Independence Day is an official state holiday celebrated by the Ghanaian people and the Ghanaian diaspora, which is celebrated on March 6. Independence Day marks the declaration of independence from the United Kingdom by Prime Minister Kwame Nkrumah on 6 March 1957.
On 6 March 1957, Ghana, under the leadership of Kwame Nkrumah, gained independence from British rule, ending decades of white minority dominance. Ghana played a central role in the decolonisation of Africa. The country’s independence was significant for the continent as it resembled the collective strength of the African spirit, and served as a precedent for many African countries to break free from the clutches of colonial rule.
The country celebrates 62 years of freedom, we take a look at the significance of this milestone and a few things to know about the country’s Independence Day.
Ghana has long been celebrated as the model for African progress and development. Ghana has long been revered by institutions in the Global North as the poster child for economic success, anti-imperialism, stability and democracy in Africa. This has meant that it has been historically promoted (and propped) as a leader on the continent by countries such as the United States – it is the only sub-Saharan country that Barack Obama has visited as a sitting president. It is also a country celebrated within the continent for being at the center of the liberation struggle and therefore holds a special place in pan-African history. Ghana’s position in the global world order and political economy aids to sustain the myth that Ghana was the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence. Many people would rather celebrate Ghana’s successes then question the validity of its distinctions.
There is no denying that Ghana’s independence was significant for the continent because of the central role Ghana and Kwame Nkrumah played in the liberation struggles across the continent. Ghanians are understandably proud of their role in the decolonization process and the legacy of Nkrumah. Many of them take the position that Ghana was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence and celebrate Ghana’s independence on March 6, 1957. Few Ghanians and their allies acknowledge that the African country of Sudan gained independence almost a year earlier, on January 1, 1956. Technically speaking, South Africa gained their independence even decades before both Ghana and Sudan. In a more accurate timeline, African countries received their independence in the following order:
26 July 1847
2. South Africa
31 May 1910
28 February 1922
5 May 1941
24 December 1951
1 January 1956
2 March 1956
20 March 1956
6 March 1957
In spite of the claims made by editors, journalists and history books, Ghana was neither the first African nation to gain Independence nor the first sub-Saharan African nation to do so. The narratives of the continent need to be both accurate and clear. The decolonization process was a continent wide movement that did not discriminate between North and South. The entire continent wanted to rid itself from the system of colonialism. Africa and the rest of the world need to remember the African decolonization process first and foremost as a continental movement. In other words, it should be more important to distinguish the first African nation to receive independence because that country’s independence had an effect on the entire continent’s independence movements.
Although Ghana’s distinction as the first Black African nation in Africa to be independent is important as well, we need to consider that some distinctions contribute to continued ethnic based divisions on the continent because they are influenced by geo-politics. There should be no North-South distinction for the purpose of political or social accolades on the continent. Africa’s decolonization was not an isolated movement and Africans need to tell this story in its totality. As Nkrumah noted on Ghana’s independence, “…Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of Africa.” Likewise, it should be said that Africa’s independence narratives are meaningless unless they are linked up with the liberation movement of the entire continent.
The Politics of the Independence Movements
Although political organisations had existed in the British colony, the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) was the first nationalist movement with the aim of self-government ” in the shortest possible time”. Founded in August 1947 by educated Africans such as J.B. Danquah, A.G. Grant, R.A. Awoonor-Williams, Edward Akufo Addo (all lawyers except for Grant, who was a wealthy businessman), and others, the leadership of the organisation called for the replacement of Chiefs on the Legislative Council with educated persons.
For these political leaders, traditional governance, exercised largely via indirect rule, was identified with colonial interests and the past. They believed that it was their responsibility to lead their country into a new age. They also demanded that, given their education, the colonial administration should respect them and accord them positions of responsibility. As one writer on the period reported, “The symbols of progress, science, freedom, youth, all became cues which the new leadership evoked and reinforced”. In particular, the UGCC leadership criticised the government for its failure to solve the problems of unemployment, inflation, and the disturbances that had come to characterise the society at the end of the war.
The annual Independence Day celebration is invariably marked by a range of festivities across the country. The day is highlighted by street parties and a national parade of schoolchildren and security personnel at the Black Star Square in the capital Accra. Every year, the president delivers a speech of solidarity to Ghanaians.
Celebrations also take place in different parts of the world where Ghanaians have found a second home.