History of Ghana
Evidence of settlements along the Ghanaian coast dates back some 40,000 years, but it wasn't until the late 15th century,
with the arrival of the Portuguese, that a written history of the area came into being. The Portuguese came in search of gold,
which they found in abundance adorning the powerful Ashanti kings of the Akan people. The Portuguese soon began construction
of several forts along what came to be known as the Gold Coast, where their plundered gold was shipped back to Europe as ingots.
The real money, however, turned out to be in the slave trade, and the Portuguese traders' fortunes attracted the Dutch, British
and Danes in the late 16th century. During the next 250 years, all four nations competed fiercely to control the trade, building
forts and capturing those of rivals. The average yearly 'take' in slaves was 10,000, and by the 19th century, when the slave
trade was outlawed, there were 76 forts dotting the coast, an average of one every 6km (4mi).
After the demise of slavery, the British took over the forts to use as customs posts, signing treaties with many of the
local chiefs. The Ashanti profited handsomely from the arrangements, and their capital, Kumasi, began to take on all the trappings
of a European city. The British grew increasingly uneasy with the tribe's wealth and influence, and when in 1873 the Ashanti
refused to give up Kumasi, the British sacked the city and declared the Gold Coast a crown colony. Violent Ashanti resistance
continued until 1900, when the tribe attacked the British fort at Kumasi, losing the battle but almost entirely destroying
the city in the process.
The British set out to make the Gold Coast a showcase African nation, allowing few Europeans to settle or even be employed
there. Cocoa exports became the backbone of the economy, followed by gold, timber, manganese, bauxite and diamonds. By WWI,
the Gold Coast was the most prosperous colony in Africa, with the best schools and civil service, a cadre of enlightened lawyers
and a thriving press. Still, anti-British sentiments ran deep.
In the late 1920s, a number of political parties dedicated to regaining African independence began to emerge. In 1947,
Kwame Nkrumah, the American-educated secretary general of the country's leading party, broke away from the group to form the
Convention People's Party (CPP), aimed at the common person and pushing the slogan 'Self Government Now'. The CPP was an overnight
sensation, and in 1949 Nkrumah brought the country to a halt by calling a national strike. The British responded by throwing
him in prison, only to release him two years later after his party had won three general elections in his absence.
Independence finally came in 1957, making Ghana - the name chosen by Nkrumah after the first great empire in West Africa
- the first black African nation to win freedom from its colonisers. For Ghana, it was the beginning of almost 25 years of
economic decline. Nkrumah borrowed heavily to finance the country. His most grandiose project, the Akosombo Dam on the Volta
River, didn't bring the electrification and irrigation programmes it promised for more than a decade. By 1966, Ghana was US$1
billion in debt. Nkrumah's excesses and the rampant corruption among his officials led to a popular army coup that same year.
Between 1966 and 1981, Ghana suffered through six governments, five of them military and each fostering resentment among
Ghanaians. In May 1979, in the midst of serious food shortages, a group of young military officers led by Flight Lieutenant
Jerry Rawlings staged another coup and began a series of 'house cleaning' operations that resulted in the sentencing and execution
of several senior officers and former heads of state. Three months later, Rawlings' Armed Forces Revolutionary Council passed
the reins to a civilian government following general elections, only to forcibly retake control two years later. Rawlings
has been the head of state ever since. Military rule was formally brought to an end with the inauguration of the Fourth Republic
on 9 January 1993, which was preceded by the adoption of a new constitution allowing political parties the freedom to organise.
Popularly re-elected in 1996, President Rawlings' rule has seen Ghana's still-shaky economy move increasingly toward stabilisation
and the country itself solidify its commitment to democracy. Another presidential election was due in 2000, but constitutionally
Rawlings is not eligible to run again. However, he is likely to remain a political force if his wife, Konadu 'Nana' Agyeman-Rawlings,
or his heir apparent, Professor John Atta-Mills, becomes president.
With the appointment of Ghanaian Kofi Annan as UN secretary general, national hopes are high that Ghana - a country with
a wealth of human and natural resources - will again take on a leading role in Africa.
In December 2000 a new political era was heralded in as the conservative liberal New Patriotic Pary (NPP) of John Agyekum
Kufuour won both the parliamentary and presidential elections, ousting President Jerry Rawlings' NDC party after 8 years in
Kufuor, a mild-mannered, Oxford-educated lawyer known as the 'Gentle Giant', continued Rawlings liberal economic policies
and accepted a debt-relief scheme designed by the IMF. The subsequent removal of fuel subsidies sent petrol prices rocketing
by 60%. Despite this rocky start, Kufuor's party remains popular.