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.