I was really excited when my news editor assigned me to cover the 59th Independence Day parade at the Black Star Square in Accra on March 6th 2016.
This year’s anniversary was on the theme: “Investing in the Youth for Ghana’s Transformation.”
I loved the gymnastics
I remember at a young age, I was fond of Independence Day parades as I stayed glued to the TV in order to catch a glimpse of the match past. My favorite part was the gymnastics which were artistically done to spell the name of the country Ghana, and the age being celebrated.
This time around, as a journalist, I had the opportunity to be present to witness it at first hand instead of watching on TV.
Memories of the 48th anniversary parade were still fresh on my mind while I wondered how this year’s was going to be like.
JJ Rawlings could stand for long hours
I remember a lot of schools participated in the march during former President Jerry John Rawlings' era, but subsequent presidents reduced the number of schools that participated in the parade.
JJ Rawlings as he's affectionately called, could stand on his feet for hours without getting tired [or pretending not to be tired] to receive salutes from all the schools and security personnel who take part in the parade.
One of the things I found inconvenient about this year's 6th Mach parade, was the fact that it fell on a Sunday.
I was at the Independence Square on Friday, March 4, 2016, for my accreditation card and for a briefing on security arrangements for the event.
Although I was at the Black Star Square around 9:30am, I had my accreditation around 12:25pm. Together with journalists from other media houses, we were briefed by the Head of Communications at the Presidency, Stan Dogbe.
He told us that two vehicles were to be provided at the left and right wings of the parade grounds to enable journalists capture President Mahama during the inspection of the parade and the lightening of the perpetual flame.
He said platforms were to be mounted for journalists at the right and left wings as well as a scaffold, which was to be mounted at the centre for the TV crew. Mr. Dogbe also noted that journalists who climbed to the top on the day, were only going to be allowed to descend after the whole event was over.
He also told us that military men were going to be in charge of security and would lead journalists briefly to the middle to capture President Mahama as he delivered his speech.
I was at the Black Star Square around 9:30am on Sunday morning. I had attended Citi FM’s Music of Ghanaian Origin a night before, and got home around 2:00am. I was very tired but I amassed the little energy left in me to attend the parade.
- Tipper truck row could have been prevented
Half way through my journey to the Black Star Square, I received photos of journalists packed in a tipper truck, from a colleague who was already at the venue.
The photos captured some of the journalists struggling to climb the unkempt vehicle through a ladder that hanged dangerously.
I laughed my heart out and I was not surprised that the photos went viral on social media. Many have criticized journalists for accepting such an arrangement when they could have rejected the offer.
Well, the journalists couldn’t be blamed. If you don’t join the truck, you won’t get photos or videos of the President lighting the perpetual flame and inspecting the parade. I’m sure the journalists would have no excuse for missing out on such pictures.
But the organisers could have done better. The decision to use a tipper truck for such a job was a poor one and whoever took that decision must be very much ashamed by now.
- Security scanners
After watching the photos, I hurried to the Black Star Square to witness the event and to my utter dismay, for the first time, there were security scanners installed around the main entrance to the parade ground.
All the attendees had to be screened before they were allowed to enter the premises. Security was very tight as I saw military men standing at obscure places and on top of the Ark at the Black Star Square.
My bag which had my laptop, camera, reporters notepad and other equipment were scanned. The security men also made me go through the machine to ensure that I had no explosives or weapons on me.
Such security machines were in the right direction and I think it should be encouraged at other national gatherings in the wake of terror attacks in neighbouring countries.
- School children didn't stand for hours in the sun
After the screening, I again hurried to one of the stands provided for the media. Surprisingly, there were no students or pupils standing in the sun as it used to be in the past.
Security vehicles were instead parked around the perpetual flame area. This move enabled the various performers on the day to have a big space to operate in.
Few minutes after I settled down, the MC announced that the parade was about to start. I quickly fixed my camera to capture the parade.
I saw the school kids coming from the left wing of the parade grounds behind the stands meant for attendees. In the past, school kids usually collapsed after standing on the scorching sun for long hours.
This usually took the shine out of the event since journalists reported on such mishaps instead of focusing on the main event.
This time around, after having their turns to march, the students were escorted to their seats except the security personnel who still stood at the parade ground throughout the rest of the programme.
- Carnival treat, masqueraders, taekwondo act was good
Other new things I observed at the parade, were the introduction of taekwondo fighters, carnival treat, comedy by some local (Kumawood) actors and dance by masqueraders.
These acts added color to the event.
The local (Kumawood) stars which included comedians, were dressed like ex-security men and they called themselves the colonial Police.
The team was led by Papa Nii Papafie also known as Oesophagus, and included Agya Koo, Kyeiwaa, Kwaku Manu, Mr. Beautiful, Bob Okala among others. While some may not agree with me, trust me; this segment put smiles on the faces of the many who witnessed it including the President.
The act by the taekwondo kids, the carnival treat and the masqueraders, also made the event enjoyable.
Another act that was introduced last year, and repeated this year, was the all-female motor riders and the helicopter rappelling. They were fun to watch.
- Error ridden brochures; an international embarrassment
However, photos of grammatical, typographical and unpardonable errors in the brochure used for the 59th Independence Day celebration went viral on social media.
The name of the President of Kenya, Uhuru Kenyatta, who graced the occasion, was captured in the brochure as the president of Ghana. The Coat of Arms was also wrongly spelt among other errors.
The acting Director of the Information Service Department (ISD), Francis Kwarteng Arthur had subsequently accepted responsibility and apologized for the error-ridden brochures. But workers of ISD had been angered by the apology arguing that they did not print the brochures hence should not be blamed.
Whether it was the ISD's mistake or not; the public anger still remains and I think the one whose negligence led to such an international embarrassment should be punished.
- Journalists not allowed to capture Mahama
Despite the assurance by Stan Dogbe, Head of Communications at the Flagstaff House, when the President mounted the podium to deliver his address, we were not allowed to get even an inch closer. When we protested, they [security men] told us that “they’ve changed their mind.”
Such show of power must not be condoned. It’s bad. Almost every year, journalists are allowed few minutes to take pictures of the President and later dispersed to their stands.
I and many journalists left the venue angry with the military for not allowing us to take photographs of the President.
We were not allowed the chance except for the TV cameras who were already on top of the scaffold and the President’s cameraman as well as others given special accreditation. I think this act should not be repeated.
- Another uninspiring speech by Mahama?
President John Dramani Mahama in his address called on Ghanaians to rise up to the task of nation building thrust upon all by the country’s founding fathers.
“The successes and failure of this nation belongs to all to us because this country is for all of us, and we can each choose to play a role no matter how seemingly minor in moving our dear nation forward.”
He charged Ghanaians to commit fully to to the development of Ghana saying, “We must invest ourselves not only in the achievements our nation has chalked but also in the challenges because each of us is the face of Ghana.”
He further extolled Ghana as a nation that continues to epitomize and inspire other Sub-Saharan African countries to strive for better democratic practices.
“Despite the political difficulties they have traveled through generations, the citizens of Guinea Bissau also still hold fast to the hope of a continuation of security and continuation of many more peaceful transitions of power.”
Despite such declarations however, critics believe the speech was uninspiring and that the president could have done better.
- Was President Mahama wearing a bulletproof vest?
Some Ghanaians are also asking questions about whether the President wore a bullet-proof vest to the Black Star Square.
If he did, then it was in order because thousands of people were at the Black Star Square on Sunday and the security of the first gentleman of the land, could not be taken for granted.
In all, I think the 59th Independence Day Parade was good, but for the few errors that took away the shine.
By: Godwin A. Allotey/citifmonline.com/Ghana