An Introduction to the History of Ghana
In Activity One, you were introduced to the country of Ghana. We studied its geography, rivers and lakes and we learned that Ghana is a country rich in water with a climate different from that of North America or Europe. In this activity we are going to study the history of Ghana, from the pre-colonial societies to the post-independence era.
Present day Ghana is different in size and ethnic composition from the Empire of Ghana [Module 7A Activity Two]. Present day Ghana is the product of the British colonization of a territory that they called the Gold Coast. This colony evolved from small coastal trading settlements, former slave castles, trading centers, and mission stations to the establishment of the Crown’s colony of the Gold Coast in 1874. Before studying the evolution of the Gold Coast towards the independent country of Ghana, we will examine the area before the arrival of the Europeans.
Pre-colonial history of Ghana
This section will look at how socio-political life was organized in Ghana before the arrival of Europeans. For that purpose, two main questions will be addressed: When did the first humans and inhabitants appear in what is today Ghana? How were social, economic and political practices and institutions organized in the pre-colonial Ghanaian societies?
The Kintampo Culture
There are different interpretations about the first inhabitants and human settlements in the area identified today as Ghana. Some think that the first inhabitants came originally from the old empire of Ghana that was located present day Mali and Burkina Faso. Others argue that they came originally from Togo and Dahomey (now Republic of Benin), or even Yoruba land in south-western Nigeria. However, according to archaeological findings, people have lived in the present day Ghana as far back as the Stone Age, that from approximately 50,000 BCE.
The earliest archaeological evidence of settled human society in present day Ghana dates to approximately 10,000 BCE. This early human society is known as the Kintampo culture. Today Kintampo is a city located in the region of Brong-Ahafo. This culture was characterized by an advance technology of tool-making as shown in the fashioning of small implements of wood and stone, pottery. There is also evidence of the domestication of animals among the Kintampo. By the 3rd and the 2nd millennium BCE new developments occurred with the domestication of cattle, sheep, goat and later on with the first cultivation of food crops such as cowpeas, oil palm, and white and yellow yams.
Archaeological evidence suggests that between the 2nd and the 4th century C.E. the Kintampo developed the skill of mining and smelting iron and the forging of metal tools and weapons. As we learnt in Module Six A (History) and Module Nine (Economics) the development of the Iron Age dramatically impacted the life of the pre-colonial community and transformed every-day life for the inhabitants. Not only did iron tools contribute to the development of farming but it also led to specialization, urbanization, state formation, and territorial expansion. Gold mining, for example, as a specialization, led to long distance trade that created permanent links between the region and societies/kingdoms to the north and led to the formation of larger administrative and political units comparable to the modern nation-state.
- You have learned about the existence of human civilization in the pre-colonial Ghana. What was the name of that civilization?
- What were the characteristics of the Kintampo culture?
- How did iron and gold mining affect the formation of larger administrative and political units?
Pre-colonial States in Ghana
If you look at the contemporary political map of West Africa, you will see that Ghana appears as a single entity. It is a unified country with a central government and regular institutions that characterize modern day statehood. However, while the appearance of modern day state formation in Africa can be linked to colonization such a socio-political organization was not completely foreign to the people of pre-colonial Ghana. In fact, history shows that in pre-colonial Ghana three groups of states could be identified:
- States in the northern zone
- States of the forest zones
- States of the coastal zones
States of the northern zones: Mamprusi, Dagomba, Gonja
The Northern Zone states were usually ruled by a supreme ruler whom had a different denomination (title) in each of the states. He is called Nayiri in the Mamprusi state, Ya Na in Dagomba and Yagbumwura in Gonja. This chart explains the duties of the Supreme ruler
The following chart shows the power structure in most of the Northern Zone States in pre-colonial Ghana. The Nayiri rules over divisional chiefs. The chiefs are served by other sub chiefs who rule the village headman.
An example of a Northern State is the Mole-Dagbani states. Among the Mole-Dagbani, succession is patrilineal. A successor to the throne of the paramount ruler must be a prince or the brother of the supreme ruler, and prior to taking over he must have ruled as chief in one of the three villages of Miong, Savelugu and Karagu.
- What was the Supreme ruler called in the Northern Zones?
- What were the duties of the Supreme ruler?
- How many levels do you notice in the administrative structure in the Northern zones? Identify the different title of the ruler/leader at each level.
Forest zones states: Akwamu, Denkyira and Asante
The development of larger states was made possible in the forest zones by the introduction of iron mining and smelting and tool-making skills which enabled the clearing of forests for cultivation, and the more efficient use of the region’s natural resources. The resulting increase in economic productivity directly contributed to the development of more centralized political units that normally came under the control of politically ambitious individuals and families. An additional important factor was the introduction of the gunpowder and firearms in the late 18th century. With these weapons, ambitious leaders were able to undertake wars of expansion. Examples of pre-colonial states in the forest zone of Ghana were Akwamu, Denkyira and Asante.
The Ashanti Kingdom was one the greatest empires of the pre-colonial Ghana. It was located in the south-central part of the current Republic of Ghana. The Ashanti Kingdom had its beginnings in the 17th century CE, but reached the apex of its power in the 19th century. Many factors influenced the founding the Ashanti state. Some factors were external like the oppressive rule of the Denkyira, the Atlantic slave trade and the introduction of guns and gunpowder. Other more internal factors were the growing solidarity of the Oyoko people, their ability to maintain a close-knit community, and the ambition of capable leaders. All of these factors helped the community put in place institutions and cultural symbols that help create a unified kingdom.
Among the Ashanti institutions were the Golden Stool, the symbol of the unity of the people of the kingdom, the existence of a common capital Kumasi, or Kwaman in the early years of the kingdom. In addition to these there were also institutions like the National Festival, the Odwira, an Ashanti Constitution and an efficient Army.
