Ghana : the 50th anniversary of independence
50 years ago this month, Ghana officially declared its independence from Great Britain. A look at its progress as a sovereign nation.
On the 6th March, 1957, Ghana’s independence from Britain was officially declared. 50 years on, Ghanaians, the world over, are in a celebratory mood. Officials are nearing the end of a major clean-up program in Accra, Ghana’s capital; streets normally lined with wares and salted with the sweat of petty traders competing with cars and trucks for space, are being cleared. Trash mountains and blocked drains are being cleared. They’re making way for revellers and potential admirers; they’re set on Accra being seen as a modern metropolis.
The end of the Second World War propelled the USA onto the global stage as the new world power. This development precipitated the end of Britain’s colonial reign. Trading constraints imposed by colonialism were not in keeping with the American national interest. The ideals of colonialism were also out of line with the Soviet Union’s version of Marxism. Mahatma Ghandi’s empowering ideology of non-violence and his campaign against racism in South Africa were known world wide, and were instrumental in bringing independence to India in 1947. Colonialism was in the firing line! It was against this political backdrop that African countries stepped up their own campaigns for political independence from colonial rule.
The 5th Pan-African Congress convened in 1945. This signalled the readiness of Africans to make their mark as self-governors. Big voices of the day were among their numbers: Hastings Banda represented Malawi, Obafemi Awolowo, Nigeria, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya, andKwame Nkrumah, Ghana. They had gathered to refine a plan to free their people. These Pan-Africanists had a vision:
“Only a united Africa can redeem its past glory, renew and reinforce its strength for the realization of its destiny…We are today the richest yet poorest of continents, but in unity our continent could smile in a new era of prosperity and power.”
These are the words of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana’s first prime minister at the time of independence. Powerful, poignant words, certainly fit to foster a sense of national pride. And he went on to add that Ghana would become the ‘Black Star of Africa.’ So has it? 50 years on, has his vision come to fruition? Is it this that Ghanaians will be celebrating in less than a week from now? Let’s explore.
Ghana’s natural beauty has always been. Even the rigours of colonialism couldn’t change that! Vibrant green hues colour broad leaves and thick and narrow stems of the rain forests. Warm shades of bronze coat savannahs and bare the ferocity of beasts and the grace of grazing prey. Indigenous tropical plant life adorns with a physical beauty, and offers healing elements to sustain good health. The most delicate fleeting butterflies scatter glints of bright and subtle colours, and soaring birds create a symphony throughout the landscape. The depth of lakes, the ripple of rivers, and the rush of waterfalls, contrast with and offer refreshment from, an intense, though blissful, heat. Beyond lush green hills, laid within rocks and soils, is bauxite, gold and diamonds. A very rich land indeed!
Complimenting this natural beauty, and ingrained within Ghanaian culture, is an entrepreneurial spirit that reflects a similar creativity: carvers, weavers, bead makers, printers. These furnish the country's roadsides with crafts and feed cottage industries. Thus the memory of any visit to Ghana remains prominent in households all over the world.
Then there are the suspended rope bridges and ancient coastal castles commanding our awe. Its history enriches further with the Slave River Memorial Centre, known locally as Nnonkonsuo; thousands visit each year to remember the ordeal, and praise the courage, of ancestors of the African Diaspora.
Another aspect of Ghanaian pride is the resilience of spirit played out in a wealth of ceremonies and festivals. Its people celebrate their regal history in colourful gowns and head wraps. They move rhythmically to deep and spiritual drum beats as they express pride in their history, their culture, their country.
No doubt, all this certainly merits celebration; independently sustaining national pride for 50 years is clearly an achievement. But what of Ghana’s profile when placed on the global stage? This is where a country’s success is measured in terms of its socio-economic achievements. So let’s see how Ghana fares.
The degree to which a country invests in what is known as human capital, is an extremely important factor when discussing its economic potential. This refers to the education and health of a nation. Its development and well-being in these areas affects its industrial growth. This is true insofar as there is a need to provide a healthy, educated, and forward-looking work force that can contribute to an increasingly complex technological world.
Since gaining its independence, Ghana has excelled in its efforts to extend universal primary education. According to World Bank figures, only 38% of Ghanaian children attended school in 1960. A massive program to build primary and secondary schools right across the country, and extend the provision of free education to secondary and university students followed independence. Subsequently, the figure for children in school now goes beyond 80%.
