INTRODUCTION OF GHANA
Ghana, nation in West Africa, a former British colony known as the Gold Coast until 1957. That year Ghana became the first state in sub-Saharan Africa to gain political independence from European colonial rule. Drawing on tradition, the new state took its name from that of the medieval empire of Ghana, on the upper Niger River, several hundred miles to the northwest of modern Ghana. Following independence, Ghana assumed the leadership role in the African continent’s struggle for national liberation.
The people of this densely populated country belong to more than 100 different ethnic groups, but Ghana has largely been spared the ethnic conflict that has torn apart many other African countries. The capital city of Accra is the largest city in the country. English is the official language of the country, but most Ghanaians also speak at least one African language.
Ghana has one of the strongest economies in West Africa, yet the country’s economic base continues to be agriculture and the people remain poor. Gold mining, the production of cacao (used to make chocolate), and tourism are the main sources of revenue. Ghana was known as a source of gold hundreds of years ago. European explorers who arrived in search of gold in the 1400s and 1500s first named the region the Gold Coast.
A series of military coups and severe economic problems plagued Ghana from the late 1960s into the 1980s. However, Ghana reemerged in the 1990s as a democracy and a leading player in African affairs. In 1997 Kofi Annan, a diplomat from Ghana, became secretary-general of the United Nations.
LAND AND RESOURCES OF GHANA
Ghana has a total area of 238,500 sq km (92,090 sq mi). The distance from south to north is about 670 km (420 mi) and from west to east is about 560 km (350 mi). The country is bordered by Côte d’Ivoire to the west, Togo to the east, and Burkina Faso to the north. The Gulf of Guinea of the Atlantic Ocean washes Ghana’s southern shore.
Ghana is generally characterized by flat plains and gently rolling hills. Forests cover 23 percent (2005) of the country’s area, while 28 percent (2003) of its area is farmed. The country is divided into five distinct geographical regions. Coastal plains stretch across the southern portion of the country, featuring low sandy beaches interspersed with saltwater lagoons. A forested plateau region consisting of the Ashanti uplands and the Kwahu Plateau is located inland, in southwest and south central Ghana. The hilly Akwapim-Togo Ranges run north to south along the country’s eastern border. The Volta Basin takes up most of central Ghana. Finally, high plains characterize the northern third of the country. The country’s highest point is Mount Afadjoto, at 885 m (2,904 ft), in the Akwapim-Togo Ranges.
Rivers and Lakes in Ghana
The country’s main river is the Volta, which is formed in the center of the country by the confluence of the Black Volta and the White Volta. The Volta enters the Gulf of Guinea at Ada in southeastern Ghana. The Akosombo Dam on the Volta formed Lake Volta upon its completion in 1965. The lake covers an area of 8,482 sq km (3,275 sq mi), making it one of the world’s largest artificial lakes.
The two major tributaries of the Volta are the Oti and Afram rivers. Together, the Volta and its tributaries drain the Volta Basin. Ghana’s other significant river systems are the Densu, Birim, Pra, and Ankobra. All empty into the Gulf of Guinea. Ghana’s rivers are navigable only by small crafts, with the exception of the Volta. Located in the Ashanti uplands, Lake Bosumtwi is Ghana’s only natural lake.
Plant and Animal Life in Ghana
Southern Ghana contains evergreen and semideciduous forests, consisting of tall silk cottons, kolas, and valuable West African hardwoods such as mahogany, odum, and ebony. The northern two-thirds of the country is covered by savanna—tropical grassland with a scattering of shrubs and trees. Ghana’s savanna features shea trees, acacias, and baobabs. The oil palm is found throughout the south and the Ashanti uplands, and the lagoons of the coast contain mangroves.
Once plentiful throughout the savanna, large mammals such as elephants and lions are now rare and largely confined to nature reserves. Mole National Park in northwest Ghana has become a refuge for many of these mammals. The forest regions are habitats for monkeys, snakes, and antelopes, and some of the major rivers contain crocodiles. There are more than 725 bird species in Ghana.
Natural Resources of Ghana
A largely agricultural nation, Ghana’s most important natural resource is the soil. Of the country’s total land area, 28 percent (2003) is arable or under permanent crops, and 23 percent (2005) is forested. Gold is Ghana’s principal mineral resource; bauxite, manganese, and diamonds are also important. The Akosombo Dam on the Volta River provides hydroelectricity for Ghana and several neighboring countries.
Climate in Ghana
Ghana’s tropical climate features distinct wet and dry seasons, with regional variations. The north experiences one long rainy season from March until November. The dry season begins when the harmattan, a hot, dust-laden wind from the Sahara, blows from the north. The harmattan is most intense in December and January. The south experiences two rainy seasons: one from April to July, and then—after intermittent rains in August—another from September to November.
In Accra, average daily temperatures range from 23° to 31°C (73° to 87°F) in January and from 23° to 27°C (73° to 81°F) in July. Slightly hotter average temperatures are experienced in the north. Rainfall varies widely. The northern portion of the country is drier than the south, with the exception of the coastal area around Accra. The mean annual rainfall ranges from 750 to 1,000 mm (30 to 40 in) at Accra, from 1,470 to 1,830 mm (60 to 70 in) on the Kwahu Plateau, from 1,780 to 2,080 mm (70 to 80 in) on the southwest coast, and from 1,100 to 1,200 mm (40 to 50 in) in the northern high plains. The country experiences occasional droughts.
