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American Quarterly 59.2 (2007) 421-441

Ghana at Fifty:
Moving Toward Kwame Nkrumah's Pan-African Dream
Michelle D. Commander

Eager to share about her first trip to Ghana, my friend Rosalyn overflowed with stories from her twenty-three-hour journey. None was more interesting, however, than her recollection of her flight into Accra. An African American tour group had been on her connecting flight through Amsterdam, and some of its members openly expressed their excitement about traveling to Ghana. Rosalyn raised her voice loudly to imitate the group's singing of a range of songs during the flight, most notably their rendition of the (unofficial) Black national anthem, "Lift Ev'ry Voice and Sing." During the last stanza, the group's voices soared through the cabin:

God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee;
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land.1

At the close of the song, a lone male voice thundered, perhaps unscripted, "AFRICA!" Rosalyn, embarrassed and intrigued by this fantastic display, was unsure of how to react given the body language of the miffed passengers around her. Indeed, the tour group's enthusiasm at the impending homecoming enraged most travelers, who had hoped for a more subdued KLM flight experience, but some, including Rosalyn's white European seatmate, looked on encouragingly. What is it about such a spectacle that can evoke pleasure and displeasure simultaneously? While their ancestors were distributed through the Middle Passage and into a life of slave coffles, forced labor, and dehumanization, the tour group members ensured their travel to Africa was one that would be on their own terms. They were going to Ghana, along with dozens of other tour groups and individuals from across the globe, to applaud the country on its [End Page 421] anniversary; participate in scheduled trips to remnants of the slave trade, including the slave castles along the coast; and more generally, to connect with their imagined "native land."

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The Ghanaian government conceived the Ghana@50 initiative not only to mark the nation's anniversary and subsequent successes, but also to come to terms with its failures. Organizers have utilized a $20 million budget to craft the fiftieth anniversary into a year-long series of activities complete with monthly themes that pay homage to Ghana's past, present, and future, including reconciliation with the African diaspora over Ghana's role in the transatlantic slave trade. The largest countrywide festivities occurred in the days just before and after Independence Day (March 6th) and included historical reenactments, fireworks, parades, theater and musical performances, and lectures.

Anyone in Accra during February and March 2007 would have noticed the regalia. Everything—from government buildings and restaurants to light poles and tree trunks—was adorned in red, gold, green, and black, the colors of the Ghanaian flag. Some had even attached large flags to the hoods and antennas of their automobiles. A palpable sense of pride and anxiety had gripped the country. Three weeks before Independence Day, the Ghanaian government continued its race to prepare the capital city for the tourists, dignitaries, and Ghanaian returnees who would be visiting to share in its Golden Jubilee celebrations. Newspapers and radio stations spread the word that the government would be cracking down on unauthorized hawkers, who had been fixtures on major Accra roads as merchants of disparate items, often snarling traffic for miles. The biggest concern, however, was ridding the city's newly beautified landscape of the physically disabled street beggars who ducked and dodged between cars along busy, multiple-lane roads, imploring drivers for money.2 Outright evidence of poverty did not fit the...


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