Whenever Dr Joseph Boakye Danquah — the “doyen of Gold Coast politics” is mentioned in relation to Ghana’s history, his activities are usually limited to those in the party political field.
Yes, it is true that he and Pa Grant were the brains that first thought of forming a political movement called “the United Gold Coast Convention” [UGCC] in 1947. But before that Dr Danquah had been in the forefront of many struggles aimed at ensuring that the Ghanaian people, especially the cocoa farmers whose production of cocoa for export formed the backbone of the country’s economy, were adequately compensated for the cocoa they produced.
He used his newspaper, the “Gold Coast Times” to advocate greater DIRECT participation for the farmers in the processes leading to the PRICING of the cocoa produced in the Gold Coast.
He used to travel all over the country to listen to the farmers in order to be able to represent their VIEWS accurately to the colonial Government. In fact I saw him as a child come to Asiakwa, my home-town, to interact with the people.
I was impressed to find the women of the town, including my own mother, removing the top part of their cloths they wore (in the style known as mmienu ne kaba) and spreading the top cloth FOR HIM TO WALK UPON!
To them, he was too precious to be allowed to walk on the ground — shoes though he wore. It was a uniquely gracious tribute to the contribution he was making to make life better for them and their families.
For the fact was that without an income from cocoa, our people were completely indigent. The few imports they needed — kerosene, some food items and textiles — could only be bought if one earned s good income from the cocoa one helped one’s husband to grow and harvest.
And yet one never knew how much the “cocoa price” would be from season to season. Just before the cocoa was harvested, the Government in Accra would announce that the price would be (say twelve shillings per load of 60 pounds. They never told the people how much the cocoa was being sold for, in Britain, America and those European countries that used cocoa to manufacture chocolates and sell the chocolates at a high price where they were.
Of course, the price had to be accepted whether the Gold Coasters liked it or not, for they had no use for cocoa themselves! They couldn’t eat it, nor could they sell it to countries other than those in which the British directed our cocoa exports, who might have wanted to pay us a higher price. (Who would pay a better price than the British, anyhow? They would buy from the British who bought the cocoa from us. In fact the British cocoa dealers made a nice profit by way of “commission” when they bought cocoa from us and sold it to other countries.
American purchasers were particularly useful to the British, because in those days, there was no free market in currency sales. Britain led something called “The Sterling Area”, and if a Gold Coaster wanted to import something from, say the “Dollar Area” or the “franc zone”, he needed A PERMIT FROM THE COLONIAL AUTHORITIES in order to be able to import the goods!
But what annoyed Dr Danquah and the other Gold Coast intellectuals was that the cocoa trade was monopolised by British firms, who bought it from Gold Coast farmers and shipped it to importers in both Britain and other countries.
One company, the United Africa Company (UAC) was particularly well-placed to make huge profits from Gold Coast cocoa. For it also owned a big shipping company, Elder Dempster Lines. So Gold Coast cocoa producers were basically the unacknowledged “labourers” (I won’t say slaves because that’s too loaded a word!) of the UAC!
Dr Danquah and others wanted Gold Coasters to be allowed to set up companies in the Gold Coast to buy cocoa, and sell it direct to agents they would select by choice, in the UK and elsewhere,, to sell it for them. Guess what the colonialists said: only companies that had established trade relations with overseas companies and had a turnover of a particular sum (I think it was 10,000 pounds per year) would be allowed to do that. Of course, no Good Coaster-owned businesses could certify that they had such a turn over! And, of course, the idea died.
So angry did Gold Coast cocoa farmers become in those days at the cheating they experienced at the hands of the British colonial administration that from 1937 onwards, the farmers often threated to burn their cocoa rather than sell it to the foreign firms under the existing co0ncitions. They knew that they could get a better price on the world market, yet they weren’t allowed to get to it.
Actually I doubt whether they would have had a better deal if they had been allowed to sell direct to the world market. The British Government wielded quite a big clout in those days, you see, and the Americans and the Europeans would not have wished to ruffle its feathers too much.
Anyway, once they had formed the UGCC, the Gold Coast politicians used the unfair cocoa trade as one of the main complaints which, they said, had made them want to demand independence for the Gold Coast.
Clever as they were, the British colonialists created a “Cocoa Marketing Board” for the Gold Coast, which, they said, would handle all cocoa sales for the Gold Coast. The Board would be empowered to retain a fraction of the money earned from cocoa and invest it to obtain good “returns”, and also use part of the fund to shore up the price paid to cocoa farmers in the Gold Coast, when the price became too low in any year.
That is why we have the Ghana COCOBOD. It is an instrument through which governments of Ghana — from the late 1940s to this day — have been able to carry out the totalitarian practice of selling for the farmers, a product that the farmers grow and harvest by themselves.
Does the French Government sell French wine for French wine producers?
Does the American Government sell American maize and wheat for American farmers?
Does the Japanese Government sell motor vehicles for Japanese manufacturers?
Does the Australian Goverment sell Australian lambs for Australian farmers? And so on and so forth?
Every year the Ghanaian Cocobod borrows a large sum of money from overseas banks to buy cocoa from Ghanaian farmers. These loans attract interest.
Why should this be so? Who brokers these Cocobod loans and how much commission do they make from the loans? Would the dodoa famerserw agree to these comissions beng paid out of theirt toil?
I am sure that if Dr J B Dahquah had not died in miserable circumstances at Nsawam Prison on 4 February 1965, he would have prevailed upon one or two Governments (with whom he would have been generally amiable) to stop the practice of cheating the largely illiterate community of cocoa farmers.
Alas, Akuafo kanea no adum! (The lamp of the cocoa farmers has been extinguished!)
By Cameron Duodu