Ghana Independence – why stop at 60?

Ghana turns 60 on 6 March 2017, having forged the way for other Sub-Saharan African countries to secure independence from Western colonisers. That day was marked by Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah’s rousing address to those thronged in Accra’s Independence Square that the black man was capable of managing his own affairs. 

Founding fathers

Typically, when this annual celebration swings by, there is a rash of adverts urging people to pull out their favourite garbs and mark the auspicious day at some ‘dinner and dance’ function. Observing the day is a powerful reminder to old and young about the sacrifices men and women went through to attain social, political and economic independence.

Beacon of hope

Those still alive now that were present then will no doubt recall the raising of the Ghana’s iconic flag, designed by Theodosia Okoh, and the electric feeling of hope and positivity that ran through Independence Square.

Ghana was that beacon of hope for the African continent and her diaspora children. In the years before Ghana gained independence, there was a number of civil rights activists, politicians and academicians supporting the cause for Africa’s liberation. Names such as Marcus Garvey of Jamaica, and W.E.B Du Bois from the US spring to mind. Independence attracted the great and the good to Ghana’s shores and included the likes of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jnr.

Even after independence, free thinkers such as writer and poet Maya Angelou, and civil rights campaigner Malcolm X spent time living in Ghana. And under Nkrumah’s leadership infrastructure that is still relied upon today was created. Examples include the KNUST and Cape Coast Universities, the Accra-Tema motorway, the Akomfo Anokye Hospital, and the Akosombo Dam, which boosted Ghana’s ‘green’ credentials decades before environmental awareness was in vogue. Even in modern times, Ghana is considered to be one of the most stable countries in Africa and as a result has benefitted from fruitful economic and social partnerships with countries across the globe.

Read: Ghana 60 years on through the eyes of a filmmaker

But Ghana’s Independence Day also brings out the critics, particularly those that question her progress in areas such as healthcare, industrialisation or in tackling poverty and corruption. These shortcomings have been pitted against other nations in the Southern Hemisphere that gained independence years after the Ghana but have seen their GDPs fly above that of the West African country.

In recent times, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) outlined that poor oil and non-oil revenue performance, and large expenditure overruns had resulted in Ghana’s overall fiscal deficit deteriorating to an estimated 9% of GDP instead of the 5 ¼% decline which was envisaged under the IMF-supported programme. It is examples like this that some critics use to challenge the reason for celebrating Ghana’s independence when so much more needs to be achieved[1].

Building blocks

While I see both sides of this argument, I want to take discussion in a slightly different direction and ask why marking the achievements of Ghana and its people have to be restricted to the last 60 years only? I understand that the day signals Ghana’s political, social and economic separation from Western governance. But should that preclude observing Ghana’s pre-colonial achievements?

The transition from the Gold Coast name to Ghana was Nkrumah’s way of re-establishing the legacy left by the Ghana Empire (circa 7th-13th century)[2] – the first of three formidable empires in Africa, which spanned across south-eastern Mauritania, western Mali and eastern Senegal. I have since learnt that the name Ghana or Ga’na was actually the emperor’s title and not the name of the empire. The empire was called Wagadou.

Nevertheless, Nkrumah’s message was clear and by linking the prestige of the empire to modern-day Ghana, he was bestowing on his new country all the hope and greatness that the Wagadou also enjoyed – in much the same way that Ghanaians do when naming a child after an ancestor. There are some, including my uncle, who say cultural and linguistic markers also connect today’s Ghanaians to that ancient empire. I am told that mansa, which means third born in Akan, is also the name of Mali emperor Mansa Musa. And jata, which means lion in Akan, is the name of founding Mali emperor Mari Jata. He was also known as the ‘lion lord’.

Independence reloaded?

These were some of the few things my uncle was told about pre-colonial Ghana as a child but this knowledge did not come from school but from oral traditions passed down to him from elders. What he did learn from his 1960s’ schooling centred around the Anglo-Ashanti wars and conflicts between the Ashantis and other ethnic groups. In the same way that black people’s history did not start with slavery, the history of present-day Ghana – and for that matter all other nations that mark their independences – are also valid even if they do not relate to occupation and wars.

These observations make me wonder why the arrival of the Hausa traders in the 15th century; early developments in metallurgy that spearheaded goldsmithing, and scientific and architectural developments that were the foundations of modern Ghana are not more widely celebrated. Could it be because that collective memory is fading, that knowledge lost or has been kept secret?

Whatever the reason, it is not too late to mark these important achievements. If we are to believe in the wisdom behind Ghana’s iconic Adinkra symbol Sankofa, it is that in order to move forward, we need to reclaim our past. Doing so by acknowledging all that has gone before into making Ghana great – I believe – is a step in the right direction and one that communities, artists, musicians, historians and government bodies can get behind.

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[1] IMF staff conclude visit to Ghana

[2] Ghana – the historical West African Empire

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