The Asante Empire was founded in 1670 by Osei Tutu, an Oyoko military leader. Through negotiation and spiritual persuasion, Osei Tutu convinced many of his Oyoko brothers to help break the yoke that the Denkyra kingdom had over nearby societies. After the Oyoko victory the city of Kumasi was made the capital of the empire (today, Kumasi is the second largest city in Ghana). The Ashanti became a powerful empire the authority of which was symbolized by a Golden Stool called ‘sika dwa.’ Following Osei Tutu every subsequent Ashanti king would be enthroned on the Golden Stool.
In 1720 Osei Tutu was succeeded by Opoku Ware who expanded the Asante state, conquering within thirty years (1720-1750) three Akan states, incorporating them into the Asante confederacy along with three other savanna states, eventually transforming the Asante confederacy into an empire. Osei Kwadwo succeeded Opoku Ware in 1764. He did not increase the size of the empire however he introduced innovations in the way the Asante state was administrated. Unlike past kings, Osei Kwadwo succeeded in making administrative positions in his kingdom appointive, based on merit, not hereditary, thus creating by 1800 an efficient bureaucracy and an excellent system of communication within the kingdom.
In the 18th century the Ashanti cooperated with the British and the Dutch traders supplying them with slaves comprised of individuals who were captured in the Ashanti wars of expansion. In return, the Ashanti received firearms that helped them in the continued expansion of their kingdom. However, the good relations the Ashanti had with the British turned rocky after the abolition of slavery in 1807. Trade between the two partners started declining and a dispute over control of the coastal Fanti regions of the Ashanti kingdom led to a series of wars between the two political powers. The Ashanti turned out to be the toughest opponent for the British in their attempt to colonize territories in West Africa.
- Explain the factors that helped create the forest zones states
- The Asante states moved from a simple state to an Empire. Here is a list of Asante rulers who have each played a distinctive role in the evolution toward the Empire.
Identify which ruler did what:
- From your understanding what do you think helped create and maintain a united Asante community?
The Southern Zone States
The Ewe were among the most organized and well structured of the pre-colonial states in Ghana. In the Ewe states the responsibilities of the office holders were well defined. These states were also hierarchically organized with executive and administrative organs whose functions were controlled and directed by principles based on legal and ethical norms. The highest political unit in Ewe states was the “Du”. It was composed of villages called “Dutawo.” The capital of the state where the paramount chief lived was called ‘Fiadu’.
The “Du” was administered by an executive council called “Fiahawo.” This council was composed of the paramount chief, the sub-chiefs, a spokesman or Tsiyames and an Asafohene. While the Fiahawo had an executive power over everything in the Du, a council of commoners called ‘Sohewo’ was responsible to represent and defend the interest of everything below the Fiahawo. In essence the Sohewo may be viewed as an opposition organ that counterbalanced the power and the authority of the Fiahawo.
- You have read about the pre-colonial states in the northern, forest, and the southern zones states. Go over these different sections and select which of these states you think was better organized. Please provide detailed reasons for your selection.
Arrival of Europeans and evolution toward a colony
We learned that Ghanaians had a system of centralized government close to contemporary mode of state organization in the pre-colonial societies. These states were all based in the interior of the country and some of them were expanding toward the coastal area. In the mid 19th century their expansion toward the coast led to clashes with the European traders and the emerging British colonial endeavor on the Gold Coast.
The First Europeans Intruders (1482)
Trade was the primary reason why first the Portuguese and later on other European powers came to the Ghanaian coast. The Portuguese began the construction of one of the most impressive colonial buildings on the coast, the Castle of Sao Jorge da Mina (as shown below in this picture) in 1482 CE. Their objective in building the fort at Elmina was to facilitate their trade with indigenous peoples and kingdoms and to protect themselves against other European competitors.
The castle was built on one of the best sites they could have at that time for it was close to the sources of gold and was located at the mouth of the Benya River
The Portuguese were followed by other Europeans. Toward the end of the 18th century, the British, Dutch, Swedes, the Danes and the Portuguese had all built forts and castles along the coastline of Gold Coast. Under normal conditions European traders needed the consent of the local African populations before erecting their castles or forts. However, because there were not many people living in the coastal area at that time, the negotiation for the construction of these castles were fairly easy. In 1637 the Portuguese were driven out of Elmina by the Dutch who expelled them entirely from the Gold Coast in 1642..
Out of all these forts, three castles remain the most important Elmina, Cape Coast and more importantly the Christiansborg Castle constructed by the Danes in 1661. Today the Christiansborg castle is the seat of the Ghanaian government.
The following passage is taken from http://www.colonialvoyage.com/googlearth/ghanaaccra.html
The Danish Fort of Accra: Christiansborg Castle, Ghana
Christiansborg Castle was the headquarters for Denmark commercial activities on the Gold Coast and it still bears the monogram of King Christian VII. The earliest constructions are from 1661. In 1850 the Castle was sold to Britain, along with all other Danish forts and lodges. Today, Christianborg serves as the seat of government for the Republic of Ghana.
The forts and castles of Ghana are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 1979. Inscription criteria: the remains of fortified trading posts, erected between 1482 and 1786,can still be seen along the coast of Ghana between Keta and Beyin. They were links in the trade routes established by the Portuguese in many areas of the world during their era of great maritime exploration. The forts and castles of Ghana, as inscribed on the World Heritage list in 1979, 3 castles, 15 forts in relatively good condition, ten forts in ruins, and seven sites with traces of former fortifications.
These forts and castles helped sustain and control slave and gold trade in the region. Over time, town and cities were built around the fortification creating what the former Dutch slave trader called “very populous negro towns.” With the settlement of Europeans on the coastal areas, their interaction with the coastal area population increased. This interaction influenced the local people’s dietary habits, architecture, religion and some of their institutions.
The Europeans introduced foreign fruits and food crops from the Mediterranean, Asia and Americas to the Africans’ diet. Lemons, sugar cane, oranges, bananas and many others fruits and food, most prominently cassava and maize (corn), which became staples in parts of Ghana, were introduced in the 16th century to the coastal settlements and kingdoms of the hinterland.
