a coastal country on the Gulf of Guinea in which we can find ancient European forts that evidence the trade between Europe, Africa and America, forts that have lasted for centuries (with over three centuries of history). In particular, the Elmina and Cape Coast forts, surrounded by fishing villages, declared World Heritage Site by Unesco being Fort Elmina the oldest European building in sub-Saharan Africa.
The capital, Accra, is assuming ever-more modern features without losing its African physiognomy. An example is James Town, a village inside a big city, where manufacturers of “bare fantasy” create from the most extravagant demonstrations to the vast African creative arts.
Kumasi, capital of the kingdom of the Ashanti gold, is doggedly faithful to the rituals of Awukudae and Akwasidae, exalting their king. Further north, the Dagomba, with their clay huts and thatched roofs, look like postcards of an Africa that is lost in time. And even further north, the Gurunsi decorates their houses with frescoes, and the Lobi builds fortified houses with “minimalist” architecture.
Along the axis connecting the north and south you will find Sudanese-style mosques built with clay. One notable example is the Larabanga mosque, a sign of the passage of caravans, populations, religions that have come to shore from the north and south. The landscape varies from the golden beaches of the coast to the northern savanna, dry during the dry season, with tracts of tropical forests. The ocean is mighty, however, the Axim region is characterised by small bays that cushion the force of the waves allowing pleasant and safe swimming.
Fairly flat landscape, with some relief in the south, especially the backbone crossing the Volta Region to the east which extends to Togo. The Map of Ghana is characterised by a very large blue spot: Lake Volta. An artificial expanse of water created in the sixties to provide the country with electricity. The region offers beautiful scenery with blue-green hues.
From Colony to Independence
The rich history of Ghana is strongly linked to the grandness of the Ashanti Kingdom (which to some extent still exerts its influence today). The Ashanti rose to power at the end of the 17th century and continued to flourish until the 19th century. They prospered and became very powerful due to the lucrative Trans-Atlantic slave trade. During this period the Ashanti capital, Kumasi, was one of the most sophisticated and developed cities in all of Africa and many Europeans lived there, working as advisors and administrators. The presence of Europeans in Ghana goes back to the middle of the 15th century when the Portuguese first arrived naming it the “Gold Coast”.
The numerous large forts still standing along the coast are a testament of the time when they were used as warehouses for gold, ivory and slaves. It became a British colony at the end of the 19th century when the Ashanti were finally defeated. Subsequently, in 1957, led by Kwame Nkrumah who changed the country’s name to Ghana after one of the great West African empires, it was the first African nation to gain independence. The country became a republic in 1960.
The Animist Peoples
It is difficult to describe the different peoples of Ghana without first going into a brief history of the area. The borders that exist today are a legacy of the colonial period and were marked out according to European political interests, in many cases the borders divide ethnic groups up at random and as a result peoples of the same ethnic background now live in different countries.
The population of southern Ghana has been influenced by Europe since the 15th century and constitutes the majority of the population who mainly live in rural areas. In the north however it is quite a different story – the north was and still is inhabited by several isolated animist peoples of different ethnic origins, who migrated into the rocky, inhospitable territories to escape from all manner of threats, principally slave traders. Their isolation sparked the development of unique forms of architecture as well as allowing the survival of their own ancient traditions, uninfluenced by outsiders. This region is one of the most interesting and captivating, not only in West Africa, but also on the whole continent.
The Lobi people inhabit an area situated between Ghana, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast. They were once a fierce warrior tribe and have retained a deep sense of pride and independence over the years. Recently they have abandoned hunting and fishing in favour of agriculture. Their houses known, as ‘sukala’, are like small clay fortresses with only one narrow doorway. Carvings with the symbols of their animist beliefs can be seen everywhere in this area. The head of the family is the supreme authority; he is responsible for everything, including the upkeep of the altars and statuettes dedicated to the religion of their ancestors. The Lobi are excellent artists and carve beautiful wooden statues and metal figurines.
The Gurunsi/Kassena, around Navrongo, are famous for the beauty of the mural decorations, which adorn their round clay huts both inside and out. The men build the houses and the women are responsible for painting the frescoes on the walls using natural pigments and brushes of guinea fowl feathers.
