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From Head-Loading to the Iron Horse

Railway Building in Colonial Ghana and the Origins of Tropical Development

Komla Tsey

Publication Year: 2012

International development has its origins in the histories of nineteenth and early twentieth-century European colonisation. What happens when a leading colonial power decides to transform a model tropical colony, relying on head-loading of goods as the predominant form of transport, into a modern market economy on the back of the greatest British industrial ingenuity of the time - railways? In this meticulously researched book, Komla Tsey brings to light the historical origins of a wide range of issues confronting present-day international development researchers and policy-makers, such as technology transfer, wealth creation versus equity of access, and ways to evaluate the benefits of development work, especially across cultures. In the context of the early twenty-first-century international investment interests in resource-rich Africa, Tsey argues, forensic historical research is required to determine the precise nature and scale of the financial and humanitarian injustices committed by British colonialists during the construction of major public works projects. More than providing opportunities to take possible legal actions for reparations, this research should also serve as a reminder to present-day African policy-makers and their international and local business partners that the injustices and blatant abuses of power of the past should never be repeated.

Published by: African Books Collective

Title page

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p. 2-2

Copyright page

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p. 3-3

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pp. 4-5

I would like to express profound gratitude and appreciation to my family, friends and colleagues, too many to identify individually by name, for their moral, intellectual and practical support while I was undertaking research and . . .

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About the Author

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pp. 6-7

Professor Komla Tsey comes from Ghana, where he attended primary and middle schools at Botoku before going to secondary school at Awudome Tsito and later Okwapeman at Akropong. He studied at the University of . . .


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pp. 8-11

List of Tables

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p. vii-vii

List of Maps and Figures

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p. viii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

From Head-loading to the Iron Horse tells the story of railway building in British colonial Gold Coast (modern Ghana) and its social and economic consequences. Two factors motivated me to write. First, I believe that there . . .

Part I

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Chapter 1 - A Slow Beginning, 1879-1895

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pp. 3-12

The earliest phase of the Gold Coast railway system was marked by indecision and delay, resulting from a lack of commitment to a railway policy. Discussions began as early as 1879, but it was not until 1893 that the . . .

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Chapter 2 - The Development of the Western Line, 1895-1912

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pp. 13-31

A metals industrialist-turned-politician, Joseph Chamberlain became the leading spokesman for ‘economic imperialism’ among commercially minded British politicians of his age.32 He had always had a grand vision of empire . . .

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Chapter 3 - The Eastern Line and the Development of Lighterage Ports, 1904-1918

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pp. 33-46

In 1898, when Messrs Coode, Son and Mathews published their report on Gold Coast harbours, the colonial administration was particularly drawn to the section dealing with the railway line from Accra to Volta River . . .

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Chapter 4 - Post-War Expansion - The Ten-Year Development Plan 1920-1930

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pp. 47-61

The post-war spike of relatively intensive infrastructural development marked a new phase in the history of British economic activity in the Gold Coast. The end of the war ushered in a decade of rehabilitation of the . . .

Part II

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Chapter 5 - The Recruitment of Construction Workers and Colonial Labour Policy

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pp. 65-76

Railway construction normally required a very large labour force, especially when, as in the Gold Coast, railways were being built in a taxing environment. The key demand was for an army of unskilled workers at all . . .

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Chapter 6 - The Acquisition of Railway and Harbour Land and Colonial Land Policy

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pp. 77-89

As transport agents, railways operate over very long distances and affect property values on a wide front. This makes the acquisition of land more contentious than for other industrial or agricultural enterprises. The . . .

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Chapter 7 - Railway investment and Colonial Financial Policy

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pp. 91-98

In order to understand the pattern of railway finance on the Gold Coast, it is important to appreciate the colony’s dependence on Britain and the British Government’s attitude to public finance in the Crown Colonies. Earl Grey’s . . .

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Chapter 8 - The Management System, Personnel and Labour Relations

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pp. 99-119

Following the British model, a centralised and functionally departmentalised structure was established. However, as the Gold Coast railways were publicly owned, the upper tier of decision taking was not a chairman and board of . . .

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Chapter 9 - Operational Problems and Issues

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pp. 121-141

While labour recruitment and industrial relations were the biggest problems railway managers faced, managerial and technical staff also had to solve a host of problems relating to day-to-day operations. Although relatively . . .

Part III

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Chapter 10 - The Economic and Social Impact of the Railways

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pp. 143-175

Traditionally, railways have been thought of as a dynamic force in economic development. Max Weber called them ‘the greatest innovation in history393 and Joseph Schumpeter argued that American economic history in the . . .

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Chapter 11 - Railways: Commerce and Crafts, Urbanisation and Public Health

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pp. 177-186

The railways had an impact on commerce and traditional crafts. By stimulating trade in imports and exports, railways were instrumental in transforming the spatial distribution and organisation of commerce as well as . . .

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Chapter 12 - Railways and Economic Development: The Gold Coast Experience in the Global Context

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pp. 187-201

This final chapter locates the Gold Coast railway experience in the global context of the link between railway innovation and economic and social developments of the time. In what ways, if any, did railways on the Gold . . .


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pp. 203-229


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pp. 231-238

Back cover

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p. 258-258

E-ISBN-13: 9789956728701
Print-ISBN-13: 9789956728992

Page Count: 258
Publication Year: 2012