The local landscape also changed as the result of the interactions with the Europeans. It included forts and castles that were constructed with the European style of architecture. This style also influenced the local architecture as rich African merchants were able to build stone houses similar to that of Europeans.
Europeans also influenced local institutions like the “Asafos.” These were military companies that were first noticed in the coastal settlements of Elmina, Cape Coast and Anomabu that eventually developed along the entire coast. Added to these influences was the rise of the European languages as the lingua franca of trade in most of these settlements. Perhaps the greatest cultural impact of early European contact along the coast of West Africa was religious—the introduction and spread of Christianity.
The efforts to spread Christianity initially started with the Portuguese chaplains at the trading forts. However, the real expansion of Christianity through missionary work in the Gold Coast colony came after the end of the transatlantic slave trade in the early 19th century. Missionary work started with Danes in 1828 through the Basel Evangelical Missionary Society based then at the Christiansburg castle. It continued with the arrival of the Methodists from England in 1835 and, soon after, the Catholic Societas Missionum ad Afros.
- Who were the first Europeans to settle on the coast of Ghana? What brought them to Ghana? What was the name of the first building they constructed?
- The interactions between the Ghanaians and Europeans settlers brought some changes in the life of the local populations. Go over the section on the settlement of the Europeans and list three possible ways in which the Europeans influenced life in the colonial Ghana.
The Impact of the Slave trade
The most dramatic and far reaching impact of Europeans was the trans-Atlantic slave trade. You will remember from studying the history of the Americas that the opening of the plantations in the Americas in the 16th century created an almost insatiable demand for cheap labor that could not be met by either the forced labor of the indigenous American populations or by indentured servants recruited for the economic under-classes of Europe. European trading power turned to west Africa, including Ghana, as a source of cheap slave labor.
The apparently insatiable market of the Americas and the substantial profits to be gained from the slave trade attracted many adventurers from all over Europe. All European nations with an interest in West Africa participated in the trade. Within a few decades after the opening of the plantations, the west coast of Africa became the main source of slaves for the Americas. By the early 18th century the competition to control the trade created big rivalries among the European powers who were involved in the trade. In this quest to control the trade, European powers were helped by economic expansion of African kingdoms that used trade with Europeans –including guns and gunpowder—to strengthen and expand their kingdoms. This was case of Asante kingdom that used trade with Europe—including the selling of slaves—to enhance their power. Let’s recall that slavery was not introduced in Africa through the Atlantic slave trade. Some African societies were practicing slavery before the discovery of the Americas. But it is important to note that the status of slaves and the nature of slavery in pre-colonial African societies were much more different from the nature of slavery in the Americas.
Slaves in traditional Ghanaian society were acquired through purchase, as a debt settlement, or as a form of punishment for conviction for a crime committed, or as products of war (prisoners of war). The transatlantic changed that pattern and used war purposely to capture men and women and trade them as slaves.
Consequences of the Slave Trade
The slave trade also influenced the Ghanaian society. It changed the status of the slave along with the character of slavery in the country . Unlike Slaves in the Americas, slaves in the Ghanaian and African traditional society were not mere objects or commodities to dispose of. They were treated as subclass individuals with limited but specific rights. The flexibility of the slavery system in the African society allowed slaves to be ultimately absorbed into their masters’ families and become full members of the community.
With the advent of the transatlantic trade, the Ghanaians attitude toward slave trade changed. The trade created fear and instability among the populations because of the wars it engendered. it also negatively impacted the economy of the colony because as a result of the trade, productive labor was discouraged. Moreover, as a result of the slave trade the skilled craft industry in Ghana was decimated as many skilled craft persons were enslaved while demand for African produced goods declined with the arrival of cheap manufactured goods from Europe.
The number of slaves taken from the continent grew rapidly. Between the beginning of the trade in 1500 and its peak period in 18th century there were a little over 6 million slaves shipped to the New World with about 5,000 shipped yearly from Ghana (Gold Coast) alone. These figures are only an estimation based on available records. The exact number of slave exported and the demographic impact of the slave trade on Africa cannot be accurately measured.
Establishment of the colony of Gold Coast (1874)
The presence of other European powers did not prevent the British from gaining influence in the Gold Coast in the late 18th and throughout the 19th centuries. Contrary to what may be expected, if any threat came to the British influence it was not from the other Europeans living on the coast. Rather it was from the interior, specifically from the Asante kingdom. Eventually clashes between the Asante kingdom in the interior and the expansion of the British influence northwards from the coast led to the formation of the Gold Coast colony—the fore-runner to the modern Ghana nation-state.
From early in the 19th century the Asante kingdom and the British did not have good relations. The British were not happy with the Asante expansion because they feared that it might threaten their desire to develop a monopoly of trade within the coastal region of the Gold Coast. This was a legitimate concern since much of the interior of the coastal area was under the control of the Asantehene Osei Bonsu (the Asante king) after the defeat of the Fante in 1816. The Asantehene defeated the Fante people first in 1806, then 1811 and 1814 before finally taking control of the Fante kingdom in 1816. In fact, in 1806 they even took control of the British fort at Anomabu. The British concern was also justified by the fact that the Dutch had much friendlier relations with the Asante and an increase in their control over the coastal area could prevent the British from trading slaves, gold dust, and ivory that was under the control of the Asante.
To prevent this from happening, the British initiated a treaty in 1817 with the Asantehene through the negotiations of T.E Bowditch, an employee of the British Company of Merchant in Kumasi, the Asante capital. That treaty was then abrogated in 1820 after the British government sent its own agent Joseph Dupuis to negotiate a new treaty at Kumasi. The new treaty recognized the Asantehene’s authority over the Fante people, however it did not bring the peaceful settlement that was expected. Neither the British government nor the local British merchants along the coast were willing to accept the restrictions put in place by the treaty. The British abolition of the slave trade in 1807 also contributed to the tension between them and the Asante. The law on abolition prevented local chiefs and commoners from securing this source of revenue and did not provide for any compensation to those who were financially affected.
