Monday, March 5, 2007
The week when Freedom came
THE celebrations of independence week were designed to build up, through a series of memorable scenes, to the central drama of the State Opening of Parliament.
First there was the scene along the route from the airport to Accra, on 2nd March, where the merry crowds, which included 40,000 school-children, had assembled on the roadside before dawn, to welcome Her Majesty’s special representative and to celebrate the third royal visit to the Gold Coast of the last thirty-two years.
The previous royal visitors – the Prince of Wales and Princess Marie-Louise, in 1925 – had landed by surf-boat jerkily. Today, the Duchess of Kent landed smoothly out of a friendly sky, on to the airport of a Gold Coast where history itself had taken scene was staged by the Accra Municipal Council, who had prepared a traditional welcome for Her Royal Highness.
A great silence of wonder fell upon the welcoming crowds as the Chief Priest of the Ga people poured libation to the Almighty God and to the ancient goods Nai (god of the sea), Sakumo Korlete (god of the River Sakumo) and Na Korle Aboyo (goddess of the Korle Lagoon) and spoke the words:
We welcome into our midst you, Duchess of Kent, representative of our Queen, and all here with us today.
We pray that God may give His blessing to your Royal Highness and to Nii Tackie Kome II, whose reign has seen this country’s rise to fame and glory under the wise leadership of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
May this come to pass.
Then, turning to face the East, the priest uttered the concluding prayer.
Here, in the broad expanse from Langma, south-west of Accra, through Obutu Apla to the Volta flowing past Ada, we assemble today. For the purpose of this ceremony.
As we say this prayer, wishing well to all do we also offer it for any evil-minded person who wishes harm to us in future?
Sharp yelps of ‘No! No! No! from the attendants, followed by a prolonged cry of ‘Shame’, which was directed towards the ‘any evil-minded person’ in question.
Then the chiefs of The Ga State and the councilors of the Accra Municipal Council with their wives, were presented to Her Royal Highness by the Ga Mantse, the President of the Council. The crown bubbled with amusement as the Duchess of Kent embarked on the conversation, in universal baby-language, with a councilor’s nine-months-old son, who was securely lodged in the small of his mother’s back.
After the Royal Salute, by the Royal Marines, the drums began to speak again, and the princely cavalcade, escorted by the Northern Territories’ Constabulary, rolled on towards Christiansborg Castle.
The afternoon was given to the races. This how Moses Danquah described the scene:
There was glamour galore; there was elegance of fashion, there was the spirit of unrestrained appeal to the god of chance, without which race meetings lose their traditional appeal, and, above all, was the dignified poise and warm bonhomie of Her Royal Highness.
The next day was Sunday. At the massed religious service in Accra Sports Stadium, Her Royal Highness heard the Rev. C.G. Baeta, Chairman of the Christian Council of Ghana, and Senior Lecturer in Theology, University College of Ghana, say:
Particularly at this time we would remember, with humble thanksgiving, that noble army of missionaries of the Gospel who, in selfless devotion, penetrated the deepest recesses of our land and of the lives of its peoples, bringing in the light of God, the light by which now we live; the men and women who, by kindling the fire of, education and true enlightenment at such an early stage in our history, secured once and for all that the vision of this day which we now celebrate, should never be lost…
I am convinced it is not merely because one more nation is coming into being that most of our honoured guests are with us here today. We are only a small nation. The real reason why they are here is to celebrate another great triumph of the human spirit…
We are a nation born with a mission. The point is to plain that nobody can miss it, and we rightly proclaim our acceptance of this assignment by panting in the middle of our national flag the lodestar of hope for all the black peoples of Africa. By the gifts, which we have received, by the very fact of our own emergence, through God’s grace, we know that we are invited, nay, challenged, to co-operate in God’s work of redeeming His people in this continent today.
We are to demonstrate to our fellows, not with high words, but with the quality of our national life, that indeed it is a good and a necessary thing to be a free people, that in fact God has given black Africans also, as he had given everybody else, the capacity to attain the full stature of man, and means us to exercise it; that unless and until we have experienced the trills and the travails of full and final responsibility for ourselves, under God, we have not tasted life as He intends adult human beings to know it…
But if, as the Rev. C.G. Baeta emphasized, much remained to do, much also had been done in recent years. And something of what had been done was witnessed, same evening, by the Duchess of Kent, when the attended the Premiere of the Ghana Film Unit’s new film, Work in Progress.
This, as the Hon. Ako Adjei, the Minister of the Interior, explained, was a production designed to give a bird’s-eye-view of developments in six different parts of Ghana, for the benefit of those who would not have the opportunity to go round the country themselves, It was preceded by a shorter documentary film, which gave a heartening picture of the way in which the villagers of Bamiri had set themselves to carve a better communal life for themselves out of the heart of the forests of Ashanti.
The following day, Monday, began with visits by the Duchess to Korle-Bu Hospital and to the Accra Library, and rose to a climax with the Ceremony of National Welcome in the Stadium.
There, Her Royal Highness inspected the last great parade of the Gold Coast military forces. Standing alone in her Land Rover, she drove slowly down the ranks, while the minutes ticked on towards Independence. Farewell, come the day after tomorrow, to the Gold Coast military forces! Long live the military forces of Ghana!
The historic inspection was over. After the precision drilling and the debonair marching of the Gold Coast Regiment, the spectators were suddenly whisked back into history with the apparition, in the centre of the stadium, of the traditional drummer and dancers. But no sooner had the drums began to speak and the dancers to dance that three Valiant Jet bombers of the Royal Air Force and a flight of Neptune aircraft of the Royal Australian into the slip-stream of the twentieth century.
