History of Ghana

History of Ghana

The Republic of Ghana is named after the medieval West African Ghana Empire, The Empire became known in Europe and Arabia as the Ghana Empire by the title of its emperor, the Ghana. The Empire appears to have broken up following the 1076 conquest by the Almoravid General Abu-Bakr Ibn-Umar. A reduced kingdom continued to exist after Almoravid rule ended, and the Kingdom was later incorporated into subsequent Sahelian empires, such as the Mali Empire several centuries later. Geographically, the ancient Ghana Empire was approximately 500 miles (800 km) north and west of the modern state of Ghana, and controlled territories in the area of the Sénégal river and east towards the Niger rivers, in modern Senegal, Mauritania and Mali.

Historically, modern Ghanaian territory was the core of the Empire of Ashanti, which was one of the most advanced states in sub-Sahara Africa in the 18–19th centuries, before colonial rule. It is said that at its peak, the King of Ashanti could field 500,000 troops.

For most of central sub-Saharan Africa, agricultural expansion marked the period before 500. Farming began earliest on the southern tips of the Sahara, eventually giving rise to village settlements. Toward the end of the classical era, larger regional kingdoms had formed in West Africa, one of which was the Kingdom of Ghana, north of what is today the nation of Ghana. Before its fall, at the beginning of the 10th century Akan migrants moved southward then founded several nation-states including the first great Akan empire of the Bono founded in the 11th Century and for which the Brong-Ahafo Region of Akanland is named after. Later Akan groups such as the Ashanti federation and Fante states are thought to possibly have roots in the original Bono settlement at Bono manso. Much of the area was united under the Empire of Ashanti by the 16th century. The Ashanti government operated first as a loose network and eventually as a centralized kingdom with an advanced, highly specialized bureaucracy centered in Kumasi.

Precolonial period edit

16th-17th Century Akan Terracotta, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

By the end of the 16th century, most of the ethnic groups constituting the modern Ghanaian population had settled in their present locations. Archaeological remains found in the coastal zone indicate that the area has been inhabited since the Bronze Age (ca. 2000 BC), but these societies, based on fishing in the extensive lagoons and rivers, have left few traces. Archaeological work also suggests that central Ghana north of the forest zone was inhabited as early as 3,000 to 4,000 years ago. Oral history and other sources suggest that the ancestors of Ghana's residents, the Akan entered the area at least as early as the 10th century AD, and that migration from the north by the Dagomba continued thereafter.

These migrations resulted in part from the formation and disintegration of a series of large states in the western Sudan (the region north of modern Ghana drained by the Niger River). Strictly speaking, ghana was the title of the king, but the Arabs, who left records of the kingdom, applied the term to the king, the capital, and the state. The 9th-century Berber historian/geographer Al Yaqubi described ancient Ghana as one of the three most organized states in the region (the others being Gao and Kanem in the central Sudan). Its rulers were renowned for their wealth in gold, the opulence of their courts, and their warrior/hunting skills. They were also masters of the trade in gold, which drew North African merchants to the western Sudan. The military achievements of these and later western Sudanic rulers, and their control over the region's gold mines, constituted the nexus of their historical relations with merchants and rulers in North Africa and the Mediterranean.

Ghana succumbed to attacks by its neighbors in the 11th century, but its name and reputation endured. In 1957, when the leaders of the former British colony of the Gold Coast sought an appropriate name for their newly independent state—the first black African nation to gain its independence from colonial rule—they named their new country after ancient Ghana. The choice was more than merely symbolic, because modern Ghana, like its namesake, was equally famed for its wealth and trade in gold.

Although none of the states of the western Sudan controlled territories in the area that is modern Ghana, several small kingdoms that later developed such as Bonoman, were ruled by nobles believed to have immigrated from that region. The trans-Saharan trade that contributed to the expansion of kingdoms in the western Sudan also led to the development of contacts with regions in northern modern Ghana, and in the forest to the south.

The growth of trade stimulated the development of early Akan states located on the trade route to the goldfields, in the forest zone of the south. The forest itself was thinly populated, but Akan-speaking peoples began to move into it toward the end of the 15th century, with the arrival of crops from Southeast Asia and the New World that could be adapted to forest conditions. These new crops included sorghum, bananas, and cassava. By the beginning of the 16th century, European sources noted the existence of the gold-rich states of Akan and Twifu in the Ofin River Valley.

Image of an Ashanti home before British colonization

It seems clear from oral traditions, as well as from archaeological evidence, that after the establishment of the Akan kingdom states in the 11th century, the Dagomba states, was the earliest kingdom to emerge in modern Ghana, being well established by the close of the 16th century. Although the rulers of the Dagomba states were not usually Muslim, they brought with them, or welcomed, Muslims as scribes and medicine men. As a result of their presence, Islam influenced the north. Muslim influence, spread by the activities of merchants and clerics.

In the broad belt of rugged country between the northern boundaries of the Muslim-influenced state of Dagomba, and the southernmost outposts of the Mossi kingdoms (of what is today the southern Burkina Faso and northern Ghana border), were peoples who were not incorporated into the Dagomba entity. Among these peoples were the Kassena agriculturalists. They lived in a so-called segmented society, bound together by kinship tie, and ruled by the head of their clan. Trade between Akan kingdoms and the Mossi kingdoms to the north (of what is today the northern Ghana and southern Burkina Faso border) flowed through their homeland, subjecting them to Islamic influence, and to the depredations of these more powerful neighbors.

Rise of the Ashanti 

Under Chief Oti Akenten (r. ca. 1630–60), a series of successful military operations against neighboring Akan states brought a larger surrounding territory into alliance with Ashanti. At the end of the 17th century, Osei Tutu (died 1712 or 1717) became asantehene (king of Ashanti). Under Osei Tutu's rule, the confederacy of Ashanti states was transformed into an empire with its capital at Kumasi. Political and military consolidation ensued, resulting in firmly established centralized authority. Osei Tutu was strongly influenced by the high priest, Anokye, who, tradition asserts, caused a stool of gold to descend from the sky to seal the union of Ashanti states. Stools already functioned as traditional symbols of chieftainship, but the Golden Stool represented the united spirit of all the allied states and established a dual allegiance that superimposed the confederacy over the individual component states. The Golden Stool remains a respected national symbol of the traditional past and figures extensively in Asante ritual.

