History and Geography
Ghana is located in Western African, bordered by the North Atlantic Ocean on its southern coast, Cote d’Ivoire to the west, Togo to the East, and Burkina Faso to the north. The country is composed of nine regions.
European Presence in the Gold Coast
Before gaining independence on March 6, 1957, Ghana was known as the Gold Coast for the abundance of that precious resource found within its borders. The Portuguese were the first Europeans to settle in Ghana in the fifteenth century, and it was the Portuguese who built the first castle at Elmina between 1482 and 1486. From its construction to the present, the castle has passed through the hands of many nations, seized by the Dutch in 1637, ceded to the British in 1872, and eventually awarded to Ghana with its Independence in 1957. This architecturally magnificent structure - the oldest European structure in Africa south of the Sahara desert - served as a trading post for gold, ivory, and slaves until the early 1800’s when slave trade was abolished. The history of Elmina Castle captures the essence of the European presence in Ghana beginning with the initial settlement of Portuguese traders, enduring the invasion of the Dutch, continuing with colonization by the British, and finally emerging as an independent nation.
Nkrumah and Early Government in Ghana
In the late 1940’s educated Ghanaian leaders began organizing political parties with the aims of self-government. The United Gold Coast Convention (UGCC) formed in 1947 represented a conservative shift to independent governance, while the Convention People’s Party (CPP) – founded by Kwame Nkrumah in June 1949 – advocated a more immediate and revolutionary break from British oversight. In early 1950, the CPP began a “positive action” campaign intended to spur its followers to participate in nonviolent resistance to European control. When violent outbreaks ensued Nkrumah was arrested. His popularity did not dwindle, but rather soared with his imprisonment, as he was viewed as a martyr for the cause of Ghanaian independence.
Under the Constitution of 1951, Ghanaian leaders officially entered the governing bodies of the state. Two of the main strides accomplished by this document were the appointment of African ministers for the Executive Council and the creation of an assembly with half of its elected members from the towns and rural districts and half from the traditional councils, including for the first time those from the Northern Territories.
Despite these developments, executive power, including the ministries of defense, external affairs, finance, and justice remained under British control. In February of 1951, the first elections for Legislative Assembly were held and the CPP won over two-thirds of the 104 assembly seats. From his jail cell, Nkrumah was voted into one of those seats. Released by the governor, Sir Charles Arden-Clarke, Nkrumah became “leader of government business,” a position similar to that of prime minister.
In 1952, the official office of prime minister was created. The assembly, which elected Nkrumah for this position, was gradually gaining control within the Gold Coast. By 1954, the assembly composed of majority African ministers possessed complete control over the internal affairs of the colony. That left only the ministries of defense and foreign affairs in the hands of the British. As the CPP continued to pursue political centralization through a revised constitution, they faced opposition from several newly-formed political parties, the Asante-based National Liberation Movement (NLM) and the Northern People's Party, which both advocated a federal form of government that would ensure greater power for the various regions.
The CPP feared that disunity might jeopardize their chance for independence, but the British constitutional advisors supported the CPP position. In 1956, England agreed to grant independence if two-thirds of the new legislature voted in favor of the CPP demand for immediate independence. The C.P.P won 71 of the 104 contested seats and British Togoland joined the Gold Coast. Ghana was the first country in Africa south of the Sahara to regain independence from colonial rule. The new Prime Minister, Kwame Nkrumah declared, "At long last, the battle has ended and Ghana, our beloved country is free forever."