The 1948 Accra Riots, a turning point in Ghana's independence movement

The 1948 Accra Riots

Stories and facts

The Accra riots of 28th February 1948, marked a pivotal moment in Ghana's journey to independence from British colonial rule. These riots erupted in Accra, the capital of the Gold Coast (now Ghana), during a protest march by unarmed ex-servicemen demanding their rightful benefits as veterans of World War II. The veterans, who had served with the Gold Coast Regiment of the Royal West African Frontier Force, sought pensions and compensation promised to them for their wartime efforts.

The peaceful march turned tragic when police intervened, resulting in the deaths of three leaders of the group: Sergeant Nii Adjetey, Corporal Patrick Attipoe, and Private Odartey Lamptey. This incident, often referred to as "the straw that broke the camel's back," ignited widespread unrest and became a catalyst for the Gold Coast's path towards independence, culminating in Ghana's sovereignty on 6 March 1957.

The backdrop to these events included earlier protests and boycotts organized by Ga chief Nii Kwabena Bonne III, aimed at challenging inflated prices imposed by foreign traders. The convergence of the ex-servicemen's march with the end of the boycott on 28 February 1948 fueled tensions that erupted into violence.

The ex-servicemen, highly decorated for their bravery during the war, returned home to find limited employment opportunities and unmet promises of pensions. As they peacefully approached the Governor's residence at Christiansborg Castle to present their petition, they were met with police resistance. Superintendent Colin Imray, in a panic, ordered his subordinates to fire at the protesters, resulting in tragic fatalities and further escalation of unrest across Accra.

Subsequent riots engulfed the city and other urban centers, prompting a swift response from the colonial authorities. The United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), the leading political group at the time, condemned the colonial government's handling of the situation, demanding immediate changes and even offering to take over interim governance.

In the aftermath, the British colonial government established the Watson Commission to investigate the riots. This commission's findings led to significant constitutional reforms, setting the stage for Ghana's eventual independence. The arrest of prominent leaders such as Kwame Nkrumah, who later became Ghana's first president, further galvanized the nationalist movement.

Ultimately, the events of 28 February 1948 not only exposed the grievances and aspirations of the Gold Coast populace but also laid the groundwork for Ghana's emergence as an independent nation. This historical chapter remains integral to Ghana's national identity and its struggle for self-determination.

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