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The 'Cat's Paw of Dictatorship': State Security and Self-Rule in the Gold Coast, 1948 to 1957


On February 28th, 1948, a deadly police shooting at a veteran’s demonstration in the Gold Coast sparked three days of rioting in the capital city of Accra and surrounding communities. It was the first crisis of its kind for the British colony and a clear indication of the shifting political realities of the post-war era. Though colonial rule had been in place for several generations, the people of the Gold Coast would increasingly balk at an imperial system that denied them a voice in their own government. The following nine years would witness the Gold Coast’s extraordinary transition from British colony, to self-ruled territory, and eventually an independent state that renamed itself the Republic of Ghana.

In the more than sixty years since Ghana’s independence in 1957, scholars and commentators alike have recognized the February riots as a turning point in Ghanaian and imperial history, signaling the new wave of decolonization that would sweep across sub-Saharan Africa in the years to follow. What has remained unknown and relatively unstudied is the fact that the riots also compelled the development of a government intelligence network in the Gold Coast. Before British officials accepted that colonial rule was as its end in West Africa, they sought to safeguard the state by providing it a domestic intelligence organization. This organization operated throughout the terminal years of British rule in the Gold Coast and succeeded in both altering the nature of the colonial state and the process of decolonization in unexpected ways.

This dissertation interrogates the role of government intelligence in the Gold Coast between the years of 1948 and 1957. By examining police superintendents, Security Service officers, and colonial administrators, it reconstructs the establishment and application of intelligence resources to better understand the process and politics of decolonization in the Britain’s West African empire.

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