Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
International

Ghana Celebrates 50 Years as Independent Nation

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya.

Fifty years ago this week, Ghana became independent - the first nation in Africa south of the Sahara to shake off European colonial domination. And Ghanaians are celebrating that landmark with music and flags fluttering from lampposts, buildings and on human beings. Back in 1957, Ghana was a trailblazer, leading the continent towards total liberation.

Dozens of African countries followed suit, winning independence in the two decades that followed. Now, half a century later, we ask what has been the legacy of pioneers on the continent by Kwame Nkrumah, the chief architect of independence in Ghana?

In a moment, we'll hear from Dr. Jean Davison, who lived and worked in Africa for 25 years. She'll tell us about how Ghana's early socialist roots are playing out today. But first, we're joined by NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, herself a Ghanaian. She's been covering the Ghana at 50 celebrations in the capital Accra. Hi, Ofeibea.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Hi. Hi from a very happy, rather jubilant Accra during the 50th anniversary celebrations.

CHIDEYA: So give us a sense of what's happening on the street.

QUIST-ARCTON: Street parties, almost from the time independence was declared 50 years ago. There was a reenactment of the declaration by Kwame Nkrumah and his right and left-hand man. It used to be at the Old Polo Grounds, which have now become Independence Square.

And Kwame Nkrumah is now buried in Accra, and it was at his mausoleum that President John Kufuor and the other African heads of the states and dignitaries from all over gathered to hear the reenactment of Ghana's declaration of independence.

There's a feeling of - I'd say a celebratory feeling amongst most Ghanaians, although, some feel there's very little to celebrate.

CHIDEYA: So, tell us more about Kwame Nkrumah and the other founding fathers of Ghana. They had a pan-African vision of a united continent. Did those high hopes and dreams become reality?

QUIST-ARCTON: Some yes, some no. With South Africa in 1994 achieving its so-called independence, its liberation, I suppose that dream of Africa's founding fathers has been achieved because the whole continent has independence. But, I think there was a bigger dream that has not been achieved - a continent that would really be a global force in the world because it was united behind all its people and could speak with one voice, even though the African Union now exists as a continental entity.

I think the dreams of Kwame Nkrumah, Haile Selassie, Sekou Toure of Guinea and the other pioneers of independence haven't quite achieved what they hoped it would be. But, of course, this continent has been blighted by military coups, by poverty, by destruction, by civil wars, and perhaps that wasn't part of what the forefathers were hoping for for this continent. But, unfortunately, it came to damage and devastate their dreams.

CHIDEYA: So you've been talking to young Ghanaians. What about the younger generation? How do they feel?

QUIST-ARCTON: I think it depends how young you are. Young Ghanaians are pretty hopeful. They're going to school, most of them - Kwame Nkrumah brought in free education here in Ghana. But those at the university level, the graduates, many of them are saying, no jobs. We've gone to school for all these years - either that we have jobs, but we can't afford to look after our families. We can't afford to start families.

But I spoke to a young boy called Anthony Desousa(ph), 14-year-old. He was part of the school group that were doing the gymnastics at the main celebration of Independence Square. I said to him, how do you feel about being Ghanaian?

(Soundbite of interview at the Ghana at 50 celebration)

Mr. ANTHONY DESOUSA (Student): I'm proud to be a Ghanaian.

QUIST-ARCTON: Why?

Mr. DESOUSA: Because we are rich in culture and so many things.

QUIST-ARCTON: Like what?

Mr. DESOUSA: Like the drumming, the museums and other places I like.

QUIST-ARCTON: What do you think is the future for young people in Ghana, people like you?

Mr. DESOUSA: I think our future is to bring up the country.

QUIST-ARCTON: How?

Mr. DESOUSA: By working hard to achieve our aim.

CHIDEYA: Well, he sounds like a real darling. But, Ofeibea, not everyone has been enthusiastic about the celebrations. Tell us why.

QUIST-ARCTON: And that's ordinary Ghanaians and the more high-profile Ghanaians. For example, the former president, Jerry John Rawlings. Now he, along with Kwame Nkrumah, have really dominated the president political landscaping Ghana for the half century since independence.

But former President Rawlings feels that he has been sidelined, marginalized by the current government of President John Kufuor. And he boycotted the celebrations altogether. And he agreed to speak to journalists to explain why he had boycotted. He was pretty furious.

Mr. JERRY JOHN RAWLINGS (Former President, Ghana): It was our independence, fighting for freedom and justice from the white man. We are yet to win our true freedom from the black men who took over from the white men. Wake up. Please, wake up. Otherwise, why does Africa have this image?

CHIDEYA: So that is definitely very forceful. All in all, it seems as if Ghanaians are split, and there may be something of a checkered legacy since independence 50 years ago. Is Ghana on the right path? It has a reputation for being the good kid in a rough neighborhood over there in West Africa.

QUIST-ARCTON: I feel it depends who you are. As you heard there, former President Rawlings was bringing up more of the political reasons why he feels Ghana is not on the right path, but local Ghanaians talk about the economic reasons. You know, they talk about the fact that 50 years on, there are areas even in the capital Accra that don't have running water.

Electricity has become an issue. And why is Ghana spending $20 million on this year-long celebration when for ordinary Ghanaians, life is still difficult and poverty still exists? But then many other Ghanaians are saying, look. This is all relative. You got to keep it in perspective.

Look at Ghana. We have been a peaceful country. Look at the region. Liberia has had a civil war. Sierra Leone has had a civil war, Guinea's in turmoil. Across the border in Ivory Coast, there's still turmoil after the civil war. Ghana is at least stable and peaceful, and that is, at least, a dividend. But many Ghanaians are saying that's not good enough. Ghana has got to really push forward - as Kwame Nkrumah used to say, forward ever, backward never.

CHIDEYA: Well, Ofeibea, thank you for giving us a firsthand report on your nation's 50th anniversary of freedom.

QUIST-ARCTON: There you go.

CHIDEYA: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton spoke to us from Ghana's capital, Accra. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

What questions do you have about the Statewide General Election coming up on Nov. 8? Submit your questions here, and we'll try to answer them in our reporting.