Osei Tutu permitted newly conquered territories that joined the confederation to retain their own customs and chiefs, who were given seats on the Ashanti state council. Tutu's gesture made the process relatively easy and nondisruptive, because most of the earlier conquests had subjugated other Akan peoples. Within the Ashanti portions of the confederacy, each minor state continued to exercise internal self-rule, and its chief jealously guarded the state's prerogatives against encroachment by the central authority. A strong unity developed, however, as the various communities subordinated their individual interests to central authority in matters of national concern.

By the mid-18th century, Ashanti was a highly organized state. The wars of expansion that brought the northern states of Dagomba, Mamprusi, and Gonja under Ashanti influence were won during the reign of Opoku Ware I (died 1750), successor to Osei Kofi Tutu I. By the 1820s, successive rulers had extended Ashanti boundaries southward. Although the northern expansions linked Ashanti with trade networks across the desert and in Hausaland to the east, movements into the south brought the Ashanti into contact, sometimes antagonistic, with the coastal Fante, as well as with the various European merchants whose fortresses dotted the Gold Coast.

Early European contact and the slave trade

When the first Europeans arrived in the late 15th century, many inhabitants of the Gold Coast area were striving to consolidate their newly acquired territories and to settle into a secure and permanent environment. Initially, the Gold Coast did not participate in the export slave trade, rather as Ivor Wilks, a leading historian of Ghana, noted, the Akan purchased slaves from Portuguese traders operating from other parts of Africa, including the Congo and Benin in order to augment the labor needed for the state formation that was characteristic of this period.

The Portuguese were the first Europeans to arrive. By 1471, they had reached the area that was to become known as the Gold Coast. The Gold Coast was so-named because it was an important source of gold. The Portuguese interest in trading for gold, ivory, and pepper so increased that in 1482 the Portuguese built their first permanent trading post on the western coast of present-day Ghana. This fortress, a trade castle called São Jorge da Mina (later called Elmina Castle), was constructed to protect Portuguese trade from European competitors, and after frequent rebuildings and modifications, still stands.

The Portuguese position on the Gold Coast remained secure for over a century. During that time, Lisbon sought to monopolize all trade in the region in royal hands, though appointed officials at São Jorge, and used force to prevent English, French, and Flemish efforts to trade on the coast. By 1598, the Dutch began trading on the Gold Coast. The Dutch built forts at Komenda and Kormantsi by 1612. In 1637 they captured Elmina Castle from the Portuguese and Axim in 1642 (Fort St Anthony). Other European traders joined in by the mid 17th century, largely English, Danes, and Swedes. The coastline was dotted by more than 30 forts and castles built by Dutch, British, and Danish merchants primarily to protect their interests from other Europeans and pirates. The Gold Coast became the highest concentration of European military architecture outside of Europe. Sometimes they were also drawn into conflicts with local inhabitants as Europeans developed commercial alliances with local political authorities. These alliances, often complicated, involved both Europeans attempting to enlist or persuade their closest allies to attack rival European ports and their African allies, or conversely, various African powers seeking to recruit Europeans as mercenaries in their inter-state wars, or as diplomats to resolve conflicts.

Forts were built, abandoned, attacked, captured, sold, and exchanged, and many sites were selected at one time or another for fortified positions by contending European nations.

The Dutch West India Company operated throughout most of the 18th century. The British African Company of Merchants, founded in 1750, was the successor to several earlier organizations of this type. These enterprises built and manned new installations as the companies pursued their trading activities and defended their respective jurisdictions with varying degrees of government backing. There were short-lived ventures by the Swedes and the Prussians. The Danes remained until 1850, when they withdrew from the Gold Coast. The British gained possession of all Dutch coastal forts by the last quarter of the 19th century, thus making them the dominant European power on the Gold Coast.

In the late seventeenth century, social changes within the polities of the Gold Coast led to transformations in warfare, and to the shift from being a gold exporting and slave importing economy to being a minor local slave exporting economy. To be sure, slavery and slave trading were already firmly entrenched in many African societies before their contact with Europe. In most situations, men as well as women captured in local warfare became slaves. In general, however, slaves in African communities were often treated as members of the society with specific rights, and many were ultimately absorbed into their masters' families as full members. Given traditional methods of agricultural production in Africa, slavery in Africa was quite different from that which existed in the commercial plantation environments of the New World.

Triangular Atlantic slave trade routes

Some scholars have challenged the premise that rulers on the Gold Coast engaged in wars of expansion for the sole purpose of acquiring slaves for the export market. For example, the Ashanti waged war mainly to pacify territories that in were under Ashanti control, to exact tribute payments from subordinate kingdoms, and to secure access to trade routes—particularly those that connected the interior with the coast.

It is important to mention, however, that the supply of slaves to the Gold Coast was entirely in African hands. Most rulers, such as the kings of various Akan states engaged in the slave trade, as well as individual local merchants. A good number of the Slaves were also brought from various countries in the region and sold to middle men.

The demographic impact of the slave trade on West Africa was probably substantially greater than the number actually enslaved because a significant number of Africans perished during wars and bandit attacks or while in captivity awaiting transshipment. All nations with an interest in West Africa participated in the slave trade. Relations between the Europeans and the local populations were often strained, and distrust led to frequent clashes. Disease caused high losses among the Europeans engaged in the slave trade, but the profits realized from the trade continued to attract them.

The growth of anti-slavery sentiment among Europeans made slow progress against vested African and European interests that were reaping profits from the traffic. Although individual clergymen condemned the slave trade as early as the 17th century, major Christian denominations did little to further early efforts at abolition. The Quakers, however, publicly declared themselves against slavery as early as 1727. Later in the century, the Danes stopped trading in slaves; Sweden and the Netherlands soon followed.

In 1807, Britain used its naval power and its diplomatic muscle to outlaw trade in slaves by its citizens and to begin a campaign to stop the international trade in slaves. The importation of slaves into the United States was outlawed in 1808. These efforts, however, were not successful until the 1860s because of the continued demand for plantation labor in the New World.

