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POLITICS & SOCIETY May 2007
 
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Can Ghana relaunch Pan-Africanism 50 years on?
by Nicolas CHEVET

On 6 March 1957, Ghana, a former British colony, became independent. Under its first president, Kwame Nkrumah, it paved the way for the emancipation of the black continent and the dream of a United States of Africa. Fifty years later, Ghana is once again at the head of the African Union, but times have changed.

At the end of January, John Kufuor, the current president of Ghana was elected chairman of the African Union (AU) for the 2007-2008 session. Fifty years after its independence, Ghana is once again being handed the keys of the Pan-African organization.
Choosing the Ghanaian president as chair of the AU Assembly of Heads of States in 2007 is an obvious political symbol: Ghana was the first African country to become independent in 1957 and in 1964, its charismatic leader, Kwame Nkrumah, created the Union of African States, the forerunner of the AU. Nkrumah was a champion of Pan-Africanism, a political and cultural movement aiming at unifying both native Africans and those of the African diaspora in order to regenerate the continent.

However, the AU's political gesture could also be deemed slightly anachronistic at a time when the concept of Pan-Africanism seems virtually dead. Apart from the Libyan leader Mouammar Kadhafi, no one seems to truly believe in the old dream of a United States of Africa. Today, the AU, consisting of 53 states, strives to promote democracy, human rights, peace and a sustainable economy. Creating an effective common market with a single currency is much higher on the agenda than political unity.

Next July, the ninth AU summit to be held in Accra, the capital of Ghana, will surely commemorate the Pan-African dream and ideology. But times have changed and great expectations are long forgotten.

Today, Ghana is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an annual per capita income of US$500. In the 1950s the country had much better prospects than say South Korea (which now has a US$16,000 annual per capita income). Nkrumah's over-ambitious industrialisation programme decimated the cocoa industry, and quickly ruined the country's economy. Nkrumah's political radicalism and authoritarianism eventually alienated his peers. Ghana then faced isolation, corruption and anarchy until 2000 when John Kufuor was elected president, and managed to run the first peaceful transition of power since independence.

Sources: "Ghana celebrates 50 years that changed Africa," The Washington Post 6 March 2007.
"An Inspiration for Independence," The Washington Post 6 March 2007.
"Door of no return opens up Ghana's slave past," The Washington Post 8 March 2007.


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