The Talensi, around Bolgatanga, inhabit a mysterious plateau, which they believe it to be the ancient residence of the gods. Here numerous pinnacles rise up and appear as if they were arranged in order. On the side of the highest hill there is a narrow cave in which there is a famous sacred altar. Many pilgrims come here, sometimes travelling great distances. Accompanied by a priest well versed in the rites and ways of their religion the pilgrim arrives at the cave to pay homage, ask for guidance and help. The Talensi live in fortified clay homes that can house as many as 60 people. Viewed from above, these houses are a labyrinth of narrow passageways and rooms, which together create a rather beautiful whole.
The Ashanti Kingdom
Kumasi and the surrounding area make up the territory of the Ashanti Kingdom, which was one of the most powerful African empires until the 19th century. The social organisation of the Ashanti people was centred around their King, the Ashantehene. The Ashanti were the lords of the gold trade and even today gold plays an important part in their official ceremonies. They are also excellent craftsmen and artists; their gold jewellery is renowned throughout the whole of West Africa. An unforgettable experience in Kumasi is to attend a typical funeral ceremony, where members of the deceased’s family and their close friends gather. They all dress in the traditional way – wrapped in long swathes of red or black cloth worn like a toga.
The Festival of Akwasidae is also quite stunning – this is a festival, which celebrates the beginning of the month, that falls every 6 weeks according to the traditional calendar. On this day the Ashantenhene comes out and is greeted by many local chiefs and subjects – even the Ghanaian president sometimes comes to pay homage.
The western region of Ghana, like the central regions of Togo and Benin, is inhabited by the Ewe people, whose economy is mostly based on agriculture and fishing. The Ewe arrived here with a party of immigrants coming from the nearby Yoruba territories in Nigeria and brought their traditional religions with them. Their voodoo religion was exported overseas during the years of the slave trade, and similar religious beliefs are still practised in Brazil and in the Caribbean.
The Portuguese Forts
In Ghana you can still see the ancient castles and forts, which were often used during the slave trade period as warehouses for slaves and merchandise. The castle at Cape Coast was built in the 16th century and subsequently restored and extended. It was the seat of the British administration of the Gold Coast until 1877, after which it moved to Christianborg Castle in Accra. A little further to the west is Elmina Castle (El Mina – ‘the mine’), where the first Portuguese established themselves in Ghana in the late 15th century. An excellent restoration has transformed it into a museum bearing witness to the horrors of slavery.
Travel to Ghana and enjoy this beautiful country.
TO KNOW MORE
Ghana, located on the coast of West Africa, was the 1st country of modern Africa to gain independence in 1957, making it one of the most thriving democracies on the continent. It has often been referred to as an “island of peace” in one of the most chaotic regions on earth. Ghana has always had a strong personality but actually, today this country can be prouder than any other nation in West Africa of its patriotic spirit. For four generations, Ghana has been supporting education as well as a high linguistic level hence a great creativeness in the country nowadays (proof is the many Ghanaian excellent writers and fine comedians). Besides, Ghanaian people have a unique sense of hospitality and generosity.
Ghana is located on the Gulf of Guinea and it shares boundaries with Togo to the east, Ivory Coast to the west and Burkina-Faso to the north.
Official language: English
Government sponsored languages: Akan (twi and fanti), Gur, Ewe, Ga, Gondja.
Main ethnic groups: Akan, Dagomba, Ewe, Ga, Fanti
Religions: Christians (52%), Muslims (35 %), Animists (13%). It is important to remind that often, even if Ghanaian people claim they are Christians or Muslims, they still practice animism rites at the same time.
Government: Constitutional presidential republic
Independence: 6st of March 1957 from United Kingdom
Republic: 1st July 1960
Current constitution: 28st April 1992
Surface: 240.000 km2
Population: 24 millions
Densité: 102 habitants/km²
PNB/habitant: 1.600 US $
Tel code: +233
Transports: Two thirds of the roads are asphalted and there are several motorways across the country; there is a railway system from South to Kumasi, 2 ports (Tema and Takoradi) and 12 airports, the main one being Kotoka in Accra.
Ghana is geographically closer to the “centre” of the world than any other country.
