Click to read all about coronavirus →
Exactly 52 years ago, on Wednesday the 9th of May 1956, the people of the Trans Volta Togoland (TVT) went to the polls to decide their future with the union with the then Gold Coast. There were only two items on the ballot paper – did the people of the TVT want to continue with the union with the Gold Coast or be separated from it and remain under British mandate pending a decision on its future by the UN.
Historical background TVT was part of a larger German colony on the west coast of Africa that was taken over by the British, who controlled the Gold Coast nearby, and the French who had Dahomey (now Benin) on the other side during the First World War. The area was partitioned between the two occupying powers in 1916 with the British taking 33,775 sq km of area stretching from Ho to almost near the border with the Upper. This land became known as British Togoland with the larger French occupied area (now Togo) known as French Togoland. On July 20, 1922, the League of Nations formally transferred control of British Togoland to the United Kingdom. The coastal parts of the present Volta Region, which were more homogeneously Ewe (mainly Anlo speaking) than the northern parts, had long been transferred to the British from the Danes after the Berlin Conference of 1844 and had never been under German administration. German influence was, however, strong in those areas mainly because of German missionary activity but also through long standing trading links with their Ewe speaking brethren in the nearby German colony. Even if there were interactions among the people dating to pre-colonial days, the move must have troubled the people of the area who suddenly saw themselves answering to a different colonial master speaking another language. The Germans had established themselves and missionary activity there had ensured some form of schooling and literacy. The Germans wrote down the Ewe language which they used as the medium of instruction in their schools and churches and taught it to the non-Ewe speaking minorities. But the move also brought opportunities. The people could go into the Gold Coast section for jobs where they saw that the British treated the natives differently. Here black people went to school and could be called Mr – something that was not common under the Germans. My grandfather told me a few things about the German times. What he admired as German hard work and discipline, as opposed to British sloth, I was to grow and read in school as forced labour of the worst kind supervised with Teutonic brutality. Perhaps my grandfather wasn’t old enough to have been forced to work on building roads that basically served German interests or whipped on their plantations. What the Germans did to you when they caught you dodging their taxes (for which the people didn’t even get any benefits) was unspeakable. Maybe it was just a few ‘feniki’ as they called the German pfennig. Corporal punishment was common. “Twenty-five and one for the Kaiser” became well known and dreaded. The Germans didn’t care to develop the colony. It is said that in the section that is now Togo, they built only four schools but 12 prisons and in the area that became TVT, they did not build a single school but managed to put up four prisons. Some German historians in the 1920s tried to argue that German colonialism was no worse than the British or French type and accounts of German brutality were exaggerations bandied about by their arch rivals, the British, to discredit them. Things were yet to change again in the 1950s for the people of the area. The Second World War had been fought and the Germans lost, yet again. The UN had taken over from the League of Nations. By the late 40s, Gold Coast agitation for independence had gathered pace and was becoming more and more probable as the decade of the 50s wore on. The British informed the UN that they could no longer administer the trust territory with Gold Coast independence. On 15 December 1955, the UN General Assembly recommended, by resolution 944(X), that Britain take steps, in consultation with a UN plebiscite commissioner, to conduct a plebiscite to find out what the people of the area wanted. The UN appointed a staff under Plebiscite Commissioner Eduardo Espinosa y Prieto to supervise all the stages of the voting.
The 1956 Plebiscite By 1951, Ewe determination to return to the old order had coalesced into a party, The Togoland Congress, which was fighting for that aim. Registration of voters started on 10 January 1956 and the voting date fixed for May 9. The Togoland Congress campaigned for a NO vote – separation from the Gold Coast. They felt the area, just an appendage to the British colony proper, was being neglected and they would be better out of it. Their rallying cry was ‘ablode, ablode gbadzaa’ (freedom, real freedom) and they became known in the rest of the Gold Coast as ‘ablodefuo’. The celebrated (or notorious) S. G. Antor was their leader. Nkrumah and the CPP, with Gbedema (an Anlo who was not a citizen of TVT) in tow, campaigned excessively in the area for unification. CPP had more resources than the Togoland Congress, some of whose members resented Nkrumah’s participation in the campaigning process seeing him as an outsider. Nkrumah may not have relished the idea of becoming Prime Minister of a smaller country and if ideas of African unity had already formed in his mind, he certainly did not see the need for further splits. A total of 194,230 people were registered and 160,587 voted. 90,095 (58%) voted for union with the Gold Coast while 67,492 (42%) voted for separation. The votes were distributed by districts as follows: Manprussi: 17,870 for union, 3,429 against Dagomba: 28,083 for, 6,549 against Gonja – 3,166 for 2729 against Buem/Krachi: 28,176 for, 18,775 against Kpandu: 8,581 for, 17,029 against Ho: 7,217 for, 18,981 against
A cursory look at the results reveals some clear-cut trends. The two predominantly Ewe districts of Kpandu and Ho voted massively for separation (69%) with an even more massive vote (79%) for union in the three northern-most districts. The northerners did not find themselves akin to the dominant Ewe south and a return to Togo or independence would have left some northern tribes divided with the Dagbon, for instance, having their capital in Yendi, while some of their people would belong to Ghana. An interlocutor has said on this forum that the singular vote of the Nanumba was decisive in the outcome of the results of the district to which they belonged. Buem/Krachi district, the heartland of the cocoa growing area perched in between the two, voted for union but had a significant number wanting separation. The area had (and still has) large migrants of Ewe speaking inhabitants drawn there by the available farming land and non-Ewe speakers who identified with Ewes. The British had not cared to develop the area to the same extent as the rest of the colony but the northern areas were even less developed – a fact which, unfortunately, is still the case today. But it was only the total votes that were considered. (Three years later, in a similar plebiscite in the British controlled Cameroon, the issues were more clear-cut and the areas that voted to rejoin Cameroon did so becoming the English speaking regions of that country with the rest remaining in Nigeria). On December 13 1956, the unification was put into effect and TVT ceased to exist having become an intrinsic part of the single entity that got independence as Ghana on March 6th 1957.
