Ghana was the first sub-Saharan African country that attained independence. However, its history precedes this novel achievement.
Formerly known as the Gold Coast, it is on record that the Portuguese were the first European merchants that arrived in the 15th century.
They initially came to trade in gold, diamonds and ivory, however; the business turned into the buying and selling of slaves in a short period.
The Portuguese built the first castle in Gold Coast, called the Elmina Castle (Sao Jorge da Mina) and a second one also known as Fort St. Anthony at Axim, a small fishing town in the Western Region.
Soon, other European countries like Denmark, the United Kingdom and Sweden joined the Portuguese in the Gold Coast to trade for slaves and gold.
This led to the Danes building one of the most important Castles, the Osu Christiansborg Castle in Accra in 1661 which served as the seat of government for a long time.
The Swedes also built the Cape Coast Castle which was used as a Slave depot to “store” slaves awaiting to be loaded into the next available ship to Europe.
In 1874, there was a power shift in the Gold Coast as the British took control of the southern part of the country due to the withdrawal of the Dutch as well as the conquering of the other Europeans in the land.
While the British took control of the south, the Ashanti Kingdom grew by enormously and seized control of the northern part of the Gold Coast. In their quest to minimize the control of the British, they set out to the south to conquer them as well and gain full control.
This culminated in a series of war between the Ashantis and the British whom were backed by the Fantis and the Gas.
By 1902 the British had gained full power of the Gold Coast, by defeating the Ashantis with the help of the Fantis, the Gas and all enemies of the Ashanti Empire.
The British initially named Cape Coast as the capital but later changed it to Accra in 1877.
After the Second World War (1939-1945), things began to change in the then Gold Coast. The discrimination against educated Ghanaians in the civil service was on the increase and high positions were reserved for white men while Ghanaians became hewers of wood and drawers of water.
By 1947, the educated elites have begun planning for the total liberation of the Gold Coast from British rule. Therefore, the first political party was formed in that year.
In January 1948, Nii Kwabena Bonne III, a Ga Chief organized a general boycott of all European imports. A series of riots followed the boycott in early February, 1948.
On February 28, 1948, a batch of unarmed Ex-servicemen marched to the Christiansborg Castle on that day to submit a petition to the Governor about their poor conditions. Superintendent Imray, a white police officer, ordered the policemen at the castle to shoot.
When the police refused to do so, Imray himself opened fire on the unarmed soldiers at the Christiansborg crossroad. Three of the leaders namely; Sergeant Adjetey, Private Odartey Lamptey and Corporal Attipoe fell dead. Thereafter, riots broke out in Accra. European and Asian stores were looted by the angry mob. The rioters forced open the Central Prison and set free its inmates.
This led to the arrest and detention of six nationalist leaders popularly referred to as the Big Six. These leaders were Dr. J.B Danquah, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah, Obetsebi Lamptey, Akuffo Addo, William Ofori Atta and Ako Adjei.
Following disagreement of ideologies, Kwame Nkrumah left the U.G.C.C. and formed a more radical and nationalist party – Convention People’s Party (C.P.P) on June 12th, 1949 with its motto “self-government now”.
On 9th January, 1950 the C.P.P organized a nation-wide boycott and strike for workers and the masses. The people refused to buy all British goods. Workers were warned not to cause any trouble. In the cause of the riots however, two policemen were shot dead.
This led to the arrests of Dr. Nkrumah, Kojo Botsio and K.A Gbedemah and were imprisoned at James Fort in Accra.
This however became the British Colony’s first African government. In March 1952, Kwame Nkrumah was designated Prime Minister. He was to appoint a cabinet, which was not to be responsible to the Governor but the Assembly.
In 1956, another election was held in response to a pledge by the British Secretary of State for the colonies that if the newly elected legislature, by a reasonable majority, passed a resolution calling for independence; a firm date for the changeover would be announced. C.P.P won 71 out of the 104 contested seats. The British Mandated Togoland also held a plebiscite to join the Gold Coast.
On the eve of Independence Day on March 6th 1957, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah announced that the Gold Coast will now be known as Ghana. The name was taken from the acient Ghana Empire in West Africa. he Empire appears to have broken up following the 1076 conquest by the Almoravid General Abu-Bakr Ibn-Umar.
Dr Kwame Nkrumah (then Prime Minister) proclaimed at the old Polo Grounds in Accra: “At long last, the battle has ended and Ghana, our beloved country is free forever.” The nation however became a republic on 1st July, 1960 with Dr. Kwame Nkrumah becoming the first President.
Ghana’s independence from Britain in 1957 was widely celebrated in the African diaspora.
On 24th February, 1966, while in China, a military coup by the National Liberation Council overthrew Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.
A general election launching the second republic, in 1969, brings to power Kofi Busia, a university professor with a long track record in Ghanaian politics as an opponent of Nkrumah. But he is unable to improve Ghana’s economic performance (weakened by low cocoa prices), and he is removed by military officers in 1972.
For a few years from 1972 a military regime rules with repressive brutality, under the successive leadership of two generals, Ignatius Acheampong and Frederick Akuffo. But by 1979 a group of younger officers has had enough. Led by Jerry Rawlings, a flight lieutenant in the air force, they take power. Acheampong and Akuffo are executed. Arrangements are put in place for speedy elections.
The third republic, in 1979, lasts only two years before Rawlings and his fellow officers intervene again. After his second coup Rawlings takes personal power, ruling through a Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC).
Rawlings transforms his ruling council into a political party, the National Democratic Congress and in 1992, Ghana returned to democracy by adopting the 1992 Constitution with Rawlings being sworn in as a democratic president as the NDC wins nearly all the seats in parliament.