The Ghanaian Coast is low and sandy. The southern part consists of a large plateau crossed by many streams and rivers making it the perfect land to grow coffee and cocoa. Ghana is mainly characterized by plains and low hills, the highest peak in the country being the Mont Afadjato reaching 885 meters. On the eastern part along the Togo border is found a chain of mountains (going from Benin to Ghana) and on the western part along the Ivorian border is found the Kwahu Plateau which stretches to the centre of the country.
Tropical climate: The eastern coastal belt is warm and comparatively dry, the southwest corner is hot and humid, and the north is hot and dry.
Lake Volta: one of the world’s largest artificial lakes. It extends through large portions of eastern Ghana and is the main source of many tributary rivers such as the Oti and Afram rivers.
There are two main seasons in Ghana: the wet and dry seasons. Northern Ghana experiences its rainy season from March to November while the south, including the capital Accra, experiences its own rainy season from April to mid-November. Southern Ghana contains evergreen and semi deciduous forests consisting of trees such as mahogany, odum and ebony. It also contains much of Ghana palm oil trees and mangroves. Shea, Baobab and Acacia trees are usually found in the Volta region and the northern part of the country.
The Ashanti, along with other Akan populations, arrived in the area of Kumasi during the 11tst century and settled around the Lake Bosumtwi quite rich in gold. Around 1690, Osei Tutu (1st great Ashanti king also called Asantehene) managed to reunify under his government what was a free federation of states, thus creating one unique nation. Kumasi was chosen as the new capital as recommended by the most faithful of Tutu’s advisers, Okomfo Anokye, a strongly powerful voodoo priest who, besides choosing where the throne should belong, also invoked the golden stool which fell from the sky. The golden stool came down from the clouds and lit up right above Osei Tutu, that way symbolizing the national unity as well as the king’s authority. The Ashanti nation was born. Osei Tutu started the extension of his kingdom submitting one by one the rival powers. Kumasi, capital of this great kingdom, counted more than 700.000 inhabitants already at that time and in the city centre was located and is actually still located one of the largest open air markets in West Africa. Trade was so flourishing that servants were even often allowed to sift sand and get the residual gold powder. Gradually, the kingdom extended up to include almost all of current Ghana and Ivory Coast, apart from the Fante states located on the coast as they had the support of the European allies. In 1806, Osei Bonsu assaulted the Fante people and invaded their land almost entirely, signing the beginning of the last act of that period of great conquests. The population on the coast had always traded directly with the British, meaning that the invasion of Osei Bonsu created a direct conflict between the British and the Ashanti. When Osei Bonsu died in 1824, the British were eager to eliminate the last obstacle to their full power over the Gold Coast. Hostilities carried on throughout the 19th century leading to a series of British-Ashanti wars. It was only at the end of the 19st century that the British eventually managed to annex the Ashanti territory to their Gold Coast colony. The last act took place in 1900, when the new governor of the Gold Coast colony, Sir Frederick Hodgson, demanded the golden stool were given to him so he could use it as his throne. Members of the royal court, smart as they were, had been expecting such a demand so they had made a copy of the stool and hidden the original what was only discovered in 1920. Nobody, not even the Asantehene, ever sat on the royal stool as it would mean the end of national unity.
The first Portuguese boats arrived in Ghana in 1471 looking for new commercial routes in order to have an easier access to the gold coming from Trans-Saharan caravans. They came back in 1482 and built the Elmina Castle (the mine – in Portuguese). The area proved to be so rich in gold, ivory, precious wood and animal skin that other Europeans followed the Portuguese. For four centuries after that, the Dutch, Danish and British Marine forces all fought to gain commercial predominance. After Europe colonised America, the Europeans started to sell slaves in exchange for liquors, clothes and weapons. By the end of the 19th century, the British already appeared to be the most influencing foreign power on the Gold Coast.
In 1807, the British abolished slavery and started to look for new resources to exploit and export such as palm oil, cocoa, precious wood, gold and timber. As a consequence, they had to move inland. When the Ashanti invaded the Fante land in 1806, the British saw an opportunity to conquer the whole territory. For the British, the Fante people had been their favourite trading partners for a long time so they did not hesitate to protect them by offering them one of their forts on the Coast as a refuge when needed. The Fante and the Ashanti fought for half the century but nothing but fragile treaties was coming out of it. That is when the British decided that none of the two factions could win. When another war was declared between the Fante and the Ashanti, the British seized the opportunity to invade the Ashanti land and devastated their capital, Kumasi. This event was followed by a series of British-Ashanti wars from 1896 to 1900 when the Ashanti kingdom was forced to surrender. At that time; France, Germany and Great-Britain had already agreed on the mapping of the lands they were each going to control. In their new colony, the British introduced a certain degree of autonomy in the local government, even allowing the Ashanti federation to exist again in 1935 under the overall control of a governmental authority.
