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					Gerardo Serra EH 590                                                    2 May 2012

               From Scattered Data to Ideological Education:
                  Economics, Statistics and State Building
                     in Gold Coast/ Ghana, 1928-1966

Science played an important role in the task of state-building in colonial and
postcolonial Africa (Bounneil 2000). Much of the existing literature analyzing the
history of science in developing countries has focused on the colonial period and on
branches of knowledge such as agriculture, engineering, medicine and anthropology.
Yet, the role of economics and statistics in conceptualizing African national
economies and making them objects of policy intervention has largely been
neglected1. This paper looks at the rise and evolution of different notions of expertise,
capable of serving the changing needs of policy-makers in charge for ruling ‘new’
The paper, based on published sources and archival material gathered in London
(Public Records Office, LSE Colonial Science Collection), and Accra (Public Records
Archives and Administration, George Padmore Library of African Affairs) aims at
filling this historiographical gap by looking at the case of Ghana from the 1920s to
1966, with the fall of the first independent government led by Kwame Nkrumah.

    Disconnected Voices: Agricultural economists and West African nationalists,

The employment of economists in the government of the Gold Coast can be traced
back to 1928, with the institution of the Rural Economics and Statistics sections
within the Department of Agriculture. The first economists employed by the Gold
Coast government were, following the pattern of Britain, agricultural economists.
George Auchinleck, the expert called in 1927 from Knowles, then director of the
Gold Coast Department of Agriculture to advise on the reorganization of the
department, expressed his doubts on the possibility for economists-statisticians and
agricultural officers to coexist peacefully (PRO CO96/673/4). In the late 1920s

 One of the few available studies on the relationship between economics and state-building in
‘peripheral countries’ is Krampf (2010)’s analysis of Israeli policy discourse in the 1950s.

economists were thought to be able to contribute to government action only as
gatherers of information on a relevant sector of the economy (in the case of the Gold
Coast, cocoa, which accounted for the bulk of exports in that period). At this point the
work of economists did not have much to contribute in the support of the claims of
nationalistic movements, although their work was perfectly in line with the systematic
attempts of the British administration to maximize the amount of natural resources
extracted. The West African lawyers who animated the first generation of nationalistic
movements2 were skeptical of ‘colonial’ ways of producing knowledge about the
economic conditions of the Gold Coast. It is possible to find in their writings a subtle
critique of statistical quantification, of the British tendency ‘to find facts to prove a
known theory and not a theory to account for known facts’ (Danquah 1928:5-6), and
the employment of a holistic methodology which refused to isolate economic
activities from religious, cultural and social aspects3.

    Joining the Dots: Conceptualising and Representing the National Economy,

The Second World War represented a watershed in the history of the relationship
between economics and state building in Gold Coast. The publication of Keynes’
General Theory, which raised the confidence of economists in pursuing aggregative
reasoning, and methodological positions as bold as the ones contained in Abba
Lerner’s ‘The Economics of Control’4 changed significantly the intellectual landscape
in which policy decisions were taken, favouring to a greater extent state intervention
in economic affairs, and paying much more attention to what economists had to say
about public affairs. Africa’s strategic importance in the war effort rose dramatically

  For a detailed discussion of the role of lawyers in shaping political outcomes in Gold Coast,
see Edsman, (1979).
  As it has rightly been pointed the writings of the West African nationalists in the first half of
the XX century ‘may be claimed as an independent manifestation of the widespread
questioning of economic science {…} identified with the historical school of Roscher and
Smoller, and the institutionalists Veblen, Commons and Mitchell. See Goodwin, Craufurd
(1967: 451).
  For a critical assessment of Lerner’s appraisal of the optimistic relationship between
economic theories and the possibility of identifying and implementing the ‘right’ policies, see
Colander (2005).

