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Swiss Presence and Repositioning in Ghana and Nigeria 1950-66

Swiss Presence and Repositioning in Ghana and Nigeria 1950-66
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  1 The Institute of Commonwealth Studies, London. Decolonization Resear Seminar, Summer 2010, Monda 1! Ma, Ste"e #a$e Swiss Presence and Repositioning in Ghana and Nigeria 1950-66 Since its creation in 1848, the Swiss federal state always considered its involvement inforeign affairs with reluctance. The principle of neutrality and a culture of stinginess alsoconstituted big obstacles to the development of a Swiss diplomacy. According to therepublican spirit of the 19 th  entury in Swit!erland, diplomats were perceived as monarchialsurvival and any pro"ect of official representation abroad gave rise to heated debates. 1  All the same, although Swit!erland did no longer send mercenary troops abroad, some of her missionaries and traders developed their activities far beyond the borders and also inAfrica. Around 19#$, Swiss e%patriates in &hana represented the second most numerousforeign community. '  The (asel )ission and *T were represented in the &old oast and +igeria, the Swiss consulates in these two countries were tightly connected, and Swissair opened simultaneously direct lines from &eneva to Accra and agos. These similarities precisely ma-e the comparison relevant. The main purpose of this paper consists in as-ing how Swit!erland reacted to thedecoloni!ation of the &old oast and +igeria. t is therefore necessary to enlighten the Swiss presence in both territories at the ewe of their independence, then to consider the differentvisions or perceptions of decoloni!ation among Swiss civil servants and trade circles, andfinally to adumbrate the contribution of these main actors to the Swiss global repositioning. Ghana  The first Swiss to come to the &old oast were (asler missionaries, in 18'8. n order toassure their supplying, they engaged a trader, who developed very soon a successful business by selling the surplus of his cargo. This led to the creation of the  Mission Handelsgesellschaft  in 18/9, that separated from the )ission in 19'8 and transformed into the *nion Tradingompany. i-e other 0uropean companies, *T sold on the &old oast 0uropean goods li-e building material, clothes or other lu%ury items, while it bought cash crops for 0urope. *Tstrongly supported the coloni!ation of the &old oast by lobbying the (ritish authorities or offering facilities to her troops and claiming for more security. (asel )ission and *T shareda common paternalist vision of the native population, who would naturally be la!y and wea- of character, but who could be changed through a conversion to christianity.     'The economic activities of the )ission and *T gave impulses to the building of roads andthe importation of truc-s and cars on the &old oast 4 . The )ission contributed in general tothe development of the sectors of health and education. The evangeli!ation succeeded throughisolation of the growing christian communities from the so2called perverted African societies,what also incited to new forms of economic subsistance, li-e the culture of cocoa. /  Suchcontributions seem to have been appreciated by the colonial authorities3 a governmental reportfrom 191 therefore pretended5 6the (asel )ission had made the &old oast6. #  7ather than blaming the missions for supporting imperialism, +-rumah considered their impact as positive for the national development in general and perceived them as potential collaboratorsfor the future.   At the ewe of independence, the Swiss community in the &old oast hadincreased from 1'# in 19/ to /' in 19/. As other noticeable elements were a buildingcompany with around $$$ employees and a brewery.Swit!erland had been officialy represented in 0nglish spea-ing est Africa by a consul based in :reetown until 1948, then a consulate opened in Accra. This was subordinated to theSwiss representation to ondon, but led the consulate in agos, that opened four years later.As the consul in Accra could be considered as real civil servant and full2time diplomat whoreported regularly to ondon on different sub"ects, his colleague in agos was at the sametime &eneral Agent of *T for +igeria and dedicated himself mainly to the assistance of other merchants. The Swiss consul in Accra was therefore the only one able to give hisimpressions on the politic and economic changes leading to the independence of his hostcountry.n 19/$, the consul erner ;ost reported from Accra that +-rumah had been arrested for having called to the establishment of a Soviet Socialist 7epublic in est Africa. Since he andhis partisans remained in "ail, business as usual could be e%pected in the &old oast. 8  Threeyears later, his successor <ermann (=hler considered clearly the transfer of power to theAfricans and e%pected (ritain to completely loose control on the commercial relations. <eawaited the price of cocoa remaining low and fostering a hard concurrence, since nobodycould develop his business without damage to others. The consul perceived the Africans as particularly dishonest and did not consider them able to run their own business. 