The Republic of Ghana is named after the medieval West African Ghana Empire.
Most of what is now Ghana was inhabited in the Middle Ages and the Age of Discovery by different ethnic groups.
The earliest known kingdoms to emerge in modern Ghana were the Mole-Dagbani states. The Mole-Dagomba came on horseback from present-day Burkina Faso under a single leader, Naa Gbewaa. With their advanced weapons and based on a central authority, they easily invaded and occupied the lands of the local people ruled by the Tendamba (land god priests), established themselves as the rulers over the locals, and made Gambaga their capital. The death of Naa Gbewaa caused civil war among his children, some of whom broke off and founded separate states including Dagbon, Mamprugu, Mossi, Nanumba and Wala.
Although the area of present-day Ghana in West Africa has experienced many population movements, the Akan speaking peoples began to move into it toward the end of the 15th Century. By the early sixteenth century, the Akans were firmly established in the Akan state called Bonoman, for which the Brong-Ahafo Region is named.
From the 13th century, Akans emerged from what is believed to have been the Bonoman area, to create several Akan states, mainly based on gold trading. These states included Bonoman (Brong-Ahafo Region), Ashanti (Ashanti Region), Denkyira (Western North region), Mankessim Kingdom (Central region), and Akwamu (Eastern region). By the 19th century, the territory of the southern part of Ghana was included in the Kingdom of Ashanti, one of the influential states in sub-saharan Africa prior to the onset of colonialism.
The government of the Ashanti Empire operated first as a loose network, and eventually as a centralised kingdom with an advanced, highly specialised bureaucracy centred in the capital city of Kumasi. Prior to Akan contact with Europeans, the Akan people created an advanced economy based on principally gold and gold bar commodities then traded with the states of Africa.
European contact (15th century)
Akan trade with European states began after contact with the Portuguese in the 15th century. Early European contact by the Portuguese people, who came to the Gold Coast region in the 15th century to trade and then established the Portuguese Gold Coast (Costa do Ouro), focused on the extensive availability of gold. The Portuguese built a trading lodge at a coastal settlement called Anomansah (the perpetual drink) which they renamed São Jorge da Mina.
In 1481, King John II of Portugal commissioned Diogo de Azambuja to build the Elmina Castle, which was completed in three years. By 1598, the Dutch had joined the Portuguese in the gold trade, establishing the Dutch Gold Coast (Nederlandse Bezittingen ter Kuste van Guinea) and building forts at Fort Komenda and Kormantsi. In 1617, the Dutch captured the Olnini Castle from the Portuguese, and Axim in 1642 (Fort St Anthony).
Other European traders had joined in gold trading by the mid-17th century, most notably the Swedes, establishing the Swedish Gold Coast (Svenska Guldkusten), and Denmark-Norway, establishing the Danish Gold Coast (Danske Guldkyst or Dansk Guinea). Portuguese merchants, impressed with the gold resources in the area, named it Costa do Ouro or Gold Coast. Also beginning in the 17th century – in addition to the gold trade – Portuguese, Dutch, English, and French traders also participated in the Atlantic slave trade in this area.
More than thirty forts and castles were built by the Portuguese, Swedish, Dano-Norwegians, Dutch and German merchants; the latter Germans establishing the German Gold Coast (Brandenburger Gold Coast or Groß Friedrichsburg). In 1874 Great Britain established control over some parts of the country, assigning these areas the status of British Gold Coast. Many military engagements occurred between the British colonial powers and the various Akan nation-states. The Akan Kingdom of Ashanti defeated the British a few times in the 100-year-long Anglo-Ashanti wars but eventually lost with the War of the Golden Stool in the early 1900s.
Transition to independence
In 1947, the newly formed United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) led by “The Big Six” called for “self-government within the shortest possible time” following the Gold Coast legislative election, 1946. Kwame Nkrumah, a Ghanaian nationalist who led Ghana from 1957 to 1966 as the country’s first Prime Minister and President, formed the Convention People’s Party (CPP) in 1949 with the motto “self-government now”. The party initiated a “positive action” campaign involving non-violent protests, strikes and non-cooperation with the British authorities. Nkrumah was arrested and sentenced to one year imprisonment during this time. In the Gold Coast’s February 1951 general election, he was elected to Parliament and released from prison to become leader of government business. He became Prime Minister of the Gold Coast in 1952. He improved the infrastructure of the country and his Africanisation policies created better career opportunities for Ghanaians.
