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Opinions of Saturday, 7 August 2021

Columnist: Cameron Duodu

Is August 4 a strange holiday for you? Me too!

4th August is a public holiday in Ghana 4th August is a public holiday in Ghana

Ask someone what 4th August stands for in this country and in five out of ten times, he/she wouldn't know!

Ironically, I was being regaled, at the time this question occurred to me, with the national anthems of the nations whose sports prowess was being celebrated on TV as their national anthems blasted out. I longed to hear mine on 4th August, as the Olympic Games went on. But sadly, it was a forlorn hope!

This leads me to wonder: what would 'The Big Six' (in memory of whom the holiday is celebrated) think of us if they were to be catapulted back here to see what we have made of the nation they so bravely won for us – with sleepless nights and other perils that constituted personal sacrifices for them? Do we even understand what sacrificing something for one's nation is?

Think of these things and maybe you will understand the words, “sacrifice,” “fearlessness”, and “struggle”! In 1947 (the year in which they formed the United Gold Coast Convention on 4th August) there were very few tarred roads in the country (for instance). The radio was controlled by the British against whose continued ruling of Gold Coast the UGCC was fighting. Newspapers were few. Telecommunications were not secret.

So the UGCC's organizational work was done largely by word of mouth. The leadership spoke largely at private meetings, often late at night, explaining what they were about hurriedly. They then dispersed to rest on borrowed beds.

There were plenty of informers (of course) to whom the concept of nationhood meant nothing. (Just as today's traitorous galamseyers couldn't care less if Ghana ran dry of water in the future or not!) Yes, there were men and women who would seek favour from the British by betraying the hiding places of the Big Six and their followers to the police. (Holding meetings without a “permit” was an offense, of course!) Being caught at such an “illegal” gathering was punishable by a fine or imprisonment.

However, undeterred by these problems, the leadership of the UGCC had, within a year of its formation, become known to most inhabitants of the Gold Coast. I was only in “Standard Two” (Class Five of primary school) when the 28th February shooting of Ex-Servicemen, which the British blamed on the UGCC, took place. But I remember how angry our class teacher, Mr F G Osei, who hailed from the small village of Agyepomaa, near Asiakwa) was as he described to us, in dramatic terms, how the 'Big Six' has been “deported” to Northern Ghana, merely because they wanted the British to honour the terms of “The Bond of 1844”.

They had signed this “Bond” with some of our “Chiefs”, who had been deceived to think that it would provide their states with “British protection” against their ethnic enemies, mainly, the Asante. It would allow the British to rule “the Gold Coast colony” for one hundred years, after which they would go back!.

Well, the one hundred years had passed in 1944, yet in 1948 – a full four years after the date on which the Bond should have lapsed, the British didn't want to honour their word and leave!

British dishonour was also accentuated by the fact that Gold Coasters who had fought for the British during The Second World War, had been “cheated” of the pensions they thought the British had promised to pay them if they helped Britain to win victory over Germany, as well as its Japanese and Italian allies.

On the 28th of February 1948, the Gold Coast Ex-Servicemen's Union organized a march to the Christiansborg Castle, at Osu, in Accra, to present a petition to the Governor, containing their demands for rehabilitation into the society from which they had been removed during the six years (1939-1945) the War had lasted.

At the Christiansborg Crossroads, near the Osu Castle, armed policemen, led by a British officer, Superintendent Imray, ordered them to turn back. The ex-soldiers refused.

Superintendent Imray opened fire and shot three of them dead.

News that the British had killed people who had risked their lives fighting for them in Burma, spread round the country. Most Gold Coast adults who heard the story of what “perfidious Albion” had done were as enraged as our Class teacher was) and widespread rioting ensued. Shops owned by European and Lebanese merchants were looted. A general strike followed. Kwame Nkrumah's pithy motto “Self-Government Now!” (carried daily by his Evening News newspaper) became a national slogan.

