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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 March 2007, 13:37 GMT
The reality of Ghana's independence
In his second and final piece, the BBC's reporter in Ghana, Kwaku Sakyi-Addo, looks at what happened to the ambitious dreams at Ghana's independence from Britain 50 years ago in the subsequent decades.

Kwame Nkrumah making a speech

The vision of Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first president and the man who led the country to independence in 1957, was to make his country a beacon of success in Africa and power the movement towards African nationalism.

Nkrumah was ousted by a coup in 1966 and died in exile in 1972 - but his vision was known to all.

He had had the dream, but the reality was much harder - how to turn this former colonial country into a successful African nation.

Nkrumah's son, Gamal, says that the "euphoria of independence" soon wore off, and his father's message of pan-Africanism increasingly became overlooked.

"Countries became more jealous of national sovereignty," he adds.

"The main goal of the ruling cliques - many of which were military - was to preserve and concentrate power... the seeds of the problems we now associate with the continent - poverty, corruption, the breakdown of public services - were sown in those times."

Military revolt

The leaders of the 1966 military coup against Nkrumah, who had made the country a one-party state and declared himself a Life President, had hoped they could sort out the country's tottering economy.

But once Nkrumah was gone, Ghana's troubles continued to get worse.

Jerry Rawlings
There was hardly any electricity, failures all the time, no water. The situation was so volatile it was like lighting a match
Former Ghana president Jerry Rawlings
Eventually, in 1979, a military revolt of a dozen junior officers against their seniors, who they perceived as arrogant and corrupt, brought 32-year-old Jerry John Rawlings came to power.

Rawlings' newly-formed Armed Forces Revolutionary Council executed eight senior officers, including three former heads of state.

Neither a politician nor an intellectual - he was a flight lieutenant in the Ghana Air Force - Rawlings believed he knew what the country needed.

"In effect, 1979 was a reaction to the cumulative events that had been happening in the country," he says.

"There was hardly any electricity, failures all the time, no water. The situation was so volatile it was like lighting a match."

He says the executions were necessary.

"I'm taking responsibility for it all," he says.

"There was no alternative. We had to contain it within the military so it didn't spill into the civil front - if it had it would have been terrible.

"We had no choice but to sacrifice the most senior ones - the commanders."

Coups and violence

Despite Rawlings' acceptance of responsibility for these and subsequent executions, he has never been tried in a court.

And the current 1992 constitution - written during his time as head of state - also contains a clause which prevents anyone being charged for executions which took place under military regimes.

Cocoa farmer William Korampong
Cocoa farmer William Korampong says life is a desperate struggle
In 1979, Rawlings handed over power to the elected President Dr Hilla Limann - but by 1981 he was seizing it again in another coup.

He instigated what he called "participatory democracy" - a people's revolution - which would keep him in power for two decades.

And he also presided over periods of violence, human rights abuse and disappearances - over 200 people disappeared in the early 1980s, all suspected opponents of Rawlings' regime.

In 1982 there was another attempted coup, which, Rawlings claimed, was funded by Kwame Pianim, who was imprisoned for 10 years.

A country that Nkrumah had envisioned would lead Africa in optimism and change had descended into coups and violence.

"There were times when I openly shed tears for the suffering of my own people," says Charles Palmer-Buckle, the Catholic Archbishop of Accra who sat on Ghana's Truth and Reconciliation Commission for two years.

"It was eye-opening, because I never believed that certain types of atrocities did take place in this country."

When he became the country's first president, Kwame Nkrumah had attempted to keep a lid on Ghana's divisions by minimising them. Being African, he said, was not about being tribal.

But his focus on the "total liberation of Africa" meant he sometimes ignored problems at home.

The economy in particular suffered as Nkrumah failed to look beyond timber to keep it in health.

And when Rawlings was in charge, the economy hit rock bottom. The period is called the "Rawlings necklace" after the way starved Ghanaians' collarbones became visible.

'Dreams of people'

To this day, Ghana's economy still limps along, and a third of our people live on less than a dollar a day.

We were once rich in timber, diamonds and gold and the world's top exporter of cocoa. Not today.

John Kufuor
President John Kufuor is generally considered a stable force
"Cocoa is seasonal so we have long periods of poverty," says cocoa farmer William Korampong.

"After paying my debts there is no money to send the children to school or pay for food. Get the government to process cocoa here and not abroad - then there would be more money in our pockets."

Fifty years after independence, it is now that Ghanaian - and African - renewal must begin.

Ghana's head of state in this jubilee year is John Kufuor - generally considered a stable force.

He says Ghana has not achieved the dreams of 1957.

"Perhaps it is an endless journey to pursue the dreams of people," he explains.

"The objective with which we entered independence was to become viable and prosperous.

"But since independence we've had a chequered history... it has taken us a while to come back to the original aspirations.

"We have moved along the track a small way but we have a long way to go."

And his words are echoed by Nkrumah's son Gamal, who says that it is not only Ghana's battle that continues, but Africa's.

"Pan-Africanism never took off as such, but that does not mean it is too late for it to take off," he says.

"Because part of Kwame Nkrumah's popularity today is his call for pan-Africanism, people instinctively know it is the only way forward for the continent."

Part Two of Ghana, Winds Of Change is broadcast on BBC World Service on Monday 5 March at 0930 GMT.


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