October 24, 2020

The Causes and Effects of the 1948 Accra Riots in Ghana

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Below are the summarized points regarding the causes and effects of the 1948 riots in Ghana’s capital, Accra and other major towns.

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Nii Kobina Bonney III, Osu Alata Mantse  (chief of Osu Alata) had been organizing a boycott of European goods across the country to protest against rising prices of essential commodities. It was against this tense backdrop that the 1948 Accra riots occurred.

The 1948 riots started in Accra and quickly spread to other major towns mainly along the coast. Twenty-nine people lost their lives and the number of injured persons stood at two hundred.

Never in the history of Africa was such an explosion of popular anger by colonials ever witnessed.

A commission headed by Sir Aitken Watson was therefore set up to investigate the causes of the Accra riots of 1948.

The following were the findings of the Watson Commission regarding the causes of the 1948 riots in Ghana.

The immediate cause of the 1948 riots

1. The Christiansborg crossroads shootings. The shootings on the orders of Superintendent Imray, a white police officer at  the castle, resulted in the deaths of three ex-servicemen, namely

  • Sergeant Adjetey
  • Corporal Attipoe and
  • Private Odartey

This sad event ignited the flame of the people’s anger against the colonial government. They spontaneously took to the streets, venting their frustration and anger at the colonial government.

The remote causes of the 1948 riots


2. Shortage of essential commodities and high prices.

3. Ghanaians were dissatisfied over the domination of the economy by foreigners.

4. The people of the Gold Coast did not understand why cocoa trees which were affected by the swollen shoot disease were destroyed by the government without prior consultation with the farmers and without adequate compensation.


5. Shortage of educational and health facilities.

6. Acute unemployment situation coupled with housing problems.

7. The shabby treatment meted out to ex-servicemen on their return from the Second World War. Their promised gratuities were not being paid.

8. Racial discrimination against Africans in the civil service. They were denied top positions.


9. Limited African representation in the legislative and executive councils.

10. The people were disappointed in the so-called constitutional reforms in the 1946 Allan Burns constitution particularly because it maintained the exclusion of the educated elite from the government.

The effects of the 1948 riots

1. The arrest of the ‘Big Six’ turned them into instant national heroes which in turn boosted their political fortunes. They were:

i. Kwame Nkrumah,

ii. J.B. Danquah,

iii. Obetsebi Lamptey

iv. Ako Adjei

v. Edward Akuffo Addo and

vi.William Ofori Atta

2. The events of the 1948 disturbances created greater political awareness among Ghanaians.

3. The 1948 riots shook the colonial government to wake up from its state of complacency and made it speed up constitutional reforms.

4. The 1948 riots were instrumental in the setting up of the Watson Commission followed quickly by the Coussey Committee. This resulted in the 1950 Coussey Constitution (also known as the Arden Clarke constitution) which came into force on 1st January 1951.

5. The 1948 riots speeded up the process towards self – rule in Ghana.

It was the 1948 riots that paved the way for the February 1951 general elections which saw the imprisoned Nkrumah and his CPP sweep the polls by winning 34 of the 38 popularly elected seats in the Legislative Assembly.

A triumphant Nkrumah rose from prison to form the first ever Ghanaian government with him occupying the position of Leader of Government Business and a year after (1952), Prime Minister. 


Thus, the 1948 riots marked a turning point in the political history of Ghana. In March 1957, less than a decade after the 1948 riots, Ghana gained her independence becoming the first African nation, south of the Sahara, to do so.

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Ralph Nyadzi

Ralph has a passion for the teaching and learning of Language and Literature mainly because these two help him to understand and appreciate why people act the way they do. Over the past two decades, he has coached over 5000 students and adult learners to achieve their educational goals. Ralph is the founder and CEO of Cegast Academy.

View all posts by Ralph Nyadzi →

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