Freedom Now

Interview with Geoffrey Aduamah

Geoffrey Aduamah Q: During the Second World War, you fought alongside Indian soldiers. Did you have conversations about independence? What inspiration did you draw?

Aduamah: Well, the Indians were very, very political. They were very political. We had conversations with some of them. Some actually didn't like fighting on the side of the British. But one particular matter happened in Durban when we were going to East Africa. We stopped at Durban -- it is a big port in west South Africa and there was a big camp of all Commonwealth troops camped in there. They were taking them by ship to their destinations so we saw the Indian troops and also Indians resident in South Africa. Then we had conversation[s] with them, especially those Indians in South Africa. They said they thought we are coming to help them fight the whites. They said, "Why are [you] fighting for Britain?" We say we are fighting for white freedom. So they ask us, "Are you yourself free?" We say no. So they said, "Fight for your freedom first." As I said, this had a very big impression on Gold Coasters, me especially. It had a big impression on me. I am fighting against somebody I don't know and the person who is using me to fight is the person who is oppressing me. So it had a big influence on me. We should fight for our freedom first from Britain before we fight for any other freedom.

Q: And did you talk to the Indian soldiers about Gandhi and independence?

Aduamah: Yes, they said Gandhi is a great man. He doesn't want violence. He is a man who wants freedom for his people. He used to fast for so many days praying for independence for his country and they all support him. So Indians had a very big influence on us Gold Coasters. And when we came to East Africa we met the Indian Artillery. They had some soldiers there. We didn't meet the infantry as such, but there were Indian artillery there, very good artillery, and we were with them together. We went to patrols together and conversed about the situation in East Africa.

Q: So during the war, you were fighting side by side with white soldiers and all sorts of soldiers of different nationalities with total equality. Did you find that equality after the war?

Aduamah: No, there was no equality after the war. We were fighting, especially with the white South Africans, and there was no color bar. The South African soldiers didn't show any sign of color bar at all and they were always happy with us and we were happy with them. So when we found out that in South Africa there was no color equality there, we were a bit surprised. Even I remember some of them gave their home addresses that we should [visit]...their homes after the war. But when we realized that couldn't be, well, we abandoned the whole idea.

Q: When you returned to Ghana after the war, how were you treated by the British?

Aduamah: What the British did was very bad indeed. We arrive off our ships...and there is a small officer's camp. The officers just give you your discharge book, give you some money for your fare to your home town, and that is the end of it.

Q: No pension?

Aduamah: No. What is pension. This was never thought of, no pension, nothing, no gratuity, nothing. They just pay you your own money, you see -- what you have actually saved in your pay account. They paid that to you and that is the end of it.

Q: How did you all feel about that?

Aduamah: We feel very bad, very bad indeed, that the British have actually deceived us. Because during the war they were telling us how Hitler was so bad and when Hitler comes to rule the other country they were treated like animals.... He doesn't like the black man at all. So we should fight to see that Hitler doesn't rule the world. When we came back and we saw that they were not doing anything to help us to re-establish ourselves in life, we thought they have made us fools.... What hurt us more was that our chiefs who pushed us to support the British were backing the British for not doing anything for us. That was very painful for us.

Q: Why were the chiefs doing that?

Aduamah: I don't know. We sent our grievances to them and they said they would see the Governor, they would see the Colonial Secretary, and they would see that something was done. But that was the end of it. You don't hear anything about it again.

Q: So what did you do?

Aduamah: We came together from an organization called Gold Coast ex-servicemen's Union.... We intended to make some impression on the British Government. We were not thinking of violence..., we were thinking of marching to the Castle, get[ing] the Governor to come out and review our ranks, and then give us a talk. [And,] if possible, give us one or two cows and some money for drinks and other things, and promise that he is going to see that the government of Britain give us something very substantial. That is what we were thinking all the time.

Q: Now events turned out very differently. Describe that day to me when you marched to the castle to present the petition. Where were you?

Aduamah: We were three columns.... and I was in the second batch.... In front of me, 200 yards, the firing started, so we all took cover on the ground. They caught us and we were told that three of our people have died instantly at the front, so we crawled and went and picked them up. They were dead and there were others who were wounded. We crawled and then took them back and sent them to the hospital. Then the whole ex-servicemen turned round to Accra and there was noise making, rioting, looting. Actually, it was not started by the ex-servicemen, it was started by the fourth column..., who were people following the ex-servicemen. They reached the town quicker than we, the ex-servicemen -- reached the town and they burned stalls. They burned so many houses, European cars. It was just a war between the white man and the black man. And so many people died on the 28th of February, so many.... But actually, the Ghanaian Gold Coast people who died that day did not [die] from the gun of the police, [the gunshots] came from themselves. You see, people loot from the shops and when they come out, other people are also ready and they would loot the properties from those people, and then there will be a fight.... That is how the number of people died. Plenty of people died that day in Accra.

