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Ghanaian political networks were globally interconnected and elastic during the first two decades of the twentieth century. For the literate professional elites whose views were represented in the African-owned newspapers of the period, Gold Coast "identity" stretched towards pan-Africanism and North American race-consciousness on the one hand, and towards municipal and professional affiliations on the other hand (Gocking; Jenkins "Gold Coast Historians"). A web of further networks lay between these two poles, including membership of ethnolinguistic "nations," loyalty to regional chiefs, connections with fellow "British West Africans" as co-subjects in the British Empire, and allegiance to the British Crown.
"Identity" had not yet congealed into specific territorial nationalisms, and a Gold Coast "patriot" was capable of expressing entitlement to several simultaneous communities. For that reason, the word "nation" has to be placed in quotation marks to describe this period in Ghanaian history because the term referred to a host of flexible affiliations. "National" could designate membership of any one of the following, or several simultaneously: ethnolinguistic groups, such as the "Fante nation"; the imperial territory of British West Africa, as in the "West African National Congress"; and the African "nation" as a whole, in a pan-Africanist sense. The word "national" thus signified a general political space of unity-across-differences; it defined a realm of the nonpersonal and nonindividual, where activists could campaign across a range of territories for political reforms and freedoms. The secretary of the Gold Coast Aborigines Rights Protection Society (ARPS), Reverend S. R. B. Attoh-Ahuma, described this territorial flexibility in 1911: "We are a Nation," he wrote, and "[i]f we were not, it was time to invent one; for any series of states in the same locality, however extensive, may at any time be merged into a nation" (2).
In colonial Ghana, the African-owned newspapers served as vehicles for articulating these diverse "national" identities from the professional elite's point of view. As such, the Gold Coast press provides the source of a compelling "bias history" that is as multilayered as it is oriented towards the elite. (1) In the prewar and interwar years, Ghanaian newspapers conveyed the firmly stated ideological convictions and personalities of their owners and editors, but this was an era before the professionalization of journalism in the region. The African-owned newspapers had not yet taken on the populist appeal and political singularity of the period after 1934, when Nnamdi Azikiwe arrived in colonial Ghana from the United States and established the first of his West African newspapers, the African Morning Post, using mass-production technology and a hard-hitting format (see Jones-Quartey, "Press and Nationalism"). One consequence was that newspapers such as the Gold Coast Leader (1902-1933/34) and its archrival, the mouthpiece of the Cape Coast ARPS, the Gold Coast Nation (1912-1920), provided remarkably open spaces that attracted a wide range of contributors from different sectors of the literate community. As shall be seen, these dilettante newspapermen used the columns of the press to experiment with genres, with narrative styles, with voices, and with identities, in ways that reveal a great deal about themselves, and about the politics and aesthetics of print culture in Ghana in the early twentieth century. (2)
Studies of the history of Ghanaian print culture tend to be dominated by the opinions and writings of one particularly vocal, influential section of Gold Coast society, exemplified by elite newspapermen and prominent political leaders like J. E. Casely Hayford and Kobina Sekyi. These men made use of print to compete for power within imperial and pan-African networks (Kimble; Korang). As the intelligentsia campaigned for political recognition and representation, however, a rather different set of problems relating to recognition and representation come to the surface for present-day researchers into newspapers in colonial West Africa.
David Killingray sums up the problem when he laments the lack of representation given to ordinary Africans in the official archives from this period (The British Military Presence 41). In relation to the First World War, besides the casualty figures and recruitment statistics compiled by officials, little documentary evidence exists to chart the recollections and experiences of those ordinary West African soldiers, carriers, migrants, and traders who were caught up in the conflict. (3) Existing studies of West African military operations tend to take the form of "history from above," yielding nothing about "the rank and file, or the effects that the colonial army had on colonial society" (Killingray, The British Military Presence 41; see also Killingray "Labour Mobilisation").
Joe H. Lunn is one of the few scholars to have undertaken a comprehensive oral history of the First World War, focusing on the recollections of African veterans and witnesses from French Senegal in interviews conducted in the early 1980s. (4) In the absence of further oral accounts of the war, however, historians have had to extrapolate African perspectives from colonial documents, filling in the gaps with speculative accounts of non-elite Africans' experiences. As Killingray points out, the rare instances of African expression to be found in the archives tend to be reported back or written up by colonial officials, tucked away in amongst the plethora of "one-sided" European accounts of the war (The British Military Presence 2-4). Their voices are mediated and compromised by the colonial texts that host them, and have to be hooked out of the archives with great care.
The appearance of a lengthy, serialized memoir entitled "My Experience in Cameroons during the War" in the Gold Coast Leader on 14 October 1916 is therefore all the more remarkable for its status as a first--person narrative by an ordinary African clerk. (5) In the memoir, John G. Mullen-also named as Jim, Johnnie, and Kwesi in the narrative--describes how he found himself caught on the wrong side of the war at his remote, British-owned trading station at Mbua in the German Cameroons, and how he attempted to escape on foot along with the company "boys." In numerous vivid installments describing scenes of incarceration, torture, violence, near-death, and escape, the memoir charts Mullens long and dangerous journey from Mbua (or Bua) to Ajoshobe (present-day Ajos, or Ayos). The text stops abruptly on 8 December 1917 with an installment set in the Ajoshobe prisoner-of-war camp toward the end of the Cameroons campaign, where a sadistic German officer named Herr Jellowwick tortures and abuses French officers in revenge for Allied victories in the war ("My Experience," 1 Dec. 1917.5). (6)
According to a short prequel to the memoir, published between January and April 1919, Mullen was an ex-employee of Obuasi Mines in the Gold Coast, who, while working as a junior clerk in the Time Office, overheard two colleagues discussing an advertisement in the Gold Coast Leader from a company seeking clerks for the interior of the Cameroons. His colleagues refused to leave the Gold Coast, saying …