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Ghana Goes For Gold: Dealing With Our Colonial Hangover

Sat, 2 Jun 2007 Source: Nkrumah-Boateng, Rodney

In every society across the world, anniversaries, be they of happy or sad occasions, hold a very special place in that society’s calendar, serving as a significant focal point for its people to come together. More importantly, anniversaries also provide a platform for taking stock of the past, charting the way forward and re-energising for the times ahead.

Ghana has faced several diverse challenges and painful experiences in her 50-year history and continues to do so in a world that is remarkably different from the one she faced on the onset of independence. Equally, one cannot help but take pride in the fact that we have made some significant progress as a nation, whilst accepting that there is a lot of work indeed if we are to lift the nation from the grips of poverty and underdevelopment and take our pride among the community of nations. In this age of information technology, globalisation and international terrorism, we need to focus our energies on how we deal with these exciting yet challenging times.

I am of the view that a significant factor that draws us back from achieving our maximum potential as a nation is the colonial hangover that we suffer from. There is no doubt in my mind that the deepest impact slavery and colonialism had on Africa, and which remains today, was the gradual but powerful erosion of our perception of our African-ness, with the corresponding elevation of anything European. Colonialism cut a swathe across our socio-political, economic and religious structures and overhauled them completely. In my view, after fifty years of independence, we are yet to demonstrate that we are a fully mature, confident nation that has stopped clutching at the apron strings of the colonial powers long disappeared.

In this article, I intend to deal with an example of the colonial baggage that we need to take a close and hard look at as a nation as we celebrate fifty years of supposed independence.

Our National Anthem

A nation’s anthem says a lot about its people and what they believe in. A significant tool in nation building, it holds a hallowed place in nations across the world. You are supposed to stand to attention when it is played, and with good reason too. It is a rallying cry and is meant to evoke pride in one’s country, bringing a lump to the throat when it is played, inspiring you to believe in your country and all it stands for. It is to be understood by the citizens in a way that makes them feel a valued part of the national experience. To dismiss it as an irrelevance is to misunderstand the importance of patriotism in the huge and multi-faceted task of nation building

Sadly, in Ghana, well over 60% of the population are excluded from this wonderful opportunity to take part in this national experience. Why? Because they do not speak nor understand English, the language in which the anthem is written and sung. It therefore means nothing to them. In my view, this is simply not acceptable, and we need to look more closely and carefully at tearing down this barrier. Of course, I accept that for practical purposes, substituting a local Ghanaian language for English as the official language in Ghana is arguably not a viable one. But a national anthem is a different matter. It best captures the spirit of a nation when it is sung in a language that is indigenous to the nation, and there are no practical reasons why in Ghana it should be in English, the language of the colonial power from whom we obtained independence and are proud to proclaim this independence. South Africa’s well-known and moving national anthem, ‘Nkosi Sikeleli I’Afrika (God Bless Africa) is sung primarily in Zulu, even though the country’s official language is English.

In my opinion, the popular patriotic song ‘Yen Ara Asaase Ni’ can easily be adopted as our national anthem. It is passionate, sombre, evocative, well known and understood by many Ghanaians, above all- in fact, by far many more Ghanaians than ‘God Bless Our Homeland Ghana’. Of course one cannot casually dismiss the ethnic sensitivities of using such a song that is usually sung in Twi, which is only one of the many local languages used in Ghana. Interestingly, however, my understanding is that when Dr. Ephraim Amu composed it, he did so in his native Ewe, and that a Ga version also exists. I see no significant difficulty in having this song translated into the other major Ghanaian languages so that people are able to sing it in the one they are most comfortable with. I am confident that there is sufficient musical talent in Ghana to face up to this task. South Africa’s national anthem has Zulu, Xhosa, Afrikaans and Sesotho versions, and this has not caused any significant problems to that country as far as I am aware. We as a nation should be able to rise above parochial, impractical ethno-linguistic interests and envisage a way of dealing with this anthem issue in a mature, impassionate manner. The anthem as it stands was relevant and appropriate for its time. I think that we should be confident enough, after 50 years, to sing it in our indigenous languages.

There are many who say that these things do not matter, and that what is important is to eradicate poverty, build roads, schools and hospitals for those who need them. They say that anything else apart from these is not priority and is therefore irrelevant. I disagree vehemently with that view, for if that were the case, we would never spend good money as a nation building a national theatre, or developing the arts, nor would we have ever taken part in any international sports competitions, for these do not feed or clothe the people. A nation cannot live by bread alone. Kwame Nkrumah, aside the huge physical developments he instigated in his time, realised this and was passionate about pan-Africanism, which was essentially about empowering black people to be confident about themselves and their race and to realise their potential. The Guyanese political scientist, Walter Rodney, in his book ‘How Europe Underdeveloped Africa’, chronicles how the Europeans subjugated Africa not with mighty armies but mainly through mind control, using religion and education as their major tools. The reggae musician Bob Marley admonishes us to emancipate ourselves from what he calls ‘mental slavery’ in his masterpiece ‘Redemption Song’.

National development is multi-dimensional, and all the different aspects play hugely significant roles. In my view, a nation comfortable with itself and free of the mental shackles of its past inglorious experiences is one that is able to confidently harness all the talents of its people and forge ahead with confidence. It is times to challenge the hallowed structures of our society that have spilled over from colonial times. Let us wake up from the drunken stupor and cure ourselves of this massive colonial hangover.

Rodney Nkrumah-Boateng, London UK.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

Columnist: Nkrumah-Boateng, Rodney