On 6 March 1957 at midnight, the Gold Coast, Ashanti, the Northern Territories and British Togoland were unified as one single independent dominion within the British Commonwealth under the name Ghana. This was done under the Ghana Independence Act 1957. The current flag of Ghana, consisting of the colours red, gold, green, and a black star, dates back to this unification. It was designed by Theodosia Salome Okoh; the red represents the blood that was shed towards independence, the gold represents the industrial minerals wealth of Ghana, the green symbolises the rich grasslands of Ghana, and the black star is the symbol of the Ghanaian people and African emancipation.
On 1 July 1960, following the Ghanaian constitutional referendum and Ghanaian presidential election, Nkrumah declared Ghana as a republic and assumed the presidency. 6 March is the nation’s Independence Day and 1 July is now celebrated as Republic Day.
At the time of independence Nkrumah declared, “My first objective is to abolish from Ghana poverty, ignorance, and disease. We shall measure our progress by the improvement in the health of our people; by the number of children in school, and by the quality of their education; by the availability of water and electricity in our towns and villages; and by the happiness which our people take in being able to manage their own affairs. The welfare of our people is our chief pride, and it is by this that my government will ask to be judged.”.
Nkrumah was the first African head of state to promote the concept of Pan-Africanism, which he had been introduced to during his studies at Lincoln University, Pennsylvania in the United States, at the time when Marcus Garvey was becoming famous for his “Back to Africa Movement”. Nkrumah merged the teachings of Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr. and the naturalised Ghanaian scholar W. E. B. Du Bois into the formation of 1960s Ghana.
Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, as he became known, played an instrumental part in the founding of the Non-Aligned Movement, and in establishing the Kwame Nkrumah Ideological Institute to teach his ideologies of communism and socialism. His life achievements were recognised by Ghanaians during his centenary birthday celebration, and the day was instituted as a public holiday in Ghana (Founder’s Day).
Operation Cold Chop and aftermath
The government of Nkrumah was subsequently overthrown by a coup by the Ghana Armed Forces codenamed “Operation Cold Chop”. This occurred while Nkrumah was abroad with Zhou Enlai in the People’s Republic of China, on a fruitless mission to Hanoi in Vietnam to help end the Vietnam War. The coup took place on 24 February 1966, led by Col. Emmanuel Kwasi Kotoka. The National Liberation Council (NLC) was formed, chaired by Lt. General Joseph A. Ankrah. A series of alternating military and civilian governments, often affected by economic instabilities, ruled Ghana from 1966 to 1981, ending with the ascension to power of Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings of the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) in 1981. These changes resulted in the suspension of the Constitution of Ghana in 1981, and the banning of political parties in Ghana. The economy soon declined, so Rawlings negotiated a structural adjustment plan changing many old economic policies, and economic growth soon recovered during the mid-1980s. A new Constitution of Ghana restoring multi-party system politics was promulgated in the Ghanaian presidential election of 1992; Rawlings was elected as president of Ghana then, and again in the general election of 1996. At least 1,000 and as many as 2,000 people were killed during the conflict between Konkomba and other ethnic groups such as the Nanumba, Dagomba and Gonja, while 150,000 people were displaced as part of the tribal war in Northern Ghana in 1994. In 1997, Kofi Annan was elected Secretary-General of the United Nations and rose through the ranks of becoming the first African secretary-general and the world’s most celebrated diplomats.
Winning the 2000 Ghanaian elections, John Agyekum Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) was sworn into office as president of Ghana on 7 January 2001, and attained the presidency again in the 2004 Ghanaian elections, thus also serving two terms (the term limit) as president of Ghana and thus marking the first time under the fourth republic that power was transferred from one legitimately elected head of state and head of government to another. Nana Akufo-Addo, the ruling party candidate, was defeated in a very close election by John Atta Mills of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) following the Ghanaian presidential election, 2008. Mills died of natural causes and was succeeded by vice-president John Dramani Mahama on 24 July 2012. Following the Ghanaian presidential election, 2012, John Dramani Mahama became President-elect and was inaugurated on 7 January 2013. Ghana was a stable democracy. As a result of the Ghanaian presidential election, 2016, Nana Akufo-Addo became President-elect and was inaugurated as the fifth President of the Fourth Republic of Ghana and eighth President of Ghana on 7 January 2017. In December 2020, President Nana Akufo-Addo was re-elected after a tightly contested election. On 11 June 2021, Ghana inaugurated Green Ghana Day in an aim of planting 5 million trees in a concentrating effort to preserve the country’s cover of rainforest to combat deforestation.
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