The twentieth century was present in all its splendour at the State Banquet held at the Ambassador Hotel that same evening, where 500 of the most distinguished citizens of Ghana and the world heard Her Majesty’s representative tell how deeply moved she had been by the overwhelming warmth of her reception. They heard her speak, too, of her one regret:
If I have felt any disappointment, it is because I have been unable to include visits to Ashanti, the Northern Territories, and Togoland.
These are regions I am sad to have missed, since they would have given me a fuller, wider, picture of your country as a whole.
The morning of Tuesday 5th March, the beginning of the last full day before Independence. Now, the tempo of the ceremonies has quickened:- list of the Duchess’s engagements reads breathlessly:
9.30 … HRH arrives, at University College for Convocation
10.10 … HRH leaves for the Museum
10.35 … HRH arrives at the Museum
10.50 … HRH leaves
12.05 … HRH arrives at the War Memorial
12.15 … HRH arrives at the Supreme Court
1.00 … HRH leaves the Supreme Court
4.00 … HRH arrives at the Regatta
5.15 … HRH leaves the Regatta
7.00 … HRH arrives at the National Monument
7.15 … HRH leaves
10.00 … HRH arrives at the Speaker’s Reception
10.35 … HRH leaves the Speaker’s Reception
Even for British royalty, who are accustomed to a sixty-hour week and are not unacquainted with overtime, this is a long day’s work. But the Duchess looks as buoyant at the Speaker’s Reception at 10 o’clock in the evening as she has looked, in her crimson robes, in University College, before 10 o’clock, where, addressing the Principal, David Balme, she said:
I share your enthusiasm for the great adventure on which you are all engaged, and I am deeply impressed by the ideals, which this University College has set before itself. Like Dr. Aggrey’s eagle, they soar high – and that is as it should be.
At the Supreme Court, the Duchess is welcomed by the Chief Justice, Sir Arku Korsah, in these words:
At long last, the battle has ended.
And thus Ghana, our beloved country,
Is free for ever
As Ghana moves forward to a fuller membership of the Commonwealth, we regard your visit to this country as eloquent testimony that the friendship between Great Britain and this country will continue in fuller measure after the Independence State of Ghana is established.
We are deeply conscious of the obligations which devolve upon us as the guardians of the rights and liberties of the people of Ghana.
To this, the Duchess replies:
The Rule of Law is vital to the freedom and orderly progress of any society, it is a mighty tree, which shades and protects all those many lands which share the tradition of the English Bar, and I have no doubt that that tree, and those splendid traditions, will ever continue to flourish under your care.
The solemnity of the day’s ceremonies is punctuated, during the afternoon, by the roaring excitement of the regatta. The zest and gusto of the canoe-crews in the padding races and the surf-boat races, and the effervescence of their supporters on the shore, leads up to an epoch-making occasion and to a total change of mood: The unveiling of the National Monument.
Here, near the spot at Christiansborg cross-roads which remains forever tender in the memory of all who worked and struggled for independence, the Duchess lights up the arch inscribed with the glittering words Freedom and Justice, She says:
There are no more potent words in the English language that the words Freedom and Justice. Without freedom of thought, of speech, and of worship, Justice becomes meaningless; a soul-less and tyrannical adjustment of difference, between a State and its subjects, or between one man and another its subjects, or between one man and another a rational and impartial system of Justice, Freedom can quickly become a licence to pursue selfish interests without thought of God, of lawful authority, or of one’s fellow-men.
The arch glows out, strong and white and simple, in the silent dusk. A child’s voice in the hushed crowd breaks the silence: ‘How many hours to Freedom’? In a resounding whisper, his mother’s voice replies, ‘Not very many, now’.
By way of confirmation, the sky suddenly blossoms into clusters of coloured flame – the Roman Candles of Independence.
As midnight approaches, the centre of gravity moves towards the Legislative Assembly. After the reception held by the Speaker, Sir Emmanuel Quist, the members gather in the chamber to assist in the ceremony of Prorogation, and to hear a major policy statement by the Prime Minister.
Mr. Speaker, how solemn it is that we, representatives of the people, are here tonight to witness the passing of the old days and the birth of the new days of freedom and independence.
For within the space of a minutes, our colonial association with Britain will disappear and our new association with the Commonwealth, based on absolute equality and friendship, will begin.
Let us join with the poet to say Ring out the Old, Ring in the New…
Outside the Assembly building, the people of the Gold Coast are massing to hail the moment when Ghana will be born.
Let the correspondent of the London Time describe the last scene inside the last Legislative Assembly.
The Prime Minister and some other Ministers were wearing Northern Territories smocks, the sign of the working man, and ‘prison graduates’ caps – such as are worn by convicts in the Gold Coast – with the letters PG embroidered in the front. Although Nkrumah and the Convention Peoples’ Party, it was also so obviously a night of triumph for the whole country, that any attempt to treat it as a party occasion was bound to fail. After the prorogation, the Government supporters chaired the Prime Minister in such exuberant fashion that they nearly brained him on the lintel of the doorway.
It is while the prorogation proceedings are still being concluded, and Members of the Assembly are still inside the building, that the midnight hour strikes. For the last time, the Union Flag is lowered; and the red, gold, green and black flag of Ghana unfolds.
A new state is born. And a new nation’s shout of triumph reaches towards the heavens. Out on the old Accra polo ground the crowds now await their Emancipator.
Flanked, on the rostrum, by his old comrades-in-the-struggle, K.A. Gbedemah, Kojo Botsio, A. Casely Hayford and Ako Adjei, Kwame Nkrumah speaks for Ghana.
At long last, the battle has ended. And thus Ghana, our beloved country, is free for ever.
History is made this night.
Daily Graphic - Monday, March 5, 2007 Pages: 28 & 30