1884 Debate No: 1
Mother of Africa's National Days
On 6 March 1997 - Ghana's National Day, an earth tremor shook the Ghanaian capital of Accra Or, was it Kwame Nkrumah turning in his grave? Yunhouse Author Ad'Obe Obe was at the 40th Anniversary Celebration of The Flagship Nation of African Independence
FORTY YEARS AGO, when Ghana became the first black African nation to attain independence, Black peoples within and outside Africa felt and celebrated the occasion as a milestone in global Black Consciousness. But many who remember the occasion would be disappointed to know that the psychologically significant fortieth anniversary of their triumph passed as a relatively quiet affair in the Ghanaian capital of Accra last month.
On the eve of March 6, the Ghanaians kept a midnight vigil to evoke the euphoria that accompanied the lowering of the Union Jack and simultaneous hoisting of the brand new Ghanaian national flag with the famous Black Star. Loudspeakers blasted Nkrumah's immortal words: 'Ghana is free forever!'.
The actual day was marked with the ritualistic parade of hundreds of school children before tens of thousands of Ghanaians. There were a number of international guests present, notably Louis Farrakhan and veteran nationalist Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. Otherwise, noted an observer, 'little in the show today matched our feelings that we were shaking the entire world forty years ago'. He had been a student in the yet-to-be-free Nigeria at the time, and ''the campus was one big party, for three days". Perhaps as sign that Nkrumah may have been turning in his grave, the show had hardly concluded before an earth tremor shook the grounds of Accra.
It was left to Julius Nyerere, who had been Nkrumah's guest on the first day of freedom, to remind the young generation of Ghanaians of the unique emotion felt by every Black person who had been aware forty years earlier: ''It can be done!, we all felt Africa can and shall be free... We saw your independence as the first triumph in Africa's struggle for freedom and dignity. It was the first success of our demand to be accorded the international respect which is accorded free peoples''.
In a public lecture in Accra, Nyerere acknowledged being inspired by Nkrumah while studying in Edinburgh (he would return as the first university graduate of Tanganyika). Ghana, said Nyerere, was the first liberated zone in a struggle that could be traced to Black peoples' resentment of the racist subjugation which followed Africa's encounter with the West, from the transatlantic slave trade, through slavery in the New World, to wholesale domination of the continent by colonial rule.
Kwame Nkrumah had been at the front of that battle for freedom whose initial lines were internationally drawn in the United States and Britain. A pan-African movement of all peoples of African descent had its first international congress in London 1919. Their demand for an end to discrimination against Black peoples was repeated in four subsequent congresses. In 1945, at the Fifth Pan-African Congress in Manchester, they declared war: "We will fight in every way we can for freedom, democracy and social betterment''. Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana was among those who drafted that resolution titled 'The Challenge to the Colonial Powers'.
It was an international army of Black freedom fighters that gathered to celebrate Ghana's first day of freedom. Nkrumah told them: "We have for too long been the victims of foreign domination. For too long we have had no say in the management of our own affairs and in deciding our own destinies. Now the times have changed, and today we are the masters of our own fate''.
Black activists from the West Indies and United States were invited to advise Nkrumah in the task of nurturing the infant nation state. His right hand men, George Padmore (Trinidad) and W B E du Boise (USA) died in Ghana. President Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Kamuzu Banda of Malawi were among other African nationalists who fortified their quest for freedom while settled in Ghana.
Those who believe Nkrumah would have called last celebration' Africa at Forty' (instead of 'Ghana at Forty') recall Nkrumah's words at the Pan-African conference in 1958: "Our independence is meaningless unless linked to the total liberation of the continent''. What a climax it would have been for Kwame Nkrumah to shake hands with Nelson Mandela in 1994 when colonialism made its final exit from the continent.
