When Portuguese explorers arrived on the shores of Ghana in 1471, they discovered so much gold deposited in the sand that they called the place Mina, or Mine. In 1482, they built a fort, called Elmina Castle, to establish a permanent trading post for gold, ivory and slaves. For the next three centuries, European colonizers from England, Holland, Denmark, Germany and Portugal competed to control the various trading ports along the Gulf of Guinea.
By the 19th century, as the slave trade began to die down, the British renamed the region the Gold Coast, and only they, the Dutch and the Danes remained. Facing aggression from the inland Ashanti kingdom, however, Denmark and Holland withdrew in 1850 and 1874, respectively. The British allied themselves with the coastal Fanti tribe and fought a series of campaigns against the Ashanti. By 1902, the British defeated the Ashanti and had established the coastal, inland and northern territories as colonies.
Three million of Ghana's population of 22 million live in the capital city of Accra.
Winds of Change
In World War II, more than 65,000 soldiers from the Gold Coast fought alongside the British Army. But by 1948, these soldiers, upset by the lack of postwar economic support, staged demonstrations against the rapidly rising cost of living and inadequate pay. When colonial officers shot and killed three local war veterans, the protests exploded into riots.
The British colonial government arrested leaders of United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC), a political group exploring paths to independence, for organizing the protests, though they were soon released. Among those detained was the American-educated Kwame Nkrumah, who emerged from jail and began spreading the message "self-government now." The ambitious Nkrumah split from the party in 1949 to form the Convention People's Party (CPP). "When we talk about Africa for Africans, we just proclaim our right to rule ourselves," he said at the time.
The ambitious Nkrumah split from the party in 1949 to form the Convention People's Party (CPP). "When we talk about Africa for Africans, we just proclaim our right to rule ourselves," he said at the time.
The CPP quickly gained support among workers and veterans throughout the countryside, and Nkrumah began calling for widespread strikes and non-violent resistance, which he dubbed "Positive Action." When violence did break out, Nkrumah was arrested again and sentenced to three years in prison, which only increased his prestige as leader and hero of the cause. The protests were also successful in forcing the colonial government to grant a new constitution in 1951. In the first elections in February that year, Nkrumah won a seat to the Legislative Assembly while still in jail. The governor at the time, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, released Nkrumah and invited him to take the senior position of "leader of government business." Within five years, Nkrumah negotiated with the British for independence, and on March 6, 1957, the Gold Coast became Ghana, the first African country to gain independence from colonialism.
But Nkrumah wanted more than just the independence for Ghana; he envisioned freedom from colonial rule for all of Africa. "Our independence is meaningless unless it is linked up with the total liberation of the African continent," he said. He found a supporter in British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, who famously said during a 1960 speech, "The wind of change is blowing through the continent ... the growth of national consciousness is a political fact and we must take account of it." Within three years, 17 more regions in Africa had regained their independence from European rule.
Nkrumah's idealized vision soon grew clouded, as he instituted totalitarian measures to achieve his dream of an industrialized socialist state, and he began to lose popular support. A series of power-consolidating reforms culminated in 1964, when Nkrumah declared himself president for life and changed the constitution so that Ghana became a one-party state. In 1966, dissident soldiers, with suspected links to the CIA, overthrew Nkrumah while he was on a state visit to Vietnam. (Many believe that the CIA found Nkrumah's socialist ideas a liability during the Cold War. "There is no evidence of actual support, but the U.S. government made it known it wouldn't be a bad idea if Nkrumah went," K.B. Asante, Nkrumah's former education minister, told the BBC recently.) Nkrumah never returned to Ghana; he died from skin cancer six years later, while exiled in Romania.
In 1966, dissident soldiers, with suspected links to the CIA, overthrew Nkrumah while he was on a state visit to Vietnam.
The next 15 years were tumultuous for Ghana, as military coup followed military coup in the struggle for power. By 1981, after three coup attempts in two years, military leader Jerry Rawlings successfully consolidated power by purging his political and military opposition and establishing the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC).
