July 18, 1958: Preventive Detention Act promulgated

By March 6, 1957 the Gold Coast achieved independence from Great Britain. This came about due to a number of factors, not limited to decades of fermenting nationalism among native Gold Coast citizens and their fellow colonial subjects abroad (ex. fight for Indian independence), actions of protest, and the evidence of British weakness following World War II (Suez Crisis).

In the first Legislative Assembly elections prior to independence, Kwame Nkrumah's Convention People's Party won a resounding majority giving them the leverage to shape the policies and make up of the new nation.

 Kwame Nkrumah himself was subject to preventive detention by the British in the early 1950s.

Kwame Nkrumah himself was subject to preventive detention by the British in the early 1950s.

Nkrumah had been a key figure in the fight for independence and emerged as a leader after being incarcerated for advocating a strike in his publication, the Evening News. As the leader of the CPP, Nkrumah was named the prime minister. Nkrumah faced much opposition from rival parties. In the landscape of the newly independent, ethnically diverse nation Nkrumah became increasingly paranoid--justifications of this paranoia are widely debated to this day in Ghana. Ghana's independence also arrived with the winds of the Cold War in which the ideologies and strength of the United States and the Soviet Union were working to increase their influence and occupy the post World War II power vacuum left by decimated Western European nations.

 Convention People's Party logo

Convention People's Party logo

Protests from within the country fomented soon after independence, principally in Ashanti Region where many of the chiefs did not support Nkrumah. Nkrumah had many of these chiefs de-stooled. In 1958 Nkrumah was certain that a foreign backed assassination plot had been planned against him after an MP was charged with smuggling weapons into the country for a planned infiltration of the Ghanaian Army. Nkrumah determined that a heavier hand was necessary to rule and enforced the Preventive Detention Act. This decree allowed the prime minister to incarcerate individuals for up to five years (later extended to ten in 1959 and indefinitely in 1962) without charge or trial. Only Nkrumah had the power to exonerate or release these individuals. Opponents saw this act as a blatant restriction of individual freedom and a violation of human rights.

 Ghana remained part of the British Commonwealth until it declared itself a republic on July 1, 1960

Ghana remained part of the British Commonwealth until it declared itself a republic on July 1, 1960

Preventive detention became a key strategy of the CPP's in silencing their opponents. A former Nkrumah ally, Dr. JB Danquah, was incarcerated and died in prison in 1965. Opposition party leader Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia escaped to England and lived in exile for nearly a decade prior to the ratification of the act as he anticipated being incarcerated. Many opposition leaders simply joined the CPP to avoid political persecution under the Nkrumah administration.

 Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia went into exile in 1957, prior to the promulgation of the Preventive Detention Act

Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia went into exile in 1957, prior to the promulgation of the Preventive Detention Act

While there is debate surrounding the efficacy of Nkrumah's policies in developing Ghana as a nascent country, the majority of scholars agree that the Preventive Detention Act did more to hurt Nkrumah's reputation that to help him. It was a large factor leading to the devolution of Ghana to a one-party state.