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News > Featured Old Queenians > Featured OQs - Kwamina Ata Amonoo

Featured OQs - Kwamina Ata Amonoo

Kwamina Ata Amonoo (OQ 1906-09) lawyer and political leader in West Africa.
The photo of the Debating Society in 1908 shows Kwamina (far right).
The photo of the Debating Society in 1908 shows Kwamina (far right).

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OQs

Kwamina Ata Amonoo (OQ 1906-09) was the son of Amonoo V, the paramount chief of Anomabo, an important trading centre to the west of Cape Coast in what was then the Gold Coast. He was sent to Queen’s to complete his secondary education and to prepare to enter the legal profession. On his first day at the school he made a striking impression as he dressed in what Dapper Channon described as ‘the ceremonial outfit of an African chief’. Later, he made an impact as a lawyer and political leader in West Africa.

At Queen’s, Kwamina equipped himself with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed in his chosen profession. Here he learned how to debate, to argue a point of view and, through off-the-cuff public speaking, an exercise known as ‘sharp practice’, to think on his feet. The range of topics covered in the Debating Society while Kwamina was at Queen’s was broad and widened his awareness of the significant issues of the day. For example, he contributed to debates on the government of the Congo Free State, anarchism, the value of a Channel Tunnel, prison reform, the payment of MPs and the future of the House of Lords. The photo of the Debating Society in 1908 shows Kwamina (far right).

Kwamina gained experience in exercising responsibility as a prefect at Queen’s, and in working as a team member when representing his House (South), notably, in swimming and rugby. Although his time at Queen’s was brief (eight terms) he appreciated the benefits of it. This is evident from his return to the school during the summer term of 1909 for a reunion, and from his donation of a number of books to the library.

In November 1908, Kwamina passed the Preliminary Law Exams, and registered at Lincoln’s Inn. When he moved to London a few months later, he made contacts with other African students which helped shape his political views. After intense study, Kwamina was, in 1912, called to the bar and entitled to practice as a lawyer in British West Africa. Back home, well connected and fully qualified, he fitted into local life as a member of the West African coastal elite.

The outbreak of war in 1914 disrupted Kwamina’s legal career. He enlisted in the Gold Coast Regiment as a corporal, served in the Cameroons, and was awarded a bronze star. In 1916, following heavy losses of troops, he was involved in recruiting Africans into service, speaking at rallies organised by the alliance of the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society (ARPS) and the colonial government. (His name can be found on the School’s Roll of Honour.)

Following the war, Kwamina pursued professional and political interests. He assumed a leading role in the British West African Conference (BWAC) that gathered in Accra in March 1920.

Fifty-two delegates adopted a defiant anti-colonial position and advocated a pan-West African nationalism. Kwamina was to the fore in pressing for greater representation of West African interests in London. In 1921, while building up a legal practice in Calabar, he was elected Secretary of the Central Province (Gold Coast) Committee of the National Congress for British West Africa (NCBWA). His responsibilities meant that he moved about and rarely spent time in the remarkable house he had built in his hometown.

The NCBWA had some influence in framing the constitution for Nigeria, introduced by Sir Hugh Clifford in 1922 and, in that year, Kwamina was elected to represent Calabar in the Nigerian Legislative Council. His success was attributed to his character; he was described posthumously as, ‘a man who shunned snobbishness, and was liked for his hospitality, affability and great sense of honour’. Kwamina was denied the chance to pursue the aims of the ARPS and NCBWA by his untimely death in a motor accident in December 1929.

I would like to acknowledge the work of James Gibbs (1955-62) in researching the life of Kwamina on which this piece is heavily reliant.

 

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