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Public reacts differently to first commemorative Republic Day

BY: Caroline Boateng
 Prof. Kwame Osei Kwarteng
Prof. Kwame Osei Kwarteng

The change of Ghana's Republic Day, July 1, into a commemorative day yesterday left some Ghanaians wondering how the day was to be marked.

Meanwhile, there were mixed reactions from academics and ordinary Ghanaians as to the relevance of the change. While some argued that the change was a historical mistake, others thought otherwise.

In an interview with the Daily Graphic, a Senior Research Fellow of the Institute of Democratic Governance (IDEG), Mr Kwesi Jonah, said the fact that the country had committed a historic error with the change of particularly its Republic Day into a mere commemorative one was not in doubt.

He explained that the declaration of Republic Day was a historic fact, signalling the severing of all political ties with the British.

“Declaring a Republic on the first of July, 1960 meant that Kwame Nkrumah had decided that Ghana did not want to be under monarchical rule. So we broke our last political and colonial link with the British monarchy. This is historic.

Politically, it meant that we had concluded the independence struggle," he added.

Mr Jonah said it was, therefore, wrong for some people within the ruling party to lessen the significance of the day by substituting January 7, which is now to be commemorated as Constitution Day, for it.

"The historical fact remains that the first of July, 1960 marks the day when Ghana broke all links with the British monarchy. That is a fact you cannot take away. So I do not understand why they decided to change it,” he said.

Significance

The Director of Advocacy and Policy Engagement of the Ghana Centre for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), Dr Kojo Pumpuni Asante, also told the Daily Graphic that the change of Republic Day into a commemorative one was difficult to understand.

He admitted that some senior citizens who had lived through the period had some attachment to the commemoration of the day.

He was of the view, however, that in the context of the daily struggles currently, it would be difficult for the younger generation to associate with the day, particularly so when it was now merely commemorative.

Dr Asante said in other jurisdictions such as Europe, the commemoration of days, like wars, came with an impulse and a passion from the people, who galvanised around common values during those periods.

In the case of Ghana, he said, it seemed like nothing attractive was being proffered to the people to commemorate.

Historian okays decision

But the Head of the Department of History at the University of Cape Coast (UCC), Prof. Kwame Osei Kwarteng, said the decision to scrap July 1 as a public holiday, through an Act of Parliament, was not a historical error, writes Kwame Asare Boadu.

He stated that it was a very important decision that must not be viewed with emotions or political lenses.

Prof. Kwarteng, who is the incoming Dean of the Faculty of Arts of the UCC, said that “significant decision” was not taken to downplay the role Dr Nkrumah played in Ghana’s history.

Speaking to the Daily Graphic on phone from his base in Cape Coast, he said July 1, 1960, which marked the birth of the First Republic, lost its significance after the 1966 coup that toppled the CPP government.

“July 1,1960 lost its significance after the coup of 1966, so also were the Second and the Third republics, which were all overthrown through military coups.

“It is only the Fourth Republic that has lasted for a long time and it means that the Fourth Republic has contributed to our political, economic and social development more than any other Republic, so replacing it with July 1 as a public holiday, in my view, is a right decision,” he said.

He said if the nation wanted to give recognition to important days as national holidays, then  the Fourth Republic should be considered, not the First Republic.

According to the Professor of History, society was dynamic and as such “things have to come and be changed”.

He said what was important was that July 1 was still being recognised in a different way because it was the day the nation untied its apron strings from the colonial masters.

Ordinary people

In random interviews with passers-by in Accra on how the day was being commemorated, almost all the 25 people interviewed said they were at a loss as to what to do to commemorate the day.

Some were of the view that the government was only interested in scrapping Dr Nkrumah’s contributions from the minds of the youth.

Others said since the day was no longer a holiday, they would be commemorating it at work.

The Act

Until this year, every July 1 had been a holiday, but the Ministry of the Interior, on May 8, 2019, announced that President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo had assented to the Public Holidays (Amendment Act) 2019 (Act 986).

The amendment made May 25, African Union (AU) Day, and July 1, Republic Day, commemorative days and no longer holidays.

The act rather instituted January 7 as Constitution Day and a holiday. Additionally, August 4 becomes Founders' Day and a holiday too.

In the past, to mark Republic Day holiday, various governments used to meet the elderly in society and interact with them.