The man in the iron mask is a movie based on a book authored by Alexandre Dumas, arguably the most widely read French author of all times. Set in medieval France, the movie describes a corrupt and tyrant king, Louis XIV, who ruled France with an iron fist. He even had his twin brother, Philippe, imprisoned and forced to hide his identity behind an iron mask for fear that his rule could be toppled by his amiable twin, Philippe.
Only the belief of the sanctity of the royal blood prevented Louis XIV from killing Philippe. Certainly, the old musketeers, who had fought against injustice all their lives to make France better, were not amused by this development. Buoyed by hunger, opposition and general riots characterised his rule but they only strengthened his hands to oppress the people the more.
It was, therefore, intriguing that the legendary and principled musketeer called D’Artagnan, could betray the “one for all and all for one” pact of the old musketeers to defend this tyrant king with his life. Things got to a head when Athos (one of the only four surviving old musketeers) had his only son, Raoul, murdered by King Louis XIV in order to marry his fiancée. The stage was set for a secret meeting of all four surviving old musketeers, D’Artagnan, Athos, Aramis and Porthos, to deliberate on a way to restore justice to France.
Revealing his plan for a possible replacement of the tyrant King, Aramis described a fool-proof way to get this done without bloodshed. All in attendance agreed with the plan except D’Artagnan. Venting his frustrations on why D’Artagnan was still serving this king, Athos blurted out his frustrations quizzingly. “Why do you follow him D’Artagnan, why do you follow him? What we fought for is greater than a king, rank or reward, what do you fight for now?”
Reminiscent of Athos frustrations, I also ask myself “why do we continue to do this? Why do we continue this? My beef has everything to do with an annual occurrence in this country. A google search on the number of schoolchildren fainting during the annual independence celebration on March 6 yielded interesting statistics.
In 2012, it was reported that “over 130 pupils and security personnel collapsed across the country while on parade for the celebration of Ghana's 55th Independence Anniversary celebration. Three out of the 50 who fainted at Ashaiman were said to be in critical condition at Ashaiman Polyclinic.....The parade in Accra had to be fast-tracked to avoid any calamity as a pupil had died in Ho during the parade rehearsal. Some of the pupils collapsed after the march past which delayed for over three hours.”
In 2013, it was again reported that over 120 people collapsed during the 56th Independence Day celebrations. Most of the casualties were as a result of standing in the scorching sun for hours. It also emerged that some schoolchildren had not taken breakfast before they were sent to the various parade grounds.
Forty-eight casualties were recorded at Prampram, seven at Ashaiman; 18 in Sunyani; 27 in Ho and 20 at Agona Nkwanta. Majority of these were schoolchildren.
Again, in 2014, 51 students collapsed in the Tema Metropolis alone during the 57th Independence Anniversary celebration. The 58th Independence Anniversary celebration also witnessed 16 pupils collapsing in Tamale alone. Undoubtedly, more pupils around the country suffered the same fate. Similarly, 10 pupils were reported to have fainted at the Black Star Square in Accra alone during the 59th Independence Anniversary celebrations.
The 60th Independence Anniversary celebration was not left out. Reports from Ningo Prampram indicated that about 1,100 students from both public and private basic schools took part in the 60th Anniversary celebrations and as expected, 50 pupils were reported to have fainted during the event.
Reasons that have been attributed to these fainting episodes include standing in the scorching sun for long hours, hunger - because of delays in starting the programme, and inadequate sleep the night before the event since students have to wake up early in order to make it on time. Dr Kennedy Brightson, when commenting on the fainting episodes recommended that;
- 1. The parade should start and end early.
- 2. Students must promptly go through the march past
- 3. Schools must feed the students who partake in this event.
I, on the other hand, think that students must be completely exempted from this celebration. Instilling patriotic spirit in them by marching past cannot hold anymore. Have they not been eyewitnesses to the massive looting of the state coffers by those who marched the most? Their patriotic spirit could be rekindled by exemplary leadership and responsible stewardship over state assets and not marching in the scorching sun.
“I fight for the belief that every man could be better, even Louis” was D’Artagnans response to Athos. Similarly, I hold the belief that every child deserves better, even those in Ghanaian schools and I believe that one day, the practice of school children marching in the sun would be outlawed. Until then, I continue to wait for answers to these fervent prayers.
The writer is a member of Paediatric Society of Ghana.