Ama Ata Aidoo: Independence and Disillusionment in Postcolonial Ghana

Megan Behrent, Brown University '97

At long last the battle has ended. And thus Ghana, your beloved country is free for ever . . . We must realize that from now on we are we are no more a colonial but a free and independent people.
-- Kwame Nkrumah

The Dreams of Fanon's wretched of the earth
condense into storms in our morning sky
The burden of our guilt
hangs heavy upon our harvest joys(...)
-- Kofi Anyidoho

there is no use screaming about how independent you are by driving away the colonialists if you do not make independence meaningful. -- Ama Ata Aidoo

The independence of Ghana, achieved on March 6, 1957, clearly marked a turning point in the history of the country as it emerged victorious from the colonial era into a new period of "postcolonialism." Despite the hopes, that many had in the prospects for the newly independent Ghana, the reality was that for the majority of people, very little had changed. A new national bourgeoisie emerged and replaced the old colonial one, but the material conditions for the majority of people did not improve and in fact got worse. Aidoo clearly demonstrates in No Sweetness Here the disillusionment that arose as a result of the failure of the national liberation struggle to improve the lives of any one but the most elite classes of society. In this sense, she has much in common with many of her contemporaries such as Awoonor and Armah. Aidoo, however, is particularly concerned the status of women in this society and depicts primarily female characters who live in poorer urban and rural sectors of Ghana demonstrating the ways in which the material conditions of post-colonial Ghanaian society effect their lives.

The independence of Ghana, achieved on March 6, 1957, was a momentous occasion as it was one of the first sub-Saharan African colonies to gain its independence. Discarding the colonial name of the Gold Coast, Nkrumah who had emerged as the leader of the national liberation struggle, symbolically embodied the hope that many had for the future of the newly founded nation and the continent as a whole in the new name : Ghana, which referred to one of the first great empires of West Africa, with which the country had but an extremely tenuous relationship.

After having conducted a unified fight against colonial domination from which Ghana had emerged victorious, the expectations for independence as marking the beginning of a new era of liberation and prosperity were high and in the end shattered. While direct colonial domination had been defeated, very few of the other promises of independence were realized and , in fact, independence marked the beginning of economic decline, continued neocolonialist practices and political instability with a series of brutal dictatorial governments starting with none other than that of Nkrumah, the national hero of independence who in many ways embodied both the hope of liberation and the brutal reality behind the rhetoric of freedom. As Neil Lazarus argues, "Independence seems to have brought neither peace nor prosperity to Africa. Instead, it has paradoxically borne witness to stagnation, elitism, and class domination, and to the intensifying structural dependence - economic, political, cultural, and ideological -- of Africa upon the imperial Western powers" Thus independence failed to live up to its promises and marked the beginning of increasing disillusionment as it became clear that for the majority of people nothing had changed and that domination and exploitation simply continued under a different name.

Once independence from direct British colonial domination had been secured the very different interests of many of those who had fought together against colonialism became increasingly apparent. In the mass struggles which were necessary to overthrow colonialism, a wide array of people and groups were united with the single purpose of fighting colonialism in a way that created an image of a united movement which did not take into account the dissension within it. As Lazarus points out, "The general rhetoric of anticolonialism was reductive. It implied that there was only one struggle to be waged, and it was a negative one : a struggle against colonialism, not a struggle for anything specific. " As a result, once colonialism was defeated, a new national bourgeoisie emerged who simply replaced the old colonial government without making any actual change to the existing social structures.

In his influential essay, "The Pitfalls of National Consciousness", Fanon describes this process, in fact predicting in advance, that while nationalism unites people in the anti-colonial struggle, once this struggle is over, its end result is simply to establish and in a sense 'liberate' the national bourgeoisie who has been kept down by colonial domination. Divisions become apparent in those who united in the anti-colonial struggle, as it becomes clear that the interests of the new bourgeoisie are not in the least compatible with those who want greater social change . In the words of Fanon, "The national bourgeoisie steps into the shoes of the former European settlement(...)its mission has nothing to do with transforming the nation; it consists prosaically of being the transmission line between the nation and a capitalism, rampant though camouflaged, which today puts on the masque of neo-colonialism." What becomes apparent is that all that has been won through the anti-colonial struggle is a new national bourgeoisie which is no different than any other bourgeoisie.

The national liberation struggle therefore is successful in that it overthrows the colonial government, but in its place it simply installs a new indigenous ruling class whose interests as a class are in fact more closely tied with those of the ruling classes of the former colonial powers than with those of the majority of people in their own country. As Lazarus says, "In short, independence let loose the national bourgeoisie to behave as it would, like any bourgeoisie" Hope thus leads to disillusionment as it becomes apparent that independence does not mean change for the majority of people but simply a transfer of power and wealth into the hands of a new ruling class.

It is this disillusionment which recurs again and again in the writing of Ama Ata Aidoo and other African intellectuals of the period directly following independence. While intellectuals certainly occupied a somewhat contradictory position, in that the majority were part of an educated elite and in fact part of the national bourgeoisie who did benefit somewhat from independence, many of the more radical writers denounced the new bourgeoisie and the failure of independence to address the needs of the majority. As Lazarus argues, "It was thus, in African literature, that the category of neocolonialism came to be taken up. Independence was a fraud. It signified a refinement of the colonial system, not its abolition." The work of writers such as Aidoo, Armah, Achebe and others writing at this time is characterized by this sense of disillusionment and resounds with bitter critiques of the corruption and the betrayal of leaders of national liberation struggles and subsequent political leaders. likewise, there are frequent indictments of the continued practice of imperialism in all its forms -- economic, cultural, political, and military.

[These materials have been adapted from an honors thesis written by Megan Behrent, Brown University, 1997]

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Last Modified: 14 March, 2002