Environmental Issues in Ghana
In the late 19th century, hardwood forests covered the southern half of Ghana. Considerable portions of these once-extensive forests have been destroyed, and today about 23 percent of the country remains forested. Not all of these forests are commercially viable, however.
Ghana is the third largest producer of cacao in the world. Large tracts of forest have been cleared for cacao crops, which thrive in the rich soil of the rain forest. In times of depressed cacao prices, Ghana has significantly increased exports of timber to generate needed revenue.
In 1988 Ghana initiated a conservation plan called the Forest Resource Management Project. In 1989 Ghana restricted the export of 18 tree species, and in 1994 the country banned the export of raw logs. About 4.8 percent (1997) of the country’s land is officially protected, but illegal logging threatens Ghana’s remaining forests.
Deforestation, overgrazing, and periodic drought have led to desertification and soil erosion. Ghana’s wildlife populations, depleted by habitat loss, are further threatened by poaching.
Ghana has ratified international agreements protecting biodiversity, endangered species, tropical forests, wetlands, and the ozone layer.
THE PEOPLE OF GHANA
The population of Ghana in 2009 was 23,832,495, giving the country a population density of 103 persons per sq km (267 per sq mi). Life expectancy at birth is estimated at 59.9 years, one of the highest rates in sub-Saharan Africa. With a birth rate of 28.58 per 1,000 and a death rate of 9.24 per 1,000, the country’s population growth rate is 1.88 percent (2009 estimate). While this current rate of increase is moderate compared with other West African nations, Ghana’s population almost tripled from 1960 to 2000. The rapid rise in the population reflects the advances made in the provision of medical and sanitation services in the country and has resulted in a youthful population. Family planning programs have helped reduce the nation’s birth rate.
Despite migrations to Ghana’s urban centers, 54 percent (1998) of the population resides in rural communities. Most rural Ghanaians are farmers, herders, or fishers. In the cities, most people work in the service sector or in manufacturing. The country’s major cities are Accra, the national capital; Kumasi, the principal city of the Ashanti region; Tema, an industrial city and Ghana’s major port; Sekondi and Takoradi, the coastal twin cities; Tamale, a northern trade center; and the college town of Cape Coast.
Ethnic Groups and Languages in Ghana
Over 100 linguistic and ethnic groups have been identified in Ghana, and these groups have maintained a sense of ethnic identity. However, the population is classified into two major linguistic families: the Kwa and the Gur.
The Kwa speakers, traditionally associated with the area south of the Volta, make up about 75 percent of the population. The major Kwa linguistic subgroup is the Akan speakers, who are further subdivided into the Ashanti, Bono, Fante, Akuapem, Akyem, and Kwahu, among others. The Ashanti and Akuapem peoples speak similar Akan dialects, collectively known as Twi. Other Kwa linguistic groups include the Nzima, Ga, Gonja, Adangbe, and Ewe.
Members of the Gur linguistic family live mainly in the northern regions of the country. The principal Gur language is Dagbane, and the major Gur ethnic groups are the Dagomba and Mamprusi peoples. Due to the similarities in the various dialects and to the increasing mobility of the population, a typical Ghanaian understands at least one of five major languages—Akan, Nzima, Dagbane, Ga, or Ewe—as well as English, which is the official language of the country.
Religion in Ghana
Although no exact figures on religious distribution have been provided since the 1960 census, experts believe that about 41 percent of the population adheres to Protestantism, Roman Catholicism, or independent Christian faiths; 20 percent to Islam; and most of the remainder to traditional African religions. Most Protestants belong to Methodist, Presbyterian, or Anglican denominations. A growing number of Christians belong to independent African churches that are usually organized as spiritual or Pentecostal churches. Most Ghanaian Muslims are orthodox Sunnis, and a small percentage are members of the Ahmadiyya sect. The main characteristics of traditional religion in Ghana include expressed belief in the power of a Supreme Being, family ancestors, lesser gods, witches, and a host of spiritual beings.
Education in Ghana
Christian missionaries introduced Western-style education to Ghana in the 18th century. Although some schools are still affiliated with religious groups, the state is now the main provider of education. In 1996, 20 percent of the national budget was spent on education. Primary education is free and compulsory.
In 2006, 64 percent of primary school-aged children attended primary school. Attendance at the secondary school level was 39 percent and 5.8 percent at the university level. A greater percentage of boys attended school than girls, the gap widening above the primary school level. However, the disparity in attendance by gender was not due to any state policy. Ghana’s educational system is open to all. The adult literacy rate in 2007 was recorded at 65 percent, with male literacy at 71.7 and female literacy at 58.3.
The University of Ghana, at Legon (near Accra), was Ghana’s first university, established in 1948. There are three other universities in the country, located at Cape Coast, Kumasi, and Tamale, and numerous teacher training colleges and vocational institutions.
Way of Life in Ghana
Ghana has long been exposed to outside influences on its society and culture. To some extent, Islam shapes the society of the north while Christianity is strong in the south. Despite the influence of these world religions, however, much of Ghanaian society continues to be traditional. Most people recognize the place of traditional practices. For example, they grant local chiefs customary rights to preside over their communities, and the young respect parents and their elders. An extended family’s elders arbitrate the inheritance of the family’s land, possessions, and social status.
