Although further south than the original empire, the Republic of Ghana takes its name from the medieval Ghana Empire of Sub-Saharan West Africa. Prior to that there is evidence of fishing and hunting people living in the area from around 2000 BC.
The Akan people were the first discernible people’s to occupy Ghana sometime around the 10th Century but the first true state, the Dagomba state, emerged in the 16th Century. That was followed by the Ashanti Empire which emerged sometime in the late 1600s. The Ashanti’s not only conquered the Dagomba, Mamprusi, and Gonja but they were also a strong trading people and by the early 1800s covered much of the territory now known as Ghana with the exception of the northern and coastal regions.
The first Europeans to arrive in the area were the Portuguese in the late 15th Century. They were interested in trading and it was the trade in gold that gave the coastal region its name of the Gold Coast. The Portuguese also traded in ivory and pepper but not the slave trade at this stage.
It was nearly a century later that the Dutch arrived and they were followed by the English and Danes. The coastline was soon dotted with forts to protect the interests of the various trading nations but gradually it was the British who gained the upper hand in the region.
The Ashanti had other ideas and they started to expand from the north into the coastal regions. It took from the early 1800s until 1902 and four wars plus other rebellions before the Ashanti were absorbed into a colony under the jurisdiction of the British governor of the Gold Coast. A further area to the north of the Ashanti controlled area known as the Northern Territories was also brought under the control of the governor.
The three regions, the Gold Coast, Ashanti and Northern territories were to remain in the control of the governor until 1946. By 1956 the Volta region, known as British Mandated Togoland also voted to join the union and the borders of modern day Ghana were pretty much in place.
The movement for independence from the British started almost before the modern Ghana was in place. In the 1890s people were seeking their rights and in the 1920s the National Congress of British West Africa was demanding widespread reforms.
The United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) founded in 1947 was the first political party to come on the scene as the British conceded more and more representation to local people. The Convention People’s Party (CPP) was next on the scene in 1949 and although banned between 1966 and 1996 it remains a viable political party to the present day. The party was founded by Kwame Nkrumah who was to become the first Prime Minister of the country (1957 – 1960) and then the first President (1960 – 1966).
A new constitution in 1951 established a legislative assembly and in elections that year the CPP won 71 of the 104 seats in the assembly. They also won the 1954 and 1956 elections with the same number of seats.
In 1956 the British agreed to grant independence if the majority so wished and following a plebiscite the country gained independence on 6th March 1957. The CPP government immediately made changes to a new 1957 Independence constitution which led to the abolition of regional assemblies and in 1964 to the banning of all political parties except the CPP.
The next elections weren’t held until 1965 when the CPP as the sole legitimate party won all 198 seats in the national Assembly.
The situation didn’t last and in February 1966 a coup d’état overthrew Nkrumah and a National Liberation Council was formed with a promise to restore democracy as quickly as possible. Political parties were allowed to form from 1968 and fresh multi-party elections were held in 1969.
The Progress Party (PP) won the 1969 elections with 105 of the 140 seats in the National Assembly. Their leader Kofi Abrefa Busia became the new Prime Minister. Economic problems and austerity measures led to another coup led by Lieutenant Colonel Ignatius Kutu Acheampong in 1972 and the formation of the National Redemption Council (NRC) and then in 1975 the Supreme Military Council (SMC).
By 1978 the pressure for democratic rule was growing and in 1979 the SMC allowed for the formation of political parties once more. However, they moved too slowly and in June 1979 a group of young officers led by Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings attempted a coup. The first attempt failed but a subsequent attempt was successful and Rawlings established the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC).
Following a period of executions and the purging of opponents to the AFRC, Ghana returned to elections in late 1979. The AFRC made it clear the standards that they expected politicians to live up to and it was the People’s National Party (PNP) of Hilma Limann who won 71 of the 140 seats in the National Assembly. Limann also won the presidential election with 62% of the vote in the second round and became Ghana’s third president. The PNP was at best a broad church of views and with such a slim majority was always going to struggle. It didn’t last and in December 1981 another Jerry Rawlings coup brought down the government.
A new Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) dismissed the president, dissolved parliament and proscribed political parties. It was not to be until 1992 when, under international and internal pressure, the PNDC formed a 258 member consultative assembly which drew up a new constitution and lifted the ban on political parties.
The PNDC reformed itself into the National Democratic Congress (NDC) under the leadership of Rawlings and fought the 1992 elections in the December. A boycott by the opposition meant that the NDC won 189 of the 200 seats in the Parliament and Jerry Rawlings won the presidential election with 58.4% of the vote. The NDC and Rawlings won again in 1996 but by 2000 the shine was off the party and a new party in only its second election, the New Patriotic Party (NPP) led by John Kufuor took 99 seats in the 200 seat Parliament whilst Kufuor won the presidential election with 56.9% of the vote in the second round.
The NPP went on to win the 2004 election with a wide margin of 128 seats to 94 seats but lost narrowly in the 2008 election. In a first for Ghana, the NPP accepted the 2008 defeat gracefully and John Atta Mills was elected president whilst the NDC took 116 seats in the new 230 seat parliament.
In July 2012 John Atta Mills died after a short illness and his Vice-President, John Dramani Mahama, replaced him in a seamless process in line with the constitution.
Elections will be held in December 2012 for the Parliament and Presidency.
The President and Vice President are elected on the same ticket to serve a four year term and may serve a second term.
There is a unicameral Parliament with 275 members (increased from 230 in the December 2012 poll) elected by direct popular vote to serve four-year terms.
The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) 2016 places Ghana at joint 70th out of 176 countries with a CPI 2016 score of 43 (where 100 is least corrupt).