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Ghana at 50 Reflects on Dream of Nationhood

Ghana at 50 Reflects on Dream of Nationhood

When they look at old black-and-white photographs of Ghana's Independence Day, March 6, 1957 — and of the three visionary musketeers who led the country to freedom — many Ghanaians get misty-eyed.

In the images one can see "Osagyefo" (the name means "savior" or "Messiah" in the local Akan language) Kwame Nkrumah, the smallish gentleman with the messianic gaze. He is flanked by his right-hand man, Kojo Botsio — bigger in size and with an even friendlier smile — and his left-hand man, Komla Gbedemah, always elegantly turned out.

The three were inseparable, always plotting and planning the future of their fledgling independent nation, even as they dodged and tried to outwit the British colonial authorities — though they still ended up in detention.


They, and others who demanded freedom for the Gold Coast, were affectionately called the "prison graduates." The term refers to all the time they spent protesting and whiling away months on end inside of His, then Her, Majesty's jails.

Nostalgia is the word that readily comes to mind when Ghanaians look back on those halcyon days as the country fought for liberation. The leaders of the future Ghana were among the pioneers of African independence. They had a continental outlook: how to unite Africa and make it a mighty global force.

The memories come flooding back for those who lived through those tumultuous years. And for Ghanaians who were too young to remember, or were not yet born, it's a time to reflect on the past 50 years. What has their legacy left for Ghana?

The March 6 celebrations are literally that: a celebration of Ghana reaching its gold jubilee and marking the sacrifices made by the fathers of African nationhood.

Judging from the old photos, there were many sober and many merry moments, a feeling of togetherness and of common purpose, a destiny, a vision and a goal.


But the men of the Gold Coast were not the only ones instrumental in gaining independence. The women, too, played a pivotal role.

Nkrumah's party, the CPP (Convention People's Party), had an active women's wing that traveled the country, spreading a message of "freedom" to rural and urban areas and preparing citizens-to-be for independence.

Ruth Botsio, the wife of one of Ghana's founding fathers, Kojo Botsio, remembers being part of the CPP women who supported husbands, brothers, fathers and sons in the struggle. All the while, they were showing off the portrait of their leader, Nkrumah. The image was emblazoned on specially printed cloth fashioned into the traditional "kaba short" — the long, fitted skirt and tailored top that Ghanaian women proudly wore then and still wear today.

Ruth Botsio remembers how she and other women decided they were going to wear local clothes with pride and style. Ghana's brilliantly colored, hand-loom woven kente cloth became a fashion statement. Women and men in toga-style "cloth" stepped out clad in gorgeous kente, outshining even those in formal Western dinner dress. Everyone's eyes were on the "Gold Coasters" wherever they traveled.

Botsio, who popularized her trademark slicked-back hair and attached bun (which came to be known as "Pompadour"), said it was important for her and others to let the colonial British — and everyone else — know that Ghana had its own customs, traditions and heritage.

She remembers the tremendous wellspring of goodwill and purpose as everyone pursued a common agenda: to make the Gold Coast work.

It wasn't all slog. There was also time to party and enjoy. The vintage photos are proof. You only have to look at Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first prime minister and, later, its first president, dancing in step with the wives of his faithful lieutenants — linking arms with Ruth Botsio to his right and Adelaide Gbedemah to his left.

Ruth Botsio danced with Queen Elizabeth's consort, too — Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh — when Ghana became a republic, shortly after independence. Laughing, she recalls how everyone considered the dance quite an honor. Meanwhile, she elegantly took it in stride as the cameras clicked away, immortalizing the moment.

As Ghana prepares to relive those heady days, there will be plenty of dancing to the rhythms of vintage "highlife" — Ghanaian popular music — with favorites such as "Freedom Highlife" and "All for You," written in tribute to the country's nationhood.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton is NPR's West Africa correspondent and a native of Ghana. Ruth Botsio is her aunt.

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