YES, WE SHOULD CELEBRATE REPUBLIC DAY
Ghana achieved republic status 50 years ago on July 1, setting it as a fully independent nation in the global community of the nations. Many Ghanaians last year could not answer the question of the meaning of republic day. Some took a break to celebrate at jams and beach parties but expressed utter confusion at why Republic Day is a holiday at all.
Ghanaians must be excused for their lack of understanding about Republic Day. Decades separate most Ghanaians from the time of Gold Coast and the importance of making that great leap to being a republic. Prior to being a republic those of the Gold Coast were not celebrating their own nation while dancing at jams, but might have been dancing around the ‘maypole’ on the colonial ‘empire day’. More than a few of the Gold Coasters often complained about being forced to celebrate ‘empire day’, a time when children marched and saluted the flag of the colonial empire and sang the British song to honour the Queen of England, whilst dancing around a pole.
The transition to the Republic of Ghana, 50 years ago was more than a merely a change in venue and music for parties, though. The importance of becoming a republic gave the first Republic Day a sober and solemn air. Though the streets were decorated with the national colours and the black stars erected on platforms across the new country, the time was quite different from Independence Day that had occurred on the 6th of March, three years prior.
Independence had set out Ghana’s intention to become its own country, and marked only the beginning of a longer transition to full nationhood. Ghana’s official Head of State after independence in effect remained the Queen, ruling now through the Governor-General rather than the Governor. Many of the symbols, used as those used by the National Assembly (Parliament of the time), remained British, despite having declared independence. Other British practice continued, as well, such as donning of wigs in the National Assembly and courts, according to old –fashioned British Tradition. In many respects, the influence of the British Empire remains evident and visible, though the country was no longer called the Gold Coast.
In a republic, the supreme belongs to the citizens, who are entitled to vote for representatives who then make laws and govern through government machinery. In a republic, the head of government is not a monarch or any other person who receives their right to rule by birth and inheritance. Because there is no right to rule that is inherited, passed through generations in the same family, those living in a republic a born with equality. In a republic, there is no single person that has a ‘divine’ right to rule. Power ultimately rest with the people.
No one is born with a higher status or entitled by family name to greater importance in a republic, but all people in republic share the common responsibility of steering the government. They do this through a universal right to vote and choose the members of government. A key part of being a republic is that all citizens are entitled by birth to vote for their own government and representatives.
Such ‘popular’ control of state also gave the citizens a new responsibility. Perhaps the reason for Ghana’s serious mode in celebrating parliament its republic status is found in honouring this responsibility. Citizens of Ghana become responsible for their own welfare, once the country made a transition to republic status. Indeed, the name republic comes from a Latin term meaning public affair. The welfare of the nation is a public affair, because it is the responsibility of the public to vote for those who are deemed best to represent them. And best able to look after their well-being as a society. Choosing a government is an important responsibility, one that was not taking lightly by Ghanaians who had just emerged from a long period of oppression by leaders not of their choosing.
Ghana surely celebrated the first Republic Day, in part, to signify the end of a monarch ruling a former colony, which was reason for banquets and dances. And surely it continued to be a reason to celebrate with our jams and parties. But more so, the leaders of 50 years ago also sought to recognize the beginning of the responsibility of each Ghanaian: born equal under the constitution so equally sharing in the well-being of the all those who made up the ‘public’. This continued to be part of our history to celebrate.
The new republic of Ghana instituted its own awards on the first Republic Day. The first republic of Ghana wanted to reward excellence, dedication and hard, selfless, work. On Republic Day, we reflect back and ask ourselves, as a nation, if we have honoured our responsibilities as a republic. To have a strong republic, we must ask ourselves if we have gone beyond merely using our right to vote for a government, but also if we have held officials accountable, and ensured that the entire population of the republic has benefited from our common actions.
This is likely why Ghana has developed its own tradition of honouring senior citizens on Republic Day. We use the Republic as a time to honour those senior citizens who have indeed contributed to the building of a strong republic, in the various disciplines of national development.
-Information Services Department.