The history of the Gold Coast before the last quarter of the 15th century
is derived primarily from oral tradition that refers to migrations from
the ancient kingdoms of the western Soudan (the area of Mauritania and
Mali). The Gold Coast was renamed Ghana upon independence in 1957 because
of indications that present-day inhabitants descended from migrants who
moved south from the ancient kingdom of Ghana. The first contact between
Europe and the Gold Coast dates from 1470, when a party of Portuguese landed.
In 1482, the Portuguese built Elmina Castle as a permanent trading base.
The first recorded English trading voyage to the coast was made by Thomas
Windham in 1553. During the next three centuries, the English, Danes, Dutch,
Germans, and Portuguese controlled various parts of the coastal areas.
In 1821, the British Government took control of the British trading
forts on the Gold Coast. In 1844, Fanti chiefs in the area signed an agreement
with the British that became the legal steppingstone to colonial status
for the coastal area.
From 1826 to 1900, the British fought a series of campaigns against
the Ashantis, whose kingdom was located inland. In 1902, they succeeded
in establishing firm control over the Ashanti region and making the northern
territories a protectorate. British Togoland, the fourth territorial element
eventually to form the nation, was part of a former German colony administered
by the United Kingdom from Accra as a League of Nations mandate after 1922.
In December 1946, British Togoland became a UN Trust Territory, and in
1957, following a 1956 plebiscite, the United Nations agreed that the territory
would become part of Ghana when the Gold Coast achieved independence.
The four territorial divisions were administered separately until 1946,
when the British Government ruled them as a single unit. In 1951, a constitution
was promulgated that called for a greatly enlarged legislature composed
principally of members elected by popular vote directly or indirectly.
An executive council was responsible for formulating policy, with most
African members drawn from the legislature and including three ex officio
members appointed by the governor. A new constitution, approved on April
29, 1954, established a cabinet comprising African ministers drawn from
an all-African legislature chosen by direct election. In the elections
that followed, the Convention People's Party (CPP), led by Kwame Nkrumah,
won the majority of seats in the new Legislative Assembly. In May 1956,
Prime Minister Nkrumah's Gold Coast government issued a white paper containing
proposals for Gold Coast independence. The British Government stated it
would agree to a firm date for independence if a reasonable majority for
such a step were obtained in the Gold Coast Legislative Assembly after
a general election. This election, held in 1956, returned the CPP to power
with 71 of the 104 seats in the Legislative Assembly. Ghana became an independent
state on March 6, 1957, when the United Kingdom relinquished its control
over the Colony of the Gold Coast and Ashanti, the Northern Territories
Protectorate, and British Togoland.
In subsequent reorganizations, the country was divided into 10 regions,
which currently are subdivided into 110 districts. The original Gold Coast
Colony now comprises the western, central, eastern, and Greater Accra Regions,
with a small portion at the mouth of the Volta River assigned to the Volta
Region; the Ashanti area was divided into the Ashanti and Brong-Ahafo Regions;
the Northern Territories into the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West
Regions; and British Togoland essentially is the same area as the Volta
After independence, the CPP government under Nkrumah sought to develop
Ghana as a modern, semi-industrialized, unitary socialist state. The government
emphasized political and economic organization, endeavoring to increase
stability and productivity through labor, youth, farmers, cooperatives,
and other organizations integrated with the CPP. The government, according
to Nkrumah, acted only as "the agent of the CPP" in seeking to accomplish
The CPP's control was challenged and criticized, and Prime Minister
Nkrumah used the Preventive Detention Act (1958), which provided for detention
without trial for up to 5 years (later extended to 10 years). On July 1,
1960, a new constitution was adopted, changing Ghana from a parliamentary
system with a prime minister to a republican form of government headed
by a powerful president. In August 1960, Nkrumah was given authority to
scrutinize newspapers and other publications before publication. This political
evolution continued into early 1964, when a constitutional referendum changed
the country to a one-party state. On February 24, 1966, the Ghanaian Army
and police overthrew Nkrumah's regime. Nkrumah and all his ministers were
dismissed, the CPP and National Assembly were dissolved, and the constitution
was suspended. The new regime cited Nkrumah's flagrant abuse of individual
rights and liberties, his regime's corrupt, oppressive, and dictatorial
practices, and the rapidly deteriorating economy as the principal reasons
for its action.
The leaders of the February 24, 1966 coup established the new government
around the National Liberation Council (NLC) and pledged an early return
to a duly constituted civilian government. Members of the judiciary and
civil service remained at their posts and committees of civil servants
were established to handle the administration of the country. Ghana's Government
returned to civilian authority under the Second Republic in October 1969
after a parliamentary election in which the Progress Party, led by Kofi
A. Busia, won 105 of the 140 seats. Until mid-1970, the powers of the chief
of state were held by a presidential commission led by Brigadier A.A. Afrifa.
In a special election on August 31, 1970, former Chief Justice Edward Akufo-Addo
was chosen President, and Dr. Busia became Prime Minister.
Faced with mounting economic problems, Prime Minister Busia's government
undertook a drastic devaluation of the currency in December 1971. The government's
inability to control the subsequent inflationary pressures stimulated further
discontent, and military officers seized power in a bloodless coup on January
The coup leaders, led by Col. I.K. Acheampong, formed the National Redemption
Council (NRC) to which they admitted other officers, the head of the police,
and one civilian. The NRC promised improvements in the quality of life
for all Ghanaians and based its programs on nationalism, economic development,
and self-reliance. In 1975, a government reorganization resulted in the
NRC's replacement by the Supreme Military Council (SMC), also headed by
Unable to deliver on its promises, the NRC/SMC became increasingly marked
by mismanagement and rampant corruption. In 1977, General Acheampong brought
forward the concept of union government (UNIGOV), which would make Ghana
a non-party state. Perceiving this as a ploy by Acheampong to retain power,
professional groups and students launched strikes and demonstrations against
the government in 1977 and 1978. The steady erosion in Acheampong's power
led to his arrest in July 1978 by his chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Frederick
Akuffo, who replaced him as head of state and leader of what became known
as the SMC-2.
