- On 6 March, Ghana will mark 50 years of independence from British colonial rule. Being the first black African country to be independent, Ghanaian authorities have lined up a whole year's "Ghana@50" jubilee celebration. But the country's former President, Jeremiah John Rawlings, has already opened the gate of controversy, arguing that there is little to celebrate.
Mr Rawlings took over power in a military coup in Ghana and ruled for 20 years. He was succeeded by current President John Kufuor. Since he left power in 2000, Mr Rawlings has turned himself into an arch critic of the Kufuor government, accusing it for demeaning the ideals of his (Rawlings') 1981 coup.
But Ghana today is commended for maintaining stability in democracy, politics, economic growth and freedom. Mr Rawlings, whose tenure saw the execution of eight generals three of who were former military rulers, nevertheless described him as a puppet of the West.
Mr Rawlings' comments have worried Ghanaian authorities whose aim is to preside over a festival that unites and reconciles all Ghanaians, and as such, no one should be left behind.
It is against this backdrop that a council of state had a three-hour close-door meeting with ex-Dictator Rawlings. The council members, who denied a request by the former President to allow the press to attend the meeting, also remained tight-lipped over the outcome, saying they must talk to President Kufuor first.
The chairman of the council, Dr Adzei Bekoe, told the press that the delegation was tasked by the government to extend an open invitation to the former President to attend all the programmes of the celebration. It is not clear whether Mr Rawlings has accepted the invitation.
The meeting took place following comments uttered by Mr Rawlings that there is in fact very little for Ghanaians to celebrate. Mr Rawlings was reported to be surprised by the unusual nature of the delegation.
While Mr Rawlings does his utmost to spread controversy on Ghana's 50th anniversary, most other nationals, and indeed most of sub-Saharan Africa, find the occasion a major event to be celebrated. It is the first of many upcoming 50th anniversaries in Africa. Ghana's independence indeed served as a bastion of hope for the entire continent. It also threatened the white colonialists because it announced a wind of change.
Ghanaian officials therefore steadily go forward with the celebration preparations. Yesterday, the country's Vice President, Alhaji Aliu Mahama, led the nation to mark the official countdown to Ghana@50 anniversary in the capital, Accra, with a hoist of the national flag. Similar celebrations took place in all the regions in Ghana.
After a guard of honour, Mr Mahama urged Ghanaians to use the golden jubilee celebrations to unite and reconcile for national development.
"Today marks the forward march of our 50th anniversary. We are all people of one nation and we should all participate in the anniversary to hold the nation together and lead the nation to prosperity," the Vice President said.
Series of activities such as lectures, exhibitions, re-enactments, musical carnivals, parades, quizzes, among others have been lined up for the year-long nation-wide celebrations. Anniversary obelisks are to be erected in all regional capitals. Also an ambitious national reforestation programme is to be launched.
In his state of nation address on 8 February, President Kufuor disclosed that Ghana in the jubilee year was to augment its electricity supply by acquiring power from neighbouring countries. For the past six months, Ghana has been experiencing power outages. But Mr Kufuor said plans are underway to generate more power locally.
Mr Kufuor, who is also the current African Union Chairman, paid glorying tributes to the former UN Secretary General, Busumuru Kofi Annan, who returned home in February after successfully completing two terms in office.
Responding to the critics' claim that the celebration should not take place, as it would cost a lot, Mr Kufuor cautioned, "let us be careful that we do not become known as those who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing."
Also Mr Annan recently addressed the nation in a lecture speech focusing on the anniversary. He called on Ghanaians to continue to restore hope and confidence among millions of people in the world and described Ghana@50 celebrations as "a time of change and excitement."
"It is good to be home again. Let me start by saying how deeply moved and gratified I am to be giving the inaugural Golden Jubilee Lecture," the world's most famous Ghanaian said. "I could have expected no better homecoming, and I certainly could desire no greater honour than to speak to you, my fellow citizens, on this historic occasion."
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