Convinced that the looting and the strike had been organised by the leadership of the UGCC, the British arrested six of them – Dr J B Danquah, Edward Akufo-Addo, William Ofori Atta, Ebenezer Ako Adjei, Obetsebi Lamptey, and Kwame Nkrumah. But this inflamed the country the more and the unrest rose to a new pitch. In the end, the British were forced to set up a “Constitutional Commission” to enquire into what new constitutional arrangements could be enacted to satisfy the political demands of the people and their leadership.

This Commission, under Mr Justice Coussey, took evidence from all the political actors of the Gold Coast and recommended that steps should be taken to install an African Government in the country without delay. The British accepted the Coussey Commission's recommendations; elections were held; Dr Kwame Nkrumah's Convention People's Party (CPP) won a majority of the votes, and the CPP was asked to form the first-ever African-dominated Government was installed in 1951.

That Government was headed by Dr Kwame Nkrumah, who was given the title, “Leader of Government Business.” The title was later changed to “Prime Minister” and on March 6, 1957, independence was granted to the Gold Coast, with its name changed to “Ghana.”

As I asked previously, suppose any of the leaders who fought valiantly to achieve independence for us were to be enabled to see our country, as it is today, what would they do?

I am sure that they would weep and weep and weep. For them and their predecessors (in the Aborigines Rights Protection Society, for instance) had educated themselves to understand what a nation requires to be welcomed into the comity of nations. Not only that: they had spent money and time to fight the British and drive them out and relinquish control of our lands. But look at what we have made of the land, on gaining control of it!

We are relentlessly destroying the very basis of our ability to stay alive – the water we drink and the land on which we grow our food! With merciless abandon, criminals called “galamseyers” are turning our lands into moon-style craters filled with poisonous water.

The biggest of our rivers, among them the Ankobra, the Oti, the Tanoh, the Offin, the Densu, and the Birem, have been polluted and the water in them discoloured, making the eye expect nothing of them but yellowish mud. Chemicals such as mercury and cyanide threaten cancerous diseases, all who drink water from these once holy rivers.

Yet we and our Chiefs are being deceived into accepting such murderous activities that go with galamsey, the fiction being sold to us that the galamseyers really only mean to engage in harmless, poverty-ending activities, such as “small-scale mining” and/or “artisanal mining.”

Our “Big Six” leaders viewing the utter devastation which the galamseyers have wrought upon our nation, would make us root them out of our society without mercy. For many of them were lawyers and understood the necessity to end anti-social practices by exacting severe punishment on those who engaged in them.

Not only that – as learned individuals, they were acquainted enough with our traditional society to appreciate the efficacy with which criminals in the society were dealt with. Before “British law” was imposed on our people, social order was achieved by designating serious offenders – rapists, wayfarers, and highwaymen (for instance) as “nation-wreckers” on who very harsh punishment was imposed, in order to deter others from following suit.

Some offenders were put in wooden stockades, tortured, and sometimes killed. So, no one ever wanted to do anything that would make him or her be categorised as an ᴐdaduani [occupant of the wooden stockade; i.e. culprit]. Social ostracism followed those who were punished in such a way, but who managed to survive the ordeal.

That is why although the quantity of gold that was dug out of this country was so enormous as to earn it the name, “Gold Coast”, the mining was so carefully done that unless one was a native to a mass-producing area, one would not know that gold-mining had taken place there. Mining was done by digging safe and efficaciously constructed nkomena [mine-holes] that were sited away from river-shores. Such was the technical perfection applied to these traditional mining activities that unless one was a native of a gold-mining area, one would not even know that there were nkomena in certain farms and forests.

Our Big Six leaders would, I am sure, tell us that we would be very foolish indeed to imagine that after all that had been studied about the human character, we can live in a society that does not severely punish those who only think of their needs, and do not scruple to destroy water and land!

All humans would, given the license, seek to satisfy their selfish lust for money and let their nations go hang. Financial crimes such as money laundering, under-invoicing of exports, and over-invoicing of imports, plus bloated contracts, attest to the evil in people's minds. That's why even national sovereignty is sometimes partially compromised, in order to catch international financial crooks.

Galamsey is proof that we in Ghana have – basically – been living in a fool's paradise.