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A NEW TYPE OF CITIZEN: YOUTH, GENDER, AND GENERATION IN THE GHANAIAN BUILDERS BRIGADE*

  • JEFFREY S. AHLMAN (a1)
  • Please note a correction has been issued for this article.
Abstract

This article analyzes one key feature of the Convention People's Party's youth policy in postcolonial Ghana: the Ghana Builders Brigade. Founded as a response to rapid urbanization and growing unemployment, the Builders Brigade aimed to create a new productive and modern citizenry by returning the country's young men and women to the land through a network of mechanized work camps and state farms. Remembered as both a locus for party intimidation and indiscipline as well as a source for political and social opportunity, the Brigade emerged as a key site for a generationally-defined and gendered debate over the roles and responsibilities of the country's youth in the first decade of self-rule. Through an interrogation of this debate, this article argues that the Brigade provided a space for its members to explore a socially recognized yet politically conceived notion of adulthood under Kwame Nkrumah's rule.

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Author's email: jahlman1@jhu.edu
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Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Conference on Perspectives of Decolonization: African Intellectuals and Decolonization at Ohio University in October 2008 and in the Department of History at the University of Ghana in March 2009. I would like to thank Jean Allman, Jennifer Hart, Bianca Murillo, and Jonathan Zimmerman for their comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this article. I would also like to thank the Journal of African History's four anonymous reviewers for their advice.

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1 Diouf, M., ‘Engaging postcolonial cultures: African youth and public space’, African Studies Review, 46:2 (2003), 4.

2 See, for example, Alhaji Yakubu Tali, Parliamentary Debates, 29 Aug. 1957, vol. 7, col. 385.

3 Public Records and Archives Administration (PRAAD)-Accra, Record Group (RG) 14/1/15, ‘Workers Brigade – Notes Taken at a Meeting in the Principal Assistant Secretary's Office – Ministry of Defence’, Minutes, 14 March 1966.

4 Hailey, W., An African Survey: A Study of the Problems Arising in Africa South of the Sahara (London, 1938), 544–5.

5 Acquah, I., Accra Survey: A Social Survey of the Capital of Ghana, Formerly Called the Gold Coast, Undertaken for the West African Institute of Social and Economic Research, 1953–1956 (London, 1958), 31.

6 Ibid.; B. Freund, The African City: A History (Cambridge, 2007), 66.

7 Austin, D., Politics in Ghana, 1946–1960 (London, 1964), 1617.

8 Iliffe, J., The African Poor: A History (Cambridge, 1987), 171.

9 Austin, Politics in Ghana, 16–17. For similar accounts of urban growth and youth disaffection in other parts of the continent, see Burton, A., ‘Raw youth, school-leavers and the emergence of structural unemployment in late-colonial urban Tanganyika’, Journal of African History, 47:3 (2006), 364; A. Burton, African Underclass: Urbanisation, Crime & Colonial Order in Dar es Salaam (Athens, OH, 2005), ch. 5.

10 On female migration to African urban centers, see White, L., The Comforts of Home: Prostitution in Colonial Nairobi (Chicago, 1990).

11 Several scholars have noted how colonial administrators only ‘discovered’ juvenile delinquency in the African urban setting after they formally set out to find it; see Burton, A., ‘Urchins, loafers and the cult of the cowboy: urbanization and delinquency in Dar es Salaam, 1919–61’, Journal of African History, 42:2 (2001), 199–216; Burton, African Underclass;Fourchard, L., ‘Lagos and the invention of juvenile delinquency in Nigeria, 1920–60’, Journal of African History, 47:1 (2006), 115–37; Waller, R., ‘Rebellious youth in colonial Africa’, Journal of African History, 47:1 (2006), 84–7.

12 Busia, K., Report on a Social Survey of Sekondi-Takoradi (London, 1950), ch. 7. For an account of similar behavior in inter-war and post-war Lagos, see Heap, S., ‘ “Their days are spent in gambling and loafing, pimping for prostitutes, and picking pockets”: male juvenile delinquents on Lagos Island, 1920s–1960s’, Journal of Family History, 35:1 (2010), 4870.

