The British Empire Library

My Africa

by W. E. F. Ward

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by M. de N. Ensor (Gold Coast 1940-55)
This is just the book I should have liked to have read on the way to my first posting in the Gold Coast: it would have spared me several solecisms. Its appearance some 50 years after the author left Africa for Mauritius is puzzling. Did he compose most of it earlier and feel there was material that should not be imparted for decades to 'young men', as non-chiefs were called, or was it a stunning feat of memory by a ninety-year old whose records had been lost in a fire? In either event it makes excellent reading for retired colonial officers and, for Ghanaians, an insight into the establishment of Achimota College and a balanced assessment of the arguments for and against colonial rule. The latter, doubtless, explains its publication in Ghana where the highest quality paper and typesetting have not been used.

The author went to the Gold Coast in 1924, one of the first party of staff for the, as yet unbuilt, Achimota College. This was to be the first stage of the realisation of Guggisberg's plan for a complex of institutions to provide the country with educational excellence. The first Principal, A. G. Fraser, wanted his staff to have a proper appreciation of the college's problems before they took up their intended posts. So, while the buildings were going up, Ward's first seven years were spent on a miscellany of teaching tasks and even educational administration in the North. But, intended eventually to teach history, he made the time not only to acquire a good knowledge of Twi but more importantly to pioneer the recording of oral annals of many Akan groups. This last was a task of patiently winning the confidence of chiefs and elders to whom the tribal traditions had been entrusted. The benefits from this must have been felt when Achimota had grown to the point where he could become its full-time History and English master: they are certainly to be found in Ward's history of the country which, updated to cover the early years of Ghana, remains the standard work. Ward's career took him to be Education Adviser in the Colonial Office.

Now he has produced a delightful book that combines two elements. First there are his recollections of both serious achievements and amusing incidents, reminding us how good the relations between Europeans and Africans could be. Secondly there is a critique of colonial administration as it applied to the Gold Coast in the inter-war years, which one feels is the view he formed at the time, unembellished with the benefit of hindsight. I would argue that he underestimated the difficulties of developing moderately effective local government, which many of us thought to be a prerequisite to independence. Our views were brushed aside by African opinion just as it required Fraser to develop Achimota at a faster pace than he favoured.

British Empire Book
W. E. F. Ward
Ghana Universities Press,


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