Polygamy (the practice of having more than one wife) is legal, but as the literacy rate has risen, Ghanaians have increasingly chosen monogamy (the practice of having only one wife) as the preferred marital relation. A number of women’s organizations and lobby groups were established in the 1990s. Women are not prohibited from holding public offices nor are they paid less for equal work done. Most Ghanaians throughout the country wear Western attire. Traditional clothing, which is worn usually at local ceremonies and dances, varies among ethnic groups, often taking the form of smocks for men and wraparound dresses for women.
CULTURE OF GHANA
Ghana’s culture is as diverse as its linguistic and geographical regions. Weaving and carving are important traditional art forms. Music and dance are performed at communal functions and ceremonies such as funerals and marriages.
Literature in Ghana
Oral literature, in the form of story telling, has traditionally been the most popular indigenous way of transmitting societal values. In village gathering places, stories of the spider Ananse were told both to entertain and educate. In the 1950s and 1960s, many of these stories were written down to serve as reading material for school children. Commonly recurring themes in modern Ghanaian literature have been opposition to colonial rule, political corruption, and the clash between tradition and modernization in Ghana.
Some of the best known Ghanaian writers in the English language are Efua Sutherland, a colonial-era female playwright; Ama Ata Aidoo, a writer whose plays, novels, and poetry examine the traditional roles assigned to African women; Ayi Kwei Armah, an author of insightful critiques of contemporary political conditions and historical fiction; and Kofi Awoonor, a writer whose poems and novels dissect the interaction of traditional and Western ideas in Africa.
Art and Architecture of Ghana
Ghana’s visual art forms, including gold jewelry, woodcarvings, and weaving, were associated traditionally with the royal courts of different ethnic groups. Although the works of artisans continue to serve their traditional functions, they are now also created for the tourist industry. Gold, mined for centuries in Ghana, is worked into weighty pieces of jewelry that traditionally only adorned the Akan king and nobility.
The Ashanti people are known for their carved wooden stools, which customarily served domestic and sacred roles. The Golden Stool, the symbol of the Ashanti nation, is the most sacred stool of all. In the second half of the 20th century, the Ga people developed a tradition of building carved and brightly decorated coffins, shaped like animals or objects that celebrate the deceased. Ghanaian weavers produce many different styles of cloth, but the most well-known fabric produced in Ghana is Kente cloth. This distinctive style was traditionally made by weavers of the Ashanti court, using European silk acquired through trans-Saharan and, later, coastal trade.
There are two main types of indigenous Ghanaian building styles. Traditional round huts with grass roofing are found in the northern regions. In the south, several adjoining buildings surround a communal compound in the middle of an enclosure. In recent years, however, single-family structures have become more popular, especially in the urban centers.
Music and Dance in Ghana
Traditional forms of ceremonial music, accompanied by dancing, continue to be performed in Ghana. The country is well known for its traditional talking drums, which mimic the tonal patterns of spoken language. The most popular Ghanaian music is the highly danceable style called highlife. Highlife is performed at dances by bands that feature either trumpets and saxophones or several electric guitars and a set of percussion instruments. The most famous highlife musician was the late E. T. Mensah, who was often referred to as “King of Highlife.” A newer style of popular Ghanaian dance music called hiplife combines the traditional African folklore and rhythms of highlife with elements of hip-hop. Musician Reggie Rockstone is often called the father of this genre.
Theater and Film in Ghana
Ghana’s oldest form of theater is the Concert Party, in which a traveling minstrel troupe visits villages and performs to music. The Ghana Dance Ensemble and the University of Ghana produce and perform local plays. Various local artists and performing groups make film and television appearances. Ghana’s modest film industry features the work of directors Kwaw Ansah and King Ampaw.
Libraries and Museums in Ghana
The Accra Central Library (1950) is Ghana’s main library. The Ghana National Archives (1946), located in Accra, holds the largest collection of government papers and has branch offices in regional capitals. The National Museum in Accra (1957) holds historical and anthropological artifacts from around the country.
ECONOMY OF GHANA
Before the arrival of European colonists in the 1400s, farming, herding, and fishing were the main indigenous Ghanaian economic activities, with smaller numbers of people mining for gold. With the establishment of complete colonial control in the late 1800s, the territory’s economy was drawn fully into the world capitalist system, and gold was exported in large quantities to Europe. Ghanaian farmers produced cash crops such as cacao for the export market. European merchants, however, dominated the export and import economy.
Upon independence in 1957, the state assumed greater involvement in the national economy. From the late 1960s through the 1970s, Ghana experienced severe economic decline as a result of political instability. By the mid-1980s, however, economic recovery programs were underway to encourage and expand private sector investments. Both the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (World Bank) supported the reform programs. In the mid-1980s the government promoted industries using local raw materials and private investment in food production. From 2007 to 2007, Ghana’s economy grew an average of 6.3 percent each year.
Ghana reported a gross domestic product (GDP) of $15 billion, or $645.60 per capita, in 2007. Of the total GDP, 40.6 percent was from the service sector, 33.6 percent from agriculture, and 25.8 percent from industrial productions. GDP is a measure of the value of all goods and services produced by a country.