13 Gold Coast Department of Social Welfare and Community Development, Problem Children of the Gold Coast (Accra, 1955).

14 Interview with M. N. Tetteh, Accra, 8 Mar. 2008; interview with Kofi Duku, Accra, 7 May 2008. On the role of disaffected youth and school leavers in the CPP, see Austin, Politics in Ghana, 13–18.

15 See Quarcoopome, S. S., ‘Urbanisation, land alienation and politics in Accra’, Research Review (ns) 8:1/2 (1992), 48; Allman, J. M., The Quills of the Porcupine: Asante Nationalism in an Emergent Ghana (Madison, WI, 1993), ch. 3.

16 Austin, Politics in Ghana, 188–9, 253–81; Allman, J. M., ‘The youngmen and the porcupine: class, nationalism, and Asante's struggle for self-determination, 1954–7’, Journal of African History, 31:2 (1990), 263–79; Allman, J. M., ‘ “Hewers of wood, carriers of water”: Islam, class, and politics on the eve of Ghana's independence”, African Studies Review, 34:2 (1991), 511; Allman, Quills of the Porcupine, ch. 2.

17 Quarcoopome, ‘Urbanisation’, 47.

18 PRAAD-Accra ADM 13/2/40, Minutes of Cabinet Committee on the Proposed Builders Brigade, 2 Aug. 1957, appendix to Minister of Labour, Cooperatives, and Social Welfare, ‘The Builders Brigade’, Cabinet Memorandum, 20 Aug. 1957.

19 PRAAD-Accra ADM 13/2/38, Minister of Commerce and Industry, ‘National Workers Brigade’, Cabinet Memorandum, 31 May 1957; PRAAD-Accra, ADM 13/2/38, ‘Draft White Paper: National Workers Brigade’, appendix to Minister of Commerce and Industry, ‘National Workers Brigade’, Cabinet Memorandum, 31 May 1957.

20 PRAAD-Accra ADM 13/2/40, Minutes of Cabinet Committee on the Proposed Builders Brigade, 2 Aug. 1957.

21 PRAAD-Accra ADM 13/2/37, Minister of Trade and Labour, ‘National Builders Brigade’, Cabinet Memorandum, 23 May 1957.

22 PRAAD-Accra ADM 13/2/37, Minister of Trade and Labour, ‘National Builders Brigade’, Cabinet Memorandum, 30 Apr. 1957.

23 The primary areas of contention were pay, costs (i.e. meals and uniforms), and restrictions on eligibility. Age requirements were also prominent issues of debate between the Cabinet, the expatriate advisors hired to study the various plans, and members of the National Assembly. This led to the eventual lowering of the age limit from 45 years to 24. In the mid 1960s, the government raised the cap back to 45. PRAAD-Accra ADM 13/2/44, Minister of Labour and Cooperatives, ‘Recommendations by the I.C. A. Advisor regarding the Principles to be Adopted with Expansion of the Builders Brigade’, Cabinet Memorandum, 14 Jan. 1958; PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/15, Gersbacher, ‘Report on the Ghana Workers Brigade/Foundation and Progress’, 1965.

24 PRAAD-Accra ADM 13/2/43, Minister of Labour and Cooperatives, ‘The Builders Brigade: Progress Report’, Cabinet Memorandum, 3 Dec. 1957.

26 PRAAD-Accra ADM 13/2/44, Minister of Labour and Cooperatives, ‘Recommendations by the I. C. A. Advisor regarding the Principles to be Adapted with Expansion of the Builders Brigade’, Cabinet Memorandum, 16 Jan. 1958.

28 Dowuona-Hammond, A. J., Parliamentary Debates, 18 June 1959, vol. 15, col. 203.

29 Goka, F. K. D., Parliamentary Debates, 19 March 1959, vol. 14, col. 399. Due to the belief that youth unemployment was primarily a male problem, the government in the late 1950s argued that, while it was dedicated to the creation of Brigade camps for women and spaces for women in Brigade camps more broadly, the focus of the project had to be on creating more employment opportunities for young men and boys. See Dowuona-Hammond, , Parliamentary Debates, 7 Aug. 1958, col. 1274.