Because it took decades to end the trade in slaves, some historians doubt that the humanitarian impulse inspired the abolitionist movement. According to historian Eric Williams, for example, Europe abolished the trans-Atlantic slave trade only because its profitability was undermined by the Industrial Revolution. Williams argued that mass unemployment caused by the new industrial machinery, the need for new raw materials, and European competition for markets for finished goods are the real factors that brought an end to the trade in human cargo and the beginning of competition for colonial territories in Africa. Other scholars, however, disagree with Williams, arguing that humanitarian concerns as well as social and economic factors were instrumental in ending the African slave trade.

British Gold Coast 

Britain and the Gold Coast: the early years 

Neighbouring British and Dutch forts at Sekondi

By the latter part of 19th century the Dutch and the British were the only traders left and after the Dutch withdrew in 1874, Britain made the Gold Coast a protectorate—a British Crown Colony. During the previous few centuries parts of the area were controlled by British, Portuguese, and Scandinavian powers, with the British ultimately prevailing. These nation-states maintained varying alliances with the colonial powers and each other, which resulted in the 1806 Ashanti-Fante War, as well as an ongoing struggle by the Empire of Ashanti against the British, the four Anglo-Asante Wars.

By the early 19th century, the British, acquired most of the forts along the coast. Two major factors laid the foundations of British rule and the eventual establishment of a colony on the Gold Coast: British reaction to the Asante wars and the resulting instability and disruption of trade, and Britain's increasing preoccupation with the suppression and elimination of the slave trade.

During most of the 19th century, Asante, the most powerful state of the Akan interior, sought to expand its rule and to promote and protect its trade. The first Ashanti invasion of the coastal regions took place in 1807; the Ashanti moved south again in 1811 and in 1814. These invasions, though not decisive, disrupted trade in such products as gold, timber, and palm oil, and threatened the security of the European forts. Local British, Dutch, and Danish authorities were all forced to come to terms with Asante, and in 1817 the African Company of Merchants signed a treaty of friendship that recognized Asante claims to sovereignty over large areas of the coast and its peoples.

The coastal people, primarily some of the Fante and the inhabitants of the new town of Accra came to rely on British protection against Asante incursions, but the ability of the merchant companies to provide this security was limited. The British Crown dissolved the company in 1821, giving authority over British forts on the Gold Coast to Governor Charles MacCarthy, governor of Sierra Leone. The British forts and Sierra Leone remained under common administration for the first half of the century. MacCarthy's mandate was to impose peace and to end the slave trade. He sought to do this by encouraging the coastal peoples to oppose Kumasi rule and by closing the great roads to the coast. Incidents and sporadic warfare continued, however. In 1823, the First Anglo-Ashanti War broke out and lasted until 1831. MacCarthy was killed, and most of his force was wiped out in a battle with Asante forces in 1824.

When the English government allowed control of the Gold Coast settlements to revert to the British African Company of Merchants in the late 1820s, relations with the Ashanti were still problematic. From the Asante point of view, the British had failed to control the activities of their local coastal allies. Had this been done, Asante might not have found it necessary to attempt to impose peace on the coastal peoples. MacCarthy's encouragement of coastal opposition to Asante and the subsequent 1824 British military attack further indicated to Asante authorities that the Europeans, especially the British, did not respect Asante.

In 1830 a London committee of merchants chose Captain George Maclean to become president of a local council of merchants. Although his formal jurisdiction was limited, Maclean's achievements were substantial; for example, a peace treaty was arranged with Asante in 1831. Maclean also supervised the coastal people by holding regular court in Cape Coast where he punished those found guilty of disturbing the peace. Between 1830 and 1843 while Maclean was in charge of affairs on the Gold Coast, no confrontations occurred with Asante, and the volume of trade reportedly increased threefold. Maclean's exercise of limited judicial power on the coast was so effective that a parliamentary committee recommended that the British government permanently administer its settlements and negotiate treaties with the coastal chiefs that would define Britain's relations with them. The government did so in 1843, the same year crown government was reinstated. Commander H. Worsley Hill was appointed first governor of the Gold Coast. Under Maclean's administration, several coastal tribes had submitted voluntarily to British protection. Hill proceeded to define the conditions and responsibilities of his jurisdiction over the protected areas. He negotiated a special treaty with a number of Fante and other local chiefs that became known as the Bond of 1844. This document obliged local leaders to submit serious crimes, such as murder and robbery, to British jurisdiction and laid the legal foundation for subsequent British colonization of the coastal area.

Major General Sir Garnet Wolseley

Additional coastal states as well as other states farther inland eventually signed the Bond, and British influence was accepted, strengthened, and expanded. Under the terms of the 1844 arrangement, the British gave the impression that they would protect the coastal areas; thus, an informal protectorate came into being. As responsibilities for defending local allies and managing the affairs of the coastal protectorate increased, the administration of the Gold Coast was separated from that of Sierra Leone in 1850.

At about the same time, growing acceptance of the advantages offered by the British presence led to the initiation of another important step. In April 1852, local chiefs and elders met at Cape Coast to consult with the governor on means of raising revenue. With the governor's approval, the council of chiefs constituted itself as a legislative assembly. In approving its resolutions, the governor indicated that the assembly of chiefs should become a permanent fixture of the protectorate's constitutional machinery, but the assembly was given no specific constitutional authority to pass laws or to levy taxes without the consent of the people.

The Second Anglo-Ashanti War broke out in 1863 and lasted until 1864. In 1872, British influence over the Gold Coast increased further when Britain purchased Elmina Castle, the last of the Dutch forts along the coast. The Asante, who for years had considered the Dutch at Elmina as their allies, thereby lost their last trade outlet to the sea. To prevent this loss and to ensure that revenue received from that post continued, the Asante staged their last invasion of the coast in 1873. After early successes, they finally came up against well-trained British forces who compelled them to retreat beyond the Pra River. Later attempts to negotiate a settlement of the conflict with the British were rejected by the commander of their forces, Major General Sir Garnet Wolseley. To settle the Asante problem permanently, the British invaded Asante with a sizable military force. This invasion initiated the Third Anglo-Ashanti War. The attack, which was launched in January 1874 by 2,500 British soldiers and large numbers of African auxiliaries, resulted in the occupation and burning of Kumasi, the Ashanti capital.

