|Ghana Country Studies index|
Ghana - Introduction
WHEN GHANA ACHIEVED INDEPENDENCE from colonial domination in 1957, the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to do so, it enjoyed economic and political advantages unrivaled elsewhere in tropical Africa. The economy was solidly based on the production and export of cocoa, of which Ghana was the world's leading producer; minerals, particularly gold; and timber. It had a well-developed transportation network, relatively high per capita income, low national debt, and sizable foreign currency reserves. Its education system was relatively advanced, and its people were heirs to a tradition of parliamentary government. Ghana's future looked promising, and it seemed destined to be a leader in Africa.
Yet during the next twenty-five years, rather than growth and prosperity, Ghanaians experienced substantial declines in all of the above categories, and the country's image became severely tarnished. Beginning in the early 1980s and continuing into the mid-1990s, efforts were undertaken to rebuild the government and the economy and to restore the luster of Ghana's name. It is this attempt at reconstruction that constitutes the major focus of the present volume.
The region of modern Ghana has been inhabited for several thousand years, but little is known of Ghana's early inhabitants before the sixteenth century. By then, however, the major population groups were on the scene and in their present locales. More than 100 separate ethnic groups are found in Ghana today, a number of which are immigrant groups from neighboring countries.
One of the most important are the Akan, who live in the coastal savannah and forest zones of southern Ghana. The Akan were living in well-defined states by the early sixteenth century at the latest. By the end of that century, the states of Mamprusi, Dagomba, and Gonja had come into being among the Mole-Dagbane peoples of northern Ghana. These peoples and states were significantly influenced by Mande-speaking peoples from the north and the northeast. In the extreme north of present-day Ghana are a number of peoples who did not form states in pre-colonial times. These peoples, such as the Sisala, Kasena, and Talensi, are organized into clans and look to the heads of their clans for leadership. Like the Mole-Dagbane, they have been heavily influenced by Islam, introduced into the region centuries ago by trans-Saharan traders or by migrants from the north.
The best-known of the indigenous states of Ghana is without doubt Asante, a term that applies to both people and state. Beginning in the mid-seventeenth century, this Akan-based entity began to expand from the area around Kumasi, its capital, allying with or subduing neighboring Akan states such as Denkyira and Akwapim. Eventually, Asante incorporated non-Akan peoples and kingdoms, including Gonja, Dagomba, and Mamprusi, into an empire that encompassed much of modern Ghana and parts of neighboring Côte d'Ivoire. Along a network of roads radiating from Kumasi flowed communications, tribute, and, above all, gold, over which the Asante held a monopoly.
Gold is found in several regions of West Africa, including the headwaters of the Niger River and the forest zone of modern Ghana. The West African gold trade was well-established in antiquity, and it helped tie the peoples of Ghana into a trans-Saharan commercial network that stretched from the West African forest zone across the Sahara to ports on the Mediterranean. Aside from providing material benefits, trade seems to have been one of the major factors in state formation in Ghana.
Gold drew European traders to the Gulf of Guinea. The first to arrive in the late fifteenth century were the Portuguese, who set up an outpost on Ghana's coast. During the next century, the lure of gold gave way to the slave trade because of the demand for labor in the Americas. Trading in slaves as well as gold, the Dutch, the Danes, the English, and the Swedes eventually joined the Portuguese on what had come to be known as the "Gold Coast." By the early nineteenth century, the British were the most important European power on the Gold Coast. Thereafter, the British extended their control inland via treaties and warfare until by 1902 much of present-day Ghana was a British crown colony. Ghana's current borders were realized in 1956 when the Volta region voted to join Ghana.
British colonial government, while authoritarian and centralized, nonetheless permitted Ghanaians a role in governing the colony. This was true not only of central governing bodies such as the Legislative Council and later the Executive Council, but of local and regional administration as well. The British policy of indirect rule meant that chiefs or other local leaders became agents of the colonial administration. This system of rule gave Ghanaians experience with modern, representative government to a degree unparalleled elsewhere in sub-Saharan Africa.