30 Dowuona-Hammond, , Parliamentary Debates, 18 June 1959, col. 224; Dowuona-Hammond, , Parliamentary Debates, 4 Mar. 1959, vol. 14, col. 186.

31 J. Straker, Youth, Nationalism, and the Guinean Revolution (Bloomington, IN, 2009). Also, see Straker, J., ‘Stories of “militant theatre” in the Guinean forest: “demystifying” the motives and moralities of a revolutionary nation-state’, Journal of African Cultural Studies, 19:2 (2007), 207–33; Straker, J., ‘The state of the subject: a Guinean educator's odyssey in the postcolonial forest, 1960–2001,’ Journal of African History, 49:1 (2008), 93109.

32 See C. Ballard, ‘A contemporary youth movement: the Ghanaian Young Pioneers’ (unpublished MA thesis, University of Ghana, 1967); Coe, C., Dilemmas of Culture in African Schools: Youth, Nationalism, and the Transformation of Knowledge (Chicago, 2005), 6570; J. Pool, ‘ “Now is the time of youth”: youth, nationalism and cultural change in Ghana, 1940–1966’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Emory University, 2009), ch. 4. Among scholars of Ghana, Pool provides one of the richest discussions of youth in the Nkrumah-era Gold Coast/Ghana. However, his study ostensibly ends with the transition to the First Republic in 1960.

33 Hodge, P., ‘The Ghana Workers Brigade: a project for unemployed youth’, British Journal of Sociology, 15:2 (1964), 113–28. In his recent work, Pool briefly discusses the Brigade, albeit primarily via Hodge's essay and the 1957 cabinet debates over the institution's administrative structure; Pool, ‘“Now is the time of youth”’, 176–80.

34 Ibid. 114.

35 On gerontocratic authority outside Ghana, see Meillassoux, C., Maidens, Meal, and Money: Capitalism and the Domestic Community (Cambridge, 1981); Carton, B., Blood from Your Children: The Colonial Origins of Generational Conflict in South Africa (Charlottesville, VA, 2000); M. McKittrick, To Dwell Secure: Generation, Christianity, and Colonialism in Ovamboland (Portsmouth, NH, 2002).

36 For instance, T. McCaskie notes how, in precolonial Asante, power was symbolized through the number of wives one had and, as such, no one was to have more wives than the Asantehene – a number customarily set at 3,333. McCaskie, , ‘State and society, marriage and adultery: some considerations towards a social history of pre-colonial Asante’, Journal of African History, 22:4 (1981), 486–7.

37 Akyeampong, E., Drink, Power, and Cultural Change: A Social History of Alcohol in Ghana, c. 1800 to Recent Times (Portsmouth, NH, 1996), 50; Akyeampong, E., ‘Sexuality and prostitution among the Akan of the Gold Coast, c. 1650–1950’, Past & Present, 156 (Aug. 1997), 150–1.

38 The literature on the importance of education in creating new avenues for political, social, and economic mobility for African youth during the colonial era is extensive. A sample of these works include Ajayi, J. F. A., Christian Missions in Nigeria, 1841–1891: The Making of a New Elite (London, 1965); Falola, T., Nationalism and African Intellectuals (Rochester, NY, 2001); McKittrick, To Dwell Secure; Peterson, D. R., Creative Writing: Translation, Bookkeeping, and the Work of Imagination in Colonial Kenya (Portsmouth, NH, 2004); Miescher, S. F., Making Men in Ghana (Bloomington, IN, 2005).

39 PRAAD-Accra Special Collections (SC)/Bureau of African Affairs (BAA)/121 RG 17/1/121, ‘Youth and Nahal Department of Zahal (Israel's Defence Army)’, [n.d.]; A. A. Syme, Salute to Israel: The Story of the Ghana Youth Delegation to Israel, 1957 (Accra, 1958); Hodge, ‘Ghana Workers Brigade’, 117–18.

40 PRAAD-Accra ADM 13/2/43, Minister of Labour and Cooperatives, ‘The Builders Brigade’.

41 On the Brigade Band, for instance, see N. Plageman, ‘ “Everybody likes Saturday night”: a social history of popular music and masculinities in urban Gold Coast/Ghana, c. 1900–1970’ (unpublished PhD thesis, Indiana University, 2008), 237–8.

