A Brief History of Ghana

By Tim Lambert

Early Ghana

The Portuguese reached what is now Ghana in 1471. They found it was a rich source of gold. So much so that the area was called the Gold Coast. The Portuguese built slaves on the Gold Coast and during the 16th century, they traded with the native peoples.

However, in the early 17th century, the Portuguese lost their position to the Dutch, who captured their forts. Later in the 17th century, the British and the Danes also built forts on the Gold Coast.

At first, gold was the main export from the area but by the late 17th century it was slaves. Slavery was not new in Africa (or any other continent). However, the trans-Atlantic slave trade was on a huge scale. African chiefs sold slaves to the Europeans in return for guns, tobacco, and alcohol. During the 18th century, vast numbers of slaves were transported across the Atlantic.

However, in the late 18th century public opinion in Europe turned against the slave trade. The first country to abolish the slave trade was Denmark in 1803. Britain followed in 1807.

British influence gradually grew in Ghana during the 19th century. The British fought a series of wars with the Ashanti. Meanwhile the British bought the Danish and Dutch forts. Finally, on 24 July 1874, the coastal area of Gold Coast was declared a crown colony. British rule was later extended inland. In 1901 Ashanti was declared a crown colony. The area further north was made a British protectorate.

Modern Ghana

The British had a policy of indirect rule. They left chiefs in place but they were supervised by the colonial administration. The early 20th century was an era of prosperity for Ghana. Communications in the colony were greatly improved and many new schools opened. However, after the Second World War, an independence movement gained steam. In early 1948 there was rioting in Ghana after colonial police shot 3 ex-servicemen who took part in a peaceful march. But the independence movement was unstoppable Finally Ghana became independent on 6 March 1957. It was the first colony in Sub-Saharan Africa to gain independence.

Kwame Nkrumah was the first president. However, when Nkrumah was in China, in 1966 a coup took place. The country was ruled by a military government until 1969 when new elections were held. Kofi Busia then became prime minister of Ghana but he was removed by a coup in 1972. There was then another period of military rule until 1979 when more elections were held. However, once again civilian rule was short-lived.

In 1981 there was another coup, this one led by Jerry Rawlings. He agreed to hold elections in 1992. Rawlings stood as a candidate in the presidential elections and he was elected. He was elected again in 1996. Then, in 2000 John Kufor was elected president. It was the first time that power was passed from one elected leader to another.

In the early 21st century the economy of Ghana grew rapidly. An offshore oil field was discovered in 2007 and production began in 2010. Gold and cacao are also important exports. While Ghana is still a poor country it is developing rapidly and there is every reason to be optimistic about its future. In 2023 the population of Ghana was 32 million.

Meanwhile, in 2017 Ghana launched its first satellite. It was called GhanaSat-1.

Last revised 2024