The Triggers Of A Dying Regime

Photo Reporting: Images of The Spanish Civil War

A Comparative Study of the Causes of the Spanish Civil War and Ghana’s overbearing Central Government and Parliament and a consideration of The Triggers of a Dying Republic

Asante Fordjour


Spain; in the words of Stephen Tonge, was once the World’s most powerful country. But by the 20th century it was a poor and backward country where corruption was rife- it lost nearly all of its overseas possessions (e.g. Cuba and the Philippines) and great extremes of wealth and poverty caused severe social tensions. “Industry was confined mainly to Barcelona and the Basque country. Spaniards were divided on the type of government that they wanted. Monarchists were conservative and Catholics and did not want to reform Spain. Those who wanted a republic were anti-clerical and hoped to reform Spanish society. There were a number of areas where it was felt reform were needed: Agriculture; The Church; The Army; Regionalism and Primo de Rivera.” For decades, most ideologies; born either through future uncertainties of the working class, sectional grievances or student cries in the Republic of Ghana, appear confused over what exactly the Ghanaian aspires to achieve. As we write medical staff, teachers or regional chiefs, had or are to, complain about unfair distribution of Ghana’s wealth. What, then, must be done with the Republic?


Long before the 1948 riots had the British Colonial Regime errorneously, thought that it had triumphantly, stamped and indeed, indefinitely, suppressed the will and the grievances of the colonial peoples under its hot iron-feet. Then arose an unsuspected personality among the Gold Coast’s chieftains, whom the British themselves had long groomed and arguably, knightly tamed under their indirect policy of governance which the peasants, had little voice. His name is Nii Kobina Bonne, of Osu Alata clan or, should we matrilineal speaking, call him Nana Kwabena Nketia IV; of the Oyoko Abusua of Takyiman, of the defacto Western Asante, which now forms part of the Bono-and-the-Ahafo Region(s). Historically; it could be argued that the history of Gold Coast and for this matter Ghana’s triumphal road to self-rule, could not have been fairly written without this Ga-Akan chief.


At the dawn of Ghana’s independence Dr Kwame Nkrumah, proposed a unitary state built around a powerful central government. By early 1961 the Dr Nkrumah-led central government- Convention People’s Party in Accra- has became generally, restless over corruption over the apparent and obvious high lifestyle of some ministers and party officials. So at the Dawn Radio broadcast in April 1961, he indicated his determination to clean up the government and the CPP. This drive, in the words of Geoffrey Bing- the UK Labour MP and later, Nkrumah’s Attorney-General, was led by CPP’s General-Secretary- Tawia Adamafio who, together with Dr Ebenezer Ako Adjei, had originally supported the opposition but had joined CPP before Independence. Adamafio’s leadership at the CPP experienced prolonged industrial action which came from nowhere than the railway workers from the Western Ghana- comprising then of the contemporary Western and Central Regions.

Bing observed: “His, no doubt, was much of the drafting and the inspiration for the dawn broadcast. Instead of making an appeal to public opinion Adamafio relied on counter-conspiracy. He revived the Ga Shifimo Kpee all but in name, to gain personal mob support in Accra on the basis of his tribal origins. He discussed privately with civil servants, who like me were disturbed by corruption, as to what he should do but like the opposition groups from which he had come, he distrusted and despised the people.”  In the words of Bing, in the broadcasts which Adamafio delivered on behalf of Dr Nkrumah, who was then out of Ghana during the 1961 disturbances, he called the strikers who had put the CPP into power when he had been in opposition ‘rats’. It appears Adamafio forgot the power-base of the CPP. Like most pre-independence movements: the National Liberation Movement (NLM), Northern People’s Party (NPP) and the Trans-Volta Togoland (TVT), we mention in passing that Ga Shifimo Kpee, as the NRC Report puts it, was born in 1954 as a reaction to socio-economic developments occasioned by the status of Accra as the capital of the Gold Coast.

The NRC has this historical observation to make: “As a result of the effect of rapid urbanization and the need to provide social services in the national capital of Accra, large tracts of Ga land were acquired by the government for public purposes. The people rendered homeless by the 1939 earthquake in Accra had still not been properly resettled. In addition, there was an influx of people from other parts of the country into Accra… This created a measure of landlessness among the Ga people. They also felt that in consequence of too many “foreigners” in Accra, they were being swamped as their cultural influence was being diminished as a people… With the slogans “Ga mei shikpon, Ga mei anoni” (Ga lands are for Ga people) and “Gboi mli ngbe wo” (Foreigners are killing us) they sought to draw attention to their plight.” How do we reconcile this historical fact to Spain?

