humid and exhausting, and until well into this century yellow fever claimed the life of the missionary, the trader and the administrator and effectively discouraged any would-be settler. The end result is, however, a homogeneous African population and a land-owning peasantry. It is these small African farmers who profit most by the rise in postwar cocoa prices.

The mastering of the inflationary tendency in high export prices must, however, be put directly to the credit of the government. After 1950, although the Finance Minister was British and the financial advice offered to the Cabinet was put forward by government officials all drawn from the British colonial service, there was never any doubt that the African majority could have refused the proposed financial policy and insisted on one which, in the short run, might better have served their political interests. It is common form in all democracies that the electorate dislikes taxes and controls and infinitely prefers the chance of high monetary income even though the certainty of inflation follows. On the Gold Coast, however, a policy of extreme financial conservatism has been followed. The price for cocoa actually paid to the farmer has been held in the neighborhood of $350 a ton and the balance has been retained by the Government, either on its own account or through the Cocoa Marketing Board, to create reserve funds for the development of the economy. As a result of these decisions--which were certainly not taken in order to curry favor with the large and influential farming class--the Gold Coast must have the largest reserve for productive investment of any of the world's underdeveloped areas. At least $300,000,000 has been set aside to back the currency and to create reserve development funds and this reserve is increasing at present so rapidly that the current expenditure of capital does virtually nothing to deplete it. Yet the program for capital expenditure drawn up to cover the period from 1951 to 1956 calls for outlays of just on $200,000,000, a fair part of which has already been spent.

Since financial policy is perhaps the most pervasive influence in any society and inflation one of the most insidious temptations of popular government, the fact that in the last three years the Gold Coast Cabinet has steered its country through a continuous export boom, undertaken a large program of domestic expansion and yet kept the cost of living steady must be counted a not inconsiderable achievement. It has been matched by other acts of statesmanship. Few people knew, for instance, when Dr. Nkrumah took office whether they would have to deal with a young man skilled in nothing but agitation or whether there were statesmanlike qualities to be discovered once responsibility was squarely his. In a similar but later experiment in British Guiana, it became obvious almost at once that the local leaders preferred speechmaking and rabble rousing to hard work and sober administration. On the Gold Coast in 1950, there was at least a chance that such men as Dr. Nkrumah or his two closest associates, Mr. K. A. Gbedemah and Mr. K. Botsio, might show a similar lack of grasp upon the essentials of responsibility and leadership. There were rumors of Marxist influence, of vague plans for a Union of Socialist Republics in West Africa. Would they, like the British Guianese leaders, be no more than the Trojan horse of Communist infiltration?

In the event, the outcome of three years' hard experience in the field of administration has shown that the Prime Minister and his colleagues have a very real interest in the concrete problems of government. Moreover, their experience led them early this year to determine that there was no place for Communists in the vital services of the country--in administration, in police or defense, in education or propaganda. In February of this year, in the Assembly, the Gold Coast Prime Minister quoted with approval the words of the former British Prime Minister, Mr. Attlee, when he said: "Experience both in this country and elsewhere has shown that membership and other forms of continuing association with the Communist Party may involve acceptance by individuals of a loyalty which, in certain circumstances, can be inimical to the State." To this Dr. Nkrumah added the rider: "The warning seems to me to apply with even greater force to a young and rising nation like our own." Not content with excluding Communists from the Public Service, the Convention People's Party also expelled from its ranks members suspected of combining membership in the C.P.P. with affiliations with Moscow.

Communism, however, is not the only potentially disintegrating force with which untried political administrations have to deal. Men new to office and new to power, handling for the first time large sums of public money and placed in a position where their decisions affect the financial interests of powerful commercial and industrial groups, run the risk at least of being exposed to the temptations of bribery and graft; and there are not many countries in the world, least of all among the new nations, that can claim complete immunity from an occasional fall from strict virtue in this field. Here, again, however, the Gold Coast Government, faced with accusations that its ministers had been guilty of malpractice, displayed political fearlessness and judgment in refusing to stifle the charges and in bringing them before a judicial Public Commission of Inquiry. After exhaustive interrogations, the Commission discovered only very minor cases of corruption on the part of three junior members of the government involving sums minute in comparison with the development funds spent during their period of office. The men were instantly dismissed and two of them sentenced to a period of imprisonment. In fact, the most unfortunate feature of the whole affair was hardly the issue of bribery itself but the extent to which certain sections of the press abroad, particularly in Britain, played up the accusations and contrived to present a picture of the African administration riddled with graft. This malicious prejudging of the issue undoubtedly shook the confidence of many Africans in the sincerity of Western support for their efforts at self-government and undid some of the work done in the Gold Coast itself to evolve a new type of partnership between the races.

On the side of the Gold Coast Government, the handling of corruption--like the handling of the Communists--must be counted a sign of political levelheadedness not always found in more advanced communities. Coupled with a sane and conservative economic approach, it must be allowed to stand as a good augury for the next phase of political advance which opened with the latest general elections. The new Cabinet has no British Ministers. The Governor no longer presides at Cabinet meetings. His powers are reduced to a residual responsibility in defense, foreign affairs and internal security. British advisers and officials remain, but in all essentials the African Cabinet now carries the burden of government alone.

