The Trials and Triumphs of J. B. Danquah

The Trials and Triumphs of J.B. Dankwa

The Trials and Triumphs of J.B. Dankwa


In the 42 years since his political death in Nsawam Prison (4 February 1965) and 50 years from Gold Coast’s self-rule, and despite the many attempted indictments directed against his lifelong hard–won image and exhibitions devoted to his work since then, JB, the Provost of the Ghanaian nationalist politicians, and perhaps once political lath on the eyes of Ghana’s first Premier and Pan-African campaigner- Dr Kwame Nkrumah, has lost none of his appeal- multi-party democracy anchored on our rich tested indigenous values.

The collapse of communism and spontaneous disintegration of the Soviet Union and former Yugoslavia in the early 1990s and Ghana’s eventual reconciliation with the ballot-box, are perhaps, clear manifestations and vivid examples in our time. Born in December 1895 at Kwahu Bepong, the unrivalled self-willed young Kwame Kyeretwie, indeed from Ahenfie, never sought his academic and political pedigree through the back-door.

The rumours that he had to sit his final school leaving certificate exams for several consecutive times which he alas triumphed, demonstrates not only his stimulus but also an inspiration to the young self-doubting and undoubtedly the maturing tolerant futurist

Because JB left an estate moulded not with hands and hammer or pitched on decaying platform or eroding landscape, but one inscribed on hearts and minds of both the living and the unborn, valuing definitive products for JB’s exhibition is virtually impossible to destroy. They can appear either as reincarnated souls. Here, one is tempted to mention the United Gold Coast Convention, the United Party, Progress Party, Popular Front Party/United National Convention and yes, the ruling National Patriotic Party. The great Ghanaian statesman, scholar, lawyer, philosopher, author, patriot and the doyen, are all known accolades linked to this name that even his electoral defeat of. 1960 and later arrest and detention failed to usurp.

By his pilgrim to Paa George Grant- that idealistic, commercially astute or politically clear-sighted avant-garde and the self-involved visionary timber merchant of Sekunde, for financial assistance and advice for the formation of the UGCC, Nana Joseph Boakye Danquah- the Bretuo Nana Amaniampong nana [the courageous occupant of the “Silver Stool- who without him perhaps, there could have been no Golden Stool for Asanteman,] and the Akyemkwaa, who breast-feeds from Bremuu Abena and washes his unsoiled hands with precious diamonds, exhibited not only humility but also collective responsibility and respect. Indeed those who leisured and laboured with JB or even betrayed him might remember or admit in private what he really stood for- individual freedom and human dignity.

He once reminded Ghanaians: “the true role of leadership must be support of individual freedom and personal worth. Human beings, not things make a nation great. [Dr] Nkrumah forgot that and condemned our country to many years of political and economic agony”. Was the self-critic, publisher [“Times of West Africa newspaper”], respecter of tradition and investor in the youth and old, who as early as1931, served as secretary of a delegation to the British Colonial Office in 1934 and as Secretary General of the Gold Coast Youth Conference (1937-47) right?

His vigorous battle for constitutional reforms at the dawn of the1940s and devotion to the Legislative Council in 1946 could not have indeed, meant an end to Gold Coast’s exit point in the legislative tunnel or final constitutional measure for The Man J. B. He had swiftly pitched his own private law firm on return to the Gold Coast in 1927.

These, perhaps, offer some of us not only a complementary glimpse of his formative creativity but indeed future inventions. That is to say JB’s vision has become a cherished oasis on Ghana’s political desert where the ideological-thirsty and those seeking new inroads in national affairs, can hardly ignore. We may be wrong on this. But we can argue that there is fast no serious political party in Ghana today whose history can be pen without mythical hands of UGCC, not even the insoluble CPP.

Think of the Harry Sawyerrs, Idrissu Mahatmas, Obed Asamoahs, Kwaku Baahs, Munifies, Ako Adjeis, Obsetesbis, Akufos, Paa Willies, Afro Gbedes and indeed the “Showboy” himself. His Curriculum Vitae can hardly and honestly, be convincing without reference to the Doyen of Gold Coast politics. It has come as no wonder that JB’s distant dreams vis-à-vis Ghana’s economic and political future, has triumphed. Not only in transforming once Nkrumah’s shedding orchard to blossom vineyard but also greener pasture that is indeed reduced in the manner of sage or an adolescent to its true elementary socio-political structures.

Thus, the death of the Man JB Danquah- the socio-economic magician, political soothsayer and prophet with the handwriting on the hearts and minds of the unborn and the reincarnated, master colourist, virtuoso of Gold Coast legal settings, the time-honoured just creator of a profusion of glorious paradise safe-havens and progeny of the Kwaebibirem Stool, arguably, offers us a peep into the ancient boldness and explosiveness he reached after the first difficult stage of his incurable political illness- the Nkrumah “self-government now” factor that afflicted him after the 1948 riots. These ailments that are now valued above the hitherto twisted, involved symbolism and mystical or humorous subtlety of his works from the 1920s.

In an attempt to enter into the spirit of the buoyant Doctor, Ronald E. Wraith proffers a fresh and dynamic insight by mapping out the historical debate over the second chamber question as follows: “On 22nd March, 1950, a breezy debate took place on all this in the Legislative Council. It seems from the verbatim report (1 Legislative Council Debates, Session 1950, Issue No. 2, Vol. II, p. 349) that honourable members had a pretty clear idea from the beginning that the vote would go in favour of a Single House, but this did not prevent Dr. Danquah, the doyen of the pre-Nkrumah nationalists, from fighting an agile rearguard action in favour of a “Senate”.