Q: How many people died on that day?

Aduamah: About 4 or 5 days of death and injuries.... From the 28th of February to the 29th of March 1988, when the whole thing died down, 29 died and 237 were injured. That is in the whole country ...

Q: That is a lot.

Aduamah: Well it was terrible.... The British brought soldiers from Nigeria and these people came and started killing people in Ghana at random. They were told that Gold Coast people are killing Nigerians. That is what [the Nigerians] were told when they were coming, so when they came they started killing everybody. But there was a hue and cry from our chiefs and people, and they were flown back to Nigeria immediately.

Q: Were those riots really the beginning of a big political change here?

Aduamah: You see when the riots started, the British Governor and his cabinet became perplexed and they didn't know what to do. It was something new and the soldiers and policemen were not prepared to shoot at their brothers, so complete law and order broke down. The Europeans were hiding themselves instead of enforcing law. Some of them went outside Accra to some places where they [could] be safe with their children.... So the politicians took advantage of that and Nkrumah sent a telegram to the Secretary of State for the Colonies saying that everything has broken down....

Q: Who opened fire on February 28th?

Aduamah: Imry -- Superintendent Imry. He opened fire first. He ordered the African policemen to shoot and they refused to shoot. They disobeyed the order, then he himself grabbed one rifle from one of the policemen and shot.

Q: Why did he open fire?

Aduamah: Nobody understands him. The ex-servicemen were not armed, we were singing as we usually do when we are going to march through the town. All they knew was they were going to see the Governor to give them something, and suddenly the shooting started, nobody understood it.

Q: Tell me about the campaign of Positive Action and about it being inspired by Gandhi.

Aduamah: Well you see, before the war, the relationship between India and the Gold Coast was on a governmental level, colony and colony. Now the relationship between the civil population in India and Ghana and Gold Coast was trade. The Italians came as traders and they were trading with their shops and stores. So that is how we know them. But politically we don't know anything about India or its politics but we know about Gandhi. We hear about Gandhi as a political leader.

Q: What was the campaign for Positive Action? What did it mean?

Aduamah: Nkrumah said it was not meant for violence, but we who were with him knew that he meant violence. He meant that we should fight for our freedom and I remember one of them said, "The tree of freedom is watered by the blood of martyrs." This they tried to impress upon the people of the Gold Coast, that you can't get your freedom on a silver platter, you have to fight for it. So actually, positive action meant nothing but a resort to violence.

Q: Freedom from what?

Aduamah: Colonial rule. They said if we are not a colony, the British policeman will not take a rifle and shoot at our people. That can never happen in Britain and it can't happen also in Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Those are the beginnings of the Commonwealth.

Q: Tell me what colonial rule was like for somebody like yourself from a very poor background. What was it like living under the British?

Aduamah: Well we didn't really know anything except colonial rule so it makes no difference. You try to get your School Certificate and then work as a government official for any work that you may get. But the most important thing is that you should get your educational qualifications and improve yourself. As for colonial rule, some of our people were better off. Some were having European posts, some were having money in situations that improved themselves and their children and family, so we didn't see much hardship by the colonial government. If you are doing well, the colonial government lifts you up. If you are very good, they send you on scholarship to Britain. You come back and hold a European post and you are all right.

Q: So why did you want freedom?

Aduamah: Well it is the shooting. People went and fought for them. Instead of them thanking them for what they have done, this is what they did to thank them. Britain itself has just come out from the war. London and other places were devastated.... So many of their people wanted to go home. They were tired of the war, and everybody went home and tried to get some work but there was confusion all over the world. Some people thought that Germany must be harshly treated. Some people said, "No, the Treaty of Versailles did the same thing -- wrongly suppressed the German people until Hitler came and took them from that slavery. So we should treat them nicely so that they take away the demand for war."

Q: Why did you join the CPP?

