The words of Kwame Nkrumah, as he declared Ghana’s independence in 1957.
There's something about Ghana's 50th anniversary celebrations that makes me wish I was Ghanaian. My dad went to school in Ghana, developing a love for highlife music when he was at the University of Science and Technology in Kumasi. As a result of his dalliance with Ghanaian culture, he gave me the name “Kofi”, which means born on Friday. Oddly enough, it isn’t one of those African names that only certain members of your family call you, but never quite made the birth certificate. Kofi is on my birth certificate, in black and white.
I’ve always felt a strong affinity towards Ghana, and in the past, I’ve been mistaken for a Ghanaian. Some of the best adventures I had as a young’un were in Ghana. Between 1993 and 1998, I went to Ghana about twice a year. My school was in Lomé, in neighbouring Togo, and every half term, we’d rush off to Ghana. We’d pitch up at a beach resort in Kokrobite, spend all day swimming in the beach, getting sand in the unmentionable bits of our swimming costumes, and swallowing copious amounts of salty Atlantic water. There would always be someone who felt they were some human incarnation of a fish, and would swim away into the horizon, until only little black dots could be seen. Then a housemaster or housemistress - who were all Ghanaian, except for a couple of Brits - would bellow at the top of their lungs for us to come back to shore. The boys would laugh as the girls screeched whenever the tide took them towards the rocks that were crawling with crabs. If we weren’t swimming, we would be in Accra’s teeming markets, trying to buy the finest Reebok trainers which we couldn’t get in Nigeria.
At night, there was fish and fried plantain, or more specifically kelewele, kenkey and shitto. We had to adhere to some unwritten but obvious codes; boys were meant to stay in their rooms, and girls were meant to stay in theirs. But we were 15 and 16 year olds with raging hormones, which meant rules would be bent, and boundaries pushed. And in some instances, rules were shattered to pieces, and boundaries were erased. There was this girl, bless her heart… We’d spent the last couple of days of the trip together, with sparks flying like in a welder’s shop. That night, we had our own mistletoe moment, but under the clear Ghanaian moonlight. To quote Osgood Fielding III in Some Like it Hot, “Zowee!”
Sometimes, instead of Accra, we did Cape Coast, Elimna, Tema, Kumasi, Lake Volta. The slave forts at Cape Coast and Elmina Castle bring a tear to the most tear duct dried men. I’ll never forget the immaculate motorway between Tema and Accra, 50km of smooth uninterrupted tar. Or Tetteh Quarshie Circle, a roundabout to trump all roundabouts.
The first time I went to Ghana was in summer of 1991. My mama was having a conference, and it was a ridiculously long summer holiday because the Nigerian educations system had just changed from January – December school years to September – July. The summer had been one of globetrotting for me, starting the summer with a couple of weeks in Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, followed by Egypt and India. It was the last summer that I was eligible for half price tickets, my mum’s little boy would soon start paying adult fares. I’ll do this while I can afford it, my mum thought.
We travelled by road from Lagos, to the Seme border, Hilla Condji the conduit between Benin and Togo, and the Aflao border more or less in the heart of Lomé. Even though we were attending a high powered conference of which my mama was one of the chief organisers, my petit garcon self was very much appreciated and welcomed. I was given a delegate’s pass and also given responsibilities (don’t ask me what). Everyone called me by my Ghanaian name, which I was proud to tell them I had. “My name is Kofi”, is how I introduced myself. My mum never went to Ghana again without someone asking about Kofi – he must be a big boy now. He is…
My first trip to Ghana should have been much earlier. In the late 80s, our househelp, Aunty Comfort, was supposed to take me with her for a few days on her Christmas break. But Ghana Airways put an enormous spanner in our plans. We went to the airport everyday for three days, in an effort to get off the ground. It never happened, and so my first trip to Ghana was delayed for a few years.
Aunty Comfort was our househelp for much of my childhood, until she returned to Ghana to get married. She wasn’t just a househelp, she was family. She carried me as a child, she cooked for us, she helped me with my homework, she bathed me. My mama trusted her implicitly. I remember coming on holiday to London in the early eighties, with my tiny hand perched in Aunty Comfort’s. My mum would wave goodbye, and Aunty Comfort would look after me until we got to my uncle’s or aunt’s in London. When she was leaving, we all cried. My mum cried, Aunty Comfort cried. I cried.
One thing many Nigerians will never forget, as one of my friends put it, is the caning dished out by Ghanaian teachers across the land. No Nigerian education is complete without the shillelagh of a Ghanaian school or lesson teacher. My lesson teacher, Ditchfield Amegashie (a name to instil fear) carried his white switch in his briefcase. Teacher Ditch was as diligent as a cock at dawn. He always crowed.
At work, our instincts have been to become carping journalists, asking whether we’re just painting too much of a rosy picture about Ghana’s golden jubilee. But nothing can put a dampener on this party, nothing can rain on this parade. It’s a good time to be alive, to witness a milestone in Africa’s history. To mark the 50th anniversary of the country that started the cascade of decolonisation. In his independence speech, Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah said, “We again rededicate ourselves in the struggle to emancipate other countries in Africa; For our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent.”