Lawyer, Journalist, and Politician
Joseph Ephraim Casely Hayford was born on September 29,1866, in Cape Coast. His father, Reverend Joseph de Graft Hayford, was a Wesleyan Methodist minister, and his son attended the Wesleyan Boys’ High School in Cape Coast and later Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone. On his return to the Gold Coast, Casely Hayford taught at the Accra Wesleyan High School and then became its principal. He lost this position on account of his journalistic activity as the subeditor of his uncle James Hutton Brew’s weekly newspaper, the Gold Coast Echo; after this paper collapsed he was the editor of two other short-lived local newspapers. He also served as an articled clerk for a European lawyer in Cape Coast and eventually went to England, where he graduated from St. Peter’s College, Cambridge. He then entered the Inner Temple, London, to study law. In 1896 he passed the bar exam and returned to the Gold Coast to practice law.
His return coincided with the Gold Coast Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society’s (GCARPS) opposition to the Lands Bill of 1894. Casely Hayford helped prepare the society’s brief against this legislation, which was designed to regulate the administration of land in the Gold Coast. He collected a great deal of information on indigenous institutions and published his first book, Gold Coast Native Institutions (1903), on this subject. He felt that Africans had to preserve their own culture. His second work, Ethiopia Unbound (1911), took up this theme as its hero, Kwamankra, (in many respects Casely Hayford’s stand-in in this hybrid of novel and “intellectual autobiography” [July 1967, p.433]), urges his countrymen to “emancipate [themselves] from the thralldom of foreign ideas inimical to racial development.” Like much of Casely Hayford’s thought, this work was deeply influenced by Wilmot Edward Blyden’s “Ethiopianism,” which had profoundly inspired the young man when he was a student in Sierra Leone. Ethiopia Unbound criticizes the blunders of colonial policy and the hypocrisy of materialistic Europe in contrast to the “simple idealism of unspoiled, persecuted Africa.” The “gin trade” had undermined native chiefs. Christian churches preached brotherhood but practiced racial segregation among their congregations, and officials denied Africans representative government.
Protest against the Forestry Bill of 1911 inspired Casely Hayford to publish The Truth about the West African Land Question (1913), in which he sought to link this new attempt to “manage reserved lands” with the defeated Lands Bill of 1894. As an indication of his status in the colony, he went as a one-man delegation to London in 1911, and as part of a four-man delegation in 1912 to protest against this legislation. These delegations had little influence on the committee that the British government established to review land policies in West Africa, but the measure eventually died under the weight of deliberations in committee. Colonial policy was shifting in favor of an active role for the chiefs in the administration. Encroaching on their control of land seemed likely to undermine this policy.
The regional approach that the British government had taken to the question of land stimulated Casely Hayford to think of a more West African organization than the GCARPS, which his generation felt had become too parochial. To give himself more editorial freedom, in 1902 he had established his own newspaper, the Cape Coast weekly Gold Coast Leader. He used the paper to raise the idea of a conference of leading men from the four British West African colonies. However, World War I intervened, and it was not until 1919 that Casely Hayford, along with other Gold Coast professionals, was able to organize the Gold Coast Section of the Projected West African Conference. Allied war aims and the Versailles Peace Conference had popularized the idea of self-determination. Casely Hayford also felt that it was time for the “educated natives” to establish themselves as the “natural leaders” of their country, and he antagonized the leadership of the GCARPS and the colony’s most prominent chief, Nana Ofori Atta of Akyem Abuakwa.
In 1920 the first meeting of what was to be known as the Congress of British West Africa took place in Accra, and Casely Hayford was elected its vice president. The congress passed 83 resolutions that dealt with such diverse issues as elected representative government, the creation of a British West African university and more opportunities for Africans in the upper ranks of the civil service. At first the administration of Governor Guggis-berg was mildly sympathetic, but when the congress hastily organized a deputation to London to press for reforms this sentiment evaporated. The chiefs under the leadership of Nana Ofori Atta also attacked the idea that the educated elite were the natural rulers and undermined whatever chances Casely Hayford and his fellow deputation members might have had in influencing the Colonial Office in London.
The conflict between the chiefs and the educated elite allowed the government in the Gold Coast to dismiss the congress as unrepresentative. To challenge this perception the congress captured control of the
GCARPS and Casely Hayford became vice president. In the Legislative Council, where he had been an unofficial member since 1916, he “impeached” Nana Ofori Atta and his supporters as “traitors to the cause of British West Africa.” The damage had been done, however, and though there were a number of joint sessions (at Freetown, 1923; Bathhurst, 1925-1926; and Lagos, 1929) it was only at these times that the movement actually came alive.
In addition, Governor Guggisberg’s new constitution of 1925 rapidly shifted the political focus. It heightened the conflict between the chiefs and the educated elite by giving the former more representation in the expanded Legislative Council. Casely Hayford bitterly attacked this legislation.
In 1926 he went as a one-man delegation to London, but in keeping with his pragmatic approach to politics, when he realized that further opposition was pointless, in 1927 he ran for election and became the municipal representative for Sekondi. This action split the ranks of the educated elite. A predominantly Cape Coast faction led by the lawyer Kobina Sekyi took control of the GCARPS and assailed Casely Hayford and those members of the educated elite who had gone along with him as “defective leaders.” As a member of the Legislative Council in 1929 Casely Hayford effected a reconciliation with Nana Sir Ofori Atta, who had been knighted in 1927. Casely Hayford had been awarded the MBE in 1919. Shortly after this reconciliation he died in Accra on August 11,1930.
See also: Ghana.
Born September 29,1866 in Cape Coast. Attended the Wesleyan Boys’ High School and Fourah Bay College in Sierra Leone. Taught at the Accra Wesleyan High School, also served as the school’s principal, and then became its principal in Cape Coast.
Graduated from St. Peter’s College, University of Cambridge. Studied law at the Inner Temple, London. Passed the bar and returned to the Gold Coast to practice law in 1896. Established a newspaper, the Gold Coast Lead, in 1902. Published first book, Gold Coast Native Institutions, in 1903. Published Ethiopia Unbound in 1911. Published The Truth About the West African Land Question in 1913. Elected municipal representative for Sekondi in 1927. Awarded the MBE in 1919. Died in Accra on August 11, 1930.
Cromwell, A. M. An African Victorian Feminist: The Life and
Times of Adelaide Smith Casely Hayford 1868-1960.
London: Frank Cass, 1986.
Ephson, I. S. Gallery of Gold Coast Celebrities 1632-1958. Accra: Ilen, 1969.
Kimble, D. A Political History of Ghana 1850-1928. London: Oxford University Press, 1963.
July, R. W. The Origins of Modern African Thought. New York: Frederick Praeger, 1967.
Sampson, M. Makers of Modern Ghana: Phillip Quarcoo to Aggrey, vol. 1. Accra: Anowuo Educational, 1969.