Ghana's abundance of resources and strong democracy provide a strong outlook for 2018


Long one of the continent’s success stories, Ghana is the birthplace of pan-Africanism and was one of the loudest advocates for independence during the continent’s colonial days. More recently it has promoted regional integration as an active participant in bodies such as the African Union and ECOWAS. The country has also established a strong, multi-party democracy, with three peaceful handovers of power since 2000. The most recent transfer came in the 2016 elections ,which saw President Nana Akufo-Addo of the New Patriotic Party (NPP) assume the reins from John Dramani Mahama of the National Democratic Congress (NDC).

The country has also long benefitted from a wealth of natural resources, including cocoa, gold and, more recently, oil and gas. While economic growth has slowed in the last several years on the back of external pressures and low commodity prices (see Economy chapter), Ghana’s upstream resources give it a strong foundation from which to bounce back when conditions improve.


The medieval West African Empire of Ghana, after which the modern state was named, was situated approximately 800 km north and west of today’s borders. The empire controlled territory around the Senegal River and the Niger River, in what is today Senegal, Mali and Mauritania. Modern Ghanaian territory was home to the Ashanti Empire, one of the most advanced states in sub-Saharan Africa in the 18th and 19th centuries, prior to the onset of colonial rule.

The Portuguese were the first European explorers to make contact with the Gold Coast in 1470. Soon after, a slave and mineral trade route to Europe was established, with the Portuguese building Elmina Castle, one of Africa’s largest slave forts, in 1480. This brought traders from England, Germany and Denmark, and the British gradually took control of the trading forts, eventually signing an agreement with the local chiefs declaring the Gold Coast a colony in 1874.

By 1901 much of the territory in what became modern-day Ghana was under British rule. The economy grew significantly under colonial rule, particularly in terms of agricultural output. At the time, the country accounted for up to half of global cocoa production.


The establishment of the Convention People’s Party, led by Kwame Nkrumah, marked the beginning of the push for independence. The party won the 1951 election by an overwhelming majority and Nkrumah took office as the prime minister of the Gold Coast in 1952. He then became prime minister of Ghana – formed by a merging of the Gold Coast and British Togoland – in 1957, when complete independence was gained from the UK. Ghana thus became the first independent former colonial nation in sub-Saharan Africa.

A proponent of pan-Africanism and a hero with continent-wide popularity, Nkrumah aimed to rapidly industrialise the country, but was deposed by a military coup in 1966. Several more coups occurred before 1981, when Flt. Lt. Jerry Rawlings took power and outlawed political parties. These were restored in 1992 under a new constitution ratified that year. Heading the centre-left NDC, President Rawlings stepped down after serving two four-year terms, the maximum permitted by the country’s constitution.

21st-Century Politics

In 2000 Rawlings’ vice-president, John Atta Mills, was defeated in the presidential election by John Kufuor, the candidate from the opposing NPP. Under his eight-year rule the country’s GDP rose from $4bn to almost $16bn. Mills became president in 2008, having unsuccessfully contested the 2004 election. He held the position until his death in office in July 2012, resulting in his vice-president, John Dramani Mahama, assuming the presidency. President John Dramani Mahama won the subsequent presidential elections that had been scheduled for later that year, triumphing over the NPP’s candidate, Akufo-Addo.

However, in the years that followed low commodity prices slowed the implementation of major public projects, resulting in concerns over a weakening fiscal state and putting pressure on the NDC. In the presidential elections of late 2016 Akufo-Addo, who once again ran as the NPP candidate, emerged as the winner, and was inaugurated in January 2017.

Geography & Climate

With a land area of 238,533 sq km, Ghana is the 33rd-largest country in Africa. Located on the Guinea coast, it shares borders with Togo, Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire. Relief is generally low, with all the country’s major peaks found in the Akwapim-Togo Ranges, and none of them higher than 900 metres. Constructed in 1957, the Akosombo Dam is responsible for the world’s largest artificial lake by surface area, Lake Volta, and supplies a significant proportion of Ghana’s electricity needs.