When the British left the slave trade, other European powers like the Spanish and the Portuguese took over the slave trade from the Gold Coast. This created a controversy in Britain where merchants accused the government of not protecting the national trade. In the midst of the events the Parliament decided in 1821 to form the Company of Merchants to promote trade in the Gold Coast and to take over responsibility for administering British forts and settlements. Ultimately, British settlements were placed under the authority of the crown’s officer Sir Charles Macarthy who was then the governor of the West African colony of Sierra Leone.
Macarthy believed the Asante were “barbarians” and as such were unreliable and untrustworthy allies. After he became governor, a dispute over jurisdiction led to the battle of Nsamankow in 1824 where the governor and seven of his men were killed. This defeat was avenged two years later (1826) when the British helped other ethnic groups put an end to the Asante dominations at the battle of Dodowa.
Captain George Maclean, who served in Sierra Leone, was appointed by the crown as the new governor of the coastal kingdoms. The new governor’s governing skills and his diplomatic abilities helped him gain the trust of the Fante and the Asante. Captain H. W. Hill was appointed lieutenant governor in 1844. Both negotiated different treaties with the local Fante. Part of the terms of those treaties was the recognition of the “power and jurisdiction” of the British officials. “The chiefs conceded the adjudication of serious crimes to British officials with the long-term purpose of “moulding the customs of the country to the general principles of British law.” (Gocking, 33)
Becoming a British Colony
In 1868 the British exchanged castles and forts with the Dutch who were the only other Europeans remaining on the coast. Through this act, they (the British) consolidated their power on the area over much of the coastal region of what is today Ghana. All the castles and forts from Elmina to the West became Dutch while the ones to the east of Elmina became British. Africans played little part in most of these exchanges and other transactions or territorial bargaining that took place within the European expatriate community. The absence of Africans from the negotiations that affected their lives caused some ethnic groups and kingdoms to be concerned about their future. The Fante –primary inhabitants of the coastal area- worried about a possible threat from the Asante who were the traditional friends of the Dutch. Without the Dutch no other European group could protect the Asante’s interests on the coast. A “Fante Council” was created as an attempted form of military resistance against the Dutch. Within two years the reasons for the military alliance was removed because in the 1870 the British agreed to buy all the Dutch possessions on the coast. This action pacified Fante concerns as they believed, mistakenly, that the British would allow self rule by traditional Fante authorities.
The transfer of ownership from the Dutch had economic implications for the Asante. It meant that they would no longer receive “rent”—concession payments for allowing them to trade–from the Dutch. Moreover, the increasing British monopoly over trade in the coastal areas greatly reduced the economic potential of the Asante in this region. And, not unimportant to their continued political power and influence in the interior, the Asante lost their ready access to European manufactured guns and ammunition. For all these reasons in 1873, the Asante once again invaded the coastal area. But with the British determination under the command of Sir Garnet Wolseley, the Asante were forced to retreat to their traditional homelands.
His campaign against the Ashanti was known under the name of the “Sagrenti War” (a corruption of the name “Sir Garnet” by the locals). The British victory, however, was not a total defeat of the Asante kingdom, but it offered a clear signal that the British were in the Gold Coast to stay.
Once the colony of Gold Coast was officially proclaimed and established in 1874 CE, British power over the territory was also defined. Primarily it consisted of preserving the peace in the territory, civil administration civil, public safety and criminal adjudication. The “Crown” was also responsible for enacting legislation, encouraging trade and commerce and later on to abolish the practice of slavery and freeing those who were still in bondage.
Over time British law became codified in the colony in legal practice. While traditional or “customary” law was used in local communities, priority was given to the British common law in setting legal practice in criminal matters, and in settling all disputes that involved Europeans.
The institutionalization of the British law raised issues related to the powers of the local chiefs and the position of educated Africans. What should be the status and judicial power of the local chiefs? Some thought they were useless and tyrannical while other believed that including them in the administration of the colony would be more appropriate.
The same question was asked about the educated Africans–what role were they going to play in the administration of the colony? Owing to the educational initiatives of Christian missionaries in creating and staffing schools, the number of educated African also increased. For example, between 1867 and 1897 the African civil service had a tenfold increase from 85 to 863. Some Africans also held very high positions in other institutions, particularly in the mission churches. The mission churches provided additional opportunities for educated Africans. Since many Europeans had difficulties surviving in tropical diseases such as malaria, European civil servants and missionaries were soon replaced by Africans.
After making the coast the crown’s colony, the race to conquer the interior lands followed. For the British the next goal was to conquer the Ashanti. [Check the above map, you will see the actual size of the colony of Gold Coast in 1874.]
- Do you think the inclusion of native Africans in administrative institutions of the colony made the process of colonization easy? Why?
- You have read about the role of the traditional chiefs in the colonial period and that of the Educated Africans. Between the two groups (Educated Africans and the traditional leaders) which group do you think presented a serious threat to the stability of the colonial administration and why?
In the decades following 1874 the British sent many emissaries to the Asantehene for negotiations, unfortunately the negotiations almost always turned into quarrels. The highest point of this tension was reached in 1900 when the Gold Coast’s Governor Sir Frederic Hogson visited the capital of the Ashanti confederation and asked that the Golden Stool, the central symbol of Asante authority be surrendered to him and that no new Asantehene be appointed.
This request was denied by the Ashanti who saw it as an insult. The stool is a sacred among the Ashanti. It is the symbol of their nation and it is believed to contain all the sunsum (souls) of the Ashanti people. Not surprisingly, the British governor was besieged by the Asante, through in time he departed Kumasi to return to the coast. Over the following months there were a series of minor skirmishes between the two groups. Eventually Asante resistance was overcome in 1901 when 46 Ashanti were arrested and sent to Cape Coast. Out of this number, 14 were sent into exile on the Seychelles Islands, located in the Indian Ocean, off the coast of East Africa.
In 1901, the Asante kingdom became part of the British colony of Gold Coast with a status different from that of the initial colony. The following year that is 1902 the Northern territories passed under the British rule as protectorates. Unlike other areas of the colony, in Ashanti kingdom and the protectorates areas were governed indirectly, with the traditional rules maintaining some of their traditional authority.
