The President, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, used his speech on the occasion of the 60th anniversary of Ghana’s independence to retell the story of the struggle for self-government – memorialising victims and celebrating ‘heroes’ alike. He recalled seminal moments in that struggle, like the formation of the Aborigines Rights Protection Society on 4th August, 1897 and their unprecedented but successful mobilization of opposition to the Lands Bills that “forced the colonial authorities to retreat”.
In many ways, what the President did was to render his version of our recent political history about which there is little consensus, with many contested claims on both sides –especially between the United Party’s (UP) and the Convention People’s Party’s (CPP) versions of events.
While the speech was generally commendable in lauding the contributions of people as diverse as the musicologist Dr. Ephraim Amu, Yaa Asantewaa and the formidable Dede Ashikisham, the President also seized the opportunity to condemn what he called the “infamous Preventive Detention Act of 1958” and celebrated many of the prominent politicians who were detained under it.
The Act, of course, has been the subject of debate for years and the famous Supreme Court case – “RE: AKOTO AND 7 OTHERS” –on its legality and whether Parliament or the Constitution of Ghana alone was [then] sovereign and supreme crystallised the differing opinions on this part of our history perfectly. And it seems to me that the opposing sides on this issue will remain irreconcilable for a long time. The President, however, has every right, particularly as a human rights lawyer, to state his position unequivocally on this issue and I respect that.
But taken as a whole, for a speech that was part a lesson in political history and part tribute to the many who played major roles in our struggle for independence, the President left out key sections of our community who are more than dotted ellipses in our historical narrative. Specifically, there was no mention or tribute to the many innocent people who lost their lives through the very turbulent years of sustained bombings in the early 1960s. One doesn’t have to apportion blame or take sides to acknowledge that these dastardly acts occurred. Here is a sampling of what the President left out of his version of our history.
In 1962, the ceremonial opening of Ghana’s third Parliament in the new Republic which was scheduled for September 25th, was postponed until October 2nd because of a bomb explosion in the West End Arena of Accra on September 20th that injured 100 people. According to the London Times “[a] public meeting had been held in the West End Arena, and the crowd set out in a torchlight procession led by Young Pioneers, when after less than a mile the bombs went off. Most of the casualties were members of the Young Pioneers.” This explosion came right off the heels of an earlier bomb attempt on President Nkrumah’s life on September 9th on Independence Avenue.
The Kulungungu explosion which occurred when a bomb grenade was thrown near President Nkrumah’s car while on his way back from talks with President Maurice Yameogo in Upper Volta, did not feature either. President Nkrumah himself escaped unhurt but four people were killed and fifty-six others, including members of the President’s entourage were injured. This bomb attempt so shook the world, that Queen Elizabeth II and British Prime Minister Sir Harold Macmillan sent messages of sympathy. The Queen’s message read as follows: – “I was shocked to learn of the attempt on your life. My husband and I are greatly relieved that you are unharmed. Please convey an expression of our sincere sympathy to those who were injured.” Yet this cataclysmic event that shaped our political discourse and even led to the unprecedented sacking of then Chief Justice Arku Korsah, did not get a mention in our current President’s version of our history. One wonders: did Chief Justice Arku Korsah not get a mention because of ‘Re: Akoto’?
It is also particularly notable because among the series of prosecutions brought by the Attorney-General for the Kulungugu bomb attack was one ‘State v Otchere’ heard by a Special Court constituted by Justice K. Arku Korsah, Chief Justice, Mr. Justice W. B. van Lare and Mr. Justice E. Akufo Addo, both Justices of the Supreme Court. Of course, Justice E. Akufo-Addo is the father our current President Nana Addo Dankwa-Akufo-Addo. All three Justices found Robert Benjamin Otchere (a member of parliament for the United Party) “guilty on both counts of conspiracy to commit treason and treason and convict[ed] him accordingly.” The Justices (including the current President’s father) also concluded that Joseph Yaw Manu, the second accused, also a member of the United Party “bears full responsibility for all the acts of the said Obetsebi Lamptey [celebrated by the current President] and therefore for the Kulungugu incident, and we therefore find him guilty on both counts of (a) conspiracy to commit treason and (b) treason, and we convict him accordingly”. But neither this nor the victims of Kulungugu were acknowledged in our current President’s version of our political history.
These atrocities were preceded by explosions much earlier, and prior to the visit of the Queen of England to Ghana. On November 6th 1961 a bomb explosion went off near the national lottery building in Accra. While no damage was done to property and no persons were injured, the police took away and detonated other timed devices found at the location. According to reports, three hours later, “a second bomb went off near a big roadside hoarding carrying coloured pictures of the Queen and Nkrumah”. All that occurred while the British Foreign Secretary Duncan Sandys was on a reconnaissance visit to Accra to assess possible security risks with the Queen’s visit. To assure Her Majesty’s safety, Sandys undertook a personal tour of Accra, and at one point even got out of his car at Black Star Square to examine the damage to the Independence Arch from an earlier explosion on Saturday November 4th .
Things got so unstable and frightening that the British government threatened to cancel the State Visit by the Queen. In a statement to the House of Commons in London, Foreign Secretary Duncan Sandys assured British Members of Parliament that “if it should appear to us [the British government] that the visit would involve abnormal risks, we would not hesitate to advise cancellation”. Earlier the British sent two Scotland Yard officers to Accra to examine security arrangements to ensure it was safe for Her Majesty to travel.
The Queen’s visit passed without incident but the bomb explosions did not cease after she left or the Kulungugu trials. On 9th January 1963 another bomb explosion claimed the lives of four people and injured 85 in Accra. By then such bomb explosions had killed 21 people and injured 400 citizens of our newly independent country. These faceless and nameless victims, almost all of whom were neither politicians nor activists, did not get a mention in President’s roll of honour, nor were they acknowledged even simply, as innocent victims of the struggle.
I had hoped that given his radical youth and his father’s involvement in the trials of the bomb atrocities that blighted our politics and nation in the 1960s, that the President would be more balanced in his historical narrative. Alas I was wrong. The speech pretended to be all-inclusive, but it was sadly a partial history of our country, with a personal point of view – the President’s.
Sixty years on, one would expect pretence, denials and obfuscations to be a thing of the past and we would be mature, and grown-up enough to admit all our faults. The President’s speech, however, demonstrates that we are not yet ready for an open and honest conversation about our past. We will remain divided until we get a President who is committed to healing our nation and embracing all our stories.
So here is to all the victims of the bomb explosions of the 1960s who were left out of our President’s address on 6th March 2017. Your sacrifices, though not offered voluntarily, have not gone unnoticed. One day you too, will get your deserved memorial.
Ekow Nelson, New Delhi, India
6th March 2016