During the colonial period, the Gold Coast began to develop economically. Roads, railroads, and a harbor at Takoradi were constructed. In 1878 a Ghanaian brought cacao pods into the country, introducing what eventually became the country's major cash crop. Large-scale commercial gold mining began, and Western- style education was introduced, culminating in the founding of University College of the Gold Coast in 1948. The education system trained a class of Ghanaians that found employment in the colonial administration. In the twentieth century, this same class increasingly sought economic, political, and social improvements as well as self-government, and, eventually, independence for Ghanaians.
After World War II, the drive for independence began in earnest under the auspices of the United Gold Coast Convention and the Convention People's Party, the latter founded by Kwame Nkrumah in 1949. Britain granted independence on March 6, 1957, under a governor general as representative of the crown and Nkrumah as prime minister. In 1960 a new constitution created the Republic of Ghana, the same year that Nkrumah was elected president.
Nkrumah saw Ghana as the "Star of Black Africa." He believed that Ghana should lead the effort to free Africa from the shackles of Western colonialism and envisioned a union of independent African states that would command respect in the world. Nkrumah also helped found the Non-Aligned Movement, a grouping of world states that attempted to pursue policies independent of East and West. His ideas about African unity proved immensely appealing in the late 1950s and early 1960s; indeed, the Pan-Africanist dream still resonates across Africa in the 1990s.
Nkrumah's pursuit of pan-Africanism proved expensive and ultimately futile, and it partially accounts for the economic problems that Ghana encountered during the early 1960s. More important, however, were Nkrumah's domestic policies. He believed in centralization, both political and economic. Constitutional safeguards against authoritarianism were abolished, political opposition was stifled, and, shortly after the 1960 elections, Nkrumah was declared president for life. By the mid-1960s, Ghana had become a one-party state under a powerful president.
Nkrumah also believed in a rapid transformation of the Ghanaian economy along socialist lines. He channeled investment into new industrial enterprises and agricultural projects, nationalized foreign-owned enterprises, and wherever possible "Ghanaianized" the public and private sectors. State-sponsored enterprises such as the Akosombo Dam and the Volta Aluminum Company were undertaken, roads were built, and schools and health services were expanded. The former Northern Territories, the northernmost third of the country which had been neglected by the British, received special attention in an attempt to address the imbalance in infrastructure and social services between North and South.
Ghana, however, lacked sufficient resources to finance the public-sector projects that Nkrumah envisioned. When foreign currency reserves were exhausted, the government resorted to deficit financing and foreign borrowing to pay for essential imports. Trained manpower to allocate resources and to operate old and new state enterprises was equally in short supply, and internal financial controls necessary to implement development led almost naturally to corruption. Despite obvious gains from investment in roads, schools, health services, and import-substituting industries, by the mid-1960s Ghana was a nation ensnared in debt, rising inflation, and economic mismanagement, the result of Nkrumah's ill-conceived development policies. An overvalued currency discouraged exports, corruption was increasingly a fact of life, and the political system was intolerant of dissent and authoritarian in practice.
In 1966 Nkrumah was overthrown and a military government assumed power. But neither military nor civilian governments during the next fifteen years were able to deal successfully with the host of problems that Nkrumah had bequeathed. In particular, under the Supreme Military Council (1972-78), Ghana's economic and political situation deteriorated at an alarming rate. The 1970s were a period of steadily falling agricultural production, manufacturing output, and per capita income. Declining cocoa production and exports were accompanied by a corresponding rise in smuggling of the crop to neighboring countries, especially Côte d'Ivoire, and largely accounted for chronic trade deficits. Personal enrichment and corruption became the norm of government.
Beyond these serious problems loomed much larger issues that needed to be addressed if Ghana were to resume its position at the forefront of Africa's leading nations. Among these were the fear of an overly centralized and authoritarian national executive, the burden of accumulated foreign debt, and the need to forge a nation from Ghana's diverse ethnic and regional interests. In particular, the challenge was to devise a system of government that would bridge the enormous gap that had developed between the political center and society at large. For most Ghanaians, the nation-state by the late 1970s had become a largely irrelevant construct that had ceased to provide economic benefits or opportunities for meaningful political participation. As a consequence, local, ethnic, and regional interests had become much more prominent than those of Ghana as a whole.
