58 Years of Republican status — How far we’ve come

Sun, 1 Jul 2018 Source: Edmund Smith-Asante

Fifty-eight years of basking in republican status is certainly no mean achievement, but what have we to show for receiving the right to govern ourselves and to be considered by the comity of states as a sovereign nation?

Ghana, on July 1, 1960 became a republic, meaning that we had become a nation with its own rules and instruments of state to govern. It meant that our air space, maritime and land boundaries could not be entered or encroached upon by any other nation without the express permission of the Ghana government.

Attaining a republican status also meant that the ultimate power was given to all its citizens which they exercise through a universal adult suffrage, that is the electorate voting to elect leaders. The elected representatives are also accountable to the electorate.

Preceding years

Before Ghana became a republic, it was the Earl of Listowel who served on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II as Governor-General of Ghana, then known as the Gold Coast. Afterwards, however, instead of a monarchy, Ghana elected its own President, who is also the head of state.

Since Ghana’s attainment of a republican status, the military has not had the cause to protect our borders from external intrusion.

Interestingly though, it is the same military charged with the responsibility of keeping the borders safe and sovereignty intact that has on three occasions toppled the constitutionally elected governments and thrown away the republican status during those periods.

Four republics, one nation

The first republic, which had Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah as President, was toppled six years after the country became a republic and nine years after Dr Nkrumah became the country’s leader.

A joint military/police coup d’état, led by Lt General Joseph A. Ankrah, Lt General Akwasi Amankwa Afrifa, Lieutenant General Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka and Police Inspector General J. W. K. Harlley, who formed the National Liberation Council (NLC), shelved the country’s Constitution and said goodbye to Ghana’s republican status before it hit the decade mark.

After Head of State Lt Gen Ankrah had allowed elections in 1969, the Second Republic was birthed, with Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia and his Progressive Party winning the polls.

Alas! The Second Republic was also to last for only about three years (27 months) as General Ignatius Kutu Acheampong’s coup of January 13, 1972 drove the government from office. For the next seven years, it was a chain of coup d’états.

General Acheampong was removed in a palace coup by his trusted lieutenant, Lt General Frederick William K. Akuffo, on July 5, 1978, who formed another version of Acheampong’s Supreme Military Council (SMC), the SMC II.

General Akuffo himself did not last as Head of State, as Flt Lt Jerry John Rawlings succeeded in his second attempt to topple the military government on June 4, 1979.

Flt Lt Rawlings kept to his word to return the country to democratic rule and that same year elections were called, during which Dr Hilla Limann and his People’s National Party (PNP) emerged victorious.

Earlier on January 1, 1979, Gen. Akuffo had issued a decree lifting the ban on party politics placed by Gen. Acheampong.

On September 24, 1979, Dr Limann was sworn in as Ghana’s third constitutionally elected President, marking the beginning of the Third Republic. He, however, did not even complete his first term as he was ousted by Flt Lt Rawlings, who staged his second successful coup d’état on December 31, 1981.

From then on till December 1992, Flt Lt Rawlings remained the country’s Head of State and Chairman of the ruling Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC).

He and his newly formed National Democratic Congress (NDC) won the fourth national elections to be called in Ghana and became a constitutionally elected President after being sworn in on January 7, 1993. Thus began the journey of the country’s Fourth Republic and another attempt at democratic governance.

Fourth Republic, four Johns

Ghana seems to have got the governance mix right after its three republics were brought down, since the Fourth Republic has already travelled 25 years and we have successfully elected five Presidents. By that feat, the country has earned accolades such as “an oasis of peace in a troubled sub region” and “a beacon of hope for democracy in Africa”.

It may be a coincidence, but no one needs any special skills to notice that the first four Presidents of the Fourth Republic all bear the name John, and at a point it was believed that one had to be called John before he could consider running for President.

That was until the current President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, broke the trend.

The first Presidents were Jerry John Rawlings, John Agyekum Kufuor, John Evans Atta Mills and John Dramani Mahama.

Argument against July 1

Although July 1, 1960 was when Ghana shed off the remnants of colonialism by becoming a republic, arguments have been advanced that since the First Republic was booted out together with Ghana’s first President and the country’s first constitution (1960), which was repudiated in 1969, there is no point in retaining July 1 as the country’s Republic Day — her birthday.

But take it or leave it, the fact still remains that it was the day Ghanaians were able to make an emphatic statement that we were capable of taking care of ourselves as a sovereign nation and needed nobody to watch over us.

We may have had three other republics but marking the first as the mother of all the other republics must not generate any confusion or debate, else in the very unlikely event that we should move to a fifth republic we may clamour again for a change of date.

Yes, we will for a long time swear in our President on January 7 after elections the previous year, yes the constitutions for all the four periods differ but it is no reason enough to call for a change in date.

Governance and democracy are all humanly driven and all human institutions are susceptible to mistakes, learning and improvements. We have learnt the ropes as a country and we must keep moving and improving.

Marking day

Perhaps we must look at how best we can meaningfully observe our Republic Day such as a national stock-taking day to see how we are faring as a country.

We can still maintain the engagement with senior citizens because of the sacrifices they have made to help make the country what it is but it should go beyond the wining and dining at the State House.

There should be national and even regional fora on that day or days preceding for the elderly who have achieved so much in various fields to share their experiences with the country and leadership.

By this, there could be some nuggets of wisdom with which those in authority and the entire citizenry can munch on to make the country a better place to be.

Ghana’s democratically elected leaders — presidents and vice-presidents — could also be remembered on July 1, especially by what they stood for and what they contributed to make Ghana what it is today. Their memories must not fade.

Columnist: Edmund Smith-Asante