Focus: 60 Years of Independence

Neither Victim nor Pawn

May. 22, 2018

“We believe it is time Africa comes of age and holds its rightful place on the world stage. This Africa will be neither a victim nor a pawn.” In 2017, exactly 60 years after Ghana's independence, President Nana Akufo-Addo boldly reasserted in front of the 72nd UN General Assembly the path ahead for the continent. While the times of direct colonial rule are over, economic autonomy from the Western world is still a very distant target for most African countries. Surely, the process toward legitimacy is no walk in the woods, but the fact that this renewed desire of autonomy came from the President of Ghana should not surprise. If there had to be a country leading the way of advocating self-consciousness and autonomy for Africa, odds would be disproportionately in favor of Ghana for three reasons.

The first reason is historical. Since its establishment, the country has embraced neutrality and autonomy. Indeed, previously known as the Gold Coast, Ghana was the first Sub-Saharan African country to gain independence thanks to Ghana's first President, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, and his Pan-African ethos. Popularly acclaimed as a national hero, Nkrumah successfully formed the first government in 1957, rejecting any affiliation with either the US or Soviet Union at a time where it was almost impossible not to pick a side. Ghana proved not only able to interrupt its ties with the British rule, but also to resist outside pressures to align itself with a particular ideology.
The second reason for which Ghana should be seen as the natural leader of an African awakening is the speed with which it gained a stable political environment.
Independence and non-alignment came with their own hurdles to overcome. Since 1957, Ghana witnessed four military coups, three of which were marked by blood and violence. However, democratic institutions and rule of law require time to spread and gain solidity, and Ghana's case proved to be an outlier even in this realm. As the first president recognized, Ghana took a little over 30 years to achieve democratic stability and has enjoyed 25 years under a multi-party democracy brought to power through regular elections. For a country celebrating 60 years, these numbers are remarkable.
The third and last reason lies in the nature of its people. Despite being made up of different clans that live in a defined territory, Ghanaians all share an inherent openness and poise that makes the country the most similar to Western standards in Africa in terms of its social and political environment, with the exception of South Africa. This has had its significant advantages for ease of doing business. Its aforementioned low political risk and strategic position at the heart of a market of 350 million individuals offer an unmatched competitive advantage.
With the country's past and present in his mind, President Akufo-Addo commemorated 60 years of independence conscious that a lot still has to be done to empower Ghanaians and Africans. Foreign companies are constantly two steps ahead of local competitors in contract tenders and bids. Yet, the process of spurring development of local content and gaining full economic autonomy has to be gradual and diplomatic. The first step should be renovating and growing confidence and trust among foreign players. The several official visits of European leaders in 2017 have thus been crucial to avoid capital flows and attract capital. Second, Ghana needs to bear its own financial responsibilities, committing to the non-renewal of the IMF aid program and strengthening its macroeconomic indicators, especially in terms of inflation. If Ghana follows these two guidelines, Akufo Addo's words at the UN General Assembly will be charged with much more than just a symbolic value.