Such were the challenges that lay before the group of military officers who seized power at the end of 1981. During its first year, the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) spoke vaguely about socialism and established people's and workers' defense committees and extra-judicial public tribunals as a way to involve Ghanaians in public administration. In 1983, however, the council, under its leader, Jerry John Rawlings, abandoned its socialist leanings and negotiated a structural adjustment program with the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund as the best and perhaps only method of rejuvenating the economy. Called the Economic Recovery Program, it was designed to stimulate economic growth and exports, to enhance private initiative and investment, and to reduce the role of the state in economic affairs.
On the one hand, Ghana's structural adjustment program was and continues to be one of a half dozen models for such programs backed by international lending agencies. It succeeded in reversing the downward trend in production and exports, especially in the cocoa, mining, and timber industries. During the 1980s, gross national product grew at annual rates of 5 percent or more a year, per capita income slowly began to rise, and inflation abated. Since 1990, economic growth has slowed, but trends in the economy remain positive.
On the other hand, Ghana has incurred new debts to finance its Economic Recovery Program, unemployment has risen, and new fees for basic services such as education and health care have added to the burdens of ordinary citizens. Indeed, for many Ghanaians, structural adjustment has not yet significantly improved their lives. Additionally, per capita income, while continuing to rise, is unevenly distributed throughout the population, and private overseas investment has largely failed to materialize. In Ghana's case, structural adjustment is clearly a long-term process. Despite problems and shortcomings, the government of the present Fourth Republic, which succeeded the PNDC in 1993, remains committed to it.
Equally significant were steps to devise new political institutions that would allow a large number of Ghanaians to participate in governing the country. The creation of defense committees and public tribunals in the early 1980s were steps in this direction. In 1988 and early 1989, nonpartisan elections were held to fill seats in representative assemblies constituted in each of Ghana's ten administrative regions; similar bodies were eventually seated in cities, towns, and villages. Thereafter, the overriding question was what form the national government would take. After initial reluctance to commit themselves to a multiparty political system, Rawlings and the PNDC yielded in the face of domestic and international pressures. In April 1992, a new constitution that called for an elected national parliament and chief executive won overwhelming approval in a national referendum. Political parties, banned since 1982, were the mechanism by which the system was to work.
Presidential elections were held in November 1992, followed in December by elections for the 200-member national parliament. After a heated campaign, Jerry Rawlings was elected president. His party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), won control of parliament. In January 1993, Rawlings and the new parliamentarians were sworn into office, thereby launching Ghana's fourth attempt at republican government since independence.
The new political order in Ghana, unfortunately, did not get off to a happy start. The four opposition parties that had candidates running in the presidential race charged that fraud and voting irregularities accounted for Rawlings's victory. When their demands for a revised voters register were rejected because of cost and time factors, they boycotted the parliamentary elections. This stance by the opposition resulted in what is in effect a one-party republic, which imparts a hollowness to Ghana's latest effort at democratic government. Although the opposition parties have accepted the status quo for the time being and have taken on the role of watchdog even though they are not represented in parliament, they have continued to press for a new voters list before elections scheduled for 1996 and remain basically unreconciled to NDC rule. As a result, the first two years of the Fourth Republic were marked by a series of skirmishes and quarrels between the government and the opposition.
In its campaign against the NDC government, the opposition, resorting to the courts, won several cases against the government in 1993 and early 1994. Since 1993 a small but vigorous independent press has developed, which the opposition has used to publicize its views. Despite publication of what at times have been sensational or even libelous charges against members of the NDC, including Rawlings, the government has made no move to censor or suppress independent newspapers and magazines. Official spokesmen, however, have repeatedly denounced what they consider irresponsible reporting in the private press.
