To reserve or not to reserve: the battle over forest conservation in the Gold Coast, 1889–1927

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This paper examines opposition to colonial forest control and forest legislation in the Gold Coast Colony between 1889 and 1927. In the Gold Coast, forest legislation allowing the constitution of forest reserves, came late compared to other British colonies. The paper explains why. It describes the alliance between Gold Coast customary rulers (chiefs), the indigenous educated elite and British interests that came together to oppose, first, colonial plans of land control, subsequently forest control. This alliance put together an effective, long-standing and sophisticated opposition, but eventually it collapsed, and this allowed the Gold Coast Forests Ordinance to be enacted in 1927. The paper attributes the collapse to the emergence of conflicting interests within the coalition. This was – at least partly – the result of a revised colonial policy in the Gold Coast after WWI which resulted in closer collaboration between the colonial authorities and the traditional authorities (paramount chiefs) at the expense of the educated elite. The Gold Coast Forests Ordinance confirmed customary ownership over forests and the role of traditional authorities. The paper and the Gold Coast case illustrates the limits of the colonial state and that empire forestry was not everywhere a project of seamless control and implementation, but one in need of adaptation and compromise.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Historical Geography
Number of pages11
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 13 Dec 2022

ID: 331318325