The extension of the British authority to the internal territories was preceded by the resistance of Africans that usually generated war and violence. Once the British finished their conquest of the land in 1902 a relative peace was established in the Gold Coast that was maintained over most of the next four decades.
Demand for Independence
Colonization in Ghana was not solely characterized by exploitation, violence, or wars. It set the stage for the socio-economic development of a unified nation-state that would take form by the mid 20th century in the period leading up to independence in 1957. One of the pioneers and most instrumental characters of this development was Sir Frederic Gordon Guggisberg, the first governor appointed by the Crown to the Gold Coast. Guggisberg embarked on different projects that he saw as setting the foundation of a new African state. He increased the education budget, expanded the cocoa industry, and built many new hospitals, and started the development at Tema of Ghana’s first deep-water harbor, a project that cost $16,000,000.
But Sir Guggisberg’s commitment to the people of the colony did not mean that he believed in equality for Africans. He was for the Ghanaians but he was not with the Ghanaians. He believed in the inferiority of the black people and thought it would take about a century (that is until the beginning of the 21st century) for the Ghanaians to be able to run their own affairs. He advocated the segregation of Ghanaians from Europeans, although he was in favor of teaching Ghanaians the “art of governmental administration.” Guggisberg served the purpose of the British crown by starting many projects that paved the way for the birth of a modern Ghana, while at the same time holding the population in control.
As we have learned in Module 7B (African History since 1500 CE), Module Nine (African Economies) and Module 10 (African Government and Politics) colonial rule had significant impacts on the government, the administration, and the political life of all African colonies. The Gold Coast was no exception. Here are some of the areas where colonization had significant impact:
Government: the modern map of Ghana was drawn by the colonial administration. It comprises a number of pre-colonial kingdoms and societies that were not united prior to the intrusion of colonial rule.
Administration: As they did elsewhere in Africa, the British instituted a system of indirect rule. This system was designed to designate the administration of local governance to traditional rulers—chiefs and headmen. In reality their authority under the colonial administration became only a façade of the power they used to hold under traditional system. Many, if not all of the local chiefs, became puppets of the British authority and therefore lost the allegiance, respect and loyalty of their subjects.
However, this did not prevent new political ideas from making their way into the country especially among the young educated elite.
Colonial administration also contributed to the development of the Ghanaian educational system. Schools were built and an increasing number of students were enrolled in schools. Between 1902 and 1945, the number of government-supported primary schools grew from 124 to 500 with the number of students rising from 15,000 to 185,000; secondary schools increased from two to 10 with the number of student jumping from 65 to 2000 in the same period. However, despite this development it is important to note that the purpose of the education back then was not to produce capable productive citizens but to create a group of people who would serve as civil servants for the colonial power state. Moreover, it should be remembered that at the time of independence in 1957 less than half of the elementary school aged children had places in school, and less that 10 percent of students who completed elementary school were able to attend high school.
This picture shows students and faculty at the Achimota School in Ghana 1962
The British administration also made an effort to expand the colonial economy, and to transform technology of communication in the colony. Modern means of conveyance and communication like airplanes, trains, cars, radios and telegrams were introduced in the colony. In 1902, for example, the colony had only 500 miles of car worthy roads, by 1945 there was about 8,000 miles with 500 miles tarred and weatherproofed roads. In the same period of time, the railways went from 269 to 1000 miles. As far as radio and telegraph were concerned both unknown when the Gold Coast became a Crown’s colony, crisscrossed the country by the end of the Second World War. At the same time two major cities in the country, Accra and Kumasi, had major airports by 1950. But, as was the case in many other areas, the communication system was designed with the interest of the colonizing power—whose primary interest was in the efficient production and export of Ghana’s major exports—cocoa (basis for Chocolate) and Gold.
Overall, colonialism played an ambivalent role in the life of Ghanaians. It helped lay the foundations for contemporary Ghana but it also caused harm to the country and to its citizens. These contradictions formed the basis for the growth of Ghanaian nationalism and a pro-independence movement in the Gold Coast.
Explain this statement about Sir Frederic Gordon Guggisberg the first governor appointed to the Gold Coast: “He was for the Ghanaians but he was not with the Ghanaians.” How do you understand this statement? Do you think this description fits him?
Aspiration for Self-Determination
The movement in support of self-government took shape among the emerging African elite in the Gold Coast beginning in the years immediately following World War II. This feeling eventually grew larger and become an open movement with the ultimate goal of independence for the colony. There were four major stages in the evolution toward independence:
- The first stage consisted in the protest of the traditional chiefs and the professional organizations against the colonizers in the inter war period (Between World War I and World War II).
- The second stage came from the impact of the Second World War and the growth of an urban white collar class
- The third stage was the development of national political activity in the early 1950s
- And the last one consisted in unifying the country for independence in the mid 1950s
The colonial system took shape in Ghana at the beginning of the twentieth century. It was comprised of a central system of government with an executive and a legislative council. The executive which was comprised exclusively of Europeans was in charge of advising the governor until 1943. The legislative council, like any Legislative branch of a government, voted laws and taxes. Unlike the executive council, both Africans and Europeans were represented in the Legislative council. Africans were represented on the legislative body but many of them were not satisfied with the system. Discontent came particularly from the chiefs and professional groups. Two African protest groups were prominent beginning in the 1920s: the Aborigines’ Rights Protection Society, and the National Congress of British West Africa. The National Congress was made up of professionals like doctors, lawyers and teachers.
Like many other colonies in Africa, Ghana was impacted by the Second World War. Many independence movements were triggered (or influenced) by the events of the Second World War. Discontent arose from many problems in the colony like shortage of imported goods and the dissatisfaction of cocoa farmers over the forced destruction of cocoa trees in response to destruction of cocoa trees that were infected by disease.
