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Ghana - History

In 1957 Ghana was the first Sub-Saharan African country to gain independence after struggles led by its first President Kwame Nkrumah. The Pan-Africanist flame burned brightest at the height of agitation for independence, drawing in the likes of Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia, Jomo Kenyatta of Kenya, Hastings Kamuzu Banda of Malawi and Julius Nyerere of Tanzania. But the Pan-Africanist rhetoric soon flickered as leaders secured independence for their countries.

Nkrumah’s overthrow in 1966 was followed by four military takeovers in 1972, 1978, 1979 and 1981. Two democratically elected governments established in 1969 and 1979 were overthrown by the military. Eventually, the current succession of democratic elections was established in 1993.

Ghana marked its 60th Independence Day at the Independence Square in the capital Accra on Monday March 6, 2017, with a host of foreign dignitaries showing up to celebrate its position as the first Sub-Saharan country to attain independence. At the Independence Square, troops drawn from the various security services as well as a unit of schoolchildren took part in a national anniversary parade to mark the day, which was also graced by thousands of Ghanaians and several African Heads of State including Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Ghana's former presidents, John Mahama, Jerry John Rawlings and John Agyekum Kufuor were among a host of other dignitaries at the [email protected] parade. The display of ground and air military hardware, policing and fire service apparatus added color to the national parade. Similar rallies were held throughout the country to mark the anniversary.

The planning committee of the [email protected] anniversary celebration did a poor job. The event which over the years starts at 8:00 am, this year however commenced after 10:00 am, while guests had been seated for hours. Addressing the parade, Ghana's President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo said after sixty years, Ghanaians have run out of excuses, and it is time to set Ghana to rights and get the country to where it should be. He said the challenge before the citizenry is to build the economy and generate a prosperous, progressive and dignified life for the mass of the people. "We have a bright future, and we must mobilize all our resources and all our strengths, here and in the Ghanaian Diaspora, to get to that promised land of prosperity faster," he said.

Zimbabwe president, Robert Mugabe, was among the many African leaders who also partook in Ghana’s 60 Independence Day anniversary parade. The 93-year-old leader was undoubtedly one of the most popular African leaders in Ghana. A photo of Mugabe sleeping at the Independence celebration went viral. Apparently, this is not the first time, he has previously been found snoozing on a number of occasions at similar public events including the AU summit in Addis Ababa. Robert Mugabe is widely known for his controversial quotes and especially his comments on his country’s stance against gayism.

Ghana, formerly the Gold Coast, was not a distinct entity until late in the nineteenth century. Its history before the arrival of the Europeans and even after the consolidation of British colonial rule must be studied as a part of the history of the portion of West Africa extending from Sierra Leone to Nigeria and northward into the Sahara. This is the region from which came the people and the social and political organizations that most influenced Ghanaians.

The history of the Gold Coast before the last quarter of the 15th century is derived primarily from oral tradition that refers to migrations from the ancient kingdoms of the western Soudan (the area of Mauritania and Mali). The Gold Coast was renamed Ghana upon independence in 1957 because of indications that present-day inhabitants descended from migrants who moved south from the ancient kingdom of Ghana.

The first contact between Europe and the Gold Coast dates from 1470, when a party of Portuguese landed. The Portuguese who came to Ghana in the 15th Century found so much gold between the rivers Ankobra and the Volta that they named the place Mina – meaning Mine. The Gold Coast was later adopted to by the English colonisers. Similarily, the French, equally impressed by the trinkets worn by the coastal people, named The Ivory Coast, Cote d’Ivoire.

In 1482, the Portuguese built a castle in Elmina as a permanent trading base. Their aim was to trade in gold, ivory and slaves. In 1481 King John II of Portugal sent Diego d’Azambuja to build this castle. Thomas Windham made the first recorded English trading voyage to the coast in 1553. In 1598 the Dutch joined in, and built forts at Komenda and Kormantsil. In 1637 they captured the castle from the Portuguese and that of Axim in 1642 (Fort St Anthony). Other European traders joined in by the mid 18th century. These were the English, Danes and Swedes. The coastline were dotted by forts built by the Dutch, British and the Dane merchants at various parts of the coastal areas.

Gold drew European traders to the Gulf of Guinea. The first to arrive in the late fifteenth century were the Portuguese, who set up an outpost on Ghana's coast. During the next century, the lure of gold gave way to the slave trade because of the demand for labor in the Americas. Trading in slaves as well as gold, the Dutch, the Danes, the English, and the Swedes eventually joined the Portuguese on what had come to be known as the "Gold Coast."

By the early nineteenth century, the British were the most important European power on the Gold Coast. Thereafter, the British extended their control inland via treaties and warfare until by 1902 much of present-day Ghana was a British crown colony. Ghana's current borders were realized in 1956 when the Volta region voted to join Ghana. British colonial government, while authoritarian and centralized, nonetheless permitted Ghanaians a role in governing the colony. This was true not only of central governing bodies such as the Legislative Council and later the Executive Council, but of local and regional administration as well. The British policy of indirect rule meant that chiefs or other local leaders became agents of the colonial administration. This system of rule gave Ghanaians experience with modern, representative government to a degree unparalleled elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.

When Ghana gained independence from colonial domination in 1957, the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to do so, it enjoyed economic and political advantages unrivaled elsewhere in tropical Africa. The economy was solidly based on the production and export of cocoa, of which Ghana was the world's leading producer; minerals, particularly gold; and timber. It had a well-developed transportation network, relatively high per capita income, low national debt, and sizable foreign currency reserves. Its education system was relatively advanced, and its people were heirs to a tradition of parliamentary government. Ghana's future looked promising, and it seemed destined to be a leader in Africa.

In 1966 Nkrumah was overthrown and a military government assumed power. But neither military nor civilian governments during the next fifteen years were able to deal successfully with the host of problems that Nkrumah had bequeathed. In particular, under the Supreme Military Council (1972-79), Ghana's economy and political institutions deteriorated at an alarming rate. The 1970s were a period of steadily falling agricultural production, manufacturing output, and per capita income. Declining cocoa production and exports were accompanied by a corresponding rise in smuggling of the crop to neighboring countries, especially Cote d'Ivoire, and largely accounted for chronic trade deficits. Personal enrichment and corruption became the norm of government.

Beyond these serious problems loomed much larger issues that needed to be addressed if Ghana were to resume its position at the forefront of Africa's leading nations. Among these were the fear of an overly centralized and authoritarian national executive, the burden of accumulated foreign debt, and the need to forge a nation from Ghana's diverse ethnic and regional interests. In particular, the challenge was to devise a system of government that would bridge the enormous gap that had developed between the political center and society at large. For most Ghanaians, the nation-state by the late 1970s had become a largely irrelevant construct that had ceased to provide economic benefits or opportunities for meaningful political participation. As a consequence, local, ethnic, and regional interests had become much more prominent than those of Ghana as a whole.

Such were the challenges that lay before the group of military officers who seized power at the end of 1981. During its first year, the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) spoke vaguely about socialism and established people's and workers' defence committees and extra-judicial public tribunals as a way to involve Ghanaians in public administration. In 1983, however, the council, under its leader, Jerry John Rawlings, abandoned its socialist leanings and negotiated a structural adjustment program with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as the best and perhaps only method of rejuvenating the economy. Called the Economic Recovery Program, it was designed to stimulate economic growth and exports, to enhance private initiative and investment, and to reduce the role of the state in economic affairs. Beginning in the early 1980s and continuing into the mid-1990s, efforts were undertaken to rebuild the government and the economy and to restore the luster of Ghana's name.

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Page last modified: 15-03-2017 18:21:41 ZULU