Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 5/3/2007 (3791 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
FIFTY years is not much for the age of a country. But for one African nation, 50 years is long enough to lead an independence movement across a continent, suffer an anguished succession of military coups d'etat, and finally emerge as an open democracy with strong ties to Canada.
As Ghana celebrates its semi-centennial Tuesday, an examination of recently declassified Canadian government reports on the beginning of diplomatic relations between Ghana and Canada and a look at how the two countries get along today illustrates some interesting trends in modern diplomacy.
As the first black country in Africa to achieve independence, the eyes of the world were on Ghana. To policy planners in the Soviet Union and Western countries, it was a new pawn entering the Cold War. To some outside observers it was either a grave mistake to hastily grant independence or a wise change in attitude from an overstretched British Empire. To the rest of Africa and colonized countries around the world, it was an affirmation that their own struggles for self-government could be won.
To the Canadian government, Ghana's independence represented the growth of a potential threat. Kwame Nkrumah, Ghana's first prime minister, was a charismatic and dedicated proponent of solidarity amongst black peoples and made it clear that he would not wholly subscribe to Western offers of assistance and protection.
His attitude led to no small amount of consternation in Ottawa. In a declassified dispatch to then Canadian prime minister John Diefenbaker dated June 2, 1958, the Canadian High Commissioner in Ghana, Evan Gill, expressed palpable exasperation at Nkrumah's "insularity." Gill was frustrated by Nkrumah's apparent failure to "realize that the existence of NATO has contributed to Ghana's security."
Yet if the Diefenbaker government was concerned about Soviet encroachment in Africa, it was also aware of its own opportunities. With no axe to grind, with no legacy of colonial domination in Africa, Canada saw itself in a unique position to engage new African states, and particularly a fellow member of the Commonwealth like Ghana.
The Department of External Affairs sought to forge close ties with the new African nation by establishing a formal diplomatic mission in Ghana's capital, Accra. An embassy was opened promptly after Ghana's independence, and the bilateral aid that began to channel through it from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) made Ghana the first recipient of foreign aid in Canadian history.
Despite Ottawa's conflicted engagement with Ghana, it had a highly visible and articulate interlocutor in Nkrumah. This ended in 1966, when Nkrumah was overthrown while he was en route to a state visit to China.
The country was riven by internal unrest, and its standing on the international stage collapsed along with Nkrumah's government. No less than four more successful, and many more unsuccessful, coups d'etat would follow.
If Ghana's lost years represented a stunningly tragic turn of events, its transition to democracy in the 1990s was no less remarkable. In Ghana's 2004 election, its fourth in 12 years, voter participation was reportedly 83 per cent, roughly 20 per cent more than Canada's participation rate in the last elections.
Although no single leader has emerged on the scale of ambition and political intelligence as Nkrumah, Ghana has collectively emerged not only as a prime example of an African country headed in the right direction, but even more unlikely, as a key component to peace efforts around the globe.
Thanks in large part to its partnership with the Ottawa-based Pearson Peacekeeping Centre, Ghana has been extremely active in international peacekeeping activities, playing a major role in United Nations missions to Lebanon, Afghanistan, Rwanda, the Balkans, Pakistan, and other strife-torn places. It is now the fourth-largest contributor of troops to peacekeeping missions in the world.
The Pearson centre contributed $3.7 million to establish a school in Accra to train West African peacekeeping trainers. In addition, I can report that behind the money was an enormous amount of logistical planning. As an intern at the Pearson centre's former Nova Scotia headquarters in 2003, I was tasked with a small amount of the administrative legwork that was involved in making a reality the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, as the sprawling complex in Accra is now called.
From clever contacts in the Cold War to partners in peacekeeping, relations between Canada and Ghana have become closer on the strength of mutual commitments to quelling global conflicts.
In festivities in Ghana and for the 17,000 Ghanaians living in Canada, that's one more thing to celebrate.
Daniel Morris is program director of the National Committee American Foreign Policy in New York City.