Sarbah, John Mensah
John Mensah Sarbah was the leading African politician in the Gold Coast (modern-day GHANA) in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Born into a wealthy family, Sarbah went to England to study law. At the age of 23, he returned to the Gold Coast to set up a legal practice. He became known for defending the rights of Africans against British colonial authorities. He founded two newspapers, The Gold Coast People and Gold Coast Weekly, and became an authority on the traditions of the Fante people.
In 1892 Sarbah led the fight against a bill that proposed to transfer administration of public lands from African chiefs to British officials. In 1901 he was appointed to the Legislative Council. There he fought the Native Jurisdiction Bill, which gave Fante chiefs exclusive powers to administer local laws. To Sarbah this went against the democratic traditions of the Fante. In addition to his political achievements, Sarbah wrote two books about the Fante and played an important role in establishing public schools in the colony. (See also Colonialism in Africa, Laws and Legal Systems, Publishing.)