Ghana: Celebrating 50 Years

5 March 2007

Accra — As they have with increasing fervor for many days now, Accra's streets bustle colourfully, vendors everywhere peddling in various sizes Ghana's green, gold and red national flag with the black star in its center. Tomorrow — Tuesday — it will be fifty years since that flag, to tolling church bells, was first hoisted above a Ghana free from British colonial rule.

Some Ghanaians have criticized the cost of this year's celebration, but President John Agyekum Kufuor, responding during his February state of the nation address, admonished: "Let us be careful that we do not become known as those who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing."

Dissident voices notwithstanding, the idea of celebrating seems widely supported. Many Ghanaians express pride at being looked at today as a model of a new Africa, out from under dictatorship, relatively free of corruption, and making progress — albeit slow — in economic development.

"We have Ghana now," says a young vendor, leaning into a taxicab whose window was rolled down in search of cool air in the stalled traffic. Although he's trying to sell a souvenir, his words seem as genuine an expression now as similar words, or perhaps these exact words, undoubtedly were when spoken by jubilant, hopeful celebrants 50 years ago.

Ghanaians acknowledge that worrisome issues remain unsolved. Their nation is still greatly dependent on earnings from gold and cocoa — primary commodities vulnerable to external economic forces beyond the country's control. And though former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has returned home, a "brain drain" of educated Ghanaians continues.

Political debate is lively and easily followed in a free press. Ideas and idealism — not only of national development — but also drawn from its history as a leader in PanAfrican thought are an important part of Ghana's political discussion. Ghana's Ministry of Tourism is officially titled "the Ministry of Tourism and the Diaspora."

Independent Ghana's first President, Kwame Nkrumah, seems resurrected and spoken of respectfully on this anniversary — something that was not always done openly during many of the 40 years following the C.I.A.-backed 1966 coup that ousted him. On one corner in a neighborhood called Osu, a young boy was selling somewhat crude but recognizable paintings of the controversial  man who led Ghana to independence; "our father," he said holding one out for purchase.

Nkrumah's old party, the Convention People's Party (CPP), is still around, and for this year's golden anniversary has reproduced the cloth with pictures of Nkrumah on it that was first produced for the independence celebrations in 1957.

A symposium on Nkrumah, entitled "Not Yet Uhuru, 50 years of Ghana's Independence; a continuing struggle for African liberation and unity," is an official part of the program.

But as of Saturday, neither the CPP nor Ghana's largest opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), had received formal invitations to anniversary activities.  The government's deputy Information Minister, Oboshie Sai Cofie, said invitations were still going out.

The two parties have also complained of not being involved in the celebration's planning, but Cofie said such planning was a government responsibility. "Our belief is that this is an event that is supposed to be organized by the leader and we feel it's government's responsibility to take hold of this event, plan it, organize it, and then invite people to play their different parts," she told a Voice of America interviewer.

Lectures, a parade, fireworks, fashion shows and historic re-enactments are all planned for the big day in Accra. Shortly after nightfall on Monday there will be a candlelight procession of members of Parliament as a prelude to a midnight ceremony re-enacting the lowering of the British flag and the March 6 raising of the Ghanaian flag.

In the afternoon there will be neighborhood street parties throughout the city. At a venue described only as "nationwide" there will be a 380-metre-long table of Ghanaian dishes with over 450 dishes from all ten regions of the country.

Fifty years ago, Ghana's independence was a hopeful sign embraced by all of Africa. It was encouragement, said South African President Thabo Mbeki in his March 3 internet column, that "we [the liberation movements] inherited the slogan 'Forward ever, backward never' from Nkrumah's Convention People's Party."

South Africa's Department of Foreign Affairs has announced that Mbeki will join the presidents of Botswana, Nigeria, Liberia and Benin at Tuesday's celebration. However, the Ghanaian government has not yet provided a list of African delegations.

The U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Alphonso Jackson, will lead a White House delegation to Ghana that includes Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer, and Peace Corps Director Ronald A. Tschetter. A U.S. Congressional Black Caucus delegation is also expected.

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