126: Kwamina Tandoh/Amoah III, Ghanaian leader in early 20th century Britain
Kwamina Faux Tandoh from 1919 Chief Kofi Amoah II, ca 1877–ca 1932, businessman and spokesman for west African interests, was born in Cape Coast, Gold Coast, the son of Robert Tandoh, a dispenser. It is thought that he was educated partly in Britain. Business opportunities led him to establish companies including Tandoh and Werompi (Ashanti) Gold and Rubber Concessions Co. Ltd, and Kendall, Wilson & Co., the latter with his English wife, Sarah Ellen Wilson (1888–1923), daughter of David Wilson, mechanical engineer. They married on 29 February 1912 at St Pancras register office, London, when he was aged thirty-five, a ‘general merchant’ living at 23 Regent Square, Grays Inn Road. They lived at 3 Highbury Hill, London, and had a daughter, Essie Mildred (b. 1919). They appear also to have adopted the daughter of one of Sarah’s sisters. Both girls remained in Britain after Sarah’s death.
Tandoh became Amoah III of Cape Coast in 1919. He was reported at various black-focused activities in London, such as the Anti-Slavery Society’s reception for the black American educationist and political leader Booker T. Washington in October 1910. In 1918 he was a founding member of the African Progress Union, a London-based body set up ‘to promote the general welfare of Africans and Afro-Peoples … to spread knowledge of the history and achievements of Africans and Afro-Peoples past and present; and to create and maintain a public sentiment in favour of brotherhood in the broadest sense’ (African Telegraph, Dec 1918, 89–90). In a speech in London in December that year Tandoh declared that ‘the African peoples everywhere claim an equal right with any European peoples’; ‘Africans believe ourselves to be as well equipped as any race in the world’; ‘the West African Colonies are not Imperial estates, but the home and possession of the inhabitants’; and that ‘Self-determination, self-expression, self-rule, these are the rights of Africans equally with other peoples’ (West Africa, 1 Feb 1919). He served as the union’s financial secretary under its first two presidents, the Liverpool-born John Archer and the Trinidad-born John Alcindor (see page 011 of this site). He then headed the union from 1924 to 1927, working closely with John Barbour-James, a British Guiana-born postal official in the Gold Coast who had retired to London (see this site’s pages 016 and 017). In August 1925, with Tandoh ‘in native dress’, the union’s seventh annual meeting was attended by the wife of the Labour politician Philip Snowden and Gordon Guggisberg, governor of the Gold Coast (Acton Gazette and Express, 14 Aug 1925).
Through his business activities Tandoh developed connections with the United States and the banking world. The Gold Coast exported 197,664 tons of cocoa in 1923, worth £6.5 million. Cocoa production brought radical changes; 100,000 peasant farmers grew the beans. Tandoh understood the mindset of the growers, and the risks in international trade. European import–export firms dominated the market. Tandoh and other Africans set out to challenge this. Tandoh met the bankers, and appears to have been instrumental in the move by the Colonial Bank to establish branches in the Gold Coast, ending the Bank of British West Africa’s monopoly. Nevertheless the absence of security before the beans arrived at the beach—traditional concepts of land-title meant there were no deeds, nor were there many substantial properties to sell if loans went bad—led banks to refuse unsecured advances to growers. In March 1925, when a representative of the Colonial Bank spoke to the Union of Students of African Descent in London, Tandoh ‘urged the setting up of a credit system for farmers’ (West Africa, 19 March 1925).
In 1925 Tandoh travelled to New York to gain support for his credit scheme, attending a church in Harlem, where he was reported as wearing traditional costume, and as speaking of Africa for Africans, his contacts with the Trinidadian labour leader, Captain Arthur Cipriani, and his plan to visit Trinidad, whose authorities asked the Colonial Office about Tandoh. Unaware that Guggisberg knew Tandoh, they wrote to the Gold Coast, to be informed that Tandoh was a local chief of no great importance. By then Tandoh had been back in London for months, escorting Lady Guggisberg to the service at the cenotaph in Whitehall in November 1925. The Guggisberg connection had been encouraged through Tandoh’s relative, the educationist James Kwegyir Aggrey. It was later Tandoh, who attended the Pan-African Congress in New York in August 1927, who cabled Guggisberg to inform him that Aggrey had died in a Harlem hospital.
Tandoh had the recommendation of the Colonial Bank, and received excellent publicity in the USA. The Survey Graphic in January 1926 described him as ‘an African statesman’ who was ‘race-proud and race-conscious, but personally most modest and democratic, a supporter of English management but a staunch advocate of native initiative and autonomy’. Two years later the predominantly black-oriented Opportunity reported his comment that ‘Africa should develop economically but without losing her soul’. However the Strickler affair was fresh in peoples’ minds: 9500 tons of cocoa shipped but sold for half its market value, leading to twenty years of legal conflict. Second, the ill-founded Black Star Line of Marcus Garvey had left Americans sceptical of Africa-centred investments. Third, Tandoh made a serious error in his choice of business partners, for his colleague Winifried Tete-Ansa’s career verged on the fraudulent. Ansa’s claims and statements were counter-productive, leading to Barbour-James resigning his connection with the scheme in July 1927 and Tandoh’s credibility falling in American financial circles. American supporters moved away. Tandoh ‘was too honest to stoop to the gross misrepresentations which Tete Ansa employed’ (Holmes, 127).
Tandoh was still seeking support for his credit scheme when in November 1929 he was found unconscious in the street and taken to Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn. Ansa stole his robes and regalia, and the sick Tandoh was repatriated to Africa. His death, probably in 1932, spared him from knowledge of the near-collapse of primary produce markets in the depression. He had tried to emancipate Gold Coast cocoa growers from foreign exploitation and in the process he ‘came the closest [amongst West African businessmen] to gaining control of a large amount of capital for trade’ (Holmes, 127). Despite failure in his most ambitious plans he was a successful businessman who presented positive images of West Africa in England for twenty years.
Based on Jeffrey Green’s contribution to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
Sources: Howard University, Washington DC, USA, Alain Locke papers; A. B. Holmes, PhD Chicago 1972, ‘Economic and Political Organizations in the Gold Coast, 1920-1945’; interview with Tandoh’s daughter, London 2012.