Blessed with an abundance of natural resources, the country has large amounts of oil and gas, gold, cocoa, timber, industrial diamonds, bauxite, manganese, fish, rubber, hydropower, silver, salt and limestone. The majority of these resources, especially petroleum products, gold and timber, are found in the western regions. Grasslands, coastal scrublands and forests form the major regional geographic zones. Agriculture accounts for 69.1% of land usage, of which 20.7% is reserved for arable land, 11.9% for permanent crops, 36.5% for permanent pasture, 21.2% for forest and the remaining 9.7% classified as “other”.

Similar to the other countries on the Guinea coast, Ghana’s climate derives from the interplay of two air masses: the hot and dry continental air mass formed over the Sahara Desert, and the warm and humid air mass that rises from the South Atlantic.

The country is roughly divided into three climatic zones. The savannah north of the Kwahu Plateau experiences two seasons, a dry season from November to March and a wet season that reaches its peak in August and September. The southern forest area has two rainy seasons, April to July and September to November, with dry periods between them. The Accra Plains, home to the eponymous capital city, receive low annual mean rainfall of up to 1000 mm, compared to the savannah which ranges from 1020 mm to 1400 mm, and the forest area (between 1270 mm and 2180 mm).


The 2010 census put the population of Ghana at 24.7m. According to the Ghana Statistical Service, it had risen to 27.9m by September 2015, growing at 2.5% per year, data from the 2012 National Population and Housing Census shows.

The majority of citizens live in the south of the country, with 54% residing in urban areas. The largest city and capital, Accra, has a population of around 2.3m, and the second-largest, Kumasi, counts 2m inhabitants. With nearly 39% of the population under the age of 14, and another 19% up to 24, Ghana can expect to see sustained population growth for the foreseeable future.

The country is made up of a number of ethnic groups. According to the 2010 census data, the largest are the Akan, which make up 47.5% of the population, Mole-Dagbani (16.6%) and Ewe (13.9%). Other groups such as Ga-Dangme, Gurma, Guan and Grusi are also well represented. The official language of Ghana is English, but others also are widely spoken, most notably Asante Twi dialect (16%), Ewe (14%) and Fante (11.6%).

Religious affiliations, too, are diverse. Christians are the religious majority, accounting for 71.2% of the population and dominating the south, while Muslims make up 17.6%, and are concentrated in the north and large urban centres. Some 5.2% of the population follows traditional indigenous religions. While there have been a few instances of flare-ups in ethnic tensions, they have been relatively small in scale, and confined to the northern part of the country.


Human development indicators are better in Ghana than in many other parts of sub-Saharan Africa, but there remains room for progress. According to figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO), as of 2015 life expectancy at birth was 62.4 years, placing Ghana 25th in Africa. Infant mortality in 2015 stood at 42.8 deaths per 1000 live births. The relatively low life expectancy is likely to be related to low levels of health expenditure, which represented 3.6% of GDP in 2014, the latest year for which data is available, according to the WHO. There are 0.1 physicians and 0.9 hospital beds per 1000 people.

Education indicators are more impressive, with figures from UNESCO showing a literacy rate of 76.6%, although there is some gender discrepancy, with the rate at 82% for males compared to 71.4% for females.


Together with some of its West African counterparts such as Nigeria, Ghana’s economy has been affected by the sharp decline in oil prices (see Economy chapter). From a high of 13.5% in 2014, GDP growth had dropped to 3.8% a year later. After a relatively stable rate of 3.7% in 2016, GDP growth increased to 6.6% year-on-year (y-o-y) by the end of the first quarter of 2017, with the rate rising again to 9% y-o-y in the following quarter, according to the Ghana Statistical Service. These quarterly growth rates outperform the full-year rate of 5.9% predicted for 2017 by the IMF. As of the second quarter of 2017 agriculture accounted for 11.5% of total GDP, while industry made up 26.5% and services represented 62% of the country’s economy.

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The Report: Ghana 2018

The Report

This article is from the Country Profile chapter of The Report: Ghana 2018. Explore other chapters from this report.

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