Spain is said to be a country divided by rivers and mountain ranges with distinct languages and traditions in many areas. In the past both the Basques and the Catalans wanted to control their own affairs. According to Stephen Tonge, Republicans sympathised with their demands especially that of the Catalans while conservatives opposed them on the grounds that it would weaken Spain. Like the Republic of Ghana, Spain was essentially an agricultural country. In the south was what Tonge describes as vast private estates or latifundia worked by landless labourers. “Post-war economic depression led to strikes and unrest and this allied to military defeats in Morocco, led to the emergence of a right-wing military dictatorship under Primo de Rivera in 1923.” At first the reform minded Primo de Rivera- brought the socialist leader into his government but the growing unpopularity of the regime forced him to resign in 1930 after he lost the army’s support. In the Municipal elections held the following year, majority favoured a republic. So King Alfonso XIII abdicated his throne and the following year, Alcala Zamora declared as provisional prime minister…

At the heels of nationalist movement and particularly in the 1950s; there were strong feelings amongst the Gold Coasters what a united Gold Coast and for this matter Ghana, totalling some five (5) million population, of which majority of them were academically less westernized or illiterates, could achieve under a republican rule. In Spain the Republican government brought in a series of anti-clerical measures. For example, the Jesuits were dissolved and Church and State, separated. Civil marriage was instituted and divorce was allowed. It granted Catalan autonomy. The government failed however, to introduce any serious measure of land reform and this weakened its support in the countryside. In Ghana today, land sales, distributions or reforms, remain a worry not only to the Ga-Adange but also a fault line to many traditional rulers, families and governments.

The Countdown to Spanish Civil War

In 1936 an election was called. A Popular Front of Communists, Socialists, Republicans and Separatists was formed to oppose the government. The right wing formed the National Front. For the Popular Front the right’s victory would lead straight to fascism; for the National Front, a popular Front victory would lead to “Bolshevik Revolution”. The Popular Front narrowly won the election. Manuel Azana was appointed president and Casares Quiroga became Prime Minister. The new government proceeded to reintroduce the reforms of the 1931-1933 government. Disorder and political violence spread throughout the country. Peasants seized land and there were many strikes. The generals at heart of the Spanish monarchist and resentful about the new republic, exploited the situation and seriously plotted to overthrow the new government.

The writes that the period from 1933 to 1935, became known as the “two black years” by those on the left. In 1934 a general strike was called in opposition to the government and an anarchist miners’ revolt was crushed in Asturias by General Franco. Mass arrests followed and left wing newspapers were closed and the Catalan Autonomy Statute was suspended. “Spanish politics had become polarised and the measures against the church alienated the right wing of Spanish society who saw the Catholic Church at the heart of Spanish civilisation. Zamora resigned in protest at the anti-clerical measures. The new prime minister- Manuel Azana, was anti-clerical liberal.”

This led to the foundation of the right-wing and Catholic CEDA party, led by Gil Robles and a fascist party- Falange, led by the son of Primo de Rivera. In 1936 the military hoped to capture Spain in a week but failed. About half of the army remained loyal to the government (1933-36) and the revolt failed in Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona and the Basque country. Workers and peasants militias were formed to defend the regime. Both sides sought foreign aid. Fatally for the Republic, the French and the British adopted a non-Intervention policy. The Germans and the Italians helped the Nationalists while the USSR sent aid to the republicans. The Nationalist setback was their failure to capture Madrid. Bloody battles followed over the next months and called off their offensive in November.

In February 1937 the Nationalists began offensives at Jarama and Guadalajara that were aimed at capturing Madrid. Both were stopped with heavy causalities. In March the Nationalists attacked the Basque country and in April the Basque city of Guernica was bombed by the German Condor Legion. Basque morale collapsed and the capital, Bilbao fell in June. The industry of the Basque country was now in Nationalist hands. Also in April Franco merged the Carlists, the Falange and other groups into a single party known as the National Movement. In October General Franco, was appointed head of the Nationalist government of Spain. As historyhome/europe puts it, one of the features of the Nationalists from then on was their unity which contrasted with the divisions on the Republican side.

