“Ghana our beloved country…..is free forever…….it is now time to show the white man that the African is capable of handling his own affairs!!!!”…….amongst many other things, this was part of Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah's message to his fellow Ghanaians on the night of 6th March 1957.
After a huge post World War II struggle between the Ghanaian public & politicians on one hand and the British colonial regime on the other, Ghana was finally declared independent on the 6th of March 1957. Engulfed by a deep sense of nationalism, Nkrumah, made his now historic speech exhorting the people of the then infant nation of Ghana to move forward together in unity in our quest to prove to the white man that we could run our own country and seek our own destiny without colonial guidance or influence.
Nkrumah in his belief that the independence of Ghana was meaningless unless the rest of Africa was free from colonial rule began using Ghana's resources to engineer and support other African colonies' quest for independence in line with what had been achieved in Ghana. As a result of this, the battle to rid places like Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Togo, Cote d'Ivoire, Cameroun, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Namibia, Uganda, South Africa and the rest of Black Africa of colonial rule & influence gathered pace.
It is no secret that Nkrumah brought into Ghana many then-called dissidents and freedom-fighters to be trained in the art of guerrilla warfare. Others were indoctrinated in the politics of socialism at Ghanaian institutions and imbued with the idea that they could only improve their lives and that of their fellow countrymen if, and only if they seized their respective countries from the hands of their colonial masters.
Nkrumah also sent a number of Ghanaians, trained in clandestine activities to help out the freedom-fighters in their quest for independence in their various colonies. These Ghanaians were trained in the local languages of the colonies like Swahili, Igbo, Hausa, Arabic etc. They were also combat-trained and in position to offer training to recruits in the various colonies who were to engage in combat and activities of sabotage against their then colonial masters.
Of course at the time it had been proven beyond any reasonable doubt that the colonial masters were using the colonies to provide for their countries in Europe. Activities of the likes of Nkrumah had sensitised the populace to these facts and given him the popular support he needed to push for the withdrawal of all colonial elements from the then Gold Coast and the handing over of power to the local population.
When Ghana was born in 1957, it became the first black African country to have gotten rid of colonial rule and soon, especially in the 1960's, many other colonies followed suit leading to Nkrumah becoming a household name in Africa & beyond. Infact so huge was his achievement that his popularity reached all the way to the US where he had become a source of inspiration to the likes of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King & their fellow black civil rights leaders as well as organisations like the Black Panthers & NAACP who were in the thick of the civil rights struggle seeking equality for the black race in a segregated society that was the US at the time.
My father told me a story once of a Ghanaian living in the US, New York to be specific, in the 1960's, who hailed a taxi one evening while standing by the road side. The taxi driver hit the brakes but could only come to a stop about 10 feet away from where the Ghanaman was standing. A white man standing where the taxi had come to a stop immediately hopped in and asked the driver to take him to a destination. The Ghanaian who had originally stopped the cab, now wondering what was happening, quickly dashed to where the cab was standing with the white man cosily perched in the back seat and demanded the white man get down since it was he who had stopped the cab. The white guy took one look at this Ghanaian in bewilderment but was unable to utter a word. The Ghanaian swung the white guy's door open and politely asked him to “drop down” and wait for the next cab since he (the Ghanaian) had stopped this one with every intention to use it. The perplexed white guy had no option but to oblige and with a polite thank you, the Ghanaman hopped into the cab and it sped off.
Meanwhile, inside the cab, the cab-driver, a black American was going over what he had just witnessed in his head. When he got to his passenger's destination, he was convinced by the Ghanaman's accent that he was surely an African and so he asked where in Africa he was from. When his passenger answered Ghana, the cab-driver exclaimed; “I thought as much”!!!! The Ghanaman, a bit puzzled, asked the cab-driver why he “thought as much”. The cab-driver simply answered by saying, in that day and age, when even a good many black Americans could not stand up to their fellow white folk who were at the time oppressing them, the only black Africans who stand up to the white man without recourse to conscience were those who come from the land of Kwame Nkrumah.
Contrary to the racial undertones this story may evoke in some, this little story is just a pointer to how highly-rated our beloved country Ghana was on the international political stage. Nkrumah & Ghana had become a symbol of African renaissance. So great had Nkrumah become that a Kente cloth he donated to the United Nations is still one of its revered gifts to date.
Nkrumah however in seeking independence for Ghana and further engineering and supporting similar courses across the continent, thus “de-stabilising the colonies”, had stepped on western toes. His national development policy based on socialism rather than capitalism was also a cause for further anxiety in the west.
