6th March 1957 – Independence Day Ghana – 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 my steps on the route I took on that day. I was in my well pressed Cyto khaki-khaki uniform and I carried a new Ghanaian flag and of course I wore the new ‘Clark sandals’ that my father had bought from Lennards the shoe shop. That week was a memorable one for all of us since my late sister had to present a bouquet at one of the functions and my parents as I recalled were personally introduced to the Duchess of Kent, the Queen’s representative at Independence. I was too young to be present at the Old Polo grounds to usher in the day but my school has been selected to take part in the march past and I can remember marching all the way from Accra United Primary School at Adedenkpo for the main event of the morning. Back at school in the afternoon the festivities ensued. I was also presented with an Independence cup to show 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 some chocolate. Poor me, I tasted a bit to get my palate adjusted to it, put the rest in my pocket and it had all melted by the time I got back home.
As we celebrate 63 years of our independence one would have hoped that we are matured as a country and that we in Ghana and Africa know exactly what is good for us; sadly that is not the case. But this piece is not really about looking back, this piece is about looking forward because despite all the nay-sayers and the ‘against’ people who continue to state that our independence should have been delayed till they won at the election, we have stuck together as a country and have survived despite the problems most of which are our own making. There were bold politicians of African descent who helped to shape that destiny of ours. They had continued to hack at the fact that indirect rule could not be sustained forever, that there needed to be a determination when not just the chiefs but the people should be involved in ruling of the country.
Ghana had always been the hot bed of political activity; the Aborigines Rights Protection Society had fought to ensure that our lands were not taken away from us by the colonial state, the National Congress of British West Africa had constantly reminded the colonial rulers that the people in Africa mattered as much as the people in Europe and that the most sensible thing was for the people to be given that mandate to rule themselves. The servitude could not continue forever and there was no day for us to 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 after 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 contested against the Manbii Party to ensure multiparty democracy at the lowest level of government, so what was wrong with this at the highest level. The excitement of our politics in Ghana was that it had been influenced by many from the African continent and diaspora – all eyes trained on Ghana, several had participated.
From Marcus Garvey of Jamaica to George Padmore of Trinidad to WEB DuBois of America to Nmandi Azikiwe of Nigeria to Wallace Johnson of Sierra Leone and Frantz Fanon of Martinique to George Christian from Dominica who had actually represented the people in Sekondi and the influences of the 1945 Pan African Conference in Manchester had sealed that fact that independence would be achieved. The question however for most was whether this will be achieved by constitutional, political and administrative negotiation or by an 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 be opened for the rest of the African Diaspora to gain independence and freedom whether it was 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 or running their own affairs’. Can we say that we have met those two challenges in the 60 years of our independence? African is politically liberated 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? When we look at the past, some say that our history of independence has been wasted – we started on a brilliant note but got distracted with methodologies of development. We were unduly influenced by the way others had developed and thus neglected to formulate our own solutions. We were caught between the autocratic socialism that the Russians had used on their terrain to take them out of underdevelopment or bandit and exploitative capitalism used by the west some centuries before. We forgot that the problems that confronted us were uniquely African since we had been colonised and the independence was in the 20th century that would come with newer challenges for which we needed to fashion our own solutions based on our interests and the needs of our people. We were consumed so much about winning independence that we did not put in place the building blocks for sustaining the initial momentum and euphoria about our being independent.
We did not immediately recognise 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 and to do this would go further than simple tweaks to the different sectors. To dismantle and transform the neo-colonial state we needed to implement an industrial policy but this comprehensive policy document came too late in the day.
The Seven Year Development plan mapped our economy and decided that the only way that 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 organisations 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 that these government corporations had the involvement of foreign direct capital and management. These state corporations had to deal with the triple bottom line. They had to make Profits, they had to ensure that their effects did not damage the Planet and thus environmentally sustainable, but they also had to meet the aspirations of the People – jobs needed to be created since no responsible government in a developing country given the mandate from the mass of the people to rule must shirk its responsibility by not using power of the state to create jobs. Another issue that consumed us after independence that also caused the decline in our fortunes was the inability of opposition parties to recognise that once we had started on the path of independence we would never be shaken off that path.
