Ghana celebrated its independence from Britain on March 7, 1957. Ghana, formerly the Gold Coast, merged with a part of British Togoland, a former part of German West Africa ceded to Britain after World War I.
Ghana was the first nation in Africa south of the Sahara to overthrow a colonial power; its independence was a momentous event for the people in the new nation and for people in the African diaspora everywhere.
Ghana was deliberately named to highlight its historical political situation as the sixth African nation to receive independence from a major colonial power. Ghana’s leaders sought to link their nation to one of the great West African kingdoms of the past. This name represented both a political victory and a symbolic hope for black people everywhere. Held up as a symbol of black intelligence, self-determination, and power, Ghana’s independence led to many idealistic expectations.
Its new leader, Kwame Nkrumah, had spent time in prison in the struggle for independence, and he led a nation with many contradictory expectations. Fueled by the positive outcome of his many years fighting for independence and imbued with a Pan-Africanist ideology, a nationalist outlook, and mounting racial pride, Nkrumah liked neither the capitalism of the West nor the communism of the East. He articulated a nationalist ideology that celebrated and encouraged traditional African culture and dress. In addition, he embraced the Pan-Africanism he had been exposed to as a student in the United States and London. He supported the development of racial identity and linked himself to the ideals of Marcus Garvey and W. E. B. Du Bois.
What became known as “Nkrumahism” started out as a hybrid economic and social philosophy that combined the best practices from both systems. Nkrumah’s “African Socialism” became the model for organizing society in Tanzania under Julius Nyerere and in Kenya under Jomo Kenyatta. Nkhrumah’s articulations of self-determination also influenced the doctrine of Pan-Arabism championed by Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser. Nkrumah demanded free education on all levels and the development of rural health care as well as the construction of bridges, roads, railroads, and waterways to build up Ghana’s economy. Ghana’s independence had major consequences for global politics and the lessening of European hegemony. In the decades following Ghana’s independence, many linked the dissolution of the British Empire, the end of Portuguese colonial power in Africa, and the destruction of the apartheid system in South Africa to Ghanaian independence.
Nkrumah instituted many customary practices to help maintain order and restore stability. While utilizing the British model of government at the superstructure level, Nkrumah sought to empower local chiefs and elders by restoring respect for and interest in traditional structures of society. Elders, healers, and local officials were all enlisted in his effort to make Ghana a stable nation. Although many blame Nkrumah for destroying the country with his socialist polities and making it ripe for coups, his vision led to Ghana’s independence and also defined the ethos of the new nation.
Many of Nkrumah’s policies failed. There was a great deal of dissatisfaction with his government in the years leading to his ouster in 1966. Sixteen years of instability followed his exile. In 1981 Flight Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings seized power in a countercoup. He suspended the constitution and banned political parties. In 1992 a new constitution was approved, free elections were held, and Rawlings was elected to two four-year terms. Under the terms of the 1992 constitution, executive power was vested in the president, who was named head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces. Rawlings was reelected president in 1996. Legislative power was vested in a single parliamentary chamber consisting of between 160 and 200 members chosen through direct adult suffrage for renewable four-year terms.
Given that Rawlings could not be elected to a third term, John Kufuor, a rather unknown politician, was elected president in 2000. An effective leader, he was reelected in 2004. The politics of modern Ghana followed two trajectories: a doctrine of laissez-faire capitalism and the socialist- inspired revolutionary practices of Nkrumah. Kufuor expanded and refined a third political tradition, introduced by Rawlings: He continued policies of universal rural development while simultaneously opening up the private sector to external development and foreign investment. Much of the current economic and social optimism in Ghana is tied to an enlightened ruling class with close ties to the United States and Great Britain, and a successful diaspora of almost 2 million people who send almost half a billion dollars to Ghana every year. With a multilanguage, multiethnic, and diverse population, Ghana is a pluralistic society. Ghana has also been successful in attracting foreign investments from India, China, Lebanon, and other nations. Ghana also has a highly educated population of about 20 million people. It operates a 12-year preuniversity educational system and has five public universities, private universities, eight polytechnics, and 22 technical institutions as well as many educational exchange programs around the globe. Ghana has substantial economic potential. As a stable nation with a credible government, a working infrastructure, and a highly trained population, Ghana’s future seems bright. Although cacao is Ghana’s best-known crop, other major exports include bauxite, diamonds, gold, foodstuffs, handicrafts, and timber. As a popular tourist destination, Ghana is well known internationally.
by lphine W. Jefferson