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West African Frontier Force (WAFF)

After establishing supremacy in the Gold Coast, the British created the Gold Coast Regiment as a component of the West African Frontier Force (WAFF), which kept peace throughout the territories of the Gold Coast, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, and the Gambia. In 1928 the WAFF became the Royal West African Frontier Force (RWAFF). British officers and noncommissioned officers organized, trained, and equipped the Gold Coast Regiment.

For much of the colonial period, the British recruited African enlisted personnel only from ethnic groups in the Northern Territories Protectorate, the northern third of the colony. Eventually, the Gold Coast Regiment accepted a few African officers along with an increasing number of African noncommissioned officers from the south. Nevertheless, the north-south division continued to characterize the Gold Coast Regiment.

In June 1891, an inter-departmental committee, of which Lord Selborne was chairman, recommended the amalgamation of the Colonial Military Forces of West Africa under the designation of "The West African Frontier Force," the assimilation, as far as possible, of pay and conditions of service, and the appointment of an Inspector-General.

The West African Frontier Force comprised the military forces of the Colonies of Sierra Leone,* the Gold Coast, Lagos, and Gambia, and of the Protectorates of Northern and Southern Nigeria. There are included in it, not only the force which was raised on the Niger in 1897-8 under the name of the West African Frontier Force, but also the Gold Coast and Lagos Constabularies (Hausa Forces), the Royal Niger Constabulary, the Sierra Leone Frontier Police, and the Niger Coast Protectorate Force.

The Force consisted of six units: ŚNorthern Nigeria regiment, Southern Nigeria regiment, Gold Coast regiment, Lagos battalion, Sierra Leone battalion, and the Gambia company. Artillery corps were attached to the first three units.

  • The Northern Nigeria regiment represented the 1st and 2nd battalions of the original West African Frontier Force. The greater part of the Royal Niger Constabulary was incorporated into this regiment.
  • The Southern Nigeria Regiment represented the former Niger Coast Protectorate Force, and the remainder of the Royal Niger Constabulary, and is stationed in Southern Nigeria, with headquarters at Old Calabar.
  • The Gold Coast Regiment represented the former Gold Coast Constabulary, or, as it was termed locally, the Gold Coast Hausas. One battalion was stationed in the Gold Coast Colony and Ashanti, with headquarters at Kumassi, and the other in the Northern territories of the Gold Coast, with headquarters at Gambaga.
  • The Lagos battalion represented the former Lagos Constabulary, or, as it was termed locally, the Hausa Force; and is stationed in the Lagos colony and Protectorate, with headquarters at the town of Lagos.
  • The Sierra Leone battalion represents the former Sierra Leone Frontier Police, and was quartered in the Sierra Leone Protectorate. The headquarters of this battalion are at present in Freetown.
  • The Gambia Company, raised in 1901, was quartered at Bathurst.

The provisions of the Army Act relating to discipline apply to native N.C.O.'s and privates of the West African Field Force when on active service provided that any native N.C.O. or private who was guilty of any offence when on active service may be punished as provided by the Ordinances and Proclamations which apply to the various regiments and battalions of the West African Field Force. The Army Act also applied to native N.C.O.'s and privates during their residence in the United Kingdom when sent there for the purpose of undergoing instruction.

Except in special circumstances, officers serving in India were not accepted for service in the West African Frontier Force; nor were officers of the Militia, Imperial Yeomanry, or Reserve of officers, accepted if officers of the Regular army were available.

On July 31, 1914, four days before the British declaration of war on Germany, Accra mobilized its military forces. The Gold Coast Regiment included thirty-eight British officers, eleven British warrant or noncommissioned officers, 1,584 Africans, (including 124 carriers for guns and machine guns), and about 300 reservists. Additionally, the four Volunteer Corps (Gold Coast Volunteers, Gold Coast Railway Volunteers, Gold Coast Mines Volunteers, and Ashanti Mines Volunteers) fielded about 900 men. These forces participated in the campaigns in Togo, Cameroon, and East Africa.

Deployment of the country's armed forces required the reduction of the British colonial establishment by 30 percent between 1914 and 1917 and the closure of several military installations in the Northern Territories. These actions persuaded many Gold Coast residents that British colonial rule was about to end. As a result, a series of disorders and protests against British colonial rule occurred throughout the country. During August and September 1914, for example, riots broke out in Central Province and Ashanti, followed three years later by unrest at Old Nigo.

The wartime weakening of the administrative structure in the Northern Territories also fueled opposition to chiefs who used their positions to exploit the people they ruled, to encourage military recruitment, or to advance the cause of British colonial rule. Disturbances among the Frafra at Bongo in April 1916 and in Gonja in March 1917 prompted the authorities to deploy a detachment of troops to the Northern Territories to preserve law and order.

Although many of the more radical Pan-Africanists and Marxist-Leninists hoped to enlist northern black troops and ex-servicemen in their anticolonial struggle, there was little unrest during the interwar period. During World War II, approximately 65,000 Ghanaians served in the RWAFF. The Gold Coast Regiment participated in campaigns in East Africa and Burma and in maneuvers in the Gambia.

Military service, particularly overseas, enhanced the political and economic understanding of many individual soldiers, a development that facilitated the growth of postwar nationalism. Military service, however, also underscored cultural and ethnic differences among Ghanaians. Many Asante and most southerners looked down upon northerners, who made up the majority of the Gold Coast Regiment. These divisions carried over into postwar politics and, according to some observers, have continued to prevent the development of a strong sense of national identity to the present day.

The Gold Coast also played a significant role in the Allied war effort. OnJune 27, 1942, the United States Army activated the Air Transport Command in Cairo under Brigadier General Shepler W. Fitzgerald. Ten days later, Fitzgerald moved his headquarters to Accra and organized the Africa-Middle East Wing. In late 1942, the United States Army expanded its presence in Accra by activating the Twelfth Ferrying Group Headquarters, the Forty-first Ferrying Squadron, and the Forty-second Ferrying Squadron. The Twelfth Ferrying Group, which was part of a transportation network reaching from the United States, via Africa, to the China-Burma-India theater of operations, ensured the movement of men and materiel through Senegal, Ghana, and Chad.

In contrast with the post-Great War era, Ghanaian veterans engaged in widespread political activities after World War II. In 1946 some former soldiers established the Gold Coast Ex-Servicemen's Union, which sought to improve economic conditions and to increase employment for veterans. During a February 1948 union-sponsored march, police killed two demonstrators and wounded several others. Unrest quickly spread throughout the country. Eventually, the union joined the United Gold Coast Convention and then became part of the Convention People's Party (CPP), which worked for independence under Nkrumah's leadership.

After independence, the government passed the Ghana Legion Act, which outlawed ex-servicemen's organizations and which created instead a national Ghana Legion. Although it supposedly represented all Ghanaians, the establishment of the Ghana Legion marked the end of independent political action by ex-servicemen.

After independence, Ghana opted out of the RWAFF. According to Nkrumah, this action was necessary because the RWAFF was "one of the trappings of colonialism."

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