Tuesday, 6 March 2007

Ghana @ 50

Independence Square

Dear Africa Confidentialers

I've just walked across Accra's Independence Square, which was today the focal point of Ghana's celebrations of 50 years of Independence. The Square sits between the lapping waves of the Atlantic and Accra's majestic Freedom Arch, which was built for Independence in 1957.

Along with an array of foreign dignitaries, hundreds of thousands of Ghanaians packed into the Square, which was a sea of flags in the national colours of red, gold and green. Some had staked out places in the early hours of the morning.

Ghanaian air force jets swept low across the square, puffing out red, gold and green smoke, while the platoons of commandos and contingents of police officers, naval ratings and even junior school students marched in formation across the parade ground. The parade started and concluded with a march past by a Scottish pipe and drums regiment, which cheered any Highlanders among the spectators but puzzled Ghanaians. As expected in Ghana, the music was top rate, with army bandsmen conspiring to inject a jazzy swing into military marches with quick changes of marching tempo and the occasional improvisation on the bass drums.

As I walked through the crowd waving my hard-won press accreditation badge, President John Kufuor's words were echoing across the square. Kufuor paid tribute to Ghana's founding father, Kwame Nkrumah, and quoted his words: 'the Independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of Africa.' With some pride Kufuor continued, 'Ghana thus became the Mecca for many freedom fighters and potential leaders who came here for inspiration and material support.'

That surprised a few of us. Kufuor's political allegiance is to the New Patriotic Party, the current ruling party whose leaders hark back to the conservative Danquah-Busia tradition in Ghana's politics with its trenchant opposition to the radical Pan-Africanist followers of Nkrumah.

Kufuor was evidently in reconciliatory mood. He poured praise on Ghana's 'Big Six' leaders - Nkrumah, E. Obetsebi-Lamptey, J.B. Danquah, E.Ako Adjei, Edward Akuffo-Addo, G.A. Paa Grant and William Ofori Attah. Most of the Big Six split split with Nkrumah over his radical stance but were comprehensively outmanoeuvred as Ghanaians mounted pressure on the British colonial authorities for Independence.

The Big Six

Then Kufuor disbursed the compliments both to Nkrumah's political allies such as Krobo Edusei, Kojo Botsio and Kweku Baako, as well as his opponents such as Dr. K. A. Busia, Joe Appiah and Victor Owusu.

Praising Africa's founding fathers and the pioneers of the Independence struggles, Kufuor threw in a few barbs. 'The new but mostly inexperienced leaders had barely any guide in the art of government. And for a long time, among both the political leaders and the people, it seemed that getting independence was the end in itself. This naivety resonated around the African continent'.

Any reference to Ghana's long list of military rulers, especially the most recent incumbent, Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings, was conspicuously absent from Kufuor's speech. Two days before, Rawlings had publicly rejected an invitation to share a platform with Kufuor at the anniversary celebrations, saying there was nothing to celebrate and that the government's efforts to put his wife on trial for corruption was part of its campaign of denigration against his family.

Joining the throng in the early morning, I bumped into a petite BBC journalist and together we tried to squeeze our way to the front to get a decent recording of the events. Journalists still carry a certain cachet in Ghana and people helped us push forward determinedly without too much collateral damage to her recording equipment. The overwhelmingly celebratory mood and the emerging sunshine kept spirits high.

I picked a vantage point just next to the press enclosure and could make out some of the more than 20 African leaders who had made the pilgrimage to Accra: next to President Kufuor was Nigeria's outgoing President Olusegun Obasanjo, while behind them sat South Africa's Thabo Mbeki, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, King Letsie III of Lesotho and the President of the African Union, Alpha Oumar Konaré.

The party in Accra started at midnight on 5 March, when thousands of people thronged the grounds of parliament to watch a re-enactment of founding President Nkrumah's Declaration of Independence. Troupes of dancers and musicians from across the country took to the stage to provide a vibrant backdrop to the main political drama of the evening. Nkrumah's words ­ 'Ghana your beloved country is free' ­ rang out, followed by a high-tech fireworks display.

This evening, the visiting dignitaries are to be received and lavishly banqueted at State House. For the rest of us, there are free concerts, sports and musical extravaganzas, as well as lectures by African intellectuals such as Wole Soyinka for the more cerebral.

When the party's over there will be more time for sombre reflection. To hear that, you have to listen to Accra's journalists and civic activists, many of whom retain some scepticism about the golden jubilee hoopla. One veteran columnist suggested to me that as the celebrations had cost Ghana US$20 million and given that Ghana's population was 20 million and a bottle of beer now cost the equivalent of a dollar, the government should have offered to buy every Ghanaian a bottle of beer. At that stage in the evening, he didn't have any suggestions on how to accommodate the millions of Ghanaians, apart from himself and his pals, who would have no use for a bottle of beer.

The latest issue is now online, featuring: Angola, where the post-war elections have been repeatedly delayed and President José Eduardo dos Santos' pledge to step down before the next presidential poll looks unlikely; accused of corruption, Nigeria's Vice-President tells Africa Confidential that it's a put-up job and he remains a candidate; the implications of the death of Sierra Leone's Chief Hinga Norman for the Special Court ­ and the country; the electoral victory of Abdoulaye Wade in Senegal; an analysis of the future for Franco-African relations after May's presidential elections; South Africa's Finance Minister Trevor Manuel's 2007 good news budget; moves in Zambia by unions and the opposition to redress the imbalance in the copper industry between the rights of miners and mining companies; and Malawi's tobacco sector.

We also have pointers on the International Criminal Court's indictments for war crimes in Sudan's Darfur region; growing violence against Southerners by the regime in Sudan; Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh expels a UN representative who expressed doubts about his cure for HIV/AIDS; Prime Minister Pakalitha Mosisili's snap election win in Lesotho; and President Lansana Conté's truce with unions in Guinea.

Until next week, congratulations to Ghana

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