In late 1994 and early 1995, controversy over the media continued unabated. The most contentious issue involved the attempt to establish a national radio station as an alternative to the official Ghana Broadcasting Corporation. Known as "Radio Eye" and dedicated to providing a wider range of political opinion and information than the government network, it began broadcasting in November 1994. The government promptly shut it down and seized its equipment, charging that Radio Eye had not been licensed. The opposition parties protested that the government's action was an affront to democratic procedures and turned once more to the courts, challenging the government's licensing practices and the constitutionality of its actions.
By early 1995, the case was before the Supreme Court of Ghana. Meanwhile, in early February the government announced that properly authorized private stations would begin broadcasting in February. The large number of license applications received by the government--more than sixty--indicated the interest in private, independent radio broadcasting.
Prospects for abatement in the media battles between the government and its critics were nil, given the degree of antipathy between the two sides and preparations for national elections in 1996. Even so, both appeared to accept the basic rules of democratic procedure. In a statement marking the second anniversary of the Fourth Republic, the New Patriotic Party called on Rawlings (and the NDC) to respect the 1992 constitution to ensure that this latest exercise in democracy would succeed. Most significantly, the statement added, "Let us recognise that the eras of violent and revolutionary change of government in Ghana are over."
Aside from freedom of the press and speech, other basic human rights also appeared to enjoy increased respect in mid-1995. There were persistent reports of police abuse, especially in areas distant from Accra, as well as of unwarranted detentions, beatings, and similar infringements of rights, but, in general, the number and severity of human rights violations continued to decline. The judiciary in particular showed clear evidence of preserving its independence, in keeping with Ghanaian tradition and the requirements of democratic governance.
Such a state of affairs was encouraging, given the role of the armed forces and the police in Ghana's postindependence history. Of the ten governments since 1957, six were composed of military officers who came to power via coups. The PNDC was one such regime, and even though it handed over power to a civilian, constitutional government in 1993, the question of the role of Ghana's military in the Fourth Republic was still an important one. Under the Economic Recovery Program, funding of the armed forces was reduced and equipment and facilities were allowed to deteriorate. In recognition of this fact and of the continuing mission of the armed forces in matters of defense and international peacekeeping, Rawlings called for renewed attention to the needs of the armed forces in his speech marking the second anniversary of the Fourth Republic in January 1995.
On the economic scene, the government was determined to continue with structural adjustment. Tight fiscal controls in central and local government accounts, an essential element in structural adjustment, had been relaxed as the 1992 elections approached, leading to an increase in the government deficit, inflation, and interest rates. Indications were that this situation had not been brought under control in mid-1995.
Ghana faced other major problems with its Economic Recovery Program in the mid-1990s as well. These included the progressive fall in the value of the cedi, the national currency; a high rate of inflation (more than 30 percent in mid-1995); the lack of private-sector investment, especially in manufacturing; and rising levels of unemployment as a result of international competition, domestic factory closings, and downsizing of parastatals and the government bureaucracy. Added to these problems were the difficulty of reconciling the rigors of free-market economic reforms with popular demands for improved public services and living standards, and a population growing by well over 3 percent a year.
Preliminary data for the whole of 1994 showed that the country had achieved a budget surplus, with another anticipated for 1995, and that gross domestic product adjusted for inflation amounted to 3.8 percent, short of the target of 5 percent but still commendable. Ghana's trade deficit, however, amounted to US$200 million, with a similar figure projected for 1995. Total international debt for 1993, the most recent year for which revised figures were available, stood at US$4.6 billion; its rate of increase, however, showed signs of slowing. In January 1995, the government granted a 52 percent increase in the minimum wage under pressure from the Trade Union Congress.
On the whole, Ghana's economy seemed to be headed in the right direction in the mid-1990s, even if sustained economic recovery was not yet a reality more than a decade after introduction of the Economic Recovery Program and even if the country continued to rely on cocoa, gold, and timber for most of its foreign currency earnings. Nonetheless, in spite of real problems, Ghana was still the model for structural adjustment in Africa in the eyes of Western lending institutions.
