The Consul at Accra (Cole) to the Department of State

No. 183


  • Interview with Governor of the Gold Coast.

At the invitation of Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, Governor of the Gold Coast, I paid an initial call on him at 9:00 A.M., January 31. A summary of the ensuing discussion, into which he entered very readily, is set forth below:

Present Degree of Autonomy. Sir Charles pointed out that the existing constitution, which came into force on January 1, 1951, gives the Africans more autonomy than is generally realized. He explained that important decisions on government business are now reached through majority vote of the Executive Council, which is the principal instrument of policy. As the Council is composed of eight African Ministers, and only three ex-officio European Ministers, it is obvious that the Africans are in control. The Governor himself, who has no original vote, is obliged to act in accordance with the decisions of the Council. Sir Charles added that, through failure to grasp this point, many observers do not realize the extent to which the Africans had been governing themselves for the past year, and hence are less optimistic about the “experiment in the Gold Coast” than the facts warrant.

Progress During the Past Year. In Sir Charles’ opinion, the African Ministers on the whole have begun to show an encouraging sense of responsibility. During the year in which the present constitution has been in force they learned a great deal about the exercise of governmental powers, and avoided several bad pitfalls which could have discredited the “experiment.” The great need now was that the Ministers should inculcate a sense of responsibility into their “Back-benchers,” who have not made comparable progress.

Sir Charles felt that the need for a more responsible attitude toward public affairs both among the members of the Legislative Assembly [Page 262] and other Africans interested in politics was of fundamental importance to the progress of the Gold Coast. It was unfortunate that for the most part these Africans were still an irresponsible group, doubtless through their lack of experience and feeling that they had been in the position of an exploited, inferior race, but were at last in a position to react.

Development of Local Government. Sir Charles observed that British colonial policy in the past had failed to develop organs of local government which would give Africans experience in such matters and thus qualify them for more important posts. He regarded this as a serious deficiency, which, however, would be corrected in time through such measures as the local government ordinance and the elections to be held pursuant thereto in April, 1952.

Further Constitutional Changes. Such changes are now under consideration in London. Sir Charles was not free to reveal their details. He said, however, that they were not entirely as described in recent local press accounts to the effect that Kwame Nkrumah, Leader of Government Business and Chairman of the Convention People’s Party, will be made Prime Minister and the Executive Council reconstituted without the ex-officio European Ministers. I gathered that something less drastic was contemplated: perhaps the naming of Nkrumah as Prime Minister and retention of the Executive Council with its present membership.

Use of the Reserved Power. In reply to my inquiry as to whether there was any likelihood that he would be obliged to use the powers reserved to the Governor under Article 58 of the constitution, Sir Charles observed that he did not anticipate having to do so. He would, however, take such action under extreme conditions, as for instance if the Assembly failed to pass the budget. He regarded the reserved power as an important instrument nonetheless, since its use would doubtless involve termination of the present Government and necessitate new elections. He felt that the Ministers were so anxious to avoid such an eventuality, which could well mean the loss of their jobs, that they would make every effort to reach a less radical solution of any point at issue. The reserved power thus constitutes a threat and a strong motive impelling the Ministers to keep their “back-benchers” disciplined.

Sir Charles assumed that use of the reserved power might bring about some public disorders. As the Africans are very unpredictable, he could not forecast the form or extent of such disorders.

The Need for Europeans in the Civil Service. The lack of trained administrative and technical personnel among the Africans will necessitate the employment of Europeans in the Civil Service for an indefinite period. The African leaders are thoroughly aware of this fact. [Page 263] The other Africans are not. Hence the subject has become a serious subject of agitation and dissension. The presence of comparatively highly-paid Europeans with its old associations of inferiority, is a subject of resentment as a matter of principle. Nevertheless, personal relations between the two groups remain generally cordial. To summarize, the Europeans are needed, but not wanted.

The Character of Nkrumah. Sir Charles regarded Nkrumah as a man of great vitality and personal charm, who, with the burdens of government, has shown a growing sense of responsibility and understanding. It is to be hoped that he will overcome the limitations of his past activities as an agitator. In this connection, Sir Charles had “called Nkrumah on the carpet” for the inflammatory remarks which appeared in the latter’s “Independence Day” speech (my despatch 174 of January 15, 1952)2 when the Governor was in London. Sir Charles told Nkrumah: “I cannot help you if you continue to behave in that fashion.” Nkrumah defended himself by saying he was moving away from such agitation, but had to do so “gradually.”

Sir Charles considered that Nkrumah has not yet learned to manage his Party followers. He made such mistakes as giving important posts to trouble makers in the hopes of pacifying them, instead of rewarding his faithful adherents. He is learning, however, as he gains in experience. Sir Charles wishes to give him any guidance possible.

Conclusions: In the course of the foregoing interview Sir Charles was mildly optimistic toward the chances that the experiment of self-rule in the Gold Coast would continue successful. He thought the fact that the first year under the new constitution had passed off so well was a good omen.

In Sir Charles view, it is necessary to continue giving the Africans increasing responsibilities for the management of their own affairs. Regardless of other considerations, it would, in his opinion, be unrealistic to endeavor to resist the rising tide of national and racial sentiment.

Future political stability and progress appear to depend to an unhealthy degree upon the ability of the key figure, Nkrumah, to control the Assembly, as there is no effective opposition party which could assume direction of the government. The CPP dissidents may, with luck, again support Nkrumah through lack of any rational alternative policy.

William E. Cole, Jr.
  1. Not printed; it summarized a discussion with Reginald H. Saloway, Deputy Governor of the Gold Coast, who indicated that Nkrumah’s speech included statements such as: “‘We must not forget the blood … that flowed on February 28, 1948 as a moment of imperialist atrocities’” and “‘Our … determination to remove Colonel Octopus’.” (123 Cole, William E.) The ellipses appear in despatch 174.