The state has been responsible for the provision of infrastructure installations and facilities since colonial times. Despite efforts to increase privatization in the mid-1980s, the government funds almost all road construction and installation of new power and telephone lines.
Labor in Ghana
Ghana’s labor force in 2007 totaled 10.5 million people. Of these, 55 percent were involved in agriculture, 31 percent in services, and 14 percent in industry. Despite an expanding private sector, the state continues to be the largest employer. Almost all schoolteachers, medical service providers, and administrative personnel are public employees. Ghanaian workers have a long tradition of organizing into trade unions. The Ghana Trade Union Congress is an independent umbrella organization that represents workers’ interests. A 20 percent unemployment rate was estimated for 1997.
Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing in Ghana
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing form the traditional backbone of Ghana’s economy. Cattle are raised in the dry savanna regions of the north and in the plains region around Accra. Bananas, plantains, rice, corn, and cassava are produced as food crops in the southern half of the country. In the drier north, the major crops are yams, sorghum, and millet. The wet forest zones allow the cultivation of cash crops such as cacao, coffee, and palms and the harvesting of tropical timber. Freshwater fish are available in the rivers and Lake Volta, but the Atlantic Ocean provides the bulk of the nation’s fish supply.
Mining in Ghana
Ghana is known historically for its gold mines, and the country is one of the world’s top gold producers. Ghana mined 66,205 kg (145,960 lb) of gold in 2006. The Ashanti Goldfields Corporation manages the richest deposit at Obuasi in the Ashanti uplands. Other mineral exports from Ghana include manganese, diamonds, and bauxite.
Manufacturing in Ghana
Locally produced goods include textiles, clothing, timber products, food, beverages, processed fish, and rubber products. In 2007 the manufacturing sector accounted for 7.90 percent of GDP. The industrial city of Tema is home to an aluminum smelter, an iron and steel plant, and a petroleum refinery.
Services and Tourism of Ghana
The service sector accounted for 40.6 percent of GDP in 2007. Wholesaling and retailing of food items at local open markets as well as sales of manufactured goods at shops characterize Ghana’s domestic trade.
Tourism is one of the country’s expanding service activities. The most important tourist destinations are the colonial fortresses at Cape Coast and Elmina, which were once major transshipment points for tens of thousands of slaves on their way to the New World. Tourists are also attracted by the beaches along the Gulf of Guinea and the animal life in Ghana’s national parks. Tourist arrivals increased from 146,000 in 1990 to 442,000 in 2006. In 2007 $558 million was generated from tourism. Most visitors to Ghana come from the United States and Europe.
Energy in Ghana
More than 90 percent of Ghanaian households burn wood or charcoal for cooking, but gas and electrical sources of energy are also available. Power generated by the Akosombo Dam on the Volta River is the country’s main source of electricity. The Akosombo Dam was completed in 1965, and a second hydroelectric dam was later constructed downstream, at Kpong. In 2006 Ghana generated 8.2 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, virtually all in hydroelectric plants.
Until the mid-1990s Ghana was a regular exporter of electricity, but low water levels in the Volta have periodically caused power shortages in the country. The country is investigating the use of thermal energy to augment its electricity generation. Petroleum is imported to power automobiles and generators.
Transportation in Ghana
Ghana is served by 977 km (607 mi) of rail lines, which are limited to the southern sector of the country, essentially connecting Sekondi, Accra, and Kumasi. The national rail line has not expanded since its construction in the early 20th century, with the exception of the short Accra-Tema link built in the 1960s. Logs, timber products, and minerals from the southern regions are transported to the deep-water harbors at Tema and Takoradi for export.
River transportation on the Volta north of the Akosombo Dam is possible, but the most accessible means of domestic travel is by road. There are 47,787 km (29,693 mi) of roads in the country, only 18 percent of which are paved. Most Ghanaians travel by bus, or another form of private mass transportation. The Kotoka International Airport is located at Accra, but Ghana Airways and other private airlines serve local airports at Kumasi, Tamale, Sunyani, and Takoradi.
Communications in Ghana
The government runs the country’s two major newspapers, the Daily Graphic and The Ghanaian Times, both published in Accra. Since 1992 a number of independent and party-affiliated newspapers have been established. The government-owned Ghana Broadcasting Corporation offers radio and television programs in English and several local languages. There are also several private FM stations. The most critical concern of news providers is the issue of press freedom, which was curtailed occasionally from the 1960s to the 1980s. The National Media Commission was established in 1993 as an independent watchdog organization to ensure that the government does not control or interfere with any media provider, private or state-owned. Today, the media in Ghana operate without major restrictions.
Ghana’s telecommunications system is poorly developed—in 2005 there were only 14.5 telephone lines per 1,000 people. Consequently, mobile telephone usage is becoming increasingly popular. Access to the Internet is available but not widespread.
