Ghana turns 61
Today marks Ghana’s 61st year of freedom from British colonial rule. The day celebrates an agonizing decade-long campaign in the years post-WWII, which demanded the vanquishment of imperial repression and exploitation, and rightful establishment of Ghana’s sovereignty. Festivities in the British-Ghanaian community in London began this weekend, with several independence-day themed events taking place across the city. Every year the day is held as a national holiday in Ghana, with party-going patriots descending onto the nation’s streets, to dance, sing and embrace the warm community spirit that Ghana is famous for. Political appearances in Ghana’s capital, Accra, include that of Nigerian President, Muhammadu Buhari, who was invited as this year’s special guest by Ghana’s President, Nana Akufo-Addo. Akufo-Addo is also expected to give a public speech in front of tens of thousands of crowds on Independence Square, a long-standing Presidential tradition.
March 6th, 1957
61 years ago, outside what is now Ghana’s Parliamentary building, a crowd of Ghanaian civilians gathered, feverish with excitement, awaiting the dawn of their new republic. At midnight, the last Gold Coast Legislative Assembly under British rule was discontinued ahead of the establishment of Ghana’s first post-colonial and independent parliament. The next day, Ghana’s first Prime Minister, Kwame Nkrumah, was met by the enraptured cheers of thousands of Ghanaians who had come from all over the nation to witness this momentous day.
But this positive day in history was only the ending of a long, tempestuous struggle for freedom by the Ghanaian people. In their demand for an end to exploitation and oppression under British imperialism, riots, bloodshed and instability marred the region for nine years up to this moment.
In January 1948, Ghanaians organised a boycott in protestation of expensive European imports. Citizens demanded a reduction in the prices of goods from foreign traders known as the Association of West African Merchants (AWAM), a further capitalization on the West Coast colonies. AWAM has in fact became a local term in Ghana that means ‘cheating’ or ‘profiteering’. A series of riots ensued in early February 1948 and, just as they were coming to an end in late February, another pivotal event would take centre stage and change the course of Ghana’s history.
On February 28th, a group of Ghanaian WWII veterans peacefully marched to Christianborg Castle, the colonial government, to submit a petition to Governor Gerald Creasy regarding their poor treatment, unpaid war benefits and general neglect after their service. A British Police Superintendent, Colin Imray, ordered the veterans to leave, but they refused. When Imray’s men refused his order to open fire on the unarmed soldiers, he opened fire himself, killing Sergeant Cornelius Frederick Adjetey, Private Odartey Lamptey and Corporal Attipoe. The murders led to another round of riots in Accra, during which European and Asian stores were looted. On the dawn of the 1957 Independence Day, Elizabeth II erected the Independence Monument near were the soldiers were shot, in remembrance of all those who fought sacrificed their lives for the Republic.
The war veterans had previously discussed and earned the support of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), a pro-independence group, prior to the fatal march. The UGCC was formed of six Ghanaians, also known as the ‘Big Six’, and included the future Prime Minister of the First Republic of Ghana, Nkrumah. When the group’s affiliation with the murdered soldiers became known to the Governor, an arrest warrant for the six leaders of the UGCC was issued. After Nkrumah’s release from prison, he made it his political mission to gather up support for an Independent Ghana around the nation, becoming the voice of young people and women, which was unheard of in these times. In 1949, he officially formed the Convention’s People’s Party (CPP) that would govern Ghana for the next 17 years.
On March 6 1957, Ghana became the first black-African country to become independent, leaving a stirring precedent for neighbouring colonies to follow. Indeed, in the subsequent decade, 33 African colonies declared themselves as sovereign nations.
However, the positive national sentiment that the Independence Day celebrations are intended to garner, have drawn scepticism from government critics. Last year, journalist and personal archivist to Akufo-Addo, Jefferson Sackey, remarked on the importance of embracing national unity and of recognising the progress Ghana has made over the past 61 years. “This is a national celebration and we must go about it devoid of partisanship. The interest of the nation is paramount to any individual’s interest, therefore we all have to get together and make this year’s celebration a grand success’. Sackey’s tone of national consciousness was admonished by News Ghana, as the media outlet saw it as an attempt to sugar-coat Ghana’s waning democracy. In fact, not much has changed vis-a-vis corruption since last year’s statement: the annual Corruption Perception Index actually noted a 3-point drop from 2016 to 40, which is below the 50-point threshold for a healthy democratic nation. The danger: interest-driven wheeling and dealing by corrupt officials can hit hard on the national morale of a country, especially if citizens then lose that sense of trust in their democratic institutions.
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Writer: Lavina Butt