There was also the dissatisfaction of ex-service men who had been exposed to democratic ideas during their tours of duty in Europe and Asia. Upon their return to Ghana they were confronted with the stark reality that while they had fought, and some had died, in cause of liberty and democracy, they were treated as second-class citizens in their own country. Many returned to unemployment with no assistance from the colonial government.
All these grievances combined led to the birth of independence movements at the end of the war. But, the struggle for self-rule could not be achieved without an organized and effective collective action. Activists realized that for the independence movement to be successful and reach their goals they needed to channel their activities through a political party organization. One of the first such political parties to be created in Ghana was the U.G.C.C (United Gold Coast Convention) created in 1947 by Dr J.B. Danquah.
In 1947 Kwame Nkrumah, who had studied at Lincoln University (undergraduate) and the University of Pennsylvania (graduate), joined the party and was appointed, that same year, the secretary general of the party. However, there was soon a divergence between Nkrumah and the leadership of the UGCC over number of issues. The main area of disagreement was over the timing of independence. The UGCC wanted independence to be granted but was willing to work with the colonial government on the establishment of a gradual schedule for the transfer of power from the colonial regime to a indigenous African led government. Nkrumah rejected gradualism and demanded immediate independence for Ghana. Consequently Nkrumah broke with the UGCC and formed his own party: the Convention People’s Party (CPP).
With tensions still strong in the country, the Crown appointed the Watson Committee  to investigate the causes for riots. At the conclusion of its investigations, the Committee recommended that the Crown grant more self government to the colony. Following these recommendations and in preparation for implementation of the Watson recommendations, an all African committee chaired by Sir Henley Coussey, the Coussey Committee, was appointed in 1949 to study the conditions in which self government would be granted to the Gold Coast.
Sir Henley Coussey
Many among the African elite thought that the appointment of the Coussey Committee and the process of the colony’s self determination was not fast enough. The UGCC was for “self-government in the shortest possible time” and Nkrumah’s party was for “self-determination now.” With Nkrumah’s charm and personality, coupled with his organization skills, party’s membership drive demonstrated support from almost every town and village in the country. The CPP thus made political activities accessible to every citizen of the country. Political participation was no longer reserved to professional groups and white-collar workers.
What follows Nkrumah’s party formation?
Since the Coussey Committee failed to fulfill the expectation of self-government that many Ghanaians were wishing for, Nkrumah asked his followers to go on strike on January 9th, 1950. Nkrumah and other leaders from the CPP were arrested and sent to jail. Meanwhile, following the recommendation of the Coussey Report, and after the CPP strike, a new constitution was adopted. Similarly, legislative elections were organized to choose the future members of the Parliament. The CPP took part in the elections with Nkrumah as a candidate. Though imprisoned, Nkrumah was elected and his party got 80 percent of the seats. Sir Charles Noble Arden-Clarke, then Governor of the colony, did not have much choice but to release Nkrumah. He became the leader of the government—the Chief Minister– in the first democratic elected Legislative Assembly in all of colonial Africa.
A new constitution written in 1954 granted Internal Self Government to the Gold Coast, an important step in the movement towards complete independence. However, with British opposition to independence removed, new areas of tension arose, primarly ethnic rivalries and regional divisions. In the North, ethnic and religious parties like the Muslim Association Party and the Northern People’s Party were created to represent the interests of that region and its people, who were overwhelmingly Muslim. In Ashanti- land the National Liberation Movement (NLM), composed of members of the now defunct UGCC who refused to join the CPP (Nkrumah’s party), was created. Opposition to Nkrumah’s party centered on the issue of raising the duty (export tax) on cocoa exports, the major export product of the country, without raising the price paid to the farmers who would have to pay the increased tax. Moreover, the northern parties, fearful that a southern dominated central government would not recognize their interests, were in favor of a federal system that would allow for some regional autonomy. The CPP opposed a federal system for Ghana, asserting that a strong, unified central government was essential for addressing the many social, economic and political issues that would confront an independent Ghana.
Since the political parties were unable to reach an agreement over the status of the country after the independence, the British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Lennox-Boyd, announced on May 11th 1956 that independence would be granted only if a general election was organized and a motion for independence was passed by the newly elected parliament. Elections were held later in the same year and they resulted in a strong victory of the CPP. Based on these conclusive election results the British government announced the date for independence—March 6, 1957. The following day it was admitted as a member of the United Nations Organization.
- You have learned in this section about Coussey Committee, the appointment of which a milestone in the process of decolonization of the Colony of Gold coast. When was it appointed and what was its purpose?
- You have read the above section about the demand for self-rule. Briefly give the reasons why Nkrumah and his friends in the United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) parted.
Political evolution of Ghana in the Post Independence Era
Ghana is often cited today as a model of a successful democracy in sub-Saharan Africa. This well deserved praise is the result of a long process that started at independence in 1957. The path to democracy has not always been simple and easy. After independence, Ghana, like other African countries, went through tough periods of economic and political instability. This led to frequent change of regimes through military putsches (coup d’état) which resulted in a series of military governments in Ghana. There have been four constitutions in post-colonial Ghana: 1960-1966; 1969-1972; 1979-1981; 1993-present day. Periods of constitutional rule were interrupted by military governments.
Nkrumah and his policy for Ghana
Ghanaian society in pre-colonial and colonial times was not a homogenous community. There were differences in the living standards of its populations; these differences were exacerbated by the economic growth of the 1950s. As the new president of Ghana, Nkrumah and his party promised “paradise on earth” to the people of the country. Influenced by the economic underdevelopment of Ghana and the harsh poverty experienced by most Ghanaians the first president designed a development plan that reflected his resolution to improve the life of his fellow citizens.
Within the first years of Ghana’s independence President Nkrumah launched several projects focused on developing the country. Among these projects were:
- The construction of the Akosombo hydroelectric dam.
- Expansion of the amount of the cocoa the Ghanaian farmers could produce with the government help and an increase in the price paid to farmers for cocoa they produced
- Industrialization through the expansion of mining and the development of consumer oriented manufacturing.