1947: Foundation of the “United Gold Coast Convention” (UGCC) with the aim to foment a massive popular participation in the national government. Kwame Nkrumah was elected secretary of the party.
1948: In Accra, the police opened fire on a pacifistic demonstration which ended with three dead and several injured. Riots broke out all over the country which led the colonial government to arrest six of the UGCC leaders referred to as “the big six” and Nkrumah was one of them.
1949: A committee was created to spread the plan for a new constitution although it had not been created democratically. All the UGCC leaders were involved but Nkrumah as he was no longer the secretary of the party. On June 11th, Nkrumah announced the birth of the Convention People’s Party (CPP). The party called for a national strike after which Nkrumah was arrested again.
1951-1952: New elections were held in February 1951 and although Nkrumah was still in jail, he decided to be a candidate. The CPP was so successful that Nkrumah was freed along with other leaders of the party and he was appointed Prime Minister the following year. One of his first actions was to modify the constitution making the Legislative Assembly a chamber entirely elected by universal suffrage.
March 6th 1957: After long negotiations with Great-Britain, Nkrumah declared Ghana “free for ever” making this country the first independent state in Sub-Saharan Africa. The name Ghana was chosen to replace the former name of the colony Gold Coast. Nkrumah became a figure of reference, respected all over Africa and in the Western World in general. He was a fervent supporter of the Pan-Africanism movement as well as the Non-Aligned movement. Besides, even his economic theories sounded perfectly valid: He wanted to build an industrial area able to reduce Ghana reliance on foreign powers and encourage the development of social services in the country (clinics and hospitals, schools and universities are all part of Nkrumah’s legacy). However, this economic strategy required huge investments and as future will confirm, the biggest mistake Nkrumah made was to finance all these great changes (such as the bold construction of the Akossombo dam) withdrawing the resources that would normally have gone to the solid agricultural economy. It was when the economic situation appeared to be less successful that political unrest started to be felt. The banning of a strike in 1961 seriously widened the gap between Nkrumah and the working class, as for the educated elite of the country; they had stopped believing in the extremely costly Nkrumah’s scientific socialism a long time ago.
1966: On February 24th, while Nkrumah was on an official visit to China, his government was overthrown by a coup led by a few perfectly trained British officers who did not even have to shed a drop of blood. Nkrumah died on exile in Conakry in 1972.
From 1966 to 1981: A series of repeated military coups ended on May 15th 1979 when the Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings, a thirty-two Scottish-Ghanaian, led a riot organized by some military men of an inferior rank. He claimed his aim was to eliminate corruption and revive the simply disastrous economic administration. Rawlings had a “moral revolution” in mind implying that the socialist economic principles which matched the needs of the population could not be centred on profit only. At the same time, he was working fast on reorganizing and giving the control over public finances back to a civilian government. In September 1979, the new president Limann took power and the soldiers went back to their barracks, only three months after their coup. However, despite the good intentions of the new government, the economic situation was still getting worse and in spite of the moral integrity of Rawlings’ supporters as well as his strong presence in politics, corruption had come back even stronger by the end of the 80s and could be felt in all aspects of public life. On December 31st 1981, Rawlings led a second coup resulting in the overthrow of the government and the complete abolition of a democratic rule. The government was linked to the PNDC –Provisional National Defence Council. By the end of the 80s, Rawlings had managed to make much better a situation that seemed desperate, even if he really had struggled to deal with all the different aspects of society. Although a great part of the working class and people living in rural areas were faithful to him, Rawlings had disagreed many times with the middle class who did not appreciate his socialist rhetoric.
