Ghana @ 63: fast-forward into history Featured

Every year, I try to write about our independence. Last year I came to the conclusion that we were maturing as a democracy and had much to celebrate because we have survived military regimes and are back on track to reap the democracy dividend.

Socially we need to fine-tune our priorities to take care of things in which we are still deficient: health, education, housing.

Strengthening our economy will come only with a great deal of support for local businesses, whether state owned or privately owned. We talk incessantly about resources but we need the resourcefulness to surge forward.

Our democracy will not deepen if we are not bold enough to hold elections at the local level based on political parties. In that respect, I believe that the government has chickened out of transforming our politics.

But today I return to the nostalgia of yesteryear and re-present an article I wrote a few years ago.

Happy birthday, Ghana at 63! Long live the unitary republic!

Independence Day Ghana – 6 March 1957 –
what about the future?

I was not yet seven years old and only in Class 3, but there is no fog around the events of the day: I remember it as vividly as if it had taken place yesterday and have more than once retraced the steps I took on the route for that day.

I was in my well-pressed “cyto” khaki-khaki uniform, I was carrying a new Ghanaian flag and, of course, I was wearing the new “Clark sandals” that my father had bought from Lennards the shoe shop. That week was a memorable one for all of us, because my sister Honora (now deceased) had to present a bouquet at one of the functions for the day and my parents, as I recall it, were to be introduced in person to the Duchess of Kent, the Queen’s representative at our independence celebrations. I was too young to be present at the Old Polo Grounds to usher in the day, but my school had been selected to take part in the march past and I remember marching all the way from Accra United Primary School at Adedenkpo to the main event of the morning.

Back at school in the afternoon, festivities ensued. I was presented with an Independence cup for my efforts! We had Portello and the usual biscuits but this was not like the old Empire Day that we used to celebrate, because we were all given chocolate. Poor me: I tasted a bit to adjust my palate to it, put the rest in my pocket, and it had all melted by the time I got back home.

One would have hoped that, as we celebrate 60 years of independence, we would have matured as a country and that we in Ghana and Africa would know exactly what is good for us. Sadly, that is not the case. But this article is not really about looking back; it is about looking forward, because despite all the naysayers and “against” people who continue to argue that our independence should have been delayed until they won an election, we have stuck together as a country and survived, regardless of our problems, most of which are of our own making.

There were bold politicians of African descent who helped shape that destiny of ours. They had continued to hack at the fact that indirect rule could not be sustained for ever and there needed to be a determination that not just the chiefs, but the people, should be involved in ruling their own country.

All eyes on Ghana

Ghana had always been a hotbed of political activity. In the 19th century the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society had fought to ensure that our lands were not taken away from us by the colonial state. In the early 20th century the National Congress of British West Africa had repeatedly reminded the colonial rulers that the people of Africa mattered as much as the people of Europe and that the most sensible thing was for the people to be given the mandate to rule themselves. Servitude could not continue for ever, and there was no perfect day when we would be ready.

If we had African legislators and we had Africans in the judiciary and in other professions, why could we not have Africans in the executive to rule our country?

A decade or more of agitation beyond the lifespan of these groups had made independence possible. Multiparty democracy was already being used to elect representatives to our municipal councils, and in Accra the Ratepayers’ Party had competed against the Manbii Party to ensure multiparty democracy at the lowest level of government, so what was wrong with it at the highest level? The excitement of our politics in Ghana was that it had been influenced by many people from other parts of the African continent and the diaspora. All eyes trained on Ghana, several had participated. From Marcus Garvey of Jamaica to George Padmore of Trinidad and W E B DuBois of America to Nnamdi Azikiwe of Nigeria, from Wallace Johnson of Sierra Leone and Frantz Fanon of Martinique to George Christian from Dominica – who had actually represented the people of Sekondi – the influences of the 1945 Pan-African Conference in Manchester had sealed the certainty that Africans would achieve independence.

The question for most, however, was whether this would be achieved by constitutional, political and administrative negotiation or by armed struggle. Fortunately, we were spared an armed struggle, as the colonial master recognised that the game was up and that with Ghana, the floodgates would open for the rest of the African diaspora to gain independence and freedom, whether on the continent of Africa or in the Caribbean or in America, where the civil rights movement was gaining momentum for the final push for recognition of people of African descent as equals.

There were two challenges at independence: “the independence of Ghana is linked with the total liberation of Africa” and “the black man is capable of managing his own affairs”. Can we say that we have met those two challenges in the six decades of our independence? Africa is liberated politically but is suffering economically and we have certainly not proved to the rest of the world that the black man is capable of running his own affairs – or have we?

Eyes off the prize

Some say that our history of independence has been wasted – we started on a brilliant note but then were distracted by the methodologies of development. We were unduly influenced by the way others had developed, they say, and neglected to formulate our own solutions. We were caught between the autocratic socialism that the Russians had used in their terrain to lift them out of the underdevelopment or bandit and exploitative capitalism used by the West centuries earlier. We forgot that the problems that had confronted us since we were colonised were uniquely African and that independence in the 20th century would come with newer challenges, for which we needed to fashion our own solutions, based on our interests and the needs of our people.