Akuffo abandoned UNIGOV and established a plan to return to constitutional
and democratic government. A Constitutional Assembly was established, and
political party activity was revived. Akuffo was unable to solve Ghana's
economic problems, however, or to reduce the rampant corruption in which
senior military officers played a major role. On June 4, 1979, his government
was deposed in a violent coup by a group of junior and noncommissioned
officers--Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC)--with Flt. Lt. Jerry
John Rawlings as its chairman.
The AFRC executed eight senior military officers, including former chiefs
of state Acheampong and Akuffo; established Special Tribunals that, secretly
and without due process, tried dozens of military officers, other government
officials, and private individuals for corruption, sentencing them to long
prison terms and confiscating their property; and, through a combination
of force and exhortation, attempted to rid Ghanaian society of corruption
and profiteering. At the same time, the AFRC accepted, with a few amendments,
the draft constitution that had been submitted, permitted the scheduled
presidential and parliamentary elections to take place in June and July,
promulgated the constitution, and handed over power to the newly elected
President and Parliament of the Third Republic on September 24, 1979.
The 1979 constitution was modeled on those of Western democracies. It
provided for the separation of powers among an elected president and a
unicameral Parliament, an independent judiciary headed by a Supreme Court,
which protected individual rights, and other autonomous institutions, such
as the Electoral Commissioner and the Ombudsman. The new President, Dr.
Hilla Limann, was a career diplomat from the north and the candidate of
the People's National Party (PNP), the political heir of Nkrumah's CPP.
Of the 140 members of Parliament, 71 were PNP. The PNP government established
the constitutional institutions and generally respected democracy and individual
human rights. It failed, however, to halt the continuing decline in the
economy; corruption flourished, and the gap between rich and poor widened.
On December 31, 1981, Flight Lt. Rawlings and a small group of enlisted
and former soldiers launched a coup that succeeded against little opposition
in toppling President Limann.
The PNDC Era
Rawlings and his colleagues suspended the 1979 constitution, dismissed
the President and his cabinet, dissolved the Parliament, and proscribed
existing political parties. They established the Provisional National Defense
Council (PNDC), initially composed of seven members with Rawlings as chairman,
to exercise executive and legislative powers. The existing judicial system
was preserved, but alongside it the PNDC created the National Investigation
Committee to root out corruption and other economic offenses, the anonymous
Citizens' Vetting Committee to punish tax evasion, and the Public Tribunals
to try various crimes. The PNDC proclaimed its intent to allow the people
to exercise political power through defense committees to be established
in communities, workplaces, and in units of the armed forces and police.
Under the PNDC, Ghana remained a unitary government.
In December 1982, the PNDC announced a plan to decentralize government
from Accra to the regions, the districts, and local communities, but it
maintained overall control by appointing regional and district secretaries
who exercised executive powers and also chaired regional and district councils.
Local councils, however, were expected progressively to take over the payment
of salaries, with regions and districts assuming more powers from the national
government. In 1984, the PNDC created a National Appeals Tribunal to hear
appeals from the public tribunals, changed the Citizens' Vetting Committee
into the Office of Revenue Collection, and replaced the system of defense
committees with Committees for the Defense of the Revolution.
In 1984, the PNDC also created a National Commission on Democracy to
study ways to establish participatory democracy in Ghana. The commission
issued a "Blue Book" in July 1987 outlining modalities for district-level
elections, which were held in late 1988 and early 1989, for newly created
district assemblies. One-third of the assembly members were appointed by
The Fourth Republic
Under international and domestic pressure for a return to democracy,
the PNDC allowed the establishment of a 258-member Consultative Assembly
made up of members representing geographic districts as well as established
civic or business organizations. The assembly was charged to draw up a
draft constitution to establish a Fourth Republic, using PNDC proposals.
The PNDC accepted the final product without revision, and it was put to
a national referendum on April 28, 1992, in which it received 92% approval.
On May 18, 1992, the ban on party politics was lifted in preparation for
multi-party elections. The PNDC and its supporters formed a new party,
the National Democratic Congress (NDC), to contest the elections. Presidential
elections were held on November 3 and parliamentary elections on December
29, 1992. Members of the opposition boycotted the parliamentary elections,
however, which resulted in a 200-seat Parliament with only 17 opposition
party members and two independents.
The constitution entered into force on January 7, 1993, to found the
Fourth Republic. On that day, Flt. Lt. Jerry John Rawlings was inaugurated
as President and members of Parliament swore their oaths of office. In
1996, the opposition fully contested the presidential and parliamentary
elections, which were described as peaceful, free, and transparent by domestic
and international observers. In that election, President Rawlings was re-elected
with 57% of the popular vote. In addition, Rawlings' NDC party won 133
of the Parliament's 200 seats, just one seat short of the two-thirds majority
needed to amend the constitution, although the election returns of two
parliamentary seats faced legal challenges.
The December 2000 elections ushered in the first democratic presidential
change of power in Ghana's history when John A. Kufuor of the New Patriotic
Party (NPP) defeated the NDC's John Atta Mills--who was Rawling's Vice
President and hand-picked successor. Kufuor defeated Mills by winning 56.73%
of the vote, while the NPP picked up 100 of 200 seats in Parliament. The
elections were declared free and fair by a large contingent of domestic
and international monitors.