Every March 6, Ghanaians celebrate the birth of a nation. In the many years that have passed, since the Union Jack was lowered, and the red, gold and green with the black star in the middle was raised to joyous roar of ‘freedom,’ followed by the song: ‘There is freedom for us’, much has changed since then —– the corporatist, paternalistic welfare state has run out of money, while the freedom and independence promised the people still eludes them.
Any patriotic Ghanaian may be aware that citizens are alienated from 6th March celebrations. There are no spontaneous citizen gatherings where participants celebrate their hard won independence the way they know best —– parties, bonfires —- without the state hanging over their necks. March 6th has become a partisan day of force when the state and politicians exhibit the power of the coercive state. Schoolchildren are forced to march under the sun; the leader is seen taking the salute with the security forces showing their intimidatory powers and ordinary citizens left out or simply do not care.
What, exactly, has happened to Ghana since 1957? What does being independent today mean — and what should it mean? Freedom at last! This euphoric cry, which rang across Ghana that March day, is still, but an echo. What does “independence” mean when Ghana continues to depend on neo-colonial institutions? Is there “liberation” when our leaders continue to fail on their promises of prosperity, and social justice?
As we celebrate Ghana’s independence this month, it is good to look at our leaders, past and present, and see how their actions and inactions have contributed to the continuous underdevelopment of this rich and blessed country. In this context, how should we remember our founding fathers, especially Kwame Nkrumah? Partisans hail him as a “liberation” hero who led the fight to end colonial rule, while others still insist that his transformation into a malicious dictator after “independence” taints whatever good he achieved in his earlier years.
Freedom was just a slogan. Shortly after independence, democracy, pluralism and competition were denounced as both alien and “imperialist dogma.” A one-party state rule was imposed on the people, concentrating power in the hands of one individual to determine who gets what in Ghana. Meanwhile, the only thing that has changed is the skin colour of the oppressor: from white to black, from European to Ghanaian.
State dominance of the economy is always wrong. It is as alien to Ghanaian culture as it is to the rest of Africa. Traditional Ghana was never socialist. It had private ownership of the means of production (land, labour and capital), free enterprise, free village markets, free trade and an entrepreneurial spirit. Trade indeed flourished in pre-colonial Ghana, with commercial routes crisscrossing the whole country. Ghanaians did not need their chief’s permission to engage in trade or business. Chiefs never determine prices; the market did.
For a country that prides itself with the motto ‘Freedom and Justice’, there are a few things that seem, well, off. Almost all Ghanaian leaders have rejected the freedom the free market gives individuals. Especially, Nkrumah, the first president, harboured a deep distrust and distaste for the freedom the free market brings and gives. He falsely perceived it as an extension of neo-colonialism and imperialism.
Ghanaians did not envisage that freedom would ever mean looking to the government or technocrats for their economic salvation. Also among those disillusioned with the promise of freedom are young people. Young people have experienced several traumas over the past 20 years — economic and financial crises, a pandemic, — and have carried much of the burden. To the young, the state offers jobs, “opportunity,” and the legitimation of envy. Therein lies the path to cultural decline and eventual collapse
We now know that big government—whether through widespread regulation or large welfare systems—produces the diseases of cronyism and soft despotism. It would have been inconceivable that Ghanaians would trade their liberties for the lie of perpetual economic security via the state. Libertarians must show how markets allow the poor to use their talents ambitions, ingenuity, and their education to climb the ladder of success, leading to long-term growth and upward economic mobility for all.
Sixty-six years on, it seems a “convenient consensus” has emerged, on the need for a mixed economy welfare state, and multi-party democracy. However, we have not reached the end of political division in this country. What we have, is worse today than it has been since the United Party (UP) and the CPP fought over independence. Indeed, the angry prejudices, paranoia, and folklore ricocheting through social media, and talk radio, enjoy much greater intensity today than they did half a century ago.
Of course, our freedom now gives us free speech and free and fair elections. As important as these commitments are to our country, many Ghanaians, especially those in the rural areas, remain alienated—not only from the wealth of the nation, but from the independence story. We have not made profound strides toward a more just society. A sober view of our history requires honesty about the history of our independence and the persistence of poverty in Ghana.
Any political system, which gives big powers to one person or a few always degenerate into tyranny. Economic progress suffers, as it always does whenever the state controls the economy. Poor planning and coordination results in dislocation of industries, low morale, lack of discipline and accountability, nepotism, disincentive to produce and chronic shortages of goods and services. Black markets naturally emerge; bribery and corruption thrive, lining the pockets of the elites and making them even more powerful.
We need to move on. Nevertheless, before we are able to do that we need to dismantle the oppressive state, give back the people their lost freedoms and reach for a Ghanaian solution to the problem of wealth creation. Real freedom would dismantle the de facto apartheid factions of partisanship and cronyism, which those in power use in government to advance their interests and exclude everybody else, thus leading this country into economic disaster. We need a new ideology going forward.
Sadly, to the contemporary Ghanaian ear, the word “ideology” is synonymous with that kind of toxic fix. However, we are using the word differently here. We are not using it to describe pathologies, or resentments, or tribal hatreds. We are also not using it to describe the people’s surrender to authouritarian leaders, and we are not using it in any of the broadly pejorative senses in which the term is commonly used in Ghana today.
Because our politicians no longer even pretend that their pursuit is rooted in any commitment, we are using the word “ideology” to describe, in a neutral manner, some set of reasoned and coherent principles and policies, however mistaken, around which a society can be organized. We call ideology “the commitment to the consequences of ideas.”
We need new revolutionary ideas to move this country forward. The socialist ideas that came to fruition from 1957 did not stand the test of time, because they were faulty from the start and because circumstances and public opinion changed. Our politics presently lack the necessary appetite and devotion to inspire citizens to rise to the level where they would sacrifice their lives for this country with passion and dedication.
The parties failure to produce any serious manifesto platforms since 1992 prove beyond a doubt that they all lack meaningful ideological direction. There remains none today. Instead, we have political parties in self-perpetuation for its own sake driven by an opportunistic indifference to fact and reason, expressed through abrasive and incendiary rhetoric.
As we celebrate the sixty-sixth year of the nation’s founding, we should remember that freedom is so much more than a slogan. Freedom is about ethics and personal responsibility. Freedom is about self-improvement and creating value for others. Freedom is about seeing people as unique individuals and recognizing the tremendous benefits of free markets.
As we celebrate independence, we should not focus on recovering the past. Our focus should be to confront and defeat socialist progressivism. Libertarianism is not new, but its framework for liberty under law and economic progress makes it especially suited for the current economic crisis.
At this moment of economic crisis, those who love liberty must come together to insist on our rights to create wealth. We are witnessing the breakdown of the beliefs of the socialist welfare state. Indeed, Ghanaians have seen the failure of big government. Now in 2023, we should apply the lessons of the past years to make the coming years not of the state but of free individuals.
We need visionary leaders who are willing to challenge the next generation with a vision of life that speaks to their deepest aspirations: their longing for community, their entrepreneurial spirit, and their desire to invest their lives in noble causes.
— By Kwadwo Afari