as the demand for minerals and timber increased5. Within the Colonial Office, a
Colonial Economic Advisory Committee was established with the task of advising on
African economic policy and institutionalizing economic research on African
conditions6. Meanwhile, in the Gold Coast the government ‘soon realized that its
wartime tasks were much larger than merely providing an adequate defense for its
territory’ (Wendell 1985). In order to serve imperial needs, a reorganization of the
knowledge available on the economic resources of the country took place. This took
mostly the form of surveys of specific areas. However, the kind of knowledge
produced in the early 1940s marked a considerable expansion of the variables
measured. The attempt to explore multidimensional issues related to the ‘welfare’ of
Ghanaian population implied on the part of the social scientist a systematic attempt to
gather bits of scattered empirical evidence on an unprecedented scale (Orde Browne
1941: 33). Even economic statistics which had been collected since the imposition of
colonial rule in the late XIX century assumed during the Second World War a new
role, by providing the conceptual link with other measures 7. In some other cases,
rather than assembling material initially collected for different and more limited
purposes from other Departments, the practice of the social scientist involved a more
direct confrontation with the local population.

It is in this sense that the nature of economic statistics as ‘products’ of negotiation and
interaction of people with different goals, rather than given ‘facts’ emerges more
clearly. And it is in this sense that the expertise of economists and statisticians served
the cause of state building. If by state building we mean the extension of power over
distance8, the expertise of economists played an important role in extending the
capacity of the state to know not only about more issues, but also about more places.
This is what we mean by claiming that the economists and statisticians who produced
official reports in the 1940s were ‘joining the dots’. This activity took place as a way

  For further discussion on the use of African strategic resources during WWII, see Dumett
  For further discussion on the Colonial Economic Advisory Committee, see Ingham (2001).
  For example customs returns, which can arguably be included among the oldest kinds of
economic information collected by states, were not only valuable per se, but could also be
used, given their capacity to ‘largely reflect spending capacities, rising standards of living,
improved conditions of housing and diet, and similar points’(Ibid.), to shed light on labour
  For further discussion on this, see Herbst (2000).

of extracting and recombining bits of information scattered around the country, trying
to penetrate and represent the economic life of rural and urban communities.
However, what truly led to the representation of a national economy was the
introduction of macroeconomic accounting. In Britain national income accounts were
employed as a device for state planners to get to know the amount and the
composition of resources available for the war effort. In Gold Coast these new
techniques were introduced by Dudley Seers and C. Y. Ross, both members of the
Oxford Institute of Applied Economics and Statistics. Even if Seers and Ross were
asked to produce a report on the financial constraints of the building industry in Gold
Coast, they emphasized that it was not desirable to focus on the specific problems of
an industry, but rather to analyse the contribution of different industries to the national
product and the strategic interconnectedness between them. Besides producing some
of the earliest national income account tables for Sub-Saharan Africa, Seers and Ross
reflected on the possible use of macroeconomic accounts, and compared them to
‘what a map of the battle area is to a general’ (Seers and Ross 1952, Appendix A, 20),
crucial, regardless of the accuracy of the specific bits of information which informed
it, for the planning of the campaign. It is clear that by the late 1940s the expertise of
economists was related not perceived not only as the capacity to collect data, but also
to frame them together in a theoretical template which could allow planners to
visualize the (otherwise invisible) strategic interdependencies between different
economic sectors or categories of agents.

However, there is another sense in which the employment of macroeconomic
accounting could be considered a process of ‘joining the dots’. While in the late 1920s
the expertise of economists and the claims of nationalist movements did not overlap
with each other, since the 1940s the new generation of African politicians
acknowledged the importance of the work of professional economists and
statisticians. In January 1943, for example, an African member of the Legislative
Assembly asked that a professional economist could be sent to the Gold Coast as an
economic advisor. In the vision of the Legislative Assembly the economic advisor
should have been in charge for such important (and so disparate) tasks as ‘the
promotion of secondary industries, the direction of cooperatives, the direction of the
Board of Trade, Commerce and Industry, and a membership in the Executive Council’
(PRO CO96/731/56). In 1951 the Gold Coast became a self-dominion, and Kwame
Nkrumah, who had been nominated Leader of the Government Business, pushed
towards a policy of Africanisation. The fact that the University College of the Gold
Coast had been the first in British Sub-Saharan Africa to offer a bachelor degree in
economics provided a great stimulus towards making more plausible the idea that
Africans could manage their own affairs, and therefore legitimized the nationalistic
call for independence to be granted as soon as possible9.

