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What does freedom mean in an African context? Can a country be free when 75% of its budget is provided by donors? Not necessarily, but this does not mean that the achievement of Ghana’s independence in 1957 is not worth celebrating. It does mean however that there is still much work to be done.

On 6 March 2007, Ghana will celebrate its 'Golden Jubilee', frequently referred to as 'Ghana at 50'— fifty years' independence from their colonial oppressors, Britain. The ancestors have blessed me with the opportunity to bear witness to this momentous event. Although I am an African (or black) American, like many North American and Caribbean blacks, I consider the African continent to be my spiritual home. I have travelled to seven West African countries. I am a pan-African in terms of sentiment, by which I mean that I advocate the operational unity of black/African people all over the world in our individual and collective interests.

In my country of birth, the United States, black people as a group are still, in my assessment, second-class citizens. Far too many of us continue to be victimised by police brutality, a racist criminal (in)justice system, sub-standard schools, inadequate health care and housing. It is for this reason that I do not celebrate American Independence Day on 4 July 1776. I do not salute the American flag, nor do I sing the American national anthem. I protest not because I am anti-American or unpatriotic but, rather, because I am principled. The black American freedom fighter Frederick Douglass asked over a century ago, 'What to the slave is your Fourth of July?' Due, primarily, to the prodigious struggles of our ancestors, black Americans are no longer enslaved. But we are still unfree. It is from the standpoint of an unfree, so-called, African American who has travelled back-and-fourth to Ghana since 1997 that I offer my personal perspective on the significance of Ghana’s Independence Day celebrations.

Fifty years ago, Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah, in his Declaration of Independence speech, exclaimed that, 'Ghana, your beloved country, is free forever!' 'Freedom', however, can be fleeting thing. Is Ghana free today? What precisely do we mean by 'freedom in Ghana? Perhaps what is, I think, most instructive and ironic and about the Ghana at 50 celebrations is that the Ghanaian government is forced to rely on western donors, most notably Britain, to fund them. It makes one wonder in what ways exactly Ghana, and by extension Africa, is truly free? And, for that matter, what can freedom mean for Ghanaians when more than 70 per cent of the central government’s budget is provided by Euro-western donors? Well for starters, and this is perhaps the most disturbing irony of all, some (but not all) Ghanaian scholars and politicians are forced to uncritically accept British interpretations of the transatlantic slave trade, colonialism, and its consequences. True independence would mean that Africans had the freedom to interpret their past from the perspective of Africans rather than Euro-westerners (white people).

Here in Ghana it has become something of a fashion for Ghanaian analysts to compare Ghana’s progress as a nation with that of Malaysia, which also gained independence in 1957. In every instance that the comparison is raised, the Ghanaian commentator reaches the inevitable conclusion that by the Malaysian yard stick, Ghana comes up short in every major indicator of human and economic development (infant mortality, life expectancy, GDP). I have always been somewhat sceptical of the usefulness of these sorts of comparisons. After all, the post-colonial social, political, and economic challenges of Ghana and Malaysia respectively would have been very different.

If, however, one were bent on comparisons, another instructive juxtaposition would be with the first sub-Saharan nation to break free from colonialism: Sudan. That’s right Sudan. It is frequently reported that Ghana was the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence, but Sudan, having gained independence on 1 January 1956, had roughly a 14 month head start on Ghana. I suspect that this historical slight might have something do with the fact that Sudan is dominated by Afro-Arabs—or, to put it bluntly, due to its political and cultural ties with the Arab world, some folks tend not to count Sudan in the club of 'black African' nations. This perception raises all sorts of important questions about the politics of African identity. What is important to note for this purpose is that the Khartoum regime and the southern Sudanese rebels have only in the last few years negotiated a (very shaky) resolution ending what was one of the longest and most neglected conflicts on the African continent. More recently, the Darfurian region of western Sudan is in the throes of a humanitarian disaster, which some international observers are calling genocide. Consequently, the lives of ordinary Darfurians are extremely precarious as they continue to be squeezed by rebel groups on one side and nomadic militias (so-called 'Janjaweed'), allegedly backed by Khartoum, on the other.

Ghana for its part has experienced four military coups (at least one of which featured US and British intelligence agencies as co-conspirators), sporadic instances of state-sponsored violence, and a severe recession in the early 1980s. But, unlike Sudan, Ghanaians have never known the ravages and devastation of civil war. Ghana is today, despite the historical volatility of its central government and deep political divisions between the two major political parties, the National Democratic Convention (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP), a relatively stable nation. While it could be proven empirically, I am of the opinion at this stability has something to do with Kwame Nkrumah’s tireless efforts to propagate pan-African nationalism.

What is incontrovertible, however, is that Ghana’s independence was an achievement of Ghanaian elites, the likes of Kwame Nkrumah and J.B. Danquah, Afro-westerners such as W.E.B. Du Bois and Marcus and Amy Jacques Garvey, and thousands of well known and lesser known black diasporan radicals who identified with the African anti-colonial struggle. Most importantly, Ghana’s independence was accomplished by ordinary Gold Coasters (Ghanaians) who refused to abandon their dignity even when faced with the most overwhelming odds. In other words, Ghanaian independence was a pan-African accomplishment of great significance. This history, I suspect, is well known to many of the readers of this article.

What is less known is that the currents of revolutionary inspiration that fuelled the struggle against racial subordination did not flow in one direction across the Atlantic. Ghanaian independence specifically, and the African independence struggle generally, had concrete implications for the US black freedom movement. First and foremost, the example of Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah heading up an African nation and encouraging blacks of the diaspora to 'return' to the African continent invigorated the black American anti-racist struggle. Why, for example, are so few of us taught in school about Martin Luther King’s visit to Ghana in 1957 for Ghana’s independence ceremonies? Why are we never taught about the tremendous impact this experience had on King’s thinking? Why do we know so little about Malcolm X’s two visits to Ghana? Most importantly of all, why are we never taught that the US government viewed African American and continental African cooperation as a threat to 'national interests' (i.e. a threat to the interests of white elites and their non-elite and/or non-white collaborators), and took concrete steps to undermine this perceived threat?

I raise these questions because they are crucial if we are ever to be truly free and independent. Although we have made huge strides, we Africans are not yet in control of our destiny. Freedom and independence must be consistently demanded, tenaciously fought for, jealously guarded, and vigorously defended. I am not an Afro-pessimist. There is rarely a day that passes here in Ghana when I am not inspired by the graciousness, optimism, creativity, and resilience of Ghanaians. Indeed, my experiences have convinced me that, as John Kufuor, has affirmed, all is not 'doom and gloom' in Africa. Ghana and, as Kwame Nkrumah would have it, Africans generally, have much to celebrate. But there is still a massive amount of work to do. What will your contribution be?

* Brother Kwame Zulu Shabazz can be reached at: [email][email protected]

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