Nkrumah in his quest to industrialise Ghana, had the country's energy needs assessed and approached the west for a loan to enable what is now the Akosombo dam to be built. When the west started to drag its feet, Nkrumah approached his communist friends in the east for assistance. This caused trepidation in the west & forced the west to cobble together urgent financing for the project in their quest not to lose a foot-hold in Ghana's economy. At the height of the cold war, the west was not going to take any chances with then-important commodities like gold, cocoa & timber falling into the hands of the USSR (Soviet Union), German Democratic Republic (GDR) & China, countries Nkrumah was deepening relationships with at the time.
With Nkrumah becoming paranoid of his political opponents and their purported links with foreign intelligence and governments, he began to institute draconian measures to cower Ghanaians into submission. Activities of the Young Pioneers & the infamous Preventive Detention Act being cases in point, not to mention the famous “dawn broadcasts” that kept the nation psychologically in check. He further declared himself president-for-life which to most signalled the end of democracy for the nation and a betrayal of the ideals of the independence he himself had led Ghanaians to fight for.
By 1966 however, Nkrumah's cup with the Ghanaian people was full & that was all the excuse the local security apparatus (with the now obvious help of the CIA) needed to take him out. The joy and euphoria that accompanied Nkrumah's overthrow can only be explained by a drowning man after he has been pulled out of the water. Ghanaians were looking forward to a new beginning without the political encumbrances of the past 9 or so years.
Unfortunately, the overthrow of Nkrumah rather than leading Ghanaians to the so-called “promised land”, only succeeding in heralding into being a period of military coups interspersed with shameful excuses for democracy. With the deterioration in governance, economic catastrophy soon followed. The “Asian tigers”, the likes of Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore etc. with whom we claim to have been at par with or better than as at 1957, have long since become countries from whom we today seek both technical and financial assistance as well as grants & aid.
Decades of economic mismanagement by practically corrupt & uneducated military rulers as well as greedy & similarly corrupt civilians led to government piling up both local debt (to the tune of trillions of cedis) and an international component of $6.3 billion as at 2000. Unfortunately we as a nation did not have development anywhere near that tune to look to for consolation. As we all know, most of that money has disappeared and continues to disappear into individual pockets leaving the masses in the pitiful state in which we find ourselves today.
Now, to the crux of the matter, we must examine the meaning of the word “independence”. According to the Encarta Dictionary, this word means “freedom from control”. It goes further to explain the word as meaning “freedom from dependence on or control by another person, organization or state”. From the Thesaurus, other words that can be used for the word “independence” are “self-government”, “sovereignty”, “autonomy”, “self-rule”, “self-determination”, “self-sufficiency”, “self-reliance”, “freedom”, & “liberty”.
Ladies & gentlemen, when Nkrumah led the fight and eventually won “independence” for Ghana in 1957, the meaning of the word to hopeful Ghanaians at the time was every bit all of the explanations I have highlighted above. Ghanaians looked forward to having people they have put in power continue to fight to protect their interests. Unfortunately however, this dream has remained a mirage as, when Ghanaians have had the opportunity to choose leaders right from Nkrumah's 1st Republic through Busia, Liman & now the JJ & Kuffuor 4th Republic, these leaders have gone contrary to the meaning of the word. The history of military leadership which completes the 48 years of “independence” has also been one of the worst examples of governance anywhere in the world.
With all this in mind, we must ask ourselves what the meaning of the word “independence” in the “Ghanaian Dictionary” is. According to that dictionary which all Ghanaians are privy to; it definitely means “a state of deprivation, ignorance and hopelessness”. In the “Ghanaian Thesaurus” one will find words like “suffering”, “trepidation”, “in-security”, “kleptocracy”, “corruption”, “cronyism”, “unemployment” & indeed many others as such that can safely be used as alternatives to the word “independence”.
After 48 good years, our country teeters on the brink of bankruptcy. Today Ghana as a country cannot embark on the most basic of projects to provide basic necessities to its population without “donor support”. Year-in, year-out, as other countries count-in foreign directive investment as a source of income for meeting their budgetary requirements, we continue to rely on “aid” and “donor support” to enable our national budget to begin to look comprehensible.
After trumpeting the pros of foreign investment as pioneered by JJ and his govt in the mid-1990's, Kuffuor went to the US in his second year or so in office and picked up a B-rating for Ghana's bonds from the ratings agency Standard & Poor's. Overwhelmed more probably by the occasion than the rating accorded Ghana's bonds he had a few too many causing him to miss a pre-scheduled TV interview later in the day because he was seemingly in no state to attend. From a serious point of view, what really was there to celebrate about a “single B rating” when generally in the world of finance, bonds rated below triple B are considered to be of “junk status”?? Plainly & simply, in the international financial market, if Ghana as a nation should try to issue bonds, these bonds will attract high enough risk-rating as to guarantee virtually no interest from any serious-minded investor.