The subsequent peace treaty of 1875, required the Ashanti to renounce any claim to many southern territories. The Ashanti also had to keep the road to Kumasi open to trade. From this point on, Ashanti power steadily declined. The confederation slowly disintegrated as subject territories broke away and as protected regions defected to British rule. The warrior spirit of the nation was not entirely subdued, however, and enforcement of the treaty led to recurring difficulties and outbreaks of fighting. In 1896, the British dispatched another expedition that again occupied Kumasi and that forced Asante to become a protectorate of the British Crown. This became the Fourth Anglo-Ashanti War which lasted from 1894 until 1896. The position of "Asantehene" was abolished and the incumbent, Prempeh I, was exiled. A British resident was installed at Kumasi.

The core of the Ashanti federation accepted these terms grudgingly. In 1900 the Asante rebelled again (the War of the Golden Stool) but were defeated the next year, and in 1902 the British proclaimed Asante a colony under the jurisdiction of the governor of the Gold Coast. The annexation was made with misgivings and recriminations on both sides. With Asante, and golden district subdued and annexed, British colonization of the region became a reality.

British rule of the Gold Coast: the colonial era 

Military confrontations between Ashanti and the Fante contributed to the growth of British influence on the Gold Coast, as the Fante states—concerned about Ashanti activities on the coast—signed the Bond of 1844 at Fomena-Adansi,that allowed the British to usurp judicial authority from African courts. As a result of the exercise of ever-expanding judicial powers on the coast and also to ensure that the coastal peoples remained firmly under control, the British proclaimed the existence of the Gold Coast Colony on July 24, 1874, which extended from the coast inland to the edge of Ashanti territory. Though the coastal peoples were unenthusiastic about this development, there was no popular resistance, likely because the British made no claim to any rights to the land.

1896 Map of the British Gold Coast Colony.

In 1896, a British military force invaded Ashanti and overthrew the native asantehene named Prempeh I. The deposed Ashanti leader was replaced by a British resident at Kumasi. The British sphere of influence was, thus, extended to include Ashanti following their defeat in 1896. However, British Governor Hodgson went too far in his restrictions on the Ashanti, when, in 1900, he demanded the "Golden Stool," the symbol of Ashanti rule and independence for the Ashanti. This caused another revolt on the part of the Ashanti people against the British colonizers. However, the Ashanti were defeated again in 1901. Once the asantehene and his council had been exiled, the British appointed a resident commissioner to Ashanti. Each Ashanti state was administered as a separate entity and was ultimately responsible to the governor of the Gold Coast.

In the meantime, the British became interested in the Northern Territories north of Ashanti, which they believed would forestall the advances of the French and the Germans. After 1896 protection was extended to northern areas whose trade with the coast had been controlled by Ashanti. In 1898 and 1899, European colonial powers amicably demarcated the boundaries between the Northern Territories and the surrounding French and German colonies. The Northern Territories were proclaimed a British protectorate in 1902. Like the Asante protectorate, the Northern Territories were placed under the authority of a resident commissioner who was responsible to the governor of the Gold Coast. The governor ruled both Asante and the Northern Territories by proclamations until 1946.

With the north under British control, the three territories of the Gold Coast—the Colony (the coastal regions), Asante, and the Northern Territories—became, for all practical purposes, a single political unit, or crown colony, known as the Gold Coast. The borders of present-day Ghana were realized in May 1956 when the people of the Volta region, known as British Mandated Togoland, a vote was made in a plebiscite on whether British Togoland should become part of modern Ghana; the Togoland Congress voted 42% against. 58% of votes opted for integration.

Colonial administration 

Beginning in 1850, the coastal regions increasingly came under control of the governor of the British fortresses, who was assisted by the Executive Council and the Legislative Council. The Executive Council was a small advisory body of European officials that recommended laws and voted taxes, subject to the governor's approval. The Legislative Council included the members of the Executive Council and unofficial members initially chosen from British commercial interests. After 1900 three chiefs and three other Africans were added to the Legislative Council, though the inclusion of Africans from Asante and the Northern Territories did not take place until much later.

The gradual emergence of centralized colonial government brought about unified control over local services, although the actual administration of these services was still delegated to local authorities. Specific duties and responsibilities came to be clearly delineated, and the role of traditional states in local administration was also clarified. The structure of local government had its roots in traditional patterns of government. Village councils of chiefs and elders were responsible for the immediate needs of individual localities, including traditional law and order and the general welfare. The councils ruled by consent rather than by right: though chosen by the ruling class, a chief continued to rule because he was accepted by his people.

British authorities adopted a system of indirect rule for colonial administration, wherein traditional chiefs maintained power but took instructions from their European supervisors. Indirect rule was cost-effective (by reducing the number of European officials needed), minimized local opposition to European rule, and guaranteed law and order. Though theoretically decentralizing, indirect rule in practice caused chiefs to look to Accra (the capital) rather than to their people for decisions. Many chiefs, who were rewarded with honors, decorations, and knighthood by government commissioners, came to regard themselves as a ruling aristocracy. In its preservation of traditional forms of power, indirect rule failed to provide opportunities for the country's growing population of educated young men. Other groups were dissatisfied because there was insufficient cooperation between the councils and the central government and because some felt that the local authorities were too dominated by the British district commissioners.

In 1925 provincial councils of chiefs were established in all three territories of the colony, partly to give the chiefs a colony-wide function. The 1927 Native Administration Ordinance clarified and regulated the powers and areas of jurisdiction of chiefs and councils. In 1935 the Native Authorities Ordinance combined the central colonial government and the local authorities into a single governing system. New native authorities, appointed by the governor, were given wide powers of local government under the supervision of the central government's provincial commissioners, who made sure that their policies would be those of the central government. The provincial councils and moves to strengthen them were not popular. Even by British standards, the chiefs were not given enough power to be effective instruments of indirect rule. Some Ghanaians believed that the reforms, by increasing the power of the chiefs at the expense of local initiative, permitted the colonial government to avoid movement toward any form of popular participation in the colony's government.

