The History of Ghana

In present-day Ghana, there was extensive settlement from about 400 AD Ghana, which the country is named after, existed in the 700-1000s, but was further west than today’s Ghana. The period around 1100–1900 was characterized by a number of small states in conflict and the development of a few large states. The first centralized of these was established in northern Ghana.

From the late 1400s, European traders came to the area, which became known as the Gold Coast. Gold, ivory and slaves were traded. During the 19th century, the British reached agreements with local chiefs to control the coast. The British also gained control of the interior, including the defeat of several Ashanti kingdoms.

In 1957, the Gold Coast, as the first sub-Saharan colony, became independent under Kwame Nkrumah. The country was named after the former Ghana kingdom. One party system was introduced in 1964. Since independence there have been several coups and coup attempts in Ghana. Civil government was implemented with a new constitution in 1993.

Ashanti was a mighty empire in the 18th and 19th centuries that stretched across much of modern Ghana. King throne in carved wood with silver fittings. Now in the museum in Kumasi.

Early state formation

Ghana’s history in the period 1100–1900 is characterized by the formation of a number of small states, of these wars in between and the emergence of a few, dominant state formation. The first major, centralized states were established in northern Ghana, probably by East Indians. They acted as middlemen in the trade between the Niger area and Hausaland, and in order to secure their trading position, they wanted to establish stronger political control. The first centralized states were Mamprusi, Dagomba, Nanumba and Gonja, probably founded in the 1300s-1400s. The economic basis for these states was trade in gold and coal nuts through the Sahara.

Many states continued to grow, and in the early 1800s there were well over 100 small states in Ghana. Among the most important were Denkyira and Ashanti. The latter evolved into a powerful kingdom, the Ashanti Federation, which became the commercial and administrative center for all of central Ghana from the early 18th century.

Another important association of states was the Fante Confederation, which drafted its own constitution in 1868. The Fante Confederation was one of the earliest attempts in Africa to form a modern state according to European pattern. Hegemony went from the states in the north to the states in the south during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Swords from the Ashanti kingdom

British colony

Founded by the Portuguese in the 1400s, Elmina became an important center for European trade on the Gold Coast early. Today, the city is one of the country’s most important fishing ports. The image is taken from the paper lexicon Store Norwegian Lexicon, published 2005-2007.

Europeans came to the coast of Ghana in the 1400s, and trading companies from several countries established stations there. In 1482, the Portuguese built the Elmina Castle in the Cape Coast, and Dutch, English, Swedish, Danish and Brandenburg stations were built in the following years. Among other things, six Danish-Norwegian trading forts were built on the coast from the 1600s. The most important commodities were gold, slaves and ivory. During the 19th century, the British gained control of the coastline through agreements with local chiefs.

In the 1850s and 1860s, the Dutch withdrew from Ghana, and the British established their control and developed a colony administration. Britain had only control over the southern parts of Ghana, and as late as 1890 both Ashanti and the states farther north were independent. Ten years later, however, they were subject to British rule. Ashanti was the last part of Ghana brought under British control, but was not annexed by the British even though it was militarily beaten in 1874.

When the British offered the Ashanti kingdom to join the protectorate in 1891, King Prempe 1 refused, and worked instead to expand the Ashanti state again. It gave birth to a British military expedition to the capital Kumasi in 1896, which led to the king and his family being deposed and deported. The competition between the United Kingdom and France for colonies meant that the boundaries between the two countries’ zones in West Africa were first established in 1898. Ashanti was annexed by the British in September 1901.

In the period leading up to World War II, several political organizations emerged in the Gold Coast, which the British called the colony. Immediately after the war, both the political organization and the demand for independence grew. In 1947, the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) was founded, with Kwame Nkrumah as its leader. The UGCC was a moderate organization with a foothold especially among the African middle class, and advocated for self-government.

