By Mukoni Ratshitanga
(This article was originally published in The Star newspaper, Johannesburg on March 6, 2007)
Ghana, which attained independence from British colonial rule on March 6 1957, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this week and President Thabo Mbeki will be among the official guests at the commemoration.
The significance of the event in African and world history will be a matter for discussion and reflection in informed circles over a wide front.
Although Sudan was the first African country to achieve independence in 1956, Ghana came to represent the epitome of the great African struggle for liberation.
The celebrations in Accra this week provide a moment for reflection on the past 50 years and consideration of the next 50 years in Africa.
Unity and solidarity have been, and should forever be, recognised as basic to our identity as Africans and human beings.
Kwame Nkrumah, the leader of the Convention People’s Party, which took Ghana to independence, emphasised this point – stressing the psychological value and primacy of political independence for Africans.
This would too often appear to annoy those abroad who would rather have Africa divided and under their control.
On March 6 1957, Kwame Nkrumah declared: “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked with the total liberation of the African continent.”
In keeping with this declaration, Nkrumah lent practical support to the African liberation movement; helping to nail down the coffin in which we were to bury colonialism.
Soon-to-be-liberated countries similarly provided support to fellow Africans suffering under the yoke of colonial bondage, particularly in the racist south of the continent.
This culminated, finally, in the liberation of South Africa in 1994.
Thus, the late president of the ANC, the legendary Oliver Tambo, was to speak glowingly of the support received from the international community during the dark days of apartheid in his political report to the ANC Durban Conference in 1991.
Of the support from neighbouring countries, he said: “We are grateful to them and their people for all they have done for us.”
He asserted: “Never shall we forget the support they rendered and continue to render to us.”
In this respect, the liberation of South Africa, in turn, has reinforced a progressive agenda in most parts of the continent to date.
Post-colonial, post-apartheid Africa highlights the necessity for a new kind of unity and solidarity, based on the imperative to address the challenges of poverty and underdevelopment on the continent.
But a progressive agenda, in unity and solidarity, cannot simply be taken as a given. If cold war imperatives gave rise to a Mobuto Sese Seko, in Africa, perhaps a post-cold war world could be less crude but nonetheless invidious.
Francis Fukuyama’s recent admission that history is far from over may paradoxically ease the task before us.
We must complete the course and assert the seemingly obvious: that the political forces behind historical evolution and revolution are not materially contradicted by mere contestations to the contrary.
Recent calls, in effect, for the re-colonisation of Africa might make us think, might they not?
Accordingly, we may argue that a discussion on unity and solidarity needs to include a debate on the nature of different types of colonialism (English, French, Belgian, Portuguese). Moreover, is there need for a post-colonial, post-apartheid approach to the African state?
Such a reflection should be undertaken with all the historic responsibility and maturity established by our predecessors, as well as our successors.
Accordingly, a progressive agenda to root out poverty will necessarily need to pay attention to building and strengthening national and regional economies.
We can build the continent into the economic power it has the potential to be. In this respect, the capacity of the African states as well as regional and continental institutions is of crucial importance.
Indeed, the experience of that engine of growth and development, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, points to this challenge. To be sure: Africa must and will be economically strong, if it is to be politically free.
The question is what Ghana’s liberation over the past 50 years means relative to the freedom now gained by South Africa in the next 50 years.
I suggest we continue to look beyond the continent to strengthen partnerships at a global level, working with all international forces well-disposed to African, humane efforts.
In this task, the youth of Africa are most crucial. As Franz Fanon counsels: “Each generation must out of relative obscurity discover its mission, fulfil it, or betray it”
Nkrumah’s generation is permanently engraved in the pages of history because the new Ghanaian state accelerated the African movement towards freedom.
It was a fundamental human achievement despite the problems and controversies that would inevitably face all post-colonial societies after years of widespread colonial exploitation and racist assumptions.
Reflecting on the former Gold Coast as it celebrates its Golden Jubilee, we would do well to acknowledge that the next half century will be as crucial as the preceding 50 years. What this will mean for the world is for history to determine, but also for the younger generation to put into effect.
Mukoni Ratshitanga writes here in his personal capacity.