Economic and social development

The years of British administration of the Gold Coast during the 20th century were an era of significant progress in social, economic, and educational development. Communications and railroads were greatly improved. New crops were introduced. A leading crop that was the result of an introduced crop was coffee. However, most spectacular among these introduced crops was the cacao tree which had been indigenous to the New World and had been introduced in Africa by the Spanish and Portuguese. Cacao had been introduced to the Gold Coast in 1879 by Tetteh Quashie a blacksmith from Gold Coast. Cacao tree raising and farming became widely accepted in the eastern part of the Gold Coast. In 1891, the Gold Coast exported only 80 lbs. of cacao worth no more than 4 pounds sterling. However, by the 1920s cacao exports had passed 200,000 tons and had reached a value of 4.7 million pounds sterling. By 1928, cacao exports had reached 11.7 million pounds sterling. Thus, cacao production became a major part of the economy of the Gold coast and later a major part of Ghana's economy.

The colony's earnings increased further from the export of timber and gold. Revenue from export of the colony's natural resources financed internal improvements in infrastructure and social services. The foundation of an educational system more advanced than any other else in West Africa also resulted from mineral export revenue. It was through British-style education that a new Ghanaian elite gained the means and the desire to strive for independence. From beginnings in missionary schools, the early part of the 20th century saw the opening of secondary schools and the country's first institute of higher learning.

Many of the economic and social improvements in the Gold Coast in the early part of the current century have been attributed to the Canadian-born Gordon Guggisberg, governor from 1919 to 1927. Within the first six weeks of his governorship, he presented a ten-year development program to the Legislative Council. He suggested first the improvement of transportation. Then, in order of priority, his prescribed improvements included water supply, drainage, hydroelectric projects, public buildings, town improvements, schools, hospitals, prisons, communication lines, and other services. Guggisberg also set a goal of filling half of the colony's technical positions with Africans as soon as they could be trained. His program has been described as the most ambitious ever proposed in West Africa up to that time.

The colony assisted Britain in both World War I and World War II. In the ensuing years, however, postwar inflation and instability severely hampered readjustment for returning veterans, who were in the forefront of growing discontent and unrest. Their war service and veterans' associations had broadened their horizons, making it difficult for them to return to the humble and circumscribed positions set aside for Africans by the colonial authorities.

The growth of nationalism and the end of colonial rule

As Ghana developed economically, education of the citizenry progressed apace. In 1890 there were only 5 government and 49 "assisted" mission schools in the whole of the Gold Coast with a total enrollment of only 5,000. By 1920 there were 20 governmental schools, 188 "assisted" mission and 309 "unassisted" mission schools with a total enrollment of 43,00 pupils. By 1940, there were 91,000 children attending Gold Coast schools. By 1950, the 279,000 children attending some 3,000 schools in the Gold Coast. This meant that, in 1950, 43.6% of the school age children in the Gold Coast colony were attending school.

Thus by the end of the Second World War, the Gold Coast colony was the richest and most educated territories in West Africa. Within this educated environment, the focus of government power gradually shifted from the hands of the governor and his officials into those of Ghanaians, themselves. The changes resulted from the gradual development of a strong spirit of nationalism and were to result eventually in independence. The development of national consciousness accelerated quickly in the post-World War II era, when, in addition to ex-servicemen, a substantial group of urban African workers and traders emerged to lend mass support to the aspirations of a small educated minority.

Early manifestations of nationalism in Ghana

By the late 19th century, a growing number of educated Africans increasingly found unacceptable an arbitrary political system that placed almost all power in the hands of the governor through his appointment of council members. In the 1890s, some members of the educated coastal elite organized themselves into the Aborigines' Rights Protection Society to protest a land bill that threatened traditional land tenure. This protest helped lay the foundation for political action that would ultimately lead to independence. In 1920, one of the African members of the Legislative Council, Joseph E. Casely-Hayford, convened the National Congress of British West Africa. The National Congress demanded a wide range of reforms and innovations for British West Africa. The National Congress sent a delegation to London to urge the Colonial Office to consider the principle of elected representation. The group, which claimed to speak for all British West African colonies, represented the first expression of political solidarity between intellectuals and nationalists of the area. Though the delegation was not received in London (on the grounds that it represented only the interests of a small group of urbanized Africans), its actions aroused considerable support among the African elite at home.

Notwithstanding their call for elected representation as opposed to a system whereby the governor appointed council members, these nationalists insisted that they were loyal to the British Crown and that they merely sought an extension of British political and social practices to Africans. Notable leaders included Africanus Horton, the writer John Mensah Sarbah, and S.R.B. Attah-Ahoma. Such men gave the nationalist movement a distinctly elitist flavor that was to last until the late 1940s.

The constitution of 8 April 1925, promulgated by Guggisberg, created provincial councils of paramount chiefs for all but the northern provinces of the colony. These councils in turn elected six chiefs as unofficial members of the Legislative Council, which however had an inbuilt British majority and whose powers were in any case purely advisory. Although the new constitution appeared to recognize some African sentiments, Guggisberg was concerned primarily with protecting British interests. For example, he provided Africans with a limited voice in the central government; yet, by limiting nominations to chiefs, he drove a wedge between chiefs and their educated subjects. The intellectuals believed that the chiefs, in return for British support, had allowed the provincial councils to fall completely under control of the government. By the mid-1930s, however, a gradual rapprochement between chiefs and intellectuals had begun.

Sir Arnold Hodson was Governor from 1934 to 1941.

Agitation for more adequate representation continued. Newspapers owned and managed by Africans played a major part in provoking this discontent—six were being published in the 1930s. As a result of the call for broader representation, two more unofficial African members were added to the Executive Council in 1943. Changes in the Legislative Council, however, had to await a different political climate in London, which came about only with the postwar election of a British Labour Party government.

The new Gold Coast constitution of 29 March 1946 (also known as the Burns constitution after the governor of the time, Sir Alan Cuthbert Maxwell Burns) was a bold document. For the first time, the concept of an official majority was abandoned. The Legislative Council was now composed of six ex-officio members, six nominated members, and eighteen elected members, however the Legislative Council continued to have purely advisory powers - all executive power remained with the governor. The 1946 constitution also admitted representatives from Asante into the council for the first time. Even with a Labour Party government in power, however, the British continued to view the colonies as a source of raw materials that were needed to strengthen their crippled economy. Change that would place real power in African hands was not a priority among British leaders until after rioting and looting in Accra and other towns and cities in early 1948 over issues of pensions for ex-servicemen, the dominant role of foreigners in the economy, the shortage of housing, and other economic and political grievances.

