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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Ghana, the first sub-Saharan African nation to win independence, is celebrating its 50th anniversary today. The party began last night in Accra, the capital of the former British colony, as thousands took to the streets.

(Soundbite of crowd noise)

MONTAGNE: The celebrants witnessed a recreation of the declaration of independence on March 6, 1957, and stood at attention for the national anthem. To get an idea of Ghana's legacy 50 years on, we turn to NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, who is herself a Ghanaian. Hello.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Greetings from Accra and from Independence Square.

MONTAGNE: And tell us a little about the celebration going on behind you.

QUIST-ARCTON: All you can see is the red, gold, and green, and the black star of freedom of the Ghanaian flag. People are wearing it on their hair, on their bodies, fluttering flags. And then others are wearing Kente, which is the hand-woven national, very colorful embroidered cloth here in Ghana.

And loads of dignitaries from around the continent, heads of state and government, all come to celebrate with Ghana. Plus, of course the military, the police, all the children who have performed today, making the 50th and Ghana's flag.

MONTAGNE: Now Ofeibea, when it comes to the politics and the economy, does Ghana have a lot of reason to celebrate today?

QUIST-ARCTON: It depends who you are. There are Ghanaians who say well done Ghana for reaching 50, half a century in peace, because of course this is a troubled region. West Africa has had civil wars, many coup d'etats, some here in Ghana.

But there are many Ghanaians who say there is nothing to celebrate in this country. That instead of spending $20 million on 50th birthday celebrations, they should rather make sure that there was running water and electricity and jobs for the people. But I think most Ghanaians are celebrating today.

The fact that the founding fathers - Kwame Nkrumah, Kojo Botsio, Komla Gbedemah, and the others - brought this country to independence ahead of other African countries, and was really a beacon for the continent, saying we want independence now, colonial rule must end.

And I think for that Ghana is seen very much as a trailblazer on this continent, although it had a rocky 30 or so years with military rule, return to civilian rule, and more coup d'etat.

MONTAGNE: So now, 50 years into Ghana as a country and all the excitement, are people looking ahead to the country's future?

QUIST-ARCTON: Well, I've just spoken to the young children who performed in the gymnastic display here, display of the Ghanaian flag. And a young boy, Anthony Dususa(ph) said to me this is a historic moment for him. I mean, he's 14 years old and there he was with his bright eyes and his huge smile saying he is confident about the future of Ghana. And he's very happy to be here at Independence Square taking part in the celebration.

So I think young Ghanaians, although of course they learn about the history of independence in history classes rather than the reality, feel quite hopeful. But for those university graduates and those who don't have jobs and feel that they, although there has been free education and the fact that Ghana has made some progress, they feel the country has still got far to go.

MONTAGNE: Ofeibea, thanks for joining us.

QUIST-ARCTON: Always a pleasure. Ciao from Accra.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton in the capital of Ghana as it marks its 50th independence anniversary.

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