In 1948, Nkrumah broke out of the UGCC, forming a new political party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP), which called for instant independence. In 1949, Nkrumah led a protest campaign that led the British to imprison him the following year. During the 1951 National Assembly elections, the CPP won, and Nkrumah was released to become prime minister. The CPP again won the elections in 1954 and 1956, and the British bowed to the demand for independence.

Nkrumah’s Board (1957–1966)

Ghana became an independent state on March 6, 1957, as the first of the European sub-Saharan colonies. British Togoland, a UN-mandated area that previously belonged to German Togoland, was incorporated into Ghana by independence. The CPP formed government with Kwame Nkrumah as prime minister, and the opposition gathered in the United Party (UP), led by Kofi Busia.

The CPP was a radical nationalist party, but after winning the independence struggle, Nkrumah turned his gaze. Ghana became a political anti-colonialist center, and a hotbed of pan-African thinking. In 1958, Nkrumah hosted a congress in Accra that brought together representatives of most of the nationalist and liberation movements in Africa’s remaining colonies. Nkrumah was soon regarded as one of Africa’s foremost leaders, and in Ghana a personal cult grew around him. In 1960, after a referendum, Ghana was made a republic, with Kwame Nkrumah as president. CPP was built up to a mass party, and in 1964, after a new referendum, Ghana was made into a one-party state – with CPP being the only allowed party.

The military takes power

Accusations of corruption and abuse of power, the economic downturn and the political orientation towards the Eastern Bloc led to growing dissatisfaction with Nkrumah’s and CPP’s board. While the president was on his way to Vietnam in February 1966, the military intervened and took power. There had already been failed coup attempts in 1962 and 1964. The military set up a national liberation council with General Joseph Ankrah as leader, to govern the country. Ankrah ruled Ghana for over three years before the military council surrendered power to a civilian, elected government.

The ban on party politics was lifted in 1969, and Kofi Busia’s Progress Party (PP) emerged victorious in the election that year. Busia became prime minister, while the now less important presidential position went on a turn between three officers and a civilian. Busia’s regime failed to clear Ghana’s growing financial problems, and in 1972 a group of officers intervened again. Busia was deposed and Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Ignatius Kutu Acheampong became new head of state and leader of a military council. He survived several coup attempts, but failed to prevent the financial situation from deteriorating.

Rawlings’ Board (1979, 1981–2001)

In 1976, Acheampong began to prepare for transition to civilian rule again, but in March 1978 he was overthrown in a palace coup. New head of state became Lieutenant Colonel (later General) Frederick Akuffo. Discontent with financial conditions within the armed forces led to a coup attempt by younger officers in May 1979. The leader, Captain Jerry J. Rawlings, was arrested, but soon released by his colleagues, and on June 4, 1979, seized power through a successful coup.. This was welcomed by most people, and Rawlings kept the military’s promise of free elections and the transition to civilian rule. Before the election, the military regime sentenced several former heads of state and officers to death, including Afrifa, Acheampong and Akuffo.

The election of a new National Assembly in 1979 was won by Hilla Limann People’s National Party (PNP), and Limann won the separate presidential election. His government also survived several coup attempts, until Rawlings seized power for the second time on New Year’s Eve 1981. The constitution was repealed, parliament dissolved and political parties banned. A defense council took charge of Ghana, with Rawlings as chairman and head of state.

Rawlings resorted to a populist, radical policy, which initially won wide support, but which eventually also faced growing resistance – both against the strict economic policy of structural adjustment, and the strong restrictions on political activity. At the same time as Rawlings originally led in a variety of radical policies, he met the World Bank’s demands for economic reforms and started a development that has made Ghana one of the bank’s success stories. Rawlings’ opponents were also in the military ranks, and several were executed in 1986, known for trying to overthrow him. One of Rawlings’ close associates, Major Courage Quashigah, attempted to seize power in 1989.