Foreign Trade in Ghana
In 2007 Ghana’s total exports were valued at $4.13 billion, and its total imports at $7.94 billion. The country’s chief export is gold; other major exports include cacao, lumber, and electricity. Petroleum, consumer goods, and machinery and transport equipment are among the main imports. Ghana’s major trade partners, in order of importance, are the United Kingdom, the United States, Nigeria, The Netherlands, and Germany. Ghana is a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
Currency and Banking of Ghana
The Bank of Ghana, founded in 1957, is the country’s central bank and issues the national currency. The Ghanaian unit of currency is the new cedi, divided into 100 pesewas (1 new cedis equal U.S.$1; 2007 average). The state-owned Ghana Commercial Bank has branches throughout the country, and there are also several private banks. The Ghana Stock Exchange was established in 1990.
GOVERNMENT OF GHANA
According to the nation’s constitution, adopted in 1992, Ghana is a multiparty democracy, and all citizens aged 18 and older are entitled to vote.
Executive of Ghana
A president, selected by direct popular election to a four-year term, is head of state and commander in chief of the Ghana armed forces. According to the constitution, the president must be a Ghanaian by birth, must be at least 40 years of age before taking office, and can serve no more than two terms in office. The president appoints a vice president and a Council of Ministers, a cabinet body whose members have different portfolios, or responsibilities, for advising the president on specific national and international issues. A Council of State acts as another advisory body; each of the 10 administrative regions of the country elects a council member, and the president appoints the remaining 15 members.
Legislature of Ghana
Ghana’s lawmaking body is the unicameral (single house) Parliament. The Parliament’s 230 members are directly elected to four-year terms, with no term limits. Any Ghanaian aged 21 years or older who does not have the privilege of dual citizenship and who possesses a taxpaying history can run for Parliament.
Judiciary in Ghana
Ghana’s legal codes are based on Britain’s. The principal judicial body is the Supreme Court, which makes judgments on constitutional, criminal, and civil cases. Below the Supreme Court are the Court of Appeals and Regional High Courts. At the lower tier are the Circuit Courts, Community Tribunals, and Courts of the Houses of Chiefs. All judges are appointed by the president and approved by Parliament. A Judicial Council monitors the performance of the judicial system, and the Ghana Bar Association represents the interests of Ghanaian lawyers.
Local Government of Ghana
The country is divided into ten administrative regions: Ashanti, Brong-Ahafo, Central, Eastern, Greater Accra, Northern, Upper East, Upper West, Volta, and Western. Each region is led by a regional executive, who is appointed by the president. Below the regional level are district assemblies. Some district assembly members are appointed by the central government, but the majority are democratically elected.
Political Parties of Ghana
The two major political parties in Ghana are the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP). Also represented in Parliament are the People’s National Convention (PNC) party and the Convention People’s Party (CPP). Other parties include the National Convention Party (NCP) and the National Reform Party (NRP), which split off from the NDC in 1999.
Defense of Ghana
The Ghana armed forces—including army, navy, and air force—totaled 13,500 personnel in 2006. With a total of 10,000 men and women, the army is the largest of the defense forces. Military service is voluntary. Ghana’s armed forces personnel have taken part in international peacekeeping activities in West Africa and around the world. Police force and civil defense units keep the peace at home.
International Organizations in Ghana
Ghana has held membership in the United Nations (UN) and the Commonwealth of Nations since independence in 1957. Ghana is also a founding member of the African Union (AU) and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
HISTORY OF GHANA
Archaeological evidence shows that human habitation in what is now Ghana dates back to 1500 BC. However, there is no evidence indicating that these early inhabitants were the ancestors of the current peoples of the country. From oral traditions historians have learned that the ancestors of many of Ghana’s ethnic groups entered their present territories by the 10th century AD. For hundreds of years thereafter, upheaval caused by the rise and fall of powerful kingdoms on the upper Niger River contributed to population migrations into northern Ghana.
The first of these states was the Kingdom of Ghana, which emerged as early as 500 AD, expanded greatly by the 9th century, and collapsed in the 11th century. The Kingdom of Ghana was located in what is now southeastern Mauritania and southwestern Mali. (The only relationship between this ancient kingdom and the modern nation of Ghana is a shared name. The former Gold Coast was renamed Ghana in 1957 to symbolize its historic place as the first black African nation to gain political independence from European colonial rule.)
The Kingdom of Ghana was succeeded by the Mali Empire and then Songhai. These later states developed commercial links with the people of what is now Ghana. For example, the ancient town of Begho, located on the margin between the forests of the south and the savanna of the north, emerged in the 15th century as an important commercial center. Here, savanna and Saharan goods such as cloth and metal wares were exchanged for gold and kola nuts from the south. Although no part of present-day Ghana was ever dominated by these empires to the northwest, Muslim traders came to influence the affairs of northern peoples such as the Gonja and Dagomba. Most significant was their introduction of Islam.
Early States and Kingdoms in Ghana
The ancestors of today’s Akan speakers settled in the forest region of central Ghana by the 13th century and became involved in the prosperous trade with the north by the 15th century. According to oral traditions, the Ga-speaking people of the coastal plains and the Ewes of the Volta region migrated to Ghana from the east around the 13th century.
