The modern country of Ghana is named after the kings of a medieval civilization in West Africa, the Wagadugu Empire. Later absorbed into the Mali Empire, they were a significant power in trans-Saharan trade, with their capital city on the southern edge of the desert being a major port-of-call for traders and political movers and shakers. Much of Ghana's population today can trace their roots back to this ancient state. Ghana was reputed as having the richest gold mines in the world -- hence the Colonial name for the region, "The Gold Coast."
Attracted by the country's riches, the Portuguese were the first to arrive in Ghana looking to trade in gold, pepper and ivory. To consolidate their position, in 1482, the Portuguese built one of the first European fortresses in sub-Saharan Africa -- in Elmina, on the Ghanian coast. The Portuguese managed to keep the other Europeans at bay for a good century until the Dutch, French and English started making inroads as well, setting up their own forts and strongholds through the 1600s and 1700s (for more about these fortresses, see the backstory to Amaryllis in Blueberry).
Early in the nineteenth century, the Ashanti Empire of the Akan people, a major ethnic group, controlled Ghana. They absorbed or conquered neighboring groups and were able to keep the British -- now the only major European power left standing -- out of the northern area of Ghana in the early 1800s. They eventually succumbed after four Anglo-Ashanti wars between 1823 and 1896.
The British stayed on in the Gold Coast making it a protectorate, and soon after, a true colony in 1874. This action was welcomed in part by other tribes who were looking for protection against the Ashanti. Once the Ashanti were defeated, the British expanded north from the coast, in part to protect against encroachment by neighboring French and German colonies. The current borders of Ghana were fixed by the British in 1956.
Since its colonial beginnings, Ghana has had legislative councils comprising native Ghanians. However, these councils were strictly advisory in capacity and actual power was held by British-appointed governors. After World War II, educated Africans and soldiers back from fighting oppression in Europe decided it might be time to get rid of the oppression at home as well. After much internal turmoil, Ghana was declared an independent state on March 6, 1957 -- making it the first sub-Saharan nation to win independence from European colonialism. Kwame Nkrumah was the first leader of independent Ghana, a controversial figure who was instrumental in the formation of the new government. Nkrumah won the presidential election of 1960, which was widely believed to be rigged. He soon named himself President for Life and was eventually deposed, along with his ministers, in the coup of 1966.
More recently, in late July 2012, the author of My First Coup d'Etat, former Vice President John Dramani Mahama, became President of Ghana following the death of the former President John Evans Atta Mills.
Photo of John Dramani Mahama from United Nations Development Programme. Image of globe by Martin23230
This article was originally published in August 2012, and has been updated for the
May 2013 paperback release.
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