9  n 19//, hereali!ed that the independence could be awaited in a near future, but definitely e%pressed hisfear for disorder and instability. 1$ Such views were not to encourage Swiss investors. As +-rumah planned to build theAmbassador <otel in Accra, he especially wanted to engage a Swiss coo- for it. ndirectly, hedirected his hope towards Swiss investors who refused to participate, pointing out the  uncertainty of such pro"ect. +onetheless, the consul did not leave any stone unturned to find aSwiss coo- and was finally pleased to -now that a compatriot would ta-e the "ob and coo- for guests at the celebration of independence. <e had spared no effort in what he considered as amatter of prestige for Swit!erland. According to him, the reputation of his country did nolonger need to be built, but the challenge would from then on consist in strenghtening the prestige. 11 :or the celebration of independence in 19/, the Swiss authorities chose to be represented by their delegate for trade agreements 0dwin Stopper. Although the protocol concluded barelyengaged each government to intensify the commercial e%change without proposing any meanfor it, the Swiss >epartment of 0conomy was delighted by believing in its considerablesymbolic impact. The signature itself and the discussions held for that purpose had been?ualified by the &hanaian radio as historic. 1'  oncrete impacts are for sure difficult to assess. Some authors suggest that the +-rumah2government did not allow a middle2class to develop and increase its purchase power, since itcould have undermined its socialist philosophy. 1  n the late colonial period, *T succeededin e%tending its networ- to 1/9 shops across the country. Through the opening of a TechnicalTraining School, *T could pretend to contribute to the national development and thefriendly relation with )inister of :inance @omla &bedemah until his e%ile in 19#1 was usefulin several situations. All the same, the various protectionist measures adopted that same year fostered distrust among the Swiss companies. *T decided therefore to stop all newinvestment in &hana. Apart of a building company still running a successful business, theSwiss community then followed a tendency of retreat. :rom (ern, the civil servants urged theembassy to underta-e everything necessary to support the Swiss firms in this difficult conte%t.(ut the diplomats as well as the Swiss community were rather ill2disposed towards anyintervention to the &hanaian government who was considered as sensitive andunpredictable. 14  Throughout the first three years of independence, the technical cooperation constituted themain topic of discussion between both governments. Swit!erland efforts to provide e%pertswere hindered by lac- of candidates. hen some compatriots were detained in &hana or deported from it, some Swiss civil servants contemplated negotiating in their favour with theargument of technical cooperation. (ut those who had such idea soon reali!ed thatSwit!erland had not underta-en any significant pro"ect in &hana. The only officialcontribution was the funding of a nursing school directed by the (asel )ission.  4Since this -ind of pro"ect involving compatriots established in the receiving country andable to increase the cost2efficiency was particularly appreciated, one could wonder why thecooperation stayed so reduced in spite of the large Swiss community in &hana. :irst, Swissdiplomats commonly depicted &hana as a rich country. Second, since some assassinationattempts targetted +-rumah in 19#1, the growing instability of his government was mentionedas obstacle to develop long term pro"ects. Third, since the presence of Swiss entrepreneurssystematically brought investment and employment, this was commonly regarded as fulldevelopment aid. :ourth, a last reason could be found in a statement of the Swiss communityof &hana e%pressing her views on development aid and the needs of their country of residence. They argued that &hanaians appreciated any symbolic mar- of recognition as muchor even more than material aid. 1/  The visit of )inister illy Spuehler to open the Swissair2line &eneva2Accra in 19#', was precisely understood as such a sign of recognition and even ahonour made to the &hanaian government. 