Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Happy birthday Ghana

This blog is named Black Star Journal. As Africaphiles will probably guess, the title refers to the black star in the center of Ghana's flag, which has come to symbolize pan-African idealism. Today, Ghana celebrates its Golden Jubilee.

On this date in 1957, Ghana won independence from Britiain, becoming the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to break free from European colonialism.

At the time, Ghana joined Ethiopia and Liberia as black Africa's only independent countries. Within 20 years, virtually all of Africa had gained political indepedence. Ghana served as a beacon of hope for Africans in other colonies. The success of their struggle to control their own destinies was hardly assured at the time.

Ghana's founding leader Kwame Nkrumah was one of the standard bearers of pan-Africanism, the idea of uniting all Africans and those of the diaspora into a united community. His vision was for all countries on the continent to eventually join into a United States of Africa.

While Nkrumah was a great visionary of pan-Africanism, he wasn't a particularly good leader of Ghana. Like many leaders, he was good at the big ideas but not so good at translating them into the nitty gritty of governance. (Are you taking notes Presidents Obasanjo and Wade?)

The pan-African optimism of the late 50s and early 60s quickly evaporated. Nkrumah was overthrown in a coup. Sylvanus Olympio and Patrice Lumumba were assassinated. Sékou Touré's regime quickly descended into a nightmarish police state. Nigeria erupted in civil war. The continent was split into 50+ countries with as many ruling cliques who didn't fancy giving up their power and privilege. At least not voluntarily.

Ghana was very unstable and sometimes violent in the 25 years following Nkrumah's overthrow. But the country was stabilized in the latter part of the rule of the controversial Jerry John Rawlings. A peaceful handover of power occurred in 2000 after opposition leader John Kufour defeated Rawlings' handpicked successor.

The always opinionated Rawlings didn't share his disgust at his party's loss of power but he did hand over. Though the former head of state clearly remains bitter at the fact that after 20 years of unquestioned power, Ghanaians snubbed him by not electing his dauphin. He refused an invitation to attend the 50th anniversary celebrations. The man widely accused of massive human rights, especially in the early 80s, sniffed that the Kufour administration was covering up alleged cases of torture and extrajudicial killings. Strangely, the human rights organizations which normally chronicle such things don't mention anything about these mythical abuses. Perhaps Rawlings is just upset that at this high profile anniversary, he is, for once, not at the center of attention.

Ghana is certainly not without its share of problems today. But it is now seen as one of the most economically and politically stable countries on the continent. After 50 turbulent years, it has returned to its place as one of the beacons of hope for Africa.


At 12:31 PM, Blogger Deborah said...

I wish I could have geen there for this anniversary celebration.

At 4:42 AM, Blogger Don Thieme said...

I follow your journal occasionally and always enjoy your posts when I chance by. I have a post today which starts as a discussion of the closing of the Tema smelter. Regarding the independence, there was a very interesting interview on "Democracy Now" with Nkrumah's son, Gamal Nkrumah.



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