The aftermath of the plebiscite The reunificationists did not to accept the results. They complained bitterly, among other things, that the plebiscite was wrong and the question ill-framed. They protested and in Alavanyo some of them took to their guns (Alavanyo blacksmiths are famous for their gun craft) and went into the bush in what would today be called a guerrilla warfare. An increasingly emboldened CPP government sent troops to quell the rebellion. There were a few deaths on both sides. Many of the hardliners run to exile in Togo – where else? Of the four components that make up modern Ghana, the TVT was, thus, the last to join the union and the northern Ewes arguably the most virulently unwilling bed mates. This, perhaps, may be the reason why some ill-informed forumers on GHP, in their cyber anger, ask the Ewes to ‘go back to Togo’(?) The Avoidance of Discrimination Act (1957) outlawed all parties based on ethnic grounds. The Togoland Congress, having failed to achieve its aim, joined forces with the other parties in parliament under the UP. When the Preventive Detention Act (1958) was passed, many of the refuseniks who went into exile stayed put there. Some of them did not return until after the 1966 coup. Perhaps because of the troubles, my parents (my father had seen two of his brothers run into exile in Togo) developed an aversion for politics that was so intense that I was forbidden from joining the Ghana Young Pioneers. They rather encouraged me to join the Catholic Youth Organisation which was no match for the smartly dressed Young Pioneers in their shining boots and red made in China scarves around their necks. Who were you to cross their paths as they marched past singing their Nkrumah-never-die songs? You could only stand by and gape at them with envy – a fact which was made even more painful when you saw your own classmates in the line up. Today, many of us who grew up in the new nation cannot understand the desire of our fathers and grandfathers to leave the union. The Gold Coast proper was more developed than the TVT. Some of them even migrated there in search of work much the same way as we would go to Agege in the 70s and 80s. They called the place simply ‘Coast’ or ‘Gokos’. They returned speaking fluent Twi and having some capital assets and possessions like gas lights. Many went to secondary schools and training colleges there. As part of a series of articles marking our golden jubilee last year, the Statesman (of all newspapers) carried an interview with a man who belongs to a Homeland Study Group Foundation set up to pursue the aims of the moribund reunificationist movement. They claim there was a promise of a review of the union agreement after 50 years. The group did not take part in the jubilee celebration because March 6, to them, is a day to be reminded of their intimidation. The group wrote a protest letter to the Queen with copies to the UN, AU, the British and German leaders and John Kufuor. They never had any response. This group is obscure and unknown. Now and then, similar groups have come up with similar aims. In the early 70s, there were rumours that some chiefs had received money from the late Eyadema to foment trouble in the region. All these efforts are bound to fail. Whatever problems inhabitants of the area may have with the rest of the country, there has never really been a serious and widespread craving for independence. The core refuseniks are gradually dying away and they have not been able to convince their offspring, who have known no other country apart from Ghana, to continue the fight.
We are now all Ghanaians Now that I am grown, I have wondered what my fate, and that of the place of my birth, would have been if the reunificationists had won and we had joined Togoland or become a tiny independent landlocked country. We would have been an English speaking minority trying hard to learn French. We would have watched on as Ghana chalked successes in football and attained fame in other things. As it is, I grew up in Nkrumah’s Ghana and enjoyed all the goodies that his government made available to all who lived in that land. Nkrumah knew how to punish those who opposed him. The last bit of the road from Accra to Hohoe, a bastion of the reunificationist movement and opposition to CPP, was not tarred until very recently. But his free education and health care were enjoyed by all of us. I went to school from class one and finished university without paying a pesewa in fees and, for most of it, not even buying my textbooks. We knew our counterparts in Togo were paying fees and didn’t even have a university of their own to attend. Many of them would finish their elementary schools and join us in Ghana for an English education which they had for free because Nkrumah’s free education policy did not distinguish between a Ghanaian, Togolese or Nigerian. But what if the bellicose Germans had not had too strong an inclination to fight everybody and had not lost their colonies? I would certainly not be writing this for you to read in English... Achtung!
PS The writer is not a historian and welcomes corrections and additions to this piece. The events described here have been the subject of a few academic treatises and dissertations some of which were authored by D. E. K. Amenumey, P. Nugent and Kate Skinner (both of whom I believe are British citizens who wrote separate PhD theses on the subject). These works serve as references to some of the material above.
Send your news stories to and via WhatsApp on +233 55 2699 625.