Aduamah: Well, I joined the CPP because that was the only dynamic organization at the time. You see, those who brought Kwame Nkrumah from Britain, they were all lawyers, doctors, and high placed people. They don't feel for the ordinary man like me.... When we meet, we speak different languages. One of them even called us "verandah boys." They didn't respect us at all. So Nkrumah said, "I am also a verandah boy. I will sleep with you on the verandah." And surely when we go to conferences, he sleeps amongst us all. We put our mats together and sleep on the floor. So we realized that this man can do better for us. Again, Nkrumah wanted self-government now. Self-government in the shortest possible time. But we don't understand that, it is too high for our English. We understand "now." Again Nkrumah is accessible to everybody. You can go to his house and if he is asleep, just go into the bedroom and wake him up; just pull his leg and wake him up.... But if you want to see one of the leaders who is a lawyer, when you go there and he is having his afternoon nap, you have to wait. You have to wait outside for about one hour and when he wakes up he will tell you, "Come and see me at 12 o'clock [the] next day." He wouldn't even try to listen to you.... So we realized that CPP is the Common People's Party, and we all joined happily.

Q: What kind of man was Nkrumah? What kind of personality?

Aduamah: Nkrumah is very charismatic. He draws people easily to himself.... He is a very good orator. He is a man who respects everybody and also he is accessible to everybody. He speaks the language which everybody understands, and when you have something difficult to discuss with him, he discusses it with you freely....

Q: You were imprisoned at the same time as Nkrumah. Tell me why you were imprisoned.

Aduamah: We, the ex-servicemen, remember there was a time when Nkrumah was sent to court for contempt of court and we said, "No we don't agree to that." So we surrounded the court house and there was a pitched battle between the ex-servicemen and the police. The police withdrew and then Nkrumah was fined and we, the ex-servicemen, collected that money and paid the fine at the court and carried him shoulder high.... So, the police chief, Mr. Collis, had a grudge against the ex-servicemen because we were very lucky. Most of the policemen are ex-servicemen and they knew us and we knew them and the experience of the 28th of February has taught them that we are their brothers. What is happening to us can happen to them. They are very lucky to have got work in the police force. We haven't got work to do. So this is the difference between us and the police chief and at this stage we were arrested.

Q: Tell me a bit about when you were in prison. I think you formed yourself into prison graduates and you had a cap to show for it.

Aduamah: Yes when we were imprisoned, the CPP formed something called prison graduates. When you came out of prison they gave you some cap to show that you have graduated from this prison. I have mine here and I can show you mine. You see. This was given to me by Mr. Gbedema.

Q: Did you wear it with pride?

Aduamah: Oh yes. When there is a big rally or outing by the CPP, everybody with this cap sits on the platform and they are highly respected by the whole population. We were so proud that we are prison graduates. Nkrumah was also a prison graduate.

Q: Did it give you a special status?

Aduamah: Yes, it gave us status and we were very happy indeed.

Q: Tell me about the day of Nkrumah's release. What was the scene like?

Aduamah: There was an election and the CPP nominated Nkrumah for Accra constituents. Some of us were very unsure whether a prisoner can stand for election, but then some people said it could be done and some of the lawyers who were with us went through the law books said you can start. Nothing disqualifies him. His crime is political, it is not criminal. So...the whole Accra voted for him. When he was elected, the British Government sent a message to the Colonial Government to release Kwame Nkrumah and try to work with him to see whether it can be amenable. That is how Kwame Nkrumah was released. At about 12 o'clock day time there was a big noise in the town because Kwame Nkrumah has been released. The CPP propaganda vans went round the town [announcing,] "Nkrumah has been released from James Fort Prison. All rush to James Fort Prison." And we all left our works and went there.... It was a very grand occasion. Nkrumah was put in a car, the engine was switched off, then the gear was free and we pushed the car from James Fort Prison right to Post Office Square to a place called Arena.... From there we pushed it again to the CPP headquarters.

The standing policemen did nothing. At that time you can do things like that without permit. They allowed this case to go on and some of them even took part in it.... Then the Governor called him to the castle and asked him to form the Government. So that is how the victory of the CPP started.

Q: What sort of reforms, what sort of things was Nkrumah promising the people?

Aduamah: Well, he promised them self-government so that they can manage, or mismanage their own affairs..., that it has got nothing to do with Britain. But we want the freedom to do that -- that is what he told us. We were happy that at least the person who is leading us and with whom we have gone to prison because of his beliefs is now being recognized as somebody who can run this country and run the government.

Q: After independence, did he manage or did he mismanage the affairs?

Aduamah: He managed some part of it. He mismanaged some part of it. But his good management was more than his mismanagement. Since Nkrumah was removed, no government after him has done one thousandth of what Nkrumah did for the country. All his things are visible to everybody.

Q: What things?

