Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

The vision of an independent state of Ghana

William Ofori-Atta

The 18th annual J.B. Danquah Memorial Lectures were held at the British Council Hall in Accra recently under the theme "Ghana - A Nation In Crisis". The lectures, organised by the Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences were given by Mr William Ofori-Atta, a founding member of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC). He was also one of the "Big Six" who were detained by the Colonial Government for their part in the Independence Struggle. The others were Dr Kwame Nkrumah, Dr J.B. Danquah, Mr Ako-Adjei, Mr Akuffo-Addo and Mr Obetsebi-Lamptey. We reproduce below Mr Ofori-Atta's lecture on "A Vision Of An Independent State Of Ghana" a result of many requests from people who have only read parts of the speech.
Mr Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I want to invite all of you to join me in thanking the Academy of Arts and Sciences for opening its distinguished and enviable platform for J.B. Danquah Memorial Lectures to me also, to me a Non-Academician, to me an old man soon, if the 1979 prophets are right, soon to be consigned and confined to one of the fast filling cemeteries, to wit, the Osu cemetery. This invitation enables me to play a part in these great and memor- able lectures which have won international fame for their scholarship and excellence.

The Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences, have, in their wisdom, decided that the memory of Danquah's life, thoughts, dreams, writings, and struggle for Ghana's independence and self-government deserved to live, should be kept alive through the generations to come. I am being called upon today to play a part in this worthy exercise on this exceedingly responsible platform. My one prayer is that my Lord may make me able to use this occasion for His own glory and for the blessing of His dear nation, Ghana.

I was at Dr Danquah's feet as his student for 37 years, from 1927 to January 1964 the last time I saw him alive. I was close to him at Kyebi: I was close to him at his press, The Times of West Africa, for I was a shareholder and a regular contributor of articles to his paper. I was with him at the Youth Conference and the United Gold Coast Convention. We were detained together in 1948 with four others, I served with him in the Legislative Assembly from 1951 to 1954 in opposi- tion to the CPP Government. I was his loving and admiring nephew.

I mention these facts only to authenticate my testimony about Dr Danquah. Three things about him stand out. He was a courageous man, fearless in attack and in defence; his passion for freedom was aglow with action, and was greatly inspiring; he dedicated himself to a total fight for the independence and self-government of Ghana without any thought of gain to himself or his relations. Above all he had an invincible love for Ghana, as his country and his home, Danquah, "the glory late" of Ghana is no more, but the Ghana for which he died lives. This month and year date the 20th anniversary of his death.

If Danquah had been alive through this Revolution, Flt-Lt. J.J. Rawlings would be receiving letters from him every moment. Probably Dr Kwesi Botchwey, the Secretary of Finance, and certainly Mr Justice D.F. Annan, one of the latest additions to the revolutionary PNDC would also be receiving letters. He would be writing to them concerning what was going wrong, what his fears and hopes were. But he is not.

I know I have a lot to answer for. I was one of the foundation members of the UGCC who led the nationalistic movement in the last stages of the struggle for independence. I was one of the people who went about the country to convince the doubting ones that life under a self-governing country would be better than life under the British rule. That is why you and I are still here in Ghana. This is our country. We are under a stern inescapable obliga- tion to our consciences, to our people, and to God, to live and be with our people in these trying times and for better and for worse until victory is won and liberty and peace and prosperity are restored and established in our land.

I have often been asked whether if I had known that self-government would lead us into the sort of life that has been ours since self-government, I would still have joined the struggle. I have suffered as much as any Ghanaian citizen. I have lived through the privations and the fears and the threats and doubts and disillusionments that have characterised our life for long periods since independence and self-government.

My answer has been a monotonous "Yes". We were all aware that all the great nations of the world, Great Britain, France, Japan, Germany, Canada, USA, USSR, Holland, had to pass through trials, many of which threatened to break and destroy the nation itself. Ghana could not be an exception. Some of them had gone through greater trials and messes than our own. Many of them, in fact all of them, are stronger and freer and more prosperous today because of those trials. What the others had done, Ghana too, by the grace of God, can do. But we must keep our heads. We must keep united. We must set our goals right. And we must have an inflexible will to succeed. And our God is true: With him we shall rebuild Ghana. My call at the end of these talks will be: Let us all rise up and build the broken walls of Ghana so that we no longer reproach.