1#  n the same mood, sensible li-e his predecessors on the idea of prestige, the Swissambassador was prompt in showing enthusiasm for some pro"ects that could cheaply e%ert anymediatic or symbolic impact, before to consider the ?uality of their conception and to whate%tent they corresponded to &hanas needs and e%pectations. &lobally, the reputation seemedto be safe, since &hanaian ministers always mentioned the contribution of the (asel )issionto the national development. The principle of neutrality was also an asset and it was preciselythe motive given by +-rumah for choosing the Swiss @arl >ellberg as chairman of 6Theorld without the (omb6 conference held in Accra in 19#'. As the person in ?uestion was asocialist and trade unionist parlamentarian, the Swiss diplomacy feared that the conferencewould turn into propaganda platform for the 0astern bloc and decided to stay on the fringerather than advertising the event. This posture should also be understood in the conte%t of armed neutrality that often overhauls the ideal of pacification on the one hand, and on theother hand the then pro"ect of an own Swiss atomic bomb. >espite of a lasting and almosthistoric goodwill in &hana, Swit!erlands wait2and2see policy did not succeed either in protecting merchants interests, nor in granting significant development aid. Nigeria n +igeria, the Swiss presence was both later and less numerous. *T penetrated the agosmar-et since 19'9 by buying shares from a &erman company and obtaining its li?uidation in19#. )eanwhile, in spite of the &reat >epression, the ompany started to buy more premises around agos and e%panded across the country. ts weight on the +igerian mar-et is  /difficult to estimate but according allocation of e%port ?uotas for palm -ernel during theorld ar , with its 1.'#, the company ran-ed in front of most of evantine companies,however, behind its big (ritish and :rench counterparts, with which it formed a cartel. 1 Around 19#$, *T was underta-ing an almost daily advertisement in the national mostwidely sold newspaper >aily Times. As other prominent Swiss representation at the ewe of independence, the Banalpina transport company arrived in 19/4 and employed more than1$$$ people in the late 19$s. oming from est ameroon, the (asel )ission entered the +orth20ast in 19/8, where it established a couple of schools, hospitals and churches, in tightcollaboration with the hurch of the (rethren Society. Although the )ission achieved severalthousands of conversions, it stayed confined around the village of &avva. 18  Altogether, around4$$ Swiss citi!ens were living in +igeria at the ewe of independence.7egarding +igeria, we can find two distinct views of the independence to come5 one fromthe Swiss trade circles, and one from the Swiss ambassador in ondon, where were held theconstitutional conferences. n 1944, the Swiss Cffice for the >evelopment of Trade,represented in agos, pretended that the sustainability of an African mar-et depended on themode of coloni!ation. Cn the first ran- would stand the (ritish colonies, supplied of a good purchasing power through a longsighted colonial policy and the practice of free trade. agoswas especially seen as a developing city with a growing native middle class, what made her economically attractive li-e any other place in est Africa. 19  This view will be permanentlysustained in the ne%t decades until the independence. n 19/1, the same office emphasi!ed thegrowing importance of the African mar-et for Swit!erland on the one hand, and on the other hand the necessity to -eep itself informed of the changing political situation that seemed tofollow the pattern of ndia, in order to ad"ust the business strategy. '$ n ;anuary 19#$, the Swiss delegate for trade agreements 0dwin Stopper was chosen for e%plorations of est2Africa in order to adumbrate the future of the territories which wereabout to become independent and to define the position to be adopted by Swit!erland. (ac- from his trip, basing himself on the interviews he made with +igerian officials, he reportedthat the new country would mainly need investments, foreign aid in education, agriculture andadministration. '1  n Stoppers view, what made Africa significant in world politics was less itseconomic weight than the laboratory it represented for testing both 0astern and esternideological influences. t would stay a dependent continent, because it would not improve itsdevelopment alone and isolated. Swit!erland should coordinate its public and private aid withthat of 0urope, pointing out that the priority sector was training and -now2how transmission.0dwin Stoppers impressions about +igeria in particular showed an immoderate optimism
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