                     Economic Science as Ideological Education:
    The Kwame Nkrumah Institute of Economics and Political Science, 1961-1966

Independence was granted in 1947, and the Gold Coast changed its name into Ghana.
At the end of the 1950s Kwame Nkrumah grew increasingly convinced that only the
deliberate adoption of a socialist economic system could overcome Ghana’s
underdevelopment in a short time. These intentions were shortly followed by a radical
political transformation: the strict implementation of the ‘Preventive Detenction Act’,
which which marked the beginning of the transformation of Ghana into a one party
state. As a slogan of time goes ‘The CPP10 is the State’.

Given Nkrumah’s utilitarian vision of science as something strictly needed in order to
improve the material living conditions of the Ghanaians11, economists played an
increasingly important role in the shaping of economic policy. A conference was
organised to discuss the technical aspects of the Seven-Year Development Plan,
which provided the blueprint for the realisation of socialism in Ghana. The conference
was attended by eminent development economists such as Nicholas Kaldor and
William Arthur Lewis, and socialists economists from Eastern Europe (Ghana, Office
of the Planning Commission 1964: ix). However, the main innovation in the
relationship between economics and state building in the last years of Nkrumah’s rule
had to be found not in the capacity of economists to provide a representation of the

  This is expressed for example, in the 1951 report by Sir Cecil Trevor on the possibility of
establishing a national bank (Trevor 1951: par. 165).
   Convention People’s Party: the party founded by Nkrumah in 1949.
   ‘I am not concerned with plans for exploring the moon, Mars or any other planets. They
are too far from me anyway. My concern is here on earth where so much needs to be done to
make it a place fit for human effort, endeavour and happiness. […] Unless science is used for
the betterment of the mankind, I am at a loss to understand the reason for it at all’ ,Nkrumah
({1963}2009 c: 144) .

national economy (which merely constituted a further evolution of the tendencies
described in the previous section), but in the deliberate use of political economy as a
form of ideological propaganda. While the University of Ghana remained the cradle
of technical expertise and the main centre of research for economics and other social
sciences12, Nkrumah thought that social sciences had to play an active role in
diffusing the ‘right’ ideas outside the boundaries of academia. In order to achieve his
goal, he decided to establish an educational institution devoted exclusively to
ideological training for ‘everyone of us, from members of the Central Committee,
Ministers and High Party officials, to the lowest propagandist in the field’ (Nkrumah
{1961} 2009: 260). The laying of the foundation stone of the Kwame Nkrumah
Institute of Economics and Political Science (significantly also known as the Kwame
Nkrumah Ideological Institute) took place on the 18th February 1961. The importance
attached to economics and political economy is proven by the relatively high number
of hours devoted to their teaching (five hours per week, versus three hours of
‘Nkrumaism’ which represented the official ideology of the Party, BA RLAA 437).
Commentaries of excerpts of Marx’s ‘Capital’ and Lenin’s ‘Imperialism: The Highest
Stage of Capitalism’ provided the bulk of the teaching material of the course. Marxist-
Leninist political economy constituted, in the eyes of Kwame Nkrumah, an important
part of the intellectual apparatus needed to teach Ghanaians how ‘to defend the Party
at all times, explain its policies to the unenlightened, defend the Government, explain
its policies, and serve in a way as a liaison officer between the Party and non-Party
members, between the Government and the people, between the Nation and non-
Ghanaians, between Africa and the non-Africans’ (Nkrumaisn, lectures outline, BA
RLAA 437). However it is important to stress that the idea that the teaching of
economics could have a radical impact on the way Africans thought was not an
exclusive feature of totalitarian regimes of Marxist inspiration like Nkrumah’s.
Drawing from his personal experience in Kenyan colleges, J. D. Roche, an economist
specialising in manpower planning and human capital, compared teaching economics
to Africans to ‘bush-clearing’ (Roche 1960:125), in the sense that a real
understanding of economic principles from their side implied a radical departure from
the ‘traditional’ values to which most of the students were accustomed to, and a

