At the dawn of the twenty-first century, Ghana entered upon a new era of democracy and economic progress. After forty-three years of independence, the infant state had at last thrown off the shackles of one party government and military rule; and the discovery of off-shore oil reserves provided an opportunity to advance to middle-income status and beyond. Forty-three years is a long time to wait for the benefits of freedom, and many of the young hopefuls who welcomed the birth of a new country on 6 March 1957 did not survive to see the realisation of their dreams. Others, born into the new Ghana, were faced with decades of turmoil and deprivation and spent more than half a life-time struggling to find a way forward for themselves, their families and their country.
After the dictatorship of Kwame Nkrumah and the first two military coups, by the early 1970s life for many people was bordering on the unbearable. Young people, almost universally harboured the ambition to leave the country and large numbers succeeded. For those who could not board an aeroplane to Europe or the USA, the apparently oil-rich Nigeria became the destination of choice. The most favoured group were the graduates of Ghana’s three internationally-recognised universities who could gain a place on a course at a western university leading to a higher degree and eventual employment in an advanced economy. A few however, were inspired with a vision of a new Ghana, and applied themselves to the long-term and self-sacrificing task of the economic development of their homeland.
For graduates to remain in Ghana and dedicate themselves to the development of their country required a good deal of courage and determination. They faced a life of relative poverty and the derision of their extended families for not providing the benefits sent home by their peers who escaped overseas. They were unlikely ever to own a house or to buy a new car, yet would see the ambitious housing projects and expensive new vehicles financed from afar by their expatriate peers. Their consolation in the 1970s lay in the many opportunities that existed for promoting small-scale enterprises and grassroots industries, helping the local economy to take important steps towards self-sufficiency. However, all this came to nought in 1983 through the machinations of the IMF, and the most dedicated patriots were driven to a new wave of soul-searching. If the multinational corporations could in a few months nullify a decade of serious development effort, maybe self-preservation required one to join the multinational corporations.
Life was far from easy for Ghanaians during the first four decades of independence and those who benefitted from higher education at the nation’s expense faced a moral dilemma. To dedicate one’s energy and knowledge to the development of the local economy required a serious sacrifice affecting the wellbeing not only of oneself but also of one’s extended family. That some took this stony path of honour deserves the recognition and acclaim of all who now enjoy a better life in a new century.