Over the next decade, Rawlings succeeded in growing Ghana's economy with the help of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. Still, there were numerous allegations of human rights violations and other abuses of power. In the early 1990s, under international and domestic pressure, Rawlings and PNDC established a national assembly to draft a new constitution. In 1992, the national ban on party politics was lifted and a presidential election was held.
Despite disagreements over the results, Rawlings won. In 1996, he succeeded in winning another term, in what was deemed by locals and the international community to be a more fair and open election. With the constitution allowing only two terms for a president, Rawlings stepped down in 2000, and John Kufuor, the current president, came into power. Kufuor has made economic growth a priority and has worked to lower inflation and borrowing costs. He has also taken a leading role in mediating regional conflicts.
An estimated 70 percent of Ghana's land is agricultural, producing coconuts, cocoa, coffee, and other food crops.
In June 2007, U.K.-based Tullow Oil announced the discovery of 600-million-barrels worth of petroleum off the shores of Ghana. The company called it one of the biggest oil discoveries in recent years. Despite the fact that it could be up to seven years before the fuel is accessed, Tullow's stock skyrocketed and optimism abounds in Ghana. "Oil is money, and we need money to do the schools, the roads, the hospitals. ... Even without oil, we are doing so. ... With oil as a shot in the arm, we are going to fly," President Kufuor recently told the BBC. "My joy is that I'll go down in history as the president under whose watch oil was found to turn the economy of Ghana around for the better. Even without oil, we are doing so well." In January 2007, Ghana's president was elected Chairman of the African Union.
Sources: BBC, The New York Times, Library of Congress, U.S. State Department, CIA Factbook.
BBC Country Profile: Ghana
The BBC provides a political and economic profile of Ghana, all the latest news coverage from the country, and a timeline of significant events in the country's history.
U.S. State Department Ghana Profile
The State Department offers extensive background on Ghana, including demographics, history, economy, leadership and travel information.
BBC: Ghana 'will be an African tiger'
Ghana's President John Kufuor says the discovery of the country's first major oil deposit will be a major shot in the arm for the West African country's economy.
The African Development Foundation
The African Development Foundation provides youth-oriented programs and resources for Africans in education, sports and health awareness. George Ntim, who has helped raise the profile of baseball in Ghana and is featured in the video story, set up the foundation in 2003. His aim is to help strengthen ties between the U.S., where he now lives, and his native Ghana.
The official Web site for Ghana's 50th Golden Jubilee, celebrated on March 6, 2007, includes information about Ghana's history and past leaders. There's a message from the president and information on events planned throughout the jubilee year.
Ghana Web is a useful hub for all things Ghana, including news, culture, politics, and general information.
MLB.com: Big League Hopes Begin on Dirt Field
For the Major League Baseball Web site, Stephen Ellsesser reports from Ghana about the MLB delegation, which included New York Mets General Manager Omar Minaya. The group traveled to Ghana to watch some of the country's aspiring baseball players.
Kwame Nkrumah at Penn: A Digital Exhibition
The University of Pennsylvania's African Studies Center presents a digital archive of Kwame Nkrumah's time at the school, including two articles he wrote for Penn's Educational Outlook in 1941 and 1943. The stories hint at his later work toward Pan-African unity and an end to colonialism. The architect of Ghana's independence, Nkrumah earned master's degrees in education and philosophy from Penn.
"The Soccer War" by Ryszard Kapuscinski
Polish writer and reporter Ryszard Kapuscinski, who died earlier this year at the age of 74, vividly reports his chaotic experiences in Africa during the late 1950s, a time when calls for independence were starting to reverberate across the continent. He spent the next 40 years returning to Africa and reported on 27 revolutions and coups. In a dispatch from The Soccer War, Kapuscinski is witness to the early promise of Ghana under the enigmatic Kwame Nkrumah.
-- Matthew Vree