A historical investigation of a grass-roots political movement in the former German colony of Togo, this book constitutes an important contribution to scholarship that re-evaluates post-Second World War African nationalism. Rejecting retrospective analyses that take as a given post-colonial nation-states established within old colonial boundaries, Kate Skinner’s monograph joins others that consider alternative political projects and formations, most of which were overlooked or ignored by scholars who were shaped during the period of nationalist fervour. Marshalling evidence from oral interviews, government and missionary archives, and private collections in Ghana, Togo, France and the United Kingdom, Skinner focuses on the leaders and activists of Ablode (Freedom), a political movement in British Togoland that imagined nationhood differently. Because the movement failed, it has been largely relegated to the periphery of historical inquiry. Skinner revisits the movement and reconstructs its history in order to understand better the paths not taken and the implications of those choices for post-colonial societies. After Germany’s defeat in the First World War, the nation’s colonies were confiscated and redistributed. The victors divided German Togo between Britain and France, which administered their respective territories first as League of Nations mandates and subsequently as United Nations trusts. Emerging from the political ferment that followed the Second World War, Ablode activists rejected the redrawn colonial boundaries and opposed plans to incorporate British Togoland into the Gold Coast colony. Some hoped for reunification with former French Togoland, imagining an independent Togo based on the borders of the old German colony. Skinner traces the Ablode movement from the 1940s to 2014, following its members from the towns and villages of southern British Togoland across territorial boundaries into French-administered Togo. She asks who joined and why, and how leaders appealed to, and mobilised, diverse populations. She considers why the movement failed, and the impact of that failure on its members, their families and on post-colonial society more broadly. Finally, she looks at the ways in which the Togoland question continued to shape Ghanaian and Togolese politics after independence and examines the transformations in activists’ political positions and projects. Ablode had a number of defining features. First, Skinner argues, Ablode championed territorial rather than ethnic nationalism, and its members envisioned a multi-ethnic state. Although the movement emerged in southern British Togoland where a majority of the population spoke Ewe, participants identified as Togolanders rather than as Ewe ethno-nationalists. They promoted the notion of British Togoland as distinct from the British Gold Coast colony and advocated constitutional arrangements that would permit reunification with French Togo and joint independence in the future. Ablode’s position resonated with that of the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC), which made similar demands in regard to the former German colony of Kamerun, which likewise had been split between Britain and France after the First World War (see Meredith Terretta, Nation of Outlaws, State of Violence: Nationalism, Grassfields Tradition, and State-Building in Cameroon, 2013). Second, Skinner claims, Ablode was strongest in the rural areas, and rural people shaped its ideas and agenda. The movement was led by the grass-roots intelligentsia, which included teachers, clergy and clerks—all products of missionary schools or African-led churches. Literate in their mother tongues, they mobilised rural populations by employing ideas and images that appealed to their historical and cultural experiences. Skinner contrasts these local leaders with the more highly educated and materially wealthy doctors, lawyers and merchants of the Gold Coast’s urban coastal areas. Third, Skinner posits, as anti-colonial agitation in the Gold Coast forced Britain to move that territory toward local self-government, the British promoted the notion of a Togoland–Gold Coast union. Such an arrangement, they proclaimed, would fulfil Britain’s trusteeship obligations to move Togoland toward self-government or political independence. Ablode activists disagreed, arguing that UN trusteeship stipulations required that the territory achieve independence as a discrete entity. Integration, they asserted, would subordinate Togolanders’ interests to those of the more privileged Gold Coast inhabitants. Divergent views on integration versus reunification were deeply influenced by notions of relative privilege. Political, economic and social disparities separated the Gold Coast from British Togoland and created cleavages within Togoland itself. Those who lost power, status or wealth following the division of German Togo were among the strongest advocates of reunification. In the 1920s and 1930s, German-trained teachers who had lost their standing, and lesser chiefs whose peoples and land had been absorbed into larger British-recognised chieftaincies, were among the strongest voices for reunification. In the 1940s, critics noted the relative dearth of schools, health facilities and roads in Togoland compared to the Gold Coast, and exposed the ways in which Togoland cocoa-planters were discriminated against in favour of their Gold Coast counterparts. Ablode members argued that integration into the Gold Coast would only exacerbate these inequalities. In Togoland, as in the Gold Coast, there were significant differences between north and south, and the comparative disadvantage of the north had major consequences for the Ablode movement. The poorer northern region provided much of the labour that had developed the south—building the railways and servicing the cocoa and coffee plantations. The south also benefited from educational opportunities provided by European missionaries, who were less likely to venture into the northern interior, which was heavily Muslim. The new colonial elites, therefore, were disproportionately located in the south. The north–south divide deeply influenced voting in the May 1956 UN plebiscite on integration, which did not include a reunification option. Southern chiefs, planters, teachers and other local elites tended to favour reunification with French Togo and successfully mobilised the majority of southerners to oppose integration. Poorer northern residents were attracted to the developmentalist agenda of the Gold Coast and voted overwhelmingly for integration. In 1957, British Togoland joined the Gold Coast to establish the independent nation of Ghana. In the name of nation-building and unity, the new government outlawed political parties that were organised along ethnic, regional or religious lines, and cracked down on dissent. Ablode activists lost jobs, property and access to education. Many fled to French Togo, which attained independence in 1960. Others relinquished their earlier ideals and joined the system. Some continued to fight the good fight into the opening decades of the twenty-first century—petitioning the government to re-evaluate the process that resulted in integration. Skinner’s book provides a unique perspective on this movement, which failed in its objectives but left a lasting legacy as ‘part of a larger history of the contingencies of decolonisation’ (p. 254). It deserves to be widely read and is a must for university library collections. © Oxford University Press 2017. All rights reserved.
The English Historical Review – Oxford University Press
Published: Feb 21, 2017
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