As the first African country to gain independence from colonial rule in 1957, Ghana is one of the most stable multi-party democracies in the region and one of the fastest-growing economies on the continent. In July 2019 the capital city Accra was selected by the African Union as the host city of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area Secretariat, due in part to Ghana’s long history of pan-African engagement. The country has built up its trading potential with major infrastructural upgrades at key ports and airports, and there are further investments planned for both rail and road. With a government dedicated to growing the private sector and diversifying sources of employment, revenue and exports, the country is well positioned to realise its potential.
Located in West Africa on the Gulf of Guinea, Ghana borders Burkina Faso to the north, Côte d’Ivoire to the west, Togo in the east and the Atlantic Ocean to the south. In recent years Ghana has been trying to leverage its unique geographic location as the closest country to the intersection of the Greenwich Meridian, which runs through the city of Tema and the equator.
With 238,533 sq km of territory, including 560 km of coastline and 11,000 sq km of inland water sources, lakes, reservoirs and rivers, the country features a number of distinct ecological, climatic and topological zones. Most of the country is relatively flat, particularly in the southern areas, where the topography consists of low plains, lagoons and sandy beaches. From the border with Côte d’Ivoire in the west through to the Volta Basin, there is a higher elevation across the Ashanti Uplands. To the east, the geography gives way to volcanic mountains known as the Akwapim-Togo Range. The range is bisected by the Volta River and stretches from the border with Togo up to Accra. Central Ghana is marked by the Volta Basin, which covers 45% of the country’s total land area. The Black, Red and White Volta rivers merge into the river Volta, which is levied at hydroelectric Akosombo Dam and forms the largest artificial lake in the world.
The country has a diverse climatic profile, with annual rainfall averaging from over 2000 mm in the far south-west to just 1100 mm in the dry, hot Sahel Region to the north. The north is also affected by the harmattan, a dry, desert north-easterly wind that blows from December to March. The centre and south have two rainy seasons, from April to June and from September to November. The north, meanwhile, sees rainfall peak in August and September, with occasional rains at other times of the year, and squalls in March and April.
Throughout the country, temperatures are relatively stable, ranging between 25°C and 30°C year round, with more variability in the north where temperatures can exceed 40°C. In recent years climate change has started to have a noticeable impact on the country. The seasons and rainfall patterns are less predictable, and both floods and droughts are becoming more prevalent. As a consequence of this increased vulnerability, there are concerns about long-term food security, and the availability of water and energy supplies.
Demographics & Language
The latest data from the UN indicates that the country’s population is projected to rise from 30.4m in 2019 to 31m in 2020. According to the Ghana Statistical Service (GSS), Accra is the largest city with a population of over 2m people. The population of Greater Accra, which contains surrounding areas including the towns of Ga and Tema, had a population of close to 5m in 2019. The second-largest city is Kumasi in the Ashanti Region, with a population of 2m. This is followed by Sekondi-Takoradi in the Western Region, with 727,000 inhabitants, and Tamale in the Northern Region, with 275,000 people. As of 2018 the majority of Ghanaians (56%) lived in urban settlements, but at 44% the country still has a sizeable, albeit shrinking, rural population.
Ghana is a diverse country, with 75 ethnicities and a smaller number of overarching ethnolinguistic groups. The largest of these is the Akan, which make up 47.5% of the population. Other prominent groups include the Mole-Dagbon, at around 16.6% of the population, followed by the Ewe (13.9%) and the Ga-dangme (7.4%). Akan is also the most widely spoken language in Ghana, of which there are two dialects, Fanti and Twi. The latter is spoken and understood as a second language by a large number of Ghanaians. Other languages include: Dagaare, Dagbani, Dangme, Kasem and Gonja, which are spoken mainly in the north; Ewe, which is spoken in the Volta Region; Ga, centralised in Greater Accra; and Nzema, spoken mainly in the west.
According to the latest household survey released by the GSS, almost three-quarters (74.1%) of heads of households in Ghana identify as Christian, including Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal and Charismatic, among others; 16% of households practice Islam, the more predominant religion in the north; and about 6.1% report no religion.
The land currently occupied by Ghana has been inhabited since at least 4000 BCE. An extensive trans-Saharan trade network centred on the rich gold mines of the Ashanti Region was developed as early as the 11th century. By the end of the 16th century, the ethnic groups now occupying Ghana had settled in their current approximate locations.
Attracted by the rich gold mines, Portugal was the first of many European mercantile empires to build a permanent presence on the coast. In 1482 the Portuguese built the first trading post on the Gulf of Guinea, Elmina Castle, as a base for their gold trade. By the early 1600s the Gold Coast had become a focal point for European imperial competition, with the Danes, Dutch, Brandenburg Germans and English all vying for dominance. Each of the European powers forged and exploited alliances with local kingdoms, chiefdoms and federations, fuelling internal discord and conflict, as well as the rise, fall and consolidation of empires across West Africa.
This process contributed to the transatlantic slave trade as warfare facilitated an increase in captive labour and enslaved Africans. The first ship carrying enslaved Africans reached Jamestown, Virginia in the US in 1619. By the mid-1600s the transatlantic slave trade had grown to outpace the gold trade. Fortresses that had been used for gold trading were then turned into prisons to hold slaves until the practice eventually ended in the 1800s.
Throughout the 19th century Britain emerged as the most powerful European power on the Gold Coast, though the empire continued to face strong local resistance, particularly from the Asante, the strongest Akan federation. After a number of AngloAshanti wars, in 1902 the British proclaimed all of the territories in the Gold Coast to be under its administration. The colonial era lasted until March 6, 1957, when Ghana became the first of British colony in Africa to declare independence.
Kwame Nkrumah served as the country’s first prime minister. He initially led the nation with the British Queen as head of state, but in 1960 Ghana declared itself a republic and Nkrumah became the first president, holding this position until he was ousted in a military coup by Joseph Ankrah in 1966. Between 1966 and 1993 Ghana was ruled by a succession of elected presidents and military leaders. The longest serving politician is Jerry John Rawlings, who ruled the country from 1981 to 2001. Rawlings led two coups, first in 1979 and then in 1981, from which time he ruled for 10 years as the military head of state. As the country transitioned back to a democratic system in 1992, Rawlings was elected twice and served two, fouryear terms as a civilian president.
In 2000 the opposition New Patriotic Party (NPP), led by John Kufuor, defeated John Atta Mills, Rawlings’ vice-president and the leader of the National Democratic Congress (NDC), marking the first democratic change of power. Since then, Presidents Atta Mills (2009-12, NDC) and John Mahama (2012-17, NDC) and the incumbent President Nana Akufo-Addo (from 2017, NPP) have held the high office.
Economy & Development
The Ghanaian economy has seen strong growth in the past couple of decades, but it remains vulnerable to commodity price shocks due to its continued dependence on cocoa, gold and hydrocarbons exports. Economic growth has translated into broader social development, with the country’s Human Development Index rising by 31% over the last three decades to 0.596 as of 2018. Ghana ranked 142nd out of 189 countries and territories that year. Life expectancy increased from 56.8 years in 1990 to 63.8 years in 2018, and the figure for expected years of schooling rose from 7.6 years to 11.5 over the same period.
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