I have been moved to talk to you under the theme: Ghana, A Nation In Crisis. I have given as the subject of my first talk "The Vision Of An Independent Sovereign State Of Ghana".

May I share with you some of the experiences that nursed me some fifty years ago into politics, that moved me to interest myself in the nationalist movement for independence. I went to Achimota School in 1929 and there was a popular hymn which the Scottish Headmaster nearly always chose for the end of term service. One verse reads:
Bring me my bow of burning gold
Bring me my arrow of desire,
Bring me my spear, O, clouds unfold,
Bring me my chariots of fire!
I will not cease from mental fight
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In Africa's green and pleasant land.
If the word "Jerusalem" is difficult for you, substitute the word "Ghana".

We will not cease from mental fight Nor shall our swords sleep in our hands, Till we have built our Ghana In Africa's green and pleasant land.

In God's plan there is no accident, he never makes a mistake. This hymn did not stand alone. There were Ephraim Amu's songs, particularly Yen Ara Y'asase ni "This land is ours". The best literal translation is "This our land belongs to us and to nobody else".

At our rallies and conferences we sang Mr Amu's song and sang a hymn written by a British imperialist, Rudyard Kipling. We sang it even though we were fighting against British imperialism. The words and their spirit suited our mood and our objectives.
Land of our birth we pledge to thee
Our love and toil in the years to be;
When we are grown and take our place
As men and women with our race.

Father in heaven, who lovest all,
Oh help thy children when they call
That they may build from age to age
An undefiled heritage.

Teach us to rule ourselves always
Controlled and cleanly night and day
That we may bring, if need arise,
No mained or worthless sacrifice

Teach us the strength that cannot seek
By deed or thought, to hurt the weak:
That, under thee, we may possess
Man's strength to succour man's distress.

Land of our birth, our faith, our pride,
For whose dear sake, our fathers died;
O motherland, we pledge to thee
Head, heart, and hand, through the year to be.
By these hymns we were solemnly dedicating ourselves to hard toil and sacrifices for the building of a new nation, Ghana. Mr Obetsebi Lamptey put his thoughts thus to a crowd at an Accra rally: "When we obtain self-government we shall so toil and labour that fatigue itself will become a national virtue".

The history of our people from ancient times portrays the national character of the Ghanaian. His instincts are for freedom and democracy, for self-rule, for indepen- dence from foreign and dictatorial rule. In his address at the inauguration of the UGCC, Dr Danquah had this to say and I quote: "Love of freedom from foreign control has always been in our blood. 870 years ago, we struck against the attempts of the Arabs to impose a religious slavery upon us in Ghana. We left our houses in Ghana and came down here to build for ourselves a new home. But there is one thing we brought with us from ancient Ghana. We brought with us our ancient freedom".

The Coussey Committee in its report to the Colonial Government, bore this testimony of the Ghanaian character: "Having his origin in the Western Sudan, he displays a remarkable resilience and cheerfulness, no matter how so ever may be the assault of circumstances. A born individualist, virile and irrepressible by nature, he tends to be suspicious of outside influence and intolerant of dictatorial methods in any form".

We are described as being cheerful. Correct. We are described as being "resilient" whatever it means. We are described as being individualist, I don't know. We are described as being suspicious of outside influence, that is we don't go out of our way to copy, borrow, and practise other people's ideas and programmes and ideologies except for good reason. If you behaved like that in Achimota of our day, the girls will taunt you with "Oh how green you are!" We are irrepressible neither by foreigners nor by our own people. We are intolerant of dictatorial methods in any form, red, green and white. If we Ghanaians today truly trace our pedigree to our glorious ancestors, then these qualities are shown to be ours also. Do we really belong to their race?

In Kumasi prison on March 13, 1948, the six of us met to discuss our programme for an independent Ghana. We chose the colours and the eagle for our emblem. Our colours were to be Green, Gold and Red.

Green stands for our rich green forests and pastures and the fertility of our land and their rich and varied abundance. It stands for our determi- nation to make the best and fullest use of our land for the support of the people of our nation. It stands for our thankfulness to our God for endowing us with rich pastures which would be the source and inspiration for our agrarian revolution, an agrarian revo- lution on our God-given green pastures, we are described as being suspi- cious of outside influences and there- fore we have no need to go out to copy and borrow from a Green Book Revo- lution inspired from anywhere else and intended and prescribed for another soil and for another people.