By that date (THE “SECOND CHAMBER QUESTION IN GOLD COAST” 397) it had, it seemed to Wraith, that everything had been said that could possibly be said on both sides, and that it was a considerable parliamentary feat on JB’s part that he could be so spirited and provocative, and could even find (indeed) something new to say, even if it was not always strictly ad ran?

Thus, JB- whose treasured ideological dynasty is grounded on established order but restricted not only to himself and kindred but also to bidding lots at large, saw what Wraith presents us as the approaching end of civilization in the fact that the Coussey Commission was unwilling to regard a vote of 20-19 as the clear expression of the will of a Constituent Assembly that, in the words of Wraith, the Commission, incidentally, might have some claim to be called.

The reaction of the grandson of the feminist diplomat and strategist- Abrewa Dokua, who tracks her roots to Adanse Kokobiante, in Asante, here, JB- the facilitator of ancient consciousness, who our forbearers, save Nana Akoto, Dr. Busia, Dr. Adoo Kufuor and later ex-C.P.P. cadres such as Joe Appiah and Dr. De Graft-Johnson, hardly understood, was a fleet

He surveyed the history of the British Empire and discovered that Single Chamber legislatures were, as Wraith writes, is the classic device of imperialists to hold their colonies in subjection, as demonstrated by the fact that South Africa, New Zealand, and Ceylon, in the quoted words of JB, had abandoned them on gaining their freedom. At that time New Zealand and even so in little Jamaica, per Wraith, had not suffered its unfortunate lapse into imperial subjugation

Then standing with great agility on his head, JB, as Wraith graphically illustrates, surveyed the gloomy story of Malta, quoted an acknowledged imperialist, Sir Harold MacMichael, in support of his own view, and deplored the intransigents of the Maltese Labour Party in refusing to have any truck with a Second Chamber. “A group of persons, the author of Gold Coast: Akan Laws and Customs and the Akyem Abuakwa Constitution (1928) and the Akan Doctrine of God (1944 described them, “whose political philosophy was so near touching the political philosophy of dictatorship that they detested the idea of any privileged persons being formed into a Second Chamber to delay, revise or amend a law passed…. in a hurry” he said.

One tries, as Wraith puts it, to enter into the spirit of the buoyant Doctor, but it should be remarked that from a serious academic point of view the relationship between dependent political status and Single Chamber government is worth consideration. Thus, JB, per Wraith, proceeded to speak for an hour on the place of chieftainship in the Gold Coast which as expected at the time, his opponents later chided him for confusing the place of the Chiefs with the objective merits of a Second Chamber, but as the Secretary of State, in the words of Wraith, had apparently fallen into a similar error this was perhaps a little hard for the jurist.

Here, the serious point in the debate, according to Wraith, was whether a man can “combine the mystique of chieftainship and at the same time engage in the rough and tumble of politics, in which matter as Wraith submits, is (398 PARLIAMENTARY AFFAIRS) difficult to draw anything but a misleading analogy from Western experience. The then predetermined “extreme federal subjectivity” that JB’s ideological foe- Dr Nkrumah, seized upon in his 1951 crusade, which undoubtedly transfigured the political painter into an eccentric dreamy loner.

While Nana Danquah’s motion, to retain a Second Chamber, was lost by twenty-one votes to five- the five Chiefs present voting against it, it worth noting that the question of whether to have one or two Houses, according to Wraith, was the only one on which the Coussey Commission was so evenly divided- twenty votes to nineteen in favour of a bicameral legislature being sought by JB- that it felt unable to make any positive recommendation at all.

Thus, commenting on the Coussey proposal, it was recognised that there might be the consequent stagnation in the immediate affairs of more States than under a unicameral system which would be affected by the absence of their Chiefs; the effect on the number and rightly so, quality of members available for a first chamber, a point which, in Wraith’s own words, may be particularly applicable to the Northern Territories; and that the interaction of thought between elected members and “Elders” in a unicameral chamber, as agitated, would not only be beneficial but would also be in consonance with the accepted traditions of our country.

It must be conceded that JB, like most great men and women, had his trials and triumphs. Some argue that he consciously promoted Akan hegemony and traditionalism. A conservative to the so-called “Positive Action”- a term which our learned Nigerian legal brain-child-Francis Adigwe explains as constitutional and non-violent confrontation with colonial order. But included indeed, political agitation, strikes, boycotts, mass rallies and non-cooperation with the British- Brits, who even in this 21st century, we can comfortably avoid in everything?

Then is the misunderstanding of indigenous political concept, similar to the contemporary loya jirga of Afghanistan that per Professor John Strawson of University of East London consecrated Hamid Karzai as President in June 2002. But as Ali Wardak, an Islamic scholar explains to the world, this was a supreme expression of traditional system of power and dispute settlement for Afghans which also attempts to mobolise local legitimation for Western policies or constitutional doctrines such as parliamentary rule that we can scarcely ignore.

In this context, perhaps, JB might not only be remembered as an illustrious visionary scholar but also time-honoured. His call, as Western European experience shows, has come to pass. So JB is right: it is only when one is capable of putting off his/her inflaming thatched-house in order before s/he could be thinking of the settling dust of her distant neighbour’s brick-house.

First Published at Ghanaweb, on Wednesday, 07 March 2007


Written by

Gina is the Director of Health and Publisher, JusticeGhana Group.

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