Monday, March 12, 2012

Ghana Turns 55!

On March 6, 1957, Ghana became a free country; not only a free country, but the FIRST former colony to be freed in Africa. Fifty-five years. That’s really not a long time at all. When you learn about colonialism in school, it seems like something that happened so long ago. (It is history, after all.) So sometimes I forget how recent all of Ghana’s history really is.

Just for fun, let’s travel back in time for a, to when America was turning 55. This puts us at what, 1831? I’m a little sleepy for math. So 55 years after the US becomes independent from Britain (just like Ghana), we were a mere 24 states, predominantly a rural country, and Mr. Andrew Jackson was our President. Darwin began his voyage on board HMS Beagle. Nat Turner was captured, arrested, and hung for inciting bloody slave revolts. Oil lamps were the most popular form of lighting, as gas lamps were only available in cities. Corn husking and, quilting-bees were the height of entertainment, but of course sewing machines did not exist at this point. And the price of pantaloons went up ten-fold! (Ok that last one I made up...)

I’m not necessarily trying to make a point with any of this, but I think it adds an interesting perspective. This is what happens when I’m trying to blog whilst I’m really just too tired to do so.

Anyway, back to Ghana turning 55.

Like most independence celebrations, one of the main activities is a parade. Fortunately I have one co-worker who was willing to go with me. So, at seven in the morning, we trudged down to Independence Square for the annual parade. The parade itself doesn’t start until nine, but in order to get a seat, you’ve got to get there early.

First on the list of festivities is the processional is every branch of the armed forces imaginable marching through and lining up in the square, followed by groups of students from a select few Accra schools, all while the marching band plays in the background.

After everyone is lined up, a motorcade of vehicles brings in major political figures, like the former President, the Vice President, and finally, the President himself. After they are all seated in the front, the band plays some more, marches around, and does some fancy baton twirling. One of the conductors dropped his baton, causing the whole crowd to gasp.

Then everyone rises while national anthem is played. From there, the President gives his keynote address. I honestly don’t know what the President’s speech was about. He is very soft spoken to begin with, but, according to rumors, he also has throat cancer, which makes him even harder to understand. When the President finished his speech, he got into the back of an open vehicle and drove through the lines of people who paraded in, to end up in the front of the square, where he got down and lit the goblet of fire. (Clearly I don’t know what it’s actually called.) But it is supposed to represent the flame/spirit of Ghana’s independence.

After the President is safely back in his seat, the “special forces” march through, which are basically the front lines of the army and navy. Side note—the navy has a sense of humor. Its hard to tell in the pictures, but they have snorkel masks on their heads, and flippers attached to their backpacks. Once the special forces are lined up, all of the vehicles of the various armed forces drive through the square: tanks, bazooka-looking cars, fire engines..etc.

I asked my coworker why there’s so much focus on the military, and he said that Independence Day is a chance for Ghana to show the rest of the world that they are capable of handling their own affairs. He also pointed to a number of large ships just off the coast of the square, who were supposedly protecting Ghana from being bombed? :/ My coworker told me that recently, Ghana recognized Kosovo as an independent state, which made Serbia angry. But personally I think Serbia bombing Ghana is extremely unlikely. I need to start following Ghanaian newspapers…

Ok, time for a horse tangent, because I was dying of laughter at several points during the ceremony because the horses were ridiculous. There were three horses involved in the ceremony. One of them, who was stationed next to a line of soldiers, kept backing up into the line of people. This happened several times, before someone was commissioned to come hold the horse still. About mid-way through the ceremony, they switched that one horse out for another, who did stand quietly, but also refused to move forward with the soldiers where they started marching again. The poor same guy who had to hold the last horse had to come out and chase the new horse to make it move. It was hilarious! I had summer camp flashbacks. Ghana needs a new horse trainer.

But back to the ceremony. After the armored vehicles make their rounds, canons are fired from behind the Independence arch, located at the top of the square. The everyone who marched in, had to march back out again. Two things I found particularly interesting: 1.Despite all of the police, army, navy..etc, present and marching, there was not a single security checkpoint to get in. Even though the president was there. 2. More people cheered for the former President than they did for the current President.

Just to prove I was there :)

After the morning festivities, since it’s a national holiday and no one goes to work, most people go to the beach to relax. I went to the beach for a while, but I have some friends who are part of a theater group, and they were putting on a performance in honor of independence day, so I went to that in the evening. The show was called, “Nkrumah in Love,” Nkrumah being the first President of Ghana. (I think the title is a play-off of “Shakespeare in Love”, but I’ve never seen that movie so I have no idea if the entire show was a parallel.)

The play was a satirical representation of the life of Kwame Nkrumah, starting with his declaring Ghana a free country at the Accra Polo Grounds. Most of the humor comes from the fact that everyone seems to have a different opinion of Nkrumah, which was also true in real life. Was he a liberator? An intellectual? A pan-African leader? A socialist? The show continually contrasted Nkrumah with people from different stratas of society, like the British nationals, the educated “elite,” the common people, and the military. Everyone did a great job--It was a pretty funny show.

Ok, I think this post is getting to be too long, and I am sufficiently tired. Quarterly training starts tomorrow, so I really need to get some sleep!

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