42 Interview with E. B. Mensah, Accra, 8 June 2008.

44 Interview with Yaa Fosuawaa, Koforidua, 25 May 2008; interview with Ben Nikoi-Oltai, Accra, 19 Jan. 2008.

45 For instance, in the 1957 debates surrounding the Brigade, several opposition and CPP MPs invoked the danger of cultivating a generation of young men and (to a lesser extent) women disconnected from the land, a generation one prominent CPP MP accused the opposition of portraying as little more than aspiring ‘pen-pushers’. Welbeck, N. A., Parliamentary Debates, 4 Dec. 1957, vol. 8, col. 339.

46 Interview with Nikoi-Oltai; interview with S. Kofi Asiedu, Accra, 16 Mar. 2008; interview with Fosuawaa; interview with Emmanuel Darko, Koforidua, 25 May 2008. The real costs and availability of these items, however, remain unclear.

47 Interview with Fosuawaa.

51 Ibid.; interview with Nikoi-Oltai.

52 Akyeampong, Drink, Power, and Cultural Change, 153. Also, see Miescher, Making Men, 124–33.

53 On the rise of the urban wage economy and on the shifting meanings of the breadwinner ideal in West Africa, see Lindsay, L. A., Working with Gender: Wage Labor and Social Change in Southwestern Nigeria (Portsmouth, NH, 2003); L. A. Lindsay, ‘Money, marriage, and masculinity on the colonial Nigerian railway’, in L. A. Lindsay and S. Miescher (eds.), Men and Masculinities in Modern Africa (Portsmouth, NH, 2003), 138–55.

54 Interview with Fosuawaa; interview with Nikoi-Oltai; interview with Asiedu.

55 Allman, J. M. and Tashjian, V. B., “I Will Not Eat Stone”: A Women's History of Colonial Asante (Portsmouth, NH, 2000), 46.

56 Akyeampong, Drink, Power, and Cultural Change, 153; Allman, J. M., ‘Rounding up spinsters: gender chaos and unmarried women in colonial Asante’, Journal of African History, 37:2 (1996), 195214; Allman and Tashjian, “I Will Not Eat Stone”, 148–59.

57 The social repercussions of the Brigade's potential challenge to conventional female gender norms were a cause for concern for opposition MPs who questioned everything from the ‘social evils’ of mixing unmarried young women with young and not-so-young men in the camp environment to the likelihood of ‘broken homes’ caused by the dislocation of both young men and women from their villages. See Amponsah, R. R., Parliamentary Debates, 29 Aug. 1957, cols. 380–1.

58 Interview with Fosuawaa.

59 On the politics of women's participation in Nkrumah-era nation-building, see J. S. Ahlman, ‘Living with Nkrumahism: nation, state, and pan-Africanism in Ghana’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, 2011), ch. 5.

60 Interview with Owusu Brempong, Legon, 7 July 2008.

61 Interview with Mensah.

62 Tali, , Parliamentary Debates, 29 Aug. 1957, col. 385.

63 Kaleo, , Parliamentary Debates, 18 June 1959, col. 203.

64 Antor, , Parliamentary Debates, 18 June 1959, col. 212; West Africa (London), 19 Sep. 1959; Hodge, ‘Ghana Workers Brigade’, 118.

65 PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/59, Juantuah to Lord Listowel, ‘United Party Youth League, Ashanti, Resolution Passed on 28th July 1959 at Kumasi, Ashanti’.

66 Interview with Nikoi-Oltai.

67 Ibid. Several individuals mentioned a perceived arming of the youth in regards to the Brigade, but I have not found any independent evidence that significant segments of the Brigade were armed. However, Yaa Fosuawaa reported that, while in the Brigade, she and her compatriots were trained how to shoot both for sporting competition and so that ‘some … [could] become eminent military men’. Interview with Fosuawaa.

68 Interview with Kofi Ampadu, Koforidua, 26 May 2008.

69 Interview with Nicholas Budu, Accra, 27 Jan. 2007; interview with Emmanuel Sekyi, Tema, 18 Feb. 2009.

70 Interview with Eden Bentum Takyi-Micah, Accra, 17 Mar. 2008.

71 See Parliamentary Debates, 4 Dec. 1957, cols. 311–41; S. Owusu-Duku, ‘Brigade may be sole supplier of uniforms’, Evening News, 6 Oct. 1961.