It would be unwise and indeed unfair to minimize the difficulties which the African leaders face and which may well increase in the next decades. Leaving on one side--important though they are--such disadvantages as the debilitating climate and the heartrending problems of health in a malarial and parasite-ridden area, the sympathetic observer can hardly be less than obsessed by the problem of manpower. The Gold Coast aspires to development, to a higher standard of living, to economic advance. Yet perhaps only now is there realization of the extent to which such progress depends upon a trained and educated professional, technical and administrative class. Indeed, one could go so far as to say that the experiment may fail without a stable administrative framework.

There has been a measure of education in the Gold Coast for over a century. Devoted missionaries came out in the nineteenth century in the knowledge of almost certain death--one sees their pathetic graveyards buried, forgotten, in the bush--and laid the foundations of an educational system. An enlightened Governor, General Sir Gordon Guggisberg, built Achimota College in the 1920's and paved the way to higher education and to the establishment of a full university in the Gold Coast shortly after the last war. Yet today the educated community is still very small--and not always sympathetic to the present government. Technical competence, outside the popular fields of medicine and law, is rare. The plain truth is that the skills and techniques of the community do not yet match either its aspirations or its present and potential wealth.

The African ministers have given further evidence of their objectivity and common sense in this delicate field of trained manpower. It is easy enough to satisfy popular nationalism with the cry "Africa for the Africans" and naturally, in the first enthusiasm of independence, the cry is heard. But Dr. Nkrumah and his colleagues are more interested in genuine results than in the parrot cries of propaganda and they realize that for another generation, while education of every kind is intensified in their country, they must rely upon the assistance of officials and technicians from abroad.

It is to some extent this need that explains the readiness of the Gold Coast to remain a member of the British Commonwealth. The colonial official in the field is a devoted and faithful servant. The "Government agent" as he is called today is the man-of-all-work of his district, counsellor, friend, arbitrator, keeper of the peace, adviser to chiefs, father of the poor. In the capital itself, Accra, the colonial civil servant has shown in the last three years that his service and devotion are given as readily to an African as to a British minister. Above all, the support and guidance secured to the African cabinet in the past three years by the skill and resource of the Governor and the three British ministers have been of such quality as to convince the Africans that the British are genuinely ready to help them to make a success of their experiment. Confidence and good will have been created where in 1950 there was distrust and turmoil. These are the forces behind the Prime Minister's decision to invite colonial officials to remain and serve in the Gold Coast with the guarantee of promotion without prejudice of color and conditions at least as good as those which they enjoyed in the past. When one considers the African rejection of "colonialism" on the one hand and the changed status of the British official on the other, the number of British civil servants who will remain is a monument to the good sense and good will shown on both sides.

Even so, the problem is only very partially solved. It is not simply the administrative structure that is at stake. A modern community demands more doctors, more teachers, more research workers, above all, more experts in the field of expanding agriculture and laying the basis for a measure of industry. The Gold Coast has a particularly big development project in the shape of the Volta River Scheme for hydroelectric power and aluminum production. Were it to be carried through, an investment approaching half a billion dollars would be made over the next decade. In order that Africans should take a full part in the development of their own resources they would need a great expansion of their trained technical manpower at every level of responsibility. Even so, a large gap would still need to be filled by experts from abroad.

These conditions would obviously place the greatest strain on the new relationship of confidence which is being built up between the two races. The African--like his brothers in Asia and Latin America or any underdeveloped area--is faced with the need to accept the presence in his country of overseas administrators and technicians developing his resources, and to display restraint and understanding in a situation which any agitator would find only too easy to inflame. The Western nations, on the other hand, if they are serious in their intention of extending technical assistance and of maintaining such essential ventures as the Point Four programs, have to realize that more is at stake here than the provision of funds or the temporary seconding of manpower. What is needed is a new type of expert and technician who sees in work overseas among underdeveloped communities a career and a life work at least as absorbing and as worth-while as such a career once appeared to the old colonial civil servant. The relationships will be more testing and delicate in these days of aroused African--or Asian--nationalism. But the rewards of friendship, understanding and successful work might be even greater.

This aspect of technical assistance has received little or no serious attention in the West. The Gold Coast, by reaching independence by an accelerated route, by offering so wide a field for development and by needing manpower so much more urgently than capital, is perhaps the first underdeveloped area to pose the problem of Western assistance in terms not of money but of men. On the answer evolved in this case may turn the final relationship of Asia and Africa with the Western Powers. The age of imperialism is dead in the West. But what is the new age of which the Gold Coast is one of the first harbingers? The groundwork of good will and confidence has been laid there. What is built on them now depends fully as much on the vision and dedication of the West as on the patience and maturity of the new African leaders.

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  • BARBARA WARD JACKSON, of The Economist; at present living in the Gold Coast, West Africa; author of "The West at Bay," "Policy for the West" and other works
  • More By Barbara Ward