Nested Patriotism: Revisiting Collaboration, Resistance and Agency in Colonial Ghana

  • Kofi Takyi AsanteEmail author


This paper presents an account of Gold Coast elite in the nineteenth century and their patterns of interactions with the emerging colonial state. Known as the merchant princes, they acted as intermediaries and played essential roles in colonial administration. Their involvement in government was consistent with the belief among some British administrators that ‘allies must be purchased over to our side’ in order to evoke ‘a friendly spirit favourable to our purposes’. Drawing on archival documents, including petitions, official correspondences and newspaper reports, the paper shows that the relationship between merchant princes and colonial administration was a fundamentally ambivalent one. There was equivocation on both sides, the merchant princes often vacillating in their responses to colonial policy, while colonial officials constantly viewed them with suspicion. This ambivalence shaped political developments on the Gold Coast in the nineteenth and turn of the twentieth century. The merchant princes straddled their natal societies and the emerging colonial order, embodying a nested patriotism. The fundamental roles that they played in the emergent colonial order necessitate revisiting the contentious ‘collaboration versus resistance’ debate which reduced responses to colonial rule to either opposition to colonial domination or betrayal of one’s country. The paper argues that these concepts could be useful analytical tools if employed in the analysis of actions rather than actors.


Colonialism Collaboration Resistance Agency Nested patriotism 



For comments on early versions of this paper, I am grateful to Ayelam Agaliba Adda, Kweku Blay, Bruce Carruthers, Akosua Darkwah, Wendy Griswold, Mark Kweku Obeng and Ann Orloff; I also benefitted from insightful conversations with Kofi Baku and Esther Naa Dodua Darku. Substantial work on this paper was done while the author was a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse (IAST). Support through the ANR Labex IAST is gratefully acknowledged.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Statistical, Social and Economic Research (ISSER)University of GhanaAccraGhana

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