This Independence Day, like all others, prompts me to don my philosophical hat. Take a cursory look at the continent of Africa and you’ll see that there are many things for Ghana to be thankful for. From civil wars to terrorism and natural disasters, it is obvious that we are more than all right. And walking down memory lane, there have been pretty serious bumps along the way but here we are, limping but intact after 59 years. But perhaps, I am making a mistake by making comparisons that do not extend beyond Africa. After all, if you set the bar low it’s easy to shine.
And talk about shining. I’ve always wondered about the Black Star. What on earth is a black star? I always feel uncomfortable saying the two words together. Can a black star shine? According to the official version, the star represents the lodestar of African freedom, that is, the star that is meant to guide and lead. Dare I suggest that perhaps that is why as a continent we seem to be so lost? If the star that is meant to point to freedom is so dark, well, then. But then not to be negative or finicky, I also see what the founding fathers of the country were trying to say.
This independence day I ask myself two questions. What did we gain independence from? And what did we gain independence for? I think that to most people, the first question is pretty straight forward. We got rid of the British and the disadvantages that came with that. But it is the second question I find hard to answer. For what did we get rid of them? Did we really know what we wanted? What are we independent to do? To be free? Yes, we are free. But freedom to do what? To create our own filth and live in it? Freedom to filch our own money? To make our original brand of Made-in-Ghana disorder?
Well, I think it’s time we snapped out of the dozy, comfortable aura that has pervaded our consciousness for 59 years. Yes, we were the first people, south of the Sahara, to lift up our heads, raise our voices and demand for Freedom and Justice. But 59 years later, what do we really have to show for it? What has changed? I am not talking about mere, on the surface change because like it or not, time changes things. But how about that deliberate change which comes from a people with a vision, a people determined to get somewhere, to reach something higher and bigger than us, something we can leave for posterity?
Remember Ghana’s 57th Independence Day?
The heavy downpour on the Independence Day parade provided a perfect metaphor for how jaded and set in our ways we have become. For 57 years, the president comes out, the armed forces come out, the children and people of Ghana come out and parade their best at the Independence Square- now Black Star Square. For 57 years, things had always been done this way. We relied on the sun to shine, and to shine at its best and even provided a line of ambulances to take care of the weak and faint. But that day it rained. And it rained hard.
Nothing could have exposed us more. I have developed my own litmus test for Ghana’s state of development and concluded that if my country is able to pass the Rain Test, then it would have started developing properly. What do I mean? Rain literally exposes the weaknesses in our country, in our cities and towns, where the people are. In Accra, when it rains, everything grinds to a stop. And after the rain, the city is a chaotic, muddled, disgruntled mess. Roads are flooded. Drains and sewers dump their awful stuff onto the streets. Instead of washing things clean, rain brings out the filth we try to hide.
And that day it rained. The canopies dripped through. The president squinted against the wind. People got wet. Very wet. Diplomats were not spared. But can we blame the rain? What happened to weather forecasts? Why did the canopies drip through? Why did school children get soaked? Because we expected the same thing. We expected to have the sun shine down on us just as it had been doing for 57 years.
So again, what has our independence meant? What do we want it to mean? I say that we need to change. We need to set high standards. We need to drop the attitude of “things as usual”. We need to take the reins of control of our development so that even when it rains, we can smile and say, “Rain all you like. We are independent!”