Michael Kidron

The Gold Coast – I

(April 1955)

From Socialist Review, Vol. 4 No. 8, April 1955, pp. 5–6.
Transcribed by Ian Birchall, Nina Kidron & Richard Kuper.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The Gold Coast has always been the shop-window of British Imperialism. The capitalist press cannot ignore the bloody oppression in Kenya and Malaya, the high-handed rejection of national aspirations in British Guiana and Cyprus, the administrative rule in Uganda, and the Central Federation, to mention only a few, but they point with pride to the Gold Coast. Here, we are told, enlightened rule has guided a backward people along the high road of economic prosperity and national independence. Soon, they assure us, the Gold Coast will qualify for membership in the British Commonwealth. How true is this? Is the Gold Coast as independent as the capitalist press make her out to be?

British Imperialism in West Africa

One of the Gold Coast’s greatest defences against Imperialist oppression is its climate. It was always known as “the White Man’s Grave.” As George Padmore puts it: “The Anopheles mosquito – the carrier of the malaria germ – and its fellow mosquito, the Aedes-Aegypti, the carrier of yellow fever, have saved over 30,000,000 blacks in Nigeria, the Gold Coast, Sierra Leone and Gambia from the worst economic depredations of Imperialism.” (Africa, Britain’s Third Empire, London, 1950, p. 80). It is this reason alone that left the West African population in control of its own land and prevented their expropriation as in Kenya where the Kenya Order gave 12,750 square miles – the White Highlands – to 29,000 Europeans, and herded more than 5,000,000 Africans into 43,500 square miles of bad quality land.

Although the people of the Gold Coast have escaped the worst excesses of British Imperialism, they have not escaped them all. The extent of poverty and disease is appalling. A Government report stated:

“Food deficiency is a predisposing factor in many local disease conditions. Tuberculosis, the pneumonias and bronchitis are very prevalent and together account for 30 per cent of all registered male deaths. Over 70 per cent of persons in the coast town of Saltpond gave evidence of tubercle infection. There seems to be a close relationship between undernutrition and the incidence of leprosy ...” (Nutrition in the Colonial Empire, Part II, Cmd. 6051, 1939, pp. 35–6)

Out of every 1,000 babies born, 400 die before the age of twelve. (R. Hinden, Plan for Africa, London 1941, p. 176) Lord Hailey believes that from 50 to 90 per cent of the population is affected by venerebal diseases. (An African Survey, Oxford 1938, p. 1145). And yet, after more than 150 years of British rule in the Gold Coast, the total number of hospital beds is only 1,049 (plus 123 cots), while in London alone we have more than 50,000.

Poverty and disease are not a “natural calamity” in the Gold Coast. The country itself is rich, very rich.

Economics – Cocoa

The main wealth of the Gold Coast lies in her cocoa farms. Three hundred thousand peasant farmers produce about 300,000 tons of cocoa a year which netted the country about £60 million pounds annually between 1949 and 1951. Altogether, cocoa provides 70 per cent of the country’s income in foreign currency. It is one of Britain’s primary sources of dollars and other hard currencies as 40 per cent of the annual output is normally sold in the United States. And yet the producers themselves receive only a fraction of the price that cocoa fetches on the world market. In 1950–1951, the peasant producer was receiving £130 14s. 0d. per ton, while the cocoa sold at £254 10s. 0d. The peasant saw only 51 per cent of the price of his product. The rest went in export duties (20 percent) and in profits to the Cocoa Marketing Board (29 per cent).

The Cocoa Marketing Board is interesting. It was set up originally as a result of a mass boycott (in 1937–8) organised by the peasants against the British cocoa buyers (United Africa Company, a subsidiary of Unilevers, Cadbury’s, J. Lyons and Co., and others), who formed a pool to force down cocoa prices. It was meant to stabilize prices to the African peasant and yet, as one authority writes:

“As a result of the price policies of the Cocoa Boards, the incomes of the cocoa producers have not only been greatly reduced but they have fluctuated more violently over these years than if the crops had been paid for at full market value.” (P.T. Bauer, West African Trade, Cambridge 1954, p. 300)

But if the Board has not fulfilled its duties towards the peasant, it certainly has fulfilled another function very well, that of accumulating profits (over £150 million to date). In fact, the Cocoa Marketing Board is the only real saver in the Gold Coast. As Bauer puts it, “For good or evil the boards must be seen as instruments for the socialisation of savings and for a large measure of government control and socialisation of peasant production in West Africa.” (p. 316)

Economics – The Volta River Scheme

The Gold Coast Government is not only the sole saver in the Gold Coast. It is also one of the most important investors, as can be seen from the much publicized Volta River Scheme.

The scheme is to build a huge dam on the Volta River in order to generate electricity, which will be used primarily for the production of aluminium from the vast deposits of over 200 million tons of bauxite nearby. The project is to be financed by the British Government, the Gold Coast Government, and the African Aluminium Co., which is a subsidiary of the Canadian company, Aluminium Ltd., and the British Aluminium Co. The British Government is to pay for the dam and the power plant, the Gold Coast Government for the roads, railways and port facilities connected with the scheme, and the aluminium companies are to build and own the smelting plant. The only profit making part of the scheme is the smelting plant in which the Gold Coast Government may hold ten per cent of the shares (Times, 4/7/53).

The advantages of the scheme to the privately owned aluminium companies is obvious. They will have control of one of the largest deposits of bauxite in the world. They will obtain the lion’s share of the profits while investing less than one third of the capital (£42.6 million out of a total of £140 million). The advantages to the British Government are also obvious – it is assured of a constant non-dollar supply of aluminium, as it will have priority on 75 per cent of the output for at least 30 years. (Government White Paper, Volta River Aluminium Scheme, Cmd. 8702, 1952, p. 1) The advantages to the Gold Coast are not at all obvious, however. The White Paper does not disclose what royalties, if any, will be paid to the local government, nor what taxes, if any. The savings that the Gold Coast government extracts from the peasant by paying him a fraction of the price of his products is to be invested in the non-profit making part of the scheme. Whatever part it does play is clearly more in the interests of the private aluminium companies and the British Government than in the interests of its own population.

The Gold Coast peasant is being forced to save money by the Gold Coast Government through the Cocoa Marketing Board; the Gold Coast Government is investing large sums in one of the biggest economic ventures in the African continent – the Volta River Scheme – from which it benefits to a very limited extent. The economic prosperity which, so the capitalist press informs us, is part and parcel of Gold Coast independence, is a prosperity for the foreign capitalists and the British Government, not for the poverty-stricken, disease-ridden people of the country. Clearly, the people of the Gold Coast have very little say in determining their own welfare. The question that remains to be answered is this: Whoever controls the Gold Coast State controls the economy of the country and the standard of life of its inhabitants. Who, then, controls the State? What of the famed “progress towards independence” that we hear so much about?

To this question we shall come back in a second article in the next issue.

Last updated on 16 February 2017