Address By Ambassador Fritz K. Poku To The Illinois House Of Representatives ON THE OCCASION OF THE BLACK HISTORY MONTH – FEBRUARY 23, 2005
MR. SPEAKER, MEMBERS OF THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES,
Permit, me first, to express my gratitude to the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, through whose initiative and invitation I am here today. I also appreciate the cordial reception given me by the Governor of Illinois and the Hon. Speaker, since my arrival in Springfield. Above all, I am grateful for the privilege offered me to address this august House of Representatives on the occasion of the Black History Month. It is also an honor for my country, Ghana, which by its history and culture has contributed so much to the history of the struggles of the peoples of African descent.
2. I believe there are quite a number of you who have visited Ghana or have knowledge about the history and progress of Ghana as a country. It is a small country in West Africa with an area of about 92,000 sq. miles and has a population of about 20 million. It was the first country south of the Sahara to achieve independence in March 1957, through a non-violent positive action by the people under the leadership of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
3. Since its independence, Ghana has had a checkered history with a number of military interventions. But since 1992, Ghana has entrenched itself as a democratic, stable and peaceful country with immense opportunities for investments. It has successfully conducted free and fair elections on four successive occasions, which is no mean achievement in our troubled region. The last such elections were the Presidential and Parliamentary elections held last December. By these feats, Ghana has risen as a beacon of hope and stability in Africa. Indeed, now we do really pride and brand ourselves as a country with exemplary democratic credentials, characterized by all the checks and balances in a constitution modeled on that of the United States.
4. Ghana is the second largest producer of cocoa and one of the world's largest producers of gold. Indeed, before independence, Ghana was known as the Gold Coast. It has a credit rating of B+ from the prestigious Standard and Poor, and boasts one of the most performing stock exchanges in the emerging markets. Ghana has twice gained eligibility for the highly competitive Millennium Challenge Account, established by the U.S. Government to encourage good governance. It has reached completion point in the HIPC Debt Relief process and has, as a result of prudent economic management, also gained debt forgiveness from both bilateral and multilateral donors.
5. Having made these preliminary remarks about my country, let me say what a happy historical coincidence it is that, during the commemoration of the Black History Month, the Ambassador of Ghana should address a House of Representatives in the United States of America. The contributions Ghana has made towards the struggle for independence, freedom and justice in Africa, to pan-Africanism as well as its influence on the struggle of African-Americans for their emancipation makes me feel well grounded to speak to you during this Black History Month. It will be recalled in this regard that right from the dawn of independence, Ghana's first President, Nkrumah, proclaimed that “the Independence of Ghana was meaningless unless it was linked to the total liberation of the continent of Africa”. He also advocated the acceptance and the acknowledgement of the African personality, which hitherto had either been ignored or misunderstood.
6. Mr. Speaker, the direct nexus between Ghana's struggle for independence, freedom and justice and the struggle of African-Americans for emancipation and civil rights was apparent from the outset. The pan-African dreams and ideals of early African leaders struck a chord of resonance with their kith and kin in the diaspora. George Padmore, Arthur Louis, W.E.B. Dubois, among others, all started frequenting Ghana in, what would later turn out to be, an annual pilgrimage of peoples of African descent to Ghana to gather inspiration, faith and confidence. The African – African American Summits, periodically held in Africa, are a case in point.
7. In a sense the peoples of Africa and African-Americans were fighting for causes larger than themselves. They both not only recognized their blood and historical ties but also their pan African destiny and the need for mutual reinforcement and synergies. Ghana had adopted pan-Africanism as a policy platform for the promotion of unity, integration and peace in Africa and for the respect of the African personality on the international scene. African Americans, disillusioned and frustrated in their existence in the U.S., were not only standing up for their rights; they were also entertaining the dream of returning to Africa, free from colonialism and imperialism, to reconstruct their lives. 8. Mr. Speaker, if there is any singular testimony to the links between the African struggle and that of the African Americans, and how they combined to shape events in the United States, and elsewhere it is Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. sermon in April 1957, delivered at the Baptist Church of Montgomery, Alabama. The sermon, titled, “The Birth of a New Nation”, was based on Ghana's experience in which Rev. Martin King Jr. saw “the story of every people struggling for freedom. And it demonstrates, in the Reverend's words, the stages that seem to inevitably follow for the quest for freedom”.
9. Rev. King Jr., at the end of the Sermon, drew certain conclusions and lessons from Ghana's story which has attained universal truths, shared by all freedom loving peoples of the world. Among these universal truths are : · There is an internal desire for freedom within the soul of every man. It might not break forth in the beginning, but eventually it breaks out. · The road to freedom is difficult and demands perseverance and sacrifices. · A nation or a people can achieve freedom without violence and bitterness. In Ghana, the reference was “positive action”. · Freedom never comes on a silver platter and it has its challenges. · The forces of the universe are on the side of justice.
