September 21: Nkrumah’s birthday and the holiday ‘saga’

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The day – September 21, in Ghana has been surrounded by many controversies.

The day, in Ghana’s history, is the official birthday of the country’s first president, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.

And while this should not have been much of a big subject for discussion, it has become so for many reasons.

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Before the 2016 elections – at least during the entirety of the period that the National Democratic Congress (NDC) ruled this country politically (2009-2017), the day was marked as a statutory holiday.

It was the NDC government’s way of giving some significance to the memory of the man who led the country to its independence from the British, its colonial masters.

Known as Founder’s Day, September 21 became the day the whole country took a pause to reminisce about the enormous contributions of Nkrumah to its development.

But upon taking over the reins of power, the Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo government reviewed this holiday.

Its argument was that there was more than one founder of Ghana and as such, the day should reflect that.

So, instead of September 21, the government, through a new Public Holidays Act, 2018, which was passed by parliament, amended the Public Holidays Act, 2001.

In its place, August 4, became known as Founders’ Day, to represent the participation of the ‘other’ leaders.

September 21, 2022, according to the Act, was to be observed as the Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day without a holiday.

And while not many people were happy with the decision by the government, the practice came to stay until this year – 2022.

In a statement issued by the Minister for the Interior, Ambrose Dery, on September 14, 2022, it said that contrary to the 2018 Act, this year’s Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day would be marked as a statutory holiday.

The statement however failed to indicate any specific reasons for this major adjustment of the law.

“The general public is hereby informed that Wednesday, 21st September 2022 which marks Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day, is a Statutory Public Holiday and should be observed as such throughout the country,” the statement said.

Meanwhile, here is a GhanaWeb article, detailing what Nkrumah said about his birth and birthday in his autobiography.

For years, Ghana has marked September 21 as the birthday of its first president, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.

The date in the past was marked as Founder’s Day in memory of the man who led the country to its independence, the first in the sub-region.

In recent times, however, since the Akufo-Addo government took office, the day is observed as the first president’s birthday.

We would only get to know, after several years that the date – September 21, may not, after all, have been the exact date the country’s first president was born.

Born in an era where dates of births, marriages, and deaths were not registered, Dr. Nkrumah, in his autobiography, cast some doubt about his date of birth.

Titled, ‘Ghana: The Autobiography of Kwame Nkrumah’ the book reveals some intriguing circumstances surrounding the birth of Dr. Nkrumah and how he got the 21 September date as his birth date.

“The only certain facts about my birth appear to be that I was born in the village in Nkroful in Nzima around mid-day on a Saturday in mid-September,” the first line of the first chapter of the book reveals.

Festival celebrations were the only ways parents were able to mark the ages of their children at the time and by that calculation, his birth year shouldn’t even be 1909.

“In the outlying areas of the Gold Coast, nobody bothered to record the dates of births, marriages, and deaths, as is the custom of the western world. Such happenings were remarkable only because they provided a cause for celebration. By tribal custom, it was enough for a mother to assess the age of her child by calculating the number of national festivals that had been celebrated since its birth. In most cases, however, even this was unknown as nobody was concerned very much with age: time did not count in those peaceful communities. The national festival of Nzima is called Kuntum. According to my mother’s calculations, forty-five Kuntums have taken place since I was born, which makes the year of my birth 1912.”

But he got lucky after some time, to have been given a definite date of birth by a Roman Catholic Priest who baptized him whilst he was still young.

“On the other hand, the priest who later baptized me into the Roman Catholic Church recorded my birth date as 21st September 1909. Although this was a mere guess on his part, I have always used this date on official documents, not so much because I believed in its accuracy, but in so far as officialdom was concerned, it was the line of least resistance. It was not until recently that I came to realize how near the mark this guess must have been.”

He recounted in the book how he settled on Saturday, September 18, 1909, as his date of birth after adding pieces of a historical puzzle, which pretty much made sense.

“On the night of 27th August 1913, the Bakana, on her way back from Nigeria to the United Kingdom with a cargo of oil, got into difficulties in a particularly heavy surf between Dixcove and Half Assini. In spite of the efforts of the captain to turn the ship seawards, the Bakana was dragged by a strong current nearer and nearer the shallow water until she got her propeller embedded in about five feet of sand. Two ships, the Ebani and the Warri arrived the following day and endeavored to pull her out to sea, but the Bakana refused to be moved. The master, Captain Richard Williams, then gave orders to abandon ship and the crew and a few passengers were safely lowered into surf boats and taken ashore,” he stated.

He added that “My mother confirms the fact that I was a small boy at the time and that the event occurred some little time after she brought me from Nkroful to live with my father in Half Assini. Assuming therefore that the year of my birth was 1909, the Saturday nearest to the middle of September in that year was the 18th.

“It seems likely, therefore that I was born on Saturday, 18th September 1909,” paragraphs of the book stated.

Dr. Nkrumah also mentions that his birth coincided with the death of his grandmother for which reason there was much celebration and beating of drums in Nkroful – “not in honor of my birth, but in connection with the funeral rites of my father’s mother.”

A copy of the book can be found at the North campus library of the University of Education, Winneba.

ghanaweb.com

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