Ghanaians are celebrating their 50th year of independence this year on March 6, with festivities set to begin soon. In 1957, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan country to free itself from colonial rule, with founding father Kwame Nkrumah leading it to independence from Britain. In this first segment of a five-part series, VOA’s Peter Clottey reports on the reflections of a former education minister during Nkrumah’s fledgling administration, K. B. Asante.
Asante said life for the average Ghanaian was difficult prior to independence. While the fortunate few attended school and had access to medical care, most were mired in poverty. Many died of malnutrition and disease, yet people endured and accepted their lot as the “will of God.”
But the groundswell for independence from Britain had started in earnest with Nkrumah’s election in 1947 as secretary-general of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), a party dedicated to self-governance for Ghanaians.
“The leaders wanted self-government; they wanted more self expression, and it coincided with this general need (for freedom).… Kwame Nkrumah (later) formed the Convention People’s Party (CPP) which demanded self-government [immediately]…,” Asante said.
Nkrumah – and by extension, the CPP – grew in stature because ordinary people “loved” him, said the former diplomat.
“Kwame Nkrumah and the CPP won the hearts of the people.… He asked for a constituent assembly to usher in self-government. He then declared ‘positive action,’ which was after (Mahatma) Gandhi (and the push for freedom from colonial oppression in India); that is, oppose a government without any violence, and he (Nkrumah) was imprisoned. While in prison, elections were held, (and) he stood for elections in Greater Accra and won,” Asante said.
Following his election victory, the British rulers released Nkrumah from jail.
“The (colonial) government wisely released him from prison, and he led the government which was then formed. He became the leader of government business,” Asante remembered, and said the expectations of Ghanaians were high at the time of independence.
“Kwame Nkrumah himself was a dreamer. He dreamt of a metropolis springing up in Ghana, centers of learning and culture and happiness for the people. There was euphoria; people thought self-government would bring everything. Nkrumah even said, “Seek ye first the political kingdom and all others shall be added unto you.”
Asante said Ghanaians thought all their worries were “a thing of the past” when the country attained independence.
“People thought with self-government, they could fashion their life – the life as they wanted – and that Ghana would be a haven. As a matter of fact, Nkrumah tried to do that. He found out that [the lack of] education was an impediment (to development), so he instituted free elementary education for all Ghanaian children…. He started more ambitious programs, like setting up an industrial development corporation which would help Ghanaian businessmen.”
With Nkrumah at the helm, Asante emphasized, Ghana became very influential on the African continent.
“Nkrumah…said that the independence of Ghana was meaningless until it was linked to the total liberation of Africa. So the young country, Ghana, set out to try to liberate all African countries … Ghana, under Nkrumah, promoted African unity. In fact, Nkrumah was instrumental in setting up the Organization of Africa Unity (OAU). The African Union of today can be said to be a consummation of Nkrumah’s ideas,” Asante explained. Many heads of state have been invited to attend a variety of activities surrounding Ghana’s anniversary celebrations, which are to begin on March 6.