  Although Nkrumah’s government enforced a strict censorship on universities’
activities. See Agbodeka (1998, chapter 8).
completely new way of thinking13. In the meanwhile the Ghanaian economy was
experiencing severe shortages of consumer goods and exhaustion of foreign reserves,
which led Nkrumah’s dreams of modernisation and social engineering came to an
abrupt end in February 1966, when he was overthrown by a coup d’état organised by
the National Liberation Council.


This paper has argued that the work of economists and statisticians played an
important role in the herculean task of state building facing policy-makers in Ghana.
However, the employment of professional economists did not immediately overlap
with the claim of nationalistic movements. The expertise employed in the Department
of Agriculture in the 1920s and 1930s did not overlap with the claims of the rising
nationalistic movements. The experience of planning of the Second World War, the
employment of new techniques of macroeconomic accounting, and the more
interventionist climate following the adoption of the Colonial Welfare Development
Act, provided late colonial rulers with important tools to visualise the links between
different sectors of economic activity. This process of visualisation allowed late
colonial administrators to overcome previous epistemic limits. Shortly after
independence, beside an increasing use of economists in planning, Nkrumah attached
much importance to the ideological indoctrination in the principles of Marxist-
Leninist political economy.
Within a few decades, what was simply employed as a descriptive science, capable of
collecting scattered bits of information and organise them to provide policy-makers
with a representation of the structure of the national economy, became a tool directly
used to shape the values, beliefs and attitudes of the citizens.

  ‘The English student quickly becomes accustomed to considering the “purely”
economic aspects of a situation while bearing in mind generally the ethical and
political factors, and the normal textbook normally follows this method, claiming to
separate the economic from the non-economic, and harking back constantly to the
idea of the Economic Man in order to get a closer look at situational extremes. The
textbook economist strives to measure economic situations, effects and trends in mathematical
terms to describe them by curves and diagrams. The African has difficulty in accepting the
whole method: he finds it hard to embrace a discipline {…} which does not carry a in-built
system of natural moral law and social justice’ (Ibid, p. 128).


Archival collections

Public Records Office (PRO), London


Public Records and Archives Administration (PRAAD), Accra





George Padmore Library of African Affairs (BA), Accra


Official publications and other primary sources

Ghana. Office of the Planning Commission (1964) Seven Year Development Plan.
      1963/64 to 1969/70, Accra: Government Printer

Trevor, Cecil. Gold Coast (1951) Report by Sir Cecil Trevor on Banking Conditions
       in the Gold Coast and on the Question of Setting Up a National Bank, Accra

Danquah, J.B.(1928) Gold Coast Akan Laws and Customs and the Akim Abuakwa
      Constitution, London: George Routledge and Sons

Nkrumah, Kwame [1961] (2009a) ‘The Kwame Nkrumah Institute: Laying out the
     Foundation Stone and the Inauguration of the First Course of the Ideological
     Section of the Institute, Winneba, February 18, 1961’ in Obeng, Samuel (ed.)
     Selected Speeches of Kwame Nkrumah, Vol.1, Accra: Afram Publications, pp.