By the second half of the 15th century when the first Europeans arrived in the area, the ancestors of most of today’s ethnic groups were already established in the present territories. In this period, the various groups began organizing into states. Over the years, trade contacts with the Islamic states of the north and, later, with the Europeans on the coast contributed to the rise and fall of these local states. The Ga people of the coastal plains organized into an effective political unit in approximately 1500. Islamic trade networks stimulated the development of Akan states, and the Akan-speaking Denkyira people of the southwest rose to become a dominant power by the 1650s. In the northern regions of the country, the Gonja, Dagomba, and Mamprusi contested for political power in the 1620s. However, it was the Ashanti Kingdom, located in south central Ghana, that was the most influential.
The Ashanti people, members of the Twi-speaking branch of the Akan, settled the upland region near Lake Bosumtwi by the mid-17th century. Under a series of military leaders, they expanded and gathered into five major political units. Around 1700 an Ashanti confederacy, under the leadership of Osei Tutu of Kumasi, conquered the Denkyira state. Osei Tutu was declared the first asantehene, the king of a united Ashanti nation. Under his leadership and that of his immediate successors, the new nation expanded rapidly into an empire.
Political relations in the Ashanti confederacy were defined, preserved, and regulated by an oral constitution. The asantehene held power as commander in chief of the Ashanti armies. He had the authority to hear citizens’ appeals, and all major chiefs of the Ashanti nation swore an oath of allegiance to him. Rulers of the confederate states, however, were allowed many privileges, including control over the inheritance of land and the right to preside over cases brought before them. Ashanti expansion toward the coast began in the first decade of the 19th century. By 1820 Ashanti held some degree of military and political influence over all of its neighbors.
European Influence and the Slave Trade
The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive in what is now Ghana, landing on the shores in 1471. Aware that the source of the rich trans-Saharan gold trade was inland, the Portuguese named the region the Gold Coast. At a coastal village that they named Elmina (Portuguese for “the mine”), they established a commercial mecca, trading firearms and slaves from other parts of Africa for gold dust. Competition with Portugal’s gold trade monopoly soon came from Spanish, Italian, and British traders, among others. To protect their commercial interests, the Portuguese constructed several fortresses. Saint George’s Castle, the most impressive of the Portuguese strongholds, was begun in 1482 at Elmina.
Competition among European merchants on the Gold Coast intensified in the 17th century. In 1637 the Dutch invaded and took control of the Portuguese fortress at Elmina. Farther west, the Dutch seized another Portuguese castle at Axim in 1642. At Cape Coast, the British captured a Dutch stronghold in 1665. Ultimately, the British, Danish, and Dutch emerged as the dominant European powers on the coast. The aggressiveness with which European merchants competed on the coast was not due solely to a profitable gold trade. By the 18th century the Atlantic slave trade, supplying African slaves to European plantation colonies in North America, South America, and the Caribbean, had become a vast enterprise. The slave trade subsequently came to dominate commercial activities in the Gold Coast, as more than 40 European slave-trading fortresses dotted the coast.
The exact number of people taken as slaves from the Gold Coast cannot be estimated accurately. The majority of individuals who were sold into slavery were prisoners from local wars, but others were the victims of systematic slave raids. Also, many local people were enslaved as punishment for acts classified as crimes, ranging from challenging political traditions to infringements of religious customs. In exchange for slaves, local rulers and traders typically received guns and gunpowder.
As a result of the slave trade, powerful states such as Ashanti were able to acquire enough weapons to sustain their dominance. Occasionally, however, coastal Fante states formed alliances to resist Ashanti threats. At times, European powers—the British in particular—were drawn into these local conflicts. Historians agree that the Atlantic slave trade was the cause of many wars in the region.
Britain abolished slave trading in 1807; other European nations followed suit, and the trade dwindled in the mid-19th century. Europe’s ongoing Industrial Revolution led European entrepreneurs to turn their attention to Africa’s wealth of critical raw materials—such as the Gold Coast’s plentiful palm oil, timber, and rubber—and its potential for providing new markets for manufactured goods.
The British-Ashanti Wars
The majority of the Gold Coast’s fortresses were under British control by the early 19th century. Seeking a peaceful environment in which to conduct trade for raw materials, Britain viewed Ashanti efforts to assert dominance as a threat to Britain’s commercial interests and began to intervene in local conflicts. The Ashanti, on the other hand, saw British interference in its conquered territories as infringement on its sovereignty and fought back.
During a confrontation in 1824, the Ashanti army routed a British force and killed its commander, Charles MacCarthy, the colonial governor of Sierra Leone. In 1826 the Ashanti launched an offensive against British coastal positions. They suffered high casualties and were turned back by an alliance of British and Danish troops in a fierce battle on the plains near Accra. The Ashanti signed a peace treaty with Britain in 1831. The subsequent peace coincided with a period of increased European Christian missionary work in the region.
In 1844 the British signed a political agreement with a confederation of Fante states. Known as the Bond of 1844, the agreement extended British protection to the signatory states and gave Britain a degree of authority over them. In subsequent years, additional coastal and interior states signed the Bond. Britain bought all of Denmark’s Gold Coast territory in 1850 and purchased the Dutch fort at Elmina in 1872.
The systematic consolidation of British power on the coast alarmed Ashanti leaders. With the 1872 purchase, the British became the only European power left on the Gold Coast. The Ashanti, who for years had enjoyed friendly relations with the Dutch, lost an important pathway to the coast. Ashanti forces surrounded the British territory and then invaded in 1873. After initial successes, the Ashanti were forced to retreat. An attempt to negotiate a peaceful conclusion was rejected by the British commander, Sir Garnet Wolseley. In January 1874 a large expeditionary force led by Wolseley fought its way into Ashanti territory, capturing Kumasi and then burning the Ashanti capital to the ground.
