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The Gold Coast: The Impact of British Imperialism

The era of colonialism and the related policy of imperialism were associated with the emergence, existence, and development of considerable empires, the main goal of which was foreign policy expansion. Among these empires, the most essential and exceptional place is occupied by the British colonial system. Thus, British imperialism manifested itself in the concentration of capital and production in the imperium to such a high degree of development that it practically made the empire a monopoly. In particular, at the end of the eighteenth century, the British government seized land along the coast of modern Ghana’s territory. The British gave it the Gold Coast name because of the high number of gold resources found in this area.1 The British Empire abolished the African Trade Company and expanded the colony by invading African kingdoms in the Fanti and Ashanti Confederations. Subsequently, the goals of the British did affect African society by laying the foundation for social, economic, and educational change in Ghana. At the same time, African society did influence the Imperial project by altering attitudes regarding the Enlightenment and Evangelical ideology on the administration of the colony.

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One of the goals of the British was to spread their Protestant thoughts to the people of the Gold Coast, in particular, to the abolition of slavery, thus contributing to its social development. By the end of the eighteenth century, they were the largest supporters of the cancellation of slavery throughout the world, despite being the substantial slave dealers in previous centuries.2 This transition to abolitionism in nineteenth-century Britain was the consequence of widespread changes in British society as a result of the Industrial Revolution. It led to the creation of a new middle-class society, consisting of industrialists, financiers, and shop owners in Britain, which helped fund the community of Enlightenment thinkers who developed the concept of liberalism. This ideology included Christian evangelism, a belief in a free market economy and hard work, and support for democratic ideals.3 The British middle class turned this ideology to the working-class and subsequently to the colonial population. It gave this internal campaign an international character, which was a powerful impetus to imperialism.

At that period of time, virtually the entire territory of West Africa consisted of slave societies. The war in order to acquire new bondmen for their own needs and sell them was a stable political, economic, and social situation in the Gold Coast. At the same time, slavery on the Gold Coast was generally assimilative, as enslaved people could often become full members of society and even the family in which they lived during their lives. Nevertheless, the British middle-class representatives, who counted themselves not only the upper class in society but the most civilized nation in the world, considered it their duty to carry their values ​​to the colonial population.4 British missionaries insisted that the slave trade and traditional slavery were morally abhorrent and achieved a partial abolition in the Gold Coast.

Simultaneously, the social changes related to the abolition of slavery were not entirely analogous to those taking place in Great Britain. It was due to excluding children, insane or criminals, and women, from the opportunity to enjoy equality.5 Particularly, Africans, South Asians, and others were considered “children like” and therefore unworthy of full rights.6 Most British administrators were actually not interested in truly eradicating slavery in the region. While many of them can be loosely called abolitionists, in reality, they were opposed to actively eradicating slavery for several reasons. Firstly, they recognized that the colony’s wealth and its political stability were based on their alliance with the local men who were slave owners and were unwilling to alienate this class. Secondly, they feared that the enslaved people’s active liberation would cause the chaos they wanted to avoid. Finally, they convinced themselves that slavery in the region was not so wrong and more like a parent-child relationship than plantation slavery in America. Thus, African society did influence the Imperial project by modifying views on Protestant ideology.

The British authorities, in contrast to the French, which were guided by more radical methods, adopted a system of indirect government, thus influencing the partial preservation of the identity of the indigenous population. The British managed to create a system of agreements with local rulers, which was formalized in the creation of a Protectorate, which included small and large African states.7 They were legally limited to a few major cities such as the Cape Coast and supported Britain in the war of 1873-1874 and were under the control of afenfo, who sympathized with British rule.8 The traditional leaders on African territory retained power in the colonial administration system, only receiving instructions from European leaders. In addition, most of the minor officials serving on the Gold Coast during this period were evangelical Christians from the British middle class who spent only a short time in each of several overseas colonies.9 The colony, which was formally ruled by the British but the states were technically independent. As a result, the indigenous population’s traditional values, beliefs, and mentality, to some extent, have been preserved.

The period of British rule of the Gold Coast was an era of significant progress of the latter in economic development. Despite the fact that British administrators and missionaries did not seek to eradicate slavery in the colony fully, it must be recognized that they sincerely acted in the interests of their African charges. In particular, the British colonists were engaged in the construction of railways on the territory and formed a complex transport system of communication with other areas. In the future, this served as the basis for the development of transport infrastructure in Ghana in the modern period. Despite the existence of the ongoing conflict, Europeans and Africans communicated relatively freely on a daily basis.10 The African population tried to create European but independent states such as the Accra Confederation and wrote the Fante Confederation Constitution of 1873.11 Many of these people were a class of professionals and dealers who generally maintained a British attitude, traded and worked with British administrators and commercial companies, and considered themselves at least partly British. However, similar attitude did not always extend to the lower classes of the African population.

British imperialism also contributed to the educational development of the population of the Gold Coast. It was precisely owing to the process of obtaining the education that took place in that period in the British style that the Ghanaian elite was created. One of the four important men Abina dealt with was James Davis, who was a highly educated resident of the Gold Coast.12 Davis played a crucial role in helping Abina not only because he took her under his care but also because he became her attorney in the courtroom. As a court interpreter, Davis was likely educated at a missionary school, whose curriculum included English. In addition, he spoke several other languages, knew how to write, and was a Christian.13 Much of what is written about Davis in the book is a body of evidence of other young people like him living in the Gold Coast. As a consequence, it is allowing to judge the influence of British imperialism on educational progress in the territory of the Gold Coast.

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To summarize, the goals of the British did influence African society by laying the foundation for social, economic, and educational change in the Gold Coast. Simultaneously, the African population did affect the Imperial project by modifying the Protestant and Evangelical thoughts on the administration of the colony. The laws prohibiting slavery, which came into effect in 1875, technically made it possible for slaves to liberate themselves but did not call for British administrators to pursue slave owners or free slaves actively. Moreover, the period of British rule of the Gold Coast was an era of significant progress of the latter in economic and educational development. One particular story of Abina Mansa, a young woman who lived in West Africa, the British colony of the Gold Coast, allowed drawing broader conclusions about nineteenth-century European Imperialism’s global phenomenon. By actively seizing other countries’ territories and forming their colonies from them, the British Empire established economic and political control over them, which contributed to the erasure of territorial and national borders. It has impacted not only politics and economics but also lifestyles, culture, and ideology, forming the basis for globalization.


Getz, R. Trevor, and Clarke, Liz. Abina and the Important Men. New York: Oxford University Press, 2016.


  1. Trevor R. Getz and Liz Clarke, Abina and the Important Men (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016), 116.
  2. Getz and Clarke, 119.
  3. Getz and Clarke, 120.
  4. Getz and Clarke, 119.
  5. Getz and Clarke, 120.
  6. Getz and Clarke, 120.
  7. Getz and Clarke, 119.
  8. Getz and Clarke, 119.
  9. Getz and Clarke, 126.
  10. Getz and Clarke, 121.
  11. Getz and Clarke, 121.
  12. Getz and Clarke, 125.
  13. Getz and Clarke, 125.

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