With elected members in a decisive majority, Ghana had reached a level of political maturity unequaled anywhere in colonial Africa. The constitution did not, however, grant full self-government. Executive power remained in the hands of the governor, to whom the Legislative Council was responsible. Hence, the constitution, although greeted with enthusiasm as a significant milestone, soon encountered trouble. World War II had just ended, and many Gold Coast veterans who had served in British overseas expeditions returned to a country beset with shortages, inflation, unemployment, and black-market practices. There veterans, along with discontented urban elements, formed a nucleus of malcontents ripe for disruptive action. They were now joined by farmers, who resented drastic governmental measures required to cut out diseased cacao trees in order to control an epidemic, and by many others who were unhappy that the end of the war had not been followed by economic improvements.

Politics of the independence movements

Although political organizations had existed in the British colony, the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), founded on 4 August 1947 by educated Ghanaians known as The Big Six, was the first nationalist movement with the aim of self-government "in the shortest possible time." It called for the replacement of chiefs on the Legislative Council with educated persons. They also demanded that, given their education, the colonial administration should respect them and accord them positions of responsibility. In particular, the UGCC leadership criticized the government for its failure to solve the problems of unemployment, inflation, and the disturbances that had come to characterize the society at the end of the war. Though they opposed the colonial administration, UGCC members did not seek drastic or revolutionary change. Public dissatisfaction with the UGCC expressed itself on 28 February 1948 as a demonstration of ex-servicemen organized by the ex-serviceman's union paraded through Accra. To disperse the demonstrators, police fired on them killing three ex-servicemen and wounding sixty. Five days of violent disorder followed in Accra in response to the shooting and rioters broke into and looted the shops owned by Europeans and Syrians. Rioting also broke out in Kumasi and other towns across the Gold Coast. The Big Six including Nkrumah were imprisoned by the British authorities from 12 March to 12 April 1948. The police shooting and the resultant riots indicated that the gentlemanly manner in which politics had been conducted by the UGCC was irrelevant in the new post-war world. This change in the dynamics of politics of the Gold Coast was not lost on Kwame Nkrumah who broke with the UGCC publically during its Easter Convention in 1949, and created his Convention People's Party (CPP) on 12 June 1949.

After his brief tenure with the UGCC, the US- and British-educated Nkrumah broke with the organization over his frustration at the UGCC's weak attempts to solve the problems of the Gold Coast colony by negotiating another new conciliatory colonial constitution with the British colonial authority. Unlike the UGCC's call for self- government "in the shortest possible time," Nkrumah and the CPP asked for "self-government now." The party leadership identified itself more with ordinary working people than with the UGCC and its intelligentsia, and the movement found support among workers, farmers, youths, and market women. The politicized population consisted largely of ex-servicemen, literate persons, journalists, and elementary school teachers, all of whom had developed a taste for populist conceptions of democracy. A growing number of uneducated but urbanized industrial workers also formed part of the support group. By June 1949, Nkrumah had a mass following.

The constitution of 1 January 1951 resulted from the report of the Coussey Committee, created because of disturbances in Accra and other cities in 1948. In addition to giving the Executive Council a large majority of African ministers, it created an assembly, half the elected members of which were to come from the towns and rural districts and half from the traditional councils. Although it was an enormous step forward, the new constitution still fell far short of the CPP's call for full self-government. Executive power remained in British hands, and the legislature was tailored to permit control by traditionalist interests.

With increasing popular backing, the CPP in early 1950 initiated a campaign of "Positive Action" intended to instigate widespread strikes and nonviolent resistance. When some violent disorders occurred on 20 January 1950 Nkrumah was arrested and imprisoned for sedition. This merely established him as a leader and hero, building popular support, and when the first elections were held for the Legislative Assembly under the new constitution from 5–10 February 1951, Nkrumah (still in jail) won a seat, and the CPP won a two-thirds majority of votes cast winning 34 of the 38 elected seats in the Assembly. Nkrumah was released from jail on 11 February 1951, and the following day accepted an invitation to form a government as "leader of government business," a position similar to that of prime minister. The start of Nkrumah's first term was marked by cooperation with the British governor. During the next few years, the government was gradually transformed into a full parliamentary system. The changes were opposed by the more traditionalist African elements, though opposition proved ineffective in the face of popular support for independence at an early date.

On 10 March 1952 the new position of prime minister was created, and Nkrumah was elected to the post by the Assembly. At the same time the Executive Council became the cabinet. The new constitution of 5 May 1954 ended the election of assembly members by the tribal councils. The Legislative Assembly increased in size, and all members were chosen by direct election from equal, single-member constituencies. Only defense and foreign policy remained in the hands of the governor; the elected assembly was given control of virtually all internal affairs of the colony. The CPP won 71 of the 104 seats in the 15 June 1954 election.

The CPP pursued a policy of political centralization, which encountered serious opposition. Shortly after the 15 June 1954 election, a new party, the Asante-based National Liberation Movement (NLM), was formed. The NLM advocated a federal form of government, with increased powers for the various regions. NLM leaders criticized the CPP for perceived dictatorial tendencies. The new party worked in cooperation with another regionalist group, the Northern People's Party. When these two regional parties walked out of discussions on a new constitution, the CPP feared that London might consider such disunity an indication that the colony was not yet ready for the next phase of self-government.

The British constitutional adviser, however, backed the CPP position. The governor dissolved the assembly in order to test popular support for the CPP demand for immediate independence. On 11 May 1956 the British agreed to grant independence if so requested by a 'reasonable' majority of the new legislature. New elections were held on 17 July 1956. In keenly contested elections, the CPP won 57 percent of the votes cast, but the fragmentation of the opposition gave the CPP every seat in the south as well as enough seats in Asante, the Northern Territories, and the Trans-Volta Region to hold a two-thirds majority by winning 72 of the 104 seats.

On 9 May 1956 a plebiscite was conducted under United Nations (UN) auspices to decide the future disposition of British Togoland and French Togoland. The British trusteeship, the western portion of the former German colony, had been linked to the Gold Coast since 1919 and was represented in its parliament. The dominant ethnic group, the Ewe people, were divided between the two Togos. A majority (58%) of British Togoland inhabitants voted in favor of union, and the area was absorbed into Akanland (Southern Gold Coast) and Dagbon (Northern Ghana). There was, however, vocal opposition to the incorporation from the Ewe people (42%) in British Togoland.

