Ghana – Journey to the Present

Wed, 9 Mar 2011 Source: Taden, John

We have toppled over every rock, fallen into every pot hole, risen to clean up the dust and shaken up for renewed strength to get to where we are now as a nation. Ghana ages fifty four (54) with a democratically elected president, John Evans Atta Mills mounting the stage to receive salutations and crowning the occasion with a speech that reminds us of our unity, despite our differences. I listened with calm and peace, as the president preached hope and success, recounted the endurance of the Ghanaian spirit and subsequently charged discipline and hard work in the youth as the keys to building a Better Ghana. I remember I listened with the same attention on the 6th of March 2009 as the newly elected president Mills, preached peace and called for collaborated efforts in stabilizing the economy. Then, I listened with keen interest as he reiterated the promise of a government devoid of political vendetta, witch hunting and intimidation. Subsequently, he called for the upliftment of the things that unite us, as against the things that divide us. Certainly, a Better Ghana could not be built on any better virtues than these; especially at a time when we have a nation sharply polarized on many aspects of life including politics, ethnicity, economy, religion and education, with all their fragile ramifications.

Ghana in 1960, wished Lord Listowell, the last Governor of the Gold Coast, a farewell in the promise of absolute freedom. Since then, our nation has witnessed four military regimes as against four major civilian regimes. In the days after, Ghanaians had the hope of a Better Ghana, but some individuals who got dissatisfied with the governments of those times, expressed it through the trigger. However, thanks to the resolve of our ideals, today we can express it through the secret ballot box – a success most of our African neighbours are still struggling to taste.

We could not have come this far without certain surprising and outstanding commitments made by our leaders, both in military and civilian governments. It is worth noting, that even military rulers of our nation’s history, had unanticipated personal commitments to good governance and democracy – a Better Ghana. It all started back in 1957, on the eve of the 6th of March when Dr Kwame Nkrumah – the leading freedom fighter of the time – declared our nation as free in these carefully chosen words: “Ghana our beloved country is free forever…”. We were freed from colonial oppression and introduced to due processes of freedom and justice. Self governance in a Better Ghana was the dream. As if by temptation, the man who had declared Ghanaians free, seven years later in 1964, suddenly suspended the once fervently sought democracy by suspending the constitution. He then made Ghana an official one-party state and subsequently gained the much dreaded power of a dictator. This new turn attracted harsh western criticisms, which inadvertently compelled Nkrumah to initiate and refocus fraternities towards the Soviet Union and other communist countries. Nkrumah suddenly became unpopular in the country when the economy went out of his control. Demonstrations followed, but soon to be matched by unjustifiable arrests of the opposers.

Ghanaians realized then, that they deserved a Better Ghana. On February 24th 1966, a military coup without bloodshed triumphantly ended the Nkrumah government. The new military government called itself the National Liberation Council (NLC) and declared that the aim of the coup was to end corruption and change the constitution in order to get Ghana back on a democratic line. Yes, a Better Ghana. Surprisingly, western countries reasoned with the new government, especially when the NLC discontinued all affiliations with the Soviet Union and expelled technicians from the USSR and China. They called this move a new direction in Ghanaian politics and economics.

After establishing itself as a provisional government, the NLC legalized political parties and later held multi-party elections in September 1969. A new civilian government was formed by Dr. Kofi Busia and the Progress Party. The new government faced tough challenges as the prices of cocoa and food dropped again with the economic situation getting worse and worse. General unrests followed when the government inadvertently devaluated the cedi and increased prices in an attempt to deal with the situation.

On January 13 1972, forces within the military once again found that it was time for a change for a Better Ghana and carried out a coup. The new National Redemption Council (NRC) government put in Colonel Ignatius Acheampong as the head of state. Acheampong, who was said to lack experience and economic political visions, headed a government with unprecedented proliferation of corruption in all levels. As the population got dissatisfied with the government, severally organized strikes, most of them led by students in 1974, were carried out. It is said that as governance and agreements within the NRC became difficult to reach, with the economy nearing collapse, Acheampong got rid of the government and formed the Supreme Military Council (SMC) with just seven handpicked members. The opposition rebelled, but was responded with harassment and jailing without sentences.

Acheampong was finally forced to resign and General William Akuffo on the 5th of July 1978 took control of the new Supreme Military Council II to ensure a Better Ghana. General Akuffo promised to reinstate civilian governance. Political parties were once again allowed and a new date for elections stipulated. Sadly, no major changes occurred the following year, spurring the perpetuation of discontent of government.

These disgruntlements propelled some young men in uniform, led by young Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings on May 15 1979 to head an unsuccessful uprising. Rawlings was arrested but soon after, freed, having the support of soldiers. Apparently, foreseeing incompetence, Jerry Rawlings again, on June 4 1979, a few days before the planned elections carried out a new military coup. The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) took over with the declared aim of ensuring free elections and putting an end to the economic chaos in the country. A Better Ghana, they sought. Dr. Hilla Limann and his People’s National Party (PNP) then won the election on June 18 1979, held just 12 days after the coup. History has it, that he could not solve the economic problems of the country. He also gave up on necessary but unpopular economic reforms in fear of unrests and a new coup. His much dreaded fears were soon to be a reality, when on 31st of December 1981, Jerry Rawlings once again took over power through a military coup and established the new Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC).

Even though parliament was dissolved and political parties forbidden, Chairman Rawlings insisted that the long-term goal was restoring democracy in Ghana – a promise he truthfully lived up to. In all towns and villages, local committees were established to build up democracy from the grassroots. Public participation and the fight against corruption, then begun.

The National Commission for Democracy was formed, to work out plans for the political future of Ghana. In 1992, thanks to our ideals, a new democratic constitution was graciously passed. Political prisoners were freed, political parties allowed, human rights organizations emerged and the press granted unprecedented freedom in the country. Rawlings and the new National Democratic Congress ruled Ghana for the next eight years in legitimate governance. In 2000, Ghanaians once again realized the need for a Better Ghana than what was, and happily this time, expressed it through the secret ballot box in favour of Mr. John Agyekum Kufour and his New Patriotic Party. This was repeated in 2008, this time in favour of the current president, Professor John Evans Atta Mills.

The journey has been rough and turbulent. Steep mountains we have climbed. Into ditches we have fallen. In mighty waters we have waded. There were those who were killed unjustifiably in the name of state security. There were those who lost their lives as punishment for their genuine opposition to government of the day. There were those who sacrificed their lucrative carriers outside the country to see to a Better Ghana.

In 2001, newly elected President J. A. Kufour formed the National Reconciliation Commission to reconcile Ghanaians with their past governments and leaders. He knew that unity among Ghanaians was prerequisite to nation building and to his ultimate success as our president. He also knew that being at peace with our past, is happiness for our present and hope for our future – a Better Ghana. In spite of our differences, hand in hand we stood by each other and head to head we reasoned together. Due to our collective quest for a Better Ghana we have been moving and moving forward. We are living true to the words of our first president, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, when he charged during one of his speeches to other African heads of state that “together we have nothing to fear but ourselves and nothing to lose but our chains”.

God bless our homeland Ghana and continue to make us great and strong. Long Live Ghana! Long Live Our Democracy!

John Taden johntaden@yahoo.com Credit: Ghana at Fifty website

Columnist: Taden, John