Aduamah: Ghana Airways, roads, schools, colleges, universities, harbors, everything, buildings. You see, these houses were all built by Nkrumah for the poor, and so you see some poor people now with house to live in at a very low cost. Education... -- People like me couldn't have been a lawyer. It was impossible but Nkrumah has made it possible for me and people like me to be educated in Britain and [become] lawyers.

Q: But during colonial times you said there was a possibility for people to be educated abroad as well.

Aduamah: But how many? Two, three, four.... Nkrumah sent in hundreds and thousands.

Q: So in colonial times, somebody like you didn't have an opportunity to be educated?

Aduamah: I had opportunity to be educated but then you see I couldn't get money to carry on. My family is poor and I had to stop. That is why I went into the army.

Q: So a school like Hatchimota is not for you? Aduamah: It is out of my reach. I am not qualified to be at Hatchimota. Hatchimota is for rich people where they send their children and the high civil servants and all their children, but not a farmer's son like me. It is impossible.

Q: So colonial times for someone like you was good or bad?

Aduamah: Bad for me.... When Nkrumah came he opened the doors for everybody. Schools, secondary schools, were built and teachers were trained. Some of them were sent to Canada, Britain, and other places to study teaching. They came back and were teachers.

Q: So these are the good things. But little by little there were economic problems, there were political problems. What happened?

Aduamah: Yes.... Nkrumah was detaining people without trial.... Preventative detention acts, you see. His supporters, the CPP high-ups, used this to suppress political opponents and most of them ran away from this country. That was the first thing that Nkrumah did which made him very unpopular. There are other things..., like work. He put inefficient people at sensitive positions in the Government, and they just did what they want with the money.

Q: So was there jubilation when Nkrumah left?

Aduamah: Yes, there was the biggest demonstration I have ever seen in Ghana -- everybody was happy. I was at...prison that day when those people were released to go home, and all people of my age cannot walk. Their families were holding them [and carrying them out of the prison]. They were all prisoners of Nkrumah. So everybody was happy, everybody was happy. Those people who were not happy were all the people who were close to Nkrumah -- the ministers and all who were arrested and also thrown into the same jail.

Q: It is strange that in so few years the mass of people were jubilant that Nkrumah was there at independence and then a few years later they were jubilant that he went.

Aduamah: That is what I am saying. It was his own doing but now people have got something to compare him with. The military governments that had come to Ghana since 1966, not one of them has proved that they can do what Nkrumah did. So people say "We could have retained Nkrumah instead of dumping him like that," because these people have taken over the governments and they are doing nothing to improve the lot of the people.

Q: What about the one party state and the pioneers?

Aduamah: Well this was an introduction from Russia -- this Young Pioneer movement originated from the Russian[s].... Our boys were sent to Russia to go and learn about this Young Pioneer movement and they came back and they carried it out. It was not a very good organization. It should have been like Boy Scouts or an organization like that but this one had too much political doctrine.... They have nothing more than that and that is how it was a one party state instead of a fair way. When there is only one party in the country, you cannot belong to any other party, except that one party. In fact, it was a special rule of Kwame Nkrumah.

Q: It doesn't sound very democratic.

Aduamah: It is not democratic at all. All the candidates in the regions should be approved by Kwame Nkrumah.... They should have had this election all over the country and every region has got its number of seats. It was just a farce -- it doesn't work.

Q: That must have been a disappointment for people after all that big fight to get Independence.

Aduamah: Yes and for people who led the country because with a one party state, Nkrumah can get preventive detention to detain you and you would have to lie in prison and rot for six years, seven years, eight years, and they forget about you there. So the best thing for you to do is leave the country. What the one party system did was to make all the people run away from the country.... Even die-hard CPP's had to flee the country. Gbedema left the country, Butu left the country, and Nkrumah was chasing after them even when they were outside the country. It reached a state, as one man said, where you have built a Frankenstein monster [and] the Frankenstein monster has turned round against you. That is what happened with the one party state. The most annoying part was that a British lawyer, called Geoffrey Blink, was the legal adviser to Nkrumah.... So people were thinking that Britain was also behind this. Having lost Ghana, having lost Nigeria, having lost all these colonies because Ghana was the first to start agitating for independence, they wanted to get Ghana also to suffer for it. We the ex-servicemen think the same thing.

Since 1948, when this thing happened, we were thinking that one day Britain will say, "Oh my children, it was wrong for me to kill you.... Come, this is an amount of money I have put it for the welfare for the ex-servicemen who fought for Britain." But up till now, nothing has been done, nothing. This is something which we who are alive now do not understand.

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