Reflections on Ghana’s Republic Day

Ghana achieved republican status on July 1, 1960, and that marked an event of profound historical and political significance. After three years of independence, Ghana completely weaned itself from British colonial rule and Dr Kwame Nkrumah became the first President of the Republic.

As the first sub-Saharan country to gain independence on March 6, 1957, Ghana’s political freedom instigated the liberation of many African countries from colonial rule.

Consequently, the African independence movement gathered momentum in the 20th century, and over 30 countries had succeeded in the struggle for freedom by 1963.

One may wonder why it is relevant to commemorate the Republic Day. In other words, what does the historical event mean to the ordinary Ghanaian?

A reporter interviewed some Ghanaians randomly to seek their views why 1st July happens to be a statutory public holiday. In fact the feedback was shocking and unbelievable.

The above revealed that most Ghanaians have little or no clue about the Republic Day. Meanwhile, many enjoy themselves on such occasion having picnics, travelling (excursions), beach party and other social activities nationwide.

Aside from having fun, the event should create the enabling environment for Ghanaians to reflect on the country’s rich history after 60 years of independence.

For instance, both Ghana and Malaysia gained independence around the same period, so why is Ghana still lagging behind after six decades of self-governance?

What is a republic?

The Cambridge English Dictionary defines republic as a country without a king or queen, usually governed by elected representatives of the people and a president.

A republican system of government is where the citizenry have the mandate of electing political leaders and other representatives to govern their country through a direct voting process.

Republic Day is a national holiday in several countries to commemorate the day they gained republican status. In some countries, it is referred to as ‘National Day’ or ‘Proclamation Day’.

In Ghana for example, the day is also known as Senior Citizens Day. And some elderly citizens who played significant roles in the struggle for independence and nation-building process are accorded state recognition on every July 1.

First Republic

In 1956, the Convention People’s Party (CPP) won the Legislative Election leading to Ghana’s independence, and Osagyefo Dr Kwame Nkrumah became the first Prime Minister of the land.

Ghana held its first presidential elections alongside a referendum on creating an executive presidency on April 27, 1960. There were only two candidates – Osagyefo and Dr J.B. Danquah, leader of the United Party (UP).

Dr Nkrumah won the election and took the oath of office as President of the First Republic of Ghana on July 1, 1960. The first Republican Constitution which came into being in 1960 ended the rein of British Governor-General William Hare.

Regrettably, Nkrumah’s regime was overthrown on February 24, 1966. The architects of the 1966 revolution were Col. E.K. Kotoka, Major A.A. Afrifa and Mr. J.W.K. Harley, the then Inspector-General of Police.

The 1966 revolution truncated the First Republic while President Nkrumah was on peace mission in Hanoi. The National Liberation Council (NLC) was formed and it held power until the 1969 elections.

Parliamentary system of government

On August 29, 1969, another general election was held and Dr Kofi Abrefa Busia formed a new government. The main political parties were the Progress Party (PP) and the National Alliance Liberals (NAL) led by Komla A. Gbedemah.

The PP won the parliamentary elections with 105 of the 140 seats contested. Dr Busia became the second Prime Minister of the Second Republic of Ghana on October 1, 1969.

The then Chief Justice and father of the sitting President, Edward Akuffo-Addo, took office as the President of Ghana on August 31, 1970, but real power rested with the prime minister.

After barely three years in office, the Second Republic was overthrown by Col. Ignatius Kutu Acheampong of the Ghana Army on January 13, 1972.

Military intervention

The Supreme Military Council (SMC) headed by Col. Acheampong suspended the 1969 Constitution of Ghana and stayed in office for six years.

The then Chief of Defence Staff, Lt. Gen. Frederick W.K. Akuffo, succeeded Col. Acheampong through a palace coup in 1978. And the Supreme Military Council II (SMC 2) was formed.

The Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) led by Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings seized power on June 4, 1979. The June 4 uprising culminated in the execution of three former military heads of state and five other military officers.

The AFRC relinquished power to Dr Hilla Limann of the People’s National Party (PNP) who assumed office as President of the Third Republic of Ghana on September 24, 1979.

Flt. Lt. Rawlings staged another coup that toppled Limann’s government on December 31, 1981. The military junta formed the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) and ruled for 11 years until 1992.

Return to civilian rule

Following the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution, Ghana adopted multi-party democracy. Flt. Lt. Rawlings became the first President of the Fourth Republic of Ghana.

He handed over the baton smoothly to Mr. John Agyekum Kufour in 2001. Professor JEA Mills took over in 2009, but died in office in 2012. He was succeeded by Mr. John Dramani Mahama who handed over in 2017.

Nana Addo Dankwa Akuffo-Addo is the fifth President of the Fourth Republic of Ghana. And this boils down to the fact that Ghana has been able to stand the test of time as the beacon of democracy in Africa.

The Fourth Republic has come to stay. The people of Ghana have embraced democracy and believe that the only way of changing government is through the ballot. I wish fellow Ghanaians a happy 57th Republic Day.

Source: ASP James Annan