1990: Birth of the “National Commission for Democracy” which mission was to discuss the decentralisation process as well as the political future of Ghana. Early 1991, this convention offered that a new constitution should be written and that new presidential and legislative elections should be held. The PNDC supported the return to a multiparty system. The following year, the freedom of press was restored. It was in November that elections were held, won by Rawlings with 58% of the votes. For the 1996 elections, the opposition was re-united under the name of “Alliance for a Change” and presented John Kuffuor as a candidate but Rawlings won again with 57% of the votes.
From 2000 to 2009: After his two mandates (maximum allowed by the constitution), Rawlings gave his support to John Atta Mills, the NDC candidate running for presidency. The electoral battle between the two candidates was really tight but John Kuffuor from the New Patriotic Party (NPP) won and remained president for two mandates.
2009: John Atta Mills took office as President of Ghana; marking the second time that power was transferred from one legitimately elected leader to another and therefore securing Ghana’s status as a stable democracy.
Agricultural and industrial products: Cocoa, coffee, tobacco, peanuts, palm oil, coconuts, tropical fruits, timber, cotton, corn, rice and millet / important mining resources, rich diamonds, gold, silver, iron, manganese and bauxite deposits as well as an oil deposit discovered in 2007 which exploitation began in December 2010. Ghana also has numerous sawmills and furniture factories and produces cigarettes, beer and beverages.
Main export commodities & partners: Gold, cocoa, timber, tuna, bauxite, aluminum, manganese ore, diamonds, silver / Netherlands, UK, France, USA, Ukraine and Belgium.
Import commodities and partners: capital good, oil, food stuff / China, Nigeria, USA, Ivory Coast, France.
An oil deposit which, according to some estimation, could contain up to 3 billion barrels (480.000.000 m3) was discovered in 2007. It is currently under exploitation and the estimated quantity keeps increasing. As a consequence, Ghana economic entries should remarkably increase through the licences granted to GAZPROM to sell the oil overseas. The Ghana National Petroleum Company also allowed GAZPROM to refine and sell its oil resources discovered off the Ghanaian Coast. The Ghanaian working class reached 11.5 million people in 2008. However, the economy of the country still relies too heavily on the agricultural sector which represents 37.3% of GDP and employs around 56% of the workers, most of them small land owners. The industrial sector only accounts for a tiny part of the Ghanaian economy (7.9% of GDP in 2007). A good point is that the Akossombo dam built in 1965 on the Volta River allows Ghana to be self-sufficient as regards its production of hydro electrical energy and even to provide electricity to neighbouring countries. Tourism is a fast growing sector mainly because of the Europeans and North-Americans descendants of the Ghanaian Diaspora. The economical and political stability, a criminality rate among the lowest and the fact English is widely spoken make Ghana one of the most attractive West African countries to visit for foreign tourists.
In 2006, Ghana signed a Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact aiming at supporting and improving the agricultural sector. In 2009, Ghana signed a three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility with the IMF to improve macroeconomic stability, private sector competitiveness, human resource development, good governance and civic responsibility. In early 2010 President John Atta MILLS targeted recovery from high inflation and current account and budget deficits as his priorities.
EXTERNAL DEBT: $6.795 Billion (2010 est.)
Today, Ghana press enjoys a solid and respectable reputation and the freedom of Press is now part of the Ghanaian everyday life hence the availability of a large number of daily and weekly newspapers. Chapter 12 of the 1992 Constitution guarantees freedom of press and independence of the media, while Chapter 2 prohibits censorship. The Commonwealth Press Union has described Ghana’s media as “one of the most unfettered” on the continent. Private Press is also pretty lively nowadays and even dares criticizing government policies. Actually, radio programs dealing with the political, economical and social life of the country are the most successful. As regards television, the state owns three national channels and as for the radio system, Ghana offers a large choice of stations but the most successful are definitely the musical stations. International press is available in Accra airport as well as in high standard hotels and mainly consists of a choice of British and North-American newspapers. Nearly one third of the Ghanaians have access to the internet, and mobile telephones are becoming a significant source of information.
Plantain banana, used as a vegetable, is very popular in the Ghanaian cuisine as well as white beans, peanuts, rice, fresh and dried fish. Those ingredients are at the heart of the best culinary traditions of West Africa. Pineapple and coco nuts, mainly found along the coast, are the most delicious and the cheapest fruits of the country. Besides, Ghana produces an excellent chocolate for a very reasonable price, available everywhere and therefore much appreciated of the tourists. Of course there are also the delicious frozen yogurts produced by the company “Fan” of Accra like the Fan-ice, Fan-yogo and Fan-choco which became such a success that they were exported to all neighbouring countries.