In May, the divisions on the Republican side manifested in Barcelona as Socialists and Communists fought street battles with the Anarchists and Trotskyites. The consequence- Negrin replaced Caballero as Prime Minister and in October, the Government moved to Barcelona. From then on the Communists backed by Soviet help played an increasing role in all Republican areas. Inspired speeches from Dolores Ibárruri (La Pasionaria)- the Republican chief propagandist, raised morale. The Nationalists captured the key town of Teruel and in April 1938, they reached the Mediterranean. They now split Republican-held Spain in two and isolated Catalonia. In July, General Modesto launched a Republican offensive at the Ebro River with initial triumphs that the Nationalists repulsed in November and eventually ended in defeat. In December, the Nationalists began their advance into Catalonia. After 30 months of resistance, the Republic collapsed during the first-quarter of 1939.

In January, the Nationalists occupied Barcelona and in March they captured Madrid which marked the end of the war. On 01 April 1939, Franco declared the end of the war which claimed about a half a million lives with hundreds of thousands dying in atrocities committed by both sides. According to historyhome/Europe, the Nationalists killed most of the people (over 1500) because they were ruthless in establishing control in the areas such as Badajoz that they captured in August 1936. “In all the Nationalists executed about 200,000 people. Republican violence was more spontaneous usually not official policy and directed against landowners, businessmen, the police and especially the church. Their victims numbered about 20,000 although the Communists shot many of their ideological enemies, e.g. Anarchists, in Barcelona and Madrid. Half a million republican refugees fled to France while about 200,000 republican prisoners were executed or died in prison after the war.”

Ghana: A Dying Republic?

The US intelligence community had predicted that the future of a peaceful stable Nigeria hinges on its ability to acknowledge the dangers of the over- centralized powers of a federation which in 1960; the British colonial administration imposed on some 54 ancient states with separate identities. Whereas the Gold Coast experiment appears, different, it must be said that the arguments for a centralised unitary government in the 1950s, no longer exist. The main arguments against the devolution of Ghanaian Parliament had been uneven natural and human resources and duplication of task that is already being done in Accra for some four million people. Devolution became a major issue in the 1997 UK election and remains so within British politics. John Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, said he wanted to devolve a lot more power to geographical areas within England.

The Spanish civil war was born out of disputes over national direction which propaganda played a key role. The Nationalists argued that they represented the cause of Christianity, order and Western civilisation against Communism. The Republicans argued that they were the legally elected government of Spain which was under attack from anti-democratic generals and the fascist dictatorships. Britain and France remained neutral and pursued a non-intervention policy. The United States, also adopted the same approach due to the said powerful Catholic lobby in the US. This prevented the Republic from purchasing arms openly and hampered its ability to resist the Nationalist threat. To many in Europe the Republicans stood for freedom, democracy and enlightenment against fascism and cite Nationalist’s massacres/bombing of Guernica in support.

Although history is written by victors, most writers and journalists that went to Spain supported the losers- the Republicans. This was influenced by the Nationalists’ support from Hitler, Mussolini and the almost unanimous support given to the Republicans by European intellectuals: writers, artists, poets- who went to Spain or observed events there. “Franco while lacking vision and dynamism was an excellent field commander whose cautious and gradual tactics greatly helped to secure Nationalist victory…Franco had the support of most powerful groups in Spain… An embargo on arms stopped international aid from Republican sympathisers… Franco skilfully held together the various Nationalist groups. Republicans were bitterly divided between communists, socialists and anarchists.” In March 2012, the Spanish statistics agency put the number of unemployed people at 5,639,500- hitting a record rate of 24.4%.


What then, could hold Ghana’s Republic together- political ideology, leadership or the national flag? We have attempted to discuss The Triggers of A Dying Republic and our answer to A New Political Geography for Ghana, lies with Norton on the UK’s Devolution argument (“The Constitution in Question”) (Politics Review April 1994): “By being closer to the people and being seen to be closer….the assemblies would engage the attention and loyalties of citizens; they would be “their” assemblies…. the politics of Westminster would not be seen in devolved parliaments/assemblies as the different parties there would be happier to work towards the common goal of advancing the well-being of their region so that traditional party clashes as seen at Westminster would be kept to the minimum.”

Asante Fordjour is the Director of Legal & Media Research, JusticeGhana Group, UK.



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