Permit me to add a little note for the benefit of some of our new masters. The messenger you have in your office may be the son of a rich farmer in a village called Brenya, and is also a member of the stool family of Brenya. His senior brother is a doctor and his junior is a Squadron Leader. One of the great Amanhene in Nkusukum was a driver. My own father was a lawyer's clerk and his successor was an electrician, a worker of PWD. This is the nature of our society and we must cease to kid ourselves. Please forgive me for the unavoidable diversion. If I do it again I shall apologise for it.

The Gold points to our rich mineral resources, also God's gift to his people of Ghana. It represents not only the re- sources of the Ghanaian land, but also the rich nobility of Ghanaian charac- noter, Aggrey, Danquah, Ephraim Amu, Kofi Busia all cry in unision: ANIM- GUASE MFATA GHANA NI. This means life, conduct, attitude, work which is disgraceful, mean, shoddy, ungodly, ignoble, do not become a Ghanaian. They are taboos. We there- fore pledged to build an UNDEFILED HERITAGE.

The third colour is Red. It obviously stands for the precious blood water that our forefathers shed to win our land and our freedom and to retain and sustain them. It appeals to us and those AND SO COMPLEX DOWN THERE THAT THIS TIME HE SHOULDN'T SEND HIS SON BUT who come after that we can maintain our precious possessions, our land and our rights, only by extreme vigilance, and our preparedness to bear supreme sacrifices. It should constantly remind us that we belong to a long heroic pedigree of free men who shed and were prepared to shed their blood for the dear sake of Ghana, and for the freedom of her people.

Allow me to use the Akan transla- tion of John 8:36 to show what the Akan means by freedom. We read John 8:36: "If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed". The Twi version reads: "Enti se oba no ye mo adehyea, mobeye adehyee ampa". The Fante version also reads: "Dem ntsi se oba no ye hom adehyea, hom beye adehye ampa".

Who is an "Odehye". An Odehye is a prince, a man of noble blood and birth. In our society every citizen really is a prince. His body is sacred, his family is sacred, his life is sacred, his reputation is sacred: he has a high stake in the community. He counts in the society. Nobody assaults his person and his name and character with impunity. Nobody can deprive or deny him of his rights as a citizen, for he is a prince. We believed that, and we were moved to fight for independence because we believed that under any foreign rule however benevolent, we were falsifying our pedigree. We there- fore fought for our rights as free men to be able to preserve our precious rights for ever for generations unborn.

The Red in our colours represent our firm resolution to carry through an uncompromising revolution for the protection and promotion of Our nation and our rights. Others find many of us suspicious of other Revolutions; it is so because we know we have our own revolutions and our revolutions can be shown to be better, at least, better suited to our native soil, our nature and our traditions. We don't readily enter into any new fancies at the cost of our land, liberty and life. In the words of G.K. Chesterton: "It is not enough that there is a beyond. Intelligent men want to know what is beyond and how it can really be shown to be better than what is behind".

When a stranger saw our chiefs at Durbars only a few days ago, we saw a Grand Durbar at Kumasi - he would see the chief or the head chief in his majestic role. He might take him to be the grand Emperor, monarch of all he could survey. He might think that all power in the state resided in him alone but he would be wrong: He is not a dictator. He often refers to himself as the first servant of the state.

I will illustrate this by showing you how we swear in oaths of allegiance to our chiefs, how in our view free men give allegiance to their rulers. The elders swear near absolute allegiance only if he satisfies certain conditions. If he respects the elders, if he follows the traditions of his ancestors who built the nation, if he does not rule arbitrarily, if he does not sell or reduce their lands, if he does not harass the youth, then at any time he calls, they will obey.

I believe the oath which the nobles of one of the ancient kingdoms of Spain swore to the king brings out the point I am making more clearly: "We who are as good as you, swear to you who are no better than we, that if you follow and obey the laws of the kingdom and honour your pledges to the people, then we shall follow you and do your will as our king". A Ghanaian citizen is free, he is not a bond slave, bound to do the arbitrary will of a tyrant.

