Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Happy birthday, Ghana!

The West African state of Ghana is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of independence from Great Britain this year, a milestone for the first post-colonial African nation. Unfortunately, the first independent African nation led, very quickly, to the birth of the African "big man syndrome" style of dictatorship.

Ghana's particular honeymoon didn't last long. Ghana's first president, Kwame Nkrumah, started banning opposition political parties early on his tenure, before eventually declaring himself "President for Life" in 1964, a little less than 7 years after leading his nation to independence. Nkrumah dismissed criticism that he had become a dictator, saying:

Even a system based on a democratic constitution may need backing up in the period following independence by emergency measures of a totalitarian kind.

The people's love affair with their liberator was chafing under his increasing paranoia and repressive nature, and he was finally overthrown in a military coup d'etat while on a state visit to China. Of the next six leaders of Ghana, five took power in military coups, the most of infamous of whom was Air Force Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings (pictured above), who ruled Ghana directly for 22 years, and controlled the levers of military power behind the scenes for some time before that.

As Ghana celebrates being the first European colony in Africa to gain independence, I hope the Ghanaian people take some time to reflect on Africa's future, and specifically, how to avoid the creation of the dictatorships that have stifled the political freedom and economic opportunity of untold millions of Africans over the past 50 years. Ghana cannot change the past, naturally, but it certainly can try and set the tone for the future.