Throughout Africa, Independence Day is celebrated amidst fan fare and speeches. Ghana was the first country in sub Saharan Africa to become independent. In fact, Ethiopia is Africa's oldest independent country in the sense that, with the exception of a five-year occupation by Italy in the late 1930s, it has never been colonised.
Besides Africa, independence celebrations are held in the Americas and Asia. Europe is the only continent where independence is hardly celebrated because the Europeans rather went round colonising people and countries. Colonial rule enabled the colonizers to exploit our precious natural resources, culture and other priceless property to build their countries in Europe. At school, Prof Adu Boahen, Mr. F.K. Buah and other historians helped us learn about the evils of colonialism, but it was not until I traveled outside the country that I began to understand the real problems that colonialism had caused Africa.
At Oxford, I was shocked to find the precious African artifacts and Egyptian mummies which had found their resting place in Ashmolean Museum for the pleasure of the British people who never owed them nor understood their real significance. During a visit to Prague, I was struck by the excessive display of gold in the churches in a country, which never had gold mines. All these items were shipped out of Africa illegally during the colonial period.
Our resources, culture and destiny were controlled by foreigners, who hardly felt the desire to treat us as equals. I have heard a story about Dr. Ephraim Amu, who was prevented by the colonial Principal at Akropong Presbyterian Training College to wear a traditional cloth to church. Everything African was seen to be evil and inimical to progress. Apartheid in South Africa was the zenith of colonial rule.
In fact, there were genuine reasons why the freedom fighters thought that colonialism must go. From Algeria to Zimbabwe, African nationalism increased and nationalists such as Kaunda of Zambia, Sekou Toure of Guinea, Nyarere of Tanzania, Kenyatta of Kenya, Nelson Mandela of South Africa, Nasser of Egypt and Nkomo of Zimbabwe felt the burning desire to topple colonialism. In Ghana, a group of nationalists known as the Big Six, comprising J.B. Danquah, Kwame Nkrumah, Obetsebi-Lamptey, Ako Adjei, Edward Akuffo-Addo and William Ofori Atta spearheaded the transition of Ghana from colonialism to independence.
It was sincerely believed that independence would bring real economic development, which had eluded Africa because the colonizers did not have the interest of our countries at heart. It has been 48 years since Ghana gained independence. The other day, a school boy reminded me that I should say "Ghana re-gained independence" because we were already independent before the white man came. Are Ghana and other independent African countries better off today than we were at independence? What do we cheer about when, as Africans andGhanaians, we celebrate independence? These are some of the questions I received last Monday from some readers of my column in the Ghanaian dailies.
The economic conditions of sub Saharan African countries, including Ghana have deteriorated compared with the period prior to independence. As a child, there were telephones at Kwahu Tafo and in many other surrounding towns and villages. There were beautiful colonial buildings littered around the country. Infrastructure (e.g. schools, roads, railways and hospitals), though built to serve the interests of the colonizers, were functioning well. Civil servants were committed to their work and hardly received bribes. Teachers were highly respected and the educational level was high. For example, the majority of elementary school (standard seven) graduates could read and write both vernacular and English language well. At independence, Ghana was richer than South Korea and Malaysia, but today your guess is as good as mine.
For the greater part of the post-independence years, Ghana has suffered from political malaise and economic retrogression. The postal system, railway, civil rule, health and educational systems, town and country planning have broken down over the years. In fact, we can put part of the blame on the unfair world economic order and practices. For example, we do not have access to profitable foreign markets and we earn less for our agricultural exports. The conditions and policies of IMF and World Bank have also not always yielded beneficial results. But we cannot blame these institutions and foreign countries for the human rights abuses and corruption of our politicians since independence. Similarly, we cannot blame the colonial powers for the failed JSS and SSS educational systems, the unwillingness of our banks to lend money to small enterprises (the largest employers in the nation) and our abolition of vernacular as a medium of instruction in schools. One thing which I have observed is that in all developed countries, from the smallest Norway (population of only 4 million) to the biggest, vernacular is an important medium of instruction at school.
Dictatorship became an important part of our political landscape. Kwame Nkrumah stifled the growth of democracy by declaring himself life President and introducing preventive detention, which led to the arrest of his colleagues some of whom fought together with him for independence. General I.K. Acheampong ruled over a period of economic and political deterioration. The AFRC of Boakye Djan and J.J. Rawlings tortured and killed people. Under the PNDC of J.J. Rawlings, Ghana witnessed extreme human rights abuses and corruption. Fortunately, Ghana has not been drawn into civil wars and violence which have bedeviled some countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including our neighbours, Ivory Coast.
What are our achievements as we celebrate independence? How can we confidently tell the British that we are happy that they left our country? I do not suppose that we are pleased to celebrate independence because it offers us the opportunity to mismanage our own affairs on our own terms. Until 2001, I had little reason to cherish the celebration of the Independence Day. In fairness, however, the road to democracy started in 1992 with the first multi-party elections under the PNDC which were boycotted by the opposition.
Personally, I will prefer the replacement of Independence Day with a National Day or Heroes' Day which calls upon the patriotism of Ghanaians. One thing, we do not do as a nation is to reward those who in diverse ways contribute their very best, even at the expense of their life, to help move Ghana ahead. Independence Day puts too much emphasis on the colonizers who left 48 years and whose legacy we have not yet succeeded to improve upon. A National Day celebration will put a greater emphasis on us - general public, politicians, business people, and civil servants - to rise and save our nation.
A National Day celebration will help us reflect on our achievements and problems as a nation, think about how to get out of these problems with our own strength and reward those who make extradordinary contribution to the cause of our. We can as well celebrate the role of those who helped us re-gain independence but the emphasis will be on nation building.
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