CULTURE – MUSIC – DANCE
The celebration of festivals is an essential part of the Ghanaian culture. Several rites and rituals are performed throughout the year in various parts of the country, including child-birth, rites of passages, puberty, marriage and death.
Traditional cloths hold a very important position in the Ghanaian culture. The cloth called Kente and produced by the Ashanti people is certainly the most famous of all Ghanaian fabrics. Among this society, the way you dress is what mainly defines you. Different symbols and colours have different meanings. The first Kente cloths were made of cotton but from the 18th century onwards, the Ashanti weavers started to introduce in their designs silk threads of Dutch importation. Since then, silk became a material reserved exclusively for the weaving of prestigious cloths and even nowadays, the most prestigious Kente cloths still contain silk. Weavers are exclusively men and they usually work outside on horizontal looms with pedals. One cloth is made of mine stripes sewed together and can be made of different colours, sizes and designs. Kente cloths are then worn for great social or religious events especially in Southern Ghana. Ewe people also produce Kente but their designs are generally more geometrical. Each design has its own very precise meaning and that is how some cloths are exclusively meant for royal families for instance. Adinkra cloths are as gorgeous as Kente cloths but only less famous. They are made of cotton, generally red, black or purple and embellished with geometrical patterns or styled designs printed on the fabric using wooden stamps dived into coloured ink. The word Adinkra means “farewell” which makes it the perfect cloth for traditional funerals.
Ghanaian dance is as diverse as its music. Each ethnic group has their own traditional dances and there are different dances for different events. There are dances for funerals, celebrations, storytelling, praise and worship etc.
Ghana is famous for its excellent dancing music called Highlife and in the mean time, the country can be proud to offer a wide range of excellent traditional music and dances which keep influencing the more urban modern music.
Highlife music goes back to the end of the 19th, beginning of the 20th century and is broadcasted all over West Africa, especially in Sierra Leone and Nigeria. In the 1990s, a new music style was created by the Ghanaian youth made of a mix of different influences such as African reggae, Dance music and Hip-hop. This new music is called Hip-life and several Ghanaian artists managed to enjoy an international success.
In 2009, Ghana spent 10.6% of GDP on health care.
In Ghana, most health care is provided by the government, but hospitals and clinics run by religious groups also play an important role. Some for-profit clinics exist, but they provide less than 2% of health services. Health care is very variable through the country. The major urban centers are well served, but rural areas often have no modern health care. Patients in these areas either rely on traditional medicine or travel great distances for care. In 2009, the hospital bed density was estimated at around 0.93 beds/1.000 population and the number of physicians reached around 1.6 physicians for 1.000 inhabitants. HIV prevalence rate was estimated at 1.8% so around 260.000 living with the disease.
As of 2009, life expectancy at birth is about 59 years for males and 60 years for females with infant mortality at 51 per 1000 live births. The birth rate is about 4 children per woman.
0-14 years: 36.5%
15-64 years: 60%
65 and over: 3.6%
Median age: 21.4 years
The adult literacy rate in Ghana reached 65% in 2007, with males representing 71.7% and females 58.3%. The education system consists of primary, secondary and high school followed by university. Most Ghanaians have relatively easy access to primary and secondary education. Ghana spending on education has varied between 28-40% of its annual budget in the past decade. All teaching is done in English, mostly by qualified Ghanaian educators.
With 83% of its children in school, Ghana currently has one of the highest school enrollment rates in West Africa. The proportion of girls and boys attending school is around 0.96 girls to a boy which, in an African context, is an admirable figure. That said some 500,000 children still remain out of school because of resource constraints in building schools, providing adequate textbooks and training new teachers.
Ghana handicraft is extremely rich hand varied. Ghana offers a large collection of Kente and Adinkra cloths and the Ashanti art is quite interesting too: fertility dolls, stools carved in one piece of wood or glass beads (in the Krobo region) are just examples of the treasures one can find. The northern part of the country also is a real Aladdin’s cave offering Lobi statues and beautiful items made of leather or straw in the area of Bolgatanga.