ON March 5, 1957, I was a cub reporter for a news magazine called New Nation.
It was at precisely 11:45 pm that the Prime Minister of Ghana, Dr Kwame Nkrumah, and his lieutenants rose from Parliament House to go and stand on a dais, from which they would address the huge crowd that had gathered at the New Polo Ground, in Accra. I was able to follow right behind them.
I only had to flash my press pass at the policemen keeping order, to be allowed through the crowd. It was an intoxicating power to experience at my young age.
I went and stood right beside the dais on which Nkrumah and his lieutenants stood, waiting.
At exactly midnight, the siren installed in the general post office, nearby, began to whine: ‘WAAAIIIIIIIINGGGGGGG!’
When its whining died down, Dr Kwame Nkrumah grabbed the microphone and shouted into it, “Chooboi!” This was the greeting he was accustomed to shouting at a crowd, whenever he addressed one, during political rallies in the years and months leading up to independence day.
The crowd responded enthusiastically.
But Nkrumah wasn’t satisfied. He probably felt that his voice was tired because he had been speaking in Parliament, and, turning to one of his lieutenants, Krobo Edusei, who was known to have a loud voice, said off-mike: “Come and animate them for me!”
Krobo Edusei didn’t need a second invitation before he let rip a yell of CHOOOOOOOOBOI! that could have been heard by everyone present, even if there had been no microphone in his hand. And, sure enough, the crowd responded with a thunderous yell that must have frightened the waves of the sea, which were going about their normal business, barely half a mile away.
Now satisfied that the crowd was ready for him, Dr Nkrumah took the mike and told the crowd: “At long last, the battle has ended. And Ghana, your beloved country, is free forever!”
The screams of excitement and delight that erupted from the throats of half-a-million or so Ghanaians must have been heard as far away as Cairo, to say nothing of Cape Town.
Now, Nkrumah was a great orator indeed; one who knew exactly where to hit a crowd to get it eating out of his hand, and after saying a few things about how an “African Personality” was to make itself felt in the world from that moment on, he barked these words to the crowd: “The independence of Ghana is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the whole continent!”
Kwame Nkrumah tried to fulfil that promise. African freedom fighters – from Mozambique’s Samora Machel to Zimbabwe’s Josiah Tongogara – have told me, personally, on hearing that I come from Ghana, that Ghana was the first place they had obtained military training for themselves and some of their followers.
And, indeed, in the 50 years that have elapsed since that historic day, I have myself been blessed enough to sit close to another dais, on another day, to witness the total fulfilment of Nkrumah’s prophecy.
I refer, of course, to April 27, 1994, when Nelson Mandela was sworn in as the first black president of South Africa, and minority rule and racism in Africa officially came to an end.
Of course, Ghana – and Africa – have not had an easy time in the 50 years since March 6, 1957.
But we’ve now got the right to seek our own path to political, social and economic progress. If we succeed, we do so ourselves. If we fail, we also do so ourselves.
No longer will anyone of a different race decide for us whether we live or die. And that’s an achievement of no mean measure. If you don’t believe it, cast your mind back to Sharpeville in March 1960, or Soweto in June 1976.
Duodo is a Ghanaian novelist and a journalist