The dominant feature of our Coat of Arms is the Eagle. We all know why this is so. Dr Aggrey used to tell a story of an eagle whose wings had been clipped, domesticated and made to live among chicks. For a time he behaved. as a chick, but soon he became un-comfortable for his spirit kept urging him that he should rise and fly for he did not belong to the low earth but to the heavens. Gradually, his wings began to grow and to develop. He made several abortive attempts to fly but he kept on. Then one day he soared up into the sky and joined his brother eagles, among his peers, among the belong. community of free eagles. That Dr Aggrey said, was the picture of the African for Africa's place is among the free sovereign nations of the world. We, therefore, when discussing our programme for an independent Ghana, had a vision of the new nation we expected to see established in our land.

Endowed with so much natural resources - our green fertile land, our many rivers, our abundant mineral resources we were convinced that our Creator could only have meant the greatest prosperity for the people of this country. And we saw that the good Lord who provided these resources, gave our people the human qualities to put them to the greatest benefit.

We looked around and saw these qualities abound in our people — the craftsmanship of our brothers in the North and in Ashanti; the industry of the Ewe; the commercial expertise of the Ga market woman and the Kwahu - the fishing skills of the Ga; Fantes and Ewes the farming excellence of the Akan who took hold of the cocoa seeding from far away Fernando Po, nursed it and nurtured it into a leading world agricultural industry. These qualities were all there, and we saw around us the automobile repair workers, the skilled men we called "fitters", their workshops dotted all over the country, men who have made the "Soame Magazine" at Kumasi a renowned spot for sheer engineering craftsmanship - we saw them, many of them untutored in the classroom, yet rising up to heights of excellence where the graduate mechanical engineer might fear to tread.

We saw all these, and knew that the basis for the economic prosperity and advancement of Ghana existed, and existed in great abundance in our soil and in our people.

We saw, in addition to land literally flowing with milk and honey, a people whose moral qualities could make them the equals of the best in the world. To see embedded in the national character, an abhorrence of the disgraceful, the mean, the shoddy and the ungodly; to see this not only abhorred but regarded as taboo; to see in the national character a feeling that one would rather lose one's life than to be associated with a disgraceful act (Animguasee dee, fanyan Owuo!), is to see a people who are reaching out at the very pinnacle of moral excellence.

Add to this nobility of character the people's intolerance of dictatorial methods and their time proven ability to dare the devil, and it was easy to see a vision of a Ghana prosperous, a people virile and free, and soaring, like the eagle, to the greatest heights where the best among the comity of nations

Mr Chairman, distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen: We often say - often times we mean it - that it is good to be young. May I be allowed to say that it was good that some of us were old enough to see Ghana march gloriously with great promise and fanfare into the honourable and enviable position of an independent state on March 6, 1957, 28 years ago. It was a proud day for the people of Ghana. Unfortunately, the occasion and event of independence are unrepeatable.

Dr Kwame Nkrumah the leader of the Convention People's Party and the Prime Minister, stood on a platform specially erected in a public square and to the crowd and to all the corners of the whole world.

"Today, Ghana is free for ever". Dr Nkrumah placed special emphasis on the words "for ever". We were all happy that our long struggle had borne fruit in our time. For several days, in the cities and villages, the people of Ghana celebrated the independence of Ghana, Ghana's freedom from the rule of dominion of the British who had ruled our land for more than 100 years. We were from that date, March 6, 1957 forward, no longer to be ruled by the British, and were from that date independent, we hoped, of any other foreign rule.

Many of our Presbyterian Christian elders, Akans, Gas and Ewes sang or recited proudly and gloriously the words of verse 2 of the Twi Hymn No. 51, of the Ga Hymn No. 50 and of the Ewe Hymn No. 70.

The Twi - Nea tetefo hwehwe, Nea won nyinaa'ra pee, Nea won anigyinae, Enna anya aba yi.

The GaNoni blematsemei le, Feo da ke hietsre le, Noni amegba le hu, No wohereo atu.

The English - I offer you a free translation of this verse of the hymn: "What our forefathers searched for and looked forward anxiously to see, What all of them strongly desired, What they missed terribly, has now been made possible and we of this generation now have it before us to behold as a living reality".

Legal independence had been achieved. The stage was set to transform our vision into reality. What has become of that vision in twenty- eight years of independence?

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