Ghana Independence Day Extravangaza

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I had the honor of participating in the 55th anniversary of Ghana’s independence yesterday. Led by the nationalist Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana became the first independent nation in Sub-Saharan Africa (Nkrumah is considered by some as the founding father of modern Africa, and his new statue was unveiled recently at the headquarters of the African Union in Addis). With the legacy of colonialism, Scramble of Africa, and Cold War that resulted in identity crises of new African nations, this kind of celebration reflects the hard-fought progress of nation-building. Since the Scramble of Africa left countries with artificial boundaries to this day – borders that carved through the middle of different ethno-linguistic groups/tribes with each “artificial state” slaves to their colonial masters as they are one by one pillaged of their natural resources – it is heartwarming to see how any African nation’s people so proud of their fledgling nation-state.

Ghana has reached the mature nation-state stage where people no longer consider themselves first and foremost Ashantes, Gas, Ewes, but as Ghanaians. The past decade we’ve seen so many other African countries on the cusp of reaching this stage where the younger generations see themselves proudly as Kenyans, Ivorians, Liberians, Ugandans instead of their tribal affiliations. Since Ghana was the first one to become independent, they had the most time to adjust and build indigenous institutions. So as the trailblazers of the Pan-African movement, these celebrations are very emotional for Ghanaians (by the way the entire display was free of charge for every Ghanaian who made it out to the independence square early enough).

And yes, I was very much awed by the elegant display of colorful armed forces marching in sync for hours under the hot African sun – represented by every single service division as well as every single law enforcement agency – army, navy/maritime, air force, marines, immigration service, customs service, prison service, fire service, police service etc… Special forces on cavalry accompanied the presidential vehicle in inspecting the formation; Naval ships patrolled the independence square as the square is right against the coast with jets flew overhead; armored vehicles, tanks, missile-carrying trucks lined the boulevard. People cheered wildly during the 21 gun salute. And no less than a dozen people actually fainted during this whole ordeal…just imagine the sacrifices they were making.

Apparently Ghana does this kind of grandiose celebration every single year. Our July fourth is only known for some fireworks and a presidential speech. What’s really interesting is how this kind of show that can be construed as almost militant happens in one of the best democracies in Africa. It’s really ironic because Ghanaians are probably the least aggressive/militant people you’ll ever find. They react with strong revulsion to the warning that their country “may go down the path of Nigeria” because Ghanaians see themselves as the proud good-behaving citizen of Africa. They really really hate instability. This is true of every leader/politician regardless of ethnicity or political party. Every future/current leader uses the slogan that they will do everything to make sure Ghana maintains its status as a beacon of peace, stability and democracy in Africa. This kind of mentality is I think what makes Ghana a successful nation-state in Africa and maybe that’s why they feel good about displaying their whole range of armed forces without shame.

So looking past the national day “militant facade”, it is not too surprising to learn that Ghana has one of the lowest per capita military expenditures, lowest number of armed forces per capita in the world. And almost all of the armed forces are involved in United Nations peacekeeping operations around Africa which makes Ghana one of the largest contributors of peacekeeping forces in Africa. All those glorious displays of military during the parade really show how they are saving people around their borders and not killing their own citizens!

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