Ghana - Introduction
When Ghana achieved indepndence 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.
Yet during the next four decades, rather than growth and prosperity, Ghanaians experienced substantial declines in all these categories, and the country's image became severely tarnished. 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.
Gold is found in several regions of West Africa, including the headwaters of the Niger River and the forest zone of modern Ghana. The West African gold trade was well-established in antiquity, and it helped tie the peoples of Ghana into a trans- Saharan commercial network that stretched from the West African forest zone across the Sahara to ports on the Mediterranean. Aside from providing material benefits, trade seems to have been one of the major factors in state formation in Ghana. Gold drew European traders to the Gulf of Guinea.
Trading in slaves as well as gold, the Dutch, the Danes, the English, and the Swedes eventuallyjoined 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.
Ghana today boasts a lively civil society, active media, reasonably independent judiciary, independent Electoral Commission, and a good human rights record. There is generally respect for rule of law, a high degree of social tolerance, and no threat to national cohesion.
There are a number of ongoing chieftaincy disputes in Ghana that generally involve competition over limited resources. Some of these disputes have erupted into violence and unrest during recent years, most notably in Yendi in the Northern Region and Bawku in the Upper East Region. Visitors should exercise caution when traveling in these areas and remain alert to outbreaks of unrest.
Travelers should be aware that the standards of construction are often lower than those found in the United States. These lower standards have contributed to building collapses, fires, and reports of electrical shock.
Primary roads are generally paved and well maintained.However, some side roads within major cities and many roads outside of major cities are in poor condition.The road from Accra to the central region tourist area of Cape Coast continues to be the site of many accidents.Travel after daylight hours, particularly outside the major cities, is extremely hazardous due to poor street lighting and the unpredictable behavior of pedestrians, bicyclists and farm animals, particularly goats and sheep.Aggressive drivers, poorly maintained vehicles, and overloaded vehicles pose serious threats to road safety.
Another hazard is pedestrians who intentionally bump vehicles and pretend to be hit. They then attempt to extort money from the vehicle occupants. Scams of this nature most commonly occur in congested urban areas. Armed robbers have targeted travelers following their arrival at Kotoka airport.An increasingly used tactic is to deliberately cause a minor road traffic accident to make a car stop, and to then rob the occupants.
A handshake is a popular way of greeting in Ghana, especially among males. When you shake hands, please apply the same hand pressure as is offered. When shaking hands with a number of people, start from the extreme right and proceed towards the left.
The left hand has limited functions in Ghana. In fact the use of the left hand for "certain activities" is considered an anathema. That is one reason why, when men wear traditional cloth, they throw the fabric over the left hand. In particular avoid receiving or giving, gesticulating in speech, waving at a person or pointing things out with the left hands. Indivisuals who are naturally left handed, it is not their fault, and it is no offence. But lefties can avoid public embarrassment of complications by giving something (e.g. your guide book, camera, souvenir etc.) with the left hand.
Chiefs enjoy receiving foreigners and interacting with them. There are etiquettes that visitors need to observe. When a visitor is invited to greet a chief or the king, for example, move up towards him and stop short a point from where he is seated, stop and bow. He may graciously invite the visitor to come for a handshake.
On formal occasions, visitors do not speak directly to the king, or chief, for that matter communication at the royal court is a three-way affair through a spokesman (linguist) called “Okyeame” who replicates the conversation. The visitor faces the Okyeame and delivers his message to the chief. The chief gives his reply or response to the Okyeame who renders it to the visitor. It is that simple and interesting. This has been our practice from time immemorial. Normally, visitors to palaces have to make customary offerings of friendship to their royal hosts. This consists entirely of drinks: Aromatic Schnapps, Gin and or money, the amount and quantities depending on the size or enthusiasm of the group.
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