The power of an apostrophe: How a West African nation added an extra day to its public holidays

Emmanuel Kwarteng August 04, 2022
First independence speech by Kwame Nkrumah. Public domain image

“Osagyefo’s emergence as the Founder of modern Ghana and an international symbol of freedom was not by accident. He was a Pan-Africanist, a philosopher, a writer, and a visionary who matched his words with actions. His towering personality is still recognized in Ghana and beyond. It remains a dark irony of our history that, the very political tradition which conspired to truncate his unparalleled vision on 24th February 1966, is today seeking to revise Ghana’s history,…” that was an excerpt of a Facebook post by Ghana’s former president John Dramani Mahama in 2019.

Ghana, a West African country, added one extra public holiday to the country’s annual holidays by changing the position of an apostrophe from “Founder’s day” to “Founders’ day”. This move saw the Sub-Saharan African country having thirteen annual public holidays, which hitherto was twelve.

Globally, public holidays are days set aside by nations to commemorate historical events and citizens observe those days without official duties. Public offices are closed down. Many have argued that these non-productive days affect a country’s output since all government and state institutions come to a halt during public holidays. 

Founders’ Day (previously Founder’s Day), has over the years been observed in Ghana on September 21 each year, which also marks the birthdate of the country’s first democratically-elected President after independence, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah. 

There has been a serious argument as to whether Dr. Nkrumah liberated Ghana – the then British colony – all by himself. Persons who are against the argument suggest that only one person cannot emancipate a country. They are of the view that the fight to liberate a nation is a difficult task and hence, requires a concerted effort by an equally minded group of people. 

The other school of thought suggests that Dr. Nkrumah’s effort to liberate the country was fiercely opposed by certain individuals the country is being urged to celebrate. This is evident when Dr. Nkrumah had to break away from United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) – the first political party to be formed in Ghana – which is said to have invited Nkrumah from Europe to join the independence struggle. The political undertone is explicit depending on which side of the argument one belongs to. 

Ghana’s late former president John Evans Atta-Mills gave legal backing for the celebration of Dr. Nkrumah’s birthday (21st September; Founder’s Day) as a public holiday through an Executive Instrument (EI), a move the opposition deemed as distorting the country’s history. Will there be an attempt by any future president from the opposing side to alter this? It was just a matter of time!

Fast forward, the current President of Ghana H.E Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who came into office on January 7, 2017, passed the Public Holiday Amendment Bill which had August 4 as “Founders’ Day” into law in March 2019 after several arguments and counter-arguments.

This move by the President received a lot of criticism from opponents, civil society groups as well as academia. The President was chastised for engaging in petty politicking. Ghanaians celebrated the first edition of “Founders’ Day” statutory holiday on August 4, 2019. 

Significance of 4th August in Ghana’s political history

August 4th marks two important milestones in Ghana’s history. Firstly, August 4th is the date for the formation of the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society by John Mensah Sarbah in 1897, and the formation of the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) in 1947 by J.B. Danquah and George Alfred “Paa” Grant.

President Akufo-Addo, upon assuming office, proposed legislation to Parliament to change the date of the Founders’ Day celebration to August 4 in order to include all individuals who were instrumental in the nation’s emancipation. The infamous “Big Six”. The President, however, suggested that September 21 be declared Kwame Nkrumah Memorial Day in honor of Nkrumah’s birthdate. 

The decision separated Nkrumah’s Memorial Day celebration on his birthday from the “Founder’s Day” celebration as an honor of the “Big Six”. And this is how the change in the position of an apostrophe gave the good people of Ghana another statutory holiday.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: August 4, 2022


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