10. Without the history, culture and contributions of the African- American struggle for political, social and civil rights, the civilization of America would be the poorer for it. Their struggle and experiences gave meaning, substance and life to the ideals and dreams of the American people. The Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence assured of inalienable Rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But it was the struggle of the African-American and like-minded Americans that galvanized the whole of America to live these truths.
11. At this juncture, let me pay tribute to the creative ingenuity of the Illinois State Legislature. Right from the adoption of your first constitution in 1818, at the time of statehood, through to other institutions, the Illinois Legislature has acquitted itself with a high sense of justice, dignity and patriotism. The Legislature has been able, with flexibility and resilience, to craft its Constitution to reflect the State's transition from an agrarian to an industrial state. You have enlarged your vision to legislate on bill of rights which prohibits discrimination in housing and hiring, guarantees the citizen's right to a sanitary environment and establishes the state's responsibility for public education. Your noble efforts have therefore expanded the frontiers of freedom and liberty. You have my highest commendation.
12. Mr. Speaker, the history of colonialism, slave trade, the independence struggle of the African continent and the struggle of African-Americans, provides us with glimpses of a rich and cultural heritage. The African-American Heritage Month should therefore continue to ensure its study and understanding. This way we can put to rest once and for all the erroneous view, still held by many that the African race is one which has not created any civilization of any kind, or contributed to the culture of the “Homo Sapiens”. Ignorance of our history and culture does not negate their existence. Indeed before the colonialists came to West Africa, for instance, three empires viz: the Songhai, Mali and Ghana empires, with their own distinct systems of government and civilization, had risen and fallen. 13. I am gratified that the lessons, norms and experiences that resulted from the struggle of the people of African descent found their echo in the Second Inaugural Address of President George Bush, which from my stand point, is one of the most visionary and invigorating discourses on freedom and liberty in modern times. In point of fact, if the best hope for peace in our world is the expansion of freedom in all the world; if the moral choice between oppression, which is always wrong, is freedom which is eternally right, if those who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves and, under the rule of a just God, cannot retain it, if the President can exhort his countrymen to abandon all the habits of racism, because they can not carry the message of freedom and the baggage of bigotry at the same time, it is because of the achievements and the contributions borne out of the struggles of African-Americans in particular and all the good people of this great nation in general.
14. The Black History Month should help us to meditate on these things. It should be an opportunity to reflect not only on the historical past, but also the modern day achievements and contributions of Africans and African- Americans to our common patrimony of human culture. I will encourage our African-American brothers to affirm their visible presence and participation in intellectual discourse on history, culture, civilization and anthropological studies. Conferences, Seminars, Lectures Symposia and Exhibitions will help the study of the African and African-American experience. I am proud to say, in this regard, that it was at the Memorial Centre, named for Dr. Dubois, that the U.S. Ambassador in Ghana, a few weeks ago, launched the African-American Heritage Month in my country.
15. These studies, and the lessons they teach, Mr. Speaker, will validate and reaffirm America as a real land of freedom and liberty, because the people not only espouse their belief and faith, but through their internal struggles, they give life and meaning to freedom, liberty and justice. They will fulfill the prophecy and the dream of America as a land of opportunity where the pursuit of peace and happiness is within reach of everyone. These studies and their insights will give credibility to the United States policy of spreading freedom and liberty in the world. They will make the United States a paragon of democracy, against which progress of democratic pursuits in other countries may be compared, measured and evaluated.
16. The importance and significance of the achievements of black people in political, civil and social rights will add value to the laws and treaties to which the United States, as a country, has committed itself. They will stand the United States in good stead to continue to lead the free world in the protection and promotion of human rights. Above all, the study of Black History and the character it forms will provide hope and deliver the promise that all human prejudices can change and can be overcome, and that humanity is the common heritage of all peoples.
17. In concluding, Mr. Speaker, if I look around and see the roles and contributions to our common heritage that are represented in this Chamber, I am filled with hope and confidence that the American people and all freedom-loving peoples' of the world are on the right track of building the necessary relationships. We should use these relationships not only as bridges but also as mirrors in which we see ourselves, all as human beings, fearfully and wonderfully created in the image of God.
18. In this perspective, our diversity should not divide us, man from man, society from society, and country from country. Our diversity should be seen as an imperative as well as a necessity to forge partnerships in which each should assume his responsibility to make this our global neighborhood a better place, free of racism and poverty, hunger, disease and terror.
19. I thank you for your attention.