Black Africa’s first independent nation celebrated its 60th independence anniversary this week. A pioneer in many ways, Ghana was the first country in sub Saharan Africa to secure independence from Britain on March 6, 1957.
Ghana’s post-independence experience is also in many ways the African post-colonial story. President Kwame Nkrumah was a founding member of the Organisation of African Unity, the precursor to the African Union. He was also the most influential voice in the Pan-African movement in the early years of independence.
The Pan-Africanist flame burnt brightest at the height of agitation for independence, drawing in the likes of Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. But the Pan-Africanist rhetoric was soon extinguished as its leaders secured independence for their countries.
Ghana’s anniversary is well worth celebrating. Over the last six decades Ghana has transitioned from military dictatorships to a well functioning democracy while it’s economy has seen both boom and near bust. Its story offers both lessons and hope that Africa can fashion its own dignified path to peace and democracy.
The early decades
Nkrumah’s vision for Ghana was founded on the nationalist demands that drove agitation against colonialism. He sought to steer his young country to significant progress in health and education. Also on the new leader’s agenda were other social and economic issues confronting the country.
This vision was embedded in his seven-year development plan presented to parliament on March 11, 1964. In his view, the 1963-1970 plan would ultimately,
bring Ghana to the threshold of a modern state based on a highly organised and efficient agricultural and industrial programme.
Nkrumah believed he could completely obliterate the dependency-driven colonial economy he inherited which reduced Ghana to an importer of finished goods sold at exorbitant prices and exporter of raw materials bought cheaply. In its place would be an industrialised economy modelled along a socialist production and distribution system which would make Ghana self-sufficient and self-reliant.
But we will never know what all his success would have looked like. Nkrumah’s vision was cut short by a pro-western military coup in 1966. The planning of it was known to the US which considered Nkrumah a significant threat to its interests in Africa.
The acting special assistant for National Security Affairs R.W. Komer praised the coup as
…another example of a fortuitous windfall. Nkrumah was doing more to undermine our interests than any other black African.
Some 50 years after his overthrow, however, Nkrumah remains a household name in Ghana because of his investments in education, health and energy. Many of his contributions to other important sectors, such as the building of the Akosombo Dam, the Accra-Tema Motorway, the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital, University of Cape Coast, continue to support the economy today.
Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966 was followed by four military takeovers in 1972, 1978, 1979 and 1981. Two democratically elected governments established in 1969 and 1979 were overthrown by the military. Eventually, the current succession of democratic elections was established in 1993.
In its early years Ghana’s flirtation with socialism dominated its politics. However, the civilian governments that followed steered the country onto a capitalist economic path in which the Bretton Woods institutions often dictated the pace.
But the country has been unable to achieve the envisioned self-reliant and self-sufficient economic policies. But it’s not all gloom and doom.
Democracy success story
Ghana has made remarkable progress as one of the success stories in Africa’s democratic project over the past 25 years. Political power has changed three times – all important milestones;
from the ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) to the New Patriotic Party (NPP) in 2001;
from the ruling NPP to the NDC in 2009; and
from the ruling NDC back to the NPP in January, 2017.
Ghanaians have cast aside the authoritarian politics of the past. In its place is expanded political space which has helped to shape and broaden the frontiers of rights. Free speech and association is guaranteed, civil society organisations have greater influence over policy making and media is free to perform its gate-keeping.
It’s no coincidence that Ghana has emerged as one of the most peaceful nations on the globe. According to the 2016 Global Peace Index, Ghana – ranked 44th – is more peaceful than France – ranked 46th – and the United Kingdom – ranked 47th positions.
A nation in good health
Ghana has also made progress in numerous measures of well-being, especially poverty reduction and the provision of health and education is exemplary. It’s among the few countries around the world that have recorded significant reduction in poverty.
The health care scorecard is one of the most impressive in sub-Saharan Africa too. Ghana is one of the few countries with a universal health insurance scheme. And there’s a great deal to show from investments in the health sector. The country ranked 7th out of 153 countries on measles immunisation between 1990 and 2008, and while the regional average of measles vaccination rate stood at 75%, Ghana recorded 91%.
But many challenges remain.
Yo-yo economic growth
Economic growth has been swinging like a pendulum. Over a decade ago the country’s economy was growing at 7%, then roaring ahead with a growth rate of over 14% in 2011. Since then growth has declined considerably. In 2015 it expanded by just 4%.
Currently, Ghana is under an IMF bail-out programme because of its inability to contain its huge budget deficit, rising inflation and falling currency.
The jury is still out on whether the country can turn its economic fortunes around again. Unemployment rates are alarmingly high – at an estimated 48% – and the country faces a power crisis, high depreciation of the currency and high interest rates.
Nevertheless, Ghana is still very much the rising star in some spheres – just struggling in others like many of its African peers.