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The Basle Mission Trading Company and British Colonial Policy in the Gold Coast, 1918-1928

Margaret Gannon
The Journal of African History
Vol. 24, No. 4 (1983), pp. 503-515
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/181256
Page Count: 13
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The Basle Mission Trading Company and British Colonial Policy in the Gold Coast, 1918-1928
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Abstract

In February 1918 the Gold Coast Government, on orders from the British Colonial Office, seized the holdings of the Basle Mission Trading Company, a Swiss-based firm suspected of promoting pro-German sentiment and actions within the Colony. As a result of the growing sentiment towards trusteeship and the continuing resistance to non-British activities in the Gold Coast, the properties of the company were entrusted to the Commonwealth Trust Ltd, a British firm created for this purpose. The firm was committed to providing a portion of its profits to promoting philanthropic activities among the indigenous populations. The resources of the Trading Company, valued at Pound 558,017 in the Gold Coast and Pound 254,383 in India, were transferred to the Commonwealth Trust at no expense whatever to the latter. For a decade the Swiss Government protested against the confiscation of the Company as a violation of the rights of a neutral nation. In the same years the Commonwealth Trust encountered such financial difficulties that it was unable to supply any support at all for its philanthropic commitments. By 1928 continuing international pressure, including a Swiss threat to submit their claim for arbitration before the League of Nations, led the British to restore the properties to the Trading Company owners, compensating them with Pound 250,000 for losses suffered during the decade. The Commonwealth Trust was also reimbursed for the surrender of the properties, bringing the total cost of the restoration to Pound 305,000. The irony of the entire episode is that the total cost of the resolution was assigned to the Gold Coast colonial treasury, absorbing one-fourth of the total Gold Coast reserve fund. Gold Coast Council members protested that the original decision and its reversal were made by the British Government, and their consequences ought not to become burdens on the Gold Coast. Such protests were unavailing. Thus the project undertaken on the principle of trusteeship resulted in no benefit whatsoever to the indigenous population; rather the colony paid dearly for the privilege of being the object of trusteeship policy.

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