Ghana celebrates 50 Years of Independence from Britain
John Arthur writes in this guest web-log on the contrasts between the political enthusiasm for and significance of Ghana’s 50th anniversary and the continued economic problems of a country full of talented people.
The mood of the country is jubilant and celebratory. Like carnival fests in Brazil and New Orleans, thousands of Ghanaians from all walks of life thronged to the Black Star Square, the largest public arena in the West African nation to celebrate 50 years of political independence on March 6, 2007. Before the actual day for the celebration to commence, feverish preparations were made to clean the city, remove rubbish, clear clogged gutters, paint state-owned buildings, and drape the national flag on virtually every public building, including the trees and promenades that form the high street section of town. Even cars were decorated with the national flag. The trail blazers of political emanicipation, notably Drs. Nkrumah, Busia, Danquah, Akufo-Addo, and Ofori-Ataa; Paa Grant and Ako-Adjei were honored. Special praise and noteworthy recognition went to Dr. Nkrumah, the country’s first President who led the fight for political independence from Britain.
Foreign dignitaries from around the world came to take part in this national birthday party. Britain, the former colonial master, was represented at the festivities by the Duke of Kent. Emissaries from the entire Continent of Africa were present. Two of Africa’s economic giants, Obasanjo of Nigeria and Mbeki of South Africa were present as well. The European Union, United States, Canada, and other members of the British Commonwealth of Nations were represented. The country spent $20 million to import cars for the foreign dignitaries, relocate some street hawkers, refurbish hotels, pave the processional routes, and many more. Everywhere there was pomp and pageantry. Radio stations blurred patriotic songs in the days and weeks leading to the celebrations. The mood of the national rank and file reached a crescendo Tuesday morning when the celebrations formally started. The current President, Dr. John Kufuor, an Oxford-trained lawyer and a two-term President hosted the national celebrations. Stevie Wonder was there in person to bring his musical talents to bear on the celebrations. The Black Caucus in the US Congress showed their support by visiting the country during the celebrations. After all, Ghana is known as the Black Star of Africa. These celebrations in essence, marks half a century of the first black country in Africa to wrestle political hegemony from a European superpower. The ripple effect was enormous as scores of countries in Africa and Asia seized on this momentous occasion to agitate for self-determination.
After the celebrations are over and the foreign and local dignitaries departed, the nearly 22 million strong population with a GNP of $450 will continue to live the daily realities of their massive economic and social problems: chronic youth unemployment, malaria infestations, graduate unemployment, mass migrations of skilled and unskilled workers to virtually every corner of the globe, and the near collapse of the manufacturing sector. For some, the country does not have much to celebrate about because after 50 years of independence, the country is still unable to put in place robust economic and political policies to steer it to the enviable standards achieved by countries such as Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea. It bears saying that at independence, the country’s infrastructures were at par with Malaysia. But almost three decades of political conflicts marked by successive military interventions crippled the economic and political development of the nation. Debt forgiveness initiatives championed by Britain’s Tony Blair has stabilized the economic hemorrhaging of the country. The opposition NDC party and its supporters are leery of the motives of the ruling NPP party in spending a colossal amount to mark the 50th birthday of the country. Some argue the money could be used to drill wells in the rural areas, fund the National Health Scheme, and pay the remuneration of teachers some of whom have not been paid for months.
Those who quibble with the celebrations have every reason to be concerned about the future direction of their country. It is also pertinent to mention that certainly, progress is being made in virtually every aspect of Ghanaian society. The next decade will prove decisive in terms of the government’s ability to sustain a robust economy, nurture democratic and civil governance, fight corruption and malfeasance, and raise the hopes and aspirations of the mass society. Only then can we talk about Ghana as the shining oasis in Africa. Only then can we truly celebrate by hoisting the red, gold, and green flag with the black start in the middle. By all accounts, the country has the human capital and the resources to reach its true zenith. Time will tell.