In the early 1960s Nkrumah’s national development policy changed (dramatically) from a liberal free-market type of economy to a more socialist orientation of development with the government becoming more and more involved in almost all sectors of the economy. These new policies gradually led to greater government control of the economy, particularly in the agricultural and industrial sectors.
The government took control of all the import sectors of the country through the creation in 1961 of the Ghana National Trading Corporation that became the main importer and distributor of consumer goods in the country. The government also took control of the financial institutions of the country, increased state influence in the industrial sector and in the agricultural sectors of the country. In agriculture, for example, Nkrumah’s policy gave priority to diversification and encouraged the cultivation of different kind of crops to be consumed locally as wells as for exportation. This new policy also resulted in the creation of the State Farm Corporation a government organization that helped create large state owned farms throughout the country. Nkrumah’s government thus spread its influence in almost every aspect of the economic and the political life of the country. Not surprisingly, not everybody in the country agreed with Nkrumah’s approach to economic development. In spite of his intention, his economic policies failed to achieve a national consensus.
Dealing with political opposition
By the early 1960s there was increasing opposition to Nkrumah’s policies from both ordinary citizens and from opposition parties. The opposition was strongest in the cocoa growing regions of central Ghana among farmers who believed that their livelihoods were being threatened by restrictive government policies. Opposition was not as strong in the urban areas, particularly in Accra, where some citizens benefited from social services provided by the state.
To prevent opposition parties undermining the CPP’s grip on the political power, a number of measures were taken by the Nkrumah administration. These were essentially legislative measures. Among them were the Nationality and Citizenship Bill that gave the Ministry of Interior the authority to determine who was or could become a Ghanaian citizen without the right of an appeal. This legislation was severely criticized for it was believed that it targeted specific individuals who did not show allegiance to Nkrumah regime or members of opposition parties who could become a nuisance for the CPP government. To understand the rationale for this new law, it is important to remember that a good number of people who considered themselves to be citizens of Ghana were descendants of people who moved into what became Ghana many years before the country’s independence. As we discussed in Module 10 African Politics and Government, the boundaries established by colonial regimes did not logically follow pre-colonial ethnic or political boundaries. Consequently, during the colonial era peoples naturally moved across colonially drawn borders. Individuals whose grandparents may have been born in what became a neighboring country did not have any difficulty identifying with what became a neighboring country during as a result of the construction of new colonial borders. For first generation post-colonial African leaders, challenging the rights of citizenship of individuals whose parents or grand parents may have been born in what was now another country, became a convenient way to control political opponents through declaring them prohibited immigrants. It is somewhat ironic that Nkrumah, a leading champion of Pan-Africanism, would question the citizenship of any African person living in Ghana.
The Citizenship Bill combined with the Deportation Act of 1957 helped deport two leaders of the Muslim Association Party (MAP) and the chief editor of the Daily Graphic Bankole Timothy, a Sierra Leonean. The latter questioned Nkrumah’s decision to have a reproduction of his own face on the cedi, the Ghanaian national currency, instead of the head of the Queen of England.
Another piece of legislation aimed at maintaining CPP hegemony was the Avoidance of Discrimination Act passed in December 1957. It banned the existence of political parties that were based on regional, ethnic, or religious affiliation. This act strengthened the political hegemony of the CPP, which was the main national party in Ghana, unlike the majority of the opposition parties that had only strong regional affiliations. The Preventive Detention Act July 1958 allowed the detention of an individual for up to five years without the right to appeal to the courts for conduct that that was judged by the government to threaten the security and the defense of the State. The Chiefs Recognition Bill 1959 gave the government power to appoint depose chiefs. This act was very unpopular among traditional rulers in Ghana who saw the enforcement of the act as a serious challenge to their traditional power and status.
As a result of these measures by 1960 the CPP had gained a near monopoly in the National Assembly as well as in regional councils. Although crippled, the opposition managed to continue to offer minimal but steady resistance to some government policies into the 1960s.
Nkrumah’s foreign policy: openness and diplomatic tension
Nkrumah was a passionate advocate of African unity. He believed that the independence of Ghana was meaningless if the rest of the continent was still under the domination of the foreign powers. Consequently the liberation of Africa became his top foreign affairs priority. To reach that goal he nominated George Padmore, a committed Pan-Africanist, as his advisor for African Affairs. Nkrumah also organized the ‘All-African Peoples Conference,’ December 5-13, 1958, which was attended by over 200 delegates from all over the African continent. At the conclusion of the conference, the participants resolved to intensify the struggle against colonialism and free Africa from the imperialism and the yoke of colonialism. Many of the delegates to this conference were leaders of the anti-colonial movements in their own countries who would one day become leaders of newly independent countries.
(You can see the conclusion of the conference on this page: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1958-aapc-res1.html )
The fact that Ghana was advocating the complete liberation of the African continent elevated Ghana to the de facto leadership position on the continent. However, Ghana’s leadership was challenged by Nigeria after its independence in 1960. As the most populous nation in Africa some Nigerians asserted that Nigeria had a natural right to a central leadership position on the continent. In the early 1960s these two countries entered a race for the top leadership position on the continent. The competition between them got so bitter that Nkrumah did not attend the ceremonies of the independence of Nigeria. The antagonism between the two countries was also ideological based on their divergent views of the real status of a liberated Africa. Nkrumah viewed Africa as a unified and united continent, potentially a United States of Africa with one elected president. Nigerian supported a union of sovereign Africans states while Ghana advocated the integration of the continent into one single state. As we now know, the Nigerian position prevailed. But this “defeat” of his ideals did not temper Nkrumah’s determination to build a unified Africa.
- Search for the political map of the African continent and that of the U.S. Compare these maps and then go over Nkrumah’s argument on liberated Africa and the Nigerian argument, summarize these two theses down and decide which one is better for Africa and why. Do you find it possible to have a “United States of Africa” as many advocate it nowadays?
- Nkrumah passed many laws like the Nationality and Citizenship Bill; The Citizenship Bill; the Deportation Act of 1957; the Avoidance of Discrimination Act passed in December 1957; The Preventive Detention Act July 1958; The Chiefs Recognition Bill 1959. According to you which of these legislations would really serve his purpose of maintaining the control of his Party, the CPP, over the national political life?
