Joseph Appiah

(1918—1990) politician in Ghana

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Joseph Appiah was born in Kumasi, the capital of the Ashanti region in the British colony of Gold Coast (present-day Ghana). His father, an expert in Asante law, served at the court of the Asantehene, the traditional Asante ruler. As a boy, Appiah attended primary school in Kumasi and secondary school in Cape Coast. After graduation he worked at the United Africa Company, the largest British trading firm in West and Central Africa. He then traveled to Great Britain in 1943 to study law at the Middle Temple, a prestigious center for legal education. While in Britain, Appiah developed a close friendship with future Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah and became involved in the Ghanaian independence movement. When Nkrumah returned to Ghana after the formation of the Convention People's Party (CPP), Appiah served as his representative in Britain. He returned to Ghana in 1954 after becoming a member of the Ghanaian bar (a lawyer licensed to practice law in Ghana). Although Appiah did not win high elective office during his political career, he played an important role in pushing Ghana toward democracy by serving as an opposition figure. In 1955, objecting to what he believed were the CPP’s corrupt and authoritarian practices, Appiah resigned from the party and joined the Asante-based National Liberation Movement (which was later absorbed by the United Nationalist Party). Appiah won a seat in the legislative assembly in 1956. Ghana officially won its independence from Britain in 1957. Not long after independence, Appiah became known as an outspoken critic of Nkrumah's CPP, especially of restrictive measures such as the 1958 Preventive Detention Act, which allowed the government to detain dissidents without trial. Appiah's strong opposition led to his fifteen-month imprisonment under the act from 1961 to 1962. After his release, Appiah practiced law, defending many opponents of the Nkrumah regime. He finally returned to politics after a military coup ousted Nkrumah in 1966, joining a committee charged with restoring civilian rule. In response to his disapproval of the leadership style of party leader Kofi Busia, Appiah formed his own United Nationalist Party. However, the party fared poorly in the elections of 1969, and he soon joined the Justice Party, serving as its leader outside of parliament. Ghanaian politics once again convulsed in the early 1970s, resulting in another military takeover, this time led by Colonel Ignatius Acheampong in 1972. Appiah became a roving ambassador in Acheampong's regime, but left his post early, before Acheampong was forced to resign in 1978. Appiah was once again imprisoned, and his political career effectively ended. After his release he returned to Kumasi, where he lived until his death. His memoir, Autobiography of an African Patriot (1990), was published shortly after his death.

From Encyclopedia of Africa in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: African Studies.

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