On 6 March 2012, Ghana will celebrate 55 years of independence. It will be a memorable occasion as the country was the first south of the Sahara to reach independence, thereby opening the floodgates for total African liberation. Stephen Gyasi Jnr traces the journey so far and how the country is likely to far, especially in this election year.
When 55 years ago, on 6 March 1957, the then Prime Minister of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, stood at the Old Polo Grounds in Accra and uttered the memorable words, “Fellow Ghanaians. At long last, the battle has ended, and thus Ghana, your beloved country is free forever!”, the crowd roared a mighty roar, believing that their country, which had hitherto been known as the Gold Coast, was on the cusp of greater things. They hoped for a brighter future for themselves, for their children and their children’s children.
“From now on,” Nkrumah told them, “there is a new African in the world, and that new African is ready to fight his own battle and show that after all the black man is capable of managing his own affairs.”
It was a bold declaration, especially coming from a country that was the first south of the Sahara to attain independence. But Nkrumah was not finished. “We are going to demonstrate to the world, to the other nations, young as we are, that we are prepared to lay our own foundation.”
He continued: “We have fought the battle, and we again rededicate ourselves not only to the struggle to emancipate other territories in Africa; our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa!”
Fifty-five years on, as Ghana celebrates the 55th anniversary of that independence won by Nkrumah, how has Ghana done? Has the “new African” of 1957 lived up to his promise? Would Nkrumah be happy, if he were alive today, to see where his beloved Ghana has reached on the journey to prove that “after all the black man is capable of managing his own affairs”?
It is a mixed picture. There have been some remarkable successes over the past 55 years as well as some notable failures. Nkrumah’s dream of turning the country into an industrial powerhouse in one generation was truncated when his government was overthrown in a coup in February 1966. Since then, Ghana has gone through some tough times, including near economic bankruptcy and a political dictatorship. But over the past 20 years the country has established a vibrant democracy, and is now in the early years of a potential economic transformation that promises to dwarf what prevailed in Nkrumah’s days.
The beauty of modern Ghana is its unbending adherence to democratic values. The political situation is so free that it beggars belief that this is the same country that 30 years ago fell under the rule of what the then military head of state, Flt-Lt Jerry Rawlings, described as “a culture of silence”.
Attesting to Ghana’s democratic credentials in an interview published last year, the former UK High Commissioner to South Africa, the British Lord, Paul Boateng, himself half-Ghanaian, said: “I see Ghana in many ways as a beacon, an example for the rest of the continent; there is a vibrant democratic debate here, there is freedom of the press, there is an engaged electorate committed to changing government without violence, and that’s a tribute to the people of Ghana.
“Anyone attending a session in Parliament, anyone turning on their radio, gets a sense of the vigorous debate in the country, an active public engagement in governance, and that is really what the rest of Africa can learn from”.
Lord Boateng continued: “The spotlight is on Ghana and I am confident that we shall see this great country reach the promised land in terms of the way that it leads the challenges of the 21st century. Those challenges are around agriculture, climate change, environmental and economic sustainability. It’s my hope and belief that Ghana can show the way in all those areas.”
Ghana is in fact showing the way! Having held five consecutive democratic elections without a serious hitch in the past two decades, the country is building long-lasting, sustainable democracy.
At the end of this year (December to be precise), another general and presidential election will be held. The presidential tussle will pitch the incumbent, John Atta Mills, against one of the country’s longest-serving politicians, Nana Akufo-Addo, in a duel that could make the cliffhanger-elections of 2008 pale into insignificance.
The ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP) will face off in the crucial polls together with other minority parties. The NDC defeated the NPP (then in power) in the photo-finish 2008 elections with less than a percentage point difference. This leaves the two parties almost in a head-to-head situation as they prepare to battle things out again for the mandate of Ghanaians. Akufo-Addo has been in active politics for almost four decades, while the incumbent, President Mills, although serving twice as vice president before becoming president himself, has had less than 20 years’ political experience.
In the last encounter between the two 67-year-olds, Mills won with just 40,586 votes in a runoff, ousting frompower the NPP government headed by the then outgoing President John Kufuor, whose constitutionally-mandated second term was ending with the elections.
According to one Ghanaian writer: “With Ghana’s oil resources suddenly in play now more than ever before, the candidate who seems the best qualified to steer the country toward a prosperous future – exhibiting competence, integrity, and vision, while keeping in mind the cultural and social traditions that are important to Ghanaians – seems likely to attract the most voters. At the moment it is too close to call.
“As always,” he continued, “Ghanaian voters are ready to play their role in this important decision. Whether the NDC and NPP choose to keep it a fair fight for Ghana’s future, or allow it to degenerate into mudslinging and criminality that taints the country’s commitment to democracy, remains to be seen.”
Already civil society groups, such as the Institute of Economic Affairs, and the Centre for Democratic Governance, are putting plans in place to commit leading political figures to work for peace before, during and after the December polls. As the 2012 elections draw closer, Ghanaians are again bracing themselves to redefine the frontiers of their political credentials, irrespective of how the contest goes. Conscious that the onus lies on them to cling tightly to the tenets of the democracy that have put the nation on the path of development and economic liberty, Ghanaians will not be resting on their laurels.