Veteran Black Pan-Africanists may be dis-heartened by the recent low-key, relatively local expression of the importance of March 6, but none can deny that the meaning of independence has been severely corroded by four decades of post-colonial realities. A situation harshly exemplified by the fact that Nkrumah himself succumbed to one of Africa's earliest military coups, eight years after the historic victory. Nkrumah's dream Republic has since been succeeded by three others in a typical African story of post-independence instability.
The President of the Ghana's Fourth Republic, Flight Lieutenant J J Rawlings, (a school-child at independence), has now been in power for fourteen years, overtaking Kwame Nkrumah as country's longest-serving leader. In his own national day speech, President J. J Rawlings stressed the progress with which his leadership had so impressed the Ghanaian electorate that they recently re-elected him for a second four-year term under a democratic constitution that he introduced four years ago.
President Rawlings, who describes himself as 'a product of the people's anger', campaigns with the horror of post-independence trauma: 'The nation was in a state of decay when we took over'. Supporters, who call him 'Junior Jesus', see him as the person who redeemed them from political chaos, economic collapse and starvation. Rawling' s Ghana now enjoys the prestige of leading the rest of the continent in economic recovery and political stability. But this honour has come at high price: international debts are still of crippling proportions, and Ghana balances its national budget with the goodwill of aid donors as target income. The national currency, the Cedi, was originally one half of one pound sterling from whose colonial ashes it was born immediately after independence. Today, the Cedi is only worth a thirtieth of one penny, and steadily depreciating.
So, whatever happened to the Independence Dream? It became a nightmare with excruciating dilemmas such as in this imaginary dialogue:
Nkrumah: Where is the honour of being a leading recipient of foreign aid on our blessed continent?
Rawlings: Sir, with due respect, you said 'Seek ye first the political kingdom and the rest shall be added unto thee', but the reality has been painfully different.
Nkrumah: I maintain that 'We have the right to govern, and even misgovern ourselves'.
Rawlings: So be it, sir.
Ghanaians who walked with their heads high and were welcomed wherever they went in the world as ambassadors of Black liberation have difficulty in coming to terms with Nkrumah's overthrow in 1966 as an inevitable crisis of the task of nation-building. Nkrumah's official title of Osagyefo (The Liberator) is still used with deference. President Rawlings' effort to re-instate Nkrumah's glory include re-interring (for the third time) his remains in an impressive mausoleum in a dedicated park where Nkrumah proclaimed Ghana free. He had first been buried in neighbouring Guinea where President Sekou Toure uniquely adopted him as Co-President for the rest of his life. An ever increasing number of non-Ghanaian followers of Nkrumah think him a prime example of the proverbial prophet without honour in his own country. In defense, Ghanaians, while acknowledging edging his stature as political visionary par excellence, think much of his vision had been too panoramic, and that he spent a disproportionate amount of energy pushing for United States of Africa at the expense of consolidating the domestic socio-economic circumstances of the baby nation state.
But, said Julius Nyerere, Pan-Africanism was no mirage: '' Since we were humiliated as Africans, we had to be liberated together". A founding father (together with Nkrumah) of the Organisation of African Unity, Nyerere saw the success of African unity in the liberation of 21 more nation states since 1963. Now, with 53 states - the largest number of seats in the UN General Assembly, "If numbers were horses Africa today will be riding high". The reality of the present, however, is that Africa is the poorest and the weakest continent. "Our weakness is pathetic", declared Nyerere.
Nyerere urged all young Africans to see African unity as the key for the second phase of the liberation of Africa: ''Unity will not end our weakness, but until we unite we cannot even begin to end that weakness ... Work for unity with a firm conviction that without unity there is no future for Africa. That is assuming we still want to have a place under the sun''.
This is the sort of sentiment that led to the formation of OAU. The same sentiments are re-asserted at the annual summit meeting of African leaders. Such is the strength of these sentiments that in spite of persistent difficulties in coping with the continent's crises the OAU will survive. As one leader once said: "If the OAU dissolves today, we'll form another one tomorrow''.