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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 March 2007, 16:59 GMT
Ghana hosts 50th birthday party
By Alexis Akwagyiram
BBC News, Accra, Ghana

A woman in Accra waves a makeshift Ghanaian flag
Ghana's capital is awash with the colours of the Black Star flag
The most striking aspect of Ghana's independence celebrations has been the ubiquity of three colours - red, gold and green.

The hues, which along with a black star make up the nation's flag, can be seen virtually everywhere.

Flags have been draped from most buildings, across car bonnets and on lampposts, while the three hues can also be seen on wristbands, trees, T-shirts, and, in some cases, face and body paint.

Amidst this multi-coloured backdrop, revellers took to the streets to welcome their country's birthday at midnight on 6 March.

Thousands crammed into Independence Square, in the centre of the capital, Accra, for a re-enactment of the declaration of independence from Britain complete with colourfully dressed traditional dancers, drummers and a recital of Kwame Nkrumah's famous speech in 1957.

As a lavish fireworks display lit up the sky shortly after midnight, revellers weaved a rich tapestry of sounds consisting of cheers, laughter, whistles, car horns and the steady beat of drums.

'Today is the high point'

And those with enough space to move danced to the highlife and hiplife music being pumped out from giant speakers as a concert to mark the event attracted music fans in the party mood.

The celebrations continued after sunrise, with thousands of people attending an official parade at Independence Square.

Victoria Nun and boyfriend TJ
I was born here, I have grown with the country and I'll die here. I love Ghana
Victoria Nun, 21
Accra

The event, attended by President John Kufuor, included a military parade, troupes of dancers clad in traditional cloths and an air display by of military planes.

In his official address, President Kufuor said: "Today is the high point of the year-long celebration of Ghana's independence anniversary.

"This is a celebration not only for Ghana, but also the whole of Africa."

The president said the independence of 1957 had changed the "role and status" of the continent forever. And he paid homage to Kwame Nkrumah, who led the country out of colonial rule.

"Long live Ghana and long live Africa," he concluded to rapturous applause.

And Nigeria's President Olusegun Obasanjo, who was one of the guests of honour, said he was keen to join his "brothers in Ghana" to celebrate the "glorious occasion".

'Happy birthday'

Neither the equatorial heat, nor the many hours of intense celebrations, could sap the enthusiasm from revellers on the city's streets.

Mama Tamtasi
Some are happy to now have new memories to add their old ones

Victoria Nun, 21, from Winneba, said the day made her "proud to be a Ghanaian".

Draped in a Ghana flag, Miss Nun, who braided her hair red, gold and green to mark the occasion, said: "Ghana is a free country. We can do anything we want, wherever we want and there are no wars here.

"I was born here, I have grown with the country and I'll die here. I love Ghana."

Her sentiments were echoed by her boyfriend, TJ, who began chanting the country's name - a simple mantra of "Ghana, Ghana" which was quickly picked up by passers-by.

Meanwhile, Mama Tamtasi, 64, who runs a coffee shop, has spent the day welcoming customers by wishing them "Happy birthday".

"I have been celebrating for months and today is very special," she said, by way of explanation.

Stressing her joy at having new memories to add to her dim ones of independence in 1957, she went on: "I'm seeing my fellow countrymen enjoying themselves and this is making me happy."

Sense of unity

In the city's streets strangers have broken into spontaneous cheers, while pockets of people dancing and waving flags, backed by a soundtrack provided by car radios, can be found when least expected.

Thomas Tetteh
Everyone has forgotten about their political or tribal differences and are concentrating on what Ghana has achieved
Thomas Tetteh

In the early hours, shortly after fireworks marked the start of the anniversary, Thomas Tetteh, 32, a marketing researcher from Accra, said the celebrations and the build-up to the anniversary had brought a sense of "unity" to the country.

"It is very important to celebrate our heroes and this has brought people together," he said. "Everyone has forgotten about their political or tribal differences and they are simply concentrating on what Ghana has achieved. People are celebrating all over the country.

"At the moment you can't tell a person's political allegiance. It is great for the country - I wish this spirit could last forever."

He added that he was looking forward to celebrating the country's centenary one day.

Taking stock

In the spirit of national unity described by Mr Tetteh, Ama Owusu and her husband Kamara made the three hour bus journey from Kumasi to Accra to take part in the celebrations.

Ama Owusu and her husband Kamara
Some revellers saved for months to make the trip to the capital

Mrs Owusu, 22, a market trader, said she and her husband had saved for the trip and had been looking forward to it for months and had not been disappointed by the spectacle of a celebration in full swing.

Even though many have been united by their sense of euphoria, the reasons for their excitement differed.

Saadiya Appiah felt there was a deeper meaning to the independence anniversary than it being an outpouring of patriotic fervour.

She said it was important for Ghana and the rest of the world to take stock of the country's achievements over the last 50 years.

"This event, and the fact that we were the first sub-Saharan African country to become free, makes me proud to be a Ghanaian. This is a historic moment," she said.

The 26-year-old quantity surveyor went on: "We are developing in terms of infrastructure - our hospitals and schools are better than they were a few years ago, and we have made great progress since '57. This is a great way to mark our advancement."

'Waste of money'

But not everyone was convinced that the lavish celebrations, which included visits by more than 20 heads of state, have been worthwhile.

Saadiya Appiah
Some felt there should have been a limit on government spending

The $20m (10.4m; 15.2m euros) spent by the Ghanaian authorities on the commemorations is a source of frustration for Tariq Ademu.

"I haven't enjoyed the celebrations as much as everyone else because I think it is a waste of money - $20m is a lot of money," said the 33-year-old aircraft mechanic.

"That money could have been spent on more worthwhile things which could have had lasting benefits, such as improving schools and hospitals.

"A lot of people don't have regular electricity and water supplies, yet so much money is being spent on a party. It doesn't make sense."

And, despite her enthusiasm for the ethos behind the anniversary celebrations, Miss Appiah agreed.

"It is important to mark our development, especially when the world is watching, but the money spent overall has been excessive," she said.

"The money could have been channelled into other areas to help the country to develop more. It is important to celebrate, but there should have been a limit."


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