Independent Ghana 

Universal Newsreel about the independence of Ghana

On August 3, 1956, the new assembly passed a motion authorizing the government to request independence within the British Commonwealth. The opposition did not attend the debate, and the vote was unanimous. The British government accepted this motion as clearly representing a reasonable majority, so on 18 September 1956 the British set 6 March 1957, the 113th anniversary of the Bond of 1844, as the date the former British colony of the Gold Coast was to become the independent state of Ghana, and the nation's Legislative Assembly was to become the National Assembly. Nkrumah continued as prime minister, and Queen Elizabeth II as monarch, represented in the former colony by a governor general, Sir Charles Noble Arden-Clarke. This status of Ghana as a Commonwealth realm would continue until 1960, when after a national referendum, Ghana was declared a republic.

The independence constitution of 1957 provided protection against easy amendment of a number of its clauses. It also granted a voice to chiefs and their tribal councils by providing for the creation of regional assemblies. No bill amending the entrenched clauses of the constitution or affecting the powers of the regional bodies or the privileges of the chiefs could become law except by a two-thirds vote of the National Assembly and by simple majority approval in two-thirds of the regional assemblies. When local CPP supporters gained control of enough regional assemblies, however, the Nkrumah government promptly secured passage of an act removing the special entrenchment protection clause in the constitution, a step that left the National Assembly with the power to effect any constitutional change the CPP deemed necessary.

Among the CPP's earliest acts was the outright abolition of regional assemblies. Another was the dilution of the clauses designed to ensure a nonpolitical and competitive civil service. This allowed Nkrumah to appoint his followers to positions throughout the upper ranks of public employment. Thereafter, unfettered by constitutional restrictions and with an obedient party majority in the assembly, Nkrumah began his administration of the first newly independent African country south of the Sahara.

Nkrumah, Ghana, and Africa

Kwame Nkrumah has been described by author Peter Omari as a dictator who "made much of elections, when he was aware that they were not really free but rigged in his favor." According to Omari, the CPP administration of Ghana was one that manipulated the constitutional and electoral processes of democracy to justify Nkrumah's agenda. The extent to which the government would pursue that agenda constitutionally was demonstrated early in the administration's life when it succeeded in passing the Deportation Act of 1957, the same year that ethnic, religious, and regional parties were banned. The Deportation Act empowered the governor general and, therefore, subsequent heads of state, to expel persons whose presence in the country was deemed not in the interest of the public good. Although the act was to be applied only to non-Ghanaians, several people to whom it was later applied claimed to be citizens.

The Preventive Detention Act, passed in 1958, gave power to the prime minister to detain certain persons for up to five years without trial. Amended in 1959 and again in 1962, the act was seen by opponents of the CPP government as a flagrant restriction of individual freedom and human rights. Once it had been granted these legal powers, the CPP administration managed to silence its opponents. Dr. J.B. Danquah, a leading member of the UGCC, was detained until he died in prison in 1965. Dr. Kofi Abrefa Busia, leader of the opposition United Party (UP), formed by the NLM and other parties in response to Nkrumah's outlawing of so-called separatist parties in 1957, went into exile in London to escape detention, while other members still in the country joined the ruling party. On July 1, 1960, Ghana became a republic, and Nkrumah won the presidential election that year. Shortly thereafter, Nkrumah was proclaimed president for life, and the CPP became the sole party of the state. Using the powers granted him by the party and the constitution, Nkrumah by 1961 had detained an estimated 400 to 2,000 of his opponents. Nkrumah's critics pointed to the rigid hold of the CPP over the nation's political system and to numerous cases of human rights abuses. Others, however, defended Nkrumah's agenda and policies.

Nkrumah discussed his political views in his numerous writings, especially in Africa Must Unite (1963) and in NeoColonialism (1965). These writings show the impact of his stay in Britain in the mid-1940s. The Pan-Africanist movement, which had held one of its annual conferences, attended by Nkrumah, at Manchester in 1945, was influenced by socialist ideologies. The movement sought unity among people of African descent and also improvement in the lives of workers who, it was alleged, had been exploited by capitalist enterprises in Africa. Western countries with colonial histories were identified as the exploiters. According to the socialists, "oppressed" people ought to identify with the socialist countries and organizations that best represented their interests; however, all the dominant world powers in the immediate post-1945 period, except the Soviet Union and the United States, had colonial ties with Africa. Nkrumah asserted that even the United States, which had never colonized any part of Africa, was in an advantageous position to exploit independent Africa unless preventive efforts were taken.

According to Nkrumah, his government, which represented the first black African nation to win independence, had an important role to play in the struggle against capitalist interests on the continent. As he put it, "the independence of Ghana would be meaningless unless it was tied to the total liberation of Africa." It was important, then, he said, for Ghanaians to "seek first the political kingdom." Economic benefits associated with independence were to be enjoyed later, proponents of Nkrumah's position argued. But Nkrumah needed strategies to pursue his goals.

On the domestic front, Nkrumah believed that rapid modernization of industries and communications was necessary and that it could be achieved if the workforce were completely Africanized and educated. Even more important, however, Nkrumah believed that this domestic goal could be achieved faster if it were not hindered by reactionary politicians—elites in the opposition parties and traditional chiefs—who might compromise with Western imperialists. From such an ideological position, Nkrumah supporters justified the Deportation Act of 1957, the Detention Acts of 1958, 1959 and 1962, parliamentary intimidation of CPP opponents, the appointment of Nkrumah as president for life, the recognition of his party as the sole political organization of the state, the creation of the Young Pioneer Movement for the ideological education of the nation's youth, and the party's control of the civil service. Government expenditure on road building projects, mass education of adults and children, and health services, as well as the construction of the Akosombo Dam, were all important if Ghana were to play its leading role in Africa's liberation from colonial and neo-colonial domination.