Nkrumah and the Eastern Bloc: 1961-1966
Nkrumah and his party advocated non-alignment in foreign policy, but his ambitious plans to change Ghana into a paradise for Ghanaians forced him to look for financial support and direct foreign investment both the Western and Eastern Blocs of countries. Although Ghana was rich in natural resources the imbalance between Nkrumah’s ambitions and the resources available made it hard for Ghana to realize Nkrumah’s ambitious plans. Consequently, he had to look for external funding for many of the projects on his agenda. This search for funding partially explains why he developed cooperation with the socialist countries of East Europe. The increase in the volume of economic, political and cultural exchange between Ghana and these countries added to the “socialist” character of his domestic policy and led many external observers to characterize Ghana in the mid 1960s as a socialist country.
Nkrumah’s domestic policies and his rapprochement with the Eastern European bloc caused frictions between Ghana and Western European countries. This friction signaled the beginning of his downfall. There is now strong evidence that the CIA (USA) and other Western European intelligence agencies were involved with the Ghanaian opposition and military in planning for the 1966 military coup d’ état that overthrew Nkrumah.
After Nkrumah was overthrown in 1966 Ghana was governed by a succession of military governments. This cycle was finally broken by the democratic elections in 1992. Since this date, Ghana has been governed peaceful by a succession of democratically elected parliaments and presidents.
The Rawlings years
President Jerry Rawlings is likely to be recognized by history as one of the most important leaders in post-colonial Ghana. After two military putsches he was the one who successfully brought the country to back to democracy in 1992. Rawlings’ political career at the head of the country started in 1979 when he and some other young army officers was involved in an unsuccessful attempt to overthrow the Supreme Military Council II (SMC) on May 15th, 1979. J.J. Rawlings and his accomplices were arrested and were tried before a court martial court. Rawlings accepted full responsibility for the coup and used the opportunity of the trial to express the popular opinion about the regime. The trial did not come to a conclusion, as before they could be sentenced, a group of young officers supporting Rawlings and his friends successfully plotted another coup on June 4th of the same year. Rawlings and his accomplices were freed and the coup brought an end to the administration of the SMC that has been ruling the country since 1972. The new military government, the Armed Forced Revolutionary Council launched a ‘house cleaning operation” with the aim of ridding the country of decades of misrule.
Prominent issues of discontent included corruption, trade malpractice and the fact that some among the top officials of the army and the civilians were not paying their taxes. The house cleaning was extended to holding former military rulers responsible for their misdeeds. Former heads of state General Acheampong, Lieutenant-General F.W.K. Akuffo, Afrifa, Lt-General Akwasi, along with other generals were all executed only a few days after the coup. They were convicted of crimes against the state. The new government did not spare the civilians. Anyone who acquired property illegally had to return it back to the government without compensation.
The Return to Democracy: the Fourth Republic
After many years of military rule Ghana has returned to normal constitutional democracy with multiple political parties and regular democratic elections, every four years, since November 1992. The current governmental system is based on the constitution of the Fourth Republic of 1992. The new constitution defines the country as a unitary republic in which sovereignty belongs to the Ghanaian people. The document reflects the lessons drawn from the previous constitutions of 1957, 1960, 1969, and 1979, and it is also influenced by the British and United States constitutions. Currently in Ghana there are more than ten registered political parties.
Ghana has an executive vested in the President who is elected for a four-year term through universal suffrage. Once officially inaugurated, the President shares the Executive power with a cabinet of ministers who head the various governmental ministries, as well as a number of council and advisory bodies, the most important being Council of State and the National Security Council. The council of State is inspired by the Council of Elders in the traditional Ghanaian political system is composed of the twenty-five members who are chosen from prominent Ghanaians. The Council plays an advisory role assisting the president on important decisions related to national issues. (http://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/republic/council_of_state.php)
The Legislative Branch: The Ghanaian Parliament
The new constitution also provides for a legislative branch which is vested in the National Parliament. This parliament is a unicameral body of 200 members all of whom are elected through universal suffrage for a term of four years. Any bill passed by the parliament has to be approved by the President of Ghana before it becomes a law. The president has the right to veto all bills passed by the parliament unless a vote of urgency is attached to it. In that case, the parliament does not need the assent of the president for it to become law.
Like in the United States, the Judiciary in Ghana is independent of all the other branches of government in structure and power. The Supreme Court has broad powers of judicial review; it rules on the constitutionality of any legislative or executive action at the request of any aggrieved citizen. The hierarchy of courts derives largely from British juridical forms.
The Superior Court of Judicature is composed of the Supreme Court of Ghana, the Court of Appeal (Appellate Court), the High Court of Justice, regional tribunals, and such lower courts or tribunals as parliament may establish. The courts have jurisdiction over all civil and criminal matters.
According to the constitution of the Fourth Republic, the Supreme Court has a Chief Justice assisted by nine other Justices. The chief justice is appointed by the President in consultation with the Council of State and with the approval of the National Parliament. The other Justices of the Court are also appointed by the President with the Parliament approval on the advice of the Judicial Council and in consultation with the Council of State.
The past three presidents of the USA—Clinton (twice), Bush (twice), Obama (twice)—have all made official trips to Africa. This comes after nearly two decades in which no US president visited the African continent. On each of the presidential trips only three – out of the 53 independent countries in Africa– were visited. Yet, all three presidents included Ghana as one of their destinations in Africa. Although Ghana is not one of the larger (in size or population) African countries and it is not considered to be as strategically important as other African countries, all three presidents chose Ghana as one of the few countries in Africa that they would visit.
Do a web search on each president’s visit to Ghana. You will be able to read about their trip to Ghana. Based on what you find out and on what you have learned from this module on Ghana write a short essay in which you discuss why the US has consistently selected Ghana (out of 53 countries) as a destination for US presidential visits.
Go on to Activity Three or select from one of the other activities in this module.