Read Time: 5 minutes
Danquah did NOT name Ghana
By Dr. Nii Moi Thompson
An absorbing account of the genesis and intellectual high jinks of the Academy! I learnt a lot. But I also couldn’t help but notice a blatant and much-recycled falsehood that I believe should never be associated with such a reputable group of academics and other brilliant minds. And that has to do with Danquah’s role in the naming of our country Ghana.
I’ll get to that in a sec, but first a brief digression:
The article makes occasional references to “Danquah-Busia tradition,” but as some observers have argued in recent times, its users should drop the pretence and just call it “the Danquah tradition”, for there’s nothing Busia about it.
In fact, Busia’s daughter has gone so far as to remind us that it was her father who rescued the opposition after Danquah’s disastrous performance in ’51 as opposition leader, and went on to become a head of state/prime minister, something Danquah never was. She argues rather forcefully, therefore, that it is Busia, not Danquah, who should be compared to Nkrumah – two heads of state.
But that’s a normative argument that I leave to the Academy to address one day. For now, I’ll busy myself with a more objective one: Challenging the enduring and well-honed myth that J.B. Danquah gave us the name Ghana.
He did NOT!
That credit partly belongs to Rev. J.B. Anaman, who linked the Gold Coast to ancient Ghana in his Gold Coast Guide in1895, the year Danquah was born – unless, of course, Danquah started his “research” as an “embryo”, to borrow your words.
Anaman gets part credit as the first African to establish that link in his book, building on the earlier speculations of an English anthropologist (who probably built on earlier speculations of others and further down, such being the nature of creating knowledge in the social sciences. There’s nothing new under the sun!)
By the 1920s, young and curious scholars like Kwegyir Aggrey were using “Ghana” for the Gold Coast. Danquah’s only contribution was to be inspired enough by Anaman to write a book of his own, Akyem Abuakwa Handbook, in 1928, based on which he made the ridiculous proposition that the Gold Coast should be named Akanland.
He was promptly ridiculed for obvious reasons, forcing him to seek refuge in an equally ridiculous alternative, Akan-Ga, which, too, he was compelledd to abandon for the same reasons of irredeemable absurdity.
Fast forward to the 1948 riots: Nkrumah sent a brief protest note to the British over the riots but Danquah, being the legal scholar he was, preferred a much longer petition. In it, he reiterated the UGCC’s demand for independence and suggested, without consulting party leadership, Ghanaland as the new name for an independent Gold Coast.
Nkrumah preferred the shorter original name, Ghana, a point of disagreement which persisted until actual independence in 1957 and Nkrumah – not Danquah – as the prime minister-elect had the freedom to choose Ghana as the new name for the Gold Coast.
By then Danquah was a politically spent force (though still a legal titan), the UGCC having collapsed under its disastrous performance in the 1951 legislative election (in which Danquah and Ofori-Atta barely won their Abuakwa seats). They subsequently lost their seats in the ’54 and ’56 elections to the CPP by huge magins and gradually faded into the shadows of Gold Coast/Ghana politics.
Danquah came out of his semi-politcal retirement in 1960 to contest Nkrumah in the presidential elections and was handed yet another humiliating defeat. A good lawyer he was, but a politician? He seemed always out of his depths!
This is NOT at all to diminish Danquah’s role in our history, but to put it in its proper perspective, stripped of all the falsifications, the exaggerations, the fluff, and of course the jive talking from his defenders and descendants.
I think he would be better served, respected, and admired more broadly, if a modicum of truth is infused into the mythology that his admirers are fond of spinning at will.
For example, besides his legal role in the formation of the UGCC, he contributed greatly to the formation of a unitary Ghana through his secret diplomacy to convince the Asantehene to join the Gold Coast Legislative Council rather than maintaining a separate legislative council for Asanteman.
His blistering anti-colonialism letters to the Queen are a matter of public record. The Watson Commission that investigated the ’48 riots even referred to him as the “doyen of Gold Coast politicians” and a “man of great intelligence”, even if the Commission diluted that fulsome praise with the caveat that he also suffered from a “disease” of “expediency”, a possible allusion to Danquah’s attempt during the Commission’s hearings to distance himself from the riots and hang it all around Nkrumah’s neck.
But such are the unpleasant facts of life: none among us is perfect – Not Danquah, not Nkrumah, not anyone.
Despite their political differences, Nkrumah acknowledged and recognised Danquah’s legal brilliance, once appointing him to a judicial Committee of some kind – against fierce opposition from party foot soldiers; yes, we had them even back then!
That he would invite Danquah to be a founding member of the academy is testament to this admiration for the man and his intellectual acumen.
It is a great tragedy of our contemporary history that Danquah would die under the circumstances in which he did, no matter the accusations. (My uncle, the journalist, Henry Thompson, who was detained under the PDA for planting a spy at Nkrumah’s office to report on plans to take Ga lands, shared a cell with Danquah. He was later sent by Busia as press attache to our High Commission in the UK, where he remained and died as an exile after Busia’s overthrow).
I must also mention, in passing, an oft-neglected (hidden?) fact in discussions of political overreach in Ghana: The PCD (Protective Custody Decree enacted by the NLC after the overthrow of Nkrumah and under which more people, including pregnant women, were jailed without trial in a matter of weeks than was the case in the entire 8-year run of the PDA. Remember that: The PCD.
To wrap it all up, I think a more objective truthful telling of Danquah’s story may win him greater admiration than the contrived and recycled acts of brilliance and heroism that have no basis in fact or history.
In short, Danquah did not name Ghana.
PS: I still think that Paa Grant (founder and funder of the UGCC) and Nii Kwabena Bonne III (the brain behind the riots that accelerated our march to independence) should be removed from the footnotes of our history and given prominent places in the history books proper. They too deserve major streets and places named after them and monuments of testament to their contributions and selflessness.
Paa Grant in particular remains the missing 7th Man in the Big Six – without him, the UGCC might not have existed at all and our history might have followed an entirely different path.
Kwabena Bonne, besides being Osu Alata Mantsɛ, was also the Oyokohene of Techiman (then part of Asante) and of course a nationalist. He didn’t just straddle two worlds but he travelled the length and breadth of the two to mobilise support for that momentous event.
They deserve better!