Murder and Politics in Colonial Ghana


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Richard Rathbone

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In 1943, ritual murder was committed in a large African kingdom in the south of Ghana, then a colony of Great Britain. Palace officials and close kin of a recently deceased king had reputedly killed one of his chiefs in order to smooth the king's passage into the afterlife. This riveting study tells the story of the murder, the trials and appeals of those accused of the crime, and the effect of the case on politics in Ghana and Great Britain. In recounting this fascinating case, the book also provides important insights into law and politics in the colonial Gold Coast, the clash between traditional and modern values, and the nature of African monarchy in the colonial period.

Drawing on newly available oral and written evidence from Ghana and Britain, Richard Rathbone builds a detailed picture of the leading characters in the case, as well as of the thirty-year rule of Nana Ofori Atta, the king. He shows how the death of the king destroyed the economic, social, and moral fabric of the kingdom, and how this destruction was further exacerbated by legal proceedings resulting from the murder. The case set the indigenous royal family against the colonial government, challenging the authority of each. Close kinsmen of the accused, hitherto in the vanguard of moderate nationalism, were radicalized by their extended confrontation with the colonial justice system. It was their political initiatives that accelerated the formation of the Gold Coast's first national political party in the late 1940s, and which led in turn to the struggle for self-government and to the achievement of Ghanian independence in 1957.

Richard Rathbone is dean of postgraduate studies, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London.

"A superb book with an effective analysis of the issues-legal, social, political, and cultural. I recommend it as an example of historical paradox and as a good crime story."—Natalie Zemon Davis, Princeton University

"[A] finely detailed book. The scene revolves around the death of a Ghanian chief, . . . the ritual murder of one of his follower, and the trials of those accused of the killing. The telling of that story contains all the elements of a good mystery. The larger picture is not lost, for the author links these events to the emergence of the nationalist movement in Ghana."—Library Journal

"What a scholarly piece! I am really impressed by the skill with which you have waded through the maze of evidence and marshalled the facts, as well as the sheer readability of the book. Congratulations on a fine piece of work which will for a long time remain the standard work on that sordid and regrettable episode in Akyem Abuakwa history."—Robert Addo-Fenning

"The story is fascinating, complex and richly illuminating both of African history and of British rule."—David Birmingham, History Today

"A dense, richly textured history of an incident in which a group of misguided royals fearful of the future committed a crime. Rathbone skillfully weaves together a complex interpretation of that small incident."—Richard Roberts, Journal of African History

"Rathbone takes his readers through this intricate story in a readable and indeed elegant style, and produces a truly gripping narrative. . . . Murder and Politics in Colonial Ghana is an impressive work."—Ivor Wilks, Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Rathbone's Murder and Politics in Colonial Ghana is a fascinating story written with considerable subtlety and sensitivity. . . . It makes an original contribution to our understanding of the nature and complexity of pre-independence politics in Ghana."—Joseph K. Adjaye, African Studies Review

"This book provides fascinating reading. The student of Ghanaian law will find that it throws light on the personalities and histories of numerous personalities who were well-known or to become well-known in law and politics in Ghana and London. . . . There is a wealth of information and comment on the operation of the legal system. . . . It is clear that Rathbone's book contributes substantially to our understanding of history."—Gordon R. Woodman, Journal of African Law

"It is a distinct pleasure . . . to welcome Richard Rathbone's sensitively written and thoroughly involving meditation upon the specificities of colonial society in the Gold Coast. . . . It is, simply, the most sympathetically evocative reconstruction available of the sheer complexity of the colonial 'moment' in Africa. It tells a complex story wonderfully well, and incites to profitable reflection. Essential reading for the Africanist, it will also richly repay the attention of a very broad constituency of readers."—T.C. McCaskie, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

"A gripping account of the Kibi murders affair which happened in Akyem after the Chief's death, and was a major issue in helping to radicalise moderate nationalist politics in Ghana after 1946."—West Africa

ISBN: 9780300055047
Publication Date: June 23, 1993
256 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
10 b/w illus.