Ghana and Burma's shared endeavours for independence were partly forged in the forgotten battles of the south-east Asian campaign during WWII.
In 1957, Ghana became the first African nation to gain independence. Since 2011, Burma has been hailed as the global market's final frontier in Southeast Asia - or the last Asian Tiger.
At first sight, the respective nationalisms of Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah and Burma's Aung San may seem far removed from one another. Though one man was a scholar and the other a soldier, their lives and their lives' work were inextricably bound together by one global narrative: the rise and fall of an empire.
As the Japanese swept across Southeast Asia in the first years of the 1940s, they reached Western Burma and threatened the borders of the jewel in the British Empire's crown: India.
It was in Burma where the battle for India was fought, a battle which was one of the most violent theatres of conflict in the entire Second World War. The Burma Campaign to expel the Japanese left hundreds of thousands dead and devastated the country's economy and infrastructure.
Yet General W.G. Slim's Allied army of the Burma Campaign, the Fourteenth, was unmistakably a child of the Commonwealth: some 80% of its troops were from Britain's colonies in India, Nigeria, Gambia, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Rhodesia and the Gold Coast.
They became WWII's 'Forgotten Army', and were noticeably absent from press coverage - despite being the single largest army in the world at the time. In 1943, Lord Mountbatten, commander of Allied forces in the Southeast Asian theatre, addressed troops of the Fourteenth with "...you are not the Forgotten Army. In fact, nobody has heard of you".
For many West Africans, signing up was hardly an expression of patriotic vigour or loyalty to the Empire. The sudden availability of plentiful opportunities for waged labour was, in fact, part of a broader historical incorporation of pre-market West African communities into global systems of capitalist production.
For their part, the British were short of manpower and considered West Africans to be suited to the dense jungle warfare of Western Burma - despite the fact that many soldiers were born and grew up in the lowland savannah of what is now Ghana.
In particular, it was assumed that West African soldiers had higher resistance to the tropical diseases that sapped the strength of British, Canadian, Australian and South African forces.
Furthermore, the tradition of head-carrying offered significant advantages in terms of the transportation of supplies throughout Burma's rugged and thickly-forested landscapes.
The Gold Coast Regiments of the 81st and 82nd West African Divisions assiduously trained and prepared for jungle and mountain warfare prior to departure for the front. Their eventual destination was Rakhine State in Western Burma to fight in a series of bloody encounters with Japanese and Indian National Army forces known as the Arakan Campaigns.
In 1944, the 81st was assigned the task of taking and holding the Kaladan Valley, which was instrumental in turning the Japanese advance into a retreat and in the eventual recapturing of Yangon.
At the end of the war, the 81st left Burma to return home whilst the 82nd was engaged for a further year pursuing pockets of Japanese resistance that rejected their country's surrender.
In Burma, General Slim had personally thanked the Gold Coast Regiments for their sacrifices and courage. He had promised that they would be adequately compensated with pensions and employment upon return home. But in reality, their return was somewhat less dignified.
Families eagerly awaiting the arrival of loved-ones had received no official updates of their health - it was left to the surviving veterans to inform waiting families of their losses.
Despite a few British propaganda films commemorating the 81st and 82nd to West African audiences, a profound lack of recognition for the achievements and sacrifices of the Fourteenth has long been a point of contention for West African veterans.
It is here, where feelings of frustration and abandonment mix freely, that the nexus of events and pathways linking the Ghanaian and Burmese struggles for independence is both situated within, and consolidated by, a single global narrative of emancipation from colonialism.
A Tale of Two Nations
For nationalist rebel-cum-statesman Aung San - founder of modern Burma and father to the country's contemporary champion of democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi - self-determination was the core imperative.
As a young man and revolutionary, his staunch anti-imperialism had led him to Japan, where promises of an 'Asian Asia' obfuscated the fledgling imperialism of Emperor Hirohoto.
Nevertheless, as War Minister in a Japanese-occupied Burma and general of the Japanese-trained Burma National Army (BNA), Aung San quickly became disillusioned. By early 1945, Aung San's BNA had become the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL) and was a crucial force in the Allied routing of the Japanese.
For Aung San and most ethnic Burmans, the Second World War was a war for Burmese self-determination and was divorced from the wider context of Allied and Axis ambitions. After apprehending the imperial ambitions of Japan, the Burmese joined the Allied forces on the precondition of post-war independence.
Self-determination rapidly came in 1948 as a result of Burma's marginal strategic and economic importance to the British and the furious nationalist strikes within the country.
The country's post-colonial development was marred by the 1947 assassination of Aung San by paramilitaries - with whispers of British involvement - and the Empire's support for many old allies amongst the country's armed ethnic minority groups.