If Ghana's bonds were of that much good quality as the government will like us to believe, why is at that Ghana's bonds are not hot-cake on the international financial markets?? Why is it that Ghana's currency (the Cedi) is so much volatile and untrustworthy as “a store-of-value” that today, it is not even worth the paper it is printed on as far as international transactions are concerned?? Talk about the Ghanaian tendency towards satisfaction with mediocrity?? That is how far we have come after 48 years of running our own affairs!!!
After 48 years, income per capita runs at a paltry $360 or so per head of the Ghanaian population. People in Ghana continue to die of the most basic of diseases. Infact, this is one of the countries in the world where people die because they are too poor to stay alive. More and more children are dropping out or being withdrawn from school because parents cannot afford the cost of basic education anymore because they are either jobless or if even they have jobs, the miserable wage they are paid cannot afford to both feed and educate their children.
Large numbers of the few but vital professionals we have managed to train locally at huge cost to the “unfortunate” taxpayer are leaving the country by any means possible because though Ghana needs their services; their continued stay in Ghana will only condemn both themselves, but more cruelly, their families to nothing but abject poverty & a state of hopelessness. The youth are also leaving in equal number to seek a future and also in a huge number of instances, to place themselves in positions where they can at least remit home to stop their younger siblings from having to drop out of school because there is no money for the fees and also to prevent their parents from going hungry & destitute as they approach middle & old age. To most of the youth, there are only 2 options in life for them as a Ghanaians, either you sentence yourself to hard-labour in the white man's country or become an armed robber (incidentally the fastest-growing profession in Ghana today).
The British Prime Minister Tony Blair, having launched his Africa Commission talks about a dream of freeing Africa from poverty. Information also keeps trickling though of the British government and others seeking to pay-off or write-off significant amounts of debt owed them by African nations including Ghana. Infact the Africa Commission's report has just been released & many of us think the targets are virtually unachievable as everything in it depends on political will which we do not have and have never had probably since the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah.
Of course the tendency is to become suspicious of the motives of the British government for these gestures as is usual. However I am more worried at the eagerness with which our politicians cheer these international community actions as experience teaches us that our politicians, especially those in power, will only cheer any such initiative if they stand to gain personally from it. I am much more worried as to whether these actions will rather not end up putting more & more money in the hands of our “avowed corrupt” politicians as has always been the case in the past. Many I have talked to tell me that just like any initiative fashioned out for Africa since independence, this Africa Commission initiative, irrespective of its laudable intentions, will fail in its quest because any attempt to restrict (call to account) our corrupt status quo will only lead to obstinacy on the part of our political rulers who will only create more red-tape bureaucracy leading to further hardship being experienced by the poor & helpless population.
Sometimes I ask myself and I know many fellow Ghanaians will also ask themselves; why do we annually celebrate the day 6th March 1957? I mean, from all indication, we only managed to drive the white man from a position of power in our country but otherwise all we have achieved is to create a “Ghanaian Dictionary” & “Thesaurus” with words like I have listed above as meanings of “independence”. Even a fool can tell the fact that, we as a country Ghana, are even much more dependent on our former colonial masters than we were prior to 6th March 1957!!!
I cannot tell you how sad I was when at this year's celebrations of “independence” some children who could not stand the exhaustion of the parade mostly, collapsed to be attended to by the first aid people. All I can remember asking myself were the words; what future for these children? After being put through all the hell to make the parade colourful for the powers that be, all they will get at the end of the day will be exhaustion & probably ill-health. At the end of the day they go home most likely to less than 3 square meals a day, as well as, to a future in which they have become more likely to drop out of school due to the hardship faced by their parents when it comes to the issue of school fees. After 48 years, constant hunger & disease has virtually wiped the smile off the face of the average Ghanaian child. This is absolutely tearful. Tell me, what is there in “independence” for the masses to celebrate then?
Meanwhile, what about the politicians and their cronies who have taken the salute at the Independence Square on the morning of 6th March 2005? They retire to their mansions to have their grilled-steak barbecues with family & friends whilst they sip on their Martells, Courvoisiers, Bailey'ses, Absolut Vodkas, Famous Grouses & Grant's whiskeys etc. To these people, “independence” sure means something. No wonder there is something to celebrate on the 6th of March of every year & no doubt, for as long as the status quo remains, there will be more so-called “independence days” to celebrate!!!
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