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Ghana: use of the flag

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Flag of Ghana image by Željko Heimer, 08 October 2001 See also:

Controversy during 2006 World Cup

The "African News Dimension" agency published on 13 July 2006 an article by Kow Ahenakwa on the respect due to the national flag and arms of Ghana.

"For the past few weeks when activities of the FIFA World Cup were at their peak, the Ghana flag experienced an unprecedented presence in Accra, other cities and towns, and beyond. Suddenly, the red, gold and green horizontal stripes with a black star in the middle appeared as hats, shirts, necklaces, wristbands, head scarves, dresses, jackets, sweatshirts and all manner of souvenirs sold or given away to often ecstatic supporters of the national football team, the Black Stars. Both in far away Germany, where the football tournament took place and at home in Ghana, many people used items of clothing or accessories to drum up their support for the Black Stars.

All this was in contravention of a law that makes it an offence for any person without the express permission of the Minister of Interior to use “for any purpose whatsoever, the design of the flag or the Coat of Arms of Ghana or any part thereof”. The Flag and Arms Protection Act of 1959, Number 61, states that any person who contravenes the provisions of this Act commits an offence and shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine. “If the design is used upon, or in connection with goods”, the law says, “The fine shall be increased by an additional amount equal to the retail value of any such goods ... or the goods may be confiscated altogether.”

Cecilia Davis, Solicitor to the Graphic Communications Group, explained to Showbiz on Wednesday that even though the law was promulgated a long time ago, there is no indication that it has been amended or repealed and, therefore, people have to abide by it.  She explained further that despite the fact that many people have flouted the law in the past, it does not mean that offenders cannot be hauled to face the law in court today.

Besides the law, the respect that is due the Ghana Flag and the Coat of Arms as symbols of the nation is demonstrated by tradition. For example, it is only the President of the Republic who has the privilege of flying the Ghana Flag on his car while on official duty. According to state Protocol Department sources, not even the Vice-President is ordinarily given that privilege. Similarly, in the Armed Forces, the Ghana Flag is always given armed protection whenever it is displayed at military parades. The Electoral Commission also makes sure that the national symbols are not used for partisan political activity through the commission’s adherence to a strict code about the use of symbols.

During the period of the World Cup, however, all respect to national symbols seems to have been thrown to the wind as high demand for the flag created a situation in which, in the suppliers’ haste to deliver, the colours of the flag were often mixed up — the red appeared paler; gold turned to be yellow or orange; and the green could be anything between pale green and sea blue. Overnight, all the street vendors in Accra were selling flags or some red-gold-green merchandise. In many cases, the width of the strips were uneven with the red portion being wider than the green or in other cases, the five prongs of the black star had been reduced to four.

Some Ghanaians, who have observed the use to which the national flag has been put in recent times, have made remarks on the issue. A retired Headmaster, ET Erskine, told Showbiz on Monday that although he was not aware of any law about the use of the Ghana Flag, he knew by tradition that the flag was to be given respect at all times. “When I was running a school, for example” Erskine said, “I personally made sure that the flag that was flown by my school always went up every morning and brought down its post every evening. We never allowed it to stay in the rain or dew because of the respect we had for the flag. These days, however, hotels, churches and all manner of organisations use the flag in any way they wish.”
Ivan Sache, 20 July 2006

As I grew up in Ghana I found this article very funny. In my day almost EVERYTHING in Ghana was painted red gold and green! I seriously doubt that you could have stood at any point in Accra and not been able to see something in the national colours within a few yards. Almost every lorry (including the "Trotros" [minibuses]) had the national flag painted on it somewhere, the fishing boats were painted in the national colours, the signs for everything from the Government HQ to the local hairdressers featured large swathes of red gold and green, usually with a black star as well. It's not that the Ghanaians disrespected their flag, they just loved it! Every morning we would stand in school assembly and sing the national anthem (all about the flag of course) as the flag was raised on the school's flagpole, where it would fly for the rest of the school day. Their love of the flag was infectious and it is where I picked up my own love of flags, and to this day I still get a lump in my throat when I see the flag of Ghana.

I think Ghana is just having one of those spells when the flag is so popular that someone has to complain about it. We went through the same thing in England with the St George's flag. I had several newspapers and radio shows phone me up for an interview obviously wanting me to rant about the disrespect being shown to the national flag by all these people hanging it outside their windows or flying it from cars, but I disappointed them by saying I wholeheartedly supported it!
Graham Bartram, 20 July 2016

The controversy in Ghana between those who unreservedly love the national symbols and those who want to ensure that those symbols are respected is an old and familiar one. Some nations, as we know, do not allow ordinary citizens to fly the national flag in front of private residences; only government buildings may fly the flag. Others have a civil and a state flag. And in some places, the national flag flies all over the place, sometimes incorrectly (as in the US S&S displayed vertically with the canton not in the honor position) but always with a patriotic passion and fervor. I treasure always a remark made to me by a Dane, "We love our Dannebrog," as she watched me hoist it here in the U.S. She was truly touched by someone from another country sharing that feeling of respect for her national symbol. I've always felt that was a momentary victory for peace.

I respectfully suggest that the attitude, either the official one or the public one, reflects the philosophy of the government or the people. Recall the little joke about how in some countries (which I will not name) everything is allowed except what is forbidden, and in others nothing is allowed unless it is authorized, and so forth ... it would seem to apply.

There is also a link here to the whole idea of copyright on flag designs. There seems to be a wide-spread public perception (certainly in Ghana!) that the national symbols are part of the national heritage that belongs to every citizen as a right of citizenship ... and perhaps that flag designs (though not the actual physical objects themselves, which can remain property like any other object) are public property as well. As that perception spreads, it will eventually become the principle on which laws are built. On the other hand, in some societies (which some might choose to characterize as "repressive," but I make no value judgments) the concept that the state owns everything grows daily, and the opposite trend seems to be the way life is headed.

History shows that in the former, open societies, the end may well turn out to be that everything falls apart, or becomes victim to a takeover of some kind ... but "was nice while it lasted" as they say. In the latter, more controlled, societies, the public eventually stages a revolution, with or without outside help, and starts all over again, if anyone is left alive to start anything. Of course, there are all shades of blending of the two styles, and resultant mixes of results, so nothing is by formula.

The best may be for a society (represented by it government) to encourage the use of the national colours (remember the UJ jackets worn by British rock stars and Abby Hoffman's S&S-design shirt?) as a way to show simple patriotism, but also educate their citizens in proper respect for the flag itself, the national anthem, and the more subtle symbols like the nation's cultural values and the constitution (to cite an example from the US). The result is that national symbols, including flags, receive both love and respect.
Bill Dunning, 21 July 2006