It was Ghana that led Africa’s independence movement — and black Americans helped influence it.
Prior to World War 2, history had already taken Ghana on one hell of a rollercoaster ride. In ancient times, it was a prosperous collection of kingdoms, almost awash in gold — so much so that Europeans dubbed it “the Gold Coast.”
Salt was a big moneymaker, too, as were slaves. And yes, Ghana was part of the trade that brought African slaves to the Americas.
For all I know, I may carry Ghanaian DNA myself.
Having things is nice, until someone else wants them. If possession is nine-tenths of the law, a large and powerful army is usually the other tenth.
Especially if you don’t have one.
Starting in 1076, Ghana would suffer almost nine centuries of unfriendly “visits,” first from North Africa and then from Europe. The Portuguese, Dutch, British and even Danes — among others — were all jostling each other like hockey players for control of Ghana’s wealth.
One by one, they fell away, until only the British were left to drain Ghanaian treasure.
The rise of Nazi Germany forced Europe to take a timeout from enriching itself at Africa’s expense, but a lot of Africans, including Ghanaians, found themselves fighting the Nazis as British colonial soldiers.
After World War 2, those veterans realized that, other than organized genocide, the oppression they had been sent to battle abroad was not all that different from what they had grown up with at home.
They also had connected with the writings of black American activists like Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. DuBois, who dreamed of a unified black Africa. Result: Ghana’s WW2 vets became its first generation of modern radicals.
They would not be the last.
When Ghana gained its independence from Britain on March 6, 1957, it became the first independent nation in sub-Saharan Africa. That’s when the rollercoaster really got going.
For the next half-century, the country endured a series of elected governments, coups and counter-coups, most of them originating within the military. This was the period that produced controversial leaders like Kwame Nkrumah and Flight Lt. Jerry Rawlings.
For awhile, Ghana was going through one new government roughly every two years. At one point, Rawlings banned political parties of any sort.
What finally emerged out of the seemingly endless string of coups was a reform-minded constitution and a democratically elected government.
Having led black Africa in throwing off colonialism, Ghana is now showing the way in political and economic reforms.
Its two main exports, cocoa and gold, are helping the country to ride out the recession. And only three years ago, oil was discovered in Ghanaian offshore waters.
These days, the nation’s greatest struggle is not over politics, but against the imminent prospect of a drought lasting 100 years.
An ancient Ghanaian legend tells the story of Bida, a black snake that guaranteed prosperity for the kingdom, but at a terrible price — the annual sacrifice of a virgin (and don’t you just love how the virgin in question is always automatically presumed to be female?).
Everything was going along fine until the year that a young man, Mamadou Sarolle, was informed that his fiancee would have the “honor” of appeasing Bida’s annual bloodlust.
Sarolle wasn’t havin’ it; he rescued his love and they escaped together.
According to the legend, Bida took his revenge by unleashing a crippling drought upon the land.
In modern times, a series of droughts have frustrated Ghana’s bid to restore its prosperity of olden days, despite all its reforms.
Bida may not be done with this country yet.
NEXT: A taste of Ghana — Jollof and hiplife
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