So… today is the 57th anniversary of Ghana’s independence, and as a Ghanaian citizen, it is a day I always approach with very mixed feelings. I’ve been thinking about how to write some version of this piece for a while. I’ve always found some excuse not to write it though, so while it is late this year, here it is.
I’m going to start with the video of Kwame Nkrumah’s speech at midnight on independence day in 1957. Growing up, I saw this on TV and heard it on the radio so many times I can probably quote it by heart. Today is a good day to discuss the wider context of what Nkrumah meant when he spoke about the new African who would show the world that the black man could manage his own affairs. Quite simply, we were not supposed to make it.
The argument against giving African countries their freedom, outside of the blatantly economic ones, started and ended with the idea that we couldn’t run our own countries. We weren’t smart enough. We lacked the strength of character. We would steal from each other. We would descend into some kind of tribal free-for all and massacre each other over the the littlest things. We obviously couldn’t do things like vote peacefully, organize governments, open and run universities, live peacefully with each other and show kindness to our neighbours. We were capable of little more than the worst excesses you would expect from a people who were not quite human. Basically, the entire continent is supposed to be Mad Max meets the worst excesses of all the civil wars on it combined. That’s not quite how things have happened.
I’m not saying that things are perfect. Ghana has gone through waves of spectacular mismanagement and outright thievery, but we’ve also gone from being scared to speak out against our leaders to doing so openly. We still don’t treat each other with the dignity we should more often than not, but there are lots of people who show extraordinary grace and selflessness to each other on a daily basis. Children die who should be alive, but a lot fewer than used to. Adults die who should be alive, but again, a lot fewer than used to. We don’t educate enough of our kids, and too many are stuck in substandard schools, but we do have more schools and we have our own universities. We train our own doctors, even if we then underfund them. We train our own scientists, our own writers, our own lawyers, our own engineers, our own artists. Not enough of them, but more than we would have had otherwise. We are far below our potential, but it is a much greater potential than anyone expected of us. If we judged ourselves by the standards of what was expected of us, we’d already be a success. We don’t though, because under all the self-deprecation and self-loathing, we know we are capable of more.
We aren’t supposed to be here, I’m not supposed to be here. And sometimes it helps to take a step away from all that feels wrong and terrible to appreciate all that is right. The mess will still be there tomorrow.
Happy Birthday Ghana.
I know this is a little late buy by now you should expect that from me.
Ghana turned 50 on Tuesday and a host of foreign dignitaries showed up to help us celebrate our position as the first sub-saharan country to be given permission to run our own affairs.
More interesting to me than the official celebration though, was the public response to the event.
Accra and Tema have been covered in flags for a couple of weeks now.
There have been brisk sales of flags and Ghana themed memorabilia.
Just about every car, taxis included, is flying the flag. Literally the city has been awash with red, gold green and black. Even more so than when Ghana was starting to dominate teams who were expected to murder us in the World Cup.
On independence day people showed up at the square to get seats early in the morning. Reportedly by 4:30 A.M it was impossible to find a seat even if you’d paid for one.
That was remarkably inspiring to see. Honestly, sometimes I underrate my country. I forget that one of the reasons that Ghana has managed to remain as stable as it has been is that people do see themselves as part of the same country to a large degree. There is so much noise about our religious, ethnic, economic and political differences that its sometimes easy to miss the ways in which we pull together. This doesn’t mean that things are perfect by a long shot. There are lots of things that need fixing in this country, but I’m seeing our confidence in our own abilities and our awareness of our potential increase significantly. And that gives me a bit more hope for the future.
I’m sorry I don’t have pictures but we’ve been moving and so the camera has been packed up. I’ll try to get you some shots once I unpack it.
sidenote: you have to wonder what the 2010(50 years after the year when the most African countries got independence) celebrations will look look. If I had money I’d make the trip from country to country and enjoy the festivities. As it is I’ll be saving up for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa.
48 years ago today, the British flag went down and was permanently replaced by the red, yellow and green flag as ghana became the first country in ‘sub-saharan’ Africa to gain its independence. The picture above is from a historic telecast when Kwame Nkrumah, the first prime minister of Ghana, announced to the country that we were free.
That’s another picture of Nkrumah. He was a very interesting person. A british trained teacher who became the head of the independence effort in Ghana. He di some great things in his time. Turning the country into a single party state was not one of them. His larger crime, however, was keeping Ghana unaligned in the cold war and accepting help from the Americans, the Russians and the Chinese. His politics were not very popular with the west so, while he was on his way to Vietnam to hopefully mediate, a CIA sponsored coup was organized to remove him from power. He went into exile and the country went through three more tries at becoming a democratic republic.
This time it seems to be working though, if last year’s election was any indication. I have faith in my country and the continent in general. We’re a relatively new country made up from dozens of differing ethnic groups with diffent languages, social and political traditions. Not to mention old rivalries that were inflamed during the years of colonization. As far as I’m concerned, the fact that we made it this far means that there is hope. We have a stable economy, our educational system is getting better and there is increasing opportunity for people who are willing to work hard, which is pretty much the entire country. I have hope for the future. I guess we’ll find out whether or not I’m right sooner or later.