72 Hodge, ‘Ghana Workers Brigade’, 188, 127–8n. I thank Professor Robert Addo-Fening for sharing some of these stories with me in March 2009 after I delivered a paper on the Brigade in the Department of History at the University of Ghana.

73 PRAAD-Accra RG 3/5/2115, Prime Minister, ‘Financial Provisions for Young Pioneers’, Cabinet Memorandum, 17 June 1960. Also, see Ballard, ‘A Contemporary youth movement’; Ahlman, ‘Living with Nkrumahism’, ch. 3.

74 Interview with Jacob Sesu Yeboah, Accra, 28 Feb. 2008; interview with Lawrence Asamoah, Koforidua, 26 May 2008.

75 Interview with Nikoi-Oltai.

76 PRAAD-Accra RG 3/5/2115, Nkrumah, ‘Senior Staff Requirement for the Builders Brigade’, Cabinet Memorandum, 16 Aug. 1960; PRAAD-Accra ADM 13/1/29, Cabinet Minutes, 16 Aug. 1960.

77 ‘It is now Workers Brigade’, Evening News, 6 Oct. 1961; Hodge, ‘Ghana Workers Brigade’, 122–3.

78 Owusu-Duku, ‘Brigade may be sole supplier’; Hodge, ‘Ghana Workers Brigade’, 122.

79 PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/15, ‘The Ghana Workers Brigade’, (c. 1964).

80 Interviews with Takyi-Micah, Accra, 17 Mar. 2008 and 10 May 2008.

81 PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/15, ‘The Ghana Workers Brigade’, (c. 1964).

82 PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/15, Gersbacher, ‘Report on the Ghana Workers Brigade’.

84 Report of the Commission Appointed to Enquire into the Functions, Operation, and Administration of the Workers Brigade (Accra, 1968). For a partial rebuttal to the commission of enquiry's report, see Minority Report of the Commission Appointed to Enquire into the Functions, Operation, and Administration of the Workers Brigade (Accra, 1969).

85 Peregrino-Peters, P., ‘Brigader was stripped and whipped says probe witness’, Daily Graphic, 5 Apr. 1967.

86 However, the amount of sympathy the NLC officials had for the farmers caught up in the Brigade's land acquisition program often appeared to be quite negligible. See PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/60, P. Laryea to Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, ‘Land for Workers Brigade, Kwamang Ashanti’, Accra, 24 Oct. 1966.

87 Afrifa, A. A., The Ghana Coup: 24th February 1966 (London, 1966), 86.

88 PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/15, ‘Workers Brigade – Notes Taken at a Meeting in the Principal Secretary's Office – Ministry of Defence’, Minutes, 14 Mar. 1966.

89 Ibid.; PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/15, ‘The Workers Brigade’, 1966.

90 PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/15, ‘The Workers Brigade’.

91 PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/15, P.A. S. to P. S., 24 Mar. 1966.

92 Report of the Commission, 67.

93 PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/15, ‘The Workers Brigade’.

94 PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/15, P. Laryea to Principal Secretary, Ministry of Defence, ‘The Re-Organisation and Strength of the Workers Brigade’, Accra, 14 Sep. 1966.

95 PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/16, Major-General A. K. Ocran, ‘Address on the Occasion of the Sector Supervisor's Conference’, Accra, 5 Apr. 1967. The East German report on the Brigade noted 52 camps in operation at the time of the advisory committee's study of the organization; PRAAD-Accra RG 14/1/16, Gersbacher, ‘Report on the Ghana Workers Brigade’.

* Earlier versions of this article were presented at the Conference on Perspectives of Decolonization: African Intellectuals and Decolonization at Ohio University in October 2008 and in the Department of History at the University of Ghana in March 2009. I would like to thank Jean Allman, Jennifer Hart, Bianca Murillo, and Jonathan Zimmerman for their comments and suggestions on earlier versions of this article. I would also like to thank the Journal of African History's four anonymous reviewers for their advice.

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