New constitution and civil government from 1992

After increasing pressure, party political activity was again allowed in 1991 and civilian rule was introduced following a referendum on a new constitution, as well as elections to a new national assembly, in 1992. The old political divides in Ghanaian politics emerged again in two traditional camps (which by far became continued later): one direction that built on the radical and Pan-African tradition of the patriarch Kwame Nkrumah, and a more nationally conservative and traditionalist direction that built on the politics of Nkrumah’s opponent Kofi Busia. Jerry Rawlings won – as civilian candidate for the National Democratic Congress (NDC) and self-declared heir to Nkrumah – the November 1992 presidential election with 58.3 percent of the vote, ahead of Albert Adu Boahen, who asked for the New Patriotic Party (NPP).

An observer group from the Commonwealth of Nations declared that the elections had been held according to the rules, but the opposition disputed this. Most parties boycotted the subsequent parliamentary elections, which were clearly won by the NDC. On January 7, 1993, Rawlings was appointed head of state for Ghana’s Fourth Republic, and a new era in the country’s history began. In the 1990s, Ghana experienced economic growth and a consolidation of political freedom and democratic governance, and a political stability that allowed power changes as a result of elections.

Protests against the introduction of sales tax in 1995 led to clashes between protesters and supporters of the government; five were killed. The protest was organized by a broad opposition alliance – the Alliance for Change.

Jerry J. Rawlings was re-elected in 1996, but when the Constitution only allowed a president to sit for two terms, he did not run for re-election in 2000. NDC’s candidate was Vice President John Evans Atta Mills, who lost to John Kufuor (NPP). Kufuor was re-elected in 2004, but cut off from running for election for a third term in 2008, according to the Constitution. NDC’s Atta Mills then won by a marginal margin over NPP’s Nana Akufo-Adda. When President Mills died in July 2012, he was succeeded by Vice President John Dramani Mahama until new elections were held in December. The election was won by Mahama (NDC).

In March 2007, Ghana celebrated 50 years as an independent state and hosted the annual African Union Summit ; President Kufuor was elected its chairman. At the 50th anniversary mark, Ghana was highlighted as one of Africa’s success stories – as it was at independence in 1957 – with political stability and economic growth.

Ethnic contradictions

Despite many military coups and coup attempts, Ghana has for many years managed to avoid serious ethnic contradictions – although this country also consists of a number of peoples with strong cultural identities and a partly long political history.

However, from the 1990s, such contradictions have come to fruition on several occasions; most seriously in Northern Ghana in 1994. The clashes in the north demanded over a thousand lives and caused about 150,000 people to flee. The conflict was between the Konkomba people – originating from Togoland – and its rivals nanumba, then also Dagoma and Gonja. The conflict involved local, traditional governance and the right to own land, and flared up again the following year.

In 1998, the new clash between ethnic groups, the concomba and bimoba people, came over land issues in northern Ghana. When the king of Dagbon, Ya-Na Yakubu Andani 2, was executed under new local riots in 2002, an emergency was introduced in the Dagbon region of Northern Ghana. One of the areas of repeated unrest is Bawku in the north, where clashes claimed human lives in both 2001 and 2008.

Like many other countries in the sub-Saharan belt, Ghana is also divided into a predominantly Muslim population in the north and a substantially Christian (and, in part, animistic ) population in the south. However, Ghana, unlike Nigeria and Chad in the East, has avoided serious religious contradictions – nor has it become a victim of the kind of political destabilization that has seriously affected the Ivory Coast, neighboring countries in the west, and before it Liberia and Sierra Leone in the same region. But even in Ghana there is the potential for such a regional conflict; not so much because of religion, but more because of economic and social development. Christian South has dominated much of the political and economic development, while the Muslim north has lagged behind.

In 1999, the 18th Asantehene – the traditional king of the Ashanti people – died. Otumfuo Opoku Ware 2. The seat of the Ashanti capital Kumasi, in modern Ghana, has no formal political or legal authority, but has maintained considerable influence. Nana Kwaku Duah took over the golden stool – the symbol of the Ashanti throne – with the royal name Osei Tutu 2.

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