Likewise, in the area of public health, Ghana has made huge strides. In 1960, life expectancy was 37 years old. Today it stands at nearly 60 years of age. Similarly, infant mortality rates have decreased from 143 per thousand births to only 65: another remarkable achievement.
In relation to many developing nations, Ghana has done, and is doing well. Despite this, it is still one of the poorest countries in the world. This is because there remain several areas where it is falling short. There are certain ramifications that come with a country’s location: limitations to free trade between a country and its neighbours, difficulties to convert their currencies, and a divergence in the mutuality and level of their economic developments, are all hindering factors. Regarding these issues, Ghana is not best placed. Also to its disadvantage is the fact that it neighbours countries such as Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone, all of which have suffered protracted periods of political unrest or even civil war. This has made Ghana unattractive to many potential foreign investors.
A lack of technical knowledge dictating the need for Ghanaians to borrow money and buy in outside expertise, and a limited indigenous business class, has also created stumbling blocks to Ghana’s economic progress. At the time of independences many businesses were owned by the English, Lebanese, Indians and Syrians. Much of the country’s profits were therefore boosting the economies of the various homelands as money was being sent to families abroad. It was this issue that led to the Business Promotion Act, prohibiting foreign nationals from engaging in particular areas of commerce.
Ghana’s inability to diversify economically has been another hindrance in the years since independence. It has long been a world leader in the production of cocoa, one of its main exports. Unfortunately, it has appeared unduly dependent on it. As a commodity that is subject to variance in world prices, weather conditions and diseases that inflict crops, this is a problem. As is poignantly put by Benjamin Asare and Alan Wong, two analysts writing for the publication, West Africa Review:
“For sustained economic development, it is necessary to have multiple sources of export revenue so that a temporary disruption in one product or service does not jeopardize the funding of the country’s development efforts. Manufacturing, a more efficient vehicle for rapid and sustained economic progress, has yet to attain a large scale in Ghana. As of 1999, the agricultural sector generated about 36 percent of Ghana’s GDP, with the industrial and service sectors generating 25 percent and 39 percent, respectively.”
Despite the positive socialist vision pursued by Nkrumah, a series of coups and military governments have besieged Ghana since 1957. Heavy borrowing, economic mismanagement, and a reversal of policies that may have proven fruitful if given the time to unfold fully, dictated many years of political and economic instability in Ghana.
Alas, the gift of hindsight is truly inspiring, and it seems Ghanaians are enjoying a sense of restored hope. This has come in the form of John Agyekum Kufuor, the current elected president; he has the confidence of the nation. He is chairman of various significant organizations in the political community, such as the Draft Committee of the African Union Peace and Security Council, and the African Union itself. He sits and negotiates with leaders of the G8 nations: a ‘near privilege’ for African leaders. His contribution to Ghanaian politics, thus far has been immense, and he is generally viewed as heroic. His human rights record, his skills in diplomacy and governance, and his acumen at designing and supporting sound economic policies, have all been praised. Many even see him as an equal to the revered Nkrumah! The nation’s sense of respect and dignity is being revived.
The formation of the African Union seems testament to the fulfilment of the ideals of Nkrumah and other Pan-Africanists of generations gone by. Despite Africa’s continuous fight against poverty, ignorance and disease, the renewal of this vision, and a president that supports them, spells hope. A wider awareness that the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank constitute a dictatorship is also becoming a reality. As is strongly asserted by Motsoko Pheko, in an article entitled “Road to Pan-Africanism”:
“Pan-Africanism demands that the riches of Africa be used for the benefit, upliftment, development, and enjoyment of the African people…Pan-Africanism was developed by outstanding African scholars, political scientists, historians and philosophers living in Africa and the Diaspora. It was conceived in the womb of Africa…” He goes on to speak of the need for “…continental railroads and air routes, intra-trade, communication and technological development among African people and states.” To end his piece, he states, “The triumph of Pan-Africanism will come out of the sweat and blood of African people themselves.”
Africa is developing. Perhaps more countries will be inspired by China’s success in African investment and follow its lead. More importantly, Africa is developing a new mindset, one that more closely reflects the ideals of Pan-Africanism. Truly, if Ghana and the rest of Africa are on the road to achieving these, independence celebrations will take on an even greater depth, and create a more sustainable legacy for future generations.