So consumed were we with winning independence that we did not put in place the building blocks for sustaining the initial momentum and euphoria about being independent.

We did not recognise immediately that we needed to dismantle the whole operation of the state because the colonial masters had totally dominated our economy to serve their interests and we needed to transform this to serve the needs of our people. To do this would demand much more than tweaks to the various sectors. To dismantle and transform the neocolonial state, we needed to implement an industrial policy, but the comprehensive policy document to support this came too late in the day.

The Seven-Year Development Plan, presented to Parliament in 1964, mapped our economy and determined that the only way we would be able to meet the challenges of the period and move up the scale of development to become a high-income country was through a process of accelerated industrialisation based on science and technology. Factories were created where none existed and institutions were set up by the state to meet gaps in the market.

In some cases, it was important to set up state firms to compete with foreign-owned firms, but in most cases the government corporations involved foreign direct capital and management anyway. These state corporations had to deal with the triple bottom line: they had to make profit, they had to ensure that their effects did not damage the planet and were environmentally sustainable, but they also had to meet the aspirations of the people. They needed to create jobs because no government in a developing country, given the mandate to rule by the masses, must shirk its responsibility and not use the power of the state to create jobs.

Another preoccupation after independence which also caused a decline in our fortunes was opposition parties’ inability to recognise that once we had started on the path to independence we would never be shaken off that path.

They were too eager to suggest that their countries were being mismanaged. There were accusations about dictatorships and one-party states and they forgot that it could soon be their turn, because such are the strictures of democracy.

I can name Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe as three countries that have been declared one-party states but became multiparty democracies without any need for the military to intervene. Our opposition politicians could not wait, however, and got into bed with the armed forces to foist military dictators on us and distract the country from the course it had charted.

These military dictators curtailed the positive agenda of the progressive government. They gave us periods of austerity we could not complain about, because they had the gun. They thwarted what should have been experimentation in development to discover ourselves. Thus we lost opportunities to grow and develop our economies.

Home remedies

Thankfully, most African countries are returning to multiparty democracy and are ready for the task ahead, the task of taking hold once again of our development agenda as only we can to serve our interests.

As we look into the future for Africa, it is critical that we maintain a clearer vision of our future. We need to fashion policies and programmes that will rid us of the misery and poverty in which we find ourselves amidst an abundance of resources.

First, we need to put all conflicts behind us. Conflicts will not help us to develop, especially as we usually use arms that are sold to us by foreign powers which really do not care whether we develop or not, so long as we keep on buying more of their arms. We need to use more of our trusted tools of political and diplomatic negotiation to resolve our disputes.

Second, we need to be more optimistic about our future. We have knocked ourselves for too long, to the point where we have begun to believe we are incapable of getting ourselves out of the mess we are in. Ten years ago there was talk of Africa being a basket case; this is no longer the situation and there is a new urgency to believe more in our ability to dismantle the barriers to our development. We have embraced democracy more, we are setting up institutions and we are better prepared to accept that, just as other countries struggled to achieve their development, we have the resources and skills to do so.

Third, we need to look at our problems and the issues that confront us from a more continental perspective. All our countries have development problems, but no one will find a way for us and we have to be prepared to face the challenge collectively. We are too weak as individual nations to do it on our own, because both the crony capitalism of the West and the authoritative capitalism of the East are exploitative.

The African Union, if used for economic purposes, will enhance our development agenda and give us some strength at the bargaining table. We need each other for growth and development and we need to harmonise our economic policies so they do not work against each other.

In a globalised economy, the rest of the world needs the consumer power of Africa more than ever before. We can only face the rest of the world if we diagnose our own problems and find specific and enduring solutions to these problems, whether in relation to governance or institution-building or agriculture or health or the development of our economies or how to keep the fabric of our societies culturally authentic.

We must value our people. They are far more valuable a resource than the natural resources we sell so cheaply to others. We know that there was a time when we also sold our people cheaply, but in this globalised world we must wake up to the value of our people wherever they might be on this Earth. True development will only come with their assistance and this means that our leaders must open up more opportunities to our people, much in the same way as we still fall over each other to provide foreign companies with tax holidays and concessions.

Fifth, we must learn to listen to our people. We must hear them when they speak at elections. If we do a good job, they will keep us on and if we do a bad job they will not, no matter how hard we try to stay in power. Our ill-gotten gains, acquired by cheating our own people, will not endure – we cannot take money with us but our legacy will endure if we do the right thing by our people. I hear people complaining about Kwame Nkrumah’s statue in Addis Ababa and I wonder what they are complaining about. It is a good thing that Nkrumah is being rehabilitated all these years after his time on Earth.

Finally, we must never forget that we need strong institutions and bold leaders with foresight, with the right policies to suit our specific conditions. With skilled politicians who are committed to the development of our countries and who will put the interest of our country above their selfish needs, we will be in a more formidable position to grow our economies, develop our country and lead others out of poverty to compete with the rest of the world on our terms.