On the continental level, Nkrumah sought to unite Africa so that it could defend its international economic interests and stand up against the political pressures from East and West that were a result of the Cold War. His dream for Africa was a continuation of the Pan-Africanist dream as expressed at the Manchester conference. The initial strategy was to encourage revolutionary political movements in Africa, beginning with a Ghana, Guinea, and Mali union, that would serve as the psychological and political impetus for the formation of a United States of Africa. Thus, when Nkrumah was criticized for paying little attention to Ghana or for wasting national resources in supporting external programs, he reversed the argument and accused his opponents of being short-sighted.

But the heavy financial burdens created by Nkrumah's development policies and Pan-African adventures created new sources of opposition. With the presentation in July 1961 of the country's first austerity budget, Ghana's workers and farmers became aware of and critical of the cost to them of Nkrumah's programs. Their reaction set the model for the protests over taxes and benefits that were to dominate Ghanaian political crises for the next thirty years.

CPP backbenchers and UP representatives in the National Assembly sharply criticized the government's demand for increased taxes and, particularly, for a forced savings program. Urban workers began a protest strike, the most serious of a number of public outcries against government measures during 1961. Nkrumah's public demands for an end to corruption in the government and the party further undermined popular faith in the national government. A drop in the price paid to cocoa farmers by the government marketing board aroused resentment among a segment of the population that had always been Nkrumah's major opponent.

Growth of opposition to Nkrumah

Nkrumah's complete domination of political power had served to isolate lesser leaders, leaving each a real or imagined challenger to the ruler. After opposition parties were crushed, opponents came only from within the CPP hierarchy. Among its members was Tawia Adamafio, an Accra politician. Nkrumah had made him general secretary of the CPP for a brief time. Later, Adamafio was appointed minister of state for presidential affairs, the most important post in the president's staff at Flagstaff House, which gradually became the center for all decision making and much of the real administrative machinery for both the CPP and the government. The other leader with an apparently autonomous base was John Tettegah, leader of the Trade Union Congress. Neither, however, proved to have any power other than that granted to them by the president.

By 1961, however, the young and more radical members of the CPP leadership, led by Adamafio, had gained ascendancy over the original CPP leaders like Gbedemah. After a bomb attempt on Nkrumah's life in August 1962, Adamafio, Ako Adjei (then minister of foreign affairs), and Cofie Crabbe (all members of the CPP) were jailed under the Preventive Detention Act. The first Inspector-General of Police, E.R.T Madjitey, from Asite in Manya-Krobo was also relieved of his post. The CPP newspapers charged them with complicity in the assassination attempt, offering as evidence only the fact that they had all chosen to ride in cars far behind the president's when the bomb was thrown.

For more than a year, the trial of the alleged plotters of the 1962 assassination attempt occupied center stage. The accused were brought to trial before the three-judge court for state security, headed by the chief justice, Sir Arku Korsah. When the court acquitted the accused, Nkrumah used his constitutional prerogative to dismiss Korsah. Nkrumah then obtained a vote from the parliament that allowed retrial of Adamafio and his associates. A new court, with a jury chosen by Nkrumah, found all the accused guilty and sentenced them to death. These sentences, however, were commuted to twenty years' imprisonment.

Single-party state 

In early 1964, in order to prevent future challenges from the judiciary and after another national referendum, Nkrumah obtained a constitutional amendment allowing him to dismiss any judge. Ghana officially became a single-party state and an act of parliament ensured that there would be only one candidate for president. Other parties having already been outlawed, no non-CPP candidates came forward to challenge the party slate in the general elections announced for June 1965. Nkrumah had been re-elected president of the country for less than a year when members of the National Liberation Council (NLC) overthrew the CPP government in a military coup on February 24, 1966. At the time, Nkrumah was in China. He took up asylum in Guinea, where he remained until he died in 1972.

Fall of the Nkrumah regime and its aftermath

Leaders of the 1966 military coup justified their takeover by charging that the CPP administration was abusive and corrupt, that Nkrumah's involvement in African politics was overly aggressive, and that the nation lacked democratic practices. They claimed that the military coup of 1966 was a nationalist one because it liberated the nation from Nkrumah's dictatorship. Despite the vast political changes that were brought about by the overthrow of Kwame Nkrumah, many problems remained, including ethnic and regional divisions, the country's economic burdens, and mixed emotions about a resurgence of an overly strong central authority. A considerable portion of the population had become convinced that effective, honest government was incompatible with competitive political parties. Many Ghanaians remained committed to nonpolitical leadership for the nation, even in the form of military rule. The problems of the Busia administration, the country's first elected government after Nkrumah's fall, illustrated the problems Ghana would continue to face. It has been argued that the coup was supported by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency;

The National Liberation Council (NLC), composed of four army officers and four police officers, assumed executive power. It appointed a cabinet of civil servants and promised to restore democratic government as quickly as possible. These moves culminated in the appointment of a representative assembly to draft a constitution for the Second Republic of Ghana. Political parties were allowed to operate beginning in late 1968. In Ghana's 1969 elections, the first competitive nationwide political contest since 1956, the major contenders were the Progress Party (PP), headed by Kofi Abrefa Busia, and the National Alliance of Liberals (NAL), led by Komla A. Gbedemah. The PP found much of its support among the old opponents of Nkrumah's CPP – the educated middle class and traditionalists of Ashanti Region and the North. The NAL was seen as the successor of the CPP's right wing. Overall, the PP gained 59 percent of the popular vote and 74 percent of the seats in the National Assembly.

Gbedemah, who was soon barred from taking his National Assembly seat by a Supreme Court decision, retired from politics, leaving the NAL without a strong leader. In October 1970, the NAL absorbed the members of three other minor parties in the assembly to form the Justice Party (JP) under the leadership of Joseph Appiah. Their combined strength constituted what amounted to a southern bloc with a solid constituency among most of the Ewe and the peoples of the coastal cities.

PP leader Busia became prime minister in September 1970. After a brief period under an interim three-member presidential commission, the electoral college chose as president Chief Justice Edward Akufo-Addo, one of the leading nationalist politicians of the UGCC era and one of the judges dismissed by Nkrumah in 1964.

All attention, however, remained focused on Prime Minister Busia and his government. Much was expected of the Busia administration, because its parliamentarians were considered intellectuals and, therefore, more perceptive in their evaluations of what needed to be done. Many Ghanaians hoped that their decisions would be in the general interest of the nation, as compared with those made by the Nkrumah administration,

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