There is archaeological evidence showing that humans have lived in present-day Ghana since the Bronze Age. However, until the 11th century, the majority of modern Ghana’s area was largely unoccupied. Although the area of present-day Ghana has experienced many population movements, the major ethnic groups in Ghana today were firmly settled by the 16th century. By the early 11th century, the Akan were firmly established in a state called Bonoman, for which the Brong-Ahafo Region region is named. The Mole-Dagbane as well as the Mossi states were well established by the 16th century, with the Gonja state being established by the 17th Century.
From the 13th century, numerous groups emerged from what is believed to have been the Bonoman area, to create several Akan States, mainly based on gold trading. These states included Denkyira, Akwamu, and Akyem. By the 19th century, most of modern Ghanaian territory was included in the Empire of Ashanti, one of the most influential states in sub-Saharan Africa prior to colonial rule. The Ashanti government operated first as a loose network, and eventually as a centralized kingdom with an advanced, highly specialized bureaucracy centred in Kumasi. It is said that at its peak, the Asantehene could field 500,000 troops, and it had some degree of military influence over all of its neighbours.
Early European contact by the Portuguese, who came to Ghana in the 15th century, focused on the extensive availability of gold. The Portuguese first landed at a coastal city inhabited by the Fante nation-state, and named the place Elmina. In 1481, King John II of Portugal commissioned Diogo d’Azambuja to build Elmina Castle, which was completed in 3 years. The Portuguese aim was to trade for Akan gold.
By 1598, the Dutch had joined them, building forts at Komeda and Kormantsi. In 1617, they captured the Olnini Castle from the Portuguese, and Axim in 1642 (Fort St Anthony). Other European traders had joined in by the mid-17th century, largely English, Danes and Swedes. English merchants, impressed with the gold resources in the area, named it the Gold Coast, while French merchants, impressed with the trinkets worn by the coastal people, named the area to the west “Côte d’Ivoire”, or Ivory Coast.
More than thirty forts and castles were built by the Portuguese, Dutch, British and Spanish merchants. The Gold Coast was known for centuries as ‘The White Man’s Grave’, because many of the Europeans who went there died of malaria and other tropical diseases. After the Dutch withdrew in 1874, Britain made the Gold Coast a protectorate. Following conquest by the British in 1896 until independence in March 1957, the territory of modern Ghana, excluding the Volta Region (British Togoland), was known as the Gold Coast.
Many wars occurred between the colonial powers and the various nation-states in the area, including the 1806 Ashanti-Fante War, and the continuous struggle by the Ashanti against the British in many wars. The Ashanti defeated the British a few times, but eventually lost with the Ashanti-British War in the early 1900s.
Even under colonial rule, the chiefs and people often resisted the policies of the British; however, moves toward decolonization intensified after World War II. In 1947, the newly formed United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) called for “self-government within the shortest possible time.”After rioting increased in 1948, the members of the United Gold Coast Convention were arrested, including future prime minister and president Kwame Nkrumah. Later, Nkrumah formed his own party, the Convention People’s Party (CPP) with the motto “self government now.” He began a ‘Positive Action’ campaign and gained the support of rural and working class people. He was again imprisoned for being the leader of a party that caused boycotts, strikes and other forms of civil disobedience. After winning a majority in the Legislative Assembly in 1952, Nkrumah was released and appointed leader of government business. After further negotiations with Britain, on 6 March 1957 at 12 a.m. Nkrumah declared Ghana “free forever”.
The Flag of Ghana, consisting of the colours red, gold, green, and the black star, became the new flag in 1957. Designed by, Theodosia Salome Okoh, the red represents the blood that was shed towards independence, the gold represents the mineral wealth of Ghana, the green symbolises the rich agriculture, and the black star is the symbol of African emancipation. Formed from the merger of the Gold Coast and British (formerly German) Togoland by a United Nations sponsored plebiscite in 1956, Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African country to gain its independence in 1957, although Liberia became a Self-governing colony over a century before on 26 July 1847.
Kwame Nkrumah, first prime minister, and then president of the modern Ghanaian state, as an anti-colonial leader, sought a united Africa that would not drift into neo-colonialism. He was the first African head of state to promote Pan-Africanism, an idea he came into contact with during his studies at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania (United States), at the time when Marcus Garvey was becoming famous for his “Back to Africa Movement.” He merged the teachings of Garvey and the African-American scholar W. E. B. Du Bois into the formation of the modern day Ghana. Ghana’s principles of freedom and justice, equity and free education for all, irrespective of ethnic background, religion or creed, borrow from Nkrumah’s implementation of Pan-Africanism.
Although his goal of African unity was never realised, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, as he is now known, played an instrumental part in the founding of the Organisation of African Unity, which was succeeded in 2002 by the African Union. His achievements were recognised by Ghanaians during his centenary birthday celebrations, and the day was instituted as a public holiday. Dr. Nkrumah’s government was subsequently overthrown by the military while he was abroad in February 1966. Former Central Intelligence Agency employee John Stockwell alleges that the CIA had an effective hand in forcing the coup.
A series of subsequent coups from 1966 to 1981 ended with the ascension to power of Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings in 1981. These changes resulted in the suspension of the constitution in 1981, and the banning of political parties. The economy suffered a severe decline soon after, and many Ghanaians migrated to other countries.
Kwame Darko negotiated a structural adjustment plan with the International Monetary Fund, changing many old economic policies, and the economy began to recover. A new constitution restoring multi-party politics was promulgated in 1992; Rawlings was elected as president then, and again in 1996. The Constitution of 1992 prohibited him from running for a third term, so his party, the National Democratic Congress, chose his Vice President, John Atta Mills, to run against the opposition parties. Winning the 2000 elections, John Agyekum Kufuor of the New Patriotic Party was sworn into office as president in January 2001, and beat Mills again in 2004, thus also serving two terms as president.
In 2009, John Atta Mills took office as President of Ghana with a difference of about 40,000 votes (0.46%) between his party, the National Democratic Congress and the New Patriotic Party, marking the second time that power had been transferred from one legitimately elected leader to another, and securing Ghana’s status as a stable democracy.
In 2011, John Atta Mills won the NDC congress when he ran against Nana Konadu Agyeman Rawlings for the National Democratic Congress flagbearership. He won by 2,771 votes, representing 96.9% of the total votes cast.