Nana Joseph Kwame Kyeretwie Boakye Danquah (18 December 1895 – 4 February 1965) born in Bepong – Kwahu, Gold Coast, to Emmanuel Yaw Boakye, and Madam Lydia Okum Korantewaa. Danquah’s father was chief drummer at the palace of Nana Amoako Atta III, Omanhene of Akyem Abuakwa. Danquah’s elder sibling from another mother, who was 14 years older, later became Nana Sir Ofori Atta was a Ghanaian statesman, panAfricanist, scholar, lawyer and historian. He played a significant role in pre- and post-colonial Ghana, which was formerly the Gold Coast, and in fact is credited with giving Ghana its name. During his political career, Danquah was one of the primary opposition leaders to Ghanaian president and independence leader Kwame Nkrumah. J. B. Danquah was described as the “doyen of Gold Coast politics” by the Watson Commission of Inquiry into the 1948 Accra riots
He was descended from the royal family of Ofori Panyin Fie, once the rulers of the Akyem states, and still then one of the most influential families in Ghanaian politics. His elder brother is Nana Sir Ofori Atta I and he is the father of actor Paul Danquah. He was a lawyer, author, and politician—the dean of Ghanaian nationalist politicians—who played a pivotal role throughout Ghana’s pursuit of independence and during the country’s early years up until his death. He was also one of the principal opposition leaders against Kwame Nkrumah, the nationalist who became the country’s first president.
At the age of six, J.B. began schooling at the Basel Mission School at Kyebi, going on to attend the Basel Mission Senior School at Begoro. On successfully passing his standard seven examinations in 1912, he entered the employment of Vidal J. Buckle, a barrister-at-law in Accra, as a clerk, a job which aroused his interest in law.
After passing the Civil Service Examinations in 1914, Danquah became a clerk at the Supreme Court of the Gold Coast, which gave him the experience that made his brother Nana Sir Ofori Atta I, who had become chief two years earlier, appoint him as secretary of the Omanhene’s Tribunal in Kyebi.
Following the influence of his brother, Danquah was appointed as the assistant secretary of the Conference of Paramount Chiefs of the Eastern Province, which was later given statutory recognition to become the Eastern Provincial Council of Chiefs. His brilliance made his brother decide to send him to Britain in 1921 to read law.
After two unsuccessful attempts at the University of London matriculation, Danquah passed in 1922, enabling him to enter the University College of London as a philosophy student. He earned his B.A. degree in 1925, winning the John Stuart Mill Scholarship in the Philosophy of Mind and Logic. He then embarked on a Doctor of Philosophy degree, which he earned in two years with a thesis entitled “The Moral End as Moral Excellence”. He became the first West African to obtain the doctor of philosophy degree from a British university.
While he worked on his thesis, he entered the Inner Temple and was called to the Bar in 1926. During his student days, he had two sons and two daughters by two different women, neither of whom he married. In London, Danquah also took time off his studies to participate in student politics, editing the West African Students’ Union (WASU) magazine and becoming the Union’s president.
Returning home in 1927, Danquah went into private legal practice. In 1929 he helped J. E. Casely Hayford found the Gold Coast Youth Conference (GCYC) and was secretary general from 1937 to 1947. In 1931 Danquah established The Times of West Africa (originally called the West Africa Times), which was the first daily newspaper in Ghana and was published between 1931 and 1935
A column called “Women’s Corner” was pseudonymously written by Mabel Dove, daughter of prominent barrister Francis Dove.
Danquah became a member of the Legislative Council in 1946 and actively pursued independence legislation for his country. In 1947 he helped to found the pro-independence United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) as a combination of chiefs, academics and lawyers, including George Alfred Grant, Robert Benjamin Blay, R. A. Awoonor-Williams, Edward Akufo-Addo, and Emmanuel Obetsebi-Lamptey. Kwame Nkrumah was invited to be the new party’s general secretary. In 1948, following a boycott of European imports and subsequent rioting in Accra, Danquah was one of “the big six” (the others being Nkrumah, Akufo-Addo, Obetsebi-Lamptey, Ebenezer Ako-Adjei and William Ofori Atta) who were detained for a month by the colonial authorities.
In 1934, while on a petition delegation to London, he researched at the British Museum and came up with the name Ghana for the then Gold Coast. He researched and discovered that Ghanaians are descended from the ancient empire of Ghana which flourished between the fourth and twelve centuries at the Niger bend, near present day Timbucktoo. The name Ghana must have come from the Guan name Gyan or Djan. Out of the name Gyan, we have anglicized versions like Ghunney, Ghansah, Ghartey, among others.
In 1954, after he lost elections massively to the CPP, while running on the ticket of the UGCC, he was invited to New York by the UN to receive the Bryony Mumford Writing Fellowship, which had tenure of 3 months. When he arrived back in the country, he was conferred with the title of Twafohene by the Abuakwa State, with the stool name of Barima Kwame Kyeretwie Dankwa. Among his illustrious accomplishments was his unyielding fight to have the University of Ghana established in 1948. The British had proposed the establishment of only one university for the whole of West Africa but Danquah refused.
It was Danquah who fought for the establishment of the Cocoa Marketing Board (CMB) in 1947. It was Danquah who vigorously canvassed the people of Asante and the then Northern Territories to join the Gold Coast Colony to become what we know today as modern Ghana. Of course, Nkrumah also did his bit by using the 1956 Plebiscite to annex Trans Volta Togoland to become modern day Volta Region of Ghana. Nkrumah was vehemently opposed by secessionists such as Dr R.G. Armattoe and Kofi Anton. Danquah believed strongly in liberal democracy, hence his idea of federalism and a ministerial system of government for Ghana
However, Danquah and Nkrumah subsequently disagreed over the direction of the independence movement and parted ways after two years. Nkrumah went on to form the Convention People’s Party and eventually became the first president of independent Ghana.
Danquah’s private life was full of romance. While in London from 1921 to 1927, he fathered two sons and two daughters from two women, none of whom he married. When he got back to the Gold Coast, he got married to the daughter of a prominent lawyer. The lass’ name was Mable Dove. Later, he married his second wife, Elizabeth Vardon
DETENTION AND DEATH
Danquah stood as a presidential candidate against Nkrumah in April 1960 but lost the election. On 3 October 1961, on the grounds of involvement with alleged plans to subvert the CPP government, he was arrested under the Preventive Detention Act. He was released on 22 June 1962. He was later elected president of the Ghana Bar Association.
Danquah was again arrested on 8 January 1964, for allegedly being implicated in a plot against the President. He suffered a heart attack and died while in detention at Nsawam Medium Prison on 4 February 1965.
After the overthrow of the CPP government in February 1966 by the National Liberation Council (NLC), Danquah was given a national funeral and rehabilitated.