The fragility of the economic and political transition underway in Ghana in the mid-1990s was evident from events in the spring of 1995. On March 1, the government introduced a new value-added tax to replace the national sales tax. Set at 17.5 percent of the price of many commodities and services, the new tax immediately resulted in rising prices and contributed to an already high rate of inflation. It thereby added to the deprivation many Ghanaians had been experiencing for more than a decade under the Economic Recovery Program. For many, it was simply too much. Discontent among civil servants, teachers, and others led to street demonstrations and finally, on May 11, to the largest protest demonstration in Accra against government policies since Rawlings and the PNDC came to power. Five people were killed and seventeen injured in clashes between supporters and opponents of the government. Demonstrators not only criticized what they considered harsh economic policies, but some also called openly for Rawlings to step down.
The protests, organized by opposition parties, provided Rawlings's opponents with a rallying cry. For the first time since 1992, the Rawlings government appeared politically vulnerable. In the face of continued protests and increasing doubts about the viability of the value-added tax, the government in early June announced plans to replace it with a new national sales tax. In the meantime, one of the NDC's partners in the Progressive Alliance, the National Convention Party, withdrew from the alliance in late May. The party's leaders claimed that it had not been allowed to participate in affairs of government as had been promised when the alliance was formed to contest the 1992 elections. The National Convention Party, therefore, would no longer be bound by the agreement, and it would feel free to associate with the opposition if it chose to do so.
In early 1995, Rawlings, as chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), continued his efforts to find a solution to the civil war in Liberia. At a December meeting in Accra, the major combatants agreed to form a new governing council and to implement a cease-fire. As of April, however, the combatants had not been able to agree fully on the new council's membership despite another meeting in Accra in January, and even the cease- fire threatened to come unraveled as renewed fighting broke out in Liberia. So disappointed were Rawlings and other West African leaders that they threatened to withdraw their peacekeeping troops if the Liberians continued to obstruct the ECOWAS peace process.
In support of another peacekeeping mission, on March 1, 1995, Ghana dispatched a contingent of 224 officers and men as part of its long-term commitment to the United Nations peacekeeping forces in Lebanon. Other Ghanaians continued to serve as military observers, police, or soldiers in international peacekeeping missions in Western Sahara, the former Yugoslavia, Mozambique, and Rwanda. The warming in relations with neighboring Togo also continued. After the arrival of a new Ghanaian ambassador in Lomé in mid-November, Togolese authorities reopened their western border in December and were expected to name an ambassador to Accra during 1995.
As the home of Pan-Africanism, Ghana hosted the second Pan- African Historical and Theatre Festival (Panafest) from December 9 to 18, 1994. As with the first Panafest in Accra in 1992, the 1994 festival was designed to foster unity among Africans on the continent and abroad. Unfortunately, attendance at Panafest 94 was lower than expected, one reason the festival was somewhat of a disappointment to its sponsors.
Finally, in early March 1995, Rawlings paid an official visit to Washington, where he met with President Bill Clinton. The two presidents discussed a variety of topics, including regional stability in West Africa and trade and investment in Ghana. Clinton noted Ghana's prominence in international peacekeeping missions, especially in Liberia, and pledged continued United States support for Ghanaian efforts at regional conflict resolution. Rawlings's visit was the first to the United States by a Ghanaian head of state in at least thirty years.
By mid-1995, Ghana had emerged at the forefront of change in sub-Saharan Africa. Its structural adjustment program was a model for other developing nations on the continent, and its pursuit of popular, representative government and democratic institutions made it a pacesetter in the political realm. Endowed with both human and natural resources and with a political leadership seemingly determined to reverse decades of economic and political decline, Ghana had the potential to become one of Africa's leading nations once again. Whether Ghana would resume its status as the "Star of Black Africa" envisioned by Kwame Nkrumah, however, remained to be seen.
You can read more regarding this subject on the following websites:
An Introduction to Ghana - Geographia
Ghana Country Studies index
Country Studies main page