In contrast to Aung San, Nkrumah spent his formative years as a teacher, a philosopher and a political scientist with radical leanings in Accra, Pennsylvania and London.
His return to Ghana in 1947, as part of a pro-independence organisation, would see him come face to face with Britain's plan for a 'managed' transition to independence.
The Gold Coast Regiments had returned to a country distorted by the war effort. Britain's strained wartime supplies had seen it extract resources and manpower from its colonies to defend its imperial interests. Scarce opportunities for employment and dramatic inflation, linked to the limited availability of imported goods, saw the Gold Coast's cost of living soar.
Mindful of General Slim's broken promises, hundreds of ex-servicemen descended upon the colonial Governor's offices in Accra to demonstrate.
On the 28 February 1948, the colonial police opened fire on the protesters; the killing of renowned figures such as Sergeant Adjetey, Corporal Attipoe and Private Odartey Lamptey, and the wounding of many more instigated widespread riots.
Nkrumah was arrested and imprisoned on suspicion of organising the protests. After his release, he capitalised upon the public's discontent and immediately hit the campaign trail.
His political demands were premised on immediate self-determination and he garnered popular support. Nkrumah brought together an alliance of trade unionists, students, farmers and women to call for universal suffrage.
This was done in the face of British designs for a Ghana where political power was to be constitutionally invested within the privileged socio-economic classes aligned to Western interests.
Jailed as a leader of a national campaign of coordinated protest, strike and civil disobedience against the colonial government, Nkrumah witnessed both the British quit the Gold Coast and his own party, the Convention's People Party, sweep to power in one short year. Independence followed.
The Bonds that Tie
The West African soldiers of the 81st and 82nd were, consciously or not, engaged in the literal emancipation of Burma from both the Japanese and British empires.
It is therefore fitting that the badge of the 81st West African Division displays a black spider on a yellow background: a homage to Anansi the trickster of Ashanti folklore - and Afro-Caribbean symbol of resistance against oppression.
In a compelling grand narrative, Jeffrey Keith asserts that the war effort itself laid the foundations for the collapse of the British Empire.
Colonies, which had previously served as markets for European goods and sites of resource and labour extraction became exposed to increased industrial development (due to the wartime expansion of production) and economic self-sufficiency, and local capacities for governance were markedly strengthened.
More importantly, and as with the Burmese, wartime promises of future self-government were common throughout the Empire. The Gold Coast Regiments never received, nor requested, any such promises.
Nevertheless, and as Nkrumah's harnessing of the discontent behind the Accra riots shows, they were critical actors in the country's transition from the Gold Coast to Ghana.
It would be a stretch to claim that the experiences of ordinary West Africans during wartime transformed them into adamant nationalists.
Fighting side-by-side with the British did perhaps, however, assist the emergence of a new national consciousness: the merciless warfare of the Burma Campaign bolstered the understanding that white and black were not so different and helped to undermine the racist myth of white supremacy, which was the social foundation of Britain's colonial enterprise. One British officer remarked that African soldiers had "ceased to regard [white men] with awe" as a result of their close interactions during wartime.
Though the Gold Coast Regiments didn't necessarily become nationalists as a result of their service in Burma, their unmet expectations of a standard of living consistent with their time abroad, a pension and post-war employment certainly politicised them on their return.
Historian David Killingray argues that the ex-servicemen's demands for what had been promised to them, and the colonial government's response on the streets of Accra, was a critical threshold in both Ghanaian and African history - a catalyst for the transition to independence.
Thus, the experiences of the 81st and 82nd Divisions whilst fighting for the liberation of the Burmese, and the ways in which those experiences shaped those men, impacted upon the future course of West African history and the birth of the First Lion.
It's important to maintain perspective: Ghana under Nkrumah was certainly not a paradise. By 1966 a military coup led by British-trained Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka overthrew what had arguably become a repressive and failed developmental state, under Nkrumah.
Yet, despite his failings, Nkrumah's fervent brand of Pan-Africanism resonated and appealed beyond his own country's borders. As a new-era dawned in Ghana on the 5 March 1957, Nkrumah declared that: "[Ghanaian] independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent."
No Movement Exists In Isolation
Just as Ghana had a role to play in the fight for Burmese emancipation so did Burma feature in the path to Ghanaian independence. Today, this relationship is immortalised in the name of the Ghanaian Armed Forces headquarters in Accra: Burma Camp.
No political movement or strive for freedom exists in isolation from a host of broader forces which links them to similar crusades throughout the world.
From the Sahrawi to the Kachin, those who struggle for rights to self-determination, political representation, economic justice and social freedom should find comfort and guidance in the universality of resistance and the words and experiences of its international community of practitioners.
Daniel works at the UK-based Environmental Justice Foundation. His research interests include human mobility, political economy, climate change and Southeast Asia.