They were too eager to suggest that the countries were being mismanaged. There were accusations about dictatorships and one party states and they forgot that it could soon be their turn because that is the stricture of democracy and I can name Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Zambia as three countries that have been declared one party states but that are now multiparty democracies and these countries did not need the military to intervene. But our opposition politicians could not wait and they went into bed with the military 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 that we could not complain about because they had the gun, they thwarted what should have been experimentation in development to discover ourselves and we thus lost opportunities to grow and develop our economies. Thankfully most Africa countries are returning into multiparty democracy and ready for the task ahead, the task of taking hold 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 need a clearer vision of our future. We need to fashion policies and programmes that would rid us of the misery and poverty we find ourselves in amidst plenty of resources.
Firstly, we need to put all conflicts behind us. Conflicts will not help us to develop especially since we tend to use arms that are sold to us by foreign powers that 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 those conflicts.
Secondly, we need to be more optimistic about our future. We have knocked ourselves for too long into a situation where we have started believing that we are incapable of getting ourselves out of the mess that we are in. Ten years ago there was talk that Africa was a basket case; this is not longer the situation as 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 the skills to do so.
Thirdly we need to look at our problems and issues that confront us more from a continental perspective. All our countries have development problems but no one will find a way for us and we have to be prepared to do this collectively. We are too weak to do this on our own because the crony capitalism of the West and the authoritative capitalism of the East are both exploitative. The African Union used for economic purposes will enhance our development agenda and provide us with some strength at the bargaining table. We need each other for growth and development and we need to harmonise our economic policies so that 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 the area of governance or institution building or agriculture and health or development of our economies and keeping the fabric of our societies culturally authentic.
We must value our people. They are more worthy as resources than the natural resources that we sell cheaply to others. We know that there was a time that we also sold our people cheaply but in this globalised world we must now have woken up to the value of our people wherever they are on this earth. True development will only come through their assistance and this means that our leaders should open up more opportunities to our people much in the same way that we fall over each other to provide the foreign with all the tax holidays and the concessions.
Fifthly, we must learn to listen to our people. We must hear them when they speak at the 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 we try to stay on. Our ill gotten gains cheated from our people will not endure – we cannot take it with us, but our legacy will endure if we do the right thing by our people. I hear people complaining about Nkrumah’s statute at Addis Ababa and I keep on wondering what they are complaining about. It is a good thing that Nkrumah is being rehabilitated several years after his time on earth.
Finally we must never forget that with strong institutions and bold leaders with foresight, with the right policies that suit our specific conditions. Skilled politicians who are committed to the development of our countries and who would put the interests of our country above, their selfish needs, we will be in a more formidable position to grow our economies, develop our country and lead them out of poverty and misery to compete with the rest of the world on our terms.
Mrs Sophia Araba Sawyerr being introduced to The Duchess o Kent at Independence with my father J. Ade Sawyerr
So though a lot was promised at independence and we have fallen short of our aspirations, if we believe that there is a brighter future for our country and continent, we should be able to take our independence beyond the political to economic emancipation, we will also achieve our the social and cultural freedom that we so crave and indeed may yet prove to the rest of the world that we are capable of running our own affairs. The challenge of the future is to what extent we can articulate our interests and achieve our development needs and we should vote in leaders who are prepared to meet the challenges of our times with current policies and constantly think about solutions to our problems.
Ade Sawyerr is a partner in Equinox Consulting that provides management consultancy, training, and research services in the areas of enterprise strategies, employment initiatives and community development. He can be reached at www.equinoxconsulting.net or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can also be followed http://adesawyerr.wordpress.com or https://twitter.com/#!/adesawyerr