Nkrumah, Kwame [1963] (2009b) ‘Opening of the Institute of African Studies,
     Legon, October 25 1963’ in Obeng, Samuel (ed.) Selected Speeches of Kwame
     Nkrumah, Vol. 2, Accra: Afram Publications, pp. 272-84

Nkrumah, Kwame [1963] (2009c) ‘University Dinner, Flagstaff House, Accra,
     February 24, 1963’ in Obeng, Samuel (ed.) Selected Speeches of Kwame
     Nkrumah, Vol. 2, Accra: Afram Publications, pp. 144-147

Obeng, Samuel (2009, ed.) Selected Speeches of Kwame Nkrumah, Vol. 1 and 2,
      Accra: Afram Publications

Orde Browe, J. (1941) Labour Conditions in West Africa, London: His Majesty
      Stationery Office

Roche, J. C. (1960) ‘African Attitudes to Economic Study’ African Affairs, 59:235,
       pp. 124-135

Seers, Dudley and Ross, C.Y. (1952) Report on the Financial and Physical Problems
       of Development in the Gold Coast, Accra: Office of the Government

Trevor, Cecil. Gold Coast (1951) Report by Sir Cecil Trevor on Banking Conditions
       in the Gold Coast and on the Question of Setting Up a National Bank, Accra

Secondary sources

Agbodeka, Francis (1998) A History of University of Ghana: Half a Century of
      Higher Education (1948-1998), Accra: Woeli Publishing Services

Banzhaf, Spencer H. ‘The Other Economics Department: Demand and Value Theory
      in Early Agricultural Economics’ History of Political Economy

Bounneil, Cristophe (2000) ‘Development as Experiment: Science and State Building
      in Late Colonial and Postcolonial Africa, 1930-1970’ Osiris, 2nd Series, Vol.
      15, Nature and Empire: Science and the Colonial Enterprise, pp. 258-281

Colander, David (2005) ‘From Muddling Through to the Economics of Control:
      Views of Applied Policy from J.N. Keynes to Abba Lerner’ History of
      Political Economy, 37: 277-291

Dumett, Raymond (1985) ‘African Strategic Minerals during the Second World War’
      Journal of African History, 26:4, pp. 381-404

Edsman, Bjorn M. (1979) Lawyers in Gold Coast Politics, c. 1900-1945: From
      Mensah Serbah to J.B. Danquah, Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell

Goodwin, Craufurd (1967) ‘Economic Analysis and Development in British West
     Africa’ Economic Development and Cultural Change, 15:4, 438-451

Harrison, Mark (2010) Medicine in an Age of Commerce and Empire: Britain and its
       Tropical Colonies, 1660-1830, Oxford: Oxford University Press

Herbst, Jeffrey (2000) States and Power in Africa: Comparative Lessons in Authority
       and Control, Princeton (NJ): Princeton University Press

Hodge, Joseph M. (2007) Triumph of the Expert: Agrarian Doctrines and the Legacy
      of British Colonialism, Athens (OH), Ohio University Press

Holbrook, Wendell (1985) ‘British Propaganda and the Mobilisation of the Gold
      Coast War Effort, 1939-1945’ The Journal of African History, 26:4, 347-361

Ingham, Barbara (2001) ‘Shaping Opinion on Development Policy: Economists at the
      Colonial Office, 1941-1945’ History of Political Economy,

Jones, Trevor (1976) Ghana’s First Republic, 1960-1966: The Pursuit of the Political
       Kingdom, London: Methuen & Co.

Killick, Tony (1978) Development Economics in Action: A Study of Economic Policy
        in Ghana, London: Heinemann

Krampf , Aie (2010) ‘Economic Planning of the Free Market of Israel during the First
      Decade: The Influence of Don Patinkin on Israeli Policy Discourse’ Science in
      Context, 23:4, 507-534

Omari, T. Peter [1970] (2009) Kwame Nkrumah: The Anatomy of an African
      Dictatorship, Accra: Sankofa Educational Publishers

Whetham, Edith H. (1981) Agricultural Economists in Britain, 1900-1940, Oxford:
      Institute of Agricultural Economics

                                APPENDIX A
Matrix for the Social Accounts of the Gold Coast economy, 1944-1950. Source:
Seers, Dudley and Ross, C. Y. (1952) Report on the Financial and Physical
Problems of Development in the Gold Coast, Appendix A, p. 20.


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