In a treaty that ended the war, the Ashanti recognized British sovereignty over the coast, agreed to pay war reparation costs, and renounced influence over all the territories under British protection. In return, the British permitted the Ashanti commercial access to the coast. In July 1874 the British proclaimed the coastal territories as the Gold Coast Colony and moved their administrative center from Cape Coast to Accra. In the subsequent years, internal dissention made it impossible for Ashanti to control subject territories. In 1896 Britain attacked and occupied Ashanti, declaring it a British protectorate. The asantehene and several Ashanti elders were taken prisoner and exiled to the Seychelles in the Indian Ocean. In 1899 British forces occupied the Northern Territories, the high plains region north of Ashanti.
A final Ashanti rebellion against the British occurred in 1900. Under the command of Yaa Asantewa, queen mother of the Ashanti state of Ejusu, the Ashanti demanded the return of their exiled leaders. The rebellion was put down in 1901, and Ashanti was proclaimed a British colony. In 1902 Ashanti and the Northern Territories were annexed to the Gold Coast Colony. Thus, Britain became the sole power in the political and economic affairs of what is now Ghana.
Colonial Gold Coast
In the first decade of the 20th century, British colonial authorities constructed a railway into the coastal interior, boosting the colony’s economy. Exports of gold, manganese, and particularly cacao increased. Gold Coast farmers produced so much cacao that the crop supplanted gold as the colony’s most profitable product: In 1927, 82 percent of the colony’s foreign earnings came from cacao. Private British companies controlled almost all export and import interests in the colony.
The colonial government established boards to inspect and standardize the management of schools in 1882. The provision of education in the colony, however, remained in the hands of missionary organizations. Mission schools tended to provide only basic primary education, often only for boys. In the 1920s colonial governor Gordon Guggisberg was responsible for the construction of several coeducational secondary schools and technical institutions, as well as miles of rail lines and roads, and a deep-water harbor at Takoradi. Guggisberg brought Africans into the colony’s civil service and appointed the first Africans to the colonial Legislative Council. These improvements helped create a social environment that fostered the rise of nationalism.
Early Nationalist Movements
Organized opposition to British policies took place from the early days of colonial administration. In 1852 coastal chiefs protested the imposition of a poll tax, and in 1868 a confederation of Fante states contested British interference in their local affairs. In an effort to protect the erosion of their traditional rights, the chiefs adopted a constitution in 1871 that was to regulate relations with the British administration. The British reacted by arresting several of the chiefs.
Most Gold Coast nationalist leaders were educated Africans. An organization called the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society was formed in the 1890s to oppose land bills that threatened traditional land tenure. In the early 20th century, nationalists challenged the arbitrary nature of the colonial political system, which placed unlimited power in the hands of the governor and his appointed Legislative Council. In 1920 Joseph E. Casely-Hayford, a prominent Gold Coast lawyer and nationalist, organized the National Congress of British West Africa. This body of educated persons from Britain’s various West African colonies sent a delegation to the British Colonial Office in London to argue that a colony’s administration should be elected by its subjects. The British government, however, preferred to practice indirect rule, relying on a colony’s traditional chiefs for local administration at the exclusion of educated people. In their various newspapers and at conferences, these early nationalists nevertheless continued to urge the colonial government to initiate administrative changes.
Demands on the colonial government intensified after World War II (1939-1945). In 1946 Governor Alan Burns responded by announcing radical constitutional changes that made it possible for a majority African Legislative Council to be elected. Executive power was to remain in the hands of the governor, to whom the legislative council reported. Even so, the 1946 constitution provided the people of the Gold Coast with a higher degree of political power than anywhere else in colonial Africa. The changes also showed nationalist leaders that their voices were being heard.
Founded in 1947, the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) was the first nationwide political party to call for self-government. Its leading members included the respected lawyer Joseph B. Danquah and the American-educated socialist Kwame Nkrumah. The UGCC drew support from educated Ghanaians, most of whom were either urban professionals or traditional chiefs. Economic dissatisfaction among the Gold Coast’s Africans, especially those who had served in World War II, resulted in nationwide rioting in 1948. The colonial administration accused the nationalist leaders of inciting the disturbances and arrested Nkrumah and several others. This only served to make Nkrumah a more popular figure and fueled the call for self-rule.
Viewing Danquah and other UGCC leaders as too conservative in their efforts to win independence, Nkrumah split with the UGCC later in 1949 and formed his own Convention People’s Party (CPP). Nkrumah’s watchword was “Independence Now”—an uncompromising policy that appealed to many. The CPP drew populist support from rural and working class Ghanaians, further distancing it from the more elite UGCC. In 1950 Nkrumah announced his “Positive Action” campaign, which consisted of a boycott of foreign business, noncooperation with the government, and a general workers’ strike. Public services were disrupted, and when rioting occurred Nkrumah and some CPP leaders were again arrested and imprisoned.
A new constitution was adopted in 1951, replacing the Legislative Council with a Legislative Assembly, designed to provide rural Africans greater representation. In the 1951 elections, the CPP won a majority of seats in the Legislative Assembly. Colonial governor Sir Charles Arden-Clarke released Nkrumah from prison and appointed him leader of government business. Nkrumah and Arden-Clarke transformed the colonial government into a parliamentary system, and in 1952 Nkrumah was elected to the newly created office of prime minister. The UGCC and several regional-based parties—including the Ashanti-dominated National Liberation Movement and the Northern People’s Party—comprised the political opposition to Nkrumah and the CPP. These groups opposed the new governmental structure, advocating a federalist system.
Following intense constitutional negotiations and a hotly contested election, the CPP emerged on March 6, 1957, to lead the government of an independent Ghana. Nkrumah became the country’s first prime minister. The UGCC and several other opposition parties joined together to form the United Party (UP).
Nkrumah began his tenure as Africa’s first black national leader with ambitious socialist goals and high hopes. He advocated the rapid modernization of the nation’s economic sectors and pursued several expensive developmental schemes. From 1961 to 1966 Nkrumah spearheaded an ambitious and highly successful hydroelectric project on the Volta. A fervent pan-Africanist (see Pan-Africanism), he declared that it was Ghana’s brotherly responsibility to help Africa’s remaining colonies achieve independence. He was instrumental in the formation of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) as an African political forum. He sent Ghanaian soldiers on United Nations (UN) assignments and supported freedom fighters in countries such as South Africa and Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe).
At the same time, however, Nkrumah’s rule became increasingly authoritarian. Soon after coming to power, the CPP-controlled Parliament passed laws to increase the power of the prime minister. The Deportation Act of 1957 made it legal for the government to expel all foreigners who were deemed a threat to the nation. The Preventive Detention Act of 1958 allowed the government to detain persons for up to five years without trial. Nkrumah used these laws to silence the opposition, forcing many dissidents into exile. The constitution was revised in 1960 to make Ghana a republic. Nkrumah was named president, and the CPP was declared the only legal political party. Opposition to Nkrumah grew in the early 1960s, and when Ghanaians felt economic hardships at home, many blamed Nkrumah for his ambitious and socialist programs. He was overthrown in a military coup in February 1966.
Ghana Since Nkrumah
Conditions in Ghana worsened rapidly following the overthrow of Nkrumah. The economy was stagnant, and Ghanaians, disillusioned by the downfall of their once-revered founding father, were divided. The National Liberation Council, the cabal behind the coup, put forward a multiparty constitution and handed over power in 1969 to a democratically elected government. Kofi A. Busia, a former UP leader and one of the nation’s leading scholars, was elected prime minister. Busia’s government was economically conservative but failed to improve Ghana’s depressed economic conditions. When a drop in the price of cacao precipitated a financial crisis in 1971, his government raised prices and interest rates while devaluing the currency, causing massive inflation. In January 1972 Busia’s government was ousted by another army coup, ushering in a decade characterized by severe economic decline and acute political instability.
The leader of the 1972 coup, Colonel Ignatius K. Acheampong, banned political activity and established a ruling military council. Military control was relaxed slightly in 1974, and a civilian political affairs advisory council and an economic planning council were set up. In 1978, however, the military council forced Acheampong to resign, giving way to General Frederick W. Akuffo. Akuffo ruled for less than a year before he was overthrown by Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings. Rawlings had both Acheampong and Akuffo executed for corruption. Rawlings also arrested and executed a number of other prominent military officers on charges of compromising the image of the Ghana armed forces. In September 1979, just months after seizing power, Rawlings stepped down in favor of an elected civilian president, Hilla Limann. When economic conditions worsened, however, Limann was deposed in a second coup led by Rawlings, on December 31, 1981.
Enjoying the support of workers and the poor, Rawlings injected a populist, revolutionary spirit into Ghanaian politics. The economy went through a severe decline in the early 1980s, leading hundreds of thousands of people to leave the country, most migrating to Nigeria. In 1983 the Nigerian government forced 1 million Ghanaians to return to their home country. In the same year, Rawlings abandoned his more radical economic strategies and negotiated a structural adjustment plan with the IMF. As the economy recovered, Rawlings moved toward democratic reforms as well. A new multiparty constitution was adopted by public referendum in 1992, and Rawlings was elected president.
In the 1990s many foreign observers praised Ghana for its increasingly open democracy. While visiting the country in 1998, U.S. president Bill Clinton recognized Ghana as a leader in a “new African renaissance.” Rawlings was reelected president in 1996. Limited to two terms by the 1992 constitution, he did not participate in the December 2000 elections, which marked the ascendancy of the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP). The NPP edged Rawlings’ National Democratic Congress (NDC) party in legislative elections, and NPP candidate John Kufuor defeated the NDC’s presidential candidate, John Atta Mills, who had been Rawlings’ vice president, in the vote for president. Kufuor was sworn in as president in January 2001, the first time since Ghana’s independence that power changed hands peacefully and democratically. Kufuor was reelected in December 2004, defeating Mills for a second time.
Mills was not to be denied in the January 2009 presidential elections, however. Running for the third time, he successfully defeated the NPP’s candidate, Nana Akufo-Addo, by the narrow margin of 40,000 votes.