Independence parades and all that…
Many of us probably have childhood memories of what March 6 meant every year – school uniforms starched and ironed to crisp perfection, complete with snow white socks and polished black shoes and endless hours of training drills under the eagle watch of a teacher.
To top it all, on the special day, one had to swing one’s arms at a perfect angle and get the ‘eyes right’ moment right, as one marched past the dais on which stood a government official to take the salute as the drums rolled.
In the past decade or so, it appears that the exhilaration that the freshly minted Ghanaian citizen must have felt when the British Union Jack came down and the new Ghanaian flag went up at midnight on March 5, 1957 has all but dissipated in today’s citizenry, and for good, understandable reasons.
Many have sought to question exactly what independence is left to celebrate, as rather depressing data after data is churned out on our living standards, our economy, our industrial landscape, our educational system and more, indicating a downwards spiral.
Some believe the day should be turned into a day of mourning, perhaps complete with ashes and sackcloth, while others believe we should do away with the routine parade/march past and rather spend the day in collective reflection and contemplation.
Particularly in the climate of the current economic challenges, there have been calls for the cancellation of the parades to be held across the country this year, with the centrepiece being in Ho this year, and the money saved or channelled into something more ‘meaningful’, such as schools or hospitals.
While I agree with the proposal to scrap the parades, I differ in my reasons for holding that view.
This is because if our economic health is the basis for holding or not holding these parades, then we should have stopped having them several decades ago because we have never quite climbed out of our ‘Guggisberg economy’ that we inherited at independence, and have been tied to western apron strings through neo-colonialist structures for as long as one can remember.
Even when ‘dumsor’ was visited upon our heads and many could not follow the parade on live television, the event went ahead.
This is not to trivialise the current economic challenges – far from that.
In fact, as a result of the innovative rotational celebrations, the local economies of the host region receives a boost in its capital’s local economy, especially in the catering and hospitality sector.
My indifference to – or dislike of – the parades, notwithstanding my fond childhood memories of same, is hinged on a belief I espoused on my Facebook wall back in January 2017 that the march past on March 6, is an anachronism and should be disposed of forever.
For the school kids, I think it finds some root in Empire Day Parades in the colonial era, when barefooted native children marched on a dusty park past the Governor or District Commissioner, who stood stiffly to attention in his starched white uniform and plumed hat and sweated profusely as the Union Jack fluttered in the tropical heat and the band played God Save The King (or Queen, as the case may be).
What exactly does it portray for schoolchildren to march around a square in the heat?
On the part of the security services, I find that it rankles quite a bit, with their imported military hardware that smacks more of the communist era, when the Soviet Union and her allies liked to show off their military might on national holidays as the Cold War raged.
If we actually manufactured these, I would see some relevance in showing them off.
The fact is that by the time all the marchers have passed the dais and the soldiers have done their magic with their exemplary skills, there is not much energy to process the keynote speech.
I doubt many can recall exactly what was said by the President, Regional Minister or District/Municipal Chief Executive as the case may be.
To celebrate or not?
I do not subscribe to the despondent view that there is nothing to show for our 66 years of nationhood and therefore there is nothing to celebrate.
Of course, there are many indicators that establish that we are far behind in so many respects, given that not only Ghanaians but Africans and indeed the black race felt that this country was a beacon in Pan-Africanism – a shining black star, if you like.
But it is equally true that whatever its foundations were, whatever its political, ethnic and other challenges have been, whatever its local shifting tensions have been, this country has managed to hold itself together and continues to endure, warts and all.
There are several pockets of tensions and security concerns, but many would also agree that overall, this is a relatively safe country to be in.
The democracy we operate has many defects and needs many improvements on several levels to make it more meaningful for its citizens, but for what it is worth, it provides us with a vibrant marketplace to make our voices heard, even if we believe those voices eventually fall into the ocean.
In many other countries on the continent, this is a luxury.
It is easy to sniff at all this, but facts are notoriously stubborn.
I suppose it is a question how one views half a glass of water.
If we insist on parades, then I think it is time for a new model. In other countries, Independence Day parades have more of a street carnival, communal feel, rather than being held in an enclosure with selected participants to march around and with politicians to deliver speeches.
On the manner of state celebration, I think it would be more productive for the state to focus more on national events on this special day that inspire us to do an introspection of where we have come from as a nation and where we are going.
Public lectures, symposia, sporting and other competitions, wreath-laying ceremonies for our independence heroes, clean-up campaigns and other similar activities could, in my view, serve a much better purpose than what parades do.
I am aware some of these already take place but I believe more can be done to make them the centrepiece of our independence celebrations every year, with a theme that celebrates our country.
As I write on the eve of the ‘eyes right’ parade, I am aware many across the country are preparing to hit the clubs and bars and beaches in celebration.
Perhaps they are celebrating just another holiday, rather than Independence Day per se and all it is supposed to stand for.
On a personal level, regardless of my personal sentiments about parades as they stand, I will tune in and watch proceedings from Ho, my miniature Ghana flag in hand, perhaps to relive my ‘eyes right’ moments back in the 1970s in primary school in Tarkwa and Prestea.
Unfortunately, I will have to limit myself to